The new building is supposed to deliver in 2026. Rendering via UH.edu

Two University of Houston alumni have made a donation supporting a project that will create a central campus hub for innovation activity.

Ali and Emad Lakhany, along with their family, have reportedly donated to their alma mater to support the University’s planned Innovation Hub. The amount of the donation was not disclosed but also contributed to economic inclusivity research at the C. T. Bauer College of Business, according to a UH news release, by establishing the Musa and Khaleda Dakri Center for Economic Inclusion.

With the gift, UH will name the second floor of the building the Salma and Hashim Yousuf Lakhany Entrepreneurship Floor, in honor of the brothers' parents who emigrated from Pakistan in the 1960s.

"My brother Emad, sister Lina, and I are thrilled to make this generous gift to the Bauer College of Business and the University of Houston’s innovation and entrepreneurship initiatives,” says CSM Group CEO Ali Lakhany, a 2007 UH graduate, in the release.

The CSM Group is a Houston company that works in restaurant franchising, telecommunications, hospitality, and real estate development.

“Our parents, immigrants to this country, have always instilled in us a profound belief in the power of entrepreneurship and the importance of giving back. With this contribution towards the Innovation Hub, we are honored to have a floor named after our parents within this remarkable building,” he continues. “We are excited about the boundless opportunities this space will offer to students, entrepreneurs and innovators. Together, we look forward to a future of endless possibilities and positive impact."

Originally reported about by InnovationMap, the UH Innovation Hub is a 75,000 square-foot building to rise on the site of the current Technology Annex building and open in 2026. In it will reside the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, the Musa and Khaleda Dakri Center for Economic Inclusion, the Energy Transition Institute, a large makerspace, and more.

Ali Lakhany and Emad Lakhany are UH alumni. Photo via uh.edu

The University of Houston has received a grant from the Baker Hughes Foundation. Photo courtesy of University of Houston

University of Houston's new hub scores $100,000 grant from energy co.

seeing green

A Houston school is cashing in a major gift from a local energy company in order to support the industry's future workforce, research, and more.

The University of Houston Energy Transition Institute received a $100,000 grant from the Baker Hughes Foundation last week, which will work towards the ETI’s goals to support workforce development programs, and environmental justice research.

The program addresses the impact of energy transition solutions in geographical areas most-affected by environmental impacts.

“We are proud to support the University of Houston in its environmental justice research and workforce development programs; at Baker Hughes, we strive to take energy forward, and are committed to a fair and just energy transition,” says Chief Sustainability Officer Allyson Book in a news release. “Novel educational approaches centered around social, climate and environmental justice are crucial to creating a sustainable future for generations to come.”

The grant aims to help ETI in analyzing environmental footprints of energy use processes, energy use processes, impact on health, and emissions, as well as support the university’s Energy Scholars Program, which focuses on research programs on carbon management, hydrogen, and circular plastics for undergraduate students.The donation also supports Baker Hughes’ work with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that work to ensure “inclusive and equitable quality education for all.”

“We look forward to working with the Baker Hughes Foundation to address grand challenges in energy and chemicals and create a sustainable and equitable future for all,” says Ramanan Krishnamoorti, vice president of energy and innovation at UH.

ETI launched a year ago through a $10 million grant from Shell USA Inc. and Shell Global Solutions (US) Inc., and is led by Joe Powell, who opted to take the helm of the program over retiring, telling EnergyCapital that it was an opportunity he couldn't pass up.

UH has announced a central campus innovation hub that will house UH's programs for STEM, social sciences, business and arts. Slated to open in 2025, the 70,000 square foot hub will house a makerspace, the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, the Energy Transition Institute, innovation programs, and Presidential Frontier Faculty labs and offices.

“The University of Houston aims to transform lives and communities through education, research, innovation and service in a real-world setting," Krishnamoorti says in a news release. “I am confident that working together we will make a greater impact.”

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

The University of Houston will construct a new hub for innovation on its main campus. The building is planned to be adjacent to the M.D. Anderson Library. Photo via uh.edu

University of Houston plans to build new central campus innovation hub

coming soon

Over a year ago, the University of Houston got the greenlight from the state of Texas to create a central hub for innovation on campus, Ramanan Krishnamoorti, vice president of energy and innovation at the University of Houston, tells InnovationMap.

“We asked the state two years ago for appropriations to create an innovation hub at the University of Houston,” Krishnamoorti says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. “We are now in the process of creating an innovation hub central to the campus at the University of Houston."

While the project is still in its early stages, the university has revealed some details on the building, which is slated to open in 2025 next to the M.D. Anderson Library on UH's main campus. It will be around 70,000 square feet and will house a makerspace, the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, the Energy Transition Institute, innovation programs, and Presidential Frontier Faculty labs and offices.

“This would be a space that would look at innovation across all areas — arts, social sciences, STEM, business,” Krishnamoorti says. “We’re going to build this innovation hub as a central place of gathering for everything innovation on campus."

One of the aspects of the hub Krishnamoorti says he's excited about is the makerspace.

"Students can come in there and make, create, and visualize their dreams," Krishnamoorti says, explaining that this will be accessible to all students. "This could be everything from clever art to architectural designs to a widget for a STEM-related target they are working on."

In addition to creating lab space for further research and innovation, the hub will be a convening spot — both for the university's campus as well as the greater Houston business community. Krishnamoorti says a goal of this project is to be able to bring in subject matter experts from industry and have them spend time with on campus with students.

"There's all this talent that's out there — but we don't give them a place to come in and engage the future generations," Krishnamoorti says. "This is an effort to provide a venue to create those unexpected, unanticipated collisions, create a talent pipeline, engage with experts, and build activities that will very quickly de-bottleneck some of the biggest challenges we have in the innovation space."

Currently, UH is calling for support from perspective and existing donors for the project.

The UH Innovation Hub is in its early stages. Photo via uh.edu


The University of Houston Cougars are seeing green with this news. Photo via UH.edu

Shell commits $10M to UH for new Energy Transition Institute

seeing green

A new clean energy-focused institute emerging on the University of Houston campus has been buoyed by funding from an energy behemoth.

Shell USA Inc. and Shell Global Solutions (US) Inc. has granted UH a $10 million gift to establish the Energy Transition Institute. According to a news release, the institute — focused on three core areas: hydrogen, carbon management, and circular plastics — is expected to receive financial support that will likely exceed $52 million across donations from all parties.

With UH as one of the most ethnically diverse research universities in the country and its founding partner Shell, the initiative will focus on serving vulnerable communities and leading the energy transition in an equitable way.

“Houston is poised, like no other city, to lead the energy transition and the Energy Transition Institute will be essential in pursuit of that goal,” says UH Chancellor and President Renu Khator in the release. “Along with advancing energy equity and social impacts in our communities, Shell’s generous gift will help UH maintain its leadership role in the energy transition.”

Khator says this initiative will work in collaboration with Houston's energy industry and welcomes more partners like Shell to join in on the project.

“Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our lifetime — and it’s partnerships like this, along with other key drivers such as policy and technology, that together can help the US make progress on its net-zero goals,” says Shell USA President Gretchen Watkins in the release. “When you put brilliant minds together with the resources they need to do the work, amazing things can happen.”

Within the three clean tech verticals, the new institute will target four disciplines, according to the university:

  • Science, engineering, and technology: Recruit faculty energy transition research and technology expertise and drive new on-campus collaborations.
  • Policy and regulation: Develop new public-private partnerships and infrastructure for measuring success, as well as recruit new faculty in policy and regulation.
  • Equity, diversity, and justice: Drive stakeholder engagement across communities, including minority serving institutions universities, as well as research programs across disciplines focused on energy equity and environmental justice.
  • Workforce and talent: Upskill the existing workforce on topics related to sustainable energy development and work closely with Shell and other industrial partners

Shell is no stranger to UH and is founding member of the University of Houston’s Center for Carbon Management in Energy, which is expected to collaborate with the new Energy Transition Institute to innovate all things carbon capture, storage, and utilization — as well as hydrogen commercialization and circular plastics.

“These are important building blocks to transition society to a net zero future while still providing the products and services that people have come to expect and demand in their daily lives,” says Selda Gunsel, president of Shell Global Solutions, in the release. “The Shell technology community looks forward to working with the institute to co-develop crucial technology in these areas, as well as nurturing the diverse talent needed to drive the energy transition into the future.”

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.