This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Armand Paradis of ComboCurve, Matthew Nojoomi of Ictero Medical, and Ryan McCord of McCord Development. 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 health tech to energy software — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Armand Paradis, co-founder of ComboCurve

Armand Paradis joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how his energy software business is scaling rapidly. Photo courtesy

Houston-based ComboCurve is growing rapidly. The energy software company has raised over $60 million in venture capital investment — $50 million of which was closed in the company’s series B round earlier this year. Since the original product launched in May of 2020, CEO and Co-Founder Armand Paradis says the platform has almost 200 companies on it.

“We built something that resonated with the market — and we were super passionate about the product and taking care of our industry,” Paradis says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. “We don’t want to be the best in oil and gas. We want to be the best software company."Click here to read more.

Matthew Nojoomi, CEO and co-founder of Ictero Medical

This innovative medical device company has closed $6 million for further product development and clinical trials. Image via TMC.edu

Houston-based medical device company Ictero Medical closed its oversubscribed series A at $6 million. The funding round was led by MedTex Ventures, S3 Ventures, and an undisclosed strategic investor. The company's novel cryoablation system was designed to treat high-risk gallstone disease patients and provide a less invasive and lower risk alternative to gallbladder removal surgery — something over 1 million Americans undergo annually.

“Our technology provides an immediate solution for critically ill patients who currently have no good treatment options, and also has the potential to benefit healthier patients who want to avoid surgery,” says Ictero Co-Founder and CEO Matthew Nojoomi in the release. Click here to read more.

Ryan McCord, president of McCord Development

Houston real estate expert shares why he thinks the city is prime for smart city tech and implementation. Photo courtesy

Houston has every tool in its toolkit to be able to emerge as a smart city leader. In a guest column for InnovationMap, Ryan McCord of McCord Development explains the momentum the city already has and the existing smart city opportunities already in town.

"Houston’s diversity, business-friendly environment, and workforce make it a prime candidate to become a smart city. Becoming smarter in our transportation, public safety, sustainability practices, and infrastructure will create a better future for Houstonians." Click here to read more.

Armand Paradis joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how his energy software business is scaling rapidly. Photo courtesy

Fresh off a $50M series B, fast-growing Houston startup aims to upgrade energy sector tech

Houston innovators podcast episode 132

The energy industry has historically made critical and timely decisions with antiquated and disjointed software, and that just was not ideal for Armand Paradis.

“In our space, all the decisions are expensive,” Paradis tells the Houston Innovators Podcast. “We could go all the way into the billions of dollars making decisions using software from 30 or 40 years ago. I really thought this was a problem.”

Paradis, observing this opportunity in the industry, left his job at Equinor to launch ComboCurve, a comprehensive and more effective software platform for various verticals within the energy industry.

ComboCurve has raised over $60 million in venture capital investment — $50 million of which was closed in the company’s series B round earlier this year. It wasn’t just funding ComboCurve expanded over the past few years. The original product launched in May of 2020 and in 2021, added around 100 companies onto its platform. Now, not even halfway through 2022, almost 200 companies use the software.

“We built something that resonated with the market — and we were super passionate about the product and taking care of our industry,” Paradis says on the podcast.

“We don’t want to be the best in oil and gas. We want to be the best software company,” he continues.

One focus ComboCurve has is on the energy transition. He says energy companies are making moves in lowering their carbon emissions and investing in greener technology — they just might not be talking about it.

“We want to be the role model — the company that’s being super proactive in their environmental practices,” Paradis says. “To be able to do that, you have to be open and proactive about reducing emissions. The other piece is to talk about it.”

At this point, Paradis says we need all energy — fossil fuels, nuclear, renewables, etc. This year, ComboCurve will roll out its GHG, or greenhouse gas, module to help customers track and lower their emissions.

“We are working with a handful of operators working in this space,” he says. “We want to allow for operators to be able to predict their emissions and see the impact on their projects.”




The series B capital will allow the company to enhance its core product, while also adding on other workflows that focus on emissions and renewable energy. Image via combocurve.com

Fast-growing energy fintech startup raises $50M series B

money moves

Houston-based ComboCurve announced today that it has raised $50 million through a series B funding round led by Dragoneer Investment Group and Bessemer Venture Partners.

Founded in 2017, the company is a cloud-based energy analytics and operating platform that uses sophisticated software to forecast and report on a company's energy assets, including renewables.

The series B capital will allow the company to enhance its core product, while also adding on other workflows that focus on emissions and renewable energy.

ComboCurve raised its series A less than six months ago, according to a release. The company was founded by Armand Paradis and Jeremy Gottlieb, who have backgrounds in engineering and finance, respectively.

“ComboCurve was created to solve critical pain points, helping energy companies better manage their forecasting, valuation, reporting and decision-making functions,” Paradis, who also serves as CEO, said in a statement. “Our solution has resulted in widespread adoption by many of the world’s leading energy companies, and this investment led by Dragoneer and Bessemer, two of the world’s leading technology investment firms, will enable us to engage with additional energy companies to operate more efficiently.”

Since the completion of the company's series A, ComboCurve has taken on more than 170 customers, including the likes of Devon Energy and Pioneer Natural Resources, according to ComboCurve's website.

The company describes its platform as a "supercharged Aries but easy to use," referring to the ARIES Petroleum Economic Software by Landmark Solutions, on LinkedIn. The platform provides forecast modules, workflows and fully integrated economics, with GHC and carbon reporting features in the works that will allow users to estimate future emissions.

“ComboCurve is in the early innings of building a truly enduring franchise that is rapidly becoming the software backbone of their customers’ day-to-day operations,” Christian Jensen, partner at Dragoneer Investment Group, said in a statement. “We are excited to partner with Armand and his world-class team as they continue to deepen their suite with existing customers and expand their platform into renewables, emissions reporting, and all corners of the energy market.”

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Booming Houston suburb, other Texas towns among the fastest-growing U.S. cities in 2023

by the numbers

One Houston suburb experienced one of the most rapid growth spurts in the country last year: Fulshear, whose population grew by 25.6 percent, more than 51 times that of the nation’s growth rate of 0.5 percent. The city's population was 42,616 as of July 1, 2023.

According to U.S. Census Bureau's Vintage 2023 Population Estimates, released Thursday, May 16, Fulshear — which lies west of Katy in northwest Fort Bend County - ranked No. 2 on the list of fastest-growing cities with a population of 20,000 or more. It's no wonder iconic Houston restaurants like Molina's Cantina see opportunities there.

The South still dominates the nation's growth, even as America’s Northeast and Midwest cities are rebounding slightly from years of population drops. The census estimates showed 13 of the 15 fastest-growing cities in the U.S. were in the South — eight in Texas alone.

The Texas cities joining Fulshear on the fastest-growing-cities list are:

  • Celina (No. 1) with 26.6 percent growth (42,616 total population)
  • Princeton (No. 3) with 22.3 percent growth (28,027 total population)
  • Anna (No. 4) with 16.9 percent growth (27,501 total population)
  • Georgetown (No. 8) with 10.6 percent growth (96,312 total population)
  • Prosper (No. 9) with 10.5 percent growth (41,660 total population)
  • Forney (No. 10) with 10.4 percent growth (35,470 total population)
  • Kyle (No. 11) with 9 percent growth (62,548 total population)

Texas trends
San Antonio saw the biggest growth spurt in the United States last year, numbers-wise. The Alamo City added about 22,000 residents. San Antonio now has nearly 1.5 million people, making it the the seventh largest city in the U.S. and second largest in Texas.

Its population boom was followed by those of other Southern cities, including Fort Worth; Charlotte, North Carolina; Jacksonville, Florida; and Port St. Lucie, Florida.

Fast-growing Fort Worth (978,000) surpassed San Jose, California (970,000) to become the 12th most populous city in the country.

Meanwhile, population slowed in the Austin area. Jacksonville, Florida (986,000), outpaced Austin (980,000), pushing the Texas capital to 11th largest city in the U.S. (barely ahead of Fort Worth).

Population growth in Georgetown, outside Austin, slowed by more than one-fourth its population growth in 2022, the report says, from 14.4 percent to 10.6 percent. It's the same story in the Central Texas city of Kyle, whose population growth decreased by nearly 2 percent to 9 percent in 2023.

Most populated cities
New York City with nearly 8.3 million people remained the nation's largest city in population as of July 1, 2023. Los Angeles was second at close to 4 million residents, while Chicago was third at 2.7 million and Houston was fourth at 2.3 million residents.

The 15 populous U.S. cities in 2023 were:

  1. New York, New York (8.3 million)
  2. Los Angeles, California (4 million)
  3. Chicago, Illinois (2.7 million)
  4. Houston, Texas (2.3 million)
  5. Phoenix, Arizona (1.7 million)
  6. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1.6 million)
  7. San Antonio (1.5 million)
  8. San Diego, California (1.4 million)
  9. Dallas (1.3 million)
  10. Jacksonville, Florida (986,000)
  11. Austin (980,000)
  12. Fort Worth (978,000)
  13. San Jose (970,000)
  14. Columbus, Ohio (913,000)
  15. Charlotte, North Carolina (911,000)

Modest reversals of population declines were seen last year in large cities in the nation's Northeast and Midwest. Detroit, for example, which grew for the first time in decades, had seen an exodus of people since the 1950s. Yet the estimates released Thursday show the population of Michigan’s largest city rose by just 1,852 people from 631,366 in 2022 to 633,218 last year.

It's a milestone for Detroit, which had 1.8 million residents in the 1950s only to see its population dwindle and then plummet through suburban white flight, a 1967 race riot, the migration to the suburbs by many of the Black middle class and the national economic downturn that foreshadowed the city's 2013 bankruptcy filing.

Three of the largest cities in the U.S. that had been bleeding residents this decade staunched those departures somewhat. New York City, which has lost almost 550,000 residents this decade so far, saw a drop of only 77,000 residents last year, about three-fifths the numbers from the previous year.

Los Angeles lost only 1,800 people last year, following a decline in the 2020s of almost 78,000 residents. Chicago, which has lost almost 82,000 people this decade, only had a population drop of 8,200 residents last year.

And San Francisco, which has lost a greater share of residents this decade than any other big city — almost 7.5 percent — actually grew by more than 1,200 residents last year.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

How this Houston clean energy entrepreneur is navigating geothermal's hype to 100x business growth

houston innovators podcast Episode 237

Geothermal energy has been growing in recognition as a major player in the clean energy mix, and while many might think of it as a new climatetech solution, Tim Latimer, co-founder and CEO of Fervo Energy, knows better.

"Every overnight success is a decade in the making, and I think Fervo, fortunately — and geothermal as a whole — has become much more high profile recently as people realize that it can be a tremendous solution to the challenges that our energy sector and climate are facing," he says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

In fact, Latimer has been bullish on geothermal as a clean energy source since he quit his job as a drilling engineer in oil and gas to pursue a dual degree program — MBA and master's in earth sciences — at Stanford University. He had decided that, with the reluctance of incumbent energy companies to try new technologies, he was going to figure out how to start his own company. Through the Stanford program and Activate, a nonprofit hardtech program that funded two years of Fervo's research and development, Latimer did just that.

And the bet has more than paid off. Since officially launching in 2017, Fervo Energy has raised over $430 million — most recently collecting a $244 million series D round. Even more impressive to Latimer — his idea for drilling horizontal wells works. The company celebrated a successful pilot program last summer by achieving continuous carbon-free geothermal energy production with Project Red, a northern Nevada site made possible through a 2021 partnership with Google.

Next up for Fervo is growing and scaling at around a 100x pace. While Project Red included three wells, Project Cape, a Southwest Utah site, will include around 100 wells with significantly reduced drilling cost and an estimated 2026 delivery. Latimer says there are a dozen other projects like Project Cape that are in the works.

"It's a huge ramp up in our drilling, construction, and powerplant programs from our pilot project, but we've already had tremendous success there," Latimer says of Project Cape. "We think our technology has a really bright future."

While Latimer looks ahead to the rapid growth of Fervo Energy, he says it's all due to the foundation he put in place for the company, which has a culture built on the motto, "Build things that last."

“You’re not going to get somewhere that really changes the world by cutting corners and taking short steps. And, if you want to move the needle on something as complicated as the global energy system that has been built up over hundreds of years with trillions of dollars of capital invested in it – you’re not going to do it overnight," he says on the show. "We’re all in this for the long haul together."

Houston researchers create AI model to tap into how brain activity relates to illness

brainiac

Houston researchers are part of a team that has created an AI model intended to understand how brain activity relates to behavior and illness.

Scientists from Baylor College of Medicine worked with peers from Yale University, University of Southern California and Idaho State University to make Brain Language Model, or BrainLM. Their research was published as a conference paper at ICLR 2024, a meeting of some of deep learning’s greatest minds.

“For a long time we’ve known that brain activity is related to a person’s behavior and to a lot of illnesses like seizures or Parkinson’s,” Dr. Chadi Abdallah, associate professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor and co-corresponding author of the paper, says in a press release. “Functional brain imaging or functional MRIs allow us to look at brain activity throughout the brain, but we previously couldn’t fully capture the dynamic of these activities in time and space using traditional data analytical tools.

"More recently, people started using machine learning to capture the brain complexity and how it relates it to specific illnesses, but that turned out to require enrolling and fully examining thousands of patients with a particular behavior or illness, a very expensive process,” Abdallah continues.

Using 80,000 brain scans, the team was able to train their model to figure out how brain activities related to one another. Over time, this created the BrainLM brain activity foundational model. BrainLM is now well-trained enough to use to fine-tune a specific task and to ask questions in other studies.

Abdallah said that using BrainLM will cut costs significantly for scientists developing treatments for brain disorders. In clinical trials, it can cost “hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said, to enroll numerous patients and treat them over a significant time period. By using BrainLM, researchers can enroll half the subjects because the AI can select the individuals most likely to benefit.

The team found that BrainLM performed successfully in many different samples. That included predicting depression, anxiety and PTSD severity better than other machine learning tools that do not use generative AI.

“We found that BrainLM is performing very well. It is predicting brain activity in a new sample that was hidden from it during the training as well as doing well with data from new scanners and new population,” Abdallah says. “These impressive results were achieved with scans from 40,000 subjects. We are now working on considerably increasing the training dataset. The stronger the model we can build, the more we can do to assist with patient care, such as developing new treatment for mental illnesses or guiding neurosurgery for seizures or DBS.”

For those suffering from neurological and mental health disorders, BrainLM could be a key to unlocking treatments that will make a life-changing difference.