3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Tammi Wallace of the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce, Adam Putterman of OURS, and Ghazal Qureshi of UpBrainery. Courtesy photos

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from edtech to mental health — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Tammi Wallace, co-founder of the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce

Tammi Wallace of the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce was a panelist on The Ion's Pride in Tech event. Photo via LinkedIn

There are a few days left in Pride Month, and Houston's tech community came together last week to celebrate — but also discuss some of the challenges within the ecosystem for LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs.

In a Q&A with InnovationMap, Tammi Wallace, co-founder of the Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce, shared her advice for LGBTQIA+ innovators and allies.

"Get involved with the Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce," she says. "Since 2016, the chamber has been working to build a strong community to support LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs and get them access to resources to help their businesses grow and thrive." Click here to read more.

Adam Putterman, co-founder of OURS

Adam Putterman, co-founder of OURS, shares how he jumped on the opportunity that is innovating the future of relationship health. Photo courtesy of OURS

More than ever before, people are warming up to the idea of seeking professional health care for more than just their bodies, Adam Putterman, co-founder of OURS says on the most recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"We've seen a massive shift in the perception of counseling and therapy — and, more importantly, all the aspects of health that are not just your body," he explains. "It's no longer just going to the gym, it's meditating, coaching for a professional field. We've found that people are taking that mindset and applying it to their relationship as well."

After launching its beta in 2020, OURS worked in stealth to develop its product, which officially launched in May. The platform costs $400 for a four-week program that includes six personalized interactive sessions with an OURS guide at the helm of the experience. These one-hour technology-powered sessions are based around an innovative new technology, called Loveware, and include dynamic and meaningful conversations between a couple that are built around the magic that comes from being in the room with an expert. Click here to listen to the full episode and read more.

Ghazal Qureshi, founder and CEO of UpBrainery

Innovations like artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and machine learning certainly have advantages in the edtech sector. Photo courtesy

The education community is facing big changes thanks to technology and new innovations. In a guest column for InnovationMap, Ghazal Qureshi — founder and CEO of UpBrainery, a Houston-based immersive educational technology platform — shares how things like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and more have the potential to impact the sector.

"AI has created benefits for educators as well, such as it has created a task automation system in which all kinds of daily mundane tasks including grading papers, admin work, replying to queries, etc. have been directly automated," she writes. "Although adopting cutting-edge technology in the educational industry for most institutions is certainly not a piece of cake as it is time-consuming and very costly." Click here to read more.

Adam Putterman, co-founder of OURS, shares how he jumped on the opportunity that is innovating the future of relationship health. Photo courtesy of OURS

How this Houston innovator plans to disrupt the $5 trillion health and wellness market

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 139

When in graduate school, Houstonian Adam Putterman's interest in couples counseling was officially piqued. A newlywed, Putterman always thought couples sought out professional help as a way to save a relationship that was failing, but studies were showing the positive effect of proactive couples counseling.

Putterman says he connected with a professor who wrote a book on the topic, which explained that the average relationship was much worse than it had ever been.

“We have so many higher expectations than ever before, but so much fewer support systems and ways to invest in your relationships,” he says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

This information stuck in his head until he met his would-be co-founders Liz Earnshaw and Jessica Holton. Together, the trio established OURS, a modern relationship health platform for couples to receive customized virtual support.

More than ever before, people are warming up to the idea of seeking professional health care for more than just their bodies, Putterman says.

"We've seen a massive shift in the perception of counseling and therapy — and, more importantly, all the aspects of health that are not just your body," he explains. "It's no longer just going to the gym, it's meditating, coaching for a professional field. We've found that people are taking that mindset and applying it to their relationship as well."

After launching its beta in 2020, OURS worked in stealth to develop its product, which officially launched in May. The platform costs $400 for a four-week program that includes six personalized interactive sessions with an OURS guide at the helm of the experience. These one-hour technology-powered sessions are based around an innovative new technology, called Loveware, and include dynamic and meaningful conversations between a couple that are built around the magic that comes from being in the room with an expert.

Right now, the program targets premarital counseling, but Putterman says OURS is working to provide support for all stages of a relationship

"Proactive and preventative is always better. It's easier to do and it's more impactful," he says. "That's one of the reasons why we're focused on premarital counseling — one of the happiest, earliest moments in any relationship."

Along with emerging from stealth last month, OURS announced $5 million in early stage funding from investors including TMV, Serena Ventures, Lakehouse Ventures, Collaborative Fund, GreyMatter, and pioneering angel investors such as Andy Dunn.

Now, Putterman says the company is using that funding to further develop its team and product. OURS is headquartered in Houston, and Putterman is based here, but the company operates entirely remotely.

He share more of what OURS is working on now and in the near future. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


OURS is re-imagining and de-stigmatizing couples therapy. Photo by Mikhail Nilov/Pexels

Houston-based mental health startup backed by Serena Williams emerges from stealth

smart counseling

A Houston startup that's re-imagining mental health treatment and counseling has emerged from stealth, announcing financial support from seed investors including tennis legend and venture capital investor Serena Williams.

Targeting the $5 trillion health and wellness market, OURS is founded by family therapist and author Liz Earnshaw, as well as Adam Putterman and Jessica Holton.

“We’re excited to take this first step in shifting the way we think about relationship health. We are building for a world that treats relationship health with equal importance as physical, mental and emotional health. We want working on your relationships to be an everyday experience, accessible to all,” says Holton, who serves as co-CEO, in a news release.

The company has raised nearly $5 million pre-seed and seed round from investors including TMV, Serena Ventures, Lakehouse Ventures, Collaborative Fund, GreyMatter, and pioneering angel investors such as Andy Dunn.

“Research shows that relationships are the most important factor to our overall health and wellbeing, which is an area that I'm hyper-focused on in my personal life,” says Williams, managing partner of San Francisco-based Serena Ventures, in the release. “When I learned about what the team was doing, I knew this was something we needed to support.

"OURS offers a reimagined and preventative solution to relationship wellness that's not only experiential and research-backed, but memorable and fun," she continues. "We're proud to be early investors in a brand that is making relationship health accessible to couples everywhere and play an integral part of the larger OURS mission.”

OURS has thousands of couples already using its platform. Image via OURS

The company launched its beta in 2020 and has already worked with thousands of customers and has an engaged community of couples across its platforms.

The OURS founders were inspired by their own experiences with couples counseling and created a technology-enabled platform based of expert and data-backed research.

“As it stands, the current mental health and wellness space is largely geared towards individuals, yet nearly 50 percent of couples have either participated in, or have sought out solutions, to foster stronger romantic partnerships,” says Soraya Darabi, co-founder and general partner at TMV, in the release. “However, a lack of therapists - until now - or confused perception of couples counseling leave needs unmet.”

Initially targeting romantic partners, the platform costs $400 for a four-week program that includes six personalized interactive sessions with an OURS guide at the helm of the experience. These one-hour technology-powered sessions are based around an innovative new technology, called Loveware, and include dynamic and meaningful conversations between a couple that are built around the magic that comes from being in the room with an expert.

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Amazon rolls out hundreds of new electric vans for Houston's holiday delivery season

Electric avenue

Amazon CEO/occasional space traveler Jeff Bezos is doing his best to supplant a certain jolly fellow from the North Pole as tops for holiday gift delivery.

His latest move: Amazon is rolling out more than 1,000 electric delivery vehicles, designed by electric vehicle manufacturer Rivian, ready to make deliveries in more than 100 cities across the U.S. On the Texas good list: Houston, Austin, and Dallas. Bezos' juggernaut began deliveries in Dallas in July, along with Baltimore, Chicago, Kansas City, Nashville, Phoenix, San Diego, Seattle, and St. Louis.

These zero-emissions vans have delivered more than 5 million packages to customers in the U.S., according to Amazon. The latest boost in vehicles now includes Houston and Austin; Boston; Denver; Indianapolis; Las Vegas; Madison, Wisconsin; Newark, New Jersey; New York, Oakland, California; Pittsburgh, Portland, Oregon; Provo, Utah; and Salt Lake City.

Plans for the Amazon and Rivian partnership call for thousands of vehicles on the road by the end of the year and 100,000 vehicles by 2030.

“We’re always excited for the holiday season, but making deliveries to customers across the country with our new zero-emission vehicles for the first time makes this year unique,” said Udit Madan, vice president of Amazon Transportation, in a statement. “We’ve already delivered over 5 million packages with our vehicles produced by Rivian, and this is still just the beginning—that figure will grow exponentially as we continue to make progress toward our 100,000-vehicle goal.”

This all comes as part of Amazon's commitment to reaching net-zero carbon by 2040, as a part of its The Climate Pledge; Amazon promises to eliminate millions of metric tons of carbon per year with it s commitment to 100,000 electric delivery vehicles by 2030, press materials note.

Additionally, Amazon announced plans to invest more than $1 billion over the next five years to further electrify and decarbonize its transportation network across Europe. This investment is meant to spark innovation and encourage more public charging infrastructure across the continent.

“Fleet electrification is essential to reaching the world’s zero-emissions goal,” said Jiten Behl, chief growth officer at Rivian, in a statement. “So, to see our ramp up in production supporting Amazon’s rollout in cities across the country is amazing. Not just for the environment, but also for our teams working hard to get tens of thousands of electric delivery vehicles on the road. They continue to be motivated by our combined mission and the great feedback about the vehicle’s performance and quality.”

A little about the vans: Drivers’ favorite features include a spacious cabin and cargo area, superior visibility with a large windshield and 360-degree cameras, and ventilated seats for fast heating and cooling — a must for Bayou City summers ... or winters, for that matter.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston low-carbon fuel company scores United investment, plans to IPO via spac

big moves

It’s been a momentous month for Houston-based NEXT Renewable Fuels Inc.

On November 15, United Airlines Ventures announced an investment of up to $37.5 million in the next-generation, low-carbon fuel producing company.

Just a week later, the company revealed it’s going public through a SPAC merger with Industrial Tech Acquisitions II Inc. The deal, expected to close in the second quarter of 2023, assigns a $666 million equity value to NEXT. The publicly traded company will be named NXTCLEAN Fuels Inc.

NEXT, founded in 2016, produces low-carbon fuels from organic feedstock. The company plans to open a biofuel refinery in Port Westward, Oregon, that’s set to start production in 2026. The refinery could produce up to 50,000 barrels per day of sustainable aviation fuel, renewable diesel, and other renewable fuels.

“West Coast states are demanding a clean fuels conversion of the transportation and aviation industries with aggressive targets necessitating rapid increases in clean fuel supplies,” Christopher Efird, executive chairman and CEO of NEXT, says in a news release. “[The company] is advancing toward becoming one of the largest U.S.-based suppliers of clean fuels for these markets, and is investigating and pursuing potential vertical expansion into other clean fuels.”

The proposed public listing of NEXT’s stock on the Nasdaq market and United’s investment are poised to help NEXT reach its goal of becoming a leader in the clean fuel sector. United’s investment appears to be the first equity funding for NEXT.

“Right now, one of the biggest barriers to increasing supply and lowering costs of sustainable fuel is that we don’t have the infrastructure in place to transport it efficiently, but NEXT’s strategic location and assets solve that problem and provide a blueprint for future facilities that need to be built,” Michael Leskinen, president of United Airline Ventures, says in a news release.

United’s investment arm, launched in 2021, targets ventures that will complement the airline’s goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.