It's a blast to work at Johnson Space Center. Johnson Space Center/Facebook

Houston continues to prove it hosts the best of the best employers in Texas as NASA tops Forbes' 2023 list of "America’s Best Employers By State."

The highly anticipated list, published August 22, is a collaboration between Forbes and Statista to survey the satisfaction levels of tens of thousands of workers employed by national companies.

Though the government agency is based in Washington, D.C., NASA's stratospheric presence in Houston (coupled with a great work environment and advancement opportunities) is what propels it to the top year after year. There are currently more than 17,000 workers employed by NASA, according to Forbes.

Earlier this year, NASA was honored as the Best Place to Work in the Federal Government by the Partnership for Public Service for its unyielding dedication to space exploration and discovery.

"The passion and precision of our workforce makes NASA the best place to work in the federal government," said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in a statement. "Together, we are poised to accomplish more daring feats with new advancements, more scientific contributions on Earth and in the heavens, and more incredible technological breakthroughs that will help shape the 21st century."

While Forbes explains that the national list isn't the same as their best large employers list, it's meant to serve as an in-depth analysis of companies that are "closer-to-home options for every American worker."

NASA's high rank follows shortly after the agency launched a brand new Digital Engineering Design Center fully dedicated to innovating the future of spaceflight. The new center will aid in expanding opportunities for the younger generation to embrace aerospace engineering as a career.

Forbes and Statista determined their rankings by surveying 70,000 Americans working at employers in the U.S. with at least 500 employees each. The final list features 1,392 highly recommended employers in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Nearly 270 employers ranked highly in multiple states.

Here are the 30 best large employers in Texas, as determined by Forbes and Statista:

Houston area:

  • No. 1 – NASA (based in Washington, D.C.; Johnson Space Center in Clear Lake)
  • No. 4 – Houston Community College
  • No. 5 – Houston Methodist
  • No. 6 – Texas Children's Hospital
  • No. 18 – National Oilwell Varco
  • No. 19 – Bechtel (based in Reston, Virginia; major corporate hub in Houston)

Dallas-Fort Worth:

  • No. 6 – Texas Oncology, based in Dallas
  • No. 9 – Fidelity Investments (based in Boston; major corporate hub in Westlake)
  • No. 14 – Capital One (based in Richmond, Virginia; major corporate hub in Plano)
  • No. 17 – University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas
  • No. 22 – Southwest Airlines, based in Dallas
  • No. 24 – Texas Health Resources, based in Arlington
  • No. 25 – General Motors (based in Detroit, Michigan; major assembly hub in Arlington)
  • No. 27 – City of Plano
  • No. 28 – Toyota North America, based in Plano

San Antonio:

  • No. 2 – H-E-B (based in San Antonio; more than 300 stores in Texas)
  • No. 26 – University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio

Austin:

  • No. 3 – Google (based in Mountain View, California; major corporate hub in Austin)
  • No. 13 – Apple (based in Cupertino, California; major corporate hub in Austin)

Throughout Texas:

  • No. 8 – Salesforce (based in San Francisco, California; offices in Austin and Dallas)
  • No. 10 – IKEA (based in Sweden; five stores in Texas)
  • No. 11 – Costco (based in Issaquah, Washington; 38 stores in Texas)
  • No. 15 – Cardinal Health (based in Dublin, Ohio; 23 locations in Texas)
  • No. 16 – Microsoft (based in Redmond, Washington; offices in Austin, Dallas, Friendswood, Frisco, Houston, San Antonio, and The Woodlands)
  • No. 20 – Leidos (based in Reston, Virginia; locations in San Antonio, Houston, and Webster)
  • No. 21 – Cisco Systems (based in San Jose, California; offices in Austin, Dallas, Irving, Richardson, Houston, Laredo, and San Antonio)
  • No. 23 – IBM (based in Armonk, New York; offices in Austin, Houston, Dallas, and Frisco)
  • No. 29 – Nike (based in Beaverton, Oregon; 26 locations in Texas)
  • No. 30 – Charles Schwab (based in San Francisco, California; 25 locations in Texas)
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This article originally ran on CultureMap.
It pays to work at these four Houston companies. Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Facebook

4 Houston companies clock in among America’s best employers, says Inc.

happy workers

Houston has already been heralded as a hotbed for innovation. Now, a handful of local companies are in the spotlight as the best places to work.

Four Houston companies are among 429 businesses named May 12 to Inc. magazine's 2021 list of the country's best workplaces. They are:

  • Marketing and PR firm CKP, Houston.
  • Environmental restoration company Ecosystem Planning and Restoration, Tomball.
  • IT automation platform Liongard, Houston.
  • Online recruiting service WizeHire, Houston.

"We've taken steps, especially during the pandemic, to build an amazing team and inclusive culture that is rooted in collaboration," Liongard CEO Joe Alapat says in a news release. "I am proud every day of the work this team is doing and the positive impact we're having on the managed services industry, and thrilled that our employees share our excitement and enthusiasm."

Meanwhile, 11 Austin companies receiving kudos are:

  • 9Gauge Partners, a business management consulting firm.
  • AgileAssets, a provider of transportation management software.
  • AlertMedia, an emergency communication and monitoring platform.
  • Decent, a provider of health insurance.
  • Fourlane, a provider of QuickBooks support.
  • Made In Cookware, an e-commerce startup that sells pots, pans, and other cookware.
  • Mighty Citizen, a branding, marketing, and communications firm.
  • OJO Labs, a platform for buying and selling homes.
  • Ontic, a company whose software helps companies address physical threats.
  • Q1Media, a digital media company.
  • The Zebra, an insurance marketplace.

Nick Soman, founder and CEO of Decent, says his company seeks to trust, respect, and appreciate every employee.

"This year that has meant quickly helping employees who lost power during an unprecedented snowstorm find a warm place to stay and offering unlimited time off," Soman says in a news release. "Being recognized as a top workplace is a special honor for Decent. Our people are at the heart of our company. They foster our amazing culture and drive our consistently outstanding customer service."

Lukas Quanstrom, CEO of Ontic, says his company is committed to upholding the core values, standards, and practices that contributed to the Inc. honor.

"Over the past year, the Ontic team has experienced rapid growth reinforcing how important our supportive, entrepreneurial culture is to nurturing talent and prioritizing our employees' overall welfare," Quanstrom says in a news release.

Each nominated company took part in an employee survey, conducted by Quantum Workplace, on topics including management effectiveness, perks, and employee growth. Also, an organization's benefits were audited to help determine the employer's standing.

Elsewhere in Texas, seven Dallas-Fort Worth employers, four Houston-area employers, and one San Antonio employer made the Inc. list.

Dallas-Fort Worth area

  • Staffing and recruiting firm BridgeWork Partners, Dallas.
  • Commercial real estate services company esrp, Frisco.
  • Staffing agency Frontline Source Group, Dallas.
  • PR and marketing firm Idea Grove, Dallas.
  • HVAC and plumbing warranty company JB Warranties, Argyle.
  • Technical consulting firm Stratosphere Consulting, Dallas.
  • NetSuite consulting firm The Vested Group, Plano.

Inc.highlights esrp's employee emergency fund, which offers "a financial lifeline for a range of life events, including funerals, medical emergencies, and welcoming new grandchildren. The omnipresent resource is funded through anonymous employee donations."

San Antonio

The only San Antonio company to make the 2021 list was IT services provider Mobius Partners.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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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.