This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes former city council member Amanda Edwards, Gaurav Khandelwal of Velostics, and Anshumali Shrivastava of ThirdAI. 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 logistics tech to computer science — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Amanda Edwards, former Houston City Council Member

Amanda Edwards worked with local female leaders to launch BEAMW. Photo via LinkedIn

A couple years ago, Houston City Council Member Amanda K. Edwards, along with entrepreneurs Carolyn Rodz and Courtney Johnson Rose, formed a task force to provide Mayor Sylvester Turner with recommendations about increasing increase access to capital for minority- and women-owned business enterprises and assisting these business owners in scaling up their businesses. The task force created the Houston Small Business Community Report, which shed light on the disparities in access to resources for women and BIPOC-founders.

In response to this report, Edwards and a cohort of female leaders have launched the Business Ecosystem Alliance for Minorities and Women, or BEAMW, to address these disparities these businesses face when seeking capital and attempting to scale their businesses.

"It is not enough to state that Houston is the most diverse city in the country; we must be the city where the challenges that diverse communities face are solved," Edwards says in a release. Click here to read more.

Gaurav Khandelwal, CEO and founder of ChaiOne and Velostics

Serial entrepreneur says he sees logistics innovation as a "massive opportunity" for Houston. Photo courtesy

Gaurav Khandelwal has been an advocate for growing Houston's innovation ecosystem since he started his company ChaiOne — an industrial software provider — in 2008. Now, with his new company, Velostics, he is passionate about making Houston a hub for logistics innovation too.

"I think that there are some trends in Houston that I'm seeing as a founder, and one of them is logistics," Khandewal says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"If you look at Chicago — it's had some crazy amount of logistics unicorns that have popped up over the past few years, and they aren't slowing down," Khandewal says on the show. "Houston, I would argue, is better positioned, because we have this massive port. I think logistics is a massive opportunity for Houston." Click here to read more and listen to the episode.

Anshumali Shrivastava, CEO and co-founder of ThirdAI

Anshumali Shrivastava is also an associate professor of computer science at Rice University. Photo via rice.edu

A seed-stage company is changing the game for data science and artificial intelligence, and the technology was developed right on the Rice University campus.

ThirdAI, founded by Anshumali Shrivastava in April, raised $6 million in a seed funding round from three California-based VCs — Neotribe Ventures and Cervin Ventures, which co-led the round with support from Firebolt Ventures.

"We are democratizing artificial intelligence through software innovations," says Shrivastava in a news release from Rice. "Our innovation would not only benefit current AI training by shifting to lower-cost CPUs, but it should also allow the 'unlocking' of AI training workloads on GPUs that were not previously feasible." Click here to read more.

A group of entrepreneurs, small business support groups, and more teamed up to create the Business Ecosystem Alliance for Minorities and Women, or BEAMW. Photo via beamw.org

Collaborative organization launches to support minority and female founders

BEAMW me up

A group of organizations — consisting of entrepreneurs, investors, chambers of commerce, business support organizations, and small business advocates — have teamed up to bridge the gap in resources for women- and minority-owned businesses.

The Business Ecosystem Alliance for Minorities and Women, or BEAMW, celebrated its launch on August 26 at a virtual event, and announced its anchor partner, Texas Capital Bank.

"At Texas Capital Bank, we truly believe small businesses are the heartbeat of the economy and we are thrilled BEAMW has formed to serve as a collaborative network, committed to serving entrepreneurs across our region today and inspiring those of tomorrow," says Jenny Guzman of Texas Capital Bank, in the news release. "Small business owners are the lifeblood of every community and we're proud to serve alongside BEAMW as partners in providing technical assistance, mentors and support as this collaborative grows and positively impacts the fabric of economy and business ecosystem."

The mission of BEAMW is to address the disparities these businesses face when seeking capital and attempting to scale their businesses. BEAMW was first ideated by the group being the Houston Small Business Community Report, which was created by the City of Houston's Women and Minority-Owned Business Task Force. Led by former Houston City Council Member, Amanda K. Edwards, and co-chaired by entrepreneurs Carolyn Rodz and Courtney Johnson Rose, the task force provided Mayor Sylvester Turner with recommendations about increasing increase access to capital for minority- and women-owned business enterprises and assisting these business owners in scaling up their businesses.

Minority-owned businesses have been denied loans at three times the rate of non-minority-owned firms, according to the report, and only 24 percent of small businesses are owned by Houston women.

"It is not enough to state that Houston is the most diverse city in the country; we must be the city where the challenges that diverse communities face are solved," Former City Council Member Amanda Edwards says in the release.

BEAMW and Texas Capital Bank's Community Impact together will create programming for the rest of the year, specifically focused on:

  • One on One Financial Preparedness Small Business Counseling
  • Business Networking Forums
  • Texas Capital Bank Bankers' Roundtables

More information about BEAMW — including how to get involved — may be found at beamw.org.

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Innovative coastline project on Bolivar Peninsula receives federal funding

flood mitigation

The Galveston’s Coastal Barrier Project recently received federal funding to the tune of $500,000 to support construction on its flood mitigation plans for the area previously devastated by Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Known as Ike Dike, the proposed project includes implementing the Galveston Bay Storm Surge Barrier System, including eight Gulf and Bay defense projects. The Bolivar Roads Gate System, a two-mile-long closure structure situated between Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula, is included in the plans and would protect against storm surge volumes entering the bay.

The funding support comes from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and will go toward the preconstruction engineering and design phase of Ecosystem Restoration feature G-28, the first segment of the Bolivar Peninsula and West Bay Gulf Intracoastal Waterway Shoreline and Island Protection.

Coastal Barrier Project - Galveston Projects

The project also includes protection of critical fish and wildlife habitat against coastal storms and erosion.

“The Coastal Texas Project is one of the largest projects in the history of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” says Col. Rhett A. Blackmon, USACE Galveston District commander, in a statement. “This project is important to the nation for many reasons. Not only will it reduce risk to the vulnerable populations along the Texas coast, but it will also protect vital ecosystems and economically critical infrastructure vital to the U.S. supply chain and the many global industries located here.”

Hurricane Ike resulted in over $30 billion in storm-related damages to the Texas coast, reports the Coastal Barrier Project, and created a debris line 15 feet tall and 40 miles long in Chambers County. The estimated economic disruption due to Hurricane Ike exceeded $150 billion, FEMA reported.

The project is estimated to take two years to complete after construction starts and will cost between $4 billion and $6 billion, reports Texas A&M University at Galveston.

Houston organization selects research on future foods in space health to receive $1M in funding

research and development

What would we eat if we were forced to decamp to another planet? The most immediate challenges faced by the food industry and astronauts exploring outside Earth are being addressed by The Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) at Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Space Medicine’s newest project.

Earlier this month, TRISH announced the initial selection for its Space Health Ingress Program (SHIP) solicitation. Working with California Institute of Technology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Baylor-based program chose “Future Foods for Space: Mobilizing the Future Foods Community to Accelerate Advances in Space Health,” led by Dr. Denneal Jamison-McClung at the University of California, Davis.

“TRISH is bringing in new ideas and investigators to propel space health research,” says Catherine Domingo, TRISH operations lead and research administration associate at Baylor College of Medicine, in the release. “We have long believed that new researchers with fresh perspectives drive innovation and advance human space exploration and SHIP builds on TRISH’s existing efforts to recruit and support new investigators in the space health research field, potentially yielding and high-impact ideas to protect space explorers.”

The goal of the project is to develop sustainable food products and ingredients that could fuel future space travelers on long-term voyages, or even habitation beyond our home planet.

Jamison-McClung and her team’s goal is to enact food-related space health research and inspire the community thereof by mobilizing academic and food-industry researchers who have not previously engaged with the realm of space exploration. Besides growing and developing food products, the project will also address production, storage, and delivery of the nutrition created by the team.

To that end, Jamison-McClung and her recruits will receive $1 million over the course of two years. The goal of the SHIP solicitation is to work with first-time NASA investigators, bringing new minds to the forefront of the space health research world.

“As we look to enable safer space exploration and habitation for humans, it is clear that food and nutrition are foundational,” says Dr. Asha S. Collins, chair of the SHIP advisory board, in a press release. “We’re excited to see how accelerating innovation in food science for space health could also result in food-related innovations for people on Earth in remote areas and food deserts.”

Clean energy nonprofit CEO to step down, search for replacement to begin

moving on

Greentown Labs, which is co-located in the Boston and Houston areas, has announced its current CEO is stepping down after less than a year in the position.

The nonprofit's CEO and President Kevin Knobloch announced that he will be stepping down at the end of July 2024. Knobloch assumed his role last September, previously serving as chief of staff of the United States Department of Energy in President Barack Obama’s second term.

“It has been an honor to lead this incredible team and organization, and a true privilege to get to know many of our brilliant startup founders," Knobloch says in the news release. “Greentown is a proven leader in supporting early-stage climatetech companies and I can’t wait to see all that it will accomplish in the coming years.”

The news of Knobloch's departure comes just over a month after the organization announced that it was eliminating 30 percent of its staff, which affected 12 roles in Boston and six in Houston.

According the Greentown, its board of directors is expected to launch a national search for its next CEO.

“On behalf of the entire Board of Directors, I want to thank Kevin for his efforts to strengthen the foundation of Greentown Labs and for charting the next chapter for the organization through a strategic refresh process,” says Dawn James, Greentown Labs Board Chair, in the release. “His thoughtful leadership will leave a lasting impact on the team and community for years to come.”

Knobloch reportedly shifted Greentown's sponsorship relationships with oil companies, sparking "friction within the organization," according to the Houston Chronicle, which also reported that Knobloch said he intends to return to his clean energy consulting firm.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.