This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Richard Seline of the Resilience Innovation Hub, Joy Jones of Code Wiz, and Joseph Powell of the University of Houston. 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 energy transition to resiliency — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Richard Seline, co-founder of the Resilience Innovation Hub

Richard Seline joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to explain what all Houston has accomplished within resilience innovation — as well as what's next for the city. Photo courtesy of Richard Seline

For Richard Seline, a major advocate for resilience innovation across Houston and beyond, 2022 was a year of recognizing new technologies and processes — as well as threats — to resiliency.

However, 2023 is the year to implement, he says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"What really happened in 2022 is the recognition that there are enough technologies, equipment, and data science tools that if you were to deploy all of that more efficiently and effectively, you're going to get a one-to-six better cost benefit. It's kind of a no-brainer," says Seline, co-founder of the Resilience Innovation Hub, a national organization headquartered in Houston. Read more.

Joy Jones, owner of Code Wiz Oak Forest

Joy Jones is opening her Oak Forest location of Code Wiz later this month. Screenshot via Code Wiz

A Houstonian has switched up her career to focus on inspiring and equipping children STEM-focused skills.

Joy Jones, who has worked for a decade in the corporate world, is starting the new year with a new career — this one focused on her passion of providing more STEM programming access to students. In 2021, she came across Code Wiz, a coding school franchise based in Massachusetts with 19 locations across the country, and met with Ruth Agbaji, CEO and "nerd-in-chief" of the company.

“Talking with Ruth and hearing the story of her mission to touch 1 million kids through Code Wiz, I found exactly what I’ve been looking for, a mission that aligned with mine,” says Jones, in a news release. Read more.

Joseph Powell, director of the University of Houston Energy Transition Institute

Former Shell Chief Scientist Joseph Powell has joined UH to lead its new Energy Transition Institute. Photo via uh.edu

The University of Houston has announced the first leader of its Shell-backed Energy Transition Institute.

Joseph Powell has been named the founding director of the institute, which was founded following a $10 million donation from Shell in spring of last year. Powell is the former chief scientist for Shell and member of the National Academy of Engineering, according to a news release from UH.

“What excites me about my new role is the opportunity to work with students, faculty and industry to make a difference on problems that truly matter," Powell says in the release. "Who could pass that up? Imagine the difficulties that arise when you don’t have access to energy. Read more.

Joy Jones is opening her Oak Forest location of Code Wiz later this month. Screenshot via Code Wiz

Houston business woman brings STEM-focused programming to town

stemming education

A Houstonian has switched up her career to focus on inspiring and equipping children STEM-focused skills.

Joy Jones, who has worked for a decade in the corporate world, is starting the new year with a new career — this one focused on her passion of providing more STEM programming access to students. In 2021, she came across Code Wiz, a coding school franchise based in Massachusetts with 19 locations across the country, and met with Ruth Agbaji, CEO and "nerd-in-chief" of the company.

“Talking with Ruth and hearing the story of her mission to touch 1 million kids through Code Wiz, I found exactly what I’ve been looking for, a mission that aligned with mine,” says Jones, in a news release.

Code Wiz features a Montessori-style approach, according to the release, and classes are project-based so that students are able to explore at their own pace while building confidence and interest. Here are some of the things Code Wiz students engage with:

  • Build multi-level video games
  • Create animation
  • Introduction to Python
  • Website development in HTML, CSS, and Javascript
  • Enroll in classes for Roblox, Minecraft and Unity
  • Enter robotics competitions
  • Celebrate birthday parties and programs for local Girl Scout troops

The Houston area is already home to two Code Wiz locations — one in Cypress and the other in Katy — and Jones is bringing the third oneto Houston proper in Oak Forest on the northside of Houston later this month.

"We have a chance to teach young learners in Oak Forest and the surrounding central Houston area, the language of the future – coding – in a language they already understand in games and robotics,” she continues.

Classes at Code Wiz Oak Forest begin next week, and the location is celebrating its grand opening on Saturday, January 14, from 10 am to 1 pm. with classes starting the week before. Per the release, Founding Family memberships are currently available to the first 50 families who sign up to receive 31.4 percent off a lifetime membership.

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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 synthetic biology to venture capital — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Gaurab Chakrabarti, the CEO and co-founder of Solugen

Gaurab Chakrabarti shared his entrepreneurial journey on the SXSW stage this year. Photo courtesy of the Greater Houston Partnership

Houston doesn't have too many unicorns — startups valued at $1 billion or more — in its innovation ecosystem, but Solugen, a sustainable chemicals company, is among the elite group. Gaurab Chakrabarti, the CEO and co-founder of the company, joined Houston House by the Greater Houston Partnership, to share his story on the SXSW stage.

“You do make your own luck, but you have to be putting in the work to do it," Chakrabarti says, adding that it's not an easy thing to accomplish. “There are things you can be doing to increase your luck surface area."

He shared several lessons he learned on his founder journey in the discussion. Read more.

Sandy Guitar, managing director of HX Venture Fund

Sandy Guitar shares some lessons learned from the fallout of Silicon Valley Bank. Photo via HXVF

Following the failure of Silicon Valley Bank, there's one thing Sandy Guitar can say has changed for Houston innovators: Bank diversification is going to be a must.

“We didn't think we needed one last week, but this week we know we need a resilience plan," she says, explaining that bank diversification is going to be added to "the operational due diligence playbook." Read more.

Cameron Owen, co-founder and CEO of rBIO

San Diego-based rBIO moved to Houston to take advantage of the growing ecosystem of biomanufacturing and synthetic biology. Photo courtesy of rBIO

Founded in San Diego, rBIO recently relocated to Houston and has big plans for settling in the city, says Cameron Owen, the company's co-founder and CEO.

“Companies from California like us and the coastal areas were converging here in Houston and creating this new type of bioeconomy,” he tells InnovationMap.

He shares that Houston wasn't originally on his radar, until it was. A visit turned into a relocation, and it's just the beginning for the biotech startup that's focused on using synthetic biology for pharmaceuticals. Read more.

Innovative company with ownable multi-use concept shares details on Houston facility opening

coming soon

To some, Houston’s lack of zoning laws is a beautiful thing. The first time Byron Smith visited the city, he remarked on seeing a church, school, office building, and strip club all in startlingly close proximity.

At the time, the Sydney-born entrepreneur, whose previous experience was primarily in the automotive industry, was living in New York. But he fell in love with Space City.

“I was like, ‘We need to be in Texas,” he recalls, referring to expanding his next venture, XSpace, to the Lone Star State.

XSpace is a multi-use commercial condo building that allows entrepreneurs to own a home for their business.

“We’re a cool warehouse space that you own,” Smith explains, calling it “evolutionary space” where a business can grow from the roots up.

Though his family business was commercial real estate, Smith first dipped his toe into working with buildings with last year’s opening of the first XSpace in Austin. The city became “a natural fit” for the first project because Smith identified it as “a little bit more receptive to new things.” But Houston was part of the plan from the very beginning.

Located at 7022 Old Katy Road — close to both an escape room and an Aston-Martin dealership, among other diverse businesses — the Houston XSpace’s 86 units are already between 20- and 30-percent pre-sold, says Smith.

Rendering courtesy of XSpace

Confirmed owners of the spaces include “car guys,” such as a car-wrapping business; media companies that plan to podcast from XSpace; and an interior design company. Smith says that he’s been impressed with Houston’s depth of market.

“We’re trying really hard not to be rich-guy car condo stuff,” explains Smith. “It’s about cool, interesting people who are successful or are going to be successful.”

Though multiple businesses will all operate in XSpace, don’t think of it as a coworking space. In fact, coworking space is just a component included in the package of what owners get when they purchase part of XSpace. That’s inside the Owner’s Lounge, a flexible 4,000-square-foot area.

Each unit has natural light, but also metered electric and hot and cold running water. The whole facility is air-conditioned and well-ventilated and offers 24/7 access. The building is triple-gated for optimum security and includes a backup generator to ensure that owners will be able to work even in the case of another power grid failure.

Smith says that groundbreaking for XSpace will take place in seven weeks. Likely, owners will be able to start moving into the building in the summer of 2024. Until then, Smith says to expect some “sexy announcements” about upcoming partnerships and additional XSpace sites.

Though Smith says that global expansion isn’t yet in the plans for XSpace, “North American domination” is.

“All the cool cities, we’re going to be there,” he says. And it was all inspired by the coolest city of all and its eclectic business landscape.

Rendering courtesy of XSpace

Houston maintains its top 3 position on ranking of cities that best attract biz

by the numbers

According to a recent report, Houston is still one of the top city in the United States for attracting new companies.

The ranking, which was researched and published by Site Selection Magazine, found that the Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land region attracted 255 business projects last year. This put the metro in the third place of the list that analyzed larger regions.

It's the third year in third place for Houston, and the city had a year over year improvement in number of deals; 2021 reported 213 new business projects in Houston. In fact, the top three cities – Chicago, Dallas, and Houston, respectively — has remained the same for all three years. For 2022, the Chicago metro garnered 448 projects, while Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington reportedly had 426 projects.

The report also called out a recent statistic from Kastle Systems, which was based on building access control data. The stat found that among 10 major cities analyzed based on t week of February, Houston was one of three metros that had a returned-worker percentages higher than 50 percent.

According to the Greater Houston Partnership data, new business accounted for more than 50 percent of business announcements in 2022. GHP's data varied from Site Selection's due to a difference in reporting methods, but the organization's research identified 199 new business announcements in the Houston area in 2022.

The NBAs included new businesses, HQ announcements, and expansions. The GHP data included information about these deals' industry verticals — and the manufacturing sector accounted for almost a third of the total NBAs in 2022.

Chart via houston.org

The GHP also rounded up a few of the most prominate deals reported in their data. According to the Partnership, here were more details about these NBAs:

  • Orsted — an offshore wind developer from Denmark is expanding its presence in Texas by establishing a new office in the Woodlands. The move is expected to create up to 100 jobs in the region.
  • Syzygy Plasmonics — a Houston-based energy 2.0 company is expanding its operations to Pearland. The new location will serve as HQ, R&D, and manufacturing for its deep-decarbonization platform, creating up to 120 jobs.
  • Alfred Talke Logistic Services — a German logistics firm is establishing a new facility in the region, serving as its U.S. headquarters. This project represents a $25 million investment and will create 240 jobs.

Trevor Best, co-founder and CEO of Syzygy, first discussed the company's expansion last year on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"What we're seeing is the market's appetite for our kind of technology — deep tech for decarbonization in energy and chemicals — is really high. If we want to meet global demand for our product, we need to get ready to scale," he says on the show.