Students created models and renderings of their designs. Courtesy of University of Houston

Students at the the University of Houston’s Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design are showing off ideas that could shape the future of transportation. The school’s Mashburg Gallery is hosting a new exhibition that shows off 16 projects designed to show interior and exterior for future electric vehicles.

Sponsored by Photon Auto, an EV company from Houston, the competition provides juniors and seniors in the college’s industrial design program with the opportunity to receive feedback from people in the automotive industry.

Attendees will see both 3D scaled models and high resolution digital renderings of the designs.

“Through our program, students in the past have designed other modes of transportation, such as bicycles and electric scooters, but we’ve never done a car,” associate professor of industrial design Mark Kimbrough said in a statement. “The timing for this project is amazing, because the electric vehicle industry is moving to Texas. This is an opportunity to position our design program and be ready for the industry.”

Judges will use criteria such as innovation, originality, and quality of execution to pick a winner. That student will receive $1,000 and an internship at Photon Auto.

Houston’s Photon Auto aims to help shape the future of automobiles. Its name stems from the company’s use of LIDAR systems that will identify objects in the road and aid advanced craft protection. Ultimately, it plans to develop luxury vehicles with more than 500 miles of range.

Other sponsors include TexPower EV Technologies Inc, a company that develops battery technology, and IQP Inc. (Integrated Quantum Photonics), a company that develops sensors for use in electric vehicles. Working together, they show how Houston could become part of America’s automotive future.

“The city is rapidly transitioning to a hub of innovation in electric vehicle technologies, including car design, batteries and photonics," Photon Auto CEO John Houghtaling said. “I’m very pleased see to how young designers diligently incorporated the ideas of luxury, comfortable and safe autonomous riding which Photon Auto envisions in our coming electric vehicles.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Electric vans will now be delivering to Houston. Photo courtesy of Amazon

Amazon rolls out hundreds of new electric vans for Houston's holiday delivery season

Electric avenue

Amazon CEO/occasional space traveler Jeff Bezos is doing his best to supplant a certain jolly fellow from the North Pole as tops for holiday gift delivery.

His latest move: Amazon is rolling out more than 1,000 electric delivery vehicles, designed by electric vehicle manufacturer Rivian, ready to make deliveries in more than 100 cities across the U.S. On the Texas good list: Houston, Austin, and Dallas. Bezos' juggernaut began deliveries in Dallas in July, along with Baltimore, Chicago, Kansas City, Nashville, Phoenix, San Diego, Seattle, and St. Louis.

These zero-emissions vans have delivered more than 5 million packages to customers in the U.S., according to Amazon. The latest boost in vehicles now includes Houston and Austin; Boston; Denver; Indianapolis; Las Vegas; Madison, Wisconsin; Newark, New Jersey; New York, Oakland, California; Pittsburgh, Portland, Oregon; Provo, Utah; and Salt Lake City.

Plans for the Amazon and Rivian partnership call for thousands of vehicles on the road by the end of the year and 100,000 vehicles by 2030.

“We’re always excited for the holiday season, but making deliveries to customers across the country with our new zero-emission vehicles for the first time makes this year unique,” said Udit Madan, vice president of Amazon Transportation, in a statement. “We’ve already delivered over 5 million packages with our vehicles produced by Rivian, and this is still just the beginning—that figure will grow exponentially as we continue to make progress toward our 100,000-vehicle goal.”

This all comes as part of Amazon's commitment to reaching net-zero carbon by 2040, as a part of its The Climate Pledge; Amazon promises to eliminate millions of metric tons of carbon per year with it s commitment to 100,000 electric delivery vehicles by 2030, press materials note.

Additionally, Amazon announced plans to invest more than $1 billion over the next five years to further electrify and decarbonize its transportation network across Europe. This investment is meant to spark innovation and encourage more public charging infrastructure across the continent.

“Fleet electrification is essential to reaching the world’s zero-emissions goal,” said Jiten Behl, chief growth officer at Rivian, in a statement. “So, to see our ramp up in production supporting Amazon’s rollout in cities across the country is amazing. Not just for the environment, but also for our teams working hard to get tens of thousands of electric delivery vehicles on the road. They continue to be motivated by our combined mission and the great feedback about the vehicle’s performance and quality.”

A little about the vans: Drivers’ favorite features include a spacious cabin and cargo area, superior visibility with a large windshield and 360-degree cameras, and ventilated seats for fast heating and cooling — a must for Bayou City summers ... or winters, for that matter.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

All aboard the bus to greener transportation. Photo via Unsplash

HISD receives millions in funding from EPA for clean school buses

seeing green

Houston Independent School District is hopping on the city's net-zero carbon emissions bus, so to speak, thanks to more than $6.2 million in funding from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The funds are part of the EPA's Clean School Bus Program Fiscal Year 2022 rebate competition, which will award nearly $51 million in funds from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to Texas school districts, and $965 million in total to districts around the country.

Houston's $6.2 million will go toward 25 new school buses, according to a statement from the EPA. Fifteen of the vehicles will be brand-new electric buses.

"Taking steps to make our school buses greener while remaining safe and effective is not only imperative for the wellbeing of students and bus drivers, but also for the public at large,” Houston Congressman Al Green said in a statement. “I applaud this announcement by the EPA under President Biden’s leadership. I look forward to seeing the positive impact that this outstanding award to purchase electric and propane school buses will have on reducing our carbon footprint.”

HISD must now submit Payment Request Forms with purchase orders that shows the district has ordered the new buses and eligible infrastructure.

The district is among 13 Texas school districts to receive funding. Dallas ISD, the second largest school district in the state behind HISD, was awarded roughly $7.6 million. Killeen ISD and Socorro ISD received the largest sums among the districts, totalling nearly $9.9 million in funding each.

At the time of the statement, the EPA had selected 389 applications across the country totaling $913 million to support the purchase of 2,463 buses, mainly in areas serving low-income, rural, and/or Tribal students. More applications are under review, and the EPA plans to announce additional districts that will receive funding, bringing the total investment to the full $965 million, in the coming weeks, according to a statement.

The EPA intends to make available another $1 billion for clean school buses in Fiscal Year 2023.

At an event last week, Evolve Houston celebrated its relaunch, a new leader, and its microgrant program. Photo courtesy of Evolve

Houston nonprofit relaunches, names new leader, and introduces electromobility initiative

evolve evolves

A Houston organization focused on promoting electromobility in Houston has announced some big updates.

Evolve Houston, founded in 2019 through Houston's Climate Action Plan, has relaunched as of its event Thursday, August 18. The nonprofit has also named Casey Brown as the new president and executive director. Formerly at Halliburton and Coretrax, Brown's appointment went into effect this month.

"I am honored to have been appointed by the board to lead Evolve into the next phase of our electric vehicle journey," says Brown. "I look forward to working with our partners to get more electric cars, buses, and bikes on the road, and to publish Evolve's electrification roadmap 2.0 early next year."

Additionally, thanks to funding from Evolve Corporate Catalysts General Motors and bp, the organization has introduced the eMobility Microgrant Initiative, which will facilitate a peer-review process to award microgrants to local electromobility projects. Applications for the grants are now open online and will be accepted through September 16 at 6 pm.

"Evolve Houston is committed to supporting a just transition to a more sustainable transportation system, so all residents can receive the benefits of eMobility," says Grace Millsap, Evolve Houston director of equity and investment, in a news release. "The Greater Houston area has made significant progress in improving livability. We must continue and bring the eMobility revolution to Houston's communities that remain disproportionately in need of a cleaner environment, better services, and diversified economic development.

"Evolve's eMobility Microgrant Initiative will empower and elevate residents' voices, drive further community investment, and prioritize the communities who are most impacted by climate and mobility challenges," she continues.

A community-focused initiative, the Equity Program has been established to address poor air quality and limited access to public transportation in vulnerable communities, per the release. This fall, Evolve will invest the microgrants into community-led efforts that are increasing access to all forms of electric mobility and EV charging stations.

"The Complete Communities Initiative bridges the gap between equity and opportunity for our city's most under-resourced and underserved neighborhoods. Residents living in the Complete Communities have made it clear that its past time to address the transportation and climate change challenges that impact their quality of life," says Shannon Buggs, director of the Mayor's Office for Complete Communities, in the release.

"Increasing chronic air pollution and lack of equitable mobility has disproportionately affected low-to-moderate income neighborhoods," she continues. "With the help of community leaders, the Evolve Houston Equity Program provides a pathway for our City to ensure that every resident lives in a healthy, sustainable and thriving community."

A Houston company has announced a new service that will encourage electric vehicle use. Photo via Getty Images

Houston energy company announces new EV business arm

making moves

Houston-based energy retailer Octopus Energy U.S. is now getting its tentacles into the electric vehicle business.

Octopus Energy US on July 6 unveiled Octopus Electric Vehicles, whose first offering is EV Concierge. This new service will help customers lease an EV, and integrate smart charging and billing into their existing energy plan.

New and existing customers in Texas can apply for the beta leasing program at octoev.us. Employees of the program will help customers search for a new or used EV to lease, install an at-home EV charger, and adopt best practices for EV ownership.

“Interest in electric vehicles is at an all-time high. With Texas as the third-largest market for EVs and a global leader in energy, we will be positioned to help customers realize vehicle and energy savings all on one bill,” says Chris George, U.S. director of Octopus Electric Vehicles. “As fossil fuel continues to be impacted by inflation, it’s never made more sense to get an EV paired with smart charging to extract the lowest-priced energy from the grid.”

EV Concierge is paired with Intelligent Octopus, which lets customers access power when it is cheaper and greener while helping balance stability of power grid.

Octopus Electric Vehicles launched in 2018 in the United Kingdom, where parent company Octopus Energy Group is based. In the U.K., Octopus leases EVs, installs at-home chargers, provides EV tax breaks, and provides access to more than 250,000 public charging stations in Europe.

Customers of Octopus Electric Vehicles can lease 65 different EVs from 28 automotive brands.

“We’ve seen that consumers are looking for experts that can offer the full EV package to guide them through their journey,” says Fiona Howarth, CEO of Octopus Electric Vehicles. “With more EV models entering the market every month, and innovative tariffs like Intelligent Octopus making charging your car as easy as [charging] your phone, we only expect the transition to accelerate.”

The launch of EV Concierge comes just a year after Octopus Energy U.S. set up shop in Houston. Establishment of the Houston presence coincided with the company’s $5 million acquisition of Houston-based Evolve Energy.

Last month, Kraken Technologies, the software licensing arm of Octopus Energy Group, picked Houston for its U.S. headquarters.

Octopus Energy Group, valued at nearly $5 billion, entered the U.S. market in 2020. It supplies green energy to more than 3 million retail customers around the world.

David Aaronson of REVS shares his EV entrepreneurial journey on the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of REVS

How this entrepreneur is preparing Houston for the future of electric vehicles

Houston innovators podcast episode 97

If you live in Texas and you drive an electric vehicle, you probably own a home — mostly because homeowners have a place to safely charge their vehicle. Apartment dwellers don't have that option in most residences. But David Aaronson is trying to change that.

Aaronson, a Houston real estate veteran, founded Refuel Electric Vehicle Solutions, or REVS, last year to become the go-between for multifamily property owners and managers and the charging technology providers. Basically, Aaronson, a reseller for EV charging ports, is targeting multifamily companies and brokering the deal to install one or two charging ports now — as well as supporting scalability for when even more EVs hit the Texas roads.

"It's a new industry," Aaronson says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "You have the manufacturers who are all so busy — they really don't have the time to find new business."

So REVS picks up the slack to provide a service that's only going to grow in demand. On his plate right now is educating his clients and potential clients.

"We find that with everyone we run into, there's an education process," he explains.

From what types of technology is available to whether or not the property is even equipped with enough electricity to support a charging station, Aaronson says he has to go through this process with everyone. Another challenge he faces is his potential clients not seeing the benefits at the moment. He says some of the property managers want to kick the can down the road, so to speak, but that road is getting shorter and shorter.

EVolve Houston, founded in part by the city, predicts that EV sales locally will make up 30 percent of annual new car sales by 2030. Aaronson says they reported that Houston has around 15,000 EVs on the road today, but by 2030, that's going to be 600,000.

"If it's not 2030 it's going to be 2032, because it's all the manufacturers are making," Aaronson says. "It's just a matter of time."

By installing the equipment, Aaronson says he's offering multifamily property owners a new revenue stream because tenants will pay to use the charging station. Plus, it's a perk that can be a dealbreaker for future residents.

"If you just have one person driving an electric vehicle that doesn't lease at your apartment because you don't have a station, you've lost money," he says on the show.

Aaronson explains he got into this new business that he now has such a passion for, as well as how how he's excited to grow his company alongside the growth of EVs and their necessary infrastructure on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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Climatetech incubator announces C-suite promotion, Houston jobs, and nonprofit transition

greentown updates

The new year has brought some big news from Greentown Labs.

The Somerville, Massachusetts-based climatetech incubator with its second location at Greentown Houston named a new member to its C-suite, is seeking new Houston team members, and has officially finished its transition into a nonprofit.

Juliana Garaizar, who originally joined Greentown as launch director ahead of the Houston opening in 2021, has been promoted from vice president of innovation to chief development and investment officer.

"I'm refocusing on the Greentown Labs level in a development role, which means fundraising for both locations and potentially new ones," Garaizar tells InnovationMap. "My role is not only development, but also investment. That's something I'm very glad to be pursuing with my investment hat. Access to capital is key for all our members, and I'm going to be in charge of refining and upgrading our investment program."

While she will also maintain her role as head of the Houston incubator, Greentown Houston is also hiring a general manager position to oversee day-to-day and internal operations of the hub. Garaizar says this role will take some of the internal-facing responsibilities off of her plate.

"Now that we are more than 80 members, we need more internal coordination," she explains. "Considering that the goal for Greentown is to grow to more locations, there's going to be more coordination and, I'd say, more autonomy for the Houston campus."

The promotion follows a recent announcement that Emily Reichert, who served as CEO for the company for a decade, has stepped back to become CEO emeritus. Greentown is searching for its next leader and CFO Kevin Taylor is currently serving as interim CEO. Garaizar says the transition is representative of Greentown's future as it grows to more locations and a larger organization.

"Emily's transition was planned — but, of course, in stealth mode," Garaizar says, adding that Reichert is on the committee that's finding the new CEO. "She thinks scaling is a different animal from putting (Greentown) together, which she did really beautifully."

Garaizar says her new role will include overseeing Greentown's new nonprofit status. She tells InnovationMap that the organization originally was founded as a nonprofit, but converted to a for-profit in order to receive a loan at its first location. Now, with the mission focus Greentown has and the opportunities for grants and funding, it was time to convert back to a nonprofit, Garaizar says.

"When we started fundraising for Houston, everyone was asking why we weren't a nonprofit. That opened the discussion again," she says. "The past year we have been going through that process and we can finally say it has been completed.

"I think it's going to open the door to a lot more collaboration and potential grants," she adds.

Greentown is continuing to grow its team ahead of planned expansion. The organization hasn't yet announced its next location — Garaizar says the primary focus is filling the CEO position first. In Houston, the hub is also looking for an events manager to ensure the incubator is providing key programming for its members, as well as the Houston innovation community as a whole.

Photos: Houston coworking company expands with new location

open for biz

Calling all coworkers north of Houston — there's a new spot in town to set up shop.

The Cannon, a coworking company with locations in Houston and Galveston, has expanded north of Houston for the first time. A new Cannon workspace opened at The Park at Fish Creek retail center (618 Fish Creek Thoroughfare) in Montgomery last month. On February 1 at 4 pm, the new community is holding an open house to tour the space.

“The Cannon is a Houston innovation institution, and we meet demand where innovators and entrepreneurs live—in this case, Montgomery County,” says Jon Lambert, CEO of The Cannon, in a news release. “The goal is to grow The Cannon community – and entrepreneurship overall – regionally, via the Fish Creek brick-and mortar space, and to also expand utilization of our digital community platform, Cannon Connect.”

With 8,100 square feet of space, the facility has 19 private offices, three conference rooms, and several gathering and working areas. Memberships — from assigned desks and private space to day passes — are now available. All Fish Creek members receive access to Cannon Connect, a global, digital community platform that provides resources, networking and building blocks for business growth.

Photo courtesy of The Cannon

This Houston entrepreneur is enabling fashion upcycling for more sustainable style

houston innovators podcast episode 170

When shopping online one day, Hannah Le saw a need for a platform that allowed transactions between upcycling fashion designers and shoppers looking for unique, sustainable pieces.

Le created RE.STATEMENT, an online shopping marketplace for upcycled clothing. Before RE.STATEMENT, designers were limited to Etsy, which is focused on handmade pieces, or Poshmark and Depop, which are dedicated to thrift finds. Upcycle fashion designers didn't have their own, unique platform to sell on — and, likewise, shoppers were scattered across sites too.

"These marketplaces are really good for what they do," Le says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, "but, whenever I think of someone looking for something unique and sustainable, it's hard for me to imagine finding that on these marketplaces."

The platform soft launched in December with 25 upcycling designers and over 1,200 buyers that had been on the company's waitlist for almost nine months. Now that the site is live, Le hopes to give both buyers and sellers quick access to transactions.

"Most designers give up if they haven't sold an item within three months," Le explains. "That's something RE.STATEMENT has dedicated its business model to — making sure that items sell faster and at a higher value than any other marketplace."

Le says that she started with buyers to see what exactly they were looking for, then she searched and found the designers looking to sell their pieces, and the current platform is dynamic and flexible to the needs of users within her community.

"Even today, it changes every single day depending on how users are interacting with the website and what sellers are saying that they need — really communicating with buyers and sellers is how the marketplace is evolving," she says.

RE.STATEMENT's ability to quickly evolve has been due to its early stage, Le explains on the show. She's not yet taken on institutional funding or hired anyone else other than tech support. She says this allows her to quickly make changes or try out new things for users.

"For me, there are still so many things I want to prove to myself before I bring others involved," she says. "To start, it's coming up with new opportunities for buyers to interact with the website so that we can keep learning from them."

Le has already proven some success to herself. Last year, she took home one of three prizes offered at the city's Liftoff Houston competition. The contest, which gives Houston entrepreneurs pitch practice and mentorship, awarded RE.STATEMENT $10,000 for winning in the product category.

"I wanted to see how far I could go," Le says of the competition where she got to introduce her business to Mayor Sylvester Turner and a whole new audience of people. "I had pitched before, but this was the first time that I was onstage and I just felt like I belonged there."

Le shares more about her vision for RE.STATEMENT and the integral role Houston plays in her success on the show.