The City of Houston is aiming to have Arco del Tiempo installed in 2024. Photo courtesy of The City of Houston

The City of Houston has unveiled the first look at the latest permanent public artwork that will be installed in the Second Ward in 2024. The sculpture is the first-ever environmentally sustainable art piece that will generate electricity for the nearby City-owned Latino multicultural performing arts theater.

Arco del Tiempo (Arch of Time) is a 100-foot tall arch designed by Berlin-based artist and architect Riccardo Mariano. Several years have been put into the making of this project, dating as far back as 2019. Mariano had entered the idea into a Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI) design competition in the Houston sister-city of Abu Dhabi. From there, it was chosen to be developed full-scale and installed at Guadalupe Plaza Park.

According to a press release, the sculpture can measure time and cast beams of sunlight onto the ground, creating a connection between "the celestial and the terrestrial" through the geometry of the design.

The light beams are different based on the four seasons and the time of day, constantly shifting and responding to the latitude and longitude of the city from space. Mariano said that his sculpture is a "practical example" of how physical art can interact with the abstract, such as the Earth's movement around the sun.

"The apparent movement of the sun in the sky activates the space with light and colors and engages viewers who participate in the creation of the work by their presence," said Mariano. "Arco del Tiempo merges renewable energy generation with public space and into the everyday life of the Second Ward. Inspired by science and powered by renewable energy, the artwork is a bridge between art and technology and encourages educational purposes while improving public space. At night the space within the arch will be used as a stage for outdoor public events.”

"At night the space within the arch will be used as a stage for outdoor public events,” Riccardo Mariano said.Photo courtesy of The City of Houston

Arco del Tiempo will do more than just be an aesthetically pleasing sight for the community. Its meaningful, functional purpose will be to generate about 400,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, and power the Talento Bilingüe de Houston. LAGI founding co-director Elizabeth Monoian said in the release the sculpture will generate over 12 million kilowatt-hours of power throughout its lifetime, which equals the removal of 8,500 metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

"Through the clean energy it produces, Arco del Tiempo will pay back its embodied carbon footprint," Monoian said. "In other words, all the energy that went into its making—from the smelting of the steel to the drilling that puts the final cladding into place—will be offset through the energy it generates. Beyond its break-even point, which we will track and celebrate with the community, the artwork will be a net-positive contributor to a healthy climate and the planet will be better off for its existence.”

In a statement, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner praised the unique art piece as more than just a sculpture, but as a "monument to a new era of energy."

"The City of Houston has always stood at the vanguard of energy innovation and the Arco del Tiempo artwork stands in that tradition, highlighting Houston’s role as an art city and as global leader in the energy transition," Mayor Turner said. "We are inspired by the vision and creative thinking. Marrying clean energy, the built environment, and truly World Class art is Houston.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

The 130,000-square-foot Resilience Manufacturing Hub is coming to the Second Ward. Photo houston.org

$32M resilience-focused hub to rise in Houston's East End

coming soon

A first-of-its-kind manufacturing hub designed to “future proof” residential, commercial, industrial, and public sector infrastructure is coming to Houston.

The 130,000-square-foot Resilience Manufacturing Hub will house functions such as R&D, manufacturing, and assembly for products aimed at improving the resilience of homes, office buildings, warehouses, and other components of the “built environment.”

“We are looking for any product or technology solution that can reduce the impact from the next generation of disasters … by helping people thrive, not just survive, in their own community,” says Richard Seline, co-founder and managing director of the Houston-based Resilience Innovation Hub. The innovation hub is a partner in the manufacturing hub.

Seline says the manufacturing hub, with an estimated price tag of $32 million, will directly employ about 60 people. He expects the facility to either generate or “upskill” about 240 off-site jobs.

The manufacturing hub will be built adjacent to the 300,000-square-foot East End Maker Hub, which is opened in Houston’s Second Ward neighborhood two years ago. Seline says five companies already have expressed interest in being tenants at the manufacturing hub, which is set to open by next summer.

The East End Maker Hub, a public-private endeavor, opened in the summer of 2021. Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

“We know that the supply chains keep failing over and over again in regard to responding to and rebuilding after disasters. This is a way to address that,” Seline says of the manufacturing hub.

Aside from the innovation hub and East End Maker Hub, partners in the manufacturing venture are the nonprofit Urban Partnerships Community Development Corp. (UPC) and modular construction company VEMAS. UPC is based in Houston, and VEMAS has a Houston office.

“The Resilience Manufacturing Hub is one of four pillars in UPC’s vision for an Invest Houston strategy to grow our economy from within by directly impacting middle-income employment — vital for the 1 million jobs projected as a gap in greater Houston’s long-term competitiveness,” says Patrick Ezzell, president and chairman of UPC and founder of the East End Maker Hub.

The manufacturing hub will work hand in hand with the innovation hub. The innovation hub assesses and addresses risks triggered by climate-produced, manmade, pandemic-related and cybersecurity threats. Hub participants work on innovations aimed at alleviating these risks.

In 2012, the National Academy of Sciences defined resilience as “the ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from, and more successfully adapt to adverse events.” Those events include hurricanes and floods.

The resilience movement got a substantial boost last year thanks to passage of the federal Community Disaster Resilience Zones Act. The law allows for designation of resilience zones in communities that are at high risk of natural disasters and have limited resources. These zones will qualify for federal funding earmarked for resilience efforts.

Harris County scores nearly 98 out of 100 on the National Risk Index, generated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), putting it into the “very high” risk category for natural hazards.

Yet Harris County ekes out a score of 12.73 out of 100 for community resilience, landing it in the “very low” category. This means the county has a poor ability to prepare for natural hazards, adapt to changing conditions, and withstand and recover from disruptions.

Richard Seline is the co-founder and managing director of the Houston-based Resilience Innovation Hub. Photo courtesy

Erik Ibarra's latest venture is to give agency to residents in the neighborhood he grew up in. Photo courtesy

Serial entrepreneur launches new fund to support Houston's East End community development

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 193

Innovation isn't always tinkering with tech or programming software, although serial entrepreneur Erik Ibarra knows that world well. Sometimes it's about rethinking how a community improves and develops without doing the residents a disservice.

That's why Ibarra started Magnolia Fund, a mission-driven investment fund dedicated to enriching the East End community and preserving the neighborhood's culture and history. Ibarra, who has lived in the area the majority of his life, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast, that he's looking to turn residents into investors.

"Our investors from the neighborhood, today they walk around and look at their house and say, 'I own that,' and that's great," Ibarra says. "In the future, our investors should be able to say that, and then point to a building and say, 'I own a portion of that building too. And I helped that small business over there.'"

Ibarra explains that he's seen the East End area evolve a lot, and he wants to create a way to make sure residents are a part of that evolution and aren't being left behind in that process.

"Over the years, I've felt like there's so much development going on. But, the people from the neighborhood are very often just passive — they don't get a chance to benefit from or think about how they could participate in these new developments," Ibarra says. "The neighborhood is very close to my heart, and, about a year ago, I realized I wanted to do something about this."

The limited partners of the Magnolia Fund will contribute as investors, and then Ibarra and his team will identify a worthy development to take control of. As he explains, the vision for the property is "La Sala," a living room for the community, with an open area for communing, a kitchen incubator for food entrepreneurs, and an outdoor patio and stage for music and events.

While this is his first foray into the investor side of the equation, Ibarra has been an entrepreneur in Houston since the early 2000s. He's been an active mentor to startup founders, and has seen the ecosystem develop as he's started and grown his businesses.

He's currently the founder and CEO of ORDRS, a digital health platform for optimized lab testing founded in 2018. The company's B2B platform enables health care providers to better manage lab testing, and Ibarra says ORDRS saw a lot of growth during the pandemic. Something he's passionate about with this venture is the ability to provide better access and information about lab testing to patients.

"As a company we strive for transparency in health care," Ibarra says. "If we could provide instant access to a menu of tests for our customers, ... then hopefully our customers can pass those savings on to those customers. Access to testing is important. Access to the transparency in pricing is equally important."

Ibarra shares more about ORDRS, his role as a mentor, and his vision for the fund on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Volumetric Biotechnologies has announced its moving its HQ to the East End Maker Hub. Image courtesy of East End Maker Hub

3D-printing startup to move into rising Houston innovation and maker hub

moving around Hou

The East End Maker Hub has landed perhaps its most intriguing tenant thus far — a Houston startup that makes 3D-printed human organs.

Volumetric Biotechnologies Inc. has leased 11,200 square feet at the East End Maker Hub to serve as its headquarters and manufacturing center. Jordan Miller, co-founder of Volumetric, says one of the benefits of being located at the hub will be access to a cleanroom operated by Alchemy Industrial, a 3D manufacturer of medical devices. Earlier this year, Houston-based Alchemy leased more than 5,400 square feet at the East End hub.

Volumetric will occupy space in the first phase of the 307,000-square-foot project East End Maker Hub. That phase of the $37 million project is set to open soon. The startup's current 5,000-square-foot headquarters is at 7505 Fannin St., near the Woman's Hospital of Texas and south of the Texas Medical Center.

Miller says Volumetric's new home will help it "maintain and accelerate our already breakneck progress." Volumetric's 12 biological, chemical, mechanical, and electrical engineers focus on producing human organs and tissues like the liver, kidney, pancreas, lung, and heart using a mix of medical-grade plastics and human cells.

"We're straining to scale our company as fast as our team is inventing and progressing our technologies. It's an absolutely wonderful problem to have," Miller says.

Volumetric hopes to commercialize its 3D-printed organs in 2021. Founded in 2018, Volumetric is a privately held spin-out of Rice University's Department of Bioengineering. It has received $1.8 million in funding, according to Crunchbase. Investors include Silicon Valley-based Sand Hill Angels, and the Springfield, Virginia-based Methuselah Foundation and Methuselah Fund.

Local Realtor Mike Pittman, a development associate with Pearland-based project partner Urban Partnerships Community Development Corp., recruited Volumetric to the hub. He says he's also working with a distillery, a coffee roaster, and a medical gown manufacturer on leasing space there.

The first phase of the East End Maker Hub is set to open soon. Image courtesy of East End Maker Hub

Once the East End Maker Hub opens, Houston's East End District will be home to the largest maker hub in Texas and one of the largest such facilities in the U.S. Being built in three phases on a 21-acre site at 6501 Navigation Blvd., the East End Maker Hub aims to create an environment that gives members of the community access to trade skills and career opportunities, and to provide businesses a place for innovation and manufacturing. The hub's second and third phases are on track to be finished in 2021.

The soon-to-open first phase will feature "white box" suites, ranging in size from 420 square feet to 20,000 square feet, that cater to three sectors:

  • Innovation (robotics, 3D printing, and R&D)
  • Crafting (ceramics, fine woodworking, and screen printing)
  • Light fabrication (food production).

Aside from Alchemy, tenants recently lined up for the hub include Houston-based Waste Management Inc., whose R&D team will occupy more than 3,500 square feet, and Houston-based construction technology company Rugged Robotics Inc., which is renting 1,700 square feet.

"We're not the place for software companies, but our innovation area is the place for hardware companies — those that are into drones, robotics, 3D printing," Pittman says.

The project's hardware innovation element could boost Houston's manufacturing economy, he says. A recent analysis by the Smartest Dollar website found that 7.5 percent of the Houston metro area's workforce is employed in manufacturing. From 1999 to 2019, the number of manufacturing jobs in Houston grew by just 1.9 percent.

So far, the nonprofit TXRX Labs makerspace is the hub's largest tenant, having signed a lease for 65,000 square feet in the first phase. TXRX Labs and Urban Partnerships Community Development teamed up to develop the hub. TXRX contributed $1.25 million in equity, and Urban Partnerships Community Development raised $35.75 million in capital.

Houston-based Stewart Builders is the general contractor for the East End Maker Hub, and Houston-based Method Architecture is the architect of record.

Aside from supplying room for businesses and nonprofits to grow, the hub seeks to provide training and jobs for local residents. Pittman says the hub — located within a tax-advantaged Opportunity Zone — encourages its tenants to hire people who live within a three-mile radius.

"You don't have to go and get a Ph.D. in nuclear science for these jobs to be able to attain really good wages for your family," he says.

Phases two and three of the hub are expected in 2021. Image courtesy of East End Maker Hub

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Education equity-focused nonprofit taps into robotics, AI to better serve Houston children

the future is bright

Generally, when children are under the age of five, educators believe that they are best suited for and interested in learning, because those are the years in which there is the strongest opportunity to build a broad and solid foundation for lifelong literacy and well-being.

That sentiment is deeply held by Collaborative for Children, the Houston-based nonprofit organization with the mission to meaningfully improve the quality of early childhood education and provide access to cutting-edge technology through its Centers of Excellence to all children, especially those in low-income and marginalized communities.

“The reason the organization was started about 40 years ago is that a group of philanthropists in the greater Houston area suggested that this was so important because 90 percent of the brain develops or grows in the time frame between ages zero to five years of age,” Melanie Johnson, president and CEO of Collaborative for Children, tells InnovationMap.

“And if we were losing children and not preparing them by third grade to be literate, and then subsequently losing them after that for high dropout rates and achievement gaps between poor and affluent children, that this would be the perfect place to start," she continues. "And so, they put the collaborative, the emphasis, and finances collaborative of every, most every early education effort around this region.”

Collaborative for Children’s work in the community is centered around making sure that there is educational equity for all children, regardless of financial status, and providing access to technologies in meaningful ways.

“Ultimately, we want to bridge the digital divide early on so that when children start off their academic journey, they're starting off equipped with the skills to be successful there on,” says Johnson.

Most recently, the institution has focused on utilizing social-emotional learning robots and coding tech toys like the Pepper — the world’s first social humanoid robot able to recognize faces and basic human emotions — and NAO, which resembles human being and stimulates, robots to enhance learning in the classrooms of its Centers of Excellence.

“Technology enhances the learning experience in the Centers of Excellence in ways that a teacher might not be able to,” says Johnson. “Artificial intelligence is used in gamification to allow a child to play and learn while playing.”

For Collaborative for Children, gamification involves transforming typical academic components into gaming themes.

“While playing, the AI gauges the level of skills that they’ve been able to enter into that system and respond with even more challenging tasks or tasks that are still lateral so that they can continue to repeat that skill,” says Johnson.

The socio-emotional learning robots are indeed fascinating, but how does the nonprofit reach these children, and their parents, who might be skeptical of technology?

Ultimately, through the teachers. They draw them in via the technology. If teachers are excited, they act as a conductor of that energy to their students, making their innovative lessons well, electric.

That resonates with most all children, but especially with those diagnosed with autism.

“Robotics like NAO are great for children on the autism spectrum because they are emotionally sensitive and emotionally intelligent,” says Johnson. “They are low sensory, so as NAO runs around the classroom, it can literally have individual and unique conversations with each child based on facial recognition. But most importantly for me, is that this particular robot is able to evaluate children without statistical bias that a teacher might have.

“A teacher might think that because a child confuses the letter D and B, which are basically shaped the same in opposite directions, that they're not learning," she continues. "And the robot will have no prior knowledge in terms of, is this child the better child, or have they been learning throughout the year? The answers are accurate or inaccurate. So, they remove statistical bias when assessing children in the classroom.”

The misconception about teaching technologies is that it’s about screen time. According to Johnson, it’s not. It’s more about interacting with technology.

“We’ve added, you know, all kinds of modern-day technology so that this world that we're preparing these children for 80 percent of the jobs we don't even know will exist when they are adults,” says Johnson. “So, we're just trying to make sure that there is no divide in terms of 21st century skills and 21st century preparation.”

Building Blocks Ep. 12youtu.be

Collaborative for Children has so many facets to assist children with their early development, but there are inherent challenges when attempting to reach their target audience in low-income and marginalized communities that the organization counters with programs like the Collab Lab, which is a mobile classroom that brings critical, future-focused early childhood education directly to the community at no cost.

Designed to be convenient for families, Collab Lab connects parents and their youngest children with experts, educators, resources, and proven programs whose goal is to make sure that kids have the skills essential to learning from the moment they walk into kindergarten for the first time.

“There are a myriad of challenges in these communities that we serve, specifically with technology,” says Johnson. “When children enter first grade, and especially second grade, they're given notepads, basically, digital notepads, because it's no good in pre-K oftentimes, but it is very helpful for children who will never have access or have limited access to iPads and things of that nature.

“So while we don't want them to be babysat by screen time and have social media impacting their self-image and self-worth, we definitely want them to have appropriate doses and appropriate uses of technology in the early education, so that those barriers that their parents face with limited means, that these children can go to first grade and into the robotics class and be able to be evaluated and assessed on the digital notepads that are required nowadays,” she continues.

While technology is very important, Collaborative for Children also focuses on the critical social and emotional skills children need as they develop and the all too important relationship between children and their parents and teachers.

“Theory leads our work,” says Johnson. “It's all focused on fine motor skills, gross motor skills, social emotional, can a child build rapport with their teacher and with the students around them. Those things are paramount and will never change.

“What we use technology to do is enhance and remove biases from teacher-pupil interaction, but also to bridge any kind of divide in terms of 21st century skills. And in addition to that, we engage the families. So families who might not know about hydro-fueled cars in those communities that we serve will be able to be exposed to those concepts, as well through our group connections or parent partnerships.”

Ultimately, the last thing Collaborative for Children wants is to send children from early learning and childcare environments into the K-12 system unprepared to be successful for the real world.

“At Collaborative for Children,” adds Johnson. “We are continuously pushing the envelope at our Centers for Excellence so that the children that we serve will always be on the cutting edge.

The last thing Collaborative for Children wants is to send children from early learning and childcare environments into the K-12 system unprepared to be successful for the real world. Photo courtesy of Collaborative for Children

Houston med school develops revolutionary mRNA vaccine for elephants

zoology biology

An innovative team from Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital has worked with the Houston Zoo to develop a first-of-its-kind treatment for elephants, which has been administered to its first patient.

Tess, the beloved, 40-year-old matriarch of the Houston Zoo’s elephant herd, is recovering well after receiving the first-ever mRNA vaccine against elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV) 1A on Tuesday, June 18. The veterinary staff at the Houston Zoo will monitor Tess in the coming weeks to check her reaction and the efficacy of the vaccine.

EEHV 1A is a deadly infection for Asian Elephants. While generally benign in African Elephants, Asian Elephants can develop fatal hemorrhages. The fatality rate is a whopping 80 percent, making it one of the most serous threats to elephant populations outside of humans.

Anti-viral drugs have some effect on the disease, but two-thirds show no improvement. This has led to a search for a vaccine. For 15 years, the Houston Zoo and Dr. Paul Ling at Baylor College of Medicine’s Department of Virology and Microbiology have partnered to develop the drug. They have been helped by worldwide research from zoos and animal specialists, as well as graduate student Jessica Watts and Dr. Jeroen Pollet at Houston's Texas Children’s Hospital. The research has been funded by private donations, research partnerships, and grants.

Before being inoculated, the mRNA vaccine was exhaustively tested, with the dosage being extrapolated from data involving horses.

Houston Zoo veterinarians will periodically test Tess to see if she is developing the appropriate antibodies. If she is and there are no adverse reactions, the next step will be to administer the vaccine to the rest of the Houston herd. Many of these are Tess’s own children (Tucker, Tupelo, Tilly, and Teddy) and grandchildren (Winnie).

Should the vaccine prove effective, the doses will be made available worldwide to zoos and private elephant sanctuaries. It is likely to have a significant benefit on protecting and preserving the Asian Elephant population. As of January, there are fewer than 50,000 of the animas left in the wild. They are currently listed as endangered, and breeding programs and research done through the Houston Zoo are essential to keeping the animals from going extinct.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

New study says Houston is best city to grow business

Report

The Bayou City has again received recognition as a top hub for business.

According to a new study by business revenue experts The RevOps Team, Houston is one of the cities in the US with 10 or more companies listed in the S&P 500, and has been named as the number one city with the fastest growing businesses in the U.S. Houston scored the highest Average Business Growth (ABG) at 26.7 percent. The business experts divided the data from the S&P 500 Index to see what businesses had the highest share-price growth in the last year.

Out of the 28 states and the cities with 10 or more businesses listed in the S&P 500, Houston was No. 1t for growing businesses with Atlanta, in second place with 15 companies listed and reaching an ABG of 24.2 percent. Two cities in Texas ranked in the top five with Dallas taking third place at 14.9 percent.

Texas ranked fifth place overall in the top five states for business growth with high-performing businesses like Vistra. Vistra was the company with the highest growth in Texas at 277.68 percent, followed by NRG Energy (NRG) with 170.43 percent and Caterpillar Inc. (CAT) at 69.13 percent.

“You need to be ready to both leverage opportunity and adapt to challenges,” Kerri Linsenbigler of RevOps Team said in a news release. “Growing a business wherever you are in the U.S. is not for the faint-hearted, and business owners in Texas will be proud that they have ranked highly in the top five.”

Earlier this month, over a dozen Houston-based companies madeU.S. News and World Report's collection of the "Best Companies to Work For" in 2024-2025.

In December, the city was ranked among the 25 best metropolitan areas to start a small business in a report by personal finance website The Credit Review placed Houston in the No. 22 spot.