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.

Topl has a new blockchain service for accurately and consistently tracking ESG. Photo via Getty Images

Houston startup rolls out blockchain-as-a-service model

ESG BAAS

A Houston blockchain startup has launched a new service that allows companies to enroll in the platform in just a few clicks.

Houston-based blockchain network developer Topl has announced the new platform, which is in its public beta stage. Startups, mid-level, and enterprising companies can register online. The new blockchain-as-a-service tool is purpose-built for Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance, or ESG.

The new BaaS solution allows for users to provide tangible proof that's free from data loss or manipulation.

"Adoption of blockchain technology in enterprises has been slowed because of problems with ease of use and infrastructure management," says Chris Georgen, Topl's co-founder and chief architect, in a news release. "Topl's Blockchain-as-a-Service removes these barriers to entry and provides a seamless means of upgrading current platforms with blockchain technology."

Topl's beta version of its blockchain as a service is available for free for startups and small companies, but it also has $50 and $500 a month pricing plans for larger operations.

The Topl team also recently announced it has published a new white paper called "Virtual Reality, Adapting Coffee Supply Chains To COVID-19." It focuses on how coffee supply chains are able to adapt digitally to the changes brought about by COVID-19. According to the release, the paper shows how blockchain technology allows every person and company of the global coffee supply chain can be included in the process.

Topl recently closed its $3 million seed round in December of last year. The round was led by Houston-based Mercury Fund with support from Houston-based GOOSE Capital, among others.

"We're grateful to have closed an oversubscribed venture round during a pandemic, especially given the unfortunate truth that many women-led startups are getting much less investment during this time," Kim Raath, CEO of Topl, said of the raise. "Bringing transparency to causes dedicated to environmental and social good has never been more important. We are building a modern blockchain for a world where purpose and profit go hand in hand."

Mercury Fund led Topl's $3 million seed round. Photo via Getty Images

Houston blockchain startup closes $3 million seed led by local VC

money moves

A Houston-based blockchain company that focuses on providing companies with ethical and sustainable practices within the supply chain has closed a $3 million round with support from investors both locally and across the country.

Today, Topl announced the closing of its seed round, which was led by Houston-based Mercury Fund with support from Houston-based GOOSE Capital, Chicago-based Chingona Ventures, Dallas-based RevTech Ventures, and New York-based firms Beni Venture Capital, Blue Collective, and Social Impact Capital.

"We're grateful to have closed an oversubscribed venture round during a pandemic, especially given the unfortunate truth that many women-led startups are getting much less investment during this time," says Kim Raath, CEO of Topl, in a press release. "Bringing transparency to causes dedicated to environmental and social good has never been more important. We are building a modern blockchain for a world where purpose and profit go hand in hand."

According to the release, Topl will use the fresh funds to speed up the launch of the company's blockchain-as-a-service solution for early next year.

Earlier this month, Topl announced a partnership with Denver-based TrackX, a software-as-a-service asset management and supply chain solution provider, aimed at combining technology to create a verifiable tracking and tracing solution to equip company supply chains with sustainability, transparency, and efficiency. Ultimately, it's Topl's goal to allow its users the ability to stand out to customers as sustainable and responsible brands — something that's become increasingly more important to consumers.

"A company's social and environmental impact has become a necessary point of differentiation for brands, and Topl has the potential to be the leading player for brands who are serious about [Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance]," says Blair Garrou, managing director of Mercury Fund.

To date, Topl has raised $4.4 million in funding. It's first seed round closed September 2019. For that round, Samantha Lewis, formerly director of GOOSE Capital, was instrumental, according to the release.

"Kim and the Topl team have created a custom-designed method to measure and verify your company's sustainability efforts. We're excited to be part of this intersection of cutting-edge technology and positive impact," Lewis, who's now on the board of the startup, says in the release.

Topl's technology has the ability to affect any industry, and the company has worked with tracing products from diamonds and chocolate to natural resources and even COVID-19 testing.

"Topl's track-and-trace solution appeals to so many core industries: from healthcare to agriculture to energy," says Manolo Sánchez, former chairman and CEO of BBVA Compass and also a member of Topl's board, in the release. "Anyone who needs to ensure transparency, efficiency and sustainability would benefit from their technology."

More and more consumers are expecting transparency from companies, and this Houston startup is on a mission to use blockchain to make businesses more transparent. Getty Images

Houston blockchain startup to collaborate to increase supply chain transparency

impact shopping

More than two-thirds of the country's consumers have been reported saying that a business's social reputation will influence their buying decisions. A Houston blockchain startup has teamed up with another company to increase transparency.

Topl and Denver-based TrackX, a software-as-a-service asset management and supply chain solution provider, have entered into a partnership aimed at combining technology to create a verifiable tracking and tracing solution to equip company supply chains with sustainability, transparency, and efficiency.

According to Topl CEO, Kim Raath, the FDA announced new requirements in September, and the new rule requires full traceability in several agri-food products.

"This new rule will force many agri-food brands to take a deep look across their supply chains and find a way to track and trace their products," says Raath in a press release. "Topl and TrackX's solution will be a great option for these companies having to comply with new regulations and compliance mandates. Further, our joint solution allows users to visualize their supply chain data, monitor suppliers, and easily report the progress of ESG initiatives to all stakeholders."

Kim Raath is the CEO of Topl. Photo courtesy of Topl

Together with Topl's purpose-built blockchain technology and TrackX's core enterprise asset management and supply chain optimization capabilities, companies can securely share verified event data to lower costs and increase transparency.

"Our clients have a unique opportunity to turn supply chain optimization into a competitive advantage," says Tim Harvie, TrackX CEO, in the release. "TrackX already automates supply chain execution and analytics for many leading brands and retailers.

"Tight integration with Topl's blockchain will now provide the 'proof' to all supply chain stakeholders that certain events have occurred," he continues. "In partnership with Topl, our enterprise customers will have the tracing, tracking, visibility and accountability they need to meet their digital supply chain and ESG initiatives."

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3 businesses join Houston initiative for carbon capture and storage

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Three big businesses — Air Liquide, BASF, and Shell — have added their firepower to the effort to promote large-scale carbon capture and storage for the Houston area’s industrial ecosystem.

These companies join 11 others that in 2021 threw their support behind the initiative. Participants are evaluating how to use safe carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology at Houston-area facilities that provide energy, power generation, and advanced manufacturing for plastics, motor fuels, and packaging.

Other companies backing the CCS project are Calpine, Chevron, Dow, ExxonMobil, INEOS, Linde, LyondellBasell, Marathon Petroleum, NRG Energy, Phillips 66, and Valero.

Business and government leaders in the Houston area hope the region can become a hub for CCS activity.

“Large-scale carbon capture and storage in the Houston region will be a cornerstone for the world’s energy transition, and these companies’ efforts are crucial toward advancing CCS development to achieve broad scale commercial impact,” Charles McConnell, director of University of Houston’s Center for Carbon Management in Energy, says in a news release.

McConnell and others say CCS could help Houston and the rest of the U.S. net-zero goals while generating new jobs and protecting current jobs.

CCS involves capturing carbon dioxide from industrial activities that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and then injecting it into deep underground geologic formations for secure and permanent storage. Carbon dioxide from industrial users in the Houston area could be stored in nearby onshore and offshore storage sites.

An analysis of U.S Department of Energy estimates shows the storage capacity along the Gulf Coast is large enough to store about 500 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is equivalent to more than 130 years’ worth of industrial and power generation emissions in the United States, based on 2018 data.

“Carbon capture and storage is not a single technology, but rather a series of technologies and scientific breakthroughs that work in concert to achieve a profound outcome, one that will play a significant role in the future of energy and our planet,” says Gretchen Watkins, U.S. president of Shell. “In that spirit, it’s fitting this consortium combines CCS blueprints and ambitions to crystalize Houston’s reputation as the energy capital of the world while contributing to local and U.S. plans to help achieve net-zero emissions.”

Texas doctor dives into Shark Tank with invention that stops hiccups

shark bait

Humans are weird. Take, as a perfect example, the phenomenon of hiccups — the sudden and involuntary spasm of the diaphragm muscle between regular breaths. All humans experience them, and so do other mammals and even amphibians. But we’re guessing other animals don’t approach treating hiccups in the wacky ways humans do.

For instance, some less-than-successful hiccup remedies of lore include sipping water upside down (and subsequently trying to not drown), holding one’s breath for a long time (and often hiccupping throughout the hold anyway), sucking on a peppermint, gagging oneself or pulling on the tongue, and even gobbling up a spoonful of peanut butter to help change the breathing and swallowing pattern.

The truth is those ideas are mostly a waste of breath. Luckily, one San Antonio doctor has invented a device that supposedly instantly relieves hiccups — and his invention is getting so much attention that he’s even hooked a chance to pitch the product on a new episode of ABC’s entrepreneurial-focused reality show, Shark Tank.

Dr. Ali Seifi, a neurointensivist at UT Health San Antonio and the inventor of the aptly named HiccAway, will appear on an episode of Shark Tank that airs tonight, January 21 at 7 pm.

HiccAway, a straw-like device that a hiccup sufferer uses to sip water through, is likely to wow the sharks — maybe even take their breath away? — as it is the world’s first scientifically proven medical product that safely relieves hiccups.

In fact, HiccAway was recently the subject of an article in JAMA Network Open, a publication of the Journal of the American Medical Association Network. The article addresses a four-month cross-sectional study of 249 participants from multiple countries that found that HiccAway stopped hiccups in almost 92 percent of cases and was rated a heck of a lot more favorably than home remedies.

“I believe that the science behind our product is what makes our product trustworthy and reliable. There are many hiccup remedies that are all hit and miss with no exact science to them,” Seifi says. “Some healthcare products claim they can cure a medical condition, but they don’t have scientific backup to support the product. I can confidently state that HiccAway is one of the few products on Shark Tank so far with a strong published research study as a backup.”

While hiccups are simply an annoyance for most of us, they can also be chronic for patients with cancer, meningitis, multiple sclerosis, stroke, traumatic brain or thoracic injury, and even for patients who have had surgery that requires anesthesia.

“After I witnessed my own neurology patients suffering from hiccups without an effective treatment, I was inspired to develop a safe and effective device that would be simple to use and easily available to all people,” Seifi says. “When you forcefully sip water through the device, it keeps the phrenic and vagus nerves occupied, so they don’t have enough time to cause unwanted spasms in the diaphragm. This interruption stops the hiccups.”

While the HiccAway device is already available to purchase through hiccaway.com and on Amazon, as well as at walmart.com and even in H-E-B stores throughout South Texas and at heb.com, Shark Tank (which boasts a viewing audience of about 7 million) could propel HiccAway and Seifi into a new realm of entrepreneurial success.

“For me, the experience was surreal,” says Victor Fehlberg, president and CEO of Higher Innovations Inc., which manufactures and distributes HiccAway from the Denver area. “It took so long to prepare, so much time was spent waiting, that when the pitch and appearance were finally recorded, it went too fast. It was like I was dreaming because it had been so long in the making.”

The Shark Tank appearance is likely a dream come true for Seifi and the HiccAway team — and a total breath of fresh air for the hiccup-suffering public.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.