3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Barbar Burger of Chevron, David Aaronson of REVs, and Andrea Young of DonateStock. Courtesy photos

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

Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures

The InnovationMap Awards will celebrate Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures, as this year's Trailblazer Award honoree. Photo courtesy of CTV

The inaugural Trailblazer Award at the 2021 InnovationMap Awards event was established to honor a Houston innovation leader and advocate who's making a lasting impact on the Houston innovation community. Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures, was selected to receive award.

"I am deeply honored to be recognized for my contributions to the Houston Innovation Ecosystem. I moved to Houston in 2013 and in short order was included and saw ways I could contribute. That is a great welcome! While I am proud of my contributions and our progress, we are just getting started," Burger says.

Burger leads Chevron's corporate venture arm, Chevron Technology Ventures, which has invested millions in the future of energy technology. This type of corporate venture activity — especially in a city with so many Fortune 500 companies — plays a key role in an innovation community. Click here to read more.

David Aaronson, founder of REVS

David Aaronson of REVS shares his EV entrepreneurial journey on the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of REVS

It might not be today, and it might not be tomorrow, but electric vehicles are coming into Texas at an increasing rate. EVolve Houston, founded in part by the city, predicts that EV sales locally will make up 30 percent of annual new car sales by 2030. Aaronson says they reported that Houston has around 15,000 EVs on the road today, but by 2030, that's going to be 600,000.

"If it's not 2030 it's going to be 2032, because it's all the manufacturers are making," David Aaronson, founder of REVS, says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It's just a matter of time."

Aaronson, a Houston real estate veteran, founded Refuel Electric Vehicle Solutions, or REVS, last year to become the go-between for multifamily property owners and managers and the charging technology providers. Click here to read more and stream the episode.

Andrea Young, co-founder and CEO of DonateStock

DonateStock, a Houston fintech company that simplifies the stock donation process, has officially launched. Image courtesy of DonateStock

A few years back, Andrea Young donated some of her stock, and the process, while having its perks, wasn't worth the trouble.

"I valued the immense benefits stock donations provided me as an investor while simultaneously helping a nonprofit," Young says of her early experience with donating stock. "I enjoyed the significant tax advantages that allowed me to avoid capital gains taxes while deducting the full market value of my gifted stock. However, I found the entire process time consuming and cumbersome, which led to the end of my stock donation journey."

When the pandemic hit and nonprofits were greatly impacted, Young and her co-founder saw an opportunity to found DonateStock to help drive donations and guide nonprofits and donors alike through the process. During its beta testing phase, the company partnered with almost 100 nonprofits. Click here to read more.

The InnovationMap Awards will celebrate Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures, as this year's Trailblazer Award honoree. Courtesy of CTV

InnovationMap names inaugural Trailblazer Award recipient

honoring innovation

The inaugural InnovationMap Awards event, which is about three weeks away, was created to honor the best of Houston innovation. The Trailblazer Award in particular was established to honor a Houston innovation leader and advocate who's making a lasting impact on the Houston innovation community.

Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures, was selected to receive the 2021 Trailblazer Award at the InnovationMap Awards presented by Techwave. Burger was nominated and approved by this year's judges.

Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston and a 2021 InnovationMap Awards judge, says Burger is a pioneer of bringing people together and was instrumental in the launch of Station Houston, as well as in the development of Houston Exponential and Houston's Innovation Corridor.

"In the startup world, we often talk about unicorns as simply companies valued at over a billion dollars. But Barbara is a TRUE unicorn," Rodriguez says. "Barbara's breadth of interests, from the arts to the sciences to business and innovation, coupled with her depth of insight gleaned from years of real-world experience in strategic advising in all of those areas, have been invaluable to Houston's innovation ecosystem."

Burger, who is the current board chair at HX, says she's seen Houston's innovation ecosystem evolve in her tenure in Houston, from watching venture capital investment grow and the Innovation District develop to new organizations — such as Greentown Labs and MassChallenge — flock to Houston.

"I am deeply honored to be recognized for my contributions to the Houston Innovation Ecosystem. I moved to Houston in 2013 and in short order was included and saw ways I could contribute. That is a great welcome! While I am proud of my contributions and our progress, we are just getting started," Burger says.

Burger leads Chevron's corporate venture arm, Chevron Technology Ventures, which has invested millions in the future of energy technology. This type of corporate venture activity — especially in a city with so many Fortune 500 companies — plays a key role in an innovation community.

"I have been a part of building a community that is focused on the future," she says. "The community includes all kinds of organizations in Houston – from city to academics to start-ups to investors to corporations – and community creates the connective tissue that shows us that working together we can accomplish great things."

Burger will be honored at the InnovationMap Awards event on September 8. The hybrid event will host finalists and their guests at The Cannon, while also feature a livestream feed for everyone to join virtually. Click here to RSVP.

"I'm grateful to call her an ally, mentor, and friend," Rodriguez continues. "She is truly deserving of this and every honor bestowed upon her. And I can't wait to see what new and exciting ideas she helps bring to life in the decades ahead."

Greentown Labs CEO Emily Reichert called on members of Houston's energy community to speak at Greentown Houston's grand opening. Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

Overheard: Houston's energy sector welcomes Greentown Labs

eavesdropping in Houston

Greentown Houston is officially open for business, and it's safe to say the energy innovation community is excited about it. The 40,000-square-foot space is expecting to move its inaugural 30 companies in throughout the summer.

The grand opening event, which was streamed online with an outdoor invite-only event, took place on Earth Day and featured speakers from across the energy sector. The speakers represented some of the almost 30 corporate partners Greentown Houston has announced.

Click here to read more about the grand opening and take a peek inside the facility.

Missed the discussion or just want a refresher on on the highlights? Here are some significant overheard moments from the Greentown Houston Grand Opening.

"Houston has all the necessary ingredients and it has momentum."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures. "Let's celebrate. And then let's get busy."

"Houston, as the energy capital of the world, has a moral obligation to reduce carbon emissions."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Mayor Sylvester Turner. "We need to invest in our innovation ecosystem and support the climatech and clean tech entrepreneurs who will be building Houston's new energy economy and creating the new jobs of tomorrow."

"Houston has the talent, know how, and can-do spirit to tackle the dual challenge of leading dual energy demand while aggressively lowering the carbon footprint."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership.

"Houston must remain the center of the future energy industry, and today is an important step in restoring that."

Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

— David Leebron, president of Rice University. "We look forward to our strong partnership."

"We can't solve climate change from the coasts. We need the whole United States to be engaged, and I'm bullish on Houston leading this transition for many reasons."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs. "Houston is home to world-leading energy organizations, incredible engineering strength, talent, and assets, that can, and frankly must, be redeployed to decarbonize resources."

"This is a city that does not stand still."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Ajay Mehta, General Manager of Shell. "At Shell, we have a mission to reach net zero emissions by 2050."

"For bp, partnering with Greentown Labs represents living our purpose to reimagine energy."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Jane Stricker, senior relationship manager, regions, cities and solutions at bp.

"Innovation is like oxygen, and it breathes life into hope and possibility. The work we are doing around the energy transition is hard and challenging, and frankly is going to take all of us."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Darryl Willis, corporate vice president, energy industry, at Microsoft. "We think that the future is all about partnerships and platforms, and our mission is to help from Microsoft's vantage point to accelerate the energy transition and to help the city of Houston around its aspirations around the energy transition as well."

"We appreciate being part of not only maintaining Houston's position as the energy capital of the world but also establishing it as the energy transition capital of the world."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Scott Burns, vice president of retail innovation, customer experience, and market intelligence at NRG.

"[Greentown Houston] will provide this center of gravity for the energy community to come together and work toward the transition plan."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Tim Ong, head of innovation at BHP Petroleum. "


This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Barbara Burger of Chevron, Ashley DeWalt of DivInc, and Kelli Newman of Newman & Newman Inc. 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 — energy venture, sports tech, and communications — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures

Chevron Technology Ventures made two recent investments from its brand new fund. Courtesy of CTV

In February, Chevron Technology Ventures LLC launched its newest $300 million Future Energy Fund II to build on the success of the first Future Energy Fund, which kicked off in 2018 and invested in more than 10 companies specializing in niches like carbon capture, emerging mobility, and energy storage. The initial fund contained $100 million.

"The new fund will focus on innovation likely to play a critical role in the future energy system in industrial decarbonization, emerging mobility, energy decentralization, and the growing circular carbon economy," Houston-based Chevron Technology Ventures says in a February 25 release.

Now, a few months later, Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures, has announced that the fund has made its first two investments — one in a company with offshore wind turbines and one that's working on an alternative energy source from ammonia. Read more.

Ashley DeWalt, managing director of DivInc

Ashley DeWalt, managing director of DivInc, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss diversity and inclusion, sports tech, and all things Houston. Photo courtesy of DivInc

Houston has a huge opportunity for sports innovation, says Ashley DeWalt, and he should know. He's spent over 15 years in the industry at both the professional and collegiate levels.

"We have a very high concentration of current and former professional athletes that live in Houston," DeWalt says, "and I truly believe — and the data shows this — these professional athletes are going to invest in sports tech."

DeWalt — who is the Houston-based managing director at DivInc, which just expanded to Houston — joined the Houston Innovators Podcast last week to discuss sports tech and diversity in the Houston innovation ecosystem. Stream the episode and read more.

Kelli Newman, president of Newman & Newman Inc.

In her guest column, Kelli Newman explains missed communications and branding opportunities for Houston innovators. Photo courtesy of Newman & Newman

Chances are, you aren't making the most out of branding and storytelling opportunities. At least that's what Kelli Newman, president of the Houston-based communication strategies firm, Newman & Newman Inc., found in her recent research into the Houston innovation ecosystem.

"For two months we interviewed investors, accelerators, industry customers and entrepreneurs themselves, asking for missed opportunities they may be seeing in what and how companies are communicating," she writes in a guest column for InnovationMap in which she explains her findings.

From setting yourself apart from the competition and tapping into empathy, Newman shares her tips from her findings. Read more.

Chevron Technology Ventures has invested in two alternative energy startups. Photo via Getty Images

Houston-based corporate venture group makes 2 investments from new $300M fund

CTV news

The venture arm of Chevron has made two recent investments as a part of a new fund. Both of the companies are creating solutions within alternative energy innovation.

Chevron Technology Ventures announced its $300 million Future Energy Fund II in February, and the two recent investments represent the first moves made by the new fund.

The first investment was in Denver-based Starfire Energy, which develops modular chemical plants for the production of carbon-free ammonia and carbon-free hydrogen. The company closed its funding round earlier this month at an undisclosed amount. The round was led AP Ventures, which focuses on hydrogen production, storage, and transportation innovations, with contributions from CTV, New Energy Technologies, Osaka Gas USA, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

"Our investment in Starfire Energy gives us visibility into green hydrogen's potential to improve the way ammonia is produced, distributed, and consumed," says Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation and president of CTV, in a news release. "This is the first investment from our new $300 million Future Energy Fund II, which will focus on industrial decarbonization, emerging mobility, energy decentralization, and the growing circular carbon economy."

The funds will be used to scale operations to decarbonize ammonia production and and move it forward as a zero-carbon energy carrier. According to the release, ammonia has a lot of potential within the alternative energy space. It has an energy density "comparable to fossil fuels and significantly higher than Li-ion batteries, compressed, or liquid hydrogen." Additionally, it's cheap to transport and store.

The second investment, which was finalized this week, was into a Nevada-based company that is developing low-cost floating wind turbines. Ocergy Inc.Inc.'s series A, which didn't have its value disclosed, was invested in by Moreld Ocean Wind and CTV.

"We are delighted about this partnership as it will allow Ocergy to advance and commercialize its innovative technologies," says Ocergy CEO Dominique Roddier in a news release. "With MOW onboard we gain a trusted partner who will be able to provide an EPCI solution for OCG-Wind, a key requirement for many of our clients. We are excited to have gained Chevron's investment and look forward to potential opportunities for their guidance and expertise executing some of the most complex offshore projects in the world."

Ocergy's floating wind turbines are low-cost. Photo via release

The company will use the funds for growth and commercialization.

"Offshore wind power is undergoing a period of rapid innovation in an effort to provide lower carbon energy at a substantial scale," Burger says. "Ocergy has developed technology that could be part of the solution to enable more affordable, reliable, and ever-cleaner energy in a marine environment."

Future Energy Fund II is the eighth venture fund created by Chevron Technology Ventures since its establishment in 1999. In 2019, the investment arm started a $90 million fund to invest in startups that can help accelerate the oil and gas business of San Ramon, California-based Chevron.

Barbara Burger is vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of CTV. Photo courtesy of CTV

At a panel at virtually hosted CERAWeek, energy innovation stakeholders discussed the future of cleantech. Photo via Getty Images

Overheard: How the energy tech ecosystem will evolve and the role of Houston innovators

eavesdropping in Houston

The energy technology and innovation ecosystem is comprised of stakeholders across the industry — from the academic institutions that house researchers in the field and the entrepreneurs with the big ideas to the venture backers who fund the scaling of these ideas and the corporations who put these new technologies into their supply chain.

A recent panel at CERAWeek by IHS Markit explored where the energy tech ecosystem is headed — and what all needs to be done to advance innovation. Missed the discussion or just want a refresher on on the highlights? Here are some significant overheard moments from the virtual panel.

“We need more energy innovation, and when we think about the energy system of the future there are key areas where we need more technology developed. We all need to encourage and support that early innovation.”

— Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures. Burger mentions that it's about collaboration. "All of us play a role in a critical part of the development."

“Not only do we have to have the innovation pipeline, but then we’ve got to really move quickly to work with governments, corporations, public-private partnerships that can be formed around these technologies.”

— Ashley Grosh, vice president of Breakthrough Energy. Grosh echoes the need for collaborative efforts. No one part of the equation — such as corporates, scientists, academics, etc. — can move the needle by itself.

“We face a need to run the current energy system extremely well … while also envisioning a new energy system.”

— Burger says. Burger, who alludes to the state's recent power grid failure as an example, says this balancing act is a challenge across the board for energy companies.

“Government is going to have to play aggressively to solve the climate problem.”

— Ilan Gur, CEO of Activate Global Inc., a nonprofit organization that WORKS with U.S.-based funders and research institutions to support a group of fellows. Gur says there needs to be some aspect of incentivization somewhere in the innovation process to drive results.

“Where the market works, let it work. And where it needs help, let’s double down.”

— Burger says, adding that it will take the public, corporations, innovators, and capital to make a difference. "If you can align those all toward derisking then scaling that technology, we will all benefit from the fruits of that labor.

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Overheard: Experts share how Houston can lead commercial space exploration

Eavesdropping in houston

Is the Space City poised to continue its reign as an innovative hub for space exploration? All signs point to yes, according to a group of experts.

The Greater Houston Partnership hosted its annual State of Space this week. The virtual event featured a keynote address from Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA Johnson Space Center, and a panel moderated by David Alexander, chair of aerospace and aviation committee at the GHP and the director of the Rice Space Institute.

The conversations focused on the space innovation activity happening in Houston, as well as an update on the industry as a whole has space commercialization continues to develop. All the speakers addressed how Houston has what it takes to remain a hub for the sector.

"The future looks very bright for Houston that we will remain a leader in Houston spaceflight," Wyche says in her address.

Here are a few other memorable moments from the event.

"Houston, I feel, is poised to be a leader. We have led in human space flight, and we will a leader in commercialization."

— Wyche says in her keynote address, which gave a thorough overview of what all NASA is working on at JSC. She calls out specifically how startups are a driving force in commercialization. JSC is working with local accelerator programs at The Ion and MassChallenge.

"These startups help us to connect to tomorrow's space innovation leaders, and gives our team the opportunity to mentor these entrepreneurs as we work to advance both our scientific and technical knowledge," she says.

"The ability to have a place where government, academia, and industry can come together and share ideas and innovation is incredibly powerful."

​— Steve Altemus, president and CEO of Intuitive Machines LLC, specifically talking about the Houston Spaceport, where Intuitive Machines has signed on as a tenant. Altemus adds that a major key to leading space commercialization is a trained workforce, which the spaceport is focused on cultivating.

"We shouldn't discount the character that Houston has from the standpoint as a great place to build a business."

— Tim Kopra, vice president of robotics and space at MDA Ltd., says, adding that Houston is a big city that feels like a small town. "We need to incentivize companies to come and stay," he says.

"Great cities — like great companies — understand that if you're still, you're probably moving backwards. ... I think Houston gets it in that regard."

— Todd May, senior vice president of science and space at KBR, says, adding that Houston realizes it needs to be on the offensive side to bring innovation to the game, positioning the city very well for the future.

Houston's number of 'super commuters' driven up by almost 70 percent, says new report

on the road again

Long commutes are nothing new in Houston. The average worker in Houston spent nearly 27 minutes commuting to work each day — above the national average of 26.4.

A new development in shuttling to work has developed: super commuters. In fact, the number of so-called "super commuters" — those traveling at least 90 minutes to get to work, and another 90 minutes or more to get home, is on the rise.

According to newly released data from new analysis by Apartment List of data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Houston area boasts 85,000 super commuters in the region, representing 2.6 percent of our total workforce.

The number of super commuters in the Houston region grew by 68.3 percent from 2010-2019, compared to the 23.0 percent growth rate of the region's overall workforce.

Houston ranks tenth among the regions in the study for the number of super commuters in 2019.

Some 13 percent of the region's super commuters live within a 10-mile radius of downtown, says Apartment List data, demonstrating that not all super commuters travel long distances. Nationally, 13.5 percent of all workers who commute by public transit are super commuters, and transit riders are five times more likely to be super commuters compared to drivers.

In the Greater Houston region, super commuting is most prevalent in Trinity County, where 11 percent of all workers are super commuters, per Apartment List.

According to Apartment List, the rise of remote work "is unlikely to meaningfully alleviate" the long-term trend of more American workers becoming super commuters.

"Since the start of the pandemic, the fastest rent growth in large metros has been occurring in the further suburbs and exurbs, indicating that hybrid remote work arrangement[s] could create a new class of part-time super commuters," Apartment list notes.

In Texas, North Texas grew 49 percent in super commuters from 2010 to 2019.

Stockton, California, notched the biggest share of super commuters in the study (25 percent of the workforce). Elsewhere in Northern California, the San Francisco Bay Area saw the largest growth rate for super commuting from 2010 to 2019 — a whopping 255 percent.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.