3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's Who

From a former astronaut to growing software company leaders, here are three innovators to know. Courtesy photos

This week's set of innovators to know are familiar with pivoting careers. All three had successful careers — from energy finance to space exploration — before jumping into a new field. And each set of prior experience prepared them for what they are doing today.

Alex Colosivschi, founder and CEO of Currux

Courtesy of Currux

Alex Colosivschi had a successful career in energy finance before he started his company, Currux. He was walking in his Rice Village neighborhood when the idea came to him. He realized that despite the green surroundings, he was choked by the smell of engine exhaust.

"I started with thinking about the future of energy and how the industry will adapt to a world of electric, autonomous and shared mobility, and the need to reduce CO2 emissions," he says.

Tim Kopra, partner at Blue Bear Capital

Courtesy of Blue Bear Capital

It might not be easy to connect the dots between Tim Kopra's NASA career and his current role at Blue Bear Capital, but for Kopra, it makes perfect sense.

"On face value, it may sound like an odd match, taking someone with a tech and operational background and putting them in venture, but quite frankly it feels very familiar to me because my career has really been focused on working on complex technology and operations with very small teams," Kopra says. "It's not just a theoretical understanding of the technology, but understanding how to use the technology and how it works."

Stuart Morstead, co-founder and COO of Arundo Analytics

Courtesy of Arundo Analytics

Stuart Morstead spent the bulk of his career in consulting, so he knows the importance of understanding the needs an industry has. He co-founded Arundo Analytics to address the analytical needs energy companies have on a regular basis.

Morstead says that most industrial companies that encounter issues with operations such as equipment maintenance "lack the data science and software capabilities to drive value from insights into their daily operations."

Arundo is growing — both from a funding standpoint as well as through its staff. The Houston company has big plans for its 2019.

This entrepreneur says the future of driving is using smart tech on a subscription-based business model. Pexels

This company’s machine learning programs are making driving in Houston safer — and cheaper

Vroom, Vroom

Two thousand years ago, in ancient Rome, the primary mode of transportation was an intelligent one: the horse. The Latin word "currus" was the inspiration for Alex Colosivschi when it came to naming his business, Currux.

"We chose this name because we believe in a future where cars and actually most modes of transportation will be intelligent, like horses," he explains. "And so it's a great name considering our focus on the future of mobility and machine learning."

The change from "s" to "x" at the end of the word allowed Colosivschi to trademark the name.

The entrepreneur, whose career was focused on energy finance until starting the new company in 2017, came up with the idea for Currux while walking in his Rice Village neighborhood. He realized that despite the green surroundings, he was choked by the smell of engine exhaust.

"I started with thinking about the future of energy and how the industry will adapt to a world of electric, autonomous and shared mobility, and the need to reduce CO2 emissions," he says.

His goal is an ambitious one: With Currux, Colosivschi hopes to not only reduce the cost and carbon footprint of owning a car, but also the accident rates. How? Currux itself is a long-term automobile subscription service. Colosivschi says to think of it as a long-term rental or a more flexible version of a lease. The car is delivered through an app and there is no commitment at the end of the subscription. Regular maintenance is included and the company is on the way to providing insurance, too.

It's also possible to share a car or fleet of cars with friends, assuring that your vehicle is only touched by people you know. This will be even more true when autonomous driving technology allows the car to go from subscriber to subscriber without a human in between.

"With the advent of digital shopping, we believe subscriptions will become the primary way that people get a car," Colosivschi predicts.

This will save clients money, but the ultimate goal is much bigger. Colosivschi wants to reduce air pollution. This will happen naturally with having fewer, mostly electric, cars on the road thanks to vehicle sharing, but another technology will also aid in the fight.

Currux Vision, which closely followed Currux in development, is a smartphone-based driver assistance program. It will help lower fuel consumption and reduce accident rates by "proactively coaching the driver on best driving practices," says Colosivschi.

"Just by slowing down and driving in a less aggressive manner, we can significantly reduce fuel consumption and more importantly prevent accidents from happening."

If you've driven or ridden in a Tesla, you've seen similar technology in action. Computer vision creates accident warnings and tracks how you handle your vehicle on the road. Yep, it's AI for your phone, which also incorporates GPS tracking, navigation and driver profile scoring.

"This set of functionalities normally require three or four different types of hardware and software systems and many thousands of dollars in expense per each car," explains Colosivschi.

But Currux Vision only requires that the user install the app, have a car-mounted phone holder with an unobstructed view of the road, and pay $4.99 each month for the technology.

Both these apps were created by Currux's own technical team, based mostly in Ukraine. As the company expands, Colosivschi has plans to significantly grow the Galleria-area Houston team, which is currently just a few employees strong.

But Colosivschi is ready for big growth. Currently, Currux is available only in Houston, but other U.S. cities will follow soon. As an energy industry lifer, the entrepreneur is also primed for significant changes not only to how we drive, but how we consume energy.

"The age of the internal combustion engine and automobile ushered in the age of oil. The age of lithium ion batteries, machine learning and digitization of transaction mediums similarly will have profound effects for both transportation and energy sectors," he predicts. He's confident that Currux can grow with those sea changes. And he's ready to help transform the world, starting with Houston.

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How this Houston innovator's tech is gearing up to impact EV charging, energy transition

houston innovators podcast episode 172

With more and more electric vehicles on the road, existing electrical grid infrastructure needs to be able to keep up. Houston-based Revterra has the technology to help.

"One of the challenges with electric vehicle adoption is we're going to need a lot of charging stations to quickly charge electric cars," Ben Jawdat, CEO and founder of Revterra, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "People are familiar with filling their gas tank in a few minutes, so an experience similar to that is what people are looking for."

To charge an EV in ten minutes is about 350 kilowatts of power, and, as Jawdat explains, if several of these charges are happening at the same time, it puts a tremendous strain on the electric grid. Building the infrastructure needed to support this type of charging would be a huge project, but Jawdat says he thought of a more turnkey solution.

Revterra created a kinetic energy storage system that enables rapid EV charging. The technology pulls from the grid, but at a slower, more manageable pace. Revterra's battery acts as an intermediary to store that energy until the consumer is ready to charge.

"It's an energy accumulator and a high-power energy discharger," Jawdat says, explaining that compared to an electrical chemical battery, which could be used to store energy for EVs, kinetic energy can be used more frequently and for faster charging.

Jawdat, who is a trained physicist with a PhD from the University of Houston and worked as a researcher at Rice University, says some of his challenges were receiving early funding and identifying customers willing to deploy his technology.

Last year, Revterra raised $6 million in a series A funding round. Norway’s Equinor Ventures led the round, with participation from Houston-based SCF Ventures. Previously, Revterra raised nearly $500,000 through a combination of angel investments and a National Science Foundation grant.

The funding has gone toward growing Revterra's team, including onboarding three new engineers with some jobs still open, Jawdat says. Additionally, Revterra is building out its new lab space and launching new pilot programs.

Ultimately, Revterra, an inaugural member of Greentown Houston, hopes to be a major player within the energy transition.

"We really want to be an enabling technology in the renewable energy transition," Jawdat says. "One part of that is facilitating the development of large-scale, high-power, fast-charging networks. But, beyond that, we see this technology as a potential solution in other areas related to the clean energy transition."

He shares more about what's next for Revterra on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Report: Houston's hot medical office market might be on track to cool

by the numbers

Houston’s medical office market is on a roll.

A report from commercial real estate services company JLL shows net absorption and transaction volume saw healthy gains in 2022:

  • The annual absorption total of 289,215 square feet was 50.5 percent higher than the five-year average.
  • Transaction volume notched a 31.7 percent year-over-year increase.

Meanwhile, net rents held steady at $26.92 per square foot, up 1.3 percent from the previous year. The fourth-quarter 2022 vacancy rate stood at 15.9 percent.

Despite those numbers, the report suggests a slowdown in medical office rentals may be underway.

“Tenants who may have previously considered building out or expanding their lease agreements are now in a holding pattern due to increased construction costs and higher interest rates,” the report says. “These factors are having a direct impact on financial decisions when it comes to lease renewals, making it more likely that tenants will remain in their existing location for the foreseeable future.”

Still, the report notes “a number of bright spots for the future of healthcare in Houston.” Aside from last year’s record-high jump in sales volume, the report indicates an aging population coupled with a growing preference for community-based treatment “will lift demand even higher in coming years.”

The report shows that in last year’s fourth quarter, 527,083 square of medical office space was under construction in the Houston area, including:

  • 152,871 square feet in the Clear Lake area.
  • 104,665 square feet in the South submarket.
  • 103,647 square feet in Sugar Land.
Last fall, JLL recognized Houston as a top city for life sciences. According to that report, the Bayou City lands at No. 13 in JLL’s 2022 ranking of the country’s top 15 metro areas for life sciences. JLL says Houston “is poised for further growth” in life sciences.

Houston financial services firm announces acquisition, plans to grow

M&A radar

A Houston-based financial services company has made a recent strategic acquisition that gives it a new banking status.

LevelField Financial, which is creating a platform that combines traditional banking and digital asset products and services, announced this week that it is acquiring Burling Bank, an FDIC-insured, Illinois state-chartered bank. According to the company, once it receives regulatory approval, "LevelField will be the first full-service bank to offer fully compliant traditional banking and digital asset services."

The financial terms of the deal's transaction, which is expected to close later this year, were not disclosed.

The combined company will be able to provide traditional banking services, as well as LevelField's digital asset management. Burling Bank's senior management team will join LevelField's leadership, per a press release. They will focus on serving the bank's existing clients and growing the banking business nationwide.

"We conducted a broad review of banks in the U.S. to find the ideal institution with both an existing business and a management team who are aligned with our vision; we exceeded our expectations with Burling Bank. With this acquisition, LevelField will become a traditional bank, albeit one serving customers interested in the digital asset class," says Gene A. Grant II, CEO of LevelField Financial, in the release.

"We are thrilled to have the Burling executives join our leadership team, and together we intend to deliver fantastic customer service and well-designed products to customers who have an interest in accessing the digital asset class through a traditional bank," he continues.

Founded in 2018 by former banking executives, LevelField's leadership believes "the future of money is digital and that banks will continue to be a trusted provider of financial services," according to the website. This acquisition comes ahead of the company's plans to expand nationally.

"LevelField's strategic approach presented a tremendous opportunity for the bank to expand beyond our local footprint and serve customers with shared interests across the nation," says Michael J. Busch, Burling Bank president and CEO. "Together, we will continue to provide superior service and demonstrate that we truly understand the expanding and unique needs of our customers. Additionally, through the carefully developed suite of products we can address our customers' interests in digital assets and introduce them to LevelField's safe, simple, and secure platform."