3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Niloufar Molavi of Central Houston Inc., Dan Purvis of Velentium, and Chris Staffel of Goose Capital. Courtesy photos

Editor's note: In the week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three innovators — each either new to their role or with bit acquistion news.

Niloufar Molavi, board chair at Central Houston Inc.

Niloufar Molavi will lead Central Houston Inc.'s board this year — and she's got fostering innovation on her to-do list. Photo courtesy of CHI

Last week, Nilofar Molavi assumed the role of board chair for Central Houston. She leads PwC's Global energy practice and has served on the CHI board since 2011 and chairs the organization's innovation committee. CHI was among the partners behind the Downtown Launchpad, a 17,000-square-foot innovation hub, which had its grand opening last fall.

"With the fall 2020 opening of Downtown Launchpad, we have deepened our investment in innovation, which we hope will garner long-term results and economic vitality for downtown as well as the Houston region at large," she continues. "We look forward to developing bridge programs with area universities and organizations and leveraging existing resources to bring more high-tech prospects to our central city." Read more.

Dan Purvis, CEO of Velentium

A Houston company has made a strategic acquisition. Photo courtesy of Velentium

Houston-based Velentium, which specializes in the design and manufacturing of medical devices announced that it has acquired Texas company Oasis Testing, a designer of automated test systems for the energy and manufacturing industries.

"Despite the immense challenges facing the business community in 2020, last year was a monumental year of growth for our firm, and we're pleased to start 2021 building upon our world-class team of technical experts," says Dan Purvis, CEO of Velentium, in a news release. "Oasis Testing has been a trusted partner for the last five years and shares in our commitment to solving clients' most complex challenges to change lives for a better world. We're incredibly excited to welcome them to the Velentium family and expand our business more deeply into energy and manufacturing."

Purvis will lead the new combined company as CEO. Read more.

Chris Staffel, managing director at Goose Capital

Goose Capital recently named its new managing director. Photo courtesy of Chris Staffel

Houston-based investment group Goose Capital Inc. named Chris Staffel as managing director — along with Jeff Smisek as the firm's president and Jay Collins as chair of the board of directors.

A serial entrepreneur and investor in over 30 startups, Staffel joins Goose to lead day-to-day operations and drive new investment opportunities.

"It is an honor to join the team at Goose Capital and work alongside experienced industry leaders," Staffel says in the release. "I look forward to leveraging my entrepreneurial experience to help the start-ups in which we invest, while strategically identifying early stage investment opportunities." Read more.

The 1550 on the Green tower will anchor a new mixed-use district. Rendering courtesy of Skanska

New downtown office tower will rise in bustling Discovery Green

new to hou

A new office tower will soon loom over the popular Discovery Green as the anchor of a new downtown district. Global development and construction firm, Skanksa, announced the new building at 1550 Lamar St. and its anchor tenant on January 13. The new 28-story, 375,000-square-foot Class-A office structure is dubbed 1550 on the Green, per a Skanska statement.

Global law firm Norton Rose Fulbright will relocate its Houston office in 2024 and acquire naming rights upon occupancy, according to a press release.

Bound by La Branch, Lamar, Crawford, and Dallas Streets, 1550 on The Green will feature extra-wide pedestrian zones with a canopy of trees, two tenant outdoor roof terraces, and wide views of the surrounding greenery.

International design firm BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group led the building's design; it is the company's first foray into Texas. BIG's design promises sustainability, energy efficiency, and an "airy" office environment for tenants, a release describes.

Some 7,000 square feet of retail space will greet first-floor guests. Michael Hsu Office of Architecture has been tapped to design the interior amenity spaces; those include a fitness center, rooftop event space and terrace, and community spaces.

The new 1550 on the Green tower is part of a new envisioned district that will be branded as Discovery West. The district will consist of 3.5 acres of mixed-use development boasting restaurants, retail, green space, and "world-class architecture," per a release.

Working with Central Houston Inc., Discovery Green, Bike Houston, the Kinder Foundation, as well as several brokers, Skanska and design firm of record, BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group, completed the master plan for Discovery West in early 2020.

Skanska has been noticeably active in the Houston office market, specifically with the development of Bank of America Tower, West Memorial Place I and II, and the future Discovery West. The company is behind the acquisition of a buzzy strip center in Montrose. Skanska also plans to multifamily to its Houston portfolio, the firm notes.

"As an organization that prides itself on building what matters to our communities, our team, made up of Houstonians, has been working alongside local stakeholders to develop a plan and a building that will transform this side of downtown Houston while still meeting the needs of the city," said Matt Damborsky, executive vice president for Skanska USA commercial development's Houston market, in a statement.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Niloufar Molavi will lead Central Houston Inc.'s board this year — and she's got fostering innovation on her to-do list. Photo courtesy of CHI

Houston organization names new leader to focus on innovation and economic development

now in charge

An organization that promotes redevelopment and revitalization in Houston has named its new board leader for 2021.

Niloufar Molavi, partner at PwC US, has assumed Central Houston Inc.'s board leadership role effective January 8. Molavi, who leads PwC's Global energy practice, has served on the CHI board since 2011 and chairs the organization's innovation committee.

"Over more than a decade serving on the CHI board, I have witnessed first-hand the major changes that the organization has affected in downtown," Molavi says in a news release. "Among our 2021 priorities is to continue to foster the growth of the innovation sector."

In October, CHI — along with its partners, Amegy Bank and the Downtown Redevelopment Authority — celebrated the grand opening of the Downtown Launchpad, a 17,000-square-foot innovation hub located on the 10th floor of Amegy on Main (1801 Main Street). The hub is home to Houston's MassChallenge Texas and gener8tor accelerators and global nonprofit incubator Impact Hub Houston. The Cannon Houston is the operation partner for the space.

"With the fall 2020 opening of Downtown Launchpad, we have deepened our investment in innovation, which we hope will garner long-term results and economic vitality for downtown as well as the Houston region at large," she continues. "We look forward to developing bridge programs with area universities and organizations and leveraging existing resources to bring more high-tech prospects to our central city."

Molavi, as board chair, will focus on near-term and long term strategic priorities for CHI, which include the region's economic recovery following the pandemic, improving transportation, further developing the innovation ecosystem, recruiting new employers to downtown, and more.

Central Houston Inc. and its Downtown Launchpad recently took home a couple big wins. Photo courtesy of CHI

New innovation center in downtown Houston receives international recognition

big winner

A Houston organization has been recognized for a newly opened innovation hub in downtown.

The International Economic Development Council has awarded Central Houston Inc.'s Downtown Launchpad two honors in its Excellence in Economic Development Awards Program. The new 17,000-square-foot innovation hub in Southern Downtown won a silver rank in the awards' Innovation Programs and Initiatives category and a bronze rank in the Entrepreneurship category.

"The creation of a vibrant innovation district in Downtown has been a strategic priority for Central Houston since it was identified in the 2017 Plan Downtown, our 20-year vision plan for the area's growth and development," says Bob Eury, CHI president, in a news release.

"Downtown Launchpad, which opened just last month, achieves our goal of strengthening connections between entrepreneurs, industry, startups and funders, and we're honored to see the hard work of Central Houston, Inc. and our partners recognized by the International Economic Development Council."

IEDC received over 500 submissions for 35 categories for this year's award. Each submission was evaluated by a diverse panel of economic and community developers from around the world and were looking at the nominees' efforts in creating positive change in urban, suburban and rural communities.

"The winners of IEDC's Excellence in Economic Development awards represent the very best of economic development and exemplify the ingenuity, integrity and leadership that our profession strives for each and every day," says the 2020 IEDC Board Chair and One Columbus CEO Kenny McDonald in the release. "We're honored to recognize the more than 100 communities whose marketing campaigns, projects and partnerships have measurably improved regional quality of life."

Last month, the Downtown Launchpad celebrated its grand opening. The hub is located on the 10th floor of Amegy on Main (1801 Main Street), is home to Houston's MassChallenge Texas and gener8tor accelerators and global nonprofit incubator Impact Hub Houston. The Cannon Houston is the operation partner for the space.

The Downtown Launchpad is officially open for business. Photo courtesy of the Downtown Launchpad

Innovation space in downtown Houston celebrates its grand opening

now open

Almost exactly a year ago, Central Houston Inc. and the Downtown Redevelopment Authority announced the Downtown Launchpad to emerge as a "vertical village" of innovation space. Now, as of this week, the new space has been revealed at its official grand opening.

The 17,000-square-foot innovation hub, which is located on the 10th floor of Amegy on Main (1801 Main Street), is home to Houston's MassChallenge Texas and gener8tor accelerators and global nonprofit incubator Impact Hub Houston. The Cannon Houston is the operation partner for the space.

"Downtown Launchpad innovation hub starts at the edges of technology and entrepreneurship where cutting-edge ideas can quickly be cultivated and explored," says Bob Eury, president of Central Houston and Downtown Redevelopment Authority, in a news release. "We set out to recruit and develop partnerships with some of the nation's premier accelerators and incubators in order to build an inclusive vertical village with all the critical support functions just steps away. We are excited and look forward to the impact created by the hundreds of startups that will walk through our doors."

The "vertical village" features coworking and accelerator space. Photo courtesy of the Downtown Launchpad

The new space, which has been partially open since last December, celebrated the opening with a virtual event and panel on September 30. Mayor Sylvester Turner joined the programming to recognize the Launchpad.

"To meet the challenges of today, we must empower a can-do spirit by offering a framework of resources that includes supporting startups and entrepreneurs as they seamlessly navigate through the stages of startup production — from idea generation and incorporation to talent development, investment, and scaling, as well as ensuring upskilling and reskilling to provide economic vitality for all Houstonians," Mayor Turner says at the event. "Downtown Launchpad enables this to happen. Hundreds of new businesses will be built here in the coming years."

The space, which will be used for programming and events, features a communal ground-floor lobby area with meeting rooms, a game room, workstations, and a coffee bar and deli, according to the release. There's also a dedicated event space on the building's 11th floor.

Common space are designed to enhance collisions between entrepreneurs. Photo courtesy of the Downtown Launchpad

"In the 2017 Plan Downtown, a key business strategy focuses on facilitating the creation of a collaborative Innovation District within Downtown," says Curtis Flowers, Downtown Redevelopment Authority board chair, in the release. "The purpose is to incubate a vibrant, innovative economy where startups thrive, create jobs, and attract venture capital investments to Houston which will benefit the City's long-term economic vitality. We believe the investment in establishing Downtown Launchpad will garner long-term results for Downtown and the Houston region."

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SBA grant to open new centers to support women in business — and one will serve the Houston area

coming soon

The Houston area is benefitting from national funding that will be dedicated to creating female-focused resource centers across the country.

The United States Small Business Administration announced grant funding to launch 20 new Women's Business Centers (WBC) across the country. The centers, which are slated to go into rural and underserved markets, will also be partnering with Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

With the funds from the grant and through a partnership with the Greater Houston Women's Chamber of Commerce, the new center will rise in Northeast Houston to serve the Montgomery, East Harris and Chambers' Counties.

"We are incredibly excited that an organization as prominent as the Greater Houston Women's Chamber of Commerce is joining the SBA team," says Tim Jeffcoat, director if the SBA in Houston. "We are looking forward to working with them to empower women-owned businesses in Houston to reach new heights of success."

These new efforts represent the largest expansion of the WBC program in its 30-year existence.

"We are thrilled to partner with the SBA in opening another Women's Business Center, providing resources and tools for our region's women-led organizations to launch and expand," says Suzan Deison, CEO, president and founder of the Greater Houston Women's Chamber of Commerce. "We are honored the SBA chose to partner with us to expand needed services in Montgomery, East Harris & Chambers' counties, especially during these challenging times."

The SBA has 136 centers open across the country, and each offers business counseling, training, networking, workshops, and more to area female entrepreneurs.

"Opening the doors to the new Women's Business Centers is crucial to the vitality of women-owned small business owners. This network expansion will provide female entrepreneurs with the resources they need to start, grow, and expand their businesses," says Associate Administrator for the Office of Entrepreneurial Development Allen Gutierrez. "We look forward to the continued success of the WBC program as it contributes to the overall health of our economy and creates jobs in their local communities."

According to the release, the timing of these new centers is especially important as entrepreneurs continue to be challenged amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Over the past several months, we have seen Women's Business Centers provide aid to our nation's innovative and determined entrepreneurs, allowing countless small business owners to pivot with confidence to stay afloat during the pandemic," says SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza. "Expanding the WBC program is part of this Administration's longstanding commitment to the success of female entrepreneurs and women-owned small businesses. Adding these new Women's Business Centers to the already existing network of centers across America will boost timely resources to our nation's female economic drivers, providing them with local training and counseling."

Houston VC fund's new partner to grow focus on the future of work and underrepresented entrepreneurs

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 67

When Mercury Fund was founded in 2005, the goal was to focus on funding underrepresented entrepreneurs.

"The firm was really built around looking for the underrepresented entrepreneur and 15 years ago, that was just the middle of the country, because all the VC investments were on the coasts," says Heath Butler, network partner, on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "And over the years, the firm has continued to look for the blue ocean in the VC market."

Nowadays, that means also finding and funding female entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color. And Butler co-founded the Urban Capital Network — a group that aims to democratize VC funding by helping connect minority entrepreneurs and VC firms — to do just that.

Butler was recently promoted within Mercury and the the move represents another aspect the firm is focusing on: the future of work. Butler spent 14 years at Houston-based human resources service company, Insperity.

"The world continues to be shaped by how the workforce and the workplace — and the actual work gets — done, and that couldn't have been put to the forefront more than during COVID," Butler says. "The promotion really reflects my focus on building out a very broad and deep theme for the firm around the future of work."

Butler, who's on the board of several startups and hosts a monthly event with The Ion, is hands on with entrepreneurs and helps them make sure to keep their company culture front of mind as they grow.

"I grew up in an entrepreneurial family, led by my mother," he says. "I learned so much at such a young age around worth ethic and how the job of being an entrepreneur is."

Butler discusses more about his career and venture capital in Houston on the show. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Mayor greenlights major solar farm project in south Houston

shine on

Mayor Sylvester Turner and the city council have given the green light on a project that will convert a 240-acre former landfill in Sunnyside into a brownfield solar installation.

The public-private partnership with Sunnyside Energy LLC. received unanimous approval on a lease agreement that will move the project — which is a part of the City's Climate Action Plan and Complete Communities Initiative — forward.

"The Sunnyside landfill has been one of Houston's biggest community challenges for decades, and I am proud we are one step closer to its transformation," says Mayor Turner in a news release. "I thank the Sunnyside community because this project would not have come together without its support. This project is an example of how cities can work with the community to address long-standing environmental justice concerns holistically, create green jobs and generate renewable energy in the process."

The solar field, which is anticipated to be installed and working by the end of next year, will be able to power 5,000 homes and offset 120 million pounds of CO2 each year, according to the release.

"We applaud the actions of Mayor Turner and the City Council in taking this significant step," says Dori Wolfe, managing director of Sunnyside Energy LLC, in the release. "It is a strong vote of confidence for this impactful project. All members of the project team realize that this Sunnyside Solar facility will be an iconic statement in the rejuvenation of the community. We are grateful that Mayor Turner has given us his support."

The city's involvement with the company began in 2017 when Houston joined the C40 Reinventing Cities Competition – a global competition to promote sustainable energy projects. As a part of the competition and through the city's efforts on the initiative, powers at be selected the winning proposal from Wolfe Energy LLC, which formed Sunnyside Energy LLC to execute the urban solar farm project.

Per the lease agreement, the city of Houston owns the land and Sunnyside Energy will be the tenant responsible for permitting, construction, operation, and more.