As Houston grows, the city needs more and more construction. However, with this growth comes the need to build responsibly — and that's where technology can come in. Photo via Getty Images

The construction industry has the opportunity to drive positive change through the development and deployment of technologies influencing the way we work and live, ultimately affecting our environment, communities, and personal well-being.

Carbon emissions come from a handful of broad categories, including transportation, electricity production, and industry. According to the International Energy Agency, more than a third of all global greenhouse gases come from the building and construction industry. Concrete production alone contributes an estimated 8 percent of global carbon emissions. As a result, in Houston, we are vulnerable to longer, hotter summers, stronger hurricanes and once-in-a-lifetime storms. But I'm optimistic that there is opportunity for our industry to come together and reverse the current trajectory.

We must continue developing and deploying new technologies and best practices to reduce emissions. By using data to understand the environmental implications of the materials we use, we can make adjustments that are beneficial to both our clients and the environment.

One such example is the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator, known as "EC3." Skanska USA developed the open-source, freely available software in collaboration with Microsoft and C Change Labs. The tool democratizes important building data and allows the construction industry to calculate and evaluate carbon emissions associated with various building materials.

Now hosted and managed by Building Transparency, a new 501c3 organization, the EC3 tool was incubated at the Carbon Leadership Forum with input from nearly 50 industry partners. Like the tech industry, we should promote knowledge-sharing among general contractors to drive innovation and sustainability.

The demand for this tool is growing because it's not only the right thing to do, but it also benefits our communities and drives stakeholder value. Now more than ever, clients want to be responsible global citizens and they know that adopting green building practices is attractive to their prospective workforce and their clients and customers.

In Houston, the current population of 7.1 million will double to 14.2 million by 2050. With that population growth comes the need for more housing, more office space and more transportation options. Last April, Houston enacted a climate action plan that sets goals aligned with those from the Paris accord — carbon neutrality by 2050.

Similar local plans have been and are continually being developed all around the world, a necessary step to address a global issue that impacts all of us. Like others, the Houston plan contemplates how to reduce carbon emissions that are the result of energy consumption which accounts for about half of Houston's greenhouse-gas emissions.

Innovations in energy efficiency can help drive down energy consumption. As conscientious global and local citizens, we also have to consider the emissions that are created by the raw materials that are used in construction. That's become a much easier process with the EC3 tool. Now architects, engineers and others involved in the design process can make data-driven decisions that can have significant impact on the carbon footprint — as much as a 30 percent reduction in embodied carbon — of a structure that are mostly cost-neutral.

Embodied-carbon reductions can be made simply by smartly using data. The EC3 tool is one of many steps toward innovative building practices and complements the important ongoing work done by the U.S. Green Building Council, which oversees LEED certification.

Opting for sustainable building practices is good for the environment, but it's also good for the people who will spend time in these spaces. Green building reduces the use of toxic materials, and studies have found that sustainable structures, such as schools, health care facilities and airports, have positive impacts on cognitive ability, seasonal affective disorder and overall happiness.

We are also seeing an influx of client requests for sustainable and healthy building upgrades, especially since the onset of COVID-19. These upgrades are changing the way we live and work while supporting infection control, from touchless elevators to advanced air filtration systems.

For example, innovation has been instrumental throughout the pandemic for the aviation industry's safe operation. Increased biometrics across airport touchpoints, flexible passenger gathering areas that include modifications to passenger hold rooms and departure lounges, and environmental monitoring and wayfinding technology to alert passengers of airport congestion points are a few new concepts airports are incorporating into builds to keep travelers healthy now and in a post-COVID world.

Overall, the construction sector will play an essential role in how we approach expanding the built environment over the next 30 years. Using data and striving for continual innovation, we have a great opportunity to come together as an industry and create real change that will benefit our collective lives and those of generations to come.

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Dennis Yung is executive vice president and general manager at
Skanska, one of the world's leading project development and construction groups, where he oversees building operations for Houston and North Texas.
Houston-based SiteAware has raised $10 million in its latest round of funding. Photo courtesy of SiteAware

Houston construction software startup raises $10M in series A round

money moves

A growing startup that provides artificial intelligence-enabled verification software to the construction industry has announced the closing of a multimillion-dollar round.

Houston-based SiteAware announced last week that it's closed a $10 million series A investment round that was co-led by San Diego-based Axon Ventures and Germany-based Robert Bosch Venture Capital.

The company's platform uses AI and digital twin technology to provide real-time verification of construction fieldwork. According to a press release from SiteAware, the construction industry represents a $1.3 trillion market share of the United States economy.

"The cost of construction errors and the risk mitigation costs contribute to 10 to 30 percent of this number. SiteAware's technology significantly lowers this overhead, allowing for customers to reap the benefit," says Zeev Braude, SiteAware CEO, in the release.

By scanning buildings under construction, SiteAware's technology constructs a 3D model of the area and compares the progress of the structures to the construction plans in real time. This technology allows for any deviations from the plan to be realized as soon as possible, which means avoiding costly repairs or reconstructions.

"By enabling general contractors and developers to reduce the cost of errors and better mitigate risk, the ripple effect lowers the cost of real estate, providing better value opportunities for home buyers," Braude adds in the release. "Our technology closes the gap between plans and field work, solving this very important challenge within the trillion dollar construction sector."

SiteAware, which was founded in 2015 by Braude and CTO Ori Aphek, previously raised seed funding in 2015 and 2016. Existing investors, including lool Ventures, Oryzn Ventures, The Flying Object and Power Capital Venture also participated in the round.

"SiteAware has built a state of the art technology which provides the digital value that the construction industry has been needing, and we're excited to join in their vision," says Arad Naveh, partner at Axon VC, says in the release. "We were highly impressed that they were able to build a customer base of market leaders, and moreover, the impact that SiteAware's tools are already making."

SiteAware's technology can analyze construction sites in real time. Image courtesy of SiteAware

Houston comes in at No. 7 on a new list of most apartments completed during the first six months of 2020. Photo courtesy of Caydon

Houston booms with new apartment construction in 2020, report says

STANDING APART

The coronavirus pandemic has brought many activities to a unsettling halt. But it has failed to blunt Houston's apartment construction boom.

New data from Yardi Matrix, a supplier of commercial real estate data and research, shows that Houston comes in at No. 7 for most apartments completed during the first six months of 2020, with 2,085 apartments built.

Houston also comes in third place for projected apartment completions in 2020 is the Houston metro area. Yardi Matrix foresees the Bayou City region welcoming 10,404 new apartments this year, up 2 percent from 2019.

Little surprise to those paying attention to Texas real estate: More apartments were completed in Austin during the first six months of 2020 than in any other U.S. city. In the first half of the year, construction of 3,827 apartments was finished within the city of Austin, according to Yardi Matrix.

Right behind Austin on that list is San Antonio, where 2,871 new apartments hit the market in the first half of this year. Dallas follows Houston at No. 8 with 1,869 units; behind Big D is Farmers Branch, No. 18 with 1,161 units.

"Around the U.S., we have seen a variety of states, counties, and cities choose to close nonessential businesses for 'stay at home' or 'shelter in place' orders. For the most part, construction activity has been included as an essential activity that can continue with business as usual during these orders," Doug Ressler, manager of business intelligence at Yardi Matrix, says in a release.

"The popular Texas metropolitan area saw an increase of 62,000 residents from 2018 to 2019," Yardi Matrix says. "In response to the high demand, Austin metro has been an active scene for new construction in the past five years, having completed over 50,000 new apartments since 2016."

In the Yardi Matrix forecast, Dallas-Fort Worth eclipses all other U.S. metro areas for the number of new apartments predicted to be finished this year — 19,318. This would be DFW's third year in a row to lead all metro areas for annual apartment construction, with New York City claiming second place.

While that's an impressive amount of apartments, this year's anticipated final total for DFW would be down 29 percent versus last year, Yardi Matrix says.

Coming in at No. 19 for predicted apartment completions this year is the San Antonio area, with 4,595 new units on taps. However, that total would represent a 20 percent jump over last year, putting San Antonio in fourth place for the percentage increase from 2019 to 2020.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston-based Hitched has dug up new investment money from a local private equity firm. Pexels

Houston-based digital marketplace for industrial equipment raises $5.5 million series A

money moves

A Houston startup that acts as a digital marketplace for industrial equipment in the oil and gas and construction industries closed a sizeable series A financing round this month.

Hitched Inc. raised $5.5 million in its series A funding led by Houston-based Cottonwood Venture Partners, a growth equity firm that focuses on digital tech solutions in the energy industry.

"It is encouraging to see the support and excitement from CVP," Hitched's Founder and CEO Adam Gilles says in a press release. "With this Series A funding, we plan to continue to shake things up in the oil & gas, construction, and industrial industries."

The company, which was founded in 2018, coordinates the rentals — from hosting and chartering to managing them — all on one centralized platform. Hitched has a catalogue of equipment from generators and cranes to light towers, pumps to forklifts, and the site lists out the cost per day of each piece of machinery.

According to the release, Hitched will use the fresh funds to advance its product development and customer experience as it continues "to reinvent the industrial rental marketplace."

"We're delighted to partner with the Hitched team. The industrial rental segment is incredibly opaque and riddled with inefficiencies," says Ryan Gurney, managing partner of CVP, in the news release. "The Hitched platform provides both a transparent marketplace and an important management tool that allows both the renter and rentee to optimize rental inventory."

The Cannon is expecting to open by the end of next month. Courtesy of The Cannon

Photos: The Cannon enters home stretch ahead of opening next month

Cannon Countdown

If all goes according to plan, The Cannon's new space will be up and running by the end of June. The bulk of the construction, which started a little over a year ago, is done, and the team is on the home stretch.

The original plan was to open in March, but construction faced a series of setbacks due to weather.

"Houston's rainy winter pushed back our initial timeline a bit, but we are currently on track for opening late next month and are excited to get our amazing community moved into our brand new home," says Lawson Gow, founder and CEO of The Cannon. "We can't wait to show off our space to Houston's entrepreneurial community through events, programming, new partnerships and more, continuing in our mission to support Houston's startups and small businesses."

Two Houston-based companies are responsible for the 120,000-square-foot, 32-acre coworking and entrepreneurship campus in West Houston — Burton Construction is the general contractor and Abel Design Group is the architect.

The new space is already 80 percent pre-leased. Currently, The Cannon has a 20,000-square-foot space next door to the construction site. While companies working out of this so-called "waiting room" building will be moving over, Gow, who is the son of InnovationMap's CEO, is excited to announce a few new startups excited to call The Cannon home next month.

The goal of The Cannon's project is to fulfill a need Gow says he recognized in Houston.

"The problem that we're addressing — every startup is addressing a problem — is Houston has really struggled to develop vibrant startup communities," Gow tells InnovationMap in a previous interview. "Entrepreneurs and talent will leave to go to Austin and beyond, and so the mission was to create a place and an infrastructure and a density of resources to prevent them from having to do that and keep our entrepreneurs here."

The new space will allow Gow and his team to host pitch events and even live fundraising events, due to a partnership with LetsLaunch.

Progress

Courtesy of The Cannon

The Cannon's construction delays were mostly due to a rainy season in Houston.

Take a video tour of The Cannon here:

The Cannon Flythrough www.youtube.com

Lori-Lee Emshey's Future Sight AR is revolutionizing antiquated construction tools using augmented reality. Courtesy of Future Sight AR

Houston company has sight set on AR solutions for industrial construction

Visual aid

When Lori-Lee Emshey got her first oil and gas construction job in Australia, she was carrying around a backpack full of papers.

"I was really shocked at how much work they were doing with such little technology," Emshey says. "I thought, 'there's so much room for innovation here.'"

She realized that it wasn't just that site or the company she was working for — this was a problem across the industry. So, she came up with a solution. Houston-based Future Sight AR is an augmented reality technology to more efficient work on industrial construction sites. Workers can use a smart device in the field, point it at a problem on site, log the issue, and see the steps needed to fix it.

Constructing a company
Emshey realized the potential for a company in January 2016. Since then, she's partnered up with her co-founders, Sofia Lazaro and Veena Somareddy, attended accelerators and conferences across the country, completed a proof of concept, until finally incorporated this year.

It was a well-paced start for the company because they got to prove time and time again there was a need for the company. Emshey says she never wanted to start a company just to start a company. They worked tirelessly at the beginning to ensure there was no one out there already doing this in the way they were doing it.

"I feel like a lot of entrepreneurs now become an entrepreneur because it's trendy and cool, and you want to put it in your Instagram bio," she says. "The three of us aren't like that. We did this because we had to. It wasn't going to get done another way, and we couldn't let this giant opportunity float on by."

Once they got a firm footing, one of the challenges they faced was communicating the company's market need and how the technology works to individuals outside the industry. For Emshey, this was particularly annoying.

"I came from a journalism background, and it's storytelling," she says. "I thought, 'I should be able to do this.'"

Something eventually just clicked, and Emshey stopped seeing confused faces in response to her presentation, and she started seeing more head nodding. However, another challenge she says she occasionally faces is how she looks.

"It is tough. I'm pitching this industrial construction startup, and I show up and I'm a 5-foot-5 blond woman," she says. "And some people don't care, and some people would prefer I looked a different way."

Foreseeing the company's future
Raising capital has been the latest focus for Future Sight AR. Aside from some grants and accelerator money, the company hasn't raised much. They've only just started meeting with investors and have a plan to launch a round of fundraising next year. Emshey also says they are looking to partner with three companies to conduct a few pilots early next year.

It's a great time in technology for Future Sight AR as more and more people are using AR and virtual reality. People use AR or VR often — in SnapChat filters or through Pokemon Go!

Emshey says she thinks VR will grow first in gaming, while AR will take off through enterprise.

"Unlike VR when you're completely immersed, in AR, you're seeing your actual environment and one of the places you have to do that is at work," Emshey says.

Whether it's through being acquired or growing the company on its own, Emshey says she wants Future Sight AR to evolve the industry as a whole.

"If we could permanently change the way that we build projects — oil and gas or another industry — and move it toward something more efficient, safer, more productive, and a better experience for workers, and accomplish that in a permanent way in a permanent way, then we're successful," she says. "We really built this for me — I was the worker out in the field trying to do things, and it was unnecessarily difficult."

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5 can't-miss innovation events at CERAWeek featuring Houston speakers

where to be online

While usually hundreds of energy experts, C-level executives, diplomats, members of royal families, and more descend upon Houston for the the annual CERAWeek by IHS Markit conference, this year will be a little different. Canceled last year due to COVID-19, CERAWeek is returning — completely virtually.

The Agora track is back and focused on innovation within the energy sector. The Agora track's events — thought-provoking panels, intimate pods, and corporate-hosted "houses" — can be accessed through a virtual atrium.

Undoubtedly, many of the panels will have Houston representatives considering Houston's dominance in the industry, but here are five innovation-focused events you can't miss during CERAWeek that feature Houstonians.

Monday — New Horizons for Energy & Climate Research

The COVID-19 pandemic has made vivid and real the risks of an uncontrolled virus. Risks posed by climate change are also becoming more palpable every day. At the forefront of understanding these risks, universities are developing solutions by connecting science, engineering, business, and public policy disciplines. Along with industry and governments, universities are critical to developing affordable and sustainable solutions to meet the world's energy needs and achieve net-zero emission goals. Can the dual challenge of more energy and lower emissions be met? What is some of the most promising energy and climate research at universities? Beyond research, what are the roles and responsibilities of universities in the energy transition?

Featuring: Kenneth B. Medlock, III, James A. Baker, III, and Susan G. Baker Fellow In Energy And Resource Economics, Baker Institute and Senior Director, Center For Energy Studies at Rice University

Catch the panel at 1 pm on Monday, March 1. Learn more.

Tuesday — Conversations in Cleantech: Powering the energy transition

With renewables investment outperforming oil and gas investment for the first time ever in the middle of a pandemic, 2020 was a tipping point in the Energy Transition. Low oil prices intensified energy majors' attention on diversification and expansion into mature and emerging clean technologies such as battery storage, low-carbon hydrogen, and carbon removal technologies. Yet, the magnitude of the Energy Transition challenge requires an acceleration of strategic decisions on the technologies needed to make it happen, policy frameworks to promote public-private partnerships, and innovative investment schemes.

Three Cleantech leaders share their challenges, successes, and lessons learned at the forefront of the Energy Transition. What is their vision and strategy to accelerate lowering emissions and confronting climate change? Can companies develop clear strategies for cleantech investments that balance sustainability goals and corporate returns? What is the value of increasing leadership diversity for energy corporations? Can the Energy Transition be truly transformational without an inclusive workforce and a diverse leadership?

Featuring: Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs, which is opening a location in Houston this year.

The event takes place at 11:30 am on Tuesday, March 2. Learn more.

Wednesday — Rice Alliance Venture Day at CERAWeek

The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship pitch event will showcase 20 technology companies with new solutions for the energy industry. Each presentation will be followed by questions from a panel of industry experts.

Presenting Companies: Acoustic Wells, ALLY ENERGY, Bluefield Technologies, Cemvita Factory, Connectus Global, Damorphe, Ovopod Ltd., DrillDocs, GreenFire Energy, inerG, Locus Bio-Energy Solutions, Nesh, Pythias Analytics, REVOLUTION Turbine Technologies, Revterra, ROCSOLE, Senslytics, Subsea Micropiles, Syzygy Plasmonics, Transitional Energy, and Universal Subsea.

The event takes place at 9 am on Wednesday, March 3. Learn more.

Thursday — How Will the Energy Innovation Ecosystem Evolve?

Although the cleantech innovation ecosystem—research institutions, entrepreneurs, financiers, and support institutions—is diverse and productive, converting cleantech discoveries and research breakthroughs into commercially viable, transformative energy systems has proven difficult. With incumbent energy systems economically efficient and deeply entrenched, cleantech innovation faces a fundamental dilemma—the scale economies necessary to compete require a large customer base that does not yet exist. How is our clean energy innovation ecosystem equipped to be transformative? What needs to be strengthened? Is it profitable to focus on individual elements, or should we consider the system holistically, and reframe our expectations?

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

The event takes place at 7:30 am on Thursday, March 4. Learn more.

Friday — Cities: Managing crises & the future of energy

Houston is the capital of global energy and for the past four decades the home of CERAWeek. Mayor Sylvester Turner will share lessons from the city's experience with the pandemic, discuss leadership strategies during times of crisis, and explore Houston's evolving role in the new map of energy.

The event takes place at 8 am on Friday, March 5. Learn more.

Rice University develops 2 new innovative tools to detect COVID-19

pandemic tech

Rice University is once again spearheading research and solutions in the ongoing battle with COVID-19. The university announced two developing innovations: a "real-time sensor" to detect the virus and a cellphone tool that can detect the disease in less than an hour.

Sensing COVID
Researchers at Rice received funding for up to $1 million to develop the real-time sensor that promises to detect minute amounts of the airborne virus.

Teams at Rice and the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston are working to develop a thin film electronic device that senses as few as eight SARS-CoV-2 viruses in 10 minutes of sampling air flowing at 8 liters per minute, per a press release.

Dubbed the Real-Time Amperometric Platform Using Molecular Imprinting for Selective Detection of SARS-CoV-2 (or, RAPID), the project has been funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Rice notes. Further funding will be contingent upon a successful demonstration of the technology.

Attacking with an app
Meanwhile, the university announced that its engineers have developed a plug-in tool that can diagnose COVID-19 in around 55 minutes. The tool utilizes programmed magnetic nanobeads and a tool that plugs into a basic cellphone.

First, a stamp-sized microfluidic chip measures the concentration of SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein in blood serum from a standard finger prick.

Then, nanobeads bind to SARS-CoV-2 N protein, a biomarker for COVID-19, in the chip and transport it to an electrochemical sensor that detects minute amounts of the biomarker. Paired with a Google Pixel 2 phone and a plug-in tool, researchers quickly secured a positive diagnosis.

This, researchers argue, simplifies sample handling compared to swab-based PCR tests that must be analyzed in a laboratory.

"What's great about this device is that it doesn't require a laboratory," said Rice engineer Peter Lillehoj in a statement. "You can perform the entire test and generate the results at the collection site, health clinic or even a pharmacy. The entire system is easily transportable and easy to use."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.