The Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator has announced its most recent cohort ahead of moving into the physical hub later this year. Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

The Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator has named the five companies participating in its latest cohort, which starts next week.

Launched in 2019, the programing for the accelerator and its member companies focus on addressing the needs and challenges the city of Houston and other major metros are facing — including climate change. The five selected companies will start the 12-week program next week with a goal of securing a pilot with the city.

"We're thrilled to kick-off Cohort 3," says Christine Galib, senior director of programs at The Ion, in a news release. "The ISRCA remains a core asset in The Ion's Programs portfolio, since it enables recurring collisions, connections, and collaborations among startups, stakeholders, and subject-matter experts."

The selected startups are:

  • Phase Filter/Kinetic Synergies: The university-born startup has created an automatically changing air filter that works with existing HVAC systems to lower cost and energy use as well as eliminate the annoying chore.
  • Frakktal: In an effort to create a circular economy, Frakktal repurposes and reuses discarded polymer materials from the greater Gulf Coast region to also use in the same region.
  • Moonshot Compost: The company collects food waste from Houston residents and businesses via curbside pickup and drop-off while also collects and provides data on each pickup.
  • Teratonix: Using radio frequency (RF) electromagnetic from radio /TV broadcast, cell phone tower, wifi routers, and more, Teratonix provides solutions to generate electricity.
  • Smart Watts:The company taps into smart meter sensors to enable a personalized energy monitoring dashboard that provides users with data to make better energy use decisions.

"The ISRCA Cohort 3 will highlight companies that focus on making sure Houston is here for generations to come," says Courtney Cogdill, program manager for The Accelerator Hub at The Ion, in the release. "By activating the Houston innovation ecosystem and showcasing Houston's talent, Cohort 3 will spotlight Houston as a city committed to sustainability."

The previous cohorts of the program focused on resilience and mobility in Cohort 1 and cleantech for Cohort 2.

"As the world-at-large expands their mobility with social distancing restrictions lifted, it's important cities and businesses review their sustainability practices and carbon footprint and continue to improve upon the progress that's been made," says Jan E. Odegard, interim executive director of The Ion, in the release. "The Ion is excited to empower entrepreneurs who will play a critical role in improving sustainability. With Houston and our diverse and innovative industries as a backdrop, The Ion is prepared to address the challenges sustainability will face in a post COVID-19 world."

The program will be housed in The Ion, a 266,000-square-foot mixed-use structure, which is expected to open within the next few months, along with the organization's other accelerator programs.

Learn more about The Ion's accelerators by streaming this recent Houston Innovators Podcast with Galib and Cogdill:

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Dorit Donoviel of TRISH, Anu Pansare of gBETA, and Christine Galib and Courtney Cogdill of The Ion. Courtesy photos

4 female Houston innovators to know this week

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Editor's note: In the week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to four innovators across industries recently making headlines — from space tech to startup development organizations.

Dorit Donoviel, director of the Translational Research Institute for Space Health

NASA has renewed its support for Baylor College of Medicine's Translational Research Institute for Space Health. Libby Neder Photography

Baylor College of Medicine's Translational Research Institute for Space Health, known as TRISH, got the green light on a grant renewal from NASA, which will allow the organization to continue to conduct biomedical research geared at protecting astronauts in deep space through 2028. NASA opted to continue the partnership and now TRISH will receive additional funding of up to $134.6 million from 2022 to 2028.

"NASA has received outstanding value from our bold approach to sourcing and advancing space health research and technologies," institute director Dorit Donoviel, says in a statement. "We are proud to be NASA's partner in its human space exploration mission and to be supporting the research necessary to create new frontiers in healthcare that will benefit all humans." Click here to read more.

Anu Pansare, director of gBETA Houston

Anu Pansare has joined the local gBETA team. Photo via gbetastartups.com

Anu Pansare has a new gig. The Sugar Land-based consultant has over 20 years of experience working with the likes of Chevron, Schlumberger, and Accenture, as well as smaller startups. Pansare, who's also been involved with the Houston Angel Network, recently started as director of gBETA's Houston office.

As the main liaison between Houston and gener8tor's national network, Pansare will lead gBETA's third cohort — for which applications are open online — through its free 7-week program, which is designed to help participating companies gain early customer traction and develop key metrics that will make them more marketable for future investment. Click here to read more.

Christine Galib and Courtney Cogdill of The Ion

Christine Galib and Courtney Cogdill of The Ion join the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the four accelerator programs that are striving to advance Houston. Photos courtesy of The Ion

Courtney Cogdill, program director of the Accelerator Hub, and Christine Galib, senior director, at The Ion joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss what all they are focused on across the business accelerator programs at the hub. Now more than ever, innovators are dedicating their careers to resilient technologies that can enhance the city's future. And this effort comes naturally to Houstonians, Galib says on the podcast.

"There is an ethos here that is one of roll up your sleeves, collaborate, and get to work. Get the work done, and have fun while you're doing it," she says on the show. "We all come together in a time of challenge, and we really show each other that we're not just individually resilient, we are collectively resilient." Click here to read more and stream the episode.

Christine Galib and Courtney Cogdill of The Ion join the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the four accelerator programs that are striving to advance Houston. Photos courtesy of The Ion

The Ion's accelerators are working to bring out the best in Houston — from resiliency to diversity

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When you look at the business accelerator programs offered at The Ion, a rising innovation hub in Midtown, you see Houston represented. From energy and space tech to resiliency and diversity, the four accelerators intentionally cover what Houston is all about.

Courtney Cogdill, program director of the Accelerator Hub, and Christine Galib, senior director, at The Ion joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss what all they are focused on across the business accelerator programs at the hub. Editor's note: This podcast was recorded ahead of the winter storm that affected the state of Texas this week.

Now more than ever, innovators are dedicating their careers to resilient technologies that can enhance the city's future. And this effort comes naturally to Houstonians, Galib says on the podcast.

"There is an ethos here that is one of roll up your sleeves, collaborate, and get to work. Get the work done, and have fun while you're doing it," she says on the show. "We all come together in a time of challenge, and we really show each other that we're not just individually resilient, we are collectively resilient."

Neither Galib nor Cogdill are from Houston — but each have observed the same resiliency among the city and its people.

"Houston really just picks itself back up by the bootstraps and just runs," Cogdill says.

But The Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator, launched in 2019, was only just the beginning for The Ion's Accelerator Hub. Last year, three more accelerator programs were announced — the Aerospace Innovation Hub for Minority Business Enterprises at The Ion, Austin-based DivInc's Accelerator, and the Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator. These were made possible through a series of grants — a $1.4 million one from NASA to launch the ASCI-Hub and a $1.5 million one from Economic Development Administration.

Galib and Cogdill discuss each of the programs, as well as what they are excited for when The Ion opens later this year. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

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Education equity-focused nonprofit taps into robotics, AI to better serve Houston children

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Generally, when children are under the age of five, educators believe that they are best suited for and interested in learning, because those are the years in which there is the strongest opportunity to build a broad and solid foundation for lifelong literacy and well-being.

That sentiment is deeply held by Collaborative for Children, the Houston-based nonprofit organization with the mission to meaningfully improve the quality of early childhood education and provide access to cutting-edge technology through its Centers of Excellence to all children, especially those in low-income and marginalized communities.

“The reason the organization was started about 40 years ago is that a group of philanthropists in the greater Houston area suggested that this was so important because 90 percent of the brain develops or grows in the time frame between ages zero to five years of age,” Melanie Johnson, president and CEO of Collaborative for Children, tells InnovationMap.

“And if we were losing children and not preparing them by third grade to be literate, and then subsequently losing them after that for high dropout rates and achievement gaps between poor and affluent children, that this would be the perfect place to start," she continues. "And so, they put the collaborative, the emphasis, and finances collaborative of every, most every early education effort around this region.”

Collaborative for Children’s work in the community is centered around making sure that there is educational equity for all children, regardless of financial status, and providing access to technologies in meaningful ways.

“Ultimately, we want to bridge the digital divide early on so that when children start off their academic journey, they're starting off equipped with the skills to be successful there on,” says Johnson.

Most recently, the institution has focused on utilizing social-emotional learning robots and coding tech toys like the Pepper — the world’s first social humanoid robot able to recognize faces and basic human emotions — and NAO, which resembles human being and stimulates, robots to enhance learning in the classrooms of its Centers of Excellence.

“Technology enhances the learning experience in the Centers of Excellence in ways that a teacher might not be able to,” says Johnson. “Artificial intelligence is used in gamification to allow a child to play and learn while playing.”

For Collaborative for Children, gamification involves transforming typical academic components into gaming themes.

“While playing, the AI gauges the level of skills that they’ve been able to enter into that system and respond with even more challenging tasks or tasks that are still lateral so that they can continue to repeat that skill,” says Johnson.

The socio-emotional learning robots are indeed fascinating, but how does the nonprofit reach these children, and their parents, who might be skeptical of technology?

Ultimately, through the teachers. They draw them in via the technology. If teachers are excited, they act as a conductor of that energy to their students, making their innovative lessons well, electric.

That resonates with most all children, but especially with those diagnosed with autism.

“Robotics like NAO are great for children on the autism spectrum because they are emotionally sensitive and emotionally intelligent,” says Johnson. “They are low sensory, so as NAO runs around the classroom, it can literally have individual and unique conversations with each child based on facial recognition. But most importantly for me, is that this particular robot is able to evaluate children without statistical bias that a teacher might have.

“A teacher might think that because a child confuses the letter D and B, which are basically shaped the same in opposite directions, that they're not learning," she continues. "And the robot will have no prior knowledge in terms of, is this child the better child, or have they been learning throughout the year? The answers are accurate or inaccurate. So, they remove statistical bias when assessing children in the classroom.”

The misconception about teaching technologies is that it’s about screen time. According to Johnson, it’s not. It’s more about interacting with technology.

“We’ve added, you know, all kinds of modern-day technology so that this world that we're preparing these children for 80 percent of the jobs we don't even know will exist when they are adults,” says Johnson. “So, we're just trying to make sure that there is no divide in terms of 21st century skills and 21st century preparation.”

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Collaborative for Children has so many facets to assist children with their early development, but there are inherent challenges when attempting to reach their target audience in low-income and marginalized communities that the organization counters with programs like the Collab Lab, which is a mobile classroom that brings critical, future-focused early childhood education directly to the community at no cost.

Designed to be convenient for families, Collab Lab connects parents and their youngest children with experts, educators, resources, and proven programs whose goal is to make sure that kids have the skills essential to learning from the moment they walk into kindergarten for the first time.

“There are a myriad of challenges in these communities that we serve, specifically with technology,” says Johnson. “When children enter first grade, and especially second grade, they're given notepads, basically, digital notepads, because it's no good in pre-K oftentimes, but it is very helpful for children who will never have access or have limited access to iPads and things of that nature.

“So while we don't want them to be babysat by screen time and have social media impacting their self-image and self-worth, we definitely want them to have appropriate doses and appropriate uses of technology in the early education, so that those barriers that their parents face with limited means, that these children can go to first grade and into the robotics class and be able to be evaluated and assessed on the digital notepads that are required nowadays,” she continues.

While technology is very important, Collaborative for Children also focuses on the critical social and emotional skills children need as they develop and the all too important relationship between children and their parents and teachers.

“Theory leads our work,” says Johnson. “It's all focused on fine motor skills, gross motor skills, social emotional, can a child build rapport with their teacher and with the students around them. Those things are paramount and will never change.

“What we use technology to do is enhance and remove biases from teacher-pupil interaction, but also to bridge any kind of divide in terms of 21st century skills. And in addition to that, we engage the families. So families who might not know about hydro-fueled cars in those communities that we serve will be able to be exposed to those concepts, as well through our group connections or parent partnerships.”

Ultimately, the last thing Collaborative for Children wants is to send children from early learning and childcare environments into the K-12 system unprepared to be successful for the real world.

“At Collaborative for Children,” adds Johnson. “We are continuously pushing the envelope at our Centers for Excellence so that the children that we serve will always be on the cutting edge.

The last thing Collaborative for Children wants is to send children from early learning and childcare environments into the K-12 system unprepared to be successful for the real world. Photo courtesy of Collaborative for Children

Houston med school develops revolutionary mRNA vaccine for elephants

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An innovative team from Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital has worked with the Houston Zoo to develop a first-of-its-kind treatment for elephants, which has been administered to its first patient.

Tess, the beloved, 40-year-old matriarch of the Houston Zoo’s elephant herd, is recovering well after receiving the first-ever mRNA vaccine against elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV) 1A on Tuesday, June 18. The veterinary staff at the Houston Zoo will monitor Tess in the coming weeks to check her reaction and the efficacy of the vaccine.

EEHV 1A is a deadly infection for Asian Elephants. While generally benign in African Elephants, Asian Elephants can develop fatal hemorrhages. The fatality rate is a whopping 80 percent, making it one of the most serous threats to elephant populations outside of humans.

Anti-viral drugs have some effect on the disease, but two-thirds show no improvement. This has led to a search for a vaccine. For 15 years, the Houston Zoo and Dr. Paul Ling at Baylor College of Medicine’s Department of Virology and Microbiology have partnered to develop the drug. They have been helped by worldwide research from zoos and animal specialists, as well as graduate student Jessica Watts and Dr. Jeroen Pollet at Houston's Texas Children’s Hospital. The research has been funded by private donations, research partnerships, and grants.

Before being inoculated, the mRNA vaccine was exhaustively tested, with the dosage being extrapolated from data involving horses.

Houston Zoo veterinarians will periodically test Tess to see if she is developing the appropriate antibodies. If she is and there are no adverse reactions, the next step will be to administer the vaccine to the rest of the Houston herd. Many of these are Tess’s own children (Tucker, Tupelo, Tilly, and Teddy) and grandchildren (Winnie).

Should the vaccine prove effective, the doses will be made available worldwide to zoos and private elephant sanctuaries. It is likely to have a significant benefit on protecting and preserving the Asian Elephant population. As of January, there are fewer than 50,000 of the animas left in the wild. They are currently listed as endangered, and breeding programs and research done through the Houston Zoo are essential to keeping the animals from going extinct.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

New study says Houston is best city to grow business

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The Bayou City has again received recognition as a top hub for business.

According to a new study by business revenue experts The RevOps Team, Houston is one of the cities in the US with 10 or more companies listed in the S&P 500, and has been named as the number one city with the fastest growing businesses in the U.S. Houston scored the highest Average Business Growth (ABG) at 26.7 percent. The business experts divided the data from the S&P 500 Index to see what businesses had the highest share-price growth in the last year.

Out of the 28 states and the cities with 10 or more businesses listed in the S&P 500, Houston was No. 1t for growing businesses with Atlanta, in second place with 15 companies listed and reaching an ABG of 24.2 percent. Two cities in Texas ranked in the top five with Dallas taking third place at 14.9 percent.

Texas ranked fifth place overall in the top five states for business growth with high-performing businesses like Vistra. Vistra was the company with the highest growth in Texas at 277.68 percent, followed by NRG Energy (NRG) with 170.43 percent and Caterpillar Inc. (CAT) at 69.13 percent.

“You need to be ready to both leverage opportunity and adapt to challenges,” Kerri Linsenbigler of RevOps Team said in a news release. “Growing a business wherever you are in the U.S. is not for the faint-hearted, and business owners in Texas will be proud that they have ranked highly in the top five.”

Earlier this month, over a dozen Houston-based companies madeU.S. News and World Report's collection of the "Best Companies to Work For" in 2024-2025.

In December, the city was ranked among the 25 best metropolitan areas to start a small business in a report by personal finance website The Credit Review placed Houston in the No. 22 spot.