Andrew Chang, managing director of United Airlines Ventures, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

When it comes to the future of aviation — namely, making it more sustainable, a rising tide lifts all boats. Or, in this case, planes.

Andrew Chang, managing director of United Airlines Ventures, explains that working together is the key for advancing sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF. That's why United Airlines started the Sustainable Flight Fund, a $200 million initiative with support from industry leaders, including Air Canada, Boeing, GE Aerospace, JPMorgan Chase, Honeywell, Aramco Ventures, Bank of America, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Ventures, and several others.

"We all recognize that we may compete in our core business, but with the importance of sustainable aviation fuel and given that it's an industry that doesn't exist — you can't compete for something that doesn't exist — let's collaborate and work together to explore technologies that can directly or indirectly support the commercialization and production of sustainable aviation fuel," he says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Within United Airline Ventures, Chang's job is to find technology to invest in across the aviation industry spectrum — from SAF to digital technologies that will improve the United customer experience. This means working with startups and other organizations to find the best fit — and, because he's based in Houston, one of United's seven key hubs, this means knowing and interacting with local innovators.

"The knowledge base and the capabilities are here — that's undebatable," Chang says of the Houston innovation ecosystem. "The next step is making sure we're accessing, promoting, collaborating, and learning from one another."

Again, as Chang recognizes, collaboration is key to further developing the ecosystem, "so that we're not trying to solve the same problem in a vacuum," he explains.

United Airlines recently signed an offtake agreement with Cemvita Factory, a Houston biotech startup that's working on SAF. Chang discusses this partnership on the show, as well as explaining how he works with other startups and what he's looking for.

The Corporate of the Year category for the Houston Innovation Awards has four finalists — each playing a role in Houston's innovation ecosystem across energy, tech, and health care innovation. Photos courtesy

Meet the 4 corporations best supporting Houston's innovation ecosystem

Houston innovation awards

What corporations are most supporting Houston's startup ecosystem? The Houston Innovation Awards sought to find that out with a new category for the 2023 event.

The Corporate of the Year category has four finalists — each playing a role in Houston's innovation ecosystem across energy, tech, and health care innovation. Learn about each of these finalists in the interviews below.

Click here to secure your tickets to the November 8 event where we announce the winner of this exciting new category.

Aramco Ventures

Jim Sledzik, North American managing director of Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures, leads the organization locally. Photo via Aramco

Describe your company's work within the Houston innovation ecosystem.

Aramco Ventures has supported the development of Houston's innovation ecosystem as a founding member of the Ion to advance energy transition and Houston's tech economy. Jim Sledzik, managing director, Aramco Ventures North America, serves on the Ion Advisory Council. In addition we support Greentown Labs with its offices in Boston and Houston with Sledzik also named to its Advisory Board. Aramco Venture professionals are frequently tapped as speakers and participants for numerous industry speaking events and "Pitch Competitions" for start-up companies. For example, the 20th Annual Energy Tech Venture Forum held in Houston and organized by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship; Climate Week NYC; and the first ever Women's Capital Summit in New York City.

Why has your company decided to support the Houston innovation ecosystem?

Houston is considered the energy capital of the world and Aramco's support and involvement will help amplify the city's reputation and presence as a global energy hub.

Describe your company's impact on the Houston innovation ecosystem.

Aramco's impact has been felt throughout the city by our involvement in major innovation events, activities, and investments.

Chevron Technology Ventures

Jim Gable, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures, leads the organization locally. Photo courtesy

Why has your company decided to support the Houston innovation ecosystem?

Investing in the communities where we operate is a core Chevron value, and Chevron is committed to building the innovation ecosystem in Houston. It’s good for our company and it’s good for the city.

The Houston region, with its deep pool of engineering and industry talent, world-class university expertise, growing startup community and vast energy infrastructure, is well-positioned to lead in the creation of lower carbon energy and improve the region’s global competitiveness. By leveraging its strengths, Houston can create its own model for how it’s going to disrupt the energy space.

Describe your company's impact on the Houston innovation ecosystem.

At Chevron Technology Ventures, we leverage our trial and deployment resources, venture investments and strategic partnerships – both internal and external – to support the technological breakthroughs that will enable the evolution to a lower-carbon energy system. CTV is an active sponsor of university programs and accelerators that build up the Houston energy ecosystem. It has led Chevron’s founding partnership with Greentown Labs Houston and was The Ion’s first tenant and program partner. CTV also backs The Cannon and Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator, among others. As a partner and supporter of the innovation ecosystem, Chevron is committed to helping the ecosystem thrive.

Houston Methodist

Michelle Stansbury, vice president of innovation and IT applications at Houston Methodist, leads the company's innovation efforts. Photo courtesy of Houston Methodist

Describe your company's work within the Houston innovation ecosystem.

Our new collaborative space, the Tech Hub at Ion, is one way we are expanding our culture of innovation within Houston and its growing innovation ecosystem. Beyond showcasing ongoing technology, the Tech Hub at Ion also serves as a nucleus for community engagement and networking and hosting educational initiatives, with additional programming opportunities like reverse pitch sessions in the works.

Why has your company decided to support the Houston innovation ecosystem?

Healthcare is evolving at a rapid pace thanks to digital technology, so it’s important to search for solutions that are beyond the traditional walls of the hospital and even beyond our own industry. Serving our patients both in and outside the walls, especially in the community, has been a priority for Houston Methodist since our inception. We’ve had success in the healthcare innovation space, so we think it’s important to pay it forward and support the Houston innovation community.

Describe your company's impact on the Houston innovation ecosystem.

Our new collaborative space, the Tech Hub at Ion, is one way we are expanding our culture of innovation within Houston and its growing innovation ecosystem. Beyond showcasing ongoing technology, the Tech Hub at Ion also serves as a nucleus for community engagement and networking and hosting educational initiatives, with additional programming opportunities like reverse pitch sessions in the works. Houston Methodist’s Center for Innovation often collaborates with technology companies with solutions that provide a better patient experience and/or support clinicians and often these are technology companies early in their start-up journey. One Houston start-up Houston Methodist at the beginning of the pandemic and continues to use is MIC Sickbay, the technology that powers the virtual ICU and uses algorithms and AI to monitor patients.

Microsoft

Rob Schapiro, Energy Acceleration Program director and Houston site leader for Microsoft, leads the company's local innovation support efforts. Photo courtesy of Microsoft

Describe your company's work within the Houston innovation ecosystem.

Microsoft is committed to driving tech and innovation in the Houston community with a specific focus on underrepresented communities. Microsoft is financially supporting the ion, Greentown Labs Accel, DivInc, Tejano Tech Summit, and the Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator as well as programs designed to bring the next generations of Houston founders to the forefront (G-Unity Business Lab, SuperGirls Shine Foundation, Tech Fest Live, PVAMU). Aside from the financial support, Microsoft brings a dedicated team of volunteers and mentors to each of these engagements, and they are helping shape the future of innovation in the city of Houston.

Why has your company decided to support the Houston innovation ecosystem?

We believe that it is our duty to be an active and engaged corporate partner to any and all communities in which we operate. We decided to invest in Houston because of the rich, diverse talent pool and the growing energy transition industry.

Describe your company's impact on the Houston innovation ecosystem.

  • Partnered with DivInc to create an Energy Tech Accelerator program that had its first cohort of seven companies this year.
  • Driving thought leadership and bringing attention to valuable initiatives through serving on the advisory boards of the Ion (Vice Chair position), Greentown Labs Houston, Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator.
  • Supporting the next generation of innovators: 120 high school students received hands on training in innovation and prototyping as part of the G-Unity Business Lab. This program doubled in size due to its success. Microsoft sponsored prototyping and design thinking training. We also seated one of the Hustle Tank judges.
  • Graduated 14 students from the Level Up fellowship program in partnership with Prairie View A&M University and Accenture; most students received and accepted employment offers from Accenture.
  • Sponsored 20 high school girls who participated in the SuperGirls Shine Foundation's 40/40 mentorship program.
  • Ten women founders received mentoring and training as part of the DivInc Women in Tech Cohort
  • Held a four-week high school internship program for BIPOC students

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Howard Berman of Coya Therapeutics, Tim Latimer of Fervo Energy, and Jim Sledzik of Aramco Ventures. 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 biotech to energy transition — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Howard Berman, co-founder and CEO of Coya Therapeutics

For Howard Berman, CEO and co-founder of Coya Therapeutics, commercializing his company is personal. Photo courtesy of Coya

Howard Berman, as co-founder and CEO, has been at the helm of Coya Therapeutics as its hit some major milestones — from raising over $20 million in venture investment to taking the company public. Coya's IPO occured in a tough market — only 12 biotech companies went public last year, Berman explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast. To Berman, that just proves how passionate the team was about getting this product to those who need it.

"It really says something for the fortitude and our team to come together to make it happen," he says on the show. "We're able to deliver and execute in a difficult market climate.

"Once you're a public company, you have different expectations," he continues. "But you also have the opportunity to go out and attract additional investors in ways you can't do as a private company." Read more.

Tim Latimer, co-founder and CEO of Fervo Energy 

Fervo Energy has raised additional funding to continue executing on its mission of more reliable geothermal energy production. Photo via LinkedIn

Fervo Energy, which has developed a process for drilling horizontal wells for commercial geothermal production as well as distributed fiber optic sensing to geothermal reservoir development, has secured the $10 million strategic investment from Devon Energy Corp.

“We are thrilled to have Devon as a partner,” says Tim Latimer, co-founder and CEO of Fervo, in a news release. “Devon is a technology leader with historic and unparalleled expertise in drilling and completing wells. We expect this partnership will help unlock further potential for geothermal as the primary 24/7 renewable energy source.” Read more.

Jim Sledzik, North American managing director of Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures

Jim Sledzik, North American managing director of Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures, will serve on Greentown's Industry Leadership Council. Photo via Aramco

Houston-based Aramco Americas, an arm of the Saudi Arabian energy giant, has joined climatetech incubator Greentown Labs as a top-tier partner.

In its role as a “Terawatt Partner,” Aramco Americas will gain access to activities within Greentown’s industry and entrepreneurial network. In addition, Aramco Americas will participate in Greentown’s Industry Leadership Council, an advisory group. Jim Sledzik, managing director of Aramco Ventures North America, will serve on the council. Read more.

In its role as a “Terawatt Partner,” Aramco Americas will gain access to activities within Greentown’s industry and entrepreneurial network. Photo via greentownlabs.com

Aramco joins Houston climatetech incubator with major partnership

seeing green

Houston-based Aramco Americas, an arm of the Saudi Arabian energy giant, has joined climatetech incubator Greentown Labs as a top-tier partner.

“Aramco is committed to advancing technology solutions to lower carbon emissions. This partnership with Greentown Labs will deepen our ongoing engagement with climatetech innovators and startups,” Nabeel AlAfaleg, president and CEO of Aramco Americas, says in a news release.

In its role as a “Terawatt Partner,” Aramco Americas will gain access to activities within Greentown’s industry and entrepreneurial network. In addition, Aramco Americas will participate in Greentown’s Industry Leadership Council, an advisory group. Jim Sledzik, managing director of Aramco Ventures North America, will serve on the council.

Aramco’s partnership with Greentown Labs comes on the heels of last year’s announcement of the company’s $1.5 billion fund to invest in technology that supports the ongoing energy transition. Managed by Aramco Ventures, the VC arm of Aramco, the fund focuses on carbon capture and storage, greenhouse gas emissions, energy efficiency, nature-based climate solutions, digital sustainability, hydrogen, ammonia, and synthetic fuels.

To date, Aramco Ventures has invested in 22 startups and high-growth companies involved in the sustainability sector.

“Aramco Americas and Aramco Ventures have already exemplified what we look for in a partner: support of our entrepreneurs through investment and pilot opportunities, and engaging with our communities in Houston and Boston in the spirit of sustainability and climate action,” says Kevin Taylor, interim CEO and chief financial officer of Greentown Labs.

Greentown operates climatetech incubators in Houston and Somerville, Massachusetts.

Jim Sledzik, North American managing director of Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures, will serve on Greentown’s Industry Leadership Council. Photo via Aramco

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16 Houston-based companies hailed best places to work by U.S. News

the standouts

More than a dozen Houston-based companies are sharing the spotlight in U.S. News and World Report's collection of the "Best Companies to Work For" in 2024-2025.

The annual report examines publicly-traded companies around the world to determine the best employers based on six metrics including work-life balance and flexibility; quality of pay and benefits; job and company stability; career opportunities and professional development; and more. The companies were not ranked, but included based on reader surveys and publicly available data about each workplace.

New for the 2024-2025 report, U.S. News analyzed549 companies across 29 different lists, including the overall best companies list — which includes the best 300 companies across the U.S., the United Kingdom, Ireland, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Bermuda — 24 industry-specific lists, and four regional lists.

There were 16 total companies based around Houston that made the lists, with the majority being based in the city, while one each were located in Spring and The Woodlands.

Leading the pack in Houston is construction company Comfort Systems USA, which provides HVAC, plumbing, and electrical services. Comfort Systems employs 15,800 people, brings in $5.57 billion in annual revenue, and has a market cap of $11.21 billion. The company earned high ratings for its job stability, "belongingness," and professional development opportunities, according to U.S. News.

Comfort Systems also made appearances on U.S. News' industry-specific "Best in Construction" list, and the "Best Companies in the South" list.

Independent energy company Marathon Oil was another top-rated Houston employer, with nearly 1,700 employees, an annual revenue stream of $6.38 billion, and a $15.4 billion market cap. The company was specifically highlighted with a "Top Quality of Pay" label, but also boasts high ratings for its employees' work-life balance, job stability, and belongingness.

In addition to being included in the overall "Best Companies" list, Marathon Oil earned recognition in the industry-specific "Best in Energy" list and the "Best Companies in the South" list.

A second Houston-based energy company earning a spot among the top employers is Occidental (also known as Oxy). The petroleum corporation, which has been in operation since 1920, has nearly 12,600 employees and brings in $27,43 billion in revenue every year.

According to U.S. News, Occidental offers many financial, health and wellness, and workplace benefits including 401k matching, tuition assistance, an employee assistance program, flexible work arrangements, and much more. The company was also given a "Top Quality of Pay" designation.

Occidental appeared in U.S. News' "Best in Mining and Raw Materials," the overall "Best Companies," and "Best Companies in the South" lists.

Other top companies to work for in Houston include:

  • Insperity, Kingwood – Best in Professional Services; Best Companies (overall); Best Companies in the South
  • Southwestern Energy Company, Spring – Best in Energy; Best Companies (overall); Best Companies in the South
  • PROS – Best in IT, Software and Services; Best Companies (overall); Best Companies in the South
  • Powell Industries – Best in Manufacturing; Best Companies (overall); Best Companies in the South
  • Stewart – Best in Insurance; Best Companies (overall); Best Companies in the South
  • ConocoPhillips – Best in Energy, Best Companies in the South
  • LGI Homes, The Woodlands – Best in Construction; Best Companies in the South
  • Service Corporation International – Best in Consumer Products and Services; Best Companies in the South
  • Skyward Specialty Insurance – Best Companies in the South
  • Camden Property Trust – Best in Real Estate; Best Companies in the South
  • Cheniere – Best in Energy
  • EOG Resources – Best in Energy
  • Murphy Oil Corporation – Best in Energy

"Prospective and current employees understand the significant impact their employer has on their quality of life," said Carly Chase, vice president of careers at U.S. News and World Report, in a release. "Whether a new grad seeking a company to launch their career, an established professional looking for a change or an HR professional researching the strengths of their company and others, Best Companies to Work For provides a central space to see which companies are meeting their employees' needs best.

Top workplaces around Texas
In all, 42 different employers headquartered in the Lone Star State made it onto U.S. News' 2024-2025 "Best Places to Work For" lists. The Houston metro area tied with Dallas-Fort Worth with the highest number of top-rated employers, at 16 each. Only one company from West Texas made it onto the list: Diamondback Energy in Midland.

The top companies to work for in Austin are:

  • Cirrus Logic
  • CrowdStrike
  • Digital Realty
  • Silicon Labs
  • E2open
  • Q2

The top companies to work for in San Antonio are:

  • Frost Bank
  • iHeartMedia
  • Rush Enterprises, Inc., New Braunfels

The best places to work for across Dallas-Fort Worth are:

  • Thryv Holdings, Inc., Dallas
  • Comerica, Dallas
  • Veritex Community Bank, Dallas
  • Charles Schwab, Westlake
  • Southwest Airlines, Dallas
  • CMC, Irving
  • Sabre, Southlake
  • Texas Instrument, Dallas
  • Omnicell, Fort Worth
  • Enhabit, Dallas
  • Builders FirstSource, Irving
  • Invitation Homes, Dallas
  • Celanese, Irving
  • Atmos Energy, Dallas
  • Lennox, Richardson
  • Caterpillar, Irving
The full list of the best companies to work for can be found at usnews.com

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

$1M donation to Rice establishes pioneering neuro-policy center in Houston

brainy support

A big donation to Rice University will soon help researchers better understand the workings of the human brain.

Harry Yan and Weiman Gao have bestowed $1 million on the Baker Institute of Public Policy to establish the interdisciplinary Neuro-Policy Program.

Neuro-policy is a newer field that explores how brain health and function can help to fuel economic growth.

“The Neuro-Policy Program is at the forefront of pioneering data analysis, empirical research and policy application,” says Harris Eyre, the lead for the program, as well as a senior fellow in brain health at the Baker Institute, in a news release. “Investing in evidence-based strategies for prevention, diagnosis and treatment can reduce brain and mental health disparities, optimize cognitive development and performance and foster innovation to build more resilient communities.”

Eyre describes the collective value of the human brain as “brain capital.” That’s because brains that are suffering from any number of neurodegenerative or mental health disorders (including depression, anxiety, brain injury and Alzheimer’s disease) have actually taken a toll on the U.S. economy, Eyre explains.

The Neuro-Policy Program seeks to improve brain performance, and consequently enhance economic growth, national security, and our overall standing as a nation of healthy brains. The program’s primary projects include establishing a task force to advise Texas “brain and mind” legislative efforts as well as a Texas Brain Capital Dashboard, collaborating on Texas Forward (Texas Brain Health Plan) with the UT Dallas Center for BrainHealth, thereby working toward U.S. brain capital policy and investment advances. These projects are expected to yield deliverables as early as 2026.

“The Neuro-Policy Program aims to leverage the university’s proximity to the Texas Medical Center and the institute’s strong connections to state and federal policymakers. This is an important yet underrepresented area of research that Houston is poised to lead,” says David Satterfield, the director of the Baker Institute.

Yan and Gao said in a press release that they were inspired to gift the grant funds to Eyre and his research after attending a March 28 Baker Institute event on brain health that featured U.S. Rep. Morgan Luttrell, a co-chair of the Congressional Neuroscience Caucus.

"We are honored to support Dr. Harris Eyre and the Neuro-Policy program he leads. Dr. Eyre’s work has greatly impressed us, highlighting the critical importance of brain health in our society today,” say Yan and Gao. “We hope our contribution can inspire further support and advocacy in the field, helping individuals lead healthier lives through a comprehensive approach to prevention.”