DivInc has announced a new program that will support BIPOC and women founders of social enterprise startups working on Web3 technology. Photo via divinc.org

A Texas accelerator that's focused on supporting traditionally marginalized entrepreneurs has announced its newest program.

DivInc has introduced DWeb for Social Impact Accelerator, a new program set to support BIPOC and women founders of social enterprise startups developing global solutions with DWeb and Web3 technologies — such as blockchain, crypto-asset, artificial intelligence, machine learning, augmented reality, and more.

The first cohort of the program, which is supported by the Filecoin Foundation for the Decentralized Web, or FFDW, will run from September through November at the Ion. Applications are open now.

"Through the DWeb for Social Impact Accelerator we are marrying activism with the decentralized web in a way that builds these startups and puts them at the forefront of solving society's toughest challenges," says Preston James, CEO at DivInc, in a news release. "We want to see our creative tech economy founders playing a major role in building and benefiting from DWeb and Web3 for the greater good. This partnership with FFDW is a huge leap forward in that pursuit."

The 12-week accelerator will support up to 10 companies, and, at the end of the program, each selected company will receive $10,000 in non-dilutive seed funding. In addition to FFDW, the program is supported by Houston Premier Partners, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Verizon, The Ion, and Mercury.

"A core part of FFDW's mission is education about the decentralized web," says Marta Belcher, president and chair of Filecoin Foundation for the Decentralized Web, in the release. "FFDW is absolutely thrilled to bring more diverse voices into the Web3 ecosystem."

The future of Web3, investing in Houston, and how founders need to be prepared for 2023 — Samantha Lewis of Mercury joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of Mercury

Houston investor shares what startup founders need to prioritize in 2023

houston innovators podcast Episode 165

Heading into the new year, startup founders in Houston and beyond need to focus on conserving and raising cash, says Samantha Lewis, principal of Houston-based venture capital firm Mercury.

“We all know it’s turbulent market times. We’re unsure where the market is going, and when there’s uncertainty in the public markets, that puts uncertainty in the private markets,” Lewis says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. “What I’ve been spending the past two quarters doing is working with our portfolio companies to just make sure our balance sheets are bulked up for what’s to come in 2023.”

She says Mercury's startup portfolio has focused on extending each company's runway financially through 2024 — and she recommends all startups to try to do the same. She advises on the show that even if a company raised funding within the past year, open on the same terms and valuation just to bridge the gap.

“In 2023, if things start to look up, great. But if things continue to be volatile, then we need to be prepared for it,” she says. “What we’re advising all of our startups to do is to get as much cash in the door right now as you can.”

She outlined a lot of this analysis in a report for Mercury looking back at the market in 2022. Lewis, who was named a member of the Class 27 of the Kauffman Fellows Program, a group of global innovation investors, factors in what she's experienced through the program at an international level.

Lewis is focused on what she calls the "power theme" at Mercury, which includes fintech, blockchain, web3, and more. She says these industries have been hit in particular within market uncertainty.

"Ultimately the companies that are now getting investment and see capital flow through them within Web3 are the ones that have been building a sustainable business from the beginning," she says. "And thinking about what are the real use cases that blockchain unlocks and how it adds economic value."

When it comes to VC activity, Lewis says 2023 has been plagued with "FOMO investing" — the fear of missing out on a buzzy new technology — and "hype projects." Investors were throwing money into Web3 technology that hadn't yet been vetted in a real way.

Mercury didn't do that, Lewis says. "We've been very disciplined about where we put dollars within Web3. We've done mostly infrastructure Web3, and the only thing we'll continue to do is infrastructure." She cites Topl, a Houston-founded blockchain network company, as an example.

On the podcast, she shares more about the tumultuous ride blockchain has had in 2022, and why she's still bullish on Web3 despite the bad actors within cryptocurrency. She also shares some of the things Mercury has been up to with its Houston-based portfolio and what's next for them.

Listen to the episode below, or wherever you get your podcasts — just search "Houston Innovators Podcast."


Topl's latest fundraising round includes participation from a Houston investor as well as international partners. Image via Getty Images

Houston-founded blockchain startup raises $15M series A to increase international impact

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A blockchain technology company that was founded out of Rice University has closed its latest round of funding.

Founded in 2017, Topl is a blockchain-as-a-service company that's developing a purpose-built blockchain ecosystem to empower impact and sustainability within its userbase of businesses. The company's $15 million series A round was co-led by Houston-based Mercury, Republic Asia, and Malta-based Cryptology Asset Group.

“Topl’s blockchain was purpose built to power the next wave of supply chains and markets, that are more sustainable and inclusive,” says Chris Georgen, founder and managing director of Topl, in a news release. “Every decision we’ve made has been relentlessly focused on this problem and it’s exciting to see this approach yielding results with more than 30 different impact-forward use cases already live or approaching launch. Through this latest fundraise and with the strong network we’ve built, we’re looking to accelerate the growth of our ecosystem and setting a goal of at least 100 applications launched by next year.”

The company, which is now headquartered in Austin but still has a presence in Houston, has raised over $20 million in investment to date. Topl announced its $3 million seed round of funding — also led by Mercury — in 2020.

“Despite broader market dynamics across the Web3 sector, Topl’s strategic and early focus on users allowed the team to build an incredibly strong foundation that can weather cycles by providing an increasingly in-demand service to companies implementing various sustainable initiatives,” says Samantha Lewis, principal at Mercury, in the release. “We are excited to support Topl in this pivotal growth period.”

The round included two new international investors in Topl. Republic Asia is a newly launched arm of private investing platform Republic that is focused on fintech and web3 solutions. Houstonian Youngro Lee leads the division as executive vice president at Republic and head of Republic Asia and will join Topl's board to assist with international expansion.

“Sustainability and climate considerations are no longer mere luxuries, but an absolute necessity for companies to contribute to global finance and commerce,” Lee says in the release. “Topl will make it easier than ever for any organization around the world to harness the power of blockchain to track and monetize their positive environmental impact.”

Cryptology, with its European operations, also brings Topl key international presence.

"It's been an honor to see Topl progress from when it first entered Iconic Lab's accelerator program back in 2018 to where it is today," says Patrick Lowry, CEO of Cryptology, in the release. "Cryptology is hyper-focused on driving crypto adoption in an impact-focused, sustainable manner. We are proud to add Topl to our portfolio of companies and excitedly await Topl's network decentralization."

In addition to increasing its international impact, Topl will reportedly continue to build out its blockchain and technology. Per the release, Topl expects to launch a traceability platform for ethically and sustainably sourced products later this year.

Topl, which launched a grant program to fund Web3 startups and developers with inclusive and sustainable solutions, plans to announce its first 20 grant awards early next year. The grant recipients will also receive development, go-to-market, and fundraising support from Topl's team and network.

These two innovators have linked up for a new ESG offering. Photos courtesy

2 Houston blockchain companies connect on ESG initiative

team work

Two Houston-based startups specializing in blockchain technology have announced a collaborative within the Environmental, Social and Governance, or ESG, space.

Data Gumbo and Topl have partnered up to offer companies a private-public blockchain solution for ESG reporting. The collaborative solution, according to a news release, allows for public-facing, accurate, and immutable ESG progress reports that are accessible to outside audiences and stakeholders, including public analysts, investors, governments, and more.

"As companies today face mounting pressure to report timely and accurate ESG data, including performance and progress, they need the right tools to collect, standardize and automate reporting while preserving security for sensitive data," says Andrew Bruce, CEO and founder of Data Gumbo, in the release. "For the first time, this partnership offers companies total control of their accurate ESG data, allowing them to publish and report metrics in whatever manner best suits them satisfying investors', regulator agencies' and other stakeholders' desires."

The tool will gather business operation and transaction data and compare it to defined standards. This enables the complete review and certification of ESG metrics by auditors using GumboNet ESG. Once the environmental impact is determined, the company can easily share data recorded on Topl's public-facing blockchain.

"Companies can now comprehensively collect ESG data and report to private entities and public audiences," says Kim Raath, founder and CEO of Topl. "This partnership combines the power of our two complementary solutions to support a new level of transparency for companies that desire to showcase their fully verifiable progress on crucial ESG metrics."

Both companies have been players within the ESG space. Data Gumbo launched GumboNet ESG, a sustainability measurement solution that can pull together a company's operational data to ESG standards reporting, in March. Topl's blockchain-as-a-service offering rolled out just a few weeks later.

Siloed data, lack of consistency, and confusing regulations are all challenges blockchain can address. Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert: Blockchain is the key to unlocking transparency in the energy industry

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Houston has earned its title as the Energy Transition Capital of the world, and now it has an opportunity to be a global leader of technology innovation when it comes to carbon emissions reporting. The oil and gas industry has set ambitious goals to reduce its carbon footprint, but the need for trustworthy emissions data to demonstrate progress is growing more apparent — and blockchain may hold the keys to enhanced transparency.

Despite oil and gas companies' eagerness to lower carbon dioxide emissions, current means of recording emissions cannot keep pace with goals for the future. Right now, the methods of tracking carbon emissions are inefficient, hugely expensive, and inaccurate. There is a critical need for oil and gas companies to understand and report their emission data, but the complexity of this endeavor presents a huge challenge, driven by several important factors.

Firstly, the supply chain is congested with many different data sources. This puts tracking initiatives into many different silos, making it a challenge for businesses to effectively organize their data. Secondly, the means of calculating, modeling, and measuring carbon emissions varies across the industry. This lack of consistency leaves companies struggling to standardize their outputs, complicating the record-keeping process. Finally, the regional patchwork of regulations and compliance standards is confusing and hard to manage, resulting in potential fines and the headaches associated with being found noncompliant.

Better tracking through blockchain

When it comes to tracking carbon emissions, the potential for blockchain is unmatched. Blockchain is an immutable ledger, that allows multiple parties to securely and transparently share data in near real time across the supply chain. Blockchain solutions could be there at every step of operations, helping businesses report their true emissions numbers in an accurate, secure way.

Oil and gas companies are ready to make these changes. Up to now, they've been using outdated practices, including manually entering data into spreadsheets. With operations spread across the world, there is simply no way to ensure that numbers have been accurately recorded at each and every point of action if everything is done manually. Any errors, even if they're accidental, are subject to pricey fines from regulatory agencies. This forces businesses into the costly position of overestimating their carbon emissions. Instead of risking fines, energy companies choose to deflate their carbon accomplishments, missing out on valuable remediation credits in the process. In addition, executives are forced to make decisions based on this distorted data which leaves projects with great potential to cut carbon emissions either underfunded or abandoned entirely.

In conversations with the super majors, they've reported that they have cut emission reduction estimates by as much as 50% to avoid over-reporting. This is anecdotal, but demonstrates a real problem that results in slower rates to meet targets, missed opportunities, and unnecessary expenditures.

There are so many opportunities to integrate blockchain into the energy industry but tackling the carbon output data crisis should come first. Emissions data is becoming more and more important, and oil and gas companies need effective ways to track their progress to drive success. It's essential to start at the bottom and manage this dilemma at the source. Using blockchain solutions would streamline this process, making data collection more reliable and efficient than ever before.

Houston is on the right track to lead the world in energy innovation — local businesses have made impressive, action-driven efforts to make sure that our community can rightfully be called the Energy Capital of the World. The city is in a great position to drive net-zero carbon initiatives worldwide, especially as sustainability becomes more and more important to our bottom lines. Still, to maintain this command, we need to continue to look forward. Making sure we have the best data is critical as the energy world transitions into the future. If Houston wants to continue to be a leader in energy innovation, we need to look at blockchain solutions to tackle the data problem head on.

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John Chappell is the director of energy business development at BlockApps.

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Texas Space Commission launches, Houston execs named to leadership

future of space

Governor Greg Abbott announced the Texas Space Commission, naming its inaugural board of directors and Texas Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium Executive Committee.

The announcement came at NASA's Johnson Space Center, and the governor was joined by Speaker Dade Phelan, Representative Greg Bonnen, Representative Dennis Paul, NASA's Johnson Space Center Director Vanessa Wyche, and various aerospace industry leaders.

According to a news release, the Texas Space Commission will aim to strengthen commercial, civil, and military aerospace activity by promoting innovation in space exploration and commercial aerospace opportunities, which will include the integration of space, aeronautics, and aviation industries as part of the Texas economy.

The Commission will be governed by a nine-member board of directors. The board will also administer the legislatively created Space Exploration and Aeronautics Research Fund to provide grants to eligible entities.

“Texas is home to trailblazers and innovators, and we have a rich history of traversing the final frontier: space,” Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick says in a news release. “Texas is and will continue to be the epicenter for the space industry across the globe, and I have total confidence that my appointees to the Texas Space Commission Board of Directors and the Texas Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium Executive Committee will ensure the Texas space industry remains an international powerhouse for cutting-edge space innovation.”

TARSEC will independently identify research opportunities that will assist the state’s position in aeronautics research and development, astronautics, space commercialization, and space flight infrastructure. It also plans to fuel the integration of space, aeronautics, astronautics, and aviation industries into the Texas economy. TARSEC will be governed by an executive committee and will be composed of representatives of each higher education institution in the state.

“Since its very inception, NASA’s Johnson Space Center has been home to manned spaceflight, propelling Texas as the national leader in the U.S. space program,” Abbott says during the announcement. “It was at Rice University where President John F. Kennedy announced that the U.S. would put a man on the moon—not because it was easy, but because it was hard.

"Now, with the Texas Space Commission, our great state will have a group that is responsible for dreaming and achieving the next generation of human exploration in space," he continues. "Texas is the launchpad for Mars, innovating the technology that will colonize humanity’s first new planet. As we look into the future of space, one thing is clear: those who reach for the stars do so from the great state of Texas. I look forward to working with the Texas Space Commission, and I thank the Texas Legislature for partnering with industry and higher education institutions to secure the future of Texas' robust space industry."

The Houston-area board of directors appointees included:

  • Gwen Griffin, chief executive officer of the Griffin Communications Group
  • John Shannon, vice president of Exploration Systems at the Boeing Company
  • Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby, co-founder and CEO of Venus Aerospace
  • Kirk Shireman, vice president of Lunar Exploration Campaigns at Lockheed Martin
  • Dr. Nancy Currie-Gregg, director of the Texas A&M Space Institute

Additionally, a few Houstonians were named to the TARSEC committee, including:

  • Stephanie Murphy, CEO and executive chairman of Aegis Aerospace
  • Matt Ondler, president and former chief technology officer at Axiom Space
  • Jack “2fish” Fischer, vice president of production and operations at Intuitive Machines
  • Brian Freedman, president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership and vice chairman of Wellby Financial
  • David Alexander, professor of physics and astronomy and director of the Rice Space Institute at Rice University

To see the full list of appointed board and committee members, along with their extended bios, click here.

City of Houston approves $13M for new security tech at renovated IAH​ terminal

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A new terminal currently under construction at George Bush Intercontinental Airport just got the green light for new security technology.

This week, Houston City Council unanimously approved the funding for the new Mickey Leland International Terminal's security equipment. The Mickey Leland International Terminal Project is part of the $1.43 billion IAH Terminal Redevelopment Program, or ITRP, which is expected to be completed by early next year.

This new IAH International Terminal will feature an International Central Processor, or ICP, with state-of-the-art technology in a 17-lane security checkpoint — among the largest in the country — as well as ticket counters and baggage claim.

“Houston Airports strives to get passengers through TSA Security in 20 minutes or less. Today, we meet that goal at Bush Airport more than 90 percent of the time,” Jim Szczesniak, director of aviation for Houston Airports, says in a news release. “This investment in innovative technology will enhance our efficiency and ensure that our passengers have a world-class experience each time they visit our airports.”

Going through security at IAH is about to be smoother sailing. Rendering courtesy of Houston Airports

The funding approval came from two ordinances, and the first one appropriates $11.8 million from the Airports Improvement Fund to buy, service, install, and train staff on nine new automated screening lanes, called Scarabee Checkpoint Property Screening Systems, or CPSS.

Per the news release, each of these CCPS automated lanes "is capable of screening more than 100 additional people and bags/hour than existing equipment used today." Currently, Terminal D's TSA is using eight CPSS Lanes, so the additional nine lanes will bring the total to 17 lanes of security.

The other appropriates another $1.2 million from the Airports Improvement Fund to buy, install, maintain, and train staff on six new Advanced Imaging Technology Quick Personnel Security Scanners.

The new scanners, which don't require the traveler to raise their arms, "is capable of screening more than 100 additional people/hour than existing equipment used today," per the release.

“These new security screening machines are faster, have fewer false alarms and have improved detection rates, which creates a safer experience for our passengers and airlines,” Federal Security Director for TSA at IAH Juan Sanchez adds.

The Mickey Leland International Terminal originally opened in 1990 and is currently under renovation. Rendering courtesy of Houston Airports