Houston is a top city for female entrepreneurs, according to a recent study. Getty Images

Houston's innovation ecosystem has been booming with news, and it's likely some might have fallen through the cracks.

For this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, Houston is recognized for its female-friendly business community, Texas ranks as top for gig economy, the latest Chevron investment is in nuclear energy, and more.

Houston named among top cities for female entrepreneurs

Houston ranked No. 11 on a new study on top cities for female business owners. Via fundera.com

According to a new study from Fundera, Houston ranks among the top 15 cities for female entrepreneurs in the United States. The Bayou City came in at No. 11 based on data pulled from The American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau as well as the Tax Foundation. Metrics included:

  • Percent of self-employed business owners who are women — 18 percent of total score.
  • Percent of women employed in their own business — 18 percent of total score.
  • Earnings gap between male and female business owners — 18 percent of total score.
  • Housing cost as a percent of earnings for female entrepreneurs — 18 percent of total score.
  • Percent of residents with bachelor's degree, denoting high-skilled workforce — 9 percent of total score.
  • Job growth — 9 percent of total score.
  • Tax rates — 9 percent of total score.

"One of the most diverse cities in the country, Houston is also good to its women entrepreneur population," the study reads. "Its biggest strength here, however, may be in its job growth numbers, which were likely impacted by 2020's coronavirus pandemic. It remains to be seen whether the city's strong economic numbers will continue in the years to come."

Lubbock, the only other Texas city to crack the top 15, came in at No. 13.

Galen Data and Zibrio team up with new partnership

A Houston company's balance tracking technology is tapping into another Houston company's cloud technology. Photo courtesy of Zibrio

Houston-based tech companies, Galen Data and Zibrio, have announced a new medical device partnership. Zibrio's SmartScale, which can measure and track physical balance to identify an person's chance of falling, will be able to leverage the Galen CloudTM in order to securely connect data from the device with a patient's physician to support remote patient care.

"Our partnership with Zibrio is a case study in helping an early stage medical device company focus on what they do best," says Galen Data CEO Chris DuPont in a news release. "Galen Data provided outside expertise that has saved Zibrio the needless cost and burden of designing a cloud solution from scratch."

According to the release, the CDC reports that 28 percent of individuals over 65 fall each year, and falls are the leading cause of accidental death in those over 65. Amid the pandemic, the Australian PT Association found an increase in fall right of up to 30 percent.

"With COVID-19 impacting activities of older adults, it was even more critical to find a cost-effective solution to better track, manage, and analyze balance data from our SmartScale," says Zibrio founder and CEO, Katharine Forth, in the release.

IGNITE Madness startup applications close Sept. 4

Ignite Healthcare Network, a health tech startup group that promotes and advances female entrepreneurs, is closing startup applications for its October 22 and 29 event, Ignite Madness. The competition mimics a March Madness-style bracket and will be judged by 10 judges.

The brackets include:

  1. Mental /Behavioral Health
  2. Telemedicine/Remote Patient Monitoring
  3. Medical Devices
  4. Patient Engagement
  5. Employee Wellness
  6. Population Health/Analytics
  7. Femtech/Women's Health
  8. WILDCARD: Other Disruptive Solutions
Apply online for up to $300,000 in cash and prizes.

Texas named the 6th best state for freelance and gig workers

Gig workers are welcome in Texas. Screenshot via directlyapply.com

A job discovery platform, DirectlyApply, has identified the best gig economies to work in and Texas ranked as No. 6. The study looked at nine cost and job opportunity factors, which included the cost of living, the number of restaurants and attractions, the number of advertised gig roles, etc.

Texas has a reported 4,859 gig jobs and 16 gig companies operating locally, and the state sports an average gas price of $0.63 a liter and $1,422 a month to rent an apartment. New York, Florida, California, Ohio, and Illinois ranked ahead of Texas, respectively. The full study is available online.

Adapt2 Solutions recognized with award

Jason Kram is the executive vice president of Adapt2 Solutions. Photo courtesy of Adapt2 Solutions

Houston AI software company, Adapt2 Solutions, has been selected as the winner of the "Best AI Solution for Big Data" award in the 2020 AI Breakthrough Awards program conducted by AI Breakthrough. The awards recognize artificial intelligence and machine learning innovation. This year, the contest saw more than 2,750 nominations from over 15 different countries throughout the world, according to a news release.

"Energy enterprises are dealing with an increasingly complex and ever-changing landscape, including increased renewables, volatile markets, and increased pace of technology innovation for each of the commodity market," says James Johnson, managing director of AI Breakthrough, in the release.

"Adapt2 Solutions is in a unique position to support energy companies with powerful artificial intelligence technology to help their operations to automate, optimize and maintain a competitive advantage. We want to recognize this achievement by awarding them with 'Best AI Solution for Big Data' and we extend a hearty congratulations to the entire Adapt2 team on their well-deserved industry recognition."

The win comes at a strategic time for the company. Adapt2's predictive analytics models forecast unexpected fluctuations in power capacity. Amid the pandemic, this technology enables energy companies to map out demand at a time when they're balancing strained revenue and squeezed spending is paramount, Executive Vice President Jason Kram previously told InnovationMap.

"In times of disruption, big data can inform decision-making for energy companies to optimize energy-market operations with timely and reliable data," Kram says.

Houston Methodist introduces contactless temperature screening

Houston Methodist has set up over a hundred contactless temp checks across its facilities. Photo courtesy of Houston Methodist

Houston Methodist has incorporated new technology from care.ai, an AI-powered temperature monitoring platform, to conduct contactless temperature checks for visitors across 100 locations throughout eight hospitals and 36 physician clinics.

Upon entrance to designated areas, visitors stand in front of a tablet that scans an individual's temperature through the use of thermal technology aimed at the forehead. The technology aims to speed up screening measures and free up staff from the checkpoints. Should a visitor have an elevated skin temperature out of normal range, Methodist staff is contacted.

Chevron invests in nuclear fusion startup

The latest investment from CTV is in nuclear energy. Photo via chevron.com/technology/technology-ventures

Chevron's investment arm, Chevron Technology Ventures, recently announced an investment in Seattle-based Zap Energy Inc., which is working on a modular nuclear reactor. CTV sees nuclear energy as a promising avenue for innovation "across the globe access to affordable, reliable, and ever-cleaner energy," according to a news release.

"We see fusion technology as a promising low-carbon future energy source," says Barbara Burger, president of CTV, in a release. "Our Future Energy Fund investment in Zap Energy adds to Chevron's portfolio of companies we believe are likely to have a role in the energy transition."

This Series A investment is the 10th for Chevron's Future Energy Fund, which focuses on investments in companies that enable macro decarbonization, the mobility-energy nexus, and energy decentralization.

"Our Future Energy Fund investments provide us with strategic insight into power generation markets and potentially disruptive impacts of innovative approaches, like fusion, geothermal, wind, and solar, on the conventional power value chain," says Burger.

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Coworking concept delivers 28,000-square-foot expansion in the Ion

move in ready

The coworking space in the Ion has increased by 50 percent thanks to a recent expansion project.

Dallas-based Common Desk has officially delivered on its project to expand the coworking space in the Ion that it originally opened on the second floor two years ago. Now, coworkers have access to a total of 86,400 square feet of space, including newly opened space on the fourth floor. The company has agreed to a 10-year commitment to the Ion with the expansion.

“This expansion of Common Desk at The Ion was designed specifically to complement the existing amenities and serve remote and hybrid work styles," Austin Gauley, head of design at Common Desk says in the news release. "There's a variety of video conferencing room types—from multiple individual private rooms, to a large group presentation-style room—all equipped with state-of-the-art technology that is also user-friendly.

"We doubled down on outfitting our space with more art from local artists and creative works that reflect the community," Gauley continues. "Altogether, we've built a range of workspace solutions to fuel creativity and productivity."

Common Desk has grown in Houston over the past few years, opening its sixth location earlier this year. The Ion location is home to many Houston startups and entrepreneurs. Passes, desks, and offices are all available at the Ion's coworking space.

"Common Desk's expansion at the Ion is a testament to the community and experience we've created here," Jan Odegard, executive director at the Ion, says in the release. "Accessibility to connections and an array of amenities and resources continues to drive traffic for us, and we are thrilled to welcome the anticipated growth of new like-minded individuals coming to the Ion daily."

Passes, desks, and offices are all available at the Ion's coworking space. Photo via thecommondesk.com

Groundbreaking prosthesis device designed at UH earns international ‘luminary’ award

give him a hand

A recent University of Houston graduate is receiving international recognition for his 3D-printable finger prosthesis.

David Edquilang, the creator of a low-cost prosthesis known as Lunet, was awarded the 2023 Red Dot: Luminary award last month at the Red Dot Award: Design Concept ceremony in Singapore. The luminary award is the highest recognition given at the international event, according to a release from UH.

Edquilang, who graduated from UH in 2022, developed Lunet while he was a student at the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design and under the mentorship of UH associate professor and co-director of the Industrial Design program Jeff Feng.

The prosthesis is made up of polylactic acid and thermoplastic polyurethane, two common types of 3D-printed plastics, and designed to be simple but essentially indestructible.

Lunet's "fingers" are made of four parts held together by plastic pins, compared to other prosthetics that feature many different parts and require metal fasteners, adhesives or tools.

“The problem with higher mechanical complexity is that these designs are less durable,” Edquilang says in the statement. “The more parts you have, the more points of failure. You need to make prosthetic fingers robust and as strong as possible, so it doesn’t break under normal use, yet you want the design to be simple. This was one of the greatest challenges in making Lunet.”

Lunet is also unique in that it includes a linkage mechanism that allows the fingers' distal knuckle (closest to the fingertip) to be more flexible, and even partially hyperextend backward to be more durable and realistic.

What's perhaps the rarest component of Lunet is that Edquilang has made it open access on the internet.

“Not every good idea needs to be turned into a business. Sometimes, the best ideas just need to be put out there,” Edquilang adds. “Medical insurance will often not cover the cost of a finger prosthesis, since it is not considered vital enough compared to an arm or leg. Making Lunet available online for free will allow it to help the greatest number of people."

The concept was born after Edquilang worked on an upper limb prosthesis with fellow UH student Niell Gorman. After that project wrapped, Edquilang, in partnership with Harris Health System, began designing a prosthetic hand for a woman who had lost three fingers due to frostbite. Edquilang and Feng continued to refine the product, and after conceptualizing the breakthrough idea for the flexible linkage for the distal knuckle, Lunet became what it is today.

The product has also won a 2023 Red Dot: Best of the Best award, two 2023 DNA Paris Design Awards, Gold for the 2023 Spark Design Award, and is currently a U.S. National Runner Up for the 2023 James Dyson Award.

“It feels great knowing you have the capability to positively impact people’s lives and give them help they otherwise wouldn’t be able to get,” Edquilang says.

This summer UH researchers also published their work on a wearable human-machine interface device that can track and record important health information but is less noticeable and lighter than a Band-Aid. The device could be attached to a robotic hand or prosthetic, as well as other robotic devices that can collect and report information to the wearer.

Also this summer, a team from Rice published their work on a new system of haptic accessories that rely heavily on fluidic control over electrical inputs to signal or simulate touch to a wearer. The technology, which was backed by the National Science Foundation, has uses for those with visual and auditory impairments and offers a slimmed-down design compared to other bulky complex haptic wearables.

Greening the bottom line: Houston expert on the business strategy for sustainability

Guest Column

Amid remarkable fund allocation towards tackling environmental, social, and corporate governance issues, investors deeply concerned about climate change exert substantial leverage on firms and regulators to make reforms.

Furthermore, the Securities and Exchange Commission has proposed new rules requiring all publicly listed corporations to disclose climate change risks in their regular filings with clear reporting obligations, such as information on direct greenhouse gas emissions (Scope 1), indirect emissions from purchased electricity or other forms of energy (Scope 2), as well as GHG emissions from upstream and downstream activities in the value chain (Scope 3).

Although sustainability has invariably moved to the top of the corporate agenda across various sectors, businesses still face challenges in effectively implementing these transformative changes. Many companies are still dealing with questions like:

  • What problems and possibilities should they prioritize?
  • Where should they devote time, effort, and money to have the most long term effect via business processes?
  • What principles, policies, and internal standards should be implemented to initiate the process and get good ESG ratings?
  • When do corporate sustainability challenges necessitate collaborations with other businesses to meet commitments and achieve goals?
  • What organizational behavior and change management measures should be incorporated to induce sustainability into the corporate culture?

One-fifth of businesses still need a sustainability plan in place, and fewer than 30 percent feel the effect of that strategy is evident to all employees.

Introducing climate-related practices across businesses and corporations takes time and effort. Since sustainability transformation initiatives span multiple business functions and units, whether they are helping or hurting the bottom line is often a fuzzy picture. It is not easy to quantify near-term profitable impacts directly emanating from sustainable strategies, disincentivizing many businesses from setting ambitious carbon reduction targets.

Businesses often struggle with what they intend to assess and what "good enough" performance looks like for the firm. Furthermore, sustainability performance reporting is infested with the inherent stakes of the legitimacy of data collection, defining the metrics and materiality, accountability to the stakeholders, the dynamism of the business environment, the complexity of reporting standards, and the risk of obsolescence of the tool.

For context, there are approximately 600 sustainability reporting standards, industry efforts, frameworks, and recommendations worldwide. Additionally, the one-directional data collection method used by the carbon market trading systems for scoring analyses often leads to intentional or unintentional greenwashing.

So then, what is the path forward?

An effective strategy would involve adopting a synergistic approach, just like the yin and the yang elements that embody balance and harmony on two distinct yet interconnected levels. The yin aspect, prevailing at the government level, would require a robust standardization of reporting frameworks via policymaking and regulations that can effectively implement suitable transformation engines for businesses. It will entail developing adaptable market mechanisms to successfully guide businesses and consumers to identify, plan, navigate, strategize, and execute greenhouse gas reduction initiatives. It will require answers to foundational questions like:

  • What tools and resources can help businesses improve their financial performance by reducing energy waste and energy costs?
  • How do manufacturers engage their suppliers in low-cost technical reviews to improve process lines, use materials more efficiently, and reduce waste?
  • How can waste management and recycling help a business by saving money, energy, and natural resources?

There is a dire need to standardize and consolidate the industry benchmarks and reporting frameworks against which businesses can assess their performance for climate action and potentially improve their bottom line by investing in appropriate carbon mitigation activities. This will create a fundamental shift in the mindset of corporates and raise the level of conversation from "Should we implement sustainable business frameworks?" to "How we could best implement sustainable frameworks for better ROI and an impactful bottom line?"

On the other hand, the yang element operates at the business or corporation level. Successful execution of sustainability strategies entails interweaving the sustainability thread into the business core across strategies and processes, operations and personnel, and products and services.

What is the business case for sustainability efforts? From operational cost savings to expansion in new markets, from enhanced brand equity to investor interest and share expansion, companies that incorporate robust and scalable sustainable practices have opportunities to unlock new sources of value capture and new markets that can deliver immediate financial rewards. Such measures will demonstrate the overall sustainability transformation's power and potentially provide money or cost savings to fund other components.

One way to do it is by introducing circular business models to reshape the whole product usage cycle: re-engineering product designs with more sustainable materials, redesigning the manufacturing lifecycle, recycling products, packaging, and waste, and reducing emissions in transportation, water, and energy consumption activities. By leveraging technology and AI in the extended system of interactions within and outside the business, companies can monitor, predict, and reduce the carbon emissions in their supply chains and yield immediate financial results.

Designing, implementing, and managing the foundational governance of sustainable business practices, strategies, structure, and tactics will require robust governance of sustainability efforts in all key business areas, including marketing, sales, product development, and finance. Additionally, organizational values, leadership initiative from the CEO and board level to the employees, and stakeholder interest are necessary to drive value for business policy. Involving employees in decision-making will help induce better commitment and accountability to implementing economic, social, environmental, and technologically sustainable interventions and initiatives.

Finally, businesses need to understand that they could truly develop long-term business success and shareholder value when they stop viewing sustainability from a compliance or ESG reporting lens. Long-term business success cannot be achieved solely by maximizing short-term profits but through market-oriented yet responsible behavior that automatically drives enhanced business bottom lines. This demands a collaborative partnership between policymakers, the private sector, nonprofit organizations, academia, and civic society to usher in economic growth, competitiveness, and consumer interest. This partnership is essential for environmental protection and social responsibility to ensure a sustainable future.

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Ruchi Gupta is a certified mentor and vice chair at SCORE Houston. This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.