A new initiative from the city of Houston and Hertz aims to boost Houston's electric vehicle rental fleet. Photo via Mayor Sylvester Turner/Facebook

A new partnership between The Hertz Corp. and the City of Houston will bring 2,100 rental electric vehicles to Houston, according to an announcement from the organizations earlier this week.

Dubbed Hertz Electrifies Houston, the program aims to boost Houston's EV rental fleet, as well add to the city's charging infrastructure and EV education and training opportunities.

The new vehicles will come from automakers Tesla, Polestar, and GM and can be rented to leisure and business customers, as well as rideshare drivers.

In partnership with bp pulse, Hertz Electrifies Houston will also bring a new EV fast-charging hub to Hobby Airport that's designed to serve ride-hail, taxi fleets and the general public.

"Our goal is to convert all non-emergency, light-duty municipal vehicles to electric by 2030," Mayor Sylvester Turner says in a statement. "This partnership with Hertz will provide an invaluable boost to achieve this goal and the goal of our Climate Action Plan for Houston to be a net-zero city by 2050."

In addition to the new fleet and charging hub, Hertz announced it will also donate an EV to Lone Star College-North Harris to help the college provide EV training to students in its auto servicing curriculum.

"Lone Star College-North Harris houses one of top automotive programs in Texas," Archie Blanson, president of Lone Star College-North Harris, says in the statement. "To make our students competitive and meet industry demand, we must ensure we are bringing the latest technologies, including a diversified fleet of EVs into the classroom.”

Earlier this month, Hertz also launched a Hertz Electrifies program in Denver. The initiative aims to bring 5,200 rental EVs to Denver. In 2022, the company first announced its plan to partner with bp pulse to install a national network of EV charging solutions for its customers.

Houston also has grown into a hub for EV and EV charging innovation recently. Houston-based Zeta Energy is leading efforts to develop efficient EV batteries, and received $4 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy's ARPA-E Electric Vehicles for American Low-Carbon Living, or EVs4ALL, program earlier this year.

Houston's Revterra has also created a kinetic energy storage system that enables rapid EV charging. The company’s founder and CEO, Ben Jawdat, spoke about the energy transition on the Houston Innovators Podcast last month.
Greentown Houston is headed for the Innovation District, which is being developed in Midtown. Photo via Getty Images

Cleantech incubator announces location in Houston, names newest partners

Greentown's moving in

After announcing its plans to expand to Houston in June, Boston-based Greentown Labs has selected its site for its cleantech startup and tech incubator.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and the Greater Houston Partnership announced that Greentown Houston will be opening in the Innovation District, being developed by Rice Management Co. and home to The Ion. The site is located at 4200 San Jacinto St., which was Houston's last remaining Fiesta grocery story before it closed in July.

The facility is expected to open this coming spring and will feature 40,000 square feet of prototyping lab, office, and community space that can house about 50 startups, totaling 200 to 300 employees.

"We are thrilled to announce the selection of Greentown Labs' inaugural location in partnership with RMC, the City of Houston, the Partnership, and leading global energy and climate impact-focused companies," says Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs, in a press release. "In order to meet the urgent challenge of climate change, we must engage the talent and assets of major ecosystems around the country. We look forward to catalyzing the Houston ecosystem's support for climatetech startups as we work together toward a sustainable future for all."

Emily Reichert is the CEO of Greentown Labs. Photo courtesy of Greentown Labs

Greentown Labs launched in 2011 as community of climatetech and cleantech innovators bringing together startups, corporates, investors, policymakers, and more to focus on scaling climate solutions. Greentown Labs' first location is 100,000 square feet and located just outside of Boston in Somerville, Massachusetts. Currently, it's home to more than 100 startups and has supported more than 280 startups since the incubator's founding. According to the release, these startups have created more than 6,500 jobs and raised over $850 million in funding

"We are so pleased that Greentown Houston will locate in the heart of the Innovation District, where they will seamlessly integrate into the region's robust energy innovation ecosystem of major corporate energy R&D centers, corporate venture arms, VC-backed energy startups, and other startup development organizations supporting energy technology," says Susan Davenport, chief economic development officer at the Greater Houston Partnership, in the release. "Houston truly is the hub of the global energy industry, and Greentown Houston will ensure we continue to attract the next generation of energy leaders who will create and scale innovations that will change the world."

Greentown Houston, which previously announced several founding partners in June, has just named new partners, including: RMC, Microsoft, Saint-Gobain, and Direct Energy. According to the release, Greentown Houston is also looking for Grand Opening Partners. Naturgy and and FCC Environmental Services (FCC) are the first to join on as a grand opening partners, and startups and prospective partners can reach out for more information via this form.

Reichert previously told InnovationMap that it was looking for an existing industrial-type building that could be retrofitted to meet the needs of industrial startups that need lab space. She also said that this approach is very similar to how they opened their first location.

Rice Management Company is developing the Innovation District in the center of Houston. Screenshot via ionhouston.com

The new location will be in the 16-acre Innovation District that's being developed by RMC, which will be anchored by The Ion, a 270,000-square-foot hub that is being renovated from the former Sears building.

"What we love about Greentown Labs as much as its commitment to helping Houston become a leader in energy transition and climate change action is its proven track record of job creation through the support of local visionaries and entrepreneurs,"says Ryan LeVasseur, managing director of Direct Real Estate at RMC, in the release. "Greentown Houston, like The Ion, is a great catalyst for growing the Innovation District and expanding economic opportunities for all Houstonians. We're thrilled Greentown Labs selected Houston for its first expansion and are honored it will be such a big part of the Innovation District moving forward."

Acquiring the new Greentown location is a big win for the mayor, who released the city'sClimate Action Plan earlier this year. The plan lays out a goal to make Houston carbon neutral by 2050.

"We are proud to welcome Greentown Labs to Houston, and we are excited about the new possibilities this expansion will bring to our City's growing innovation ecosystem," says Turner in the release. "Organizations and partners like Greentown Labs will play a vital role in helping our City meet the goals outlined in the Climate Action Plan and will put us on the right track for becoming a leader in the global energy transition. The City of Houston looks forward to witnessing the innovation, growth, and prosperity Greentown Labs will bring to the Energy Capital of the World."

Greentown Labs will host a celebratory networking event on September 24 at 4 p.m. Registration for the EnergyBar is open here.

The city is hosting a series of virtual events focusing on climate issues Houston is facing. Here's what streams you cannot miss. Photo via Getty Images

Rescheduled: These are the can't-miss events to attend each day during Houston Climate Week

Where to be

Editor's note — This story has been updated and republished to reflect the new dates and details of Houston Climate Week.

The city of Houston is kicking off its rescheduled Houston Climate Week after the original week was postponed by threats of Hurricane Laura. The week-long virtual program supports Mayor Sylvester Turner's Climate Action Plan, which launched in April in response to Hurricane Harvey and other recent major climate events.

"We recognized how we just couldn't continue to do things as we had done them in the past — Harvey was a game changer," Turner says at the opening conversation of Houston Climate Week. "It set us up for enacting the city's first Climate Action Plan."

Every day between Monday, September 14, to Friday, September 18, the city will host two to three virtual events. For the full schedule, click here. Below are the can't-miss events on the agenda.

Monday, September 14 — CLIMATE CHANGE: What does the future hold for Houston?

Katharine Hayhoe, climate specialist at Texas Tech University, will discuss future climate patterns and findings from her Houston Climate Impact Assessment.

The conversation begins at 1 pm on Monday, September 14, and those who register for the event can join online.

Tuesday, September 15 — ENERGY TRANSITION: Making Houston a Global Leader in Energy Innovation

A panel of experts have been tasked with discussing innovation in the energy industry. Joining the conversation is Kelsey Hultberg of Sunnova Energy, Juliana Garaizar of Greentown Labs Houston, Jose Beceiro of Global Energy 2.0, and Carolyn Seto of IHS Markit.

The conversation begins at 11 am on Tuesday, September 15, and those who register for the event can join online.

Wednesday, September 16 — TRANSPORTATION: Taking the Car Out of Carbon Emissions

Nearly half of Houston's greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation and 96 percent of commuters drive alone. Kimberly Williams, David Fields, Jonathan Brooks, and Kurt Barrow will explore pathways to a greener, safer, and more equitable mobility future for Houstonians.

The conversation begins at 11 am on Wednesday, September 16, and those who register for the event can join online.

Thursday, September 17 — RESILIENCE: 2020: The COVID, Climate, & Equity Connection

Whether it is climate change or COVID-19, a city's primary responsibility is to protect our most vulnerable. For Houston, that means fighting a global pandemic in the middle of a heat wave and hurricane season. This year has reinforced the connection between climate and community health. Community recovery and resilience leaders will discuss the impact COVID-19 and climate change have on Houston's most vulnerable populations and how to build more sustainable, resilient, and complete communities.

The conversation begins at 1 pm on Thursday, September 17, and those who register for the event can join online.

Friday, September 18 — CLOSING CONVERSATION: Partnerships and Pathways to Decarbonize Cities

Round out the week of programing with a final discussion with Mayor Turner, who will be joined by David Lawler of BP America, and Daniel Yergin of IHS Markit. They will be discussing the importance of partnerships in Houston's commitment to carbon neutrality by 2050.

The conversation begins at 1 pm on Friday, September 18, and those who register for the event can join online.

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.