DivInc's newest accelerator based in Houston will support Web3 companies with a social impact. Photos courtesy of DivInc

A Texas-based accelerator focused on helping BIPOC and female founders on their entrepreneurial journeys announced the inaugural class for its newest accelerator.

DivInc's DWeb for Social Impact Accelerator, a 12-week intensive hybrid program sponsored by Filecoin Foundation for the Decentralized Web, will mentor nine companies, all of whom integrate Web3 technologies into their impact entrepreneurship. Participating startups will have access to the Ion’s resources and receive a non-dilutive $10,000 grant to use during the course of the program.

Cherise Luter, marketing director at DivInc, says the Austin-based development program instead chose Houston to host this inaugural cohort because they have a secure partnership with the Ion and other premiere partners in the area, including Mercury, JP Morgan, and Bank of America.

“The team that we already have in place in Houston is so strong, we thought, this would be a great place to launch this concept and then from there determine if we want to launch it in Austin,” Luter says.

Amanda Moya, director of programs for DivInc, says this accelerator will truly be hybrid, enabling entrepreneurs from around the country to benefit from quality virtual mentorship and four weeks of in-person training.

“We want to really engulf them in the Houston innovation ecosystem, to let them know that this is also a landing pad if they are ever to move or travel around and come back to Houston,” Moya mentions.

One Houston-based startup, CultureLancer, will be participating in the program. A career-focused platform that matches students from HBCU with companies looking to hire in the fields of business development, data analysis, marketing, and operations, CultureLancer provides students with project-based learning opportunities.

Brianna Brazle, CultureLancer founder and therapist, says after discussing with friends and family members their struggles to get hired post-graduation she uncovered an underserved market of people in need of career guidance.

“That’s a problem that has been existing and then after doing more research I learned historically about 56%, year over year, of college graduates find themselves unemployed or underemployed,” Brazle explains. “My first solution to this problem was a hybrid marketplace.”

The rest of the inaugural cohort includes one to two entrepreneurs from the following companies:

  • Craftmerce, based in Dallas, is a B2B technology platform that brings African artisans and mainstream retail partners together through distributed production, enterprise management, and financing tools.
  • Instarails is working to simplify cross border payments through their API which provides the option to make instant global payments regardless of currency.
  • Looks for Lease, a Los Angeles based wardrobe rental company is combating the carbon emissions brought on by the fashion industry through their circular consumerism business model which operates on an AR platform.
  • Motherocity is an app that allows postpartum moms to track their mental and physical health through personal insights, experiential data, data science, and artificial intelligence, all the way through the first year after giving birth.
  • Salubata combines sustainable fashion and tech through their shoes made from old plastic bottles and integrating an NFT component that allows access to new shoe designs for customers.
  • Seed At The Table is a crowdfunding platform connecting marginalized founders with non-accredited investors, founded by a former Goldman Sachs investment manager.
  • Tribe is a mental health mobile app aiming to make mental healthcare affordable and accessible to black people through their directory of black therapists whose patients can directly book appointments within the app.
  • Subler, which was founded by a Los Angeles high school board member, is a digital marketplace that allows schools to rent out their unused spaces to local community groups.

The program will run from Sept. 18 until their demonstration day which is scheduled for Dec. 7 at the Ion.

DivInc, which runs several accelerators across Texas, originally partnered with the Ion in 2020. The organization introduced its new DWeb program earlier this year.

Last month, DivInc also introduced its inaugural cohort to another new diversity-focused accelerator. The 2023 Clean Energy Tech accelerator program sponsored by Chevron and Microsoft is currently ongoing.

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Houston university teams up with angel group to reach, upskill future investors

Through a new partnership with the Houston Angel Network and Houston Exponential, the University of Houston will help cultivate startup investors among UH alumni.

The partnership will bolster accredited early-stage investors and accelerate opportunities for aspiring startup investors, the university says in a news release.

“Investors play a vital role in the startup ecosystem and this initiative gives our alumni a rapid path to becoming angels. Our vision is to activate more investors with deep connections to UH who support world-class innovation in our community and beyond,” says Ramanan Krishnamoorti, the university’s vice president for energy and innovation.

The partnership is based at UH’s Technology Bridge. Tech Bridge promotes tech commercialization, industrial partnerships, and startup development.

“Our founders are launching many exciting new companies, but they need better access to capital,” says Tanu Chatterji, associate director of startup development at UH. “This partnership will help us mobilize angel investors who want to support these innovators with knowledge and financial resources.”

UH alumni interested in participating in the new partnership should contact Chatterji at tchatte@uh.edu.

The angel network will lend its investing expertise to early-stage businesses in tech, energy, life sciences, consumer, and aerospace sectors. Meanwhile, tech startup incubator Houston Exponential will provide support for entrepreneurs and the startup ecosystem.

“This relationship is a testament to the collaborative spirit of Greater Houston’s business and academic communities,” says Mitra Miller, vice president of the Houston Angel Network, an organization for early-stage investors. “By leveraging the combined expertise and resources of our three organizations, we can increase the flow of early-stage capital in our region in support of great innovators and high-growth enterprises.”

Natara Branch, CEO of Houston Exponential, says the new initiative “promises to be a roadmap for investment education, and support for aspiring investors and entrepreneurs alike.”

“An active and educated investor base is an essential component of a thriving startup ecosystem,” says Branch.

Houston lab sees progress with breakthrough light-harvesting processes

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A groundbreaking Rice University lab has made further strides in its work to make harvesting light energy more efficient and stable.

Presented on the cover of a June issue of Science, a study from Rice engineer Aditya Mohite's lab uncovered a method to synthesize a high-efficiency perovskite solar cell, known as formamidinium lead iodide (FAPbI3), converting them into ultrastable high-quality photovoltaic films, according to a statement from Rice. Photovoltaic films convert sunlight into electricity.

The new process makes solar cells that are about 10 times more durable than traditional methods.

“Right now, we think that this is state of the art in terms of stability,” Mohite said in a statement. “Perovskite solar cells have the potential to revolutionize energy production, but achieving long-duration stability has been a significant challenge.”

The change come from "seasoning" the FAPbI3 with 2D halide perovskites crystals, which the Mohite lab also developed a breakthrough synthesis process for last year

The 2D perovskites helped make the FAPbI3 films more stable. The study showed that films with 2D perovskites deteriorated after two days of generating electricity, while those with 2D perovskites had not started to degrade after 20 days.

“FAPbI3 films templated with 2D crystals were higher quality, showing less internal disorder and exhibiting a stronger response to illumination, which translated as higher efficiency," Isaac Metcalf, a Rice materials science and nanoengineering graduate student and a lead author on the study, said in the statement.

Additionally, researchers say their findings could make developing light-harvesting technologies cheaper, and can also allow light-harvesting panels to be lighter weight and more flexible.

"Perovskites are soluble in solution, so you can take an ink of a perovskite precursor and spread it across a piece of glass, then heat it up and you have the absorber layer for a solar cell,” Metcalf said. “Since you don’t need very high temperatures ⎯ perovskite films can be processed at temperatures below 150 Celsius (302 Fahrenheit) ⎯ in theory that also means perovskite solar panels can be made on plastic or even flexible substrates, which could further reduce costs.”

Mohite adds this has major implications for the energy transition at large.

“If solar electricity doesn’t happen, none of the other processes that rely on green electrons from the grid, such as thermochemical or electrochemical processes for chemical manufacturing, will happen,” Mohite said. “Photovoltaics are absolutely critical.”

The Mohite lab's process for creating 2D perovskites of the ideal thickness and purity was published in Nature Synthesis last fall. At the time, Mohite said the crystals "hold the key to achieving commercially relevant stability for solar cells."

About a year ago, the lab also published its work on developing a scalable photoelectrochemical cell. The research broke records for its solar-to-hydrogen conversion efficiency rate.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

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Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with a health tech data scientist, a CEO celebrating an international expansion, and a founder who won a big DOE prize.

Angela Wilkins, chief data scientist at Starling Medical

Angela Wilkins joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the intersection of data and health care. Photo courtesy

When most people hear about Houston startup Starling Medical, they might think about how much potential the medical device company has in the field of urinalysis diagnostics. But that's not quite where Angela Wilkins's head went.

Wilkins explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that when she met the company's co-founders, Hannah McKenney and Drew Hendricks, she recognized them as very promising startup leaders taking action on a real health care problem. Starling's device can collect urine and run diagnostics right from a patient's toilet.

"It was one of those things where I just thought, 'They're going to get a bunch of data soon,'" Wilkins says. "The opportunity is just there, and I was really excited to come on and build their AI platform and the way they are going to look at data."

For about a year, Wilkins supported the startup as an adviser. Now, she's working more hands on as chief data officer as the company grows. Read more.

Sean Kelly, CEO and co-founder of Amperon

Amperon officially expanded in Europe. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston-based, AI-powered electricity forecasting and analytics services company Amperon Holdings is live in Europe. The expansion, which Co-Founder and CEO Sean Kelly previously told InnovationMap about, is official, the company announced this month. In addition to the expansion, Amperon announced Jon Ecker as general manager, Europe, and Kelsey Hultberg as executive vice president, communications, and chief of staff.

Now, European companies that buy and sell energy in the renewable energy producers, financial institutions, and utilities markets can leverage Amperon's platform of AI and machine learning technologies to access short- and long-term forecasts for their individual meters and generation assets.

“As a warmer-than-expected June ushers in a hot summer, and increasing uncertainty looms for the calmer fall months due to the influx of wind and solar generation, we are eager to assist our European customers in navigating the power market volatility caused by heat waves, extreme weather events, and shifts in power usage across the region,” Kelly says in a news release. Read more.

Laureen Meroueh, founder of Hertha Metals

Hertha Metals, based in Conroe, won first place at the 2024 Summer Energy Program for Innovation Clusters (EPIC) Startup Pitch Competition. Photo via LinkedIn

Four startups from across the country won over $160,000 in cash prizes from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Technology Transitions earlier this month, and a Houston-area company claimed the top prize.

Hertha Metals, based in Conroe, won first place at the 2024 Summer Energy Program for Innovation Clusters (EPIC) Startup Pitch Competition. The program honors and supports clean energy innovators nominated by clean technology business incubators.

Hertha Metals was founded by Laureen Meroueh, a mechanical engineer and materials scientist, in 2022. Read more.