Nancy and Rich Kinder gifted $50M to their eponymous center. Photo courtesy

Houston’s most generous couple has once again gifted a massive sum to a local institution. Rich and Nancy Kinder’s Kinder Foundation has donated $50 million to Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research, the organization announced.

The Kinder's generous grant will assist the institute’s focus on what it dubs “inclusive prosperity” — that is, “ensuring that everyone can contribute to Houston's success and share in its opportunities.”

This new grant follows the approximately $30 million he Kinder Foundation previously gifted Rice’s Kinder Institute and its affiliates to facilitate its headquarters.

“Over the past decade, the Kinder Institute has played an integral role in shaping Houston,” said Rich Kinder, chairman of the Kinder Foundation. “However, we can do more to inform and more directly address the challenges our communities face, particularly in the areas of housing, education, economic mobility, health and population research.”

To that end, the Kinders’ funds will ensure the institute can assist its partners regardless of their ability to pay for research. Funds will also help the institute respond to community research needs quickly during times of crisis — such as a catastrophic storm or pandemic — when funds aren’t readily available.

Kinder Institute director Ruth López Turley calls the grant “a gift to all of Houston,” speaking to the institute’s work to improve lives through data, research, engagement and action.

“Inclusive prosperity doesn’t just happen spontaneously,” she noted in a statement. “It requires an explicit effort informed by research. Lots of organizations are working hard to make things better, but most of them have very limited research capacity, and that’s what the Kinder Institute is primed to do.”

Founded in 2010, the institute has evolved into a leader in research, data, and policy analysis of critical issues such as housing, transportation, and education. The institute also releases the familiar Kinder Houston Area Survey, which charts significant changes in the way area residents perceive and understand Houston’s ongoing challenges and opportunities.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston Methodist received its second largest gift in the hospital's 102-year history. Courtesy of Methodist Hospital/Facebook

Houston hospital receives anonymous $50M donation to support specialty treatments

big time gift

On the heels of kicking off construction for a $1.4 billion hospital tower at the Texas Medical Center, Houston Methodist has announced an anonymous $50 million gift.

The donation is the second largest received in the 102-year history of Houston Methodist.

Coupled with matching gifts and other sources of money, the gift’s overall impact will exceed $154 million, Houston Methodist says. Among the areas that will benefit from the funds are orthopedics, sports medicine, neuroprosthetics, gastrointestinal medicine, and immunology.

“Houston Methodist is honored to have the support of generous donors who entrust us to continue building on our legacy of leading medicine,” Dr. Marc Boom, president and CEO of Houston Methodist, says in a news release.

“This donor represents the giving spirit of the Houston community and believes in the unparalleled work our physicians, researchers, and staff do to bring lifesaving and life-changing treatments to our patients throughout the city and the country,” Boom adds. “We’re humbled to have this support and excited for what it will help us accomplish in the future.”

Highlights of the gift’s impact include:

  • Creation of an endowed position for the Houston Methodist Neuromodulation & Recovery Laboratory in collaboration with Rice University’s George R. Brown School of Engineering.
  • Support of the Center for Musculoskeletal Regeneration and Joint Preservation and Outcomes Laboratory.
  • Establishment of at least 20 endowments and support of special programs in areas such as imaging, nursing, ophthalmology, reconstructive surgery, surgery, and women’s health.

Earlier this month, Houston Methodist said it started construction on the 26-story Centennial Tower at the Texas Medical Center.

Set to open in 2027, the tower will include a larger emergency department and hundreds of patient beds, among other features. The new tower will replace Houston Methodist’s Houston Main building and West Pavilion.

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Mackenzie Scott has gifted tens of millions to Houston-area organizations and institutions, and her latest gift is to Prairie View A&M University. Photo courtesy of Prairie View A&M

Philanthropist gifts historic $50 million to Houston-area university

major gift

Historically Black universities have traditionally been overshadowed and underfunded compared to their non-Black collegiate counterparts. But now, a major public figure's game-changing gift has helped level the playing field for a beloved Houston-area school.

Noted author and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott (many know her as the former wife of Amazon CEO and billionaire Jeff Bezos) has donated a massive $50 million to Prairie View A&M University, the institution announced on December 15. The gift is the largest one-time endowment in the school's 144-year history.

Under terms of the donation, the funds can be used at the discretion of the president to support the needs of the university, per a press release. Administrators have chosen to designate $10 million of the total to create the Panther Success Grant Program, an effort to assist juniors and seniors with unpaid balances created by the financial challenges posed by COVID, the school announced.

"This is a historic gift for Prairie View, coming at a time when the university had already decided and begun to invest heavily in key areas to strengthen its academic programs and improve student success," said Ruth J. Simmons, president of Prairie View, in a statement. "The timing of this gift could therefore not be better."

Simmons adds in a statement that she had been in contact with Scott "about a matter not involving Prairie View," and thus was "stunned and, for a time speechless" when Scott's assistant phoned and revealed the donation.

Another whopping gift from Scott includes $18 million to the Greater Houston YMCA.

In a post on Medium, Scott notes that she and her advisers have disbursed over $4 billion in gifts to 384 organizations across all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington D.C. over the last four months. This is in effort to "accelerate my 2020 giving through immediate support to people suffering the economic effects of the crisis," Scott writes.

Scott's generosity includes myriad Texas organizations and groups, including:

  • Easterseals of Greater Houston
  • Easterseals Rehabilitation Center, San Antonio
  • East Texas Food Bank
  • El Pasoans Fighting Hunger
  • Feeding the Gulf Coast
  • South Texas Food Bank
  • Southeast Texas Food Bank
  • Goodwill Houston
  • Goodwill Industries of Dallas
  • Goodwill Industries of East Texas
  • Goodwill Industries of Fort Worth
  • Goodwill Industries of San Antonio
  • Heart of Texas Goodwill Industries
  • Meals on Wheels Central Texas
  • Meals on Wheels Montgomery County
  • Meals on Wheels North Central Texas
  • Texas A&M International University
  • United Way of El Paso County
  • United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County
  • YMCA of Greater Houston
  • YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas
  • YWCA El Paso del Norte Region
  • YWCA Greater Austin
  • YWCA of Lubbock
  • YWCA San Antonio
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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

The Coogs have scored some serious cash. Photo courtesy of University of Houston

University of Houston roars with massive $1.2 billion raised in new campaign

Cougar cash

The University of Houston Cougars have a reason to roar this fall. The school has announced a massive fundraising feat of $1.2 billion for scholarships, professorships, facilities, and programs as part of the "Here, We Go" initiative that closed on August 31.

Specifically, the campaign raised $1,235,427,334. The final tally was announced by UH System Chancellor and UH president Renu Khator during her 12th annual fall address on October 28., where she thanked high-profile donors and volunteer campaign co-chairs Tilman J. Fertitta ('78), Beth Madison ('72), John L. Nau III, and Marvin E. Odum III (M.B.A. '95).

The campaign, which surpassed the $1 billion milestone in 2019, some 18 months ahead of schedule, was designed to strategically transform UH System universities with priorities to support student scholarships and fellowships, build state-of-the-art facilities, attract and retain top faculty, advance academic programs, workforce training and research, and build a nationally relevant athletics program, according to a press release. It began in 2012 and launched publicly in January 2017, before concluding in August of this year.

More than 187,000 donors, including 133,000 new donors contributed to the campaign, highlighting the pride felt by alumni and friends. Donations came from all 50 states and 46 countries, according to the school.

Donation highlights include:

  • $50 million gift from an anonymous donor — the campaign's single largest contribution to hire faculty and establish four new institutes in the areas of energy, infrastructure, precision medicine, and global engagement.
  • $20 million from Tilman J. Fertitta for renovation and construction of the Fertitta Center, a 7,100-seat multi-purpose arena that is home to the Houston Cougars men's and women's basketball teams and the women's volleyball team.
  • $20 million from the John P. McGovern Foundation benefitting arts students and faculty. The Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts was named in honor of the gift.
  • $17 million from Andy and Andrea Diamond to create the Diamond Family Scholars program which offers financial, academic and mentoring support for students aging out of the foster care system.
  • $16 million from the John M. O'Quinn Foundation to support the UH Law Center and construction of its new state-of-the-art building, the John M. O'Quinn Law Building.
  • $15 million thanks to Humana Inc. to launch the Humana Integrated Health System Sciences Institute and help defray start-up and operational costs for the UH College of Medicine, as well as fund endowed chairs at several UH colleges.
  • $13 million from the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Family Foundation to the nation's No. 1 undergraduate entrepreneurship program at the C.T. Bauer College of Business with a total expected impact of $15 million with matching gift.

"You inspired us to dream big, challenged us to be relevant and forced us to stay focused," said Khator, in a statement. "You led us from all directions, often making calls for us and introducing us to people who cared about Houston and our role in Houston's future."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Looking back: Top 5 most-read Houston research-focused stories of 2021

2022 in review

Editor's note: As 2022 comes to a close, InnovationMap is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston innovation. In many cases, innovative startups originate from meticulous research deep within institutions. This past year, InnovationMap featured stories on these research institutions — from their breakthrough innovations to funding fueling it all. Here are five Houston research-focused articles that stood out to readers this year — be sure to click through to read the full story.


Texas nonprofit cancer research funder doles out millions to health professionals moving to Houston

These cancer research professionals just got fresh funding from a statewide organization. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Thanks in part to multimillion-dollar grants from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, two top-flight cancer researchers are taking key positions at Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine.

Dr. Pavan Reddy and Dr. Michael Taylor each recently received a grant of $6 million from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

Reddy is leaving his position as chief of hematology-oncology and deputy director at the University of Michigan’s Rogel Cancer Center to become director of the Baylor College of Medicine’s Dan L. Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. C. Kent Osborne stepped down as the center’s director in 2020; Dr. Helen Heslop has been the interim director. Continue reading.

Rice University deploys grant funding to 9 innovative Houston research projects

Nine research projects at Rice University have been granted $25,000 to advance their innovative solutions. Photo courtesy of Rice

Over a dozen Houston researchers wrapped up 2021 with the news of fresh funding thanks to an initiative and investment fund from Rice University.

The Technology Development Fund is a part of the university’s Creative Ventures initiative, which has awarded more than $4 million in grants since its inception in 2016. Rice's Office of Technology Transfer orchestrated the $25,000 grants across nine projects. Submissions were accepted through October and the winners were announced a few weeks ago. Continue reading.

Houston researchers create unprecedented solar energy technology that improves on efficiency

Two researchers out of the University of Houston have ideated a way to efficiently harvest carbon-free energy 24 hours a day. Photo via Getty Images

Two Houstonians have developed a new system of harvesting solar energy more efficiently.

Bo Zhao, the Kalsi Assistant Professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Houston, along with his doctoral student Sina Jafari Ghalekohneh, have created a technology that theoretically allows solar energy to be harvested to the thermodynamic limit, which is the absolute maximum rate sunlight can be converted into electricity, as reported in a September article for Physical Review Applied.

Traditional solar thermophotovoltaics (STPVs), or the engines used to extract electrical power from thermal radiation, run at an efficiency limit of 85.4 percent, according to a statement from UH. Zhao and Ghalekohneh's system was able to reach a rate of 93.3 percent, also known as the Landsberg Limit. Continue reading.

Texas A&M receives $10M to create cybersecurity research program

Texas A&M University has announced a new cybersecurity-focused initiative. Photo via tamu.edu

Texas A&M University has launched an institute for research and education regarding cybersecurity.

The Texas A&M Global Cyber Research Institute is a collaboration between the university and a Texas A&M University System engineering research agency, the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station. The research agency and Texas A&M are also home to the Texas A&M Cybersecurity Center.

The institute is funded by $10 million in gifts from former Texas A&M student Ray Rothrock, a venture capitalist and cybersecurity expert, and other donors. Continue reading.

Houston research organization doles out $28M in grants to innovators across Texas

Houston-based Welch Foundation has awarded almost $28 million in chemical research grants throughout Texas this year. Photo via Getty Images

Chemical researchers at seven institutions in the Houston area are receiving nearly $12.9 million grants from the Houston-based Welch Foundation.

In the Houston area, 43 grants are going to seven institutions:

  • Baylor College of Medicine
  • Rice University
  • Texas A&M University
  • Texas A&M University Health Science Center
  • University of Houston
  • University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
  • University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston

The Welch Foundation is awarding almost $28 million in chemical research grants throughout Texas this year. The money will be allocated over a three-year period. Continue reading.

University of Houston powers up first robot food server in a U.S. restaurant

order up

The University of Houston is taking a bold step — or, in this case, roll — in foodservice delivery. UH's Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership is now deploying a robot server in Eric’s Restaurant at its Hilton College.

Booting up this new service is major bragging rights for the Coogs, as UH is now the only college in the country — and the only restaurant facility in Houston — to utilize a robotic food delivery.

These rolling delivery bots come from the state-of-the-art food service robot called Servi. The bots, created by Bear Robotics, are armed with LiDar sensors, cameras, and trays, and automatically return to their posts when internal weight sensors detect a delivery has been completed.

Not surprisingly, these futuristic food staffers are booting up plenty of buzz at UH.

“People are excited about it,” says Dennis Reynolds, who is dean of the Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership and oversees the only hospitality program in the world where students work and take classes in an internationally branded, full-service hotel. Launching robot waitstaff at UH as a test market makes sense, he notes, for practical use and larger implications.

The Servi robots deliver food from the kitchen to the table. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

“Robotics and the general fear of technology we see today are really untested in the restaurant industry,” he says in an announcement. “At Hilton College, it’s not just about using tomorrow’s technology today. We always want to be the leader in learning how that technology impacts the industry.”

Bear Robotics, a tech company founded by restaurant experts and tech entrepreneurs, hosted a Servi showcase at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago earlier this year. After seeing the demo, Reynolds was hooked. UH's Servi robot arrived at Eric’s Restaurant in October.

Before sending the bot to diners' tables, the bot was prepped by Tanner Lucas, the executive chef and foodservice director at Eric’s. That meant weeks of mapping, programming, and — not surprisingly — “test driving” around the restaurant.

Tanner even created a digital map of the restaurant to teach the Servi its pathways and designated service points, such as table numbers. “Then, we sent it back and forth to all of those points from the kitchen with food to make sure it wouldn’t run into anything," he adds.

But does having a robot deliver food create friction between human and automated staff? Not at Eric's. “The robot helps my workflow,” Joel Tatum, a server at Eric’s says. “It lets me spend more time with my customers instead of just chasing and running food.”

Once loaded, the kitchen staff can tell the Servi robots where to take the dishes. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

Reynolds believes robots will complement their human counterparts and actually enhance the customer experience, even in unlikely settings.

“Studies have been conducted in senior living facilities where you might think a robot wouldn’t be well received, but it’s been just the opposite,” Reynolds says. “Those residents saw the change in their lives and loved it.”

To that end, he plans to use Servi bots in other UH venues. “The ballroom would be a fantastic place to showcase Servi – not as a labor-saving device, but as an excitement generator,” Reynolds notes. “To have it rotating through a big event delivering appetizers would be really fun.”

Critics who denounce robot servers and suggest they will soon displace humans are missing the point, Reynolds adds. “This isn’t about cutting our labor costs. It’s about building our top-line revenues and expanding our brand as a global hospitality innovator,” Reynolds says. “People will come to expect more robotics, more artificial intelligence in all segments of hospitality, and our students will be right there at the forefront.”

Servi bots come at a time of dynamic growth for Hilton College. A recent rebrand to “Global Hospitality Leadership” comes as the college hotel is undergoing a $30 million expansion and renovation, which includes a new five-story, 70-room guest tower. The student-run Cougar Grounds coffeehouse reopened this semester in a larger space with plenty of updates. The neighboring Eric’s Club Center for Student Success helps with recruitment and enrollment, undergraduate academic services, and career development.

“To be the first university in the country to introduce robotics in the dining room is remarkable,” Reynolds adds. “There are a lot of unique things we’re doing at Hilton College.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston innovator on seeing a greener future on built environment

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 162

An architect by trade, Anas Al Kassas says he was used to solving problems in his line of work. Each project architects take on requires building designers to be innovative and creative. A few years ago, Kassas took his problem-solving background into the entrepreneurship world to scale a process that allows for retrofitting window facades for energy efficiency.

“If you look at buildings today, they are the largest energy-consuming sector — more than industrial and more than transportation,” Kassas, founder and CEO of INOVUES, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. “They account for up to 40 percent of energy consumption and carbon emissions.”

To meet their climate goals, companies within the built environment are making moves to transition to electric systems. This has to be done with energy efficiency in mind, otherwise it will result in grid instability.

"Energy efficiency goes hand in hand with energy transition," he explains.

Kassas says that he first had the idea for his company when he was living in Boston. He chose to start the business in Houston, attracted to the city by its central location, affordable labor market, and manufacturing opportunities here.

Last year, INOVUES raised its first round of funding — a $2.75 million seed round — to scale up the team and identify the best markets to target customers. Kassas says he was looking for regions with rising energy rates and sizable incentives for companies making energy efficient changes.

"We were able to now implement our technology in over 4 million square feet of building space — from Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York City, Portland, and very soon in Canada," he says.

Notably missing from that list is any Texas cities. Kassas says that he believes Houston is a great city for startups and he has his operations and manufacturing is based here, but he's not yet seen the right opportunity and adaption

"Unfortunately most of our customers are not in Texas," "A lot of work can be done here to incentivize building owners. There are a lot of existing buildings and construction happening here, but there has to be more incentives."

Kassas shares more about his growth over the past year, as well as what he has planned for 2023 on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.