3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Richard Seline of the Resilience Innovation Hub, Deanna Zhang of Tudor, Pickering, and Holt, and Brad Hauser of Soliton. Courtesy photos

Editor's note: In the week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three innovators across industries recently making headlines — from resilience technology to energy innovation.

Richard Seline, co-founder at the Houston-based Resilience Innovation Hub Collaboratory

Richard Seline of Houston-based Resilience Innovation Hub joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how it's time for the world to see Houston as the resilient city it is. Photo courtesy of ResilientH20

Richard Seline says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, that people are exhausted and these feelings are festering into frustration and anger — and calling for change. The things that need to change, Seline says, includes growing investment and innovation in resilience solutions.

"As a fourth generation Houstonian, it's just so hard to see my hometown get hit persistently with a lot of these weather and other type of disasters," Seline says.

These unprecedented disasters — which are of course occurring beyond Houston and Texas — have also sparked a growing interest in change for insurance companies that have lost a trillion dollars on the United States Gulf Coast over the past seven years, Seline says. Something has got to change regarding preparation and damage mitigation. Read more and stream the podcast.

Deanna Zhang, director of energy technology at Houston-based Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co.

Deanna Zhang of Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. writes a response to the energy crisis that occured in Texas in February. Photo courtesy of TPH

Deanna Zhang specializes in energy tech, and what she witnessed from February's winter weather was basically an epic fail caused by a myriad of issues.

"But it's oversimplifying to say that the only solution to preventing another situation like this is continued or increased reliance on the oil and gas industry," she writes in a guest article for InnovationMap. "What last week ultimately demonstrated was the multitude of technology solutions that needs to scale up to provide us with the best energy reliability and availability." Read more.

Brad Hauser, CEO of Soliton

Houston-based Soliton can use its audio pulse technology to erase scars, cellulite, and tattoos. Photo courtesy of Soliton

A Houston company has created a technology that uses sound to make changes in human skin tissue. Soliton, led by Brad Hauser, is using audio pulses to make waves in the med-aesthetic industry. The company, which is licensed from the University of Texas on behalf of MD Anderson, announced that it had received FDA approval earlier this month for its novel and proprietary technology that can reduce the appearance of cellulite.

"The original indication was tattoo removal," Hauser says. "The sound wave can increase in speed whenever it hits a stiffer or denser material. And tattoo ink is denser, stiffer than the surrounding dermis. That allows a shearing effect of the sound wave to disrupt that tattoo ink and help clear tattoos."

According to Hauser, the team then turned to a second application for the technology in the short-term improvement in the appearance of cellulite. With the use of the technology, patients can undergo a relatively pain-free, 40- to 60-minute non-invasive session with no recovery time. Read more.

What winter storm Uri ultimately demonstrated was the multitude of technology solutions that needs to scale up to provide us with the best energy reliability and availability. Photo by Lynn in Midtown via CultureMap

Houston expert: Winter storm Uri's devastation should be a reminder to prioritize innovative energy solutions

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Texas has landed itself in the middle of a fierce debate following what's been considered one of the worst winter storm in recent history for the state.

Uri wreaked havoc as it rolled through regions that were wholly unprepared for the sudden temperature drops, single digit wind chills, and unusual precipitation (e.g. thundersnow in Galveston). Rolling power outages and water shortages affected more than 4.5 million Texans. Businesses like grocery stores and restaurants — unable to wash food or sanitize equipment or even turn on the lights, —closed throughout the ordeal, leaving many families without food, water, or power.

For most, this was an unprecedented experience. The majority of catastrophes in Texas are in the form of warm weather events like floods, hurricanes, or tornadoes, which means that even if power is lost, freezing is rarely an issue. Uri turned this upside down. ERCOT's failure to provide reliable energy for days on end led to families sleeping in devastatingly cold temperatures, further water shortage due to municipal water facilities failing, carbon monoxide deaths, disruption in vaccine rollouts, hospitals overrun with people needing to charge essential medical equipment, and much more. Uri highlighted in harrowing detail the domino effect that energy (and lack thereof) has on everything around it.

A single source of ERCOT's failure is hard to pinpoint. The cold led to production shut-ins, exacerbating the existing natural gas supply shortage and resulted in the RRC prioritizing "direct-to-consumer" natural gas delivery (i.e. to residences, hospitals, schools, etc.) over natural gas for the grid. Iced-over gas lines disrupted this flow even further. Freezing temperatures shut off some wind turbines and solar panels (if they were not already covered in snow). Coal and nuclear plants in Texas also shut down due to frozen instruments and equipment.

Thrown into sharp relief was the importance of consumer access to natural gas and other fossil fuels like propane. Most homes that had completely electrified (including my own) were ill-prepared to heat their homes without access to the grid or backup generators. Residential and community solar did little to alleviate this problem in many cases as lower technology configurations either froze, were not able to capture enough energy from a low-light environment, or were covered in snow. Having access to gas for heating or a propane stove was a lifeline for most folks.

But it's oversimplifying to say that the only solution to preventing another situation like this is continued or increased reliance on the oil and gas industry.

What last week ultimately demonstrated was the multitude of technology solutions that needs to scale up to provide us with the best energy reliability and availability.

It wasn't enough for our grid to have five potential generation sources – they all failed in different ways. But what if we incorporated more geothermal, which is more cold-weather resistant? What if we upgraded our solar panels to all have trackers or heating elements to prevent snow accumulation? What if our grid had access to larger scale energy storage? What if consumers had more access to off-grid distributed energy systems like generators, residential solar, geothermal pumps, or even just really large home batteries? What if we had predictive solutions that were able to detect when the non-winterized equipment would fail, days before they did? What if we could generate power from fossil fuels without dangerous emissions like carbon monoxide?

All of these technologies and more are being created and developed in our energy innovation ecosystem today, and many in Houston. What we're building towards is diversity of our energy system — but not just diversity of source — which is often the focus – but diversity of energy transportation, energy delivery, and energy consumption. Energy choice is about being able to, as a consumer, have a variety of options available to you such that in extenuating circumstances like winter storms or other catastrophes, there is no need to depend on any single configuration.

In a state like Texas, which is not only the largest oil and gas producer but also the largest wind energy producer and soon to be home to the largest solar project in the US, innovation should and will happen across all energy types and systems. Uri can teach us about the importance of the word all and how critical it is to encourage startups and technology development to develop stronger energy choice. Texas is the perfect home for all of this — and our state's rather embarrassing failure around Uri should be exactly the kind of reminder we need to keep encouraging this paradigm.

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Deeana Zhang is the director of energy technology at Houston-based Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Deanna Zhang of Tudor, Pickering, & Holt Co., Sarma Velamuri of Luminare, and Amy Chronis of Deloitte. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In the week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three innovators recently making headlines — from health tech founders to the new GHP chair.

Deeana Zhang, director of energy technology at Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co.

Deanna Zhang of Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss 2020's effect on the energy transition — and what that meant for startups. Photo courtesy of TPH

Deanna Zhang looks closely at the energy innovation market and, well, last year was extremely enlightening about the energy industry and where tech is taking it. She joined the Houston Innovators Podcast last week to discuss some of the 2020 trends and observations she had — and what that means for 2021.

"The energy transition saw a huge uptick in 2020 — and there's a lot of implications of that from what pilots are getting commercialized and what companies are getting more funding," says Zhang. "All around it was hugely disruptive — but hugely beneficial I think to the energy transition." Click here to read more and stream the episode.

Dr. Sarma Velamuri, CEO of Luminare

A Houston health tech startup has launched a COVID-19 vaccine management tool. Image via luminaremed.com

As great as it was to be able to begin distributing the life-saving COVID-19 vaccine, the logistics of the two-dose process was a nightmare. Dr. Sarma Velamuri, CEO of Luminare, thought he could innovate a solution. His new platform, Innoculate (a mash-up of "innovate" and "inoculate"), enables organizations like public health departments, fire departments, school systems, and businesses to manage high-volume vaccination initiatives.

"Usually when you hear news of a new batch of vaccines headed your way, there is dread at the management and distribution overhead. Not anymore," Velamuri says in a release. "Innoculate will help streamline the vaccination process in the fight against COVID-19 and allow for hundreds of thousands of people to get vaccines easily." Click here to read more.

Amy Chronis, Greater Houston Partnership's 2021 chair and the Houston managing partner at Deloitte

Houston, we have a perception problem — but the Greater Houston Partnership's new chair, Amy Chronis, is here to fix it. Photo courtesy Deloitte/AlexandersPortraits.com

Hey Houston, it's time to speak up — a little louder for the people in the back. That's what Amy Chonis, 2021 chair for the Greater Houston Partnership, wants you to know, and that it's important for business leaders across the city to take the initiative about how great Houston is.

"We just don't brag enough about how much the city has changed and its trajectory," she tells InnovationMap.

While Houston has long been innovative in the health, space, and energy industries, it has a perception problem. Recently, Chronis addressed some of these concerns in her address at the GHP's 2021 Annual Meeting. She joined InnovationMap for an interview to zero in on how the business community can work to change this perception problem and continue to grow its innovation and tech community. Click here to read the Q&A.

Deanna Zhang of Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss 2020's effect on the energy transition — and what that meant for startups. Photo courtesy of TPH

Houston expert: 2020 was 'hugely disruptive — but hugely beneficial' for the energy transition

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 69

In 2020, the economy was hit with a double whammy of sorts — from a devastating pandemic to an unprecedented drop in oil prices — and that has meant that the energy transition is happening at a faster pace than ever.

Deeana Zhang, director of energy technology at Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co., joined the Houston Innovators Podcast this week to discuss what she observed throughout the year as she worked closely with energy tech businesses.

"Because it was such a disruptive year, everyone — from the commercial and business side to the consumer side — has rethought how they are using and thinking about energy," she says on the show. "It was the first time that you saw such a mass disruption of energy demand, and that rolls through the entire ecosystem."

The effect touched all four corners of the industry in some way, and it forced all major energy players to be more intentional with their business strategy — especially when it comes to the role they play within the energy transition.

"The energy transition saw a huge uptick in 2020 — and there's a lot of implications of that from what pilots are getting commercialized and what companies are getting more funding," says Zhang. "All around it was hugely disruptive — but hugely beneficial I think to the energy transition."

Environmental, social and corporate governance, which has been growing in importance to investors and company leadership for several years now, also got a spur from 2020. ESG has been propelled by activism and consumer choice, Zhang says, but now investors are now forced to be more cognizant than ever.

"What's the investor responsibility to society as a whole? It's going beyond economics — what's your social and environmental responsibility? I think a lot of that expansion of responsibility is what's driving ESG," she says. "That's going to trickle down corporations and companies as they think about what is their expanded responsibility."

Zhang, who works closely with energy startups, also observed a profound effect when it came to capital and new business.

"A lot of companies say numbers go down in 2020, but the exceptions to that were companies that had a strong energy transition angle. Those companies were able to reposition themselves to ... counteract what was going on in the market in general," Zhang says. "From a capital raising standpoint, it was also really challenging. A lot of funds put a hold on investing in new companies and even some to their existing portfolio."

Investment came back toward the second half of the year, but there was a new level of caution, she says, and this is something startups saw happening across the country.

Zhang discusses more about what she saw happen last year for energy technology — as well as what that means for 2021 — on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

From fossil fuels to clean and sustainable energy, here's what experts postulate the industry will look like in 2050. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Overheard: Experts weigh in on what the energy industry will look like in 2050 at Houston summit

Crystal ball

There are a lot of things up in the air within the energy industry when you look at the next 40 years — clean energy, regulation regarding fossil fuels, carbon footprint, and so much more.

At the Society of Petroleum Engineers' inaugural SPE Dot Energy Leadership Summit, the big question was what does 2050 look like for the industry. Tasked with the discussion were three energy leaders — Deanna Zhang, energy tech investment banking associate at TudorPickering Holt & Co., Lees Rodionov, vice president of Global Stewardship at Schlumberger, and David R. Hall, managing director of Hall Labs — on a panel moderated by Gabriella Rowe, CEO of Station Houston.

The panel, which took place on August 15 at MATCH, discussed all the variables and what their potential theories are for how time will change oil and gas. Of course, no one knows for sure. If they did, they wouldn't be sharing it, would they?

"It's very hard I think to capture all the things that will play out by 2050, and honestly, if I knew with any amount of certainty what would happen, I wouldn't be talking about it in public," Zhang says. "I'd be in a basement somewhere, making a company that would make a trillion dollars."

Fair enough. Here are some other overheard quotes from the discussion in case you missed it.

“I think we’ll face the fact that we’ve got to be totally clean and solve the emissions problem and do a complete full cycle. It’ll mean lots of innovation, but I certainly see the capability to get it done.”

David R. Hall, managing director of Hall Labs.

“When it comes to bridging the efficiency debate and the green and clean debate, that will be something that by 2050 we will have bridged.”

— Deanna Zhang, energy tech investment banking associate at Tudor Pickering Holt & Co. Currently, she says the industry is split. "Right now we are trying to optimize for two objectives. The industry is divided."

“I think that one of the challenges actually is that it’s an idea of ‘us and them,’ and energy is a ‘we.’ Everyone has a role to play.”

Lees Rodionov, vice president of Global Stewardship at Schlumberger. She emphasized that it's the energy industry — oil and gas is just one part, and it's where there's a lot of money. O&G does have opportunities for carbon neutral development.

“The opportunity for the oil and gas industry is to recognize the problems and then announce solutions itself. If the industry doesn’t, regulators will."

— Hall says on moving the industry toward a cleaner, greener future.

“In 50 years, we’ll find a way to survive, but it won’t be the same quality of life.”

— Zhang, when asked about the worst case scenario if the industry doesn't make big changes. She cites urbanization and a greater wealth gap as some things to expect.

"Stop saying 'oil and gas.' It's 'energy.'"

— Rodionov, when asked about bridging the gap between renewables and fossil fuels.

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Houston company premieres new platform for gig economy workforce

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As the independent workforce continues to grow, a Houston-based company is aiming to connect these workers with companies that match their specific needs with a new digital platform.

FlexTek, a 14-year old recruiting and staffing company, launched a first gig site tailored to the needs of the individual worker. The platform, Workz360, is built to be able to manage projects, maintain quality control, and manage billing and year-end financial reporting.The company is also working to expanding the platform to provide infrastructure to assist independent workers with education, access to savings programs, tax compliance through vetted third-party CPA firms, and hopes in the future to assist with access to liability and medical insurance.

With a younger workforce and a shifting economy, the “gig economy,” which is another way to describe how people can earn a living as a 1099 worker, offers an alternative option to the corporate grind in a post-pandemic workscape. Chief Marketing Officer Bill Penczak of Workz360 calls this era “Gig 2.0,” and attributes the success of this type of workforce to how during the COVID-19 pandemic people learned how to work, and thrive in non-traditional work environments. The site also boasts the fact it won’t take a bite out of the worker’s pay, which could be an attractive sell for many since other sites can take up to 65 percent of profit.

“In the past few years, with the advent of gig job platforms, the Independent workers have been squeezed by gig work platforms taking a disproportionate amount of the workers’ income,” said FlexTek CEO and founder Stephen Morel in a news release. “As a result, there has been what we refer to as ‘pay padding,’ a phenomenon in which workers are raising their hourly or project rates to compensate for the bite taken by other platforms.

"Workz360 is designed to promote greater transparency, and we believe the net result will be for workers to thrive and companies to save money by using the platform,” he continues.

As the workforce has continued to change over the years, a third of the current U.S. workforce are independent workers according to FlexTek, workers have gained the ability to have more freedom where and how they work. Workz360 aims to cater to this workforce by believing in a simple mantra of treating your workers well.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations about this, but we like the Southwest Airlines model,” Penczak tells InnovationMap. “Southwest Airlines treats their people very well, and as a result those employees treat the passengers really well. We believe the same thing holds true. If we can provide resources, and transparency, and not take a bite out of what the gig worker is charging, then we will get the best and the brightest people since they feel like they won’t be taken advantage of. We think there is an opportunity to be a little different and put the people first.”

NASA launches new research projects toward astronauts on ISS

ready to research

For the 26th time, SpaceX has sent up supplies to the International Space Station, facilitating several new research projects that will bring valuable information to the future of space.

On Saturday at 1:20 pm, the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft launched on the Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida — bringing with it more than 7,700 pounds of science experiments, crew supplies, and other cargo. The anticipated docking time is Sunday morning, and the cargo spacecraft will remain aboard the ISS for 45 days, according to a news release from NASA.

Among the supplies delivered to the seven international astronauts residing on the ISS are six research experiments — from health tech to vegetation. Here's a glimpse of the new projects sent up to the scientists in orbit:

Moon Microscope

Image via NASA.gov

Seeing as astronauts are 254 miles away from a hospital on Earth — and astronauts on the moon would be almost 1,000 times further — the need for health technology in space is top of mind for researchers. One new device, the Moon Microscope, has just been sent up to provide in-flight medical diagnosis. The device includes a portable hand-held microscope and a small self-contained blood sample staining tool, which can communicate information to Earth for diagnosis.

"The kit could provide diagnostic capabilities for crew members in space or on the surface of the Moon or Mars," reads a news release. "The hardware also may provide a variety of other capabilities, such as testing water, food, and surfaces for contamination and imaging lunar surface samples."

Fresh produce production

Salads simply aren't on the ISS menu, but fresh technology might be changing that. Researchers have been testing a plant growth unit on station known as Veggie, which has successfully grown a variety of leafy greens, and the latest addition is Veg-05 — focused on growing dwarf tomatoes.

Expanded solar panels

Thanks to SpaceX's 22nd commercial resupply mission in 2021, the ISS installed Roll-Out Solar Arrays. Headed to the ISS is the second of three packages to complete the panels that will increase power for the station by 20 to 30 percent. This technology was first tested in space in 2017 and is a key ingredient in future ISS and lunar development.

Construction innovation

Image via NASA.gov

Due to the difference of gravity — and lack thereof — astronauts have had to rethink constructing structures in space. Through a process called extrusion, liquid resin is used to create shapes and forms that cannot be created on Earth. Photocurable resin, which uses light to harden the material into its final form, is injected into pre-made flexible forms and a camera captures footage of the process, per the news release.

"The capability for using these forms could enable in-space construction of structures such as space stations, solar arrays, and equipment," reads the release. "The experiment is packed inside a Nanoracks Black Box with several other experiments from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab and is sponsored by the ISS National Lab."

Transition goggles

It's a bizarre transition to go from one gravity field to another — and one that can affect spatial orientation, head-eye and hand-eye coordination, balance, and locomotion, and cause some crew members to experience space motion sickness, according to the release.

"The Falcon Goggles hardware captures high-speed video of a subject’s eyes, providing precise data on ocular alignment and balance," reads the release.

On-demand nutrients

Image via NASA.gov

NASA is already thinking about long-term space missions, and vitamins, nutrients, and pharmaceuticals have limited shelf-life. The latest installment in the five-year BioNutrients program is BioNutrients-2 , which tests a system for producing key nutrients from yogurt, a fermented milk product known as kefir, and a yeast-based beverage, per the release.

"The researchers also are working to find efficient ways to use local resources to make bulk products such as plastics, construction binders, and feedstock chemicals. Such technologies are designed to reduce launch costs and increase self-sufficiency, extending the horizons of human exploration," reads the release.

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 — from esports to biomaterials — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Zimri Hinshaw, CEO of BUCHA BIO

Zimri T. Hinshaw, CEO of BUCHA BIO, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how he's planning to scale his biomaterials startup to reduce plastic waste. Photo courtesy of BUCHA BIO

After raising a seed round of funding, BUCHA BIO is gearing up to move into its new facility. The biomaterials company was founded in New York City in 2020, but CEO Zimri T. Hinshaw shares how he started looking for a new headquarters for the company — one that was more affordable, had a solid talent pool, and offered a better quality of life for employees. He narrowed it down from over 20 cities to two — San Diego and Houston — before ultimately deciding on the Bayou City.

Since officially relocating, Hinshaw says he's fully committed to the city's innovation ecosystem. BUCHA BIO has a presence at the University of Houston, Greentown Labs, and the East End Maker Hub — where the startup is building out a new space to fit the growing team.

"By the end of this month, our laboratories will be up and running, we'll have office space adjacent, as well as chemical storage," Hinshaw says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. Listen to the episode and read more.

Kelly Klein, development director of Easter Seals Greater Houston

A nonprofit organization has rolled out an esports platform and event to raise awareness and funding for those with disabilities. Photo via Easter Seals

For many video games is getaway from reality, but for those with disabilities — thanks to a nonprofit organization —gaming can mean a lot more. On Saturday Dec. 3 — International Day of Persons with Disabilities — from 1 to 9 pm, Easter Seals Greater Houston will be joining forces with ES Gaming for the inaugural Game4Access Streamathon.

Gaming helps enhance cognitive skills, motor skills, improve mental well-being, and can help reduce feelings of social isolation due to the interactive nature of playing with others.

“This is really a unique way for (people) to form a community without having to leave their house, and being part of an inclusive environment,” says Kelly Klein, development director of Easter Seals Greater Houston. ”The adaptive equipment and specialized technology just does so many miraculous things for people with disabilities on so many levels — not just gaming. With gaming, it is an entrance into a whole new world.” Read more.

John Mooz, senior managing director at Hines

Levit Green has announced its latest to-be tenant. Photo courtesy

Levit Green, a 53-acre mixed-use life science district next to the Texas Medical Center and expected to deliver this year, has leased approximately 10,000 square feet of commercial lab and office space to Sino Biological Inc. The Bejing-based company is an international reagent supplier and service provider. Houston-based real estate investor, development, and property manager Hines announced the new lease in partnership with 2ML Real Estate Interests and Harrison Street.

“Levit Green was meticulously designed to provide best-in-class life science space that can accommodate a multitude of uses. Welcoming Sino Biological is a testament to the market need for sophisticated, flexible space that allows diversified firms to perform a variety of research,” says John Mooz, senior managing director at Hines, in a press release. “Sino is an excellent addition to the district’s growing life science ecosystem, and we look forward to supporting their continued growth and success.” Read more.Read more.