Pack your bags, Owls. Photo via Rice.edu

Rice University owls are flapping their wings across the Atlantic Ocean in order to open some doors to global education and research opportunities in Europe.

The university announced in a press release that the Rice University Paris Center is holding its ceremonial launch on Wednesday, June 29. The new facility will be housed in a historic 16th-century building in Paris and will be home to Rice-organized student programs, independent researchers, and international conferences, as well as a satellite and hub for other European research activity.

“The ambitions of our university and the needs of the future leaders we are educating require global engagement and perspective,” says outgoing Rice President David Leebron in the release. “The opening of this dedicated overseas facility represents the next step in the long-standing plan we have been pursuing to internationalize Rice and the Rice experience in every dimension.

"This has included welcoming more international students to our campus in Houston, fostering international travel and programs by our students and faculty, and building strong relationships with the best universities across the globe," he continues. "The Paris location offers an incredible range of opportunities, in fields ranging from art and architecture to international business and global relations and politics.”

The Rice University Paris Center will be located in Le Marais in the Hotel de La Faye, a 1500s hôtel particulier that was listed as a historic monument in 1966.

Caroline Levander, currently Rice’s vice president for global and digital strategy, was key in making the new center a reality and will oversee the Rice University Paris Center in her new role as vice president global.

“For our purposes, this building is an ideal educational space conveniently situated in one of the most historically significant areas of Paris,” Levander says in the release. “It looks and feels like a private university campus in the heart of a European capital city, and it reflects how Rice plans to expand its international impact in the coming years.”

Sylvester Turner and a delegation of civic and business leaders from the Greater Houston Partnership will attend the announcement in Paris this week. Per the release, the center, which will have six classroom spaces of various sizes that can accommodate around 125 students, is expected to be ready in January.

“Rice University’s mission statement commits us not only to pathbreaking research and unsurpassed teaching, but also to the betterment of our world,” says Provost Reginald DesRoches, who will transition to Rice’s president in July, in the release. “We’re eager to extend that mission internationally, and the opening of the Rice University Paris Center demonstrates that commitment.”

The Ion has joined the ranks of an international network of hotspots for innovation. Photo courtesy of The Ion

Houston's emerging innovation district gets global recognition from prestigious program

tech hotspot

The Ion Houston has a new feather to add to its cap. Rice Management Company's Midtown innovation hub has been recognized on a global scale.

The Global Network of Innovation Districts has added The Ion District to its network of innovation hubs, and the Ion is the first district in Texas to join. Affiliated with the Brookings Institute, the global organization consists of thought leaders and innovation district developers. With the addition of the Ion, there are 22 members in the Global Network, including the Pittsburgh Innovation District, Cortex Innovation Community in Missouri, Tech Central in Sydney, and Knowledge District Zuidas in Amsterdam.

“GIID’s Global Network is utilizing best practices of world-renowned innovation districts to accelerate regional economies. Their focus on placemaking, startup services, and community engagement are some of the critical components that lead to successful districts,” says Bryson Grover, investment manager of real estate development at Rice Management Company, in a news release. “With GIID, we will continue to think creatively about how the built environment and specialized programming can inform future development and allow equitable access to an ever-changing workforce.”

The Ion, a 266,000-square-foot space in the renovated Midtown Sears building, is the anchor of the district, which also includes Greentown Labs. According to the release, the next building is under construction, with three more projects to begin in the next year. Overall, the build-out of the Ion District will deliver three million square feet of development across 16 acres over the next decade.

“The Ion and the Ion District represent a major commitment and investment in the success of Houston as a center of innovation and a foundation of Houston’s economic future. From the very beginning of our planning, we visited innovation hubs and districts around the country and around the world to make sure that we drew on their experiences and best practices,” says Rice President David Leebron in the release. “And by participating in the Global Network now, the Ion District will contribute to and benefit from a global exchange of knowledge among the very best innovation districts, which complements Rice’s broader international engagements and strategies.”

GIID is a nonprofit dedicated to research on and connecting innovation districts in new geographies of innovation, per the release. Headquartered in New York, the organization was founded in 2018 to help position innovation districts as engines of economic development and spur productive, inclusive, and sustainable environments.

“We’re thrilled for The Ion and Ion District to join our network, especially as it commences its next steps on development later this year,” says Julia Wagner, president of GIID, in the release. “Our team has extensive experience working with unique real estate ventures that aim to transform how communities learn, work, and live. We look forward to playing a part in Houston’s transformation, and as we have documented in innovation districts around the world, having a leader like Rice drive the creation of the district is a key ingredient of its continued and growing success.”

Aramco Americas has been named a founding partner at The Ion. Courtesy of Rice University

Energy company joins Ion Houston as founding partner

new collaboration

A leading energy company has announced a new partnership with an innovation hub in the heart of Houston.

Aramco Americas, the U.S. subsidiary of Aramco, has joined as a founding partner of The Ion. Through the partnership, the two organizations will create educational programming, events, workforce development opportunities, energy transition leadership, and more. The partnership will take place over the next three years.

“The addition of Aramco as a founding partner of The Ion is another step forward in the realization of our vision of The Ion as a globally connected innovation hub that brings new possibilities to the people of Houston,” says Rice University President David Leebron in a news release. “We know the aspiring innovators and entrepreneurs of Houston will benefit from Aramco’s engagement, for which we are grateful.”

Aramco has named Jim Sledzik, managing director of Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures North America, to The Ion Leadership Advisory Roundtable to lead the partnership and help shape programming and offer insights on strategic direction. Aramco will also participate in The Ion Prototyping Lab, which opened earlier this year, and The Ion Investor Studio.

“Aramco’s commitment to innovation is reflected throughout our business operations,” says Nabeel I. AlAfaleg, president and CEO of Aramco Americas, in the release. “Partnerships like The Ion accelerate innovation, champion new ideas, and build a culture to address global energy challenges.”

Aramco joins the Ion’s other founding partners: Baker Botts, Microsoft, and Chevron Technology Ventures.

“I am excited to welcome Aramco as a Founding Partner to expand Houston’s technology and innovation ecosystem,” says Jan E. Odegard, executive director of The Ion, in the release. “Aramco’s involvement not only enables us to continue expanding our support toward inclusive and sustainable economic growth, but expand our reach globally, amplifying Houston as a high-growth technology ecosystem for energy, health, manufacturing, space, and transportation.”

The Ion is a 266,000-square-foot building developed and managed by Rice Management Company and anchors the 16-acre Innovation District in Midtown.

Rice University has set a goal to become carbon neutral in the next several years. Photo via rice.edu

Rice University announces its plans to be carbon neutral by 2030

seeing green

A Houston school has announced its mission to achieve carbon neutrality in the next eight years, and university executives described how exactly they will get there.

Last week, Rice University President David Leebron and Provost Reginald DesRoches wrote a letter describing the university's community as eager to participate in initiatives to stave off climate change on campus.

"Given the commitment of Rice faculty to research and scholarship that supports human knowledge and progress, it is unsurprising that this issue has been addressed from many disciplinary perspectives," the letter reads. "Our faculty, students and staff have a strong desire to contribute to solutions and to see their university as an active participant in the global effort to address climate change and other pressing environmental issues."

Leebron and DesRoches's letter explains how Houston is at the forefront of the energy industry and must continue to lead the sector by developing, implementing and transitioning to clean technologies

"The success of both Rice and Houston are closely intertwined, not only with respect to our future competitiveness but also in our shared vulnerability to the impacts of climate change on the Gulf Coast," the letter continues.

The university outlines four initial strategic focus points, including research, endowment, student leadership, and campus changes.

"By making these commitments we are placing investments in the environment as one of the university’s highest funding priorities," the university explains. "Many of the actions we describe below will require significant financial investment and we will need to determine how best to secure necessary resources and prioritize them among other university endeavors."

The Rice Management Co. Board of Directors meeting in December approved the addition of a sustainability statement. Additionally, RMC and Rice received board approval to become a signatory to the United Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment.

On campus, the university will implement several sustainability practices, including:

  • Rice will aim to have its new construction project achieve gold certification level in the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating program.
  • Rice will invest in water efficiency and conservation projects to reduce overall consumption of potable water while also leveraging alternative water sources such as captured rainwater.
  • Rice's sustainability, facilities and finance teams will partner with the Rice Management Co. to identify viable emissions reduction opportunities.

From a research perspective, many faculty members are working on sustainable projects and Rice is offering new funding opportunities for this research.

"In late 2021, the Office of Research launched a 'Sustainable Futures' seed fund through the Creative Ventures Fund program to support interdisciplinary research on the broad range of environmental challenges for which Rice could be a leader," according to the university. "This fund promotes the development of new research or academic partnerships that extend across multiple schools to engage faculty in new and creative scholarship."

The Office of Research received 23 proposals in response to its initial call for proposals, and, according to the release, funding will be increased to support more projects. The Office of Research will announce its second call for proposals later this year.

The letter concludes on a hopeful outlook on Rice University's plans to meet carbon neutrality and help Houston lead the energy transition.

"The actions we collectively take or fail to take as a society this decade will directly impact the well-being and prosperity of future generations as well as ourselves. As a university committed to the discovery, transmission and application of knowledge, we must assure that we are contributing to addressing the most fundamental challenges of our time," reads the letter. "Rice University and Houston have a unique role to play in building that future and we intend to be significant participants and leaders in this ambitious undertaking."

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Andrew Bruce of Data Gumbo, Jan E. Odegard of The Ion, and David Leebron of Rice University. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

WHO'S WHO

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — blockchain, education, and more — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Andrew Bruce, CEO of Data Gumbo

In a guest column for InnovationMap, Andrew Bruce advocates for securing your network. Photo courtesy of Data Gumbo

Securing your network is extremely important, writes Andrew Bruce in a guest column for InnovationMap. In fact, it could be the difference of success and failure for startup founders.

"Innovation isn't born in a vacuum nor is the adoption of a new technology. Often the broader path to tech disruption is through groundwork and that's a system best laid by a well-connected network," he writes.

Bruce shares his tips in the article. Click here to read more.

Jan E. Odegard, executive director of The Ion

Jan E. Odegard got to drop the "interim" in his title. Photo courtesy of The Ion

Jan E. Odegard isn't a native Houstonian, but his passion for making Houston a destination city — especially when it comes to innovation — is unparalleled. And for the past year and some change, he's used that passion to drive his leadership as interim executive director of The Ion. As of this month, Odegard got to drop the temporary title ahead of the building's grand opening.

Odegard joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the title change and what has motivated him in his position from day one.

"We have been speaking for the last two years, 'let's build on Houston's DNA,'" he says, "well, we've built this building on the DNA. We are truly trying to amplify the connectivity to the history but serving it for the next 40 to 50 years." Click here to read more.

David Leebron, outgoing president at Rice University

David Leebron's tenure is one of the longest in Rice history. Photo courtesy of Rice University

All good things must come to an end, and Rice University president David Leebron, that time has come after 17 years of service. He has overseen exponential growth of the school's facilities, research initiatives, and student body.

Leebron and the university announced on May 26 that he is leaving his position at the end of the next academic year. His official departure from the presidency will be effective on June 30, 2022, per a press release.

"Ping and I are so grateful for the opportunity we have had at Rice," Leebron noted in a statement. "This is a truly remarkable and dedicated community and it has been a privilege to be part of it." Click here to read more.

David Leebron's tenure is one of the longest in Rice history. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Prolific Rice University president announces end to storied tenure

ADIEU, MR. LEEBRON

For some 17 years, Rice University president David Leebron has overseen exponential growth of the school's facilities, research initiatives, and student body. Now, his tenure is coming to an end.

Leebron and the university announced on May 26 that he is leaving his position at the end of the next academic year. His official departure from the presidency will be effective on June 30, 2022, per a press release.

"Ping and I are so grateful for the opportunity we have had at Rice," Leebron noted in a statement. "This is a truly remarkable and dedicated community and it has been a privilege to be part of it."

In turn, trustees thanked the departing president for his leadership through what they describe as "an era of growth unprecedented" in the university's 109-year history.

"On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I want to express our deep appreciation and esteem for what David has done to transform our university while preserving its core values and community," said Rob Ladd, chair of the board, in a statement. "Over what will be an extraordinary 18 years of service, David has had the vision, courage and determination to improve almost every aspect of this university."

Students especially have benefited from Leebron's oversight. Under his leadership, Rice's student body has grown about 55 percent from 4,855 when he arrived in 2004 to some 7,500 in fall 2020, the school notes. Impressively, by 2025, the population is expected to reach 9,000 — an increase of around 85 percent.

Diversity is also a highlight. Press materials note that between 2004 and 2020, the number of domestic undergraduate students from underrepresented minority groups grew by almost 75 percent.

In effort to expand the university's reach and access to more, Leebron launched the Rice Investment, the financial aid program offering free and reduced tuition to students from low- and middle-income families.

Facilities have also vastly expanded and improved; Rice's current $1.8 billion capital improvement plan includes 29 new buildings, renovations, and other construction projects.

Linking the school to its home city, Leebron's most recent strategic plan, the Vision for the Second Century, Second Decade, aims for the Rice "to engage with and empower the success of the city of Houston."

The university, under Leebron's guidance, has launched myriad initiatives, centers, and programs. A recent success is The Ion, the centerpiece of an innovation district now under development in Houston's Midtown area.

Philadelphia-born and Harvard educated, Leebron is only the seventh president in Rice's long history. His tenure is second only to the university's founding president, Edgar Odell Lovett, who held the post for 34 years.

A search committee will be formed to find the university's next president, the school announced.

"I am proud of so many things that we've accomplished at Rice," Leebron continued in a statement. "But I'm especially proud of the community's constant desire to provide greater opportunities and address the most important challenges facing our city, our country and our world."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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How this Houston innovator's tech is gearing up to impact EV charging, energy transition

houston innovators podcast episode 172

With more and more electric vehicles on the road, existing electrical grid infrastructure needs to be able to keep up. Houston-based Revterra has the technology to help.

"One of the challenges with electric vehicle adoption is we're going to need a lot of charging stations to quickly charge electric cars," Ben Jawdat, CEO and founder of Revterra, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "People are familiar with filling their gas tank in a few minutes, so an experience similar to that is what people are looking for."

To charge an EV in ten minutes is about 350 kilowatts of power, and, as Jawdat explains, if several of these charges are happening at the same time, it puts a tremendous strain on the electric grid. Building the infrastructure needed to support this type of charging would be a huge project, but Jawdat says he thought of a more turnkey solution.

Revterra created a kinetic energy storage system that enables rapid EV charging. The technology pulls from the grid, but at a slower, more manageable pace. Revterra's battery acts as an intermediary to store that energy until the consumer is ready to charge.

"It's an energy accumulator and a high-power energy discharger," Jawdat says, explaining that compared to an electrical chemical battery, which could be used to store energy for EVs, kinetic energy can be used more frequently and for faster charging.

Jawdat, who is a trained physicist with a PhD from the University of Houston and worked as a researcher at Rice University, says some of his challenges were receiving early funding and identifying customers willing to deploy his technology.

Last year, Revterra raised $6 million in a series A funding round. Norway’s Equinor Ventures led the round, with participation from Houston-based SCF Ventures. Previously, Revterra raised nearly $500,000 through a combination of angel investments and a National Science Foundation grant.

The funding has gone toward growing Revterra's team, including onboarding three new engineers with some jobs still open, Jawdat says. Additionally, Revterra is building out its new lab space and launching new pilot programs.

Ultimately, Revterra, an inaugural member of Greentown Houston, hopes to be a major player within the energy transition.

"We really want to be an enabling technology in the renewable energy transition," Jawdat says. "One part of that is facilitating the development of large-scale, high-power, fast-charging networks. But, beyond that, we see this technology as a potential solution in other areas related to the clean energy transition."

He shares more about what's next for Revterra on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Report: Houston's hot medical office market might be on track to cool

by the numbers

Houston’s medical office market is on a roll.

A report from commercial real estate services company JLL shows net absorption and transaction volume saw healthy gains in 2022:

  • The annual absorption total of 289,215 square feet was 50.5 percent higher than the five-year average.
  • Transaction volume notched a 31.7 percent year-over-year increase.

Meanwhile, net rents held steady at $26.92 per square foot, up 1.3 percent from the previous year. The fourth-quarter 2022 vacancy rate stood at 15.9 percent.

Despite those numbers, the report suggests a slowdown in medical office rentals may be underway.

“Tenants who may have previously considered building out or expanding their lease agreements are now in a holding pattern due to increased construction costs and higher interest rates,” the report says. “These factors are having a direct impact on financial decisions when it comes to lease renewals, making it more likely that tenants will remain in their existing location for the foreseeable future.”

Still, the report notes “a number of bright spots for the future of healthcare in Houston.” Aside from last year’s record-high jump in sales volume, the report indicates an aging population coupled with a growing preference for community-based treatment “will lift demand even higher in coming years.”

The report shows that in last year’s fourth quarter, 527,083 square of medical office space was under construction in the Houston area, including:

  • 152,871 square feet in the Clear Lake area.
  • 104,665 square feet in the South submarket.
  • 103,647 square feet in Sugar Land.
Last fall, JLL recognized Houston as a top city for life sciences. According to that report, the Bayou City lands at No. 13 in JLL’s 2022 ranking of the country’s top 15 metro areas for life sciences. JLL says Houston “is poised for further growth” in life sciences.

Houston financial services firm announces acquisition, plans to grow

M&A radar

A Houston-based financial services company has made a recent strategic acquisition that gives it a new banking status.

LevelField Financial, which is creating a platform that combines traditional banking and digital asset products and services, announced this week that it is acquiring Burling Bank, an FDIC-insured, Illinois state-chartered bank. According to the company, once it receives regulatory approval, "LevelField will be the first full-service bank to offer fully compliant traditional banking and digital asset services."

The financial terms of the deal's transaction, which is expected to close later this year, were not disclosed.

The combined company will be able to provide traditional banking services, as well as LevelField's digital asset management. Burling Bank's senior management team will join LevelField's leadership, per a press release. They will focus on serving the bank's existing clients and growing the banking business nationwide.

"We conducted a broad review of banks in the U.S. to find the ideal institution with both an existing business and a management team who are aligned with our vision; we exceeded our expectations with Burling Bank. With this acquisition, LevelField will become a traditional bank, albeit one serving customers interested in the digital asset class," says Gene A. Grant II, CEO of LevelField Financial, in the release.

"We are thrilled to have the Burling executives join our leadership team, and together we intend to deliver fantastic customer service and well-designed products to customers who have an interest in accessing the digital asset class through a traditional bank," he continues.

Founded in 2018 by former banking executives, LevelField's leadership believes "the future of money is digital and that banks will continue to be a trusted provider of financial services," according to the website. This acquisition comes ahead of the company's plans to expand nationally.

"LevelField's strategic approach presented a tremendous opportunity for the bank to expand beyond our local footprint and serve customers with shared interests across the nation," says Michael J. Busch, Burling Bank president and CEO. "Together, we will continue to provide superior service and demonstrate that we truly understand the expanding and unique needs of our customers. Additionally, through the carefully developed suite of products we can address our customers' interests in digital assets and introduce them to LevelField's safe, simple, and secure platform."