Here's your one-stop shop for innovation events in Houston this month. Photo via Getty Images

This month, Houstonians have yet another good batch of in-person and online innovation events, and you and your tech network need to know about them.

Here's a roundup of virtual events not to miss this month — like demo days, workshops, conventions, and more.

Note: This post might be updated to add more events.

October 5 — Perfecting Your Pitch

"Zoom in" for The Ion's event, Perfecting your Pitch. DeckLaunch and Fresh Tech Solutionz will discuss the importance and value of your pitch deck when reaching your target audience.

The event is on Tuesday, October 5, at 1 pm. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

October 5-6 — re:3D SBIR Workshop

The purpose of this workshop is to train and equip participants to identify a federal opportunity and apply for an SBIR/STTR.

The event is on Tuesday, October 5, and Wednesday, October 6, beginning at noon. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

October 6 — Email Marketing: A How To

Join The Cannon's HubSpot for Startups' partners for a fast-paced session covering the key elements of Email Marketing! In this workshop, we'll go over HubSpot's playbook for creating a winning email marketing strategy, generating traffic to your website and converting traffic into leads, and leveraging automation to nurture leads- Email marketing best practices and common mistakes to avoid.

The event is on Wednesday, October 6, at 1 pm. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

October 12-14 — Ignite Healthcare Network's 2021 Fire Pitch: Semi-Finals

Fire Pitch 2021 is Ignite Healthcare Network's 5th annual mini-accelerator program created to encourage innovation in emerging women-led digital health and med-tech companies. The program provides women-led healthcare startups with the unique opportunity to engage with potential customers and investors to assess their solutions and advise them on what they need to build successful businesses.

The summit is Tuesday, October 12, to Thursday, October 14. Click here to register.

October 13 — State of the City Address

This signature event, hosted and produced by Houston First Corporation is an opportunity for community and business leaders to reflect upon the year's challenges and celebrate the city's successes as they hear directly from Houston's CEO.

The event is on Wednesday, October 13, at 11:30 am. Tickets start at $150 and the event is hosted at Hilton Americas-Houston. Click here to register.

October 25 — Climathon 2021 Kick-Off

Impact Hub Houston kicks off Climathon 2021! Come learn about this year's challenges, connect with the teams, and get ready for the week. Impact Hub envisions a more prosperous, inclusive, climate-resilient economy, where finance flows to green projects and activities, and where motivated people are empowered with the skills and capacity they need to take action.

The event is on Monday, October 25, at noon. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

October 25-29 - InnovateEnergy Week 2021

Today's energy companies are working with more emerging technology than ever before, with new projects and technology announced daily.

To enable the growth of these technologies and focus on the impact they are having with the digitalization of energy projects, we are bringing together 4 major Summits to Houston for innovation & emerging tech leaders to attend in one place at one time, including;
  • 5th Annual Energy Drone & Robotics Summit
  • 3rd Annual Industrial XR Summit-
  • Energy EdgeTECH & Industrial Digital Twin Summit
  • MethaneTECH Forum

The events run Monday, October 25, through Friday, October 29, at the Woodlands Waterway Marriott Convention Center. Click here to register.

October 25-26 — Frontiers of Brain Science and Medicine - The Welch Foundation conference

The Welch Foundation's 64th conference, titled "Frontiers of Brain Science and Medicine," will explore the brain and the new technologies driving fresh insights into this still little-understood organ. The conference is divided into four sessions over two days, featuring presentations from some of the top global researchers in brain science.

The conference is Monday, October 25, through Tuesday, October 26. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

October 25-26 — Ken Kennedy AI and Data Science Conference

Join the virtual Ken Kennedy AI and Data Science Conference, which will feature invited keynote speakers, technical program, sponsors, student poster presentations, and an outdoor networking reception. This year, expect an exciting lineup of speakers from NASA, IBM, AWS, Human Rights Data Analysis Group, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Rice University.

The conference is Monday, October 25, through Tuesday, October 26. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

Wednesday, October 27, will offer an in-person add-on day to the conference with a technical workshop highlighting deep learning and high-performance computing with Alex Smola, VP of AWS, and Anshumali Shrivastava with Rice University. Workshop registration comes with a small fee. Click here to register.

October 26 — Digital Fight Club: Houston 2021 (Virtual Edition)

Tired of boring Zoom calls? Digital Fight Club is turning the virtual event world on it's head with the first Digital Fight Club, Virtual Edition. Just like IRL, two experts in their fields go up against each other in front of a raucous virtual audience.

The event is Tuesday, October 26, at 6:30 pm. Click here to register.

October 26-27 — Houston DiverseCity Summit

The Houston DiverseCity Summit will inspire action to advance equity and inclusion in the greater Houston region. The Summit offers content for companies and organizations of all sizes with a focus on best practices, peer connection, and first-rate resources to help you mature your diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) strategies.

The summit is Tuesday, October 26 (in person), and Wednesday, October 27 (online). Click here to register.

October 27 — Energy Tech Night

Each Energy Tech Night offers insights from energy digitalization experts and rapid-fire pitches from the cutting edge in startups offering solutions for the energy challenges of today and tomorrow. After the rapid fire pitches, there is a panel of industry leaders having an open discussion on important topics. Presenters include: LiquidFrameworks, Soft Serve, Simetry, eLynx, Inside Petroleum, and GeoNote.

The event is on Wednesday, October 27, at 6 pm. Tickets start at $50 and the event is hosted at The Heights Theater. Click here to register.

October 27 — Houston Startup Showcase Semifinals

The Ion's four semifinalists will come together on the virtual stage and compete for a chance to move on to the finals. Watch the four startups pitch their company and see who the judges will select to move on to the final round and have the opportunity to compete for the prize package.

Presenting Companies:

The event is on Wednesday, October 27, at 6 pm. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

October 27 — The Ion's Industry Day

The Ion District Team and General Contractor, Gilbane welcomes MWDBE firms to learn more about potential opportunities. The area has $15 million in upcoming construction opportunities. There will be a discussion of The District Garage Construction, Vendor opportunities, Q&A Session, and a Tour of The Ion District.

The event is on Wednesday, October 27, at 4 pm. It's free and happening at The Ion. Click here to register.

October 28 — The 2021 MassChallenge U.S. Showcase and Awards

The 2021 MassChallenge U.S. Showcase and Awards is a celebration of creativity and innovation coming from the minds of entrepreneurs building game changing businesses that will impact the way we live, work, and play. Check this year's Boston, Rhode Island, Houston & Austin cohorts at the event.

The event is on Thursday, October 28, at 3 pm. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston, and Jeff Reichman, founder of Sketch City, have announced a partnership between their organizations. Photos courtesy

Houston incubator announces merger with local nonprofit

teamwork

Two Houston organizations that have partnered for three years to provide a platform for innovation and ideation have announced a more formalized partnership.

Impact Hub Houston, a global impact innovation incubator, and Sketch City, a nonprofit focused on advancing technology and data in public decision making and social good, have announced the merger of Sketch City into a new initiative under Impact Hub Houston: Code for Houston.

"We're honored to continue Sketch City's work of connecting Houston's tech talent with civic innovation opportunities through Code for Houston," says Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston, in a news release. "From our response and recovery collaboration after Hurricane Harvey to our ongoing events that help diverse do-gooders and developers collaborate on and create impactful solutions for Houston, we have established a strong track record of effective #Tech4Good initiatives."

The two organizations have worked together to host Open Project Night and the Houston Hackathon over the past few years. Jeff Reichman, principal at Houston-based data science consulting firm January Advisors, founded Sketch City in 2016.

"We are so excited to join forces with Impact Hub Houston," Reichman says in the release. "Their mission is directly aligned with ours. Sketch City began as a way to connect people with shared interests in technology, data, and civic improvement. Within a few years, it has grown into a community of thousands of people who live all over the world."

The merger comes following the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic — something Reichman says has led him to rethink how Sketch City operates.

"Merging Sketch City with Impact Hub Houston feels like a natural extension of the work we've done together; and it creates additional administrative capacity for programming and community growth," Reichman continues in the release. "Sketch City's efforts will continue under Impact Hub Houston's 'Code for Houston' initiative. I'm thrilled to be a part of that new chapter."

Sketch City and its initiatives will roll into Code for Houston, a new initiative under Impact Hub Houston that aligns with Code for America — a national organization that works with community organizations and governments to build digital tools, change policies, and improve public programs.

Code for Houston will streamline operations for Impact Hub Houston's annual hackathons, which includes the Houston Hackathon and Climathon Houston, as well as expand resources and support for Houston's changemakers and civic technologists who want to transform their ideas into viable triple-bottom-line businesses and impact ventures, per the release.

"We look forward to continuing Sketch City's legacy of strengthening and activating relationships between Houston's tech talent and diverse communities," Rodriguez continues.

One of the winning teams at Climathon has an idea for a microgrid system in Houston's emerging innovation corridor. Photo via houston.org

Houston Climathon winning microgrid solution is more important now than ever

thinking small

More than 6,000 participants in 145 cities around the world gathered virtually for last year's Climathon, a global event put on by Impact Hub Houston to unite innovators and collaborate on climate solutions. When Winter Storm Uri left the Texas energy grid in a state of crisis, one Climathon Houston team's proposal for energy reliability became all the more important.

Last year, the City of Houston unveiled its first Climate Action Plan to address the city's challenges and strive to lead the energy transition. It was the perfect roadmap for Climathon Houston, a hackathon where eleven teams gathered to develop and pitch a concept to align with the city's new plan.

Of the three winning teams, one idea was prescient in its approach to energy. Six energy-focused Texans drew up plans for InnoGrid, a cost-effective strategy to build the first microgrid in Houston. What started as a pitch has become a developed proposal gaining collaborator and city interest in the wake of Uri.

Bryan Gottfried, Edward D. Pettitt II, Andi Littlejohn, Paresh Patel, Ben Jawdat, and Gavin Dillingham created InnoGrid to to help achieve the CAP's energy transition and net-zero emissions goals. With climate events increasing rapidly, the team of innovators saw an opportunity to create a sustainable solution — the first Houston microgrid.

In just an hour and a half of brainstorming, the team sought to create a similar model to Austin's Whisper Valley microgrid — a project that's currently in development. While Whisper Valley is a master plan community, the team wanted to create a microgrid to support a larger picture: the city of Houston.

"I had been following transactive energy models [such as] peer-to-peer electricity trading like Brooklyn Microgrid/LO3 Energy and Power Ledger since their inception. This inspired my vision for a novel microgrid that would demonstrate such technologies in the energy capital of the world that is otherwise primarily focused on oil and gas, and natural resources," explains Patel, founder and CEO of e^2: Equitable Energy.

When Pettitt joined the group, he proposed the growing Houston Innovation Corridor as the home to InnoGrid. The four-mile stretch between the Texas Medical Center and Downtown is already home to green technology, making it an ideal fit.

"You're going into an area that was already being redeveloped and had this innovation kind of mentality already," explains Gottfried, a geoscientist and current MBA student at University of Houston Bauer College of Business.

After winning Climathon Houston, the team continued to meet weekly in hopes of making InnoGrid a reality.

The case for a microgrid

The InnoGrid team started with the goal of making energy reliable and resilient in the face of climate change. While previous storms like Hurricane Ike have left millions of Texans without power, Winter Storm Uri was one of the most destructive tragedies to face Texas. The unexpected February storm left 4.5 million Texans without electricity and resulted in at least 111 deaths.

As InnoGrid's team members struggled with burst pipes and loss of power, the team juggled the task of submitting a grant application to the Department of Energy during a catastrophic winter storm. The timing was not lost on them.

"It underscored the need for us to do something like this," shares Gottfried.

To understand how impactful a Houston microgrid can be, you first must understand how a microgrid works. A microgrid is a local energy grid made of a network of generators combined with energy storage. The microgrid has control capability, meaning it can disconnect from a macro grid and run autonomously.

Ultimately, microgrids can provide reliability and drive down carbon emissions. Using smart meters, the grids can even provide real-time energy data to show the inflow and outflow of electricity. In the instance a microgrid does go down, it only affects the community — not the entire state. Likewise, during a power outage to the main grid, a microgrid can break away and run on its own.

Microgrids have been deployed by other cities to mitigate the physical and economic risks caused by power outages, but the use of a project like InnoGrid feels especially timely given recent events and the limitations of the Texas Interconnect.

The Texas grid is isolated by choice, separated from the eastern and western interconnects. Texas' isolated energy grid resulted in a massive failure, proving deregulation can certainly backfire. Updating the electric grid has an expensive price tag, but microgrids show a promising and cost-effective model for the future.

"I thought if microgrids and mini-grids are enabling millions in off-grid frontier markets at the base of the pyramid [like Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, etc.] to essentially leapfrog legacy energy infrastructure, why should we not upgrade our aging power system with the latest tech that is digitalized, decarbonized, decentralized/distributed, and democratized at the top of the pyramid," asks Patel.

Many hospitals, universities, and large technology firms have already established their own microgrids to protect equipment and provide safety. Still, smaller businesses and homes in the community can suffer during outages.

InnoGrid's proposal seeks to use existing and proven renewable energy sources like wind, solar and geothermal energy. The storage technologies used would include battery, kinetic, compressed air, and geomechanical pumped storage.

"From the perspective of an early-stage hardware startup, one of the most important things is finding a way to validate and test your technology," explains Jawdat, founder and CEO of Revterra and adviser to the InnoGrid team. He explains that the microgrid "can also be a testbed for new technologies, specifically, new energy storage technologies," through potential partnerships with companies like Greentown Labs, which is opening its Houston location soon.

Battling inequity 

While the outlook for a community microgrid is enticing, there are also challenges to address. One key challenge is inequity, which is a key focus of Pettitt who was drawn to the team's goal of providing stability for companies and residences in Houston.

Pettitt, who is seeking a Ph.D. in urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University, has a background in public health and frequently works with the Houston Coalition for Equitable Development without Displacement. "I'm really looking at the intersection of the built environment and how to make cities healthier for its residents," he shares.

"A lot of companies are trying to prevent this climate crisis where we have climate refugees that can't live in certain areas because of ecological damage. But in the process, we don't want to create economic refugees from the gentrification of bringing all of these companies and higher-wage jobs into an area without providing folks the ability to benefit from those jobs and the positive externalities of that development," explains Pettitt.

The InnoGrid would plan to provide positive externalities in the form of energy subsidies and potentially even job training for people who want to work on the grid.

Power to the consumer

Much like the gamification in feel-good fitness trackers and e-learning tools, reward systems can inspire friendly competition and community engagement. InnoGrid's proposal seeks to challenge other major cities to build their own grids and compete with a gamified system.

The Innovation Corridor is currently undergoing major redevelopment, the first 16 acres of which are being developed by Rice Management Company and will be anchored by The Ion, which is opening soon. The timing of this redevelopment would allow a prospective project like InnoGrid to build in visual and interactive aspects that depict energy usage and carbon offsetting.

The microgrid's statistics would also engage Houstonians by sharing up-to-date data through dashboards, apps, and even billboards to track Houston's carbon footprint. Pettitt paints a picture of interactive sidewalk structures, leaderboards, and digital billboards in the public realm to showcase how energy is used day-to-day. The team hopes to build positive feedback cycles that encourage tenants and building owners to be more energy-efficient.

"If we're having an Innovation Corridor, an innovation district, I think the built environment should be innovative too," explains Pettitt.

The future of InnoGrid

Every innovation has to start somewhere. While InnoGrid is in its early stages, the team is working to establish partners and collaborators to make the project a reality.

Inspired by projects like the Brooklyn Microgrid, InnoGrid is in the process of pursuing partnerships with utilities and energy retailers to form a dynamic energy marketplace that pools local distributed energy resources. The team hopes to collaborate with microgrid experts from around the nation like Schneider Electric and SunPower. Other potential collaborators include The Ion, CenterPoint, Greentown Labs, and Rice Management Company.

Can Houston remain the energy capital of the world as it transitions to a net-zero energy future? The InnoGrid team wants to make that happen. The argument for a microgrid in Houston feels even more fitting when you look at the landscape.

"If we are going to create an innovative microgrid that also functions as a testbed for innovators and startups, [we] have proximity to some of the biggest utilities and power generation players right in that sector," explains Patel, who is also an inaugural member of Greentown Labs Houston.

"The microgrid itself is not novel. I think what makes it compelling is to situate that right here in the heart of the energy capital as we, again, reincarnate as the energy transition capital world," Patel continues.

Chevron has doubled down on its commitment to The Cannon in West Houston, a new study finds Houston a top city for STEM, a Houston startup takes home a win from a digital pitch competition, and more. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

Chevron to launch makerspace at The Cannon, Houston a top city for STEM, and more innovation news

Short stories

Houston's innovation ecosystem has been booming with news, and it's likely some might have fallen through the cracks.

For this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, a startup snags a win at a pitch competition, Chevron announces a new makerspace, a software company makes an acquisition, and more.

Houston named a best city for STEM

Image via SmartAsset

For the fifth year, personal finance website, SmartAsset, analyzed data for the 35 cities in the county with the largest STEM workforces. The study looked at the racial diversity index as well as the gender diversity index. The data for both metrics comes from the Census Bureau's 2019 1-year American Community Survey.

Houston ranked No. 7 on the list, and according to the report, the total number of STEM workers in Houston, Texas exceeds 79,500. Around 70 percent of the total STEM workers there are men, and more than 30 percent are women. Additionally, Houston has the third-best race/ethnicity index score in the study with more than 19 percent of STEM workers are Hispanic or Latino, almost 20 percent are Asian, and more than 8 percent are Black.

Texas makes up about a third of the top 10 list with Dallas and Fort Worth coming in at No. 9 and No.10, respectively.

Chevron announces digital makerspace in The Cannon

Photo courtesy of The Cannon

The Cannon and its surrounding Founders District in West Houston has announced the addition of Chevron's digital makerspace, which will be dedicated to startup partnerships and community organizations.

"Chevron's support for The Founders District and The Cannon expands our commitment to Houston's growing innovation ecosystem," says Barbara Burger, Chevron vice president, Innovation and president of Chevron Technology Ventures, in a news release. "We look forward to utilizing this new space to collaborate with other Chevron organizations, such as our Wells group, as we work to deliver more reliable, affordable, ever-cleaner energy."

While Chevron has been a key partner for The Cannon since 2018 and even had branded office space within the hub, this new space represents a new lease agreement for a significantly larger footprint.

"We are thrilled to partner with Chevron Technology Ventures in developing this exciting makerspace at The Founders District," says Mark Toon, CEO of Puma Development, the company developing The Founders District and founder of Work America Capital, a venture capital firm dedicated to investing in Houston-based businesses. "CTV is the paradigm for meaningful innovation in Houston. By investing in emerging technologies in energy, they are paving the way for innovation to remain at the heart of Houston's most prominent industry."

Lazarus 3D wins The Ion's pitch competition

Photo via Laz3d.com

After months of pitching events, The Ion's Startup Demo Day for 2020 concluded on November 18 with four final pitches from Lazarus 3D, Skylark Wireless, HelloWoofy, and Swoovy.

After each of the four founders presented at the virtual event, which was powered by Dell Technologies, Lazarus 3D, a startup that produces 3D-printed organs and tissues for surgical practice, took home the win and the cash prize.

"I'm so grateful to Ion Houston — I've met so many people and made so many connections," says Smriti Zaneveld, co-founder and president. "All of the companies that present at these events are doing something so meaningful."

Applications are now open for the next series. Apply online by clicking here.

Houston tech co. acquires New Zealand business

Photo via Onit.com

Houston-based Onit Inc., a legal software provider, announced that the company has acquired McCarthyFinch and its artificial intelligence platform.

"Our vision is to build AI into our workflow platform and every product across the Onit and SimpleLegal product portfolios," says Eric M. Elfman, Onit CEO and co-founder, in a news release. "AI will have an active role in everything from enterprise legal management to legal spend management and contract lifecycle management, resulting in continuous efficiencies and cost savings for corporate legal departments.

"Historically, legal departments have been thought of as black boxes where requests go in and information, decisions or contracts come out with no real transparency," Elfman continues. "AI has the potential to enhance transparency and contribute to stronger enterprise-wide business collaboration in a way that conserves a lawyer's valuable time."

The newly acquired software has the capacity to accelerate contract processing by up to 70 percent and increase productivity by over 50 percent. With the acquisition, Onit is enhancing its new artificial intelligence platform Precedent and the company's first release on the platform will be ReviewAI.

New sustainability-focused app launches at Climathon

Photo courtesy of Footprint

Houston-based Footprint App Inc. launched its latest carbon footprint education and action software during the Houston Climathon that was hosted earlier this month by Impact Hub Houston.

By tracking the user's sustainable habits, the student-focused tool allows users to compete to reduce their environmental impact. Footprint has launched in over 50 classrooms across the nation and is also being used by several corporations.

"With the state of Texas recently receiving an 'F' in climate education from the National Science Foundation, we see Footprint as the perfect tool for K-12 and beyond to help Texas students engage with climate science in a fun, competitive way," says Dakota Stormer, Footprint App, Inc. CEO and co-founder, in a news release.

Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston, has a few weeks ahead of her. Courtesy of Grace Rodriguez

Houston nonprofit introduces new startup incubator ahead of impact-focused innovation week

accelerate

Impact Hub Houston — the local chapter of a nonprofit focused on supporting startups in the social impact space — has a lot on its plate this month.

Not only is next week The Houston Innovation Summit — the fourth annual week of entrepreneurship programming — as well as the second annual Climathon, but the organization has also just launched a new business incubator program.

Accelerate is a program that Impact Hub has offered across 17 international markets. Houston's new chapter already has a few Houston startups involved — including Potentia Workforce and McMac CX. Structured as an ongoing accelerator with mentorship, education, and support, the program is currently accepting new members.

"We actually sit down with each new Accelerate member and then go through a diagnostic interview to help them understand what stage they're at," says Grace Rodriquez, CEO and executive director of Houston Impact Hub. "And then we create a development strategy with them."

Whether the Accelerate member needs one-on-one mentorship, specialized education, or more, the program match makes each member's needs. EY is a network partner and — since everything is virtual — member companies have access to international experts through Impact Hub and its partners' networks.

"The ideal entrepreneur for the Accelerate membership is somebody who has already developed a solution — at least an MVP — for their social venture, whether it's a product or a service," Rodriguez says.

She cites Potentia as an example. The startup helps find jobs for adults with special needs, as well as educate corporations on how to work with and collaborate with these individuals. The company already has data and momentum, and the Accelerate program is helping the company to get to it's next stage.

"The idea is that we help people ladder up — no matter what stage you're at," Rodriguez says.

While growing the new program's membership — Rodriguez says it's her goal to get to 10 member companies my early next year — she's also focused on The Houston Innovation Summit and Impact Hub's Climathon.

The second annual Climathon, which begins Friday, November 13, has evolved since last year in a number of ways. First of all, it's completely virtual — which poses its own set of challenges and opportunities. Additionally, the event has several new partners — most of which didn't even exist in Houston last year, like Greentown Houston and Evolve Houston.

One of the biggest, most exciting changes for Rodriguez is the structure. While last year's event functioned as a hackathon, this year attendees can expect thought-provoking programming and collaboration.

"Last year, [Climathon] was directed at people who were more tech savvy," Rodriguez says. "What we found is people who are interested in climate action are a lot of times policy oriented or community activists and they don't know how they can plug into the tech space. It's more of an idea-a-thon. You don't have to develop a tech solution, but we can think about how we can activate more people for climate change."

Last year's Climathon took place during October. WIth it moving to November this year, it coincides with THIS, adding even more events to the week-long, impact-focused summit. THIS, which was designed to run alongside Global Entrepreneurship Week, also considers that week's themes, which are: education, ecosystems, inclusion, and policy.

"The focus on education and policy is really interesting to me — it's not just about tech and business anymore," Rodriguez says. "It's really about how we are supporting businesses in the face of the pandemic, climate change crises — floods, fires, hurricanes — the entire world is being affected by these crises. ... [We need to focus on] how we are making sure that people are aware of everything that's happening and how we can innovate solutions."

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Houston company premieres new platform for gig economy workforce

tech support

As the independent workforce continues to grow, a Houston-based company is aiming to connect these workers with companies that match their specific needs with a new digital platform.

FlexTek, a 14-year old recruiting and staffing company, launched a first gig site tailored to the needs of the individual worker. The platform, Workz360, is built to be able to manage projects, maintain quality control, and manage billing and year-end financial reporting.The company is also working to expanding the platform to provide infrastructure to assist independent workers with education, access to savings programs, tax compliance through vetted third-party CPA firms, and hopes in the future to assist with access to liability and medical insurance.

With a younger workforce and a shifting economy, the “gig economy,” which is another way to describe how people can earn a living as a 1099 worker, offers an alternative option to the corporate grind in a post-pandemic workscape. Chief Marketing Officer Bill Penczak of Workz360 calls this era “Gig 2.0,” and attributes the success of this type of workforce to how during the COVID-19 pandemic people learned how to work, and thrive in non-traditional work environments. The site also boasts the fact it won’t take a bite out of the worker’s pay, which could be an attractive sell for many since other sites can take up to 65 percent of profit.

“In the past few years, with the advent of gig job platforms, the Independent workers have been squeezed by gig work platforms taking a disproportionate amount of the workers’ income,” said FlexTek CEO and founder Stephen Morel in a news release. “As a result, there has been what we refer to as ‘pay padding,’ a phenomenon in which workers are raising their hourly or project rates to compensate for the bite taken by other platforms.

"Workz360 is designed to promote greater transparency, and we believe the net result will be for workers to thrive and companies to save money by using the platform,” he continues.

As the workforce has continued to change over the years, a third of the current U.S. workforce are independent workers according to FlexTek, workers have gained the ability to have more freedom where and how they work. Workz360 aims to cater to this workforce by believing in a simple mantra of treating your workers well.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations about this, but we like the Southwest Airlines model,” Penczak tells InnovationMap. “Southwest Airlines treats their people very well, and as a result those employees treat the passengers really well. We believe the same thing holds true. If we can provide resources, and transparency, and not take a bite out of what the gig worker is charging, then we will get the best and the brightest people since they feel like they won’t be taken advantage of. We think there is an opportunity to be a little different and put the people first.”

NASA launches new research projects toward astronauts on ISS

ready to research

For the 26th time, SpaceX has sent up supplies to the International Space Station, facilitating several new research projects that will bring valuable information to the future of space.

On Saturday at 1:20 pm, the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft launched on the Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida — bringing with it more than 7,700 pounds of science experiments, crew supplies, and other cargo. The anticipated docking time is Sunday morning, and the cargo spacecraft will remain aboard the ISS for 45 days, according to a news release from NASA.

Among the supplies delivered to the seven international astronauts residing on the ISS are six research experiments — from health tech to vegetation. Here's a glimpse of the new projects sent up to the scientists in orbit:

Moon Microscope

Image via NASA.gov

Seeing as astronauts are 254 miles away from a hospital on Earth — and astronauts on the moon would be almost 1,000 times further — the need for health technology in space is top of mind for researchers. One new device, the Moon Microscope, has just been sent up to provide in-flight medical diagnosis. The device includes a portable hand-held microscope and a small self-contained blood sample staining tool, which can communicate information to Earth for diagnosis.

"The kit could provide diagnostic capabilities for crew members in space or on the surface of the Moon or Mars," reads a news release. "The hardware also may provide a variety of other capabilities, such as testing water, food, and surfaces for contamination and imaging lunar surface samples."

Fresh produce production

Salads simply aren't on the ISS menu, but fresh technology might be changing that. Researchers have been testing a plant growth unit on station known as Veggie, which has successfully grown a variety of leafy greens, and the latest addition is Veg-05 — focused on growing dwarf tomatoes.

Expanded solar panels

Thanks to SpaceX's 22nd commercial resupply mission in 2021, the ISS installed Roll-Out Solar Arrays. Headed to the ISS is the second of three packages to complete the panels that will increase power for the station by 20 to 30 percent. This technology was first tested in space in 2017 and is a key ingredient in future ISS and lunar development.

Construction innovation

Image via NASA.gov

Due to the difference of gravity — and lack thereof — astronauts have had to rethink constructing structures in space. Through a process called extrusion, liquid resin is used to create shapes and forms that cannot be created on Earth. Photocurable resin, which uses light to harden the material into its final form, is injected into pre-made flexible forms and a camera captures footage of the process, per the news release.

"The capability for using these forms could enable in-space construction of structures such as space stations, solar arrays, and equipment," reads the release. "The experiment is packed inside a Nanoracks Black Box with several other experiments from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab and is sponsored by the ISS National Lab."

Transition goggles

It's a bizarre transition to go from one gravity field to another — and one that can affect spatial orientation, head-eye and hand-eye coordination, balance, and locomotion, and cause some crew members to experience space motion sickness, according to the release.

"The Falcon Goggles hardware captures high-speed video of a subject’s eyes, providing precise data on ocular alignment and balance," reads the release.

On-demand nutrients

Image via NASA.gov

NASA is already thinking about long-term space missions, and vitamins, nutrients, and pharmaceuticals have limited shelf-life. The latest installment in the five-year BioNutrients program is BioNutrients-2 , which tests a system for producing key nutrients from yogurt, a fermented milk product known as kefir, and a yeast-based beverage, per the release.

"The researchers also are working to find efficient ways to use local resources to make bulk products such as plastics, construction binders, and feedstock chemicals. Such technologies are designed to reduce launch costs and increase self-sufficiency, extending the horizons of human exploration," reads the release.

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 — from esports to biomaterials — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Zimri Hinshaw, CEO of BUCHA BIO

Zimri T. Hinshaw, CEO of BUCHA BIO, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how he's planning to scale his biomaterials startup to reduce plastic waste. Photo courtesy of BUCHA BIO

After raising a seed round of funding, BUCHA BIO is gearing up to move into its new facility. The biomaterials company was founded in New York City in 2020, but CEO Zimri T. Hinshaw shares how he started looking for a new headquarters for the company — one that was more affordable, had a solid talent pool, and offered a better quality of life for employees. He narrowed it down from over 20 cities to two — San Diego and Houston — before ultimately deciding on the Bayou City.

Since officially relocating, Hinshaw says he's fully committed to the city's innovation ecosystem. BUCHA BIO has a presence at the University of Houston, Greentown Labs, and the East End Maker Hub — where the startup is building out a new space to fit the growing team.

"By the end of this month, our laboratories will be up and running, we'll have office space adjacent, as well as chemical storage," Hinshaw says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. Listen to the episode and read more.

Kelly Klein, development director of Easter Seals Greater Houston

A nonprofit organization has rolled out an esports platform and event to raise awareness and funding for those with disabilities. Photo via Easter Seals

For many video games is getaway from reality, but for those with disabilities — thanks to a nonprofit organization —gaming can mean a lot more. On Saturday Dec. 3 — International Day of Persons with Disabilities — from 1 to 9 pm, Easter Seals Greater Houston will be joining forces with ES Gaming for the inaugural Game4Access Streamathon.

Gaming helps enhance cognitive skills, motor skills, improve mental well-being, and can help reduce feelings of social isolation due to the interactive nature of playing with others.

“This is really a unique way for (people) to form a community without having to leave their house, and being part of an inclusive environment,” says Kelly Klein, development director of Easter Seals Greater Houston. ”The adaptive equipment and specialized technology just does so many miraculous things for people with disabilities on so many levels — not just gaming. With gaming, it is an entrance into a whole new world.” Read more.

John Mooz, senior managing director at Hines

Levit Green has announced its latest to-be tenant. Photo courtesy

Levit Green, a 53-acre mixed-use life science district next to the Texas Medical Center and expected to deliver this year, has leased approximately 10,000 square feet of commercial lab and office space to Sino Biological Inc. The Bejing-based company is an international reagent supplier and service provider. Houston-based real estate investor, development, and property manager Hines announced the new lease in partnership with 2ML Real Estate Interests and Harrison Street.

“Levit Green was meticulously designed to provide best-in-class life science space that can accommodate a multitude of uses. Welcoming Sino Biological is a testament to the market need for sophisticated, flexible space that allows diversified firms to perform a variety of research,” says John Mooz, senior managing director at Hines, in a press release. “Sino is an excellent addition to the district’s growing life science ecosystem, and we look forward to supporting their continued growth and success.” Read more.Read more.