The Woodlands Mall shoppers can schedule virtual test drives, complete purchases, schedule deliveries of vehicles and meet with staff at this new high-tech store. Photo courtesy of JLL

The Woodlands-based online pre-owned car purveyor evrdrive has opened its flagship Customer Experience Center, or CXC, at The Woodlands Mall.

Designed by JLL Design Solutions, the modern space will allow shoppers to virtually tour the company's fleet of vehicles through its evrViewTM 3D hologram technology. According to a release, the technology can show evrdrive's full inventory of SUVs, cars, trucks, or other body styles and can display the vehicle's model specifications and history.

From the storefront, shoppers can also schedule virtual test drives, complete purchases, schedule deliveries of vehicles and meet with staff.

"We believe evrdrive is the future of automotive retail, and we are committed to providing our customers with a seamless and enjoyable shopping experience," Brian Singh, CEO of evrdrive, said in a statement.

evrdrive was founded in 2022, according to LinkedIn, and is part of Foundation Automotive Corp, a Houston-based company that owns car dealerships in the U.S. and Canada.

The company also runs a 55,000-square-foot Reconditioning Hub in the Houston area where vehicles are inspected and refurbished.

A number of new innovative auto ventures have rolled into Houston in recent months.

Self-driving ridehailing service Cruise expanded into Houston with its all electric, driverless cars in early May. The company launched services in Austin at the start of the year.

Uber Technologies, Inc. and Nuro also partnered last September to provide autonomous, electric vehicles for food deliveries in Houston. That same month, Drvn, a global on-demand chauffeur service, began operating in the Bayou City.

Drvn offers tech-savvy service, high-end cars, and various ride options. Photo courtesy of drvn

New tech-enabled chauffeur service stretches into Houston with upscale ride options

stay classy

Discriminating Houstonians who opt for luxury/executive car services (and who don’t, unfortunately, have a limo and driver of their own) now can choose an innovative, tech-savvy option.

Drvn, a global chauffeur service, has just rolled into Houston. Customers can look forward to on-demand rides — 24 hours a day — in various, upscale vehicles. Options start with first class; cars offered include sedans (Mercedes S Class, BMW 7 Series, or similar); SUVs (Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator, or similar); and even vans (such as the Mercedes 1500).

Business class also offers sedans (Cadillac XTS, Lincoln Continental, or similar); SUVs (Chevrolet Suburban, Ford Expedition, or similar); and also vans (Ford Transit or similar).

Private charters for posh parties or travel parties include Grech minibuses (or similar) that can seat up to 36 passengers. Limousines are available upon request and subject to availability. All vehicles are black, for a more classic touch.

Just in time for society/gala season, drvn offers locals rides to events all around Greater Houston, as well as both major airports. (Drvn’s CEO David Medina tells CultureMap that the service is a hit in its Coral Gables, Florida headquarters, where well-heeled customers use it for event travel.)

Other service areas include port transfers to and from the Port of Galveston; drvn’s long-distance car service to Dallas; Oklahoma City; Shreveport, Louisiana; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Little Rock, Arkansas; and beyond. Drvn staff expects major demand for events, conventions, and conferences, plus executive car service for business clients.

Currently, those interested can book rides via the drvn site. Medina notes that a customer app is scheduled for later this year.

As for the cost: A simple search from the Memorial Park area to Bush Intercontinental Airport yielded point-to-point rides starting at around $226 in an executive class sedan. Users can also schedule and even request special cars and opt for hourly service (perfect for weddings, occasions, and that visiting celebrity friend).

Aiming to separate itself from local high-end car services, drvn promises “five-star, white-glove transportation” options, cutting-edge booking technology, and drivers who meticulously train and even undergo secret rides from drvn staff to assure quality control. Drvn hopes to entice business/executive car service clients with tech such as God’s view and GPS tracking (to keep tabs on the boss’s car), a live manifest, and uniform billing and communication.

Medina also hopes to separate his company by redefining what luxury actually means when it comes to car service.

“‘Luxury’ does not mean luxury for high-end private car service,” he says. “Luxury is a Flying Spur or a Bentayga, not a Mercedes S Class or an Escalade. But, a Bentley is not what is in the mind of professionals who seek ‘luxury’ private car service. It is a state of being. It is knowing, without saying, that your chauffeur not only has your best interests in mind, he has your experience in mind. It is part of his duty of care to know what you expect and deliver it with elegance and with no visible exertion. It is through the simplicity of this balance that drvn’s chauffeured service delivers a ‘luxury’ experience. Not the Bentley.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

NuVinAir ReKlenz-X is safe for use in vehicles and can be used without damaging the interior. Photo courtesy of NuVinAir

New product sold in Houston gets EPA approval as eco-friendly, coronavirus-killing car cleaner

IN-CAR TECH

With the onset of COVID-19, the public is more aware than ever of cross-contamination, which extends from your home to your business to your car, and beyond.

NuVinAir announced that its latest product, ReKlenz-X, has gotten approval from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as an eco-friendly disinfectant. The company's Houston affiliate, Brian Ross, is selling the product.

ReKlenz-X kills 99.9 percent of germs, bacteria, and viruses in a vehicle's interior without compromising the integrity of the cabin. The product is on the EPA's "List N", which includes disinfectants for use to combat SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19."NuVinAir has proudly been at the forefront of helping ensure healthier commutes to drivers and passengers since launching in 2015. Adding this EPA-approved, oxygen-infused product that actually kills what's behind the coronavirus gives us an exciting extension to our 'Total Health' application," says Kyle Bailey, NuVinAir Global's CEO and founder.

"Our science-backed ReKlenz-X disinfectant cleans, protects, and disinfects safely and effectively — it's everything our automotive partners need in guaranteeing their customers' confidence in a safer, healthier vehicle," he continues.

To clean, the proprietary product uses an oxygen-enriched formula to quickly kills bacteria and viruses by destroying their cell walls through a process called oxidation. According to NuVinAir, ReKlenz-X contains no harsh chemicals, sticky residue, or dangerous volatile organic compounds. The result is a disinfected vehicle with no chemical smell.

ReKlenz-X is available in 32-ounce spray bottles through automotive dealerships, detail shops, rental-car companies, service centers, and vehicle fleets.

"Until now, any possible solution for killing the coronavirus was wrought with harmful chemicals, expensive equipment, and residue-leaving application devices that destroy the vehicle's interior," said Troy Blackwell, Chief Operating Officer for NuVinAir Global. "As a disinfectant and sanitizer, it can be applied to all interior vehicle surfaces using a microfiber towel. Paired with our premier detailing solution, ReNuSurface, as well as our patented Cyclone treatment, it takes deep cleaning to a whole new level for our automotive partners and their customers."

Dallas, Texas-based NuVinAir sells their products through a franchise system, similar to Line-X's business model.

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This article originally ran on AutomotiveMap.

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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.

Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.