The United and Occidental investment arms are planning to form a joint venture to commercialize the technology. Photo courtesy of Cemvita

Houston cleantech startup Cemvita Factory has scored a $5 million investment from United Airlines Ventures, the venture capital fund of the Chicago-based airline.

The equity investment is aimed at propelling commercialization of sustainable aviation fuel through a process involving carbon dioxide (CO2) and synthetic microbes.

Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, a subsidiary of Houston-based Occidental Petroleum that’s a founding investor in Cemvita, and United Airlines Ventures are financing the startup’s work on sustainable jet fuel. United Airlines operates a hub at George Bush Intercontinental/Houston Airport.

If that work pans out, the United and Occidental investment arms plan to form a joint venture to commercialize the technology. The joint venture might include construction of plants for the production of sustainable aviation fuel.

Sustainable aviation fuel, known as SAF, is an alternative to jet fuel that uses non-petroleum feedstock and offers lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Founded by brother-sister team Moji and Tara Karimi in 2017, Cemvita Factory relies on synthetic biology to turn carbon dioxide into chemicals and alternative fuels, including SAF. The startup, founded in 2017, is among the first companies to employ this technology to support heavy-industry decarbonization and find ways to take advantage of microbiology to convert CO2 into fuel.

“The use of SAF is a promising approach that we believe can significantly reduce global emissions from aviation and further decarbonization initiatives to combat climate change,” Richard Jackson, president of operations for U.S. onshore resources and carbon management at Occidental, says in a news release.

Cemvita is the third SAF-related startup to receive an investment from United Airlines Ventures.

The partnership among Cemvita, Occidental, and United is among many initiatives seeking to ramp up production of SAF. For instance, the U.S. Department of Energy is collaborating with the U.S. Department of Transportation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and other federal agencies to develop a strategy for scaling SAF technology.

The global SAF market is projected to grow from $219 million in 2021 to more than $15.7 billion by 2030, according to Research and Markets.

The International Air Transport Association says more than 370,000 flights have been fueled by SAF since 2016. Over 26.4 million gallons of SAF were produced last year.

Last month in France, aircraft manufacturer Airbus flew a A380 test jet for about three hours with one of the four engines operating solely on SAF. The three other engines ran on conventional fuel.

In December 2021, United flew a 737 MAX 8 jet from Chicago O’Hare International Airport to Washington Reagan National Airport outside Washington, D.C., with one of the two engines operating only on SAF. It was the first commercial flight with passengers aboard to use SAF in that capacity. The other engine ran on conventional fuel.

United CEO Scott Kirby, who was aboard the historic flight, said the flight was “not only a significant milestone for efforts to decarbonize our industry, but when combined with the surge in industry commitments to produce and purchase alternative fuels, we’re demonstrating the scalable and impactful way companies can join together and play a role in addressing the biggest challenge of our lifetimes.”

For now, airlines are allowed to use up SAF for up to 50 percent of the fuel on commercial flights.

Here are three of the latest updates on new execs and advisory appointments from two Houston startups and a local venture group. Photo via Getty Images

3 Houston organizations announce strategic appointments across biotech and VC

short stories

Five Houston innovators have new roles they're excited about this spring. From new advisory board members to c-level execs, here's who's moving and shaking in Houston innovation.

The Artemis Fund names new vice president of finance and operations

Adrienne Mangual has a background in finance and consulting. Photo courtesy of Artemis

The Artemis Fund, a venture capital firm that funds female-founded startups with technology solutions in fintech, e-commerce tech, and care-tech, has announced a new member of its leadership.

Adrienne Mangual is the new vice president of finance and operations at the firm, joining Artemis's co-founders and general partners, Stephanie Campbell, Leslie Goldman, and Diana Murakhovskaya, along with Austin-based Juliette Richert, a senior analyst.

Mangual received her MBA from Rice University in 2019 after working 15 years in finance roles at J.P. Morgan and Key Energy Services. Over the past few years, she's worked in consulting positions with startups and technology.

"This is an exciting time to join The Artemis Fund as the fund is growing and our reach is expanding and continuing to make an impact on female founders," Mangual tells InnovationMap. "I am looking forward to supporting existing and future female founders and working with Diana, Stephanie, and Leslie as part of the team making investment decisions for the fund."

FibroBiologics appoints scientific advisory board member

Former astronaut Kate Rubins, who's spent a total of 300 days in space, has joined the a Houston company's scientific advisory board. Photo courtesy of FibroBiologics

Houston-based clinical-stage therapeutics company FibroBiologics announced the appointment of Kathleen “Kate” Rubins, Ph.D., to its scientific advisory board. A microbiologist and NASA astronaut, Rubins has conducted medical research on earth at academic institutions as well as on board the International Space Station.

“We are honored to welcome Dr. Rubins to our SAB,” says Pete O’Heeron, CEO and chairman of FibroBiologics, in a news release. “She has distinguished herself in both terrestrial research at the Salk and Whitehead Institutes and through her ethereal work on the International Space Station.

"It’s rare to have such a unique perspective on microbiology," he continues. "Dr. Rubins joins a board of world-renowned scientists who will help to guide us as we advance fibroblast cell-based therapeutics through preclinical and clinical development. We are the only company focused on this unique opportunity in leveraging fibroblasts as treatments for chronic diseases and Dr. Rubins will be a key advisor in our pursuit to bring relief to the patients.”

In 2016, Rubins completed her first spaceflight on Expedition 48/49, where she became the first person to sequence DNA in space. Most recently, she served on the ISS as a flight engineer for Expedition 63/64. Across her two flights, she has spent a total of 300 days in space, the fourth most days in space by a U.S. female astronaut, according to the release.

Cemvita Factory hires, promotes within its leadership team

Tara Karimi, co-founder and CTO, stands with Cemvita Factory's two new hires and recently promoted employee. Photo courtesy of Cemvita

Cemvita Factory has made big moves in its leadership team. The low-carbon biotech and synthetic biology solution provider has recently made three strategic appointments: Charles Nelson was hired as chief business officer, Roger A. Harris was promoted to chief commercial officer, and Alex Juminaga was recruited as head of strain development.

“Scaling to meet market demand requires the right team at the right time,” says Tara Karimi, co-founder and CTO of Cemvita, in a news release. “With Charlie, Roger, and Alex’s leadership, we’re well-positioned for growth at a time when the demand for decarbonization solutions is greater than ever.”

With over 10 years in product development, engineering, and technology commercialization experience, Nelson will oversee all aspects of sales, business development, and customer success.

“At Cemvita, we create sustainable solutions to challenges across heavy industries,” says Nelson in the release. “Our goal is to reinvent heavy industries in ways that speak to the future, reduce companies’ carbon footprints, and even create jobs; I’m delighted to help lead the charge.”

Harris originally joined Cemvita as vice president of technology commercialization a year ago and has over two decades of experience in research and development, and engineering. In his new role, he is responsible for scaling and commercializing the startup's technology.

“Cemvita is positioned incredibly well to support heavy industry in efforts to innovate, and to help oil and gas diversify offerings and reduce dependency on carbon-intensive products,” says Harris in the release. “It is an exciting time and I’m thrilled to be with Cemvita.”

Lastly, Alex Juminaga will lead the Cemvita biofoundry’s production of novel biomolecules. He brings over a decade of laboratory experience — specializing in metabolic engineering, protein expression/purification, enzyme kinetics and binding assays, analytical chemistry, and more.

“The field of synthetic biology is just getting started, with thousands of microbes yet to be discovered,” says Juminaga. “I’m excited to work alongside the brilliant scientists at Cemvita as we uncover new microbiomes and new uses for these tiny treasures.”

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Joey Sanchez of The Ion, Nisha Desai of Intention, and Moji Karimi of Cemvita Factory. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from startup development to energy transition — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Joey Sanchez, senior director of ecosystems at the Ion Houston

Joey Sanchez joins the Houston Innovator Podcast to discuss his new role at The Ion Houston. Photo via LinkedIn

Joey Sanchez, who previously served as director of corporate engagement at Houston Exponential, has been in his new role as senior director of ecosystem at The Ion for about three months now.

"I'm focusing specifically on the communities of entrepreneurs, startups, investors — and trying to bridge connections among them," Sanchez says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "This is the biggest challenge in Houston and we want to flip that with density. Density is really the key to solving connections."

Sanchez joined the Houston Innovators Podcast and shares about what gets him so excited about Houston innovation on the show. Click here to listen and read more.

Nisha Desai, founder and CEO of Intention

Four climatetech-focused individuals have been named to Greentown Lab's board. Photo via LinkedIn

Greentown Labs named new board members, including two community board members to act as liaisons between startups and Greentown Labs. Greentown Houston's appointed representation is Nisha Desai, founder and CEO of Intention, and community member.

Desai's current startup, Intention, is climate impact platform for retail investors, and she has previously worked at six energy-related startups including Ridge Energy Storage, Tessera Solar, and ActualSun, where she was co-founder and CEO. She's also worked in a leadership role at NRG Energy and spent several years as a management consultant with the energy practice of Booz Allen Hamilton — now Strategy&, a PWC company.

"I'm honored to join the board of Greentown Labs as a representative of the startup community," she says in the release. "This is a pivotal time for climate and energy transition. I look forward to working with the rest of the board to expand the collective impact of the Greentown Labs ecosystem." Click here to read more.

Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita Factory

Moji Karimi joins InnovationMap to discuss how Cemvita Factory has deployed its recent investment funding and what's next for the company and Houston as a whole when it comes to biomanufacturing. Photo courtesy of Cemvita

Moji Karimi and his sister Tara had the idea for a company that could transform carbon emissions and mitigate new damage to the environment. Only, it seems, they were a bit ahead of their time.

Houston-based Cemvita Factory, founded in 2017, uses synthetic biology and take carbon emissions and transform them into industrial chemicals. However, it's only been since recently that the conversation on climate change mitigation has focused on carbon utilization.

"I think people are realizing more about the importance of really focusing on carbon capture and utilization because fossil fuels are gonna be here, whether we like it or not, for a long time, so the best thing we could do is to find ways to decarbonize them," Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO, tells InnovationMap. "There's been this focus around carbon capture and storage, and I think the next awakening is going to be utilization." Click here to read more.

Moji Karimi joins InnovationMap to discuss how Cemvita Factory has deployed its recent investment funding and what's next for the company and Houston as a whole when it comes to biomanufacturing. Photo courtesy of Cemvita

Energy transition innovator shares how Houston could be a biomanufacturing hub​

Q&A

Moji Karimi and his sister Tara had the idea for a company that could transform carbon emissions and mitigate new damage to the environment. Only, it seems, they were a bit ahead of their time.

Houston-based Cemvita Factory, founded in 2017, uses synthetic biology and take carbon emissions and transform them into industrial chemicals. However, it's only been since recently that the conversation on climate change mitigation has focused on carbon utilization.

"I think people are realizing more about the importance of really focusing on carbon capture and utilization because fossil fuels are gonna be here, whether we like it or not, for a long time, so the best thing we could do is to find ways to decarbonize them," Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO, tells InnovationMap. "There's been this focus around carbon capture and storage, and I think the next awakening is going to be utilization."

Karimi joins InnovationMap for a Q&A about what the next year has in store for Cemvita and why Houston has some of the ingredients to become a hub for this type of innovation.

InnovationMap: You recently closed your series A round. What does that mean for Cemvita and what’s next when it comes to your funding journey?

Moji Karimi: With the series A in the bank, we started allocating that to expand the team and the footprint of our operations in Texas Technology Park off Kirby. This is where we had our initial lab and office space, which was about 6,000 square feet. And now we're expanding with an additional 3,000 square feet just for the office space and turning our initial 6,000 square feet into a big lab to support some of the new projects we're onboarding.

Another big part of that use of funds was establishing our Denver operations for biomining. That office went from having one person to a team of six. Our facility there is about 5,500 square feet with lab and office space to support new projects that we're getting.

The rest of the series A will be utilized for the new space and new people to accomplish the goals that we have for 2022. Toward the end of 2022, we'll launch the campaign for our series B.

IM: With the expanded offices and growing team, what has that meant in terms of Cemvita's capabilities?

MK: We have established our biofoundry, which is basically the engine for what we do. It's where we engineer the microbes and where we do a lot of the screening — small scale testing and fermentation and where we streamline our scale up process. What that allows us to do is, when we take on new projects, more efficiently go from engineering the microbe and doing tests in a test tube, to testing from one liter, 10 liters, 100 liters, and then even 1,000 liters all within our facilities.

Part of what's unique about Cemvita is to be able to do this scale up. A lot of our competitors engineer the microbes and then they just give the licensing to the client. For our customers, we need to also do their scale up. We have the right setup for the products that we have right now, the main one being bio ethylene, and the big milestone for this year is to have that pilot plant and to get to that one ton per month of ethylene production.

IM: You've recently grown your team significantly — are you still hiring?

MK: We're about 35 people right now. The last time we talked, we're like 15 or 20 or something. That's full-time people and there's another 10 to 15 contractors and part-timers as well. I think before our series B, we'll probably add another 10 to 15 people, but then we'll slow down before the series B. We have about 28 to 30 people in Houston and the other five or six are in Denver.

We are hiring for the biofoundry — so, microbiologists, molecular biologists, bioinformatics. Outside of the biofoundry, we're hiring for business development, process engineers, commercialization, and technical economic assessment. We're gonna have a position for an analyst coming up. On the Denver team, we have positions for about the same skill sets.

IM: 2021 seemed to be a year of great accomplishment on a national scale, from recently being a finalist in the COP26 Pitch Battle to winning last summer’s GS Beyond Energy Innovation Challenge. What’s 2022 going to be defined by for you?

MK: I think 2021 was a great year for us, even though it did slow us down a little bit in COVID and not being able to get deals done faster, so took a bit longer than expected.

Now going into 2022, what I characterize where we are right right now is the end of the beginning. From here on is really the growth chapter. We're done with the early stage stuff, and we are starting to graduate out of being a startup and into a real company. This year we have a lot of goals to accomplish, including our pilot with Oxy. We also are going to be more active in working with the Department of Energy to get some grants and expand our customer base.

We've been, in some ways, selective because, you know, we're not a B-to-C company, so we don't need 200 customers. We just need a few who are both innovative companies that are truly thinking about 2030 and 2050, but also those who are a good fit for our technology and scale up. This year, we're also gonna focus heavily on the IP for a lot of these applications that we're focused on are still pretty nascent. We want to make sure that we protect IP, especially now that we have good amount of resources from our series A.

In February, we're launching a new solution for hydrogen during the 2nd American Hydrogen Forum in Houston. That's going to be really exciting. We're also doing a lot internally in terms of how our lab runs. We're developing processes for being more efficient in candidate screening methodology, and also for high throughput sequencing.

IM: When we originally spoke years ago in the early days of both Cemvita and InnovationMap, one of the things I remember talking to you about is how nascent the CO2 utilization industry was. How has that changed over the years and what does that evolution mean for you?

MK: That's a really good question, especially the way that you framed it. I think it's been really interesting the past two years. The energy transition went from people thinking that solar and wind are going to solve all these problems to then having a bit of a reality check. Throughout last year, people have realized, "oh, I guess we need fossil fuels anyways. We need to find ways to work with the oil and gas industry." At the end of the day, this is not the "energy switch," right? This is the "energy transition." Alongside that, there's been more of an education around the role that nuclear and geothermal are going to play. People are like a lot more open minded, especially for nuclear just over the past few months.

I think people are realizing more about the importance of really focusing on carbon capture and utilization because fossil fuels are gonna be here, whether we like it or not, for a long time, so the best thing we could do is to find ways to decarbonize them. There's been this focus around carbon capture and storage, and I think the next awakening is going to be utilization. At the end of the day, these companies are spending money to store CO2 — they don't make money doing that. Whereas if you could figure out how to use CO2 as feedstock and turn that into a valuable chemical, they could sell it and have that revenue, and also close that carbon loop. That's really the, the end goal and holy grail. That's been our vision and mission.

I think it's true by your observation that we were a bit mistimed in the market. We were a bit ahead of what people were asking for, but then again, that's part of having a vision.

IM: One thing you've been passionate about is establishing Houston as a biomining and biomanufacturing hub. Why does Houston make sense for this type of hub and what exactly needs to occur to make it happen?

MK: Houston has its Climate Action Plan that the city published, and just think about how many chemical plants and refineries that we have. Plus, we already know that a big part of the future of chemical manufacturing is going to be biomanufacturing. Chemical reactions use so much heat and electricity, and that's why we have high scope of emissions. A lot of these processes are going to be replaced by biomanufacturing and using microbes to make the chemicals — and microbes do that under ambient pressure temperature. It's more sustainable. That's really what Solugen is doing. You would think that Lyondellbasell, Chevron, Exxon, Oxy and more would all sit together say, "Hey guys, what are we doing about this? How could we start some initiatives for this?" Rice University has a program around synthetic biology and University of Houston has a lot of bioprocessing. But what happens is those guys graduate and then they leave Houston. They go find a job in Boston. I think that's something we have to work on that on for companies to think about their strategic direction and be involved with the city, with the academic institutions, and with the startups like us.

For chemicals, Houston plays a big role. The way to decarbonize, in part, is by biomanufacturing. It does make sense for Houston to be more proactive about that.

------

This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Three Houston companies pitched their energy transition technologies at an international competition. Photo via Getty Images

3 energy transition companies with Houston ties pitch at international conference

seeing green

It's all hands on deck for pioneering technology to advance the energy transition and climatetech, and three companies with a Houston presence just took the national stage to showcase their climate change solutions.

The United Nations' 2021 COP26, hosted by the Net Zero Technology Centre in Glasgow, featured 10 startup organizations from across the globe battling it out to be crowned the Clean Energy Startup Champion.

The Ion Houston nominated five startups to the competition, and three made it to the finals. Syzygy Plasmonics, which is developing a new type of photocatalytic chemical reactor to reduce both cost and emissions for major commodity chemicals, claimed third place in the competition. The other two Ion nominees that pitched were:

  • S2G Energy, an Ion Smart Cities Accelerator participant, and cloud-based Energy Assistant platform that collects data and manages devices from almost any source to capture efficiency opportunities
  • Cemvita Factory, which applies synthetic biology to reverse climate change and transform CO2 into a usable material
"The Ion partnered with Net Zero with the vision to bring innovative and transformative startups out of the North/Central and South American market to the stage in Glasgow," says Jan E. Odegard, executive director of The Ion, in a statement. "We took a look around our own ecosystem both at The Ion and the Ion District and S2G Energy, Syzygy Plasmonics, and Cemvita Factory were easy and obvious nominations, as they were all working towards achieving net zero and are exemplars of startup innovation within our ecosystem."
Australia-based Mineral Carbonation Int'l, focused on carbon transformation, claimed first place and the title of top Clean Energy Startup Champion. PJP Eye, based in Japan and working on commercialised plant-based carbon batteries, came in second.
Want to work for one of the top startups in Houston? These ones are hiring. Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

Here's which of the InnovationMap Awards finalists are hiring

growing biz

After scouring Houston for the best of the Houston innovation ecosystem and evaluating dozens of companies, InnovationMap has announced the finalists in its inaugural awards. But which of these companies are growing their teams?

Turns out, almost all of them have open positions — some planning to double their teams over the next year. In fact, the 28 companies that make up our cohort of finalists are looking for over 250 new employees — some have these positions open now and others are seeking these new team members over the next 12 months.

Let's look at how many new hires these top startups are looking for.

Biggest gains

The InnovationMap Awards finalist with the loftiest hiring goal is Liongard, which is a finalist in the People's Choice: Startup of the Year category. Liongard — a platform that helps IT companies automatically discover, document, and audit their customers' IT systems — is looking to fill 70 positions over the next year. The company, founded in 2015, has just over 100 employees now.

The startup finalist with the second highest hiring goals is Nanotech, a material science company with a mission to fireproof the world and reduce energy consumption. Nanotech is looking to hire over 40 new employees in the next 12 months, which would almost triple its current staff of 15. Founded in 2019 by Mike Francis, the company is a finalist in both the Energy Transition and People's Choice categories.

Another People's Choice finalist, GoCo, and its all-in-one employee management platform, is currently looking to grow its team by adding 20 new employees to its staff of 53. The company was founded in 2015 and has since raised over $12 million in VC funding.

Also looking to grow their team by 20 new hires is Hello Alice — a small business owner's passport through entrepreneurship that helps with networking, raising capital, and accessing growth tools. The company, co-founded by Carolyn Rodz, is up for an award in the BIPOC-Founded, Female-Founded, and People's Choice categories.

GoExpedi, whose founder and CEO Timothy Neal is a finalist in the Top Founder Under 40 category, currently has 17 positions open at the moment and is looking to add those new hires into its team of over 150 employees. The e-commerce, supply chain, and analytics company is streamlining procurement for industrial and energy MRO (maintenance, repair and operations).

While Female-Founded Business finalist RingOn — a wearable GPS tracker that is also a panic button that's designed for school kids and with an impact-driven mission of ending child trafficking — is only currently looking for six new hires, the company is expecting to hiring another 15 new employees next year. Right now, the company's employee count is at three.

Steady growth

A few of the awards finalists are sporting hiring goals in the seven to 12 new staffers range. Space Tech finalist NANCO Aero, which is developing package- and person-carrying air vehicles, is hiring a dozen new employees — a big goal considering the company currently has just four employees.

Enercross LLC, automation software for the energy industry, is a finalist in the Energy Transition category and is looking to add 11 new people to its team of 42. Meanwhile Sports Tech finalist sEATz — a mobile ordering and delivery platform for food, drinks, and merchandise at large events — is looking to about double its team of 10 over the few months.

Health Tech finalist Medical Informatics Corp. is the creator of Sickbay, which features web-based applications that transform data into actionable information to help care teams make better, faster decisions. The company has seven open positions to grow its team of 36.

Seeking selectively

The following InnovationMap Awards finalists are looking to grow their teams with between two and six new hires:

  • Allotrope Medical — creator of StimSite, a device that improves surgical safety and efficiency in millions of operations performed every year.
  • CaseCTRL — using artificial intelligence and automation to streamline surgical scheduling.
  • Cemvita Factory — engineering microbes that eat CO2 and produce valuable chemicals.
  • Cheers Health — creating products that are designed to support your liver and help you feel better after consuming alcohol.
  • Cognitive Space — providing a scalable satellite constellation management solution to the space industry.
  • Data Gumbo — creator of an interconnected industrial smart contract network secured and powered by blockchain.
  • DonateStock — simplifying the process of donating stock and helping nonprofits solicit, process, and manage stock donations.
  • FitLift — a wearable device and mobile platform that tracks motion and gives real-time feedback on lifting technique, allowing trainers, and athletes to drive results.
  • LAMIK Beauty — a tech-enabled clean color cosmetics company focusing on women of all diverse backgrounds
  • Molecule Software — creator of a leading cloud-native energy trading software.
  • re:3D Inc. — producer of large, affordable industrial 3D printers, and services that can print with new or recycled filament, pellets, or flake.
  • Saranas — creator of the Early Bird, the first and only FDA-approved bleed detection system for endovascular procedures.
  • Starling Medical — using AI and telehealth enabled medical devices to enable millions with bladder dysfunctions to be able to urinate safely and conveniently again.
  • Topl — impact monetization engine that enables digital and sustainable transformation across value chains and empowers the monetization of impact verified on the Topl Blockchain.
  • Zibrio Inc. — a fall prevention solution that empowers both clinicians and patients for better outcomes.

Find out which of these employers take home the win at the September 8 event at The Cannon - West Houston. Honorees, sponsors, judges, and their guests will celebrate in person, and the rest of the innovation community is invited to tune in to the livestream. Click here to RSVP.

Sponsorships are still available! If you are interested in partnering with InnovationMap as a sponsor of this event, send an email to awards@innovationmap.com.

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Houston startup rolls out B2B program for onboarding new hires

job training

After seeing success with her internship training and matchmaking platform, Allie Danziger, founder and CEO of Ampersand Professionals, has expanded the concept to include a new hire training service that allows employers to better optimize the onboarding process and have a well-trained new staff member from day one.

In just over a year, Ampersand has worked with over 7,000 professionals through its original concept of upskilling and matching young professionals to internship programs. A few months ago, Danziger and her team expanded to include career development training for students first entering the workforce with the City of Houston's Hire Houston Youth program. Danziger says it was developing out the platform for this program that proved there was a need for this type of training.

"While we have focused on matching professionals with businesses for paid internships, we recognized a further gap with employers that have their own recruiting/talent acquisition teams, or just their own preferred way of bringing on entry-level talent, and didn’t have a need for our matching platform," Danziger tells InnovationMap. "But, they recognized the benefit of our proven training platform that pre-vets and de-risks their hires, and still wanted access to the training for their own hires."

The new program has evolved from training interns to new hires, so parts of the program that focuses on interviewing or applying for a job have been removed. Instead, the 8.5 hours of training focuses on networking, best practices for working with a manager and team, performance reviews, common software training, and more.

Danziger says usually new hires need the most experienced mentor or manager, but they don't usually get that support — especially when it comes to businesses that don't have their own built-out mentorship or training program.

"Ampersand’s new training product fills that gap — it gives employers of any size any easy solution to provide basic job readiness training to employees, access to our team of dedicated coaches, and a detailed report at the end of their training summarizing how their new hire did in the training and any trends recognized and tips for managing this employee based on what the platform uncovered," she says. "Businesses can also sign up for additional coaching sessions and customize training materials, as an add-on if interested."

The program costs the employer $100 per new employee, and checkout online takes less than a minute. Through both this program and the original internship program, Ampersand is constantly evolving its training content.

"These professionals are going through the same training experience that we have proven out over the last year, and we are constantly adding to based on data we see in the user experience," Danziger says.

Danziger recently joined the Houston Innovators Podcast discuss some of the benchmarks she's met with Ampersand, as well as the importance of investing in Gen Z hires. Listen to that episode below.


Houston thought leaders look for extraterrestrial intelligence at Future Focus event

Out of This World

The latest Future Focus discussion held by alliantgroup was out of this world! The company teamed up with InnovationMap to host Dr. Seth Shostak from the SETI Institute at alliantgroup headquarters in the Galleria area. The conversation focused on how new technology is helping in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

Dr. Robert Ambrose, alliantgroup strategic advisory board member, was the moderator for the night. He recently retired from NASA as the chief of software, robotics, and the simulation division, and clarified why it is crucial we have these conversations with Dr. Shostak about space and ask the question: Do aliens exist?

“We should be looking up. We should be thinking about what is coming and how we are going to be a part of it. It is an exciting time in space,” said Dr. Ambrose.

Dr. Shostak has been the senior astronomer and director at the SETI Institute in San Francisco for the past 20 years. He explained to the audience there is a difference between the search for aliens and the search for life in the universe.

“SETI stands for Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, but it's not the same as the search for life, which it's often confused with,” explained Dr. Shostak. “You might find life on Mars, but it's not going to be very clever. But when you look for extraterrestrial intelligence, you are looking for the kind of aliens you might see on television or in the movies. Are they intelligent, can they communicate with us, and can they hold a conversation?”

Dr. Shostak believes we can infer aliens exist because of the number of planets and stars there are in the universe. But he also believes the search is heating up thanks to new technology and satellites currently being developed.

“Do I think we probably will find them in our lifetime? I honestly do," he said. "You could say that's just wishful thinking and perhaps it is, but it's more than that. It is the fact that the equipment is getting better very quickly."

He bets that by 2035 we will have found and communicated with extraterrestrial intelligence. Both Dr. Shostak and Dr. Ambrose agree, once we have found this life, our world will change for the better.

“We are going to learn all sorts of things about physics and the rules of the universe that we’ve never uncovered,” explained Dr. Ambrose. “Imagine everything we could have taught humans about the universe a couple hundred years ago. What if we can find someone who could teach us those lessons today? What an acceleration we would have.”

This was just the second Future Focus discussion alliantgroup has hosted, and CEO Dhaval Jadav said he hopes to continue to lead these innovative conversations around technology.

“We started this future focus series of roundtables to engage thought leaders and industry experts on topics related to the development of new technologies," Jadav said. "We are living in a most exciting and heady time, with the adoption of new technologies and platforms accelerating at an unprecedented rate.

"In order for us to stay abreast of all these exciting innovations — from web 3 to sportstech, blockchain, AI/quantum computing, the metaverse and our ever-expanding universe, including the search for extraterrestrial intelligence – we must continue to hold thought-provoking dialogues to further explore and chart our path to the future."

You can click here to learn more about alliantgroup’s previous event and what’s to come.

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Houston hospital ranked best in state according to recent report

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It’s a three-peat for Houston Methodist Hospital.

For the third in a row, Healthgrades has named Houston Methodist the best hospital in Texas and one of the 50 best hospitals in the country. It’s the only Texas hospital in the top 50. Houston Methodist, a 907-bed facility at the Texas Medical Center, earned the same recognition in 2020 and 2021.

Four other hospitals in the Houston area made Healthgrades’ list of the top 250 hospitals in the U.S.:

  • Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center
  • Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital
  • Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital
  • Memorial Hermann – Texas Medical Center

Four Houston hospitals also excelled in several of Healthgrades’ specialty categories:

  • Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center, No. 3 in the state for heart surgery.
  • Memorial Hermann – Texas Medical Center, No. 1 in the state for stroke care and No. 2 for coronary intervention.
  • Houston Methodist Hospital, No. 2 in the state for critical care and No. 2 for pulmonary care.
  • Texas Orthopedic Hospital, No. 1 in the state for joint replacement.

Healthgrades, an online platform for finding physicians, hospitals, and other health care providers, rates hospitals based on clinical outcomes such as rates for patient deaths and treatment complications. For this year’s list, Healthgrades evaluated clinical performance at nearly 4,500 hospitals.

“For almost 25 years, our mission has been to provide consumers with clear and accessible information to make more informed health care decisions,” Dr. Brad Bowman, chief medical officer and head of data science at Healthgrades, says in a news release.

The Healthgrades rankings “provide consumers with increased transparency regarding the care in their areas, and empowers them to make more confident care decisions for themselves and their families,” Bowman adds.

For Houston Methodist, kudos like those from Healthgrades are common. For instance, the hospital last year landed at No. 16 on U.S. News & World Report’s national honor roll for the best hospitals, up from No. 20 the previous year. It was the top-rated Texas hospital on the list.

“These national accolades are something to be proud of, but most important, our patients are benefiting from all of our hard work. Ultimately, they are the reason we need to be one of the best hospital systems in the country,” Dr. Marc Boom, president and CEO of Houston Methodist, said last year in a news release about the U.S. News award.

The Healthgrades honor is one of several pieces of good news for Houston Methodist this year.

The hospital recently unveiled plans for the 26-story Centennial Tower. Scheduled to open in 2027, the $1.4 billion tower will include a larger emergency department and hundreds of patient beds, among other features. The new tower will replace the Houston Main building and West Pavilion.

Shortly after that announcement, the Houston Methodist system said it had received an anonymous $50 million gift. It’s the second largest donation in the system’s 102-year history.

Joining Houston Methodist Hospital in Healthgrades’ national top 250 this year are:

  • Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – McKinney
  • Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Temple
  • Doctors Hospital at Renaissance in Edinburg
  • Hendrick Medical Center in Abilene
  • Medical City Arlington
  • Medical City McKinney
  • Methodist Hospital in San Antonio
  • St. David’s Medical Center in Austin
  • St. David’s South Austin Medical Center
  • William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital in Dallas