Through the Houston-based Muvve app, fitness fans can meet each other on the app or at curated events around town. Courtesy of Muvve

When Avi Ravishankar decided to train for a marathon in high school, he wanted to find a training buddy. He got lucky, and one found him: his classmate, Julian Se, took on the task.

"Julian decided he was going to train with me — he's a strong personality," Ravishankar says. "We started training, and to this day, we just became best friends from there."

Usually, finding fitness friends and training buddies isn't that easy — especially in a huge, spread out city of Houston. Ravishankar and Se turned their friendship into a business partnership to solve this problem. Houston-based Muvve is a mobile app that's mission is to connect fellow fitness enthusiasts across the city. The two came up with the idea as a way to merge their passions.

"The only idea we had was we wanted to have a startup with running," Ravishankar, co-founder of Muvve, says. "We loved running and tech, so we just wanted to find a way to bridge the gap there."

Ravishankar, a Rice University alumnus, says he took his idea to Owl Spark, an early stage accelerator on campus, and they just started asking people about their pain points when it came to working out.

"The big two things that we found were accountability and motivation," he says. "Out of 100 people, I would say all 100 people said that."

Ravishankar, who worked for six years in engineering at Oxy, says that these pain points are actually pretty inherent to individual sports.

"Intrinsic motivation is hard to find, especially in individual sports, like running, cycling, or yoga," he says. "Whereas, in team sports, like basketball or volleyball, you have the team to train with and motivate you."

The app, which launched in May of 2018, acts like a network for fitness lovers — just like a dating app would connect potential romantic partners. Dating apps, actually, were a big influence on Ravishankar, he says.

"I fell in love with dating apps. It was this mind-blowing idea for me of how many people you can connect with — even if it's not for dating," he says. "The amount of people I have met just through technology always blows my mind. There's so much power in it."

Through his experience as an instructor at Black Swan Yoga, Ravishankar also realized boutique fitness studios needed a place to market their events to a wider audience. This gave Ravishankar an idea of a way to bridge the gap between different fitness studios around town via the app.

"For us the goal is to have all of these events and activities to go and meet like-minded people," he says.

Muvve's goal is to have these managed market events that are curated to ensure quality, rather than the hit or miss aspect of existing platforms.

"For me the curation aspect makes for a better experience," Ravishankar says.

Now, Muvve is focused on growing its user base from 4,500 to 10,000 users by summer. Simultaneously, the company is hoping to launch its first seed round of funding, and then using its funds and its network to launch into Austin by summer.

Ravishankar says finding potential investors has been the most challenging aspect.

"There's no money in Houston for a fitness tech startup," he says. "That space isn't really respected. For me, it's kind of a trickling effect. If there's no money in it, there's no one really to help you because they don't have a vested interest."

While funding has been daunting, Ravishankar says he's had some success in hiring out his team of developers, despite the uphill battle of hiring tech talent in Houston.

"There's hidden talent, but it's not obvious talent," Ravishankar says. "I think that people get discouraged by hiring in Houston because of that."


Muvve is harnessing the power of social media and digital networks to bridge the gap between fitness lovers across the city. Courtesy of Muvve

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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.

Houston-based cleantech unicorn named among annual top disruptors

on the rise

Houston-based biotech startup Solugen is making waves among innovative companies.

Solugen appears at No. 36 on CNBC’s annual Disruptor 50 list, which highlights private companies that are “upending the classic definition of disruption.” Privately owned startups founded after January 1, 2009, were eligible for the Disruptor 50 list.

Founded in 2016, Solugen replaces petroleum-based products with plant-derived substitutes through its Bioforge manufacturing platform. For example, it uses engineered enzymes and metal catalysts to convert feedstocks like sugar into chemicals that have traditionally been made from fossil fuels, such as petroleum and natural gas.

Solugen has raised $643 million in funding and now boasts a valuation of $2.2 billion.

“Sparked by a chance medical school poker game conversation in 2016, Solugen evolved from prototype to physical asset in five years, and production hit commercial scale shortly thereafter,” says CNBC.

Solugen co-founders Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt received the Entrepreneur of The Year 2023 National Award, presented by professional services giant EY.

“Solugen is a textbook startup launched by two partners with $10,000 in seed money that is revolutionizing the chemical refining industry. The innovation-driven company is tackling impactful, life-changing issues important to the planet,” Entrepreneur of The Year judges wrote.

In April 2024, Solugen broke ground on a Bioforge biomanufacturing plant in Marshall, Minnesota. The 500,000-square-foot, 34-acre facility arose through a Solugen partnership with ADM. Chicago-based ADM produces agricultural products, commodities, and ingredients. The plant is expected to open in the fall of 2025.

“Solugen’s … technology is a transformative force in sustainable chemical manufacturing,” says Hunt. “The new facility will significantly increase our existing capabilities, enabling us to expand the market share of low-carbon chemistries.”

Houston cleantech company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

RESULTS ARE IN

Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

“This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

“At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

“The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.