This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Tim Crain of Intuitive Machines, Chelsea Williams of Northwestern Mutual, and Nicolaus Radford of Nauticus Robotics. Photos courtesy

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

Tim Crain, co-founder and CTO of Intuitive Machines

Tim Crain joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via intuitivemachines.com

It might surprise many to learn that publicly traded, NASA-backed Intuitive Machines, which has emerged as a commercial leader within lunar access technology development, had several pivots before finding its niche within space innovation.

In fact, as Co-Founder and CTO Tim Crain explains on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, the company was founded as a space-focused think tank. Crain, along with his co-founders CEO Steve Altemus and Chairman Kamal Ghaffarian, came together in 2013 to start Intuitive Machines, which recently moved into a $40 million headquarters in the Houston Spaceport.

"At the time, our thought was, 'let's take the best of human space flight engineering processes, disciplines, and know how, and look at how we might commercially deploy that for biomedical, energy, big data, and aerospace,'" Crain says on the show. "We wanted to look at how we use great engineering for some of the hard problems outside of NASA's aerospace sphere." Read more.

Chelsea Williams, financial adviser at Northwestern Mutual

Houston-based financial adviser Chelsea Williams helps clients overcome their unique generational financial uncertainties by equipping them with tips and resources to get them on the path to financial wellness. Photo courtesy

In a guest column for InnovationMap, Chelsea Williams, financial adviser at Northwestern Mutual, shared tips on overcoming financial uncertainty across different generations.

"While the types of financial stressors might vary across generations and cities, the most important step to managing financial uncertainty is initiating a conversation with an adviser," she writes in her column. "Just like going to the doctor regularly, routine financial check-ups are incredibly important to catch financial headaches early on and stay ahead of long-term financial health." Read more.

Nicolaus Radford, founder and CEO of Nauticus Robotics

Houston-based Nauticus Robotics founder, Nicolaus Radford, celebrated an acquisition for his company. Image via LinkedIn

A Houston company that harnesses the power of robotics hardware and programing for underwater use has made an acquisition.

Nauticus Robotics Inc. (NASDAQ: KITT) announced it has acquired 3D at Depth Inc., a Colorado-based company with a subsea light detection and range, LiDAR, technology for inspection and data services. The deal closed for approximately $34 million in stock, before certain purchase price adjustments and the assumption of debt, per the news release.

“The future of subsea services lies in autonomy, data gathering, and analytics,” Nicolaus Radford, Nauticus’ founder and CEO, says in the release. “LiDAR has long since been core to terrestrial autonomy and by adding 3D’s capabilities to the Nauticus Fleet, we enhance autonomous vehicles in the offshore market. This acquisition increases the value of Nauticus’ fleet services and positions the Company to capitalize on data acquisition and analytics for subsea operations.” Read more.

Houstonians in particular expressed more stress than other communities in terms of household finances and physical and mental health. Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert on tips on overcoming financial uncertainty across different generations

guest column

Whether you’re a millennial or baby boomer, financial uncertainty is not limited by age, with new data from Northwestern Mutual’s 2023 Planning & Progress Study revealing that most Americans are losing sleep at night because of it. Houstonians in particular expressed more stress than other communities in terms of household finances and physical and mental health, according to a recent survey.

While the types of financial stressors might vary across generations and cities, the most important step to managing financial uncertainty is initiating a conversation with an adviser. Just like going to the doctor regularly, routine financial check-ups are incredibly important to catch financial headaches early on and stay ahead of long-term financial health.

As a Houston-based financial adviser, I help my clients overcome their unique generational financial uncertainties by equipping them with tips and resources to get them on the path to financial wellness.

Understanding where financial uncertainty comes from generationally

  • GenZ: Studies have shown that even while Gen Z is the most confident that they’ll be prepared for retirement when the time comes, they still struggle with feelings of uncertainty on how to achieve their specific financial goals. In my experience, I have found that uncertainty among this age group often stems from a lack of financial literacy surrounding their finances. A recent financial literacy study revealed that Gen Z respondents averaged the lowest at 43 percent in answering finance-related questions correctly.
  • Millennials: Millennials equally suffer from feelings of anxiety about money, with 54 percent of millennial respondents in the P&P study indicating that financial anxiety causes them to feel depressed compared to just 20 percent of baby boomers. Millennials have lived through a pandemic, The Great Recession and slow economic growth, making their mental health and financial wellness a top priority.
  • GenX: Even while financial uncertainty typically starts to recede later in life at this age, Gen X is facing a turning point as they get closer and closer to retirement. Studies have shown that most Americans believe they will need about $1.27 million to retire comfortably and yet, I see many individuals only recognizing the importance of retirement planning between the ages of 40 and 50. With Gen X holding about six times more debt than their parents did at that age, it’s important for this age group to consider some proactive debt and retirement strategies.
  • Babyboomers: This group has the lowest amount of financial uncertainty, but that doesn’t mean it is nonexistent. I hear a lot of baby boomers state that they wish they had started investing sooner or they wish they had conversations about their finances sooner. As such, this group is typically the most concerned about managing their existing assets and living comfortably for the rest of their lives.

Overcoming financial uncertainty

  • Increase financial literacy: Both millennials and Gen Z grew up in the digital age and expect their financial experiences to be reflective of that. For employers with Gen Z employees, working with a Northwestern Mutual financial adviser on resources to increase financial literacy can be a helpful first step. This could include on-demand webinars, digital toolkits and interactive online portals to access and view their finances.
  • Ensure every dollar has a job: Across all generations, it’s important to ensure no dollar is wasted. In other words, understanding how much of your income should be allocated toward expenses, retirement, savings, etc. is crucial. I typically recommend a budgeting rule that no more than half of an individual’s income goes toward expenses.
  • Initiate financial planning discussions early on: While it may seem daunting, results from the P&P study show that an average of 76 percent of individuals who work with a financial adviser have an overall boost to confidence. With Gen Z often heavily relying on family members for money management, it is important that family members from older generations encourage them to start saving or to consult with a financial adviser at a young age.
  • Take proactive steps toward your finances: No matter what age you are, there are always active steps you can be taking with your finances. Consider increasing the contribution amount to your 401(k) savings plan or working with a financial adviser to diversify your existing investments – or talk to your financial adviser about refinancing opportunities or debt strategies that tackle higher interest loans you may have.

Whether you’re in your 20s or your 50s, financial advisers are uniquely prepared to help you at any stage of your life – and overcome whatever uncertainties you may be facing.


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Chelsea Williams is a financial adviser at Northwestern Mutual. She's based in Houston and has clients across the country.

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New Houston venture studio emerges to target early-stage hardtech, energy transition startups

funding the future

The way Doug Lee looks at it, there are two areas within the energy transition attracting capital. With his new venture studio, he hopes to target an often overlooked area that's critical for driving forward net-zero goals.

Lee describes investment activity taking place in the digital and software world — early stage technology that's looking to make the industry smarter. But, on the other end of the spectrum, investment activity can be found on massive infrastructure projects.

While both areas need funding, Lee has started his new venture studio, Flathead Forge, to target early-stage hardtech technologies.

“We are really getting at the early stage companies that are trying to develop technologies at the intersection of legacy industries that we believe can become more sustainable and the energy transition — where we are going. It’s not an ‘if’ or ‘or’ — we believe these things intersect,” he tells EnergyCapital.

Specifically, Lee's expertise is within the water and industrial gas space. For around 15 years, he's made investments in this area, which he describes as crucial to the energy transition.

“Almost every energy transition technology that you can point to has some critical dependency on water or gas,” he says. “We believe that if we don’t solve for those things, the other projects won’t survive.”

Lee, and his brother, Dave, are evolving their family office to adopt a venture studio model. They also sold off Azoto Energy, a Canadian oilfield nitrogen cryogenic services business, in December.

“We ourselves are going through a transition like our energy is going through a transition,” he says. “We are transitioning into a single family office into a venture studio. By doing so, we want to focus all of our access and resources into this focus.”

At this point, Flathead Forge has seven portfolio companies and around 15 corporations they are working with to identify their needs and potential opportunities. Lee says he's gearing up to secure a $100 million fund.

Flathead also has 40 advisers and mentors, which Lee calls sherpas — a nod to the Flathead Valley region in Montana, which inspired the firm's name.

“We’re going to help you carry up, we’re going to tie ourselves to the same rope as you, and if you fall off the mountain, we’re falling off with you,” Lee says of his hands-on approach, which he says sets Flathead apart from other studios.

Another thing that's differentiating Flathead Forge from its competition — it's dedication to giving back.

“We’ve set aside a quarter of our carried interest for scholarships and grants,” Lee says.

The funds will go to scholarships for future engineers interested in the energy transition, as well as grants for researchers studying high-potential technologies.

“We’re putting our own money where our mouth is,” Lee says of his thesis for Flathead Forge.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Houston-based lunar mission's rocky landing and what it means for America's return to the moon

houston, we have a problem

A private U.S. lunar lander tipped over at touchdown and ended up on its side near the moon’s south pole, hampering communications, company officials said Friday.

Intuitive Machines initially believed its six-footed lander, Odysseus, was upright after Thursday's touchdown. But CEO Steve Altemus said Friday the craft “caught a foot in the surface," falling onto its side and, quite possibly, leaning against a rock. He said it was coming in too fast and may have snapped a leg.

“So far, we have quite a bit of operational capability even though we’re tipped over," he told reporters.

But some antennas were pointed toward the surface, limiting flight controllers' ability to get data down, Altemus said. The antennas were stationed high on the 14-foot (4.3-meter) lander to facilitate communications at the hilly, cratered and shadowed south polar region.

Odysseus — the first U.S. lander in more than 50 years — is thought to be within a few miles (kilometers) of its intended landing site near the Malapert A crater, less than 200 miles (300 kilometers) from the south pole. NASA, the main customer, wanted to get as close as possible to the pole to scout out the area before astronauts show up later this decade.

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will attempt to pinpoint the lander's location, as it flies overhead this weekend.

With Thursday’s touchdown, Intuitive Machines became the first private business to pull off a moon landing, a feat previously achieved by only five countries. Japan was the latest country to score a landing, but its lander also ended up on its side last month.

Odysseus' mission was sponsored in large part by NASA, whose experiments were on board. NASA paid $118 million for the delivery under a program meant to jump-start the lunar economy.

One of the NASA experiments was pressed into service when the lander's navigation system did not kick in. Intuitive Machines caught the problem in advance when it tried to use its lasers to improve the lander's orbit. Otherwise, flight controllers would not have discovered the failure until it was too late, just five minutes before touchdown.

“Serendipity is absolutely the right word,” mission director Tim Crain said.

It turns out that a switch was not flipped before flight, preventing the system's activation in space.

Launched last week from Florida, Odysseus took an extra lap around the moon Thursday to allow time for the last-minute switch to NASA's laser system, which saved the day, officials noted.

Another experiment, a cube with four cameras, was supposed to pop off 30 seconds before touchdown to capture pictures of Odysseus’ landing. But Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s EagleCam was deliberately powered off during the final descent because of the navigation switch and stayed attached to the lander.

Embry-Riddle's Troy Henderson said his team will try to release EagleCam in the coming days, so it can photograph the lander from roughly 26 feet (8 meters) away.

"Getting that final picture of the lander on the surface is still an incredibly important task for us,” Henderson told The Associated Press.

Intuitive Machines anticipates just another week of operations on the moon for the solar-powered lander — nine or 10 days at most — before lunar nightfall hits.

The company was the second business to aim for the moon under NASA's commercial lunar services program. Last month, Pittsburgh's Astrobotic Technology gave it a shot, but a fuel leak on the lander cut the mission short and the craft ended up crashing back to Earth.

Until Thursday, the U.S. had not landed on the moon since Apollo 17's Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt closed out NASA's famed moon-landing program in December 1972. NASA's new effort to return astronauts to the moon is named Artemis after Apollo's mythological twin sister. The first Artemis crew landing is planned for 2026 at the earliest.

3 female Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Welcome to another Monday edition of Innovators to Know. Today I'm introducing you to three Houstonians to read up about — three individuals behind recent innovation and startup news stories in Houston as reported by InnovationMap. Learn more about them and their recent news below by clicking on each article.

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

If the energy transition is going to be successful, the energy storage space needs to be equipped to support both the increased volume of energy needed and new energies. And Emma Konet and her software company, Tierra Climate, are targeting one part of the equation: the market.

"To me, it's very clear that we need to build a lot of energy storage in order to transition the grid," Konet says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The problems that I saw were really on the market side of things." Read more.

Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. Photo courtesy of Sage

A Houston geothermal startup has announced the close of its series A round of funding.

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. The proceeds aim to fund its first commercial geopressured geothermal system facility, which will be built in Texas in Q4 of 2024. According to the company, the facility will be the first of its kind.

“The first close of our Series A funding and our commercial facility are significant milestones in our mission to make geopressured geothermal system technologies a reality,” Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems, says. Read more.

Clemmie Martin, chief of staff at The Cannon

With seven locations across the Houston area, The Cannon's digital technology allows its members a streamlined connection. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

After collaborating over the years, The Cannon has acquired a Houston startup's digital platform technology to become a "physical-digital hybrid" community.

Village Insights, a Houston startup, worked with The Cannon to create and launch its digital community platform Cannon Connect. Now, The Cannon has officially acquired the business. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“The integration of a world-class onsite member experience and Cannon Connect’s superior virtual resource network creates a seamless, streamlined environment for member organizations,” Clemmie Martin, The Cannon’s newly appointed chief of staff, says in the release. “Cannon Connect and this acquisition have paved new pathways to access and success for all.” Read more.