The six finalists for the sustainability category for the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards weigh in on their challenges overcome. Photos courtesy

Six Houston-area sustainability startups have been named finalists in the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards, but they didn't achieve this recognition — as well as see success for their businesses — without any obstacles.

The finalists were asked what their biggest challenges have been. From funding to market adoption, the sustainability companies have had to overcome major obstacles to continue to develop their businesses.

The awards program — hosted by InnovationMap, and Houston Exponential — will name its winners on November 8 at the Houston Innovation Awards. The program was established to honor the best and brightest companies and individuals from the city's innovation community. Eighteen energy startups were named as finalists across all categories, but the following responses come from the finalists in the sustainability category specifically.

    Click here to secure your tickets to see who wins.

    1. Securing a commercial pilot

    "As an early-stage clean energy developer, we struggled to convince key suppliers to work on our commercial pilot project. Suppliers were skeptical of our unproven technology and, given limited inventory from COVID, preferred to prioritize larger clients. We overcame this challenge by bringing on our top suppliers as strategic investors. With a long-term equity stake in Fervo, leading oilfield services companies were willing to provide Fervo with needed drilling rigs, frack crews, pumps, and other equipment." — Tim Latimer, founder and CEO of Fervo Energy

    2. Finding funding

    "Securing funding in Houston as a solo cleantech startup founder and an immigrant with no network. Overcome that by adopting a milestone-based fundraising approach and establishing credibility through accelerator/incubator programs." — Anas Al Kassas, CEO and founder of INOVUES

    "The biggest challenge has been finding funding. Most investors are looking towards software development companies as the capital costs are low in case of a risk. Geothermal costs are high, but it is physical technology that needs to be implemented to safety transition the energy grid to reliable, green power." — Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems

    3. Market adoption

    "Market adoption by convincing partners and government about WHP as a solution, which is resource-intensive. Making strides by finding the correct contacts to educate." — Janice Tran, CEO and co-founder of Kanin Energy

    "We are creating a brand new financial instrument at the intersection of carbon markets and power markets, both of which are complicated and esoteric. Our biggest challenge has been the cold-start problem associated with launching a new product that has effectively no adoption. We tackled this problem by leading the Energy Storage Solutions Consortium (a group of corporates and battery developers looking for sustainability solutions in the power space), which has opened up access to customers on both sides of our marketplace. We have also leveraged our deep networks within corporate power procurement and energy storage development to talk to key decision-makers at innovative companies with aggressive climate goals to become early adopters of our products and services." — Emma Konet, CTO and co-founder of Tierra Climate

    4. Long scale timelines

    "Scaling and commercializing industrial technologies takes time. We realized this early on and designed the eXERO technology to be scalable from the onset. We developed the technology at the nexus of traditional electrolysis and conventional gas processing, taking the best of both worlds while avoiding their main pitfalls." — Claus Nussgruber, CEO of Utility Global

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    This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

    This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Emma Fauss of Medical Informatics Corp., Anas Al Kassas of INOVUES, and Scott Blair of Popable. Photos courtesy

    3 Houston innovators to know this week

    who's who

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

    Emma Fauss, CEO and co-founder of Medical Informatics Corp.

    A Houston startup that created a remote monitoring and care platform has raised millions in financing. Image via michealthcare.com

    Houston-based Medical Informatics Corp. closed a $17 million series B co-led by Maryland-based Catalio Capital Management and California-based Intel Capital. The financing also includes an additional $10 million in debt led by Catalio through Catalio’s structured equity strategy, according to a news release.

    “We are excited to have had this round co-led by Catalio and Intel Capital," says Emma Fauss, CEO and co-founder of MIC, in the release. "Catalio brings significant financial and technical resources, while Intel Capital possesses strong operational and industry experience, and we look forward to continuing to leverage both firms’ expertise as we continue to scale.”

    MIC created an FDA-cleared virtual care platform, called Sickbay, that gives health care providers and hospitals away to remotely monitor patients in any setting with vendor-neutral real-time medical device integration, workflow automation and standardization. Click here to read more.

    Anas Al Kassas, founder and CEO of INOVUES

    INOVUES Founder and CEO Anas Al Kassas joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how he’s moving the needle on the energy transition within the construction and architectural industries. Photo courtesy of INOVUES

    An architect by trade, Anas Al Kassas says he was used to solving problems in his line of work. Each project architects take on requires building designers to be innovative and creative. A few years ago, Kassas took his problem-solving background into the entrepreneurship world to scale a process that allows for retrofitting window facades for energy efficiency.

    “If you look at buildings today, they are the largest energy-consuming sector — more than industrial and more than transportation,” Kassas, founder and CEO of INOVUES, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. “They account for up to 40 percent of energy consumption and carbon emissions.”

    To meet their climate goals, companies within the built environment are making moves to transition to electric systems. This has to be done with energy efficiency in mind, otherwise it will result in grid instability.

    "Energy efficiency goes hand in hand with energy transition," he explains. Read more.

    Scott Blair, CEO and co-founder of Popable

    Walmart and Popable are teaming up just in time for the holiday shopping season. Image courtesy of Popable

    With the holidays in full swing, and small businesses looking to gain back revenues lost during the COVID-19 pandemic, Walmart and Houston-based Popable are providing the opportunity to display and sell their products at Walmart can be highly beneficial to recoup profits, and unload new and extra products to a larger audience.

    “Going into the holidays the timing is pretty good for a lot of brands looking to move some access inventory that they have loaded up from last year, but this (hopefully with Walmart) will be a year-round thing,” says Popable CEO and co-founder Scott Blair. “The pop-up opportunities we’ve been seeing with brands doing reach outs so far, a lot of them are looking for stuff into January and February too.”

    Popable has assisted brands secure qualified spaces, get education and resources, and build community, and connections that are vital to helping small businesses expand their visibility in the marketplace. The platform simultaneously helps retail landlords find qualified retailers from a directory of tens of thousands of brands to fill vacancies and drive traffic to their shopping centers. Read more.

    INOVUES Founder and CEO Anas Al Kassas joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how he’s moving the needle on the energy transition within the construction and architectural industries. Photo courtesy of INOVUES

    Houston innovator on seeing a greener future on built environment

    HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 163

    An architect by trade, Anas Al Kassas says he was used to solving problems in his line of work. Each project architects take on requires building designers to be innovative and creative. A few years ago, Kassas took his problem-solving background into the entrepreneurship world to scale a process that allows for retrofitting window facades for energy efficiency.

    “If you look at buildings today, they are the largest energy-consuming sector — more than industrial and more than transportation,” Kassas, founder and CEO of INOVUES, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. “They account for up to 40 percent of energy consumption and carbon emissions.”

    To meet their climate goals, companies within the built environment are making moves to transition to electric systems. This has to be done with energy efficiency in mind, otherwise it will result in grid instability.

    "Energy efficiency goes hand in hand with energy transition," he explains.

    Kassas says that he first had the idea for his company when he was living in Boston. He chose to start the business in Houston, attracted to the city by its central location, affordable labor market, and manufacturing opportunities here.

    Last year, INOVUES raised its first round of funding — a $2.75 million seed round — to scale up the team and identify the best markets to target customers. Kassas says he was looking for regions with rising energy rates and sizable incentives for companies making energy efficient changes.

    "We were able to now implement our technology in over 4 million square feet of building space — from Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York City, Portland, and very soon in Canada," he says.

    Notably missing from that list is any Texas cities. Kassas says that he believes Houston is a great city for startups and he has his operations and manufacturing is based here, but he's not yet seen the right opportunity and adaption

    "Unfortunately most of our customers are not in Texas," he says. "A lot of work can be done here to incentivize building owners. There are a lot of existing buildings and construction happening here, but there has to be more incentives."

    Kassas shares more about his growth over the past year, as well as what he has planned for 2023 on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

    Window-retrofitting climatetech company has raised its first round of funding. Photo via inovues.com

    Houston startup raises $2.75M to make buildings more energy efficient

    seeing green

    A Houston startup that retrofits windows with smart glass innovations to reduce energy use has raised its first round of funding.

    INOVUES closed its seed round at $2.75 million last month. The oversubscribed round was led by Dallas-based Paulos Holdings with participation from new and existing investors, including Houston-based VC Fuel, Saint-Gobain NOVA, Fund4SE, Momentum Glass, Lateral Capital, E8 Angels, and the Central Texas Angel Network.

    "Our mission is to help cities achieve their energy efficiency and emissions-reduction targets by increasing the rate of window upgrades in existing buildings," says INOVUES founder and CEO, Anas Al Kassas, in a news release. "To achieve that, we have developed a low-carbon, high-ROI retrofit solution that makes upgrading building windows a financially attractive energy conservation measure instead of a massive capital upgrade associated with business disruptions and prohibitive payback periods."

    Up to 40 percent of the energy loss in buildings comes from windows, per the release, and buildings as a whole represent the largest energy-consuming sector. The climatech company's patented Glazing Shield system provides a lower cost and less intrusive solution to complete window replacement.

    "INOVUES is a game-changer in the energy efficiency market because it has developed an innovative, patented building retrofit solution that significantly reduces the energy usage and carbon emissions of existing buildings at a fraction of the cost of more expensive standard building retrofit options," says Ahmad Atwan, founder and CEO of VC Fuel, in the release. "We are excited that INOVUES has been recognized as the industry leader by winning prestigious green building awards on both domestic and international levels. At a time when cities are encouraging, and sometimes mandating, building owners to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions, INOVUES has become the logical solution to such challenges."

    The fresh funding will go toward growing the INOVUES team, expanding commercialization efforts, and scaling its technology.

    "INOVUES' technology can radically shrink the carbon footprint of 20th-century buildings and help commercial real estate owners meet their sustainability and ESG goals with no tenant disruption and in many cases with payback periods of less than five years plus incentives," says John Paulos, vice president of Paulos Holdings, in the release. "It is exciting for us to be a part of the journey INOVUES is taking to mitigate climate change and accelerate the transition to a sustainable cleaner world."

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    Annual student startup competition in Houston names teams for 2024

    ready to pitch

    The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship announced the 42 student-led teams worldwide that will compete in the highly competitive Rice Business Plan Competition this spring.

    The annual competition, known as one of the world’s largest and richest intercollegiate student startup competitions, will take place April 4 to 6 in Houston. Teams in this year's competition represent 35 universities from four countries, including two teams from Houston and four others from Texas.

    Teams, made up of graduate students from a college or university anywhere in the world, will present their plans before 350 angel, venture capital, and corporate investors to compete for more than $1 million in prizes. Last year, teams were awarded $3.4 million in investment and in-kind prizes, the largest total awarded thus far in the decades-old competition after some investors doubled — or even tripled — down on investment awards.

    The 2024 RBPC will focus on five categories: Energy, Cleantech and Sustainability; Hard Tech; Life Sciences and Healthcare Solutions; Digital Enterprise; Consumer Products and Services.

    Invitees include:

    • AIRS ML, Imperial College London (United Kingdom)
    • Blaze Power, UCLA
    • ChiChi Foods, Washington University in St. Louis
    • CureWave Sciences, Rutgers University
    • CurveAssure, Johns Hopkins University
    • D.Sole, Carnegie Mellon University
    • Dendritic Health AI, Northwestern University
    • Dialysis Innovations, University of Michigan
    • FlowCellutions, University of Pittsburgh
    • HEXAspec, Rice University
    • HydroPhos Solutions, University of New Hampshire
    • Icorium Engineering Company, University of Kansas
    • Informuta, Tulane University
    • Kiwi Charge, York University (Canada)
    • Korion Health, University of Maryland, College Park
    • Limitless Aeronautics, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University
    • LiQuidium, University of Houston
    • Malleous, University of Pittsburgh
    • MesaQuantum, Harvard University
    • MineMe, University of Pennsylvania
    • NaviAI, Cornell University
    • NutriAI, Tufts University
    • OSPHIM, RWTH Aachen University (Germany)
    • Overture Games, Northwestern University
    • OX SOX, University of Georgia
    • Oxylus Energy, Yale University
    • Palanquin Power, University of Texas at Austin
    • Paradigm Robotics, University of Texas at Austin
    • Particle-N, University of Connecticut
    • Poka Labs, Harvard University
    • Power2Polymer, RWTH Aachen University (Germany)
    • ProPika, University of Arkansas
    • Protein Pints, Michigan State University
    • Samtracs, Oklahoma State University
    • Sancorda Medical, University of Texas at Dallas
    • Side Coach Sports, Baylor University
    • Socian AI, Rochester Institute of Technology
    • Somnair, Johns Hopkins University
    • TouchStone, University of California, Berkeley
    • Vita Innovations, Stanford University
    • WattShift, University of Chicago
    • ZebraMD, UCLA

    The companies join more than 700 RBPC alumns that have collectively raised more than $5.5 billion in funding. More than 269 RBPC companies are in business or have made successful exits, according to the Rice Alliance's website.

    Last year, Texas A&M-based team FluxWorks took home $350,000 and won the competition based on judges scores. The company's technology includes magnetic gears that are four times quieter than standard with 99 percent efficiency.

    Sygne Solutions and TierraClimate, two Rice-led teams, won second and fourth places, respectively. Zaymo, from Brigham Young University, took home the most in investment dollars. Click here to see the full list of 2023 teams.

    Texas is the No. 1 destination for Gen Zers on the move, study says

    by the numbers

    A new population analysis by real estate marketplace Zillow has pegged the Lone Star State as the No. 1 destination for adults born between 1996 and 2004 – also known as Gen Z.

    Using data from the 2022 U.S. Census Bureau, the report identifies the Top 10 states to which Gen Zers are moving, and Texas was the runaway winner – far outranking No. 2 destination, California, with 76,805 Gen Z movers, versus California's 43,913.

    Reasons for moving vary, but the report says young adults from 18 to 24 years old may prefer to live in states with high performing job markets, especially in a place like San Antonio where one of the nation's top employers resides. San Antonio is also a great place for remote work, according to estimations by Forbes.

    Favorable weather also may play a factor in the high migration of Gen Z'ers, the report suggests. Texas' mostly year-round sunshine makes it more attractive to younger crowds who are looking for fun activities around the state, not to mention the advantageous impact on dating opportunities.

    Other top states with high influx of Gen Z movers include Washington (No. 5), which added over 33,500 Gen Z movers in 2022, and Colorado (No. 6) with less than 31,000 new Gen Z residents.

    Their least favorite destination was Michigan, and the Northeast also ranked poorly, with four New England states – Vermont, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Maine – all in the bottom 10.

    State with a high cost-of-living like Washington, Colorado, and Virginia (No. 7) are places where young adults are more likely to have a bachelor's degree, work in tech, or serve in the military, according to Zillow principal population scientist Edward Berchick.

    However, becoming a homeowner is much more difficult, as the report found 77 percent of the Gen Z workers in these states are renters.

    "Gen Z movers are likely drawn to the job opportunities in these states, despite the higher costs of housing," Berchick explains. "They may also be in a stage of life where they're willing and able to be flexible in their standards of living while starting their careers."

    The top 10 states for Gen Z movers are:

    • No. 1 – Texas
    • No. 2 – California
    • No. 3 – Florida
    • No. 4 – North Carolina
    • No. 5 – Washington
    • No. 6 – Colorado
    • No. 7 – Virginia
    • No. 8 – Illinois
    • No. 9 – Georgia
    • No. 10 – Arizona

    The full report can be found on zillow.mediaroom.com.

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    This article originally ran on CultureMap.

    Op-Ed: Black-owned businesses are making history in Texas, across America

    guest column

    In recent years, our small business community has weathered a global pandemic, persistent supply chain issues, sometimes volatile prices, and a tight labor market—and Black-owned businesses in our state have faced disproportionate impacts from these pandemic challenges.

    Despite those headwinds, Black-owned businesses across Texas are fueling one of the largest and most diverse waves of new business creation America has ever seen—what President Biden calls America’s Small Business Boom.

    As we mark America’s 48th national celebration of Black History Month, the SBA is highlighting Black-owned businesses’ achievements here in Texas and throughout the nation. The past three years have been the three strongest years of new business formation in American history.

    The 16 million new business applications filed during this period show Americans starting businesses at nearly twice the rate—86 percent faster—compared to the pre-2021 average. During that time, U.S. small businesses have created more than 7.2 million net new jobs. And Black-owned businesses are responsible for some of the most significant gains.

    The Invest in America agenda is powering the Biden Small Business Boom, and unlike many economic recoveries of the past, this one includes entrepreneurs of color. One of the reasons for that is the SBA’s Community Navigator Pilot Program (CNPP). This innovative hub-and-spoke partnership connected hundreds of community organizations around the country - like the U.S. Black Chambers of Commerce and the National Urban League - with entrepreneurs, helping them make the most of SBA resources. “The SBA CNPP allowed the

    Houston Area Urban League Entrepreneurship Center to leverage existing partnerships with organizations that offered services to socially and economically disadvantaged business owners and women-owned businesses,” states Eric Goodie, Executive Vice President of the Houston Area Urban League. “Through the CNPP we provided comprehensive business planning and support, e-commerce technical assistance, financial and credit education, opportunities for business networking, access to capital and procurement opportunities,while providing assistance with obtaining various business certifications. We also found theSBA Lender match portal to be a critical resource in the capital acquisition process."

    Under Administrator Isabel Guzman, the SBA has also delivered record-breaking government contracting for small businesses—including the most federal contracting dollars going to Black-owned businesses in history. And we’re addressing longstanding gaps in access to capital for Black entrepreneurs, more than doubling our small business loans toBlack-owned businesses since 2020.

    These investments are making a big impact. Black business ownership is growing at the fastest pace in 30 years. The share of Black households owning a business doubled between 2019 and 2022. In 2023 alone, Census data showed Americans filed 5.5 million new business applications across the country, including over 500,000 here in Texas. That success is creating a rising tide. Black wealth is up a record 60 percent from before the pandemic, and Black unemployment has reached historic lows since 2021.

    The SBA also understands that the work must continue. Black entrepreneurs and other historically underserved communities still face obstacles accessing capital. That's why President Biden and the SBA are committed to ensuring that anyone with a good idea can pursue that opportunity, and the Small Business Boom speaks to that success. We're helping more Americans than ever access the funds they need to realize their dreams of small business ownership – and that means more jobs, more goods and services, and more resilient communities, no matter the zip code.

    To learn more about SBA resources, entrepreneurs are invited to join the SBA Houston District Office as it teams up with the Emancipation Economic Development Council and dynamic community organizations to celebrate Black History Month. The organizations will host the Resources to Empower Entrepreneurs event at the Emancipation Cultural Center on Wednesday, February 28, and will feature discussions surrounding resources, funding, and training available for small business owners.

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    Mark Winchester is the SBA Houston District Office's acting district director.