Houston-based Cemvita Factory has a new collaboration with a lithium-mining company. Photo via Getty Images

Houston-based cleantech startup Cemvita Factory is embarking on a potentially game-changing pilot project in Arizona.

Cemvita has sealed a deal with Australia-based Arizona Lithium, a lithium mining company, to test the startup’s technology for extraction of lithium from clay and sedimentary materials. The project is being carried out at Arizona Lithium’s new Lithium Research Center in Tempe, Arizona, which is set to start operating early next year.

“We are excited to see the results of the partnership start to show in the next three to six months, at which time we will assess further partnership potential,” says Paul Lloyd, managing director of Arizona Lithium.

Cemvita, whose technology aims to reduce carbon emissions, says the new partnership will help develop more environmentally friendly ways of mining lithium for products such as electric car batteries.

As the startup explains, lithium is an important metal in the energy transition movement, but most commercial lithium extraction is done at salt-flat brines through a process of evaporation and chemical recovery or from lithium-bearing ores through a process that involves crushing, roasting, and acid leaching. However, these processes consume a lot of energy and damage the environment.

“This pilot work in Arizona is a great step forward in our drive to both reduce the footprint of mining and unlock the mineral resources that are crucial for our planet’s renewable energy future,” Marny Reakes, Cemvita’s vice president of mining biotech, says in a news release.

Cemvita says its team will rely on biomining from sedimentary resources, reducing carbon emissions and decreasing the generation of mining waste.

“Our goal,” says Charles Nelson, chief business officer of Cemvita, in the release, “is to enable the most environmentally friendly end to end process of mining lithium through the application of our technology. This includes utilizing cleaner methods of extraction with the option of layering Cemvita’s other beneficial technologies such as CO2 based fuels and decarbonizing processing in the mining space.”

Brother-and-sister team Moji and Tara Karimi founded the startup in 2017. Investors include Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based Occidental Petroleum, as well as BHP Group, Mitsubishi, and United Airlines Ventures.

Cemvita’s technology enables the sustainable extraction of natural resources, carbon-negative production of chemicals and fuels, and regeneration of waste as feedstock.

Marny Reakes, Cemvita’s vice president of mining biotech, and Charles Nelson, chief business officer of Cemvita. Photos courtesy

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.”

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16 Houston-based companies hailed best places to work by U.S. News

the standouts

More than a dozen Houston-based companies are sharing the spotlight in U.S. News and World Report's collection of the "Best Companies to Work For" in 2024-2025.

The annual report examines publicly-traded companies around the world to determine the best employers based on six metrics including work-life balance and flexibility; quality of pay and benefits; job and company stability; career opportunities and professional development; and more. The companies were not ranked, but included based on reader surveys and publicly available data about each workplace.

New for the 2024-2025 report, U.S. News analyzed549 companies across 29 different lists, including the overall best companies list — which includes the best 300 companies across the U.S., the United Kingdom, Ireland, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Bermuda — 24 industry-specific lists, and four regional lists.

There were 16 total companies based around Houston that made the lists, with the majority being based in the city, while one each were located in Spring and The Woodlands.

Leading the pack in Houston is construction company Comfort Systems USA, which provides HVAC, plumbing, and electrical services. Comfort Systems employs 15,800 people, brings in $5.57 billion in annual revenue, and has a market cap of $11.21 billion. The company earned high ratings for its job stability, "belongingness," and professional development opportunities, according to U.S. News.

Comfort Systems also made appearances on U.S. News' industry-specific "Best in Construction" list, and the "Best Companies in the South" list.

Independent energy company Marathon Oil was another top-rated Houston employer, with nearly 1,700 employees, an annual revenue stream of $6.38 billion, and a $15.4 billion market cap. The company was specifically highlighted with a "Top Quality of Pay" label, but also boasts high ratings for its employees' work-life balance, job stability, and belongingness.

In addition to being included in the overall "Best Companies" list, Marathon Oil earned recognition in the industry-specific "Best in Energy" list and the "Best Companies in the South" list.

A second Houston-based energy company earning a spot among the top employers is Occidental (also known as Oxy). The petroleum corporation, which has been in operation since 1920, has nearly 12,600 employees and brings in $27,43 billion in revenue every year.

According to U.S. News, Occidental offers many financial, health and wellness, and workplace benefits including 401k matching, tuition assistance, an employee assistance program, flexible work arrangements, and much more. The company was also given a "Top Quality of Pay" designation.

Occidental appeared in U.S. News' "Best in Mining and Raw Materials," the overall "Best Companies," and "Best Companies in the South" lists.

Other top companies to work for in Houston include:

  • Insperity, Kingwood – Best in Professional Services; Best Companies (overall); Best Companies in the South
  • Southwestern Energy Company, Spring – Best in Energy; Best Companies (overall); Best Companies in the South
  • PROS – Best in IT, Software and Services; Best Companies (overall); Best Companies in the South
  • Powell Industries – Best in Manufacturing; Best Companies (overall); Best Companies in the South
  • Stewart – Best in Insurance; Best Companies (overall); Best Companies in the South
  • ConocoPhillips – Best in Energy, Best Companies in the South
  • LGI Homes, The Woodlands – Best in Construction; Best Companies in the South
  • Service Corporation International – Best in Consumer Products and Services; Best Companies in the South
  • Skyward Specialty Insurance – Best Companies in the South
  • Camden Property Trust – Best in Real Estate; Best Companies in the South
  • Cheniere – Best in Energy
  • EOG Resources – Best in Energy
  • Murphy Oil Corporation – Best in Energy

"Prospective and current employees understand the significant impact their employer has on their quality of life," said Carly Chase, vice president of careers at U.S. News and World Report, in a release. "Whether a new grad seeking a company to launch their career, an established professional looking for a change or an HR professional researching the strengths of their company and others, Best Companies to Work For provides a central space to see which companies are meeting their employees' needs best.

Top workplaces around Texas
In all, 42 different employers headquartered in the Lone Star State made it onto U.S. News' 2024-2025 "Best Places to Work For" lists. The Houston metro area tied with Dallas-Fort Worth with the highest number of top-rated employers, at 16 each. Only one company from West Texas made it onto the list: Diamondback Energy in Midland.

The top companies to work for in Austin are:

  • Cirrus Logic
  • CrowdStrike
  • Digital Realty
  • Silicon Labs
  • E2open
  • Q2

The top companies to work for in San Antonio are:

  • Frost Bank
  • iHeartMedia
  • Rush Enterprises, Inc., New Braunfels

The best places to work for across Dallas-Fort Worth are:

  • Thryv Holdings, Inc., Dallas
  • Comerica, Dallas
  • Veritex Community Bank, Dallas
  • Charles Schwab, Westlake
  • Southwest Airlines, Dallas
  • CMC, Irving
  • Sabre, Southlake
  • Texas Instrument, Dallas
  • Omnicell, Fort Worth
  • Enhabit, Dallas
  • Builders FirstSource, Irving
  • Invitation Homes, Dallas
  • Celanese, Irving
  • Atmos Energy, Dallas
  • Lennox, Richardson
  • Caterpillar, Irving
The full list of the best companies to work for can be found at usnews.com

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

$1M donation to Rice establishes pioneering neuro-policy center in Houston

brainy support

A big donation to Rice University will soon help researchers better understand the workings of the human brain.

Harry Yan and Weiman Gao have bestowed $1 million on the Baker Institute of Public Policy to establish the interdisciplinary Neuro-Policy Program.

Neuro-policy is a newer field that explores how brain health and function can help to fuel economic growth.

“The Neuro-Policy Program is at the forefront of pioneering data analysis, empirical research and policy application,” says Harris Eyre, the lead for the program, as well as a senior fellow in brain health at the Baker Institute, in a news release. “Investing in evidence-based strategies for prevention, diagnosis and treatment can reduce brain and mental health disparities, optimize cognitive development and performance and foster innovation to build more resilient communities.”

Eyre describes the collective value of the human brain as “brain capital.” That’s because brains that are suffering from any number of neurodegenerative or mental health disorders (including depression, anxiety, brain injury and Alzheimer’s disease) have actually taken a toll on the U.S. economy, Eyre explains.

The Neuro-Policy Program seeks to improve brain performance, and consequently enhance economic growth, national security, and our overall standing as a nation of healthy brains. The program’s primary projects include establishing a task force to advise Texas “brain and mind” legislative efforts as well as a Texas Brain Capital Dashboard, collaborating on Texas Forward (Texas Brain Health Plan) with the UT Dallas Center for BrainHealth, thereby working toward U.S. brain capital policy and investment advances. These projects are expected to yield deliverables as early as 2026.

“The Neuro-Policy Program aims to leverage the university’s proximity to the Texas Medical Center and the institute’s strong connections to state and federal policymakers. This is an important yet underrepresented area of research that Houston is poised to lead,” says David Satterfield, the director of the Baker Institute.

Yan and Gao said in a press release that they were inspired to gift the grant funds to Eyre and his research after attending a March 28 Baker Institute event on brain health that featured U.S. Rep. Morgan Luttrell, a co-chair of the Congressional Neuroscience Caucus.

"We are honored to support Dr. Harris Eyre and the Neuro-Policy program he leads. Dr. Eyre’s work has greatly impressed us, highlighting the critical importance of brain health in our society today,” say Yan and Gao. “We hope our contribution can inspire further support and advocacy in the field, helping individuals lead healthier lives through a comprehensive approach to prevention.”