Houston-based Sesh Coworking has launched an online platform so that members can work alongside each other. Photo via seshcoworking.com

As the COVID-19 pandemic continued to enforce working from home and social distancing earlier this summer, a Houston coworking company knew they needed to find a way to reach professionals and entrepreneurs digitally.

Sesh Coworking launched its Inner Circle membership this week to be a one-stop shop for business, connection, support, and more for members. Last month, Meredith Wheeler and Maggie Segrich began working on the virtual space after discovering the need for this virtual space from their network.

"We talked to a lot of people," Wheeler tells InnovationMap. "We were constantly asking people, 'what do you need right now?' And the resounding answer was for community and connection."

While Sesh reopened its physical space in Montrose on June 1, not all members were comfortable — or even able — to return to Sesh in person. So, the idea was to bring Sesh's culture and mission to them by taking the company's existing member portal and upgrading it with features like video conferencing, chatrooms, and more.

"It's almost kind of like a new age version of AIM chat. You could see who's online and you can chat with them," Segrich says. "You can work alongside with people."

With these new tech capabilities, Sesh can continue some of its events — like coffee and coworking and other networking and social events — virtually. Segrich and Wheeler also say they will be able to create accountability groups since some members have said that this new way of working makes it hard to focus and get stuff done.

The platform will also enable educational and training-based events, and Sesh has already created a kind of catalogue for resources and materials that come out of these events so that all members can have access to that information, not just the ones that were able to log on for the event.

"With business right now, and Maggie and I are feeling this constantly, it's like everyday is a new pivot — a new turn, twist, or adaptation that we're having to create," Wheeler says. "Sometimes, you know what you need to do and you don't know how to do it, but you need to figure it out fast. So, hopefully by having these resources at the tips of their fingers, our members can make those turns quicker."

A major perk for Sesh and its founders is that, now that they have everything set up and launched, their reach expands much further than their Sesh Loft in Montrose.

"This is not just limited to Houston. This can go, and we hope it goes, nationwide. We've had folks from all over the country on our digital events," Wheeler says. "This could be the silver lining from everything that's happening in 2020 — that our authentic digital connection has a much farther way to travel."

The first 30 members of Sesh Inner Circle can get a monthly membership rate of just $5.99. After that, it's $14.99 a month to sign up. Existing members to the physical space have access to the virtual platform, and virtual members can access special rates on booking space in the Sesh Loft. The launch of Inner Circle has also corresponded with the expansion of Sesh's store of locally sourced products. The store is available at the Sesh Loft or online.

Connect online

Photo via seshcoworking.com

The member portal lets Sesh coworkers have a one-stop shop for virtual and in-person engagement.

At a startup pitch competition, a local nonprofit won free coworking space for a year to continue their impactful work with individuals with special needs. Photo courtesy of Macy's Miracles

Houston nonprofit wins coworking space in Shark Tank-inspired pitch competition

winner, winner

Macy's Miracles, a local nonprofit that helps people with special needs, had a special need of its own: a place to call home. Now, thanks to coworking operator WorkLodge LLC, it has one.

On February 27, representatives of Macy's Miracles and Houston-based WorkLodge held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the nonprofit's first-ever office. The organization (not affiliated with the Macy's department store chain) won the second annual Shark Tank-inspired Ignite by WorkLodge pitch contest, which awards a one-year WorkLodge lease to a local nonprofit. Macy's Miracle now occupies space at WorkLodge's site in The Woodlands.

Previously, leaders of the nonprofit had carried out business at various public places like coffee shops. Today, the nonprofit enjoys a startup-style setting — including access to meeting rooms and common areas — that enables it to operate more like a business and less like an organization on a shoestring budget.

Haley Ahart-Keiffer, founder and president of Macy's Miracles, says the free one-year lease of a four-person office at WorkLodge (valued at $24,000) is "priceless."

For one thing, being located at WorkLodge opens up fundraising opportunities. In the past, Macy's Miracles ran into roadblocks when prospective corporate sponsors inquired about meeting at the nonprofit's office, Ahart-Keiffer says. But the nonprofit had no formal address to give them.

Now that Macy's Miracles is housed at WorkLodge, folks associated with the nonprofit can more professionally host potential corporate donors and can network with Houston businesses, Ahart-Keiffer says.

As a matter of fact, that networking paid off at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, according to Ahart-Keiffer. For instance, it exposed WorkLodge tenants to potential employees — people attending the ceremony who benefit from services delivered by Macy's Miracles. In addition, the event paved the way for meetings with three businesses interested in assisting Macy's Miracles.

Aside from fostering opportunities for networking, the WorkLodge space lets Macy's Miracles more easily conduct mentorship programs and put on events, according to Ahart-Keiffer.

Being based at WorkLodge "has allowed us to really take it to the next level by being able to seek out even larger corporate sponsors and donors to be a part of the mission," she says.

That mission, carried out since the formation of Macy's Miracles in 2018, centers on elevating the education, networking skills, and employability of people with special needs. Aside from boosting the ability to raise more money for that mission, the WorkLodge space introduces high-functioning people with special needs to a work environment, Ahart-Keiffer says.

In a short amount of time, setting up shop at WorkLodge "has changed the trajectory of where we see that we can go now," she says.

Part of the nonprofit's new trajectory is its soon-to-launch Adaptive Center of Excellence, featuring a vocational/trade initiative and an adaptive sports program.

Ahart-Keiffer didn't envision the current scenario when she established Macy's Miracles two years ago. She established the nonprofit as a "grassroots movement" after her daughter Macy Savoy, who is part of the special needs community, faced a less-than-ideal future in the workforce after graduating from high school. Savoy is CEO of the volunteer-run nonprofit.

Mike Thakur, founder and CEO of WorkLodge, says Ignite by WorkLodge is designed to offer free high-quality space so that nonprofits like Macy's Miracles "take their game up a notch and attract some more support." The contest is geared toward smaller nonprofits making a "hands-on, roll-up-your-sleeves" difference in the community, he says.

In addition to Macy's Miracles securing space at WorkLodge's location in The Woodlands, Ignite by WorkLodge recently granted space to a Dallas nonprofit that's now a tenant at the coworking company's location in the Dallas Design District.

WorkLodge currently operates five coworking spaces: two in the Houston area, two in Dallas-Fort Worth, and one in Tampa-St. Petersburg, Florida.

Thakur says one of the reasons Macy's Miracles received the free space at WorkLodge is that it serves both children and adults.

"But I think the main thing was just the fact that they were delivering help in a way that could then create self-sustainability," says Thakur, whose company runs its own nonprofit foundation. "That's a really big deal for us."

It's also, of course, a big deal for Macy's Miracles. The nonprofit's free one-year lease expires around the end of the year, but Ahart-Keiffer says the Macy's Miracles plans to carve out money in its budget to pay for space at WorkLodge. In conjunction with that, Macy's Miracles will teach some of the members of its mentorship program about fundraising and budgeting.

"I don't think it's a place that we'll ever want to leave," Ahart-Keiffer says. "WorkLodge is definitely the perfect spot for us and what we do."

Fuse Workspace is the latest coworking concept for the west side of town. Photo courtesy of Fuse

Dallas coworking company to open its first location in Houston

new to hou

Dallas-based Fuse Workspace is gearing up to open the first of what could be several coworking spaces in the Houston area as various coworking providers ramp up their Bayou City presence.

Fuse will unveil its first Houston location March 2 at CityCentre, a 47-acre, mixed-use development on the former site of Town & Country Mall in the Memorial City district. The grand opening is set for April 30.

Included in the 29,000-square-foot Fuse space, at 12848 Queensbury Ln., will be Houston's first showroom for Varidesk, a Coppell-based provider of standing desks and other office equipment.

John Herring, brand manager and director of operations at Fuse, says Houston, Austin, and Dallas are the company's target markets. A Fuse space is scheduled to open in July in the Austin suburb of Bee Cave.

"We love Houston and see a great future for our brand here, with multiple locations," Herring tells InnovationMap. "We don't have definitive plans to announce yet, but we have several strategic locations in the area that on our list."

Fuse is a division of DPG Partners LLC, a developer, owner, and operator of coworking spaces in Texas, as well as Hilton and Marriott hotels in Texas and Arkansas.

Fuse Workspace is the latest coworking concept for the west side of town. Photo courtesy of Fuse

The Fuse location at CityCentre will feature about 23,000 square feet of Class A office space, along with about 6,000 square feet of outdoor space. Highlights include:

  • 90 private offices
  • Three specialty suites, including one already leased by Varidesk
  • Four terraces
  • Seven conference rooms, including a podcast studio
  • Event space accommodating up to 100 people

"Our goal is to create an outstanding experience in the office through décor, amenities, programming, conference space, and our concierge staff," Herring says.

Fuse is joining a number of coworking providers that have set up shop in and around Memorial City. For instance, Life Time Work, affiliated with a nearby Life Time Fitness gym, opened last year at City Centre. Memorial City also is home to The Cannon, a 120,000-square-foot coworking campus.

Commercial real estate services provider JLL predicts 30 percent of the U.S. office market will be "flexible" space, such as coworking setups, by 2030. That compares with less than 5 percent in early 2019.

In the Houston market, 1.9 percent of office space was considered "flexible" in early 2019, according to JLL, versus 2.8 percent in Austin and 1.7 percent in Dallas.

"Our research, and our conversations with corporate executives across the globe, indicate that flexible work is not just a passing trend — it's woven into the fabric of the future of work," Scott Homa, senior vice president and director of U.S. office research at JLL, said in a 2019 release. "Even though some markets are better positioned for rapid growth, this still leaves significant runway for expansion across all U.S. office markets."

An October 2019 report from Yardi Matrix, a provider of real estate data, shows the Houston market with 113 coworking spaces encompassing more than 2.2 million square feet. By comparison, Dallas-Fort Worth had 159 coworking spaces exceeding 3.5 million total square feet, and Austin had 47 spaces surpassing 1.2 million total square feet.

"The penetration of coworking is highest in markets with new-market economies and tight vacancy rates," the Yardi Matrix report states.

According to JLL, the office vacancy rate in the Houston market stood at 22.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019. But office occupancy is improving, according to a JLL report, as more than 1.85 million square feet of space was absorbed in the Houston market during the fourth quarter of 2019. For Houston, that marked a 20-year high for positive net absorption in a single quarter, the report states.
Sesh Coworking is committed to providing quality coworking space for women and by women. Photo courtesy of Sesh

First female-focused coworking space opens in Houston

Calling all women

For so long, women have been influenced on how to behave professionally at work and expected to leave home life at home. But two female entrepreneurs are flipping the switch on that way of thinking with their new coworking space.

"We as women show up in our work lives as a whole person. We don't compartmentalize and forget about all the other things happening in our lives," says Meredith Wheeler, co-founder and chief creative officer of Sesh Coworking. "We wanted a space that reflected that and embraced it."

Sesh officially opened its doors this week at its new 2,000-square-foot space in Montrose (1210 W Clay St #18). Wheeler co-founded the company with Maggie Segrich after hosting coffee and coworking meetups for women around Houston for over two years.

sesh Meredith Wheeler and Maggie Segrich founded Sesh Coworking after years of working from home and feeling the need for a community. Photo courtesy of Sesh

Segrich, who has been a jewelry designer based in New York then Houston, and Wheeler each have a story of working from home and feeling a lack of community. Through the coffee and coworking sessions, the duo realized they weren't alone.

"There has been, in the last four to five years, this rally cry for women to come together and to feel that sense of community, whether that's as mothers, runners, in a gym, entrepreneurs, artists, and makers," says Segrich. "So, for me, starting Sesh is kind of like giving women that space and opportunity to let their guard down, and feel like they can be their actual selves."

While Sesh is open to all, the structure and style of the space is different from other coworking offices. For Wheeler, that's by design. She remembers living in California and checking out a coworking space that had a "bro culture," and while she loved the idea of coworking, she didn't join that space. However, it planted a seed in her, she says.

"We come at the creation of this space and the running of this community from the female experience," Wheeler tells InnovationMap. "Most coworking spaces, when they are run only by men, it's natural that they are coming from their perspective and experience."

Last fall, Sesh hosted a pop-up coworking space in Downtown for nine days. They put on multiple events a day — from career focused to wellness — as a bit of a sample of what they planned for their permanent space. It was stressful and fast moving, but it showed the women what their potential membership wanted.

"Flexibility is kind of the name of the game right now," Wheeler says.

In their permanent space, Sesh plans to offer programming around business career and fitness and wellness, including daily kid-friendly hours.

The office space itself, which was designed by Blue Water Studio's Kimberly Phipps-Nichol, is rentable for events, and members can join and pay monthly or buy packs of day passes. The space features desks and couches, plus a full bathroom with a shower and lockers that are rentable. There is also a meeting room and wellness space that are able to be rented by members.

"We're re-writing the playbook on what your work experience should be," Wheeler says.

Setting up shop

Photo courtesy of Sesh

Coworkers can check in upon arrival and even purchase select items at the front desk.

A new coworking space plans to debut on Houston's northside. Photo courtesy of H-Town Incubator

Houston coworking concept to launch to arm members with advisers and health insurance options

new to hou

Freelancers and small business owners might not miss the office politics or mandatory training seminars, but there are quite a few things like mentorship and health insurance that most coworking spaces don't provide. A new Houston company hopes to fill the void.

H-Town Incubator is a 30,000-square-foot coworking space on the northside of town with plans to launch officially in January. The space has desk, cubicle, or office membership options, but also provides its members with advisory services, like legal, accounting, marketing, and more.

"What if an entrepreneur, freelancer, or contractor were given access to an hour or so for a month with legal or accounting," says Stewart Severino, CEO of H-Town Incubator. "You have that real coaching available to you."

Another unprecedented perk is that entrepreneurs can have access to affordable health insurance for as low as $60 a month. Severino says that small businesses can even white label this plan so that their team can have their ID cards labeled with their company's information.

"There are so many underinsured and uninsured people and families out there. It's a big deal," Severino tells InnovationMap. "Because of the co-op we have with our insurance partners, we can put together our own plan and offer that to these individuals."

At this point, about 15,000 square feet of space built out with space for 80 to 100 coworkers to work out of 55 cubicles, 30 offices, and other desk space. The second half of the floor could also be developed for additional offices, desks, and cubicles. The space also has two kitchens and conference rooms that Severino says members won't have any limitations on access, like other models that use credit systems.

"Because we're smaller, we can do that," he says. "We don't have to go that route of being too structured."

With easy access to Bush Intercontinental Airport and neighboring communities like The Woodlands and Spring, Severino says he's already seen both local and international opportunities.

Severino says the idea for the space came organically. He was working out of this office and saw connections happening between various industries. That's how he got the idea to build it into coworking space.

With his 20-year marketing career, Severino says he's seen the smoke and mirrors of "dressed-up" coworking spaces on the market today, he wants to provide something deeper for entrepreneurs.

"When things lack substance, that really bothers me on a personal level," he says. "I want to go out and create something that can serve the individual as a whole."

H-Town Incubator will celebrate a grand opening in mid January, but Severino plans to offer free drop-in days for entrepreneurs to take a trial run. Ultimately, Severino hopes the initiative becomes a collaborative space for companies of all phases and industries to work as resources for each other.

"It will be a dynamic place for sure," he says, adding that he expects to add programming to the mix too.

Here's what all you should consider before settling into a coworking spot. Leanne Hope/Cresa

5 things to keep in mind when finding coworking space in Houston

Guest column

If you're in the market for office space you've undoubtedly heard a lot about one of the fastest growing trends in commercial real estate – coworking. What started as a simple idea to help freelancers and startups find workspace is now beginning to disrupt the traditional office market. More than 1,000 spaces opened in the US in 2018 alone, according to Coworking Resources.

But, as this trend continues to take off, tenants now face a wide range of potential options. So many, in fact, it can seem overwhelming weeding through them. Where does one even start? How do you find the right space? Here are five things you should keep in mind when conducting your search.

Location

We've all heard the old adage that the three most important things in real estate are location, location, location. Although it's become a well-worn cliché, it's overused because it's usually spot on. That doesn't mean, however, that you should limit yourself to the space just down the street. There are other factors you need to consider.

If you're looking to build a team, understanding where the labor force is can be vital for sustaining growth through recruiting. Some companies place value being in proximity to their client base to make visiting and hosting prospects easier. Others may want better access to area amenities such as gyms, restaurants and shopping that could help create a better work/life balance.

Fit

Coworking isn't a one-size-fits-all-solution. Each space has its own energy and community. Some are even specialized to tailor to unique niches. There are spaces for women only and the health conscious. There are others specifically designed for different industries, including tech firms, legal practices and even cannabis growers. Be sure to ask questions when touring to get a better sense of what each space is like.

Stylistically, coworking is also growing up. Bold colors and patterns are fun, but they may not be right for everyone. Your surroundings say a lot about your company's culture, and if you're hosting clients regularly you may opt for a more sophisticated space with higher end finishes. Understanding your business goals and needs should help you prioritize what's important.

Perks

Many perks, including access to coffee bars, high-speed WIFI, and conference rooms, have seemingly become commoditized by coworking operators. To help differentiate themselves, these operators are beginning to take a hospitality like approach.

Tenants today can find everything from on-site childcare and locker rooms to rentable private event space and organized networking events. Some providers also offer discounts to use preferred vendors for business services like payroll and technical support. Maximizing these added perks can really make or break the decision on a specific space.

Flexibility

One of the major advantages of coworking space compared to a traditional office lease is increased flexibility. Committing to space for a shorter period of time is great, but coworking space creates other ways to help tenants remain flexible.

If you're forecasting significant future growth, you may want to select a space with enough room to accommodate that need to avoid any interruption in business operations caused by relocation. Worried distractions could be overwhelming or that privacy could become an issue? There are plenty of options that offer a wide range of workspace solutions, from private desks to secured suites for teams.

Finding a coworking operator with multiple locations could provide a workspace solution for team members who are scattered across the country. This is also a great option if you find yourself traveling between the same locations repeatedly.

Price

Comparing pricing between locations isn't always apples to apples. Workspace providers may or may not include many things in their advertised pricing. Pay attention to the fine print as some coworking companies charge for things like parking, phone service, conference room time, printing/copying, admin services and coffee. Factor in any of these charges when comparing your options as sometimes a space may appear less expensive than it really is.

With more coworking options than ever before, find one that works for you. Don't settle. No two spaces are the same, but keep in mind that your surroundings say a lot about who you are. Pick one that conveys the message you want to send to employees and clients.

Maximizing perks could help offset some cost, but make sure you understand what you're being charged. If you do a little homework then you should be able to focus on what really matters most – your business.

------

Sue Rogers is principal of Transaction Management Cresa in Houston.

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ExxonMobil announces $100B carbon-capture hub for Houston area

greener thinking

In a move that would be a gamechanger for Houston, oil and gas giant ExxonMobil envisions creating a $100 billion carbon-capture hub along the Houston Ship Channel.

ExxonMobil foresees the Houston Ship Channel being the site of an "innovation zone" for carbon capture and storage. In a blog post on the ExxonMobil website, Joe Blommaert, the Houston-based president of ExxonMobil Low Carbon Solutions, says Houston would be "the perfect place" for the project because:

  • The ship channel is home to dozens of refineries and petrochemical plants.
  • The geological formations in the Gulf of Mexico could "safely, securely, and permanently" store tons of carbon emissions under the sea floor, according to the blog post. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates the storage capacity along the U.S. Gulf Coast could handle 500 million metric tons of CO2.

Irving-based ExxonMobil, which employs more than 12,000 people in the Houston area, says the project could capture and store about 50 million metric tons of CO2 annually by 2030. By 2040, that number could rise to 100 million metric tons.

"We could create an economy of scale where we can reduce the cost of the carbon dioxide mitigation, create jobs, and reduce the emissions," Blommaert tells the Reuters news service.

In a news release, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner applauds the ExxonMobil plan.

"This proposal by ExxonMobil is the type of bold ambition and investment we will need to meet our climate goals and protect our communities from climate change," Turner says. "ExxonMobil's proposal represents a significant step forward for the energy industry, and I hope it brings more companies to the table to help Houston lead a global energy transition."

Turner notes that the Houston area is home to some of the largest emitters of carbon in the U.S., adding that everyone has "a responsibility and role to play in decarbonization."

Blommaert says the project would require public and private funding, along with "enhanced regulatory and legal frameworks that enable investment and innovation." According to Politico, ExxonMobil wants the federal government to kick in tax breaks or to set carbon-pricing policies to help get the project off the ground.

Politico reports that the Biden administration isn't considering ExxonMobil's idea as it prepares a climate-change package.

"Meanwhile, environmental groups and many Democrats have slammed carbon-capture proposals as a climate strategy, saying the only way to permanently reduce greenhouse gas pollution is a wholesale switch away from fossil fuels," Politico says.

Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency maintains that carbon capture and storage "are critical for putting energy systems around the world on a sustainable path." Achieving net-zero goals "will be virtually impossible" without carbon capture and storage, the group says.

ExxonMobil announced creation of its Low Carbon Solutions business unit in February as part of its push to invest $3 billion in lower-emission energy initiatives through 2025. Low Carbon Solutions initially will focus on technology for carbon capture and storage. The business unit is exploring opportunities along the Gulf Coast, as well as in Wyoming, Belgium, the Netherlands, Qatar, Scotland, and Singapore.

Last year, ExxonMobil hit the pause button on a $260 million carbon-capture project in Wyoming due to fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Bloomberg news service.

In a December report, the Global CCS Institute, a think tank, said 65 commercial carbon-capture projects were in various stages of development around the world.

"Climate ambition, including efforts to decarbonize industry, has not been curtailed despite the adversities faced in 2020," Brad Page, CEO of the institute, says in a news release about the report. "We're continuing to see an upward trajectory in the amount of CO2 capture and storage infrastructure that is being developed. One of the largest factors driving this growth is recognition that achieving net-zero emissions is urgent yet unattainable without CO2 reductions from energy-intensive sectors."

Newly appointed innovation leader calls for more health care collaboration in Houston

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 80

Allison Post is a professional dot connector for the Texas Heart Institute. Located in the Texas Medical Center and founded in 1962, THI has long had a history of innovation — from Denton Cooley, THI's founder, performing the first artificial heart implementation in 1970.

Now, Post — who was appointed to a newly created position of manager of innovation partnerships — is focused on working with THI's latest generation of cardiac health innovators. She works internally to foster and support THI's brightest inventors as well as externally to make sure the institute is bringing in the best new technologies out there to its patients.

"The whole mission of the Texas Heart Institute is to help our patients. If that means that someone else has an incredible idea we want to jump onboard and bring it to people," Post says in this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Post, who has a bioengineering background and has worked on both sides of the table as an entrepreneur and a startup mentor, is looking to support breakthrough cardiac innovations within stem cells, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and more. And unfortunately, the cardiac health space has an increasing need to develop new health care solutions.

"Because of the growing burden of heart disease, heart failure, coronary artery disease, the unfortunately long list of things that can go wrong with someone's heart means the pressing need for therapies is just growing," she says on the show. "We're trying to keep up and break into things that people haven't done a lot of work on, such as women's heart health."

Another factor in Post's role, which she's had since last fall, is to bring THI further into both the TMC's innovation efforts as well as the greater Houston innovation ecosystem — as well as beyond. To her, Houston has a huge opportunity to lead health care innovation.

"It makes no sense that we aren't the health care leaders yet in med tech development. It should not be Boston, San Francisco, or Minneapolis. It should be Houston," Post says. "We have everything we need to do it. We just need to bring it all together."

The key to getting there, she says, is further collaboration. If there's one thing the world has learned about health care innovation from COVID-19, it's that when experts are rallying behind and collaborating on solutions, the speed of development is much faster.

"The more minds we have the better the solutions I going to be," she says.

Post says that she hopes her work at THI can inspire other institutions to collaborate ‚ since everyone has the same goal of helping patients.

"I only see just phenomenal things for Houston, and what I really want is for the Texas Medical Center to become even more interconnected. We've got to be able to transfer ideas and thoughts and intentions seamlessly between these institutions and right now there are a lot of barriers," Post says. "And I really think Texas Heart is hopefully going to serve as an example of how to take down those barriers."

Post shares more about what she's focused on and where THI is headed on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

New Houston accelerator supporting BIPOC in aerospace announces inaugural cohort

out of this world

A new accelerator program that is focused on aerospace innovation and supporting entrepreneurs who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color has announced its first cohort.

The Ion's Aerospace Innovation Accelerator for Minority Business Enterprises, or AIA for MBEs, has named the four companies that well be a part of its inaugural cohort. The 12-week program will guide the entrepreneurs through the development of their innovations, the growth of their businesses, and the development of relationships with mentors, corporate partners, and stakeholder networks.

"Aerospace contains a myriad of dimensions and by demystifying the industry in the form of the AIA for MBEs, we are able to build a more inclusive innovation ecosystem," says Christine Galib, senior director of programs at The Ion, in a news release. "It's our goal to not only support participants to be successful, but to open the playing field for other minority business enterprises hoping to enter the space."

The program's existence was possible through a partnership with NASA's Johnson Space Center, DivInc, and The Ion — as well as a $1.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Minority Business Development Agency.

Here are the four companies to take part in the cohort, according to the release:

  • Axialnics Systems Inc., led by Vincent Mbuvi, is an aerospace technology platform developing a Disc-wing Rotor Aircraft Concept, which takes-off as a helicopter, carries as much payload as an airplane and flies just as fast beyond the range of typical helicopters. The innovation solves runway inefficiencies and enhances military efficiency.
  • Boozed Beverages LLC, led by Damyanna Cooke and Jim Luu, specializes in intelligent vending in the liquor industry. The company provides a contactless, AI-driven cocktail making and dispensing vending machine, for locations such as weddings and events, sporting venues, festivals, restaurants, and nightclubs and lounges.
  • NANCo Aero, led by Shern Peters, provides urban air vehicles and drones to commercial, small business, government, and nonprofit organizations. It is working to develop the first Hybrid Personal Air Vehicle capable of transporting a family over the city of Houston.
  • Stratos Perception LLC, led by Rube Williams, develops artificial intelligence solutions for space systems to benefit human productivity, safety, and enterprise. It is also developing an intelligent transducer, a tool that can monitor and control multiphase flow, for use in space such as lunar water extraction and waste processing.

The hub and its associated accelerator will be housed at The Ion when it opens up later this year — along with the organizations other accelerators — but the program is being launched virtually on Wednesday, April 21, at noon.

"The Aerospace Innovation Hub came from the idea that the aerospace industry is well-known in Houston but for many people, particularly underrepresented communities, there have been barriers in entering the aerospace industry," says Jan E. Odegard, executive director of The Ion, in the release. "By offering mentorship, introduction to capital and training opportunities, with significant backing from Microsoft, The Ion is working to remove the barriers."