3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Abbey Donnell of Work & Mother, Blair Garrou of Mercury Fund, and Randa Duncan Williams. Courtesy photos

Editor's note: In the first weekly roundup of Houston innovators of 2021, I'm introducing you to three innovators across the city — one of the richest people in Houston, a venture capital expert, and a female founder with big plans for 2021.

Abbey Donnell, founder of Work & Mother

Abbey Donnell is looking forward to growing Work & Mother in 2021. Courtesy of Work & Mother

Abbey Donnell is making sure that when new moms go back to work in downtown Houston in 2021, they'll have a suite of professional, spa-like rooms to pump in. Work & Mother has recently opened its latest location in Three Allen Center and designed it with comfort and safety in mind.

"Pumping at work has always been incredibly hard for mothers. Now, with the pandemic, there are the added complications of germ spread, closed community spaces, and repurposed wellness rooms, which makes pumping at work nearly impossible. Yet, most employers still have a legal obligation to provide a proper space for nursing mothers," says Abbey Donnell, founder and CEO of Work & Mother, in a news release. Click here to read more.

Blair Garrou, managing director of Mercury Fund

Blair Garrou joined the Houston Innovators Podcast this week. Photo via MercuryFund.com

Despite the rollercoaster of a year 2020 has been for venture capital, Blair Garrou says he's never been busier. One thing he's seen increased is an interest in early stage investing — this, he says, is happening as the pandemic has shown a spotlight on the importance of tech and ramped up digitization in business.

"People are realizing that money is in innovation and tech — especially in software," Garrou says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "I can't tell you how many individual investors who call interested in investing in Mercury as a fund or our companies. People are not getting the return they desire from the markets and they are seeing tech companies do great things." Click here to read more and stream the podcast episode.

Randa Duncan Williams, owner of Texas Monthly

One of the four richest people in Houston, Randa Duncan Williams owns Texas Monthly. Photo courtesy of Texas Monthly

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the richest of them all? Nevermind, mirror. Forbes just told us. Houston's Duncan family, with a net worth of $22 billion, who once again appear on the annual Forbes ranking of America's richest families. (The Duncans come in at No. 11 on the Forbes list.)

The four children of pipeline mogul Dan Duncan — Randa Duncan Williams, Milane Frantz, Dannine Duncan Avara, and Scott Duncan — inherited a $10 billion estate from their father when he died in 2010. The net worth of each heir exceeds $5 billion.

Randa enjoys the highest profile among the four Duncan siblings. She is chairwoman of Houston-based Enterprise Products Partners, the pipeline giant founded by her father, and owns Austin-based Texas Monthly magazine. Click here to read more.

Randa Williams Duncan has the highest profile among Houston's richest family. Photo courtesy of Texas Monthly

These 4 Houstonians cash in on Forbes' list of richest American families

family fortune

While 2020 has been a nightmare financially for many, some locals have cashed in. One example is Houston's Duncan family, with a net worth of $22 billion, who once again appear on the annual Forbes ranking of America's richest families. (The Duncans come in at No. 11 on the Forbes list.)

The four children of pipeline mogul Dan Duncan — Randa Duncan Williams, Milane Frantz, Dannine Duncan Avara, and Scott Duncan — inherited a $10 billion estate from their father when he died in 2010. The net worth of each heir exceeds $5 billion.

Randa enjoys the highest profile among the four Duncan siblings. She is chairwoman of Houston-based Enterprise Products Partners, the pipeline giant founded by her father, and owns Austin-based Texas Monthly magazine.

Elsewhere in Texas, The Walton family once again reigns as the richest family in the U.S., according Forbes. Their net worth: $247 billion. In its 2020 budget year, Walmart racked up revenue of $524 billion — and the company continues to rack up riches for heirs of the retail giant's founders.

That $247 billion sum represents close to half of Walmart's annual revenue and is equivalent to the size of Chile's economy.

The net worth of Fort Worth billionaire Alice Walton, the only daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton, accounts for a little over one-fourth of the family fortune. Forbes estimates she's worth about $68 billion, making her the richest resident of Texas and the richest Walton heir. If Alice Walton were a family unto herself, she'd rank as the fourth wealthiest clan in the country.

Descendants of Sam Walton and brother Bud Walton own about half of Walmart's stock. Forbes says the stock generates more than $700 million in annual dividend income for the family.

Alice Walton isn't the only Texan who's a member of the Walton dynasty. Ann Walton Kroenke, one of the two daughters of Bud Walton, lives on a 535,000-acre ranch about 50 miles northwest of Wichita Falls. She is worth about $9.1 billion and is married to sports and entertainment titan Stan Kroenke, who's worth an estimated $8.3 billion.

While all of the Waltons don't live in the Lone Star State, members of four of the country's other wealthiest families do.

At No. 15 among the country's wealthiest families is the Butt family, with a net worth of $17.8 billion. Charles Butt is chairman and CEO of the H-E-B grocery chain, based in San Antonio and parent company of Dallas-based Central Market. Butt, grandson of H-E-B founder Florence Butt, and three relatives — sister Mary Butt Crook and two nephews — own H-E-B. The company's annual sales are around $28 billion.

The Hunt family, whose members are descendants of oil wildcatter H.L. Hunt, sit at No. 18 on the Forbes list with a net worth of $15.5 billion. The richest among them are billionaires Ray Lee Hunt and W. Herbert Hunt, both of Dallas.

Rounding out the Texas contingent on the Forbes list are members of Fort Worth's Bass family. The Basses hold down the No. 30 spot with a net worth of $10.8 billion. The four Bass brothers — Sid, Edward, Robert, and Lee — each inherited $2.8 billion from their oil tycoon uncle Sid Richardson after his death in 1959. Robert is the wealthiest of the foursome.

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Rich Kinder, and his wife, Nancy, join an impressive list of Texans on the 2020 edition of the Forbes 400. Photo by Michelle Watson/Catchlight Group

10 Houston billionaires bank spots on Forbes' 2020 list of richest Americans

show me the money

In a booming, opportunity city full of tycoons, which billionaire reigns supreme? That honor goes to Richard Kinder, the pipeline mogul worth $6.2 billion — who is also a familiar name in philanthropic circles as a chief benefactor of Memorial Park. Locals may also recognize his name on the new Museum of Fine Arts, Houston building.

Kinder, and his wife, Nancy, join an impressive list of Texans on the 2020 edition of the Forbes 400, which ranks the 400 richest Americans and was released September 8. (See their methodology here.) "Pandemic be damned: America's 400 richest are worth a record $3.2 trillion, up $240 billion from a year ago, aided by a stock market that has defied the virus," Forbes writes.

Around Houston, the richest-of-the-rich list looks similar to recent years. Here's how local billionaires rank nationally in 2020 and how their wealth has fared:

Houston:

  • Richard Kinder — $6.2 billion, No. 103. Last year: $7.5 billion.
  • Pipeline heirs Dannine Avara, Scott Duncan, Milane Frantz, and Randa Duncan Williams — $4.8 billion each, No. 139. Last year: $6.3 billion.
  • Houston Rockets owner and restaurant kingpin Tilman Fertitta — $4.1 billion, No. 181. Last year: $4.9 billion.
  • Toyota titan Dan Friedkin of Houston — $4.1 billion, No. 181. Last year: $4 billion.
  • Houston Texans co-founder Janice McNair — $3.9 billion, No. 197. Last year: $4 billion.
  • Houston energy executive Jeffery Hildebrand — $3.6 billion, No. 222. Last year: $3.8 billion.
  • Former hedge fund manager John Arnold — $3.3 billion, No. 249. Last year: $3.3 billion.

Meanwhile, Walmart heiress Alice Walton of Fort Worth has retained her status as the richest Texan and America's richest woman in 2020, with a net worth estimated this year at $62.3 billion. That compares with $51.4 billion in 2019.

Walton moved up from No. 11 last year to No. 10 this year in the Forbes ranking of the richest Americans.

From 2019 to 2020, Walton's net worth jumped by $10.9 billion. To give you an idea of how much money that is, the size of the economy in Africa's Republic of Congo totaled $10.8 billion in 2019. Walton's entire net worth is slightly more than the size of the Costa Rican economy (nearly $61.8 billion in 2019).

Here's the regional breakdown for Texas' remaining Forbes 400 billionaires.

Dallas-Fort Worth:

  • Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones — $8.6 billion, No. 56. Last year: $8.6 billion.
  • Dallas banker and real estate investor Andy Beal — $7.6 billion, No. 67. Last year: $9.8 billion.
  • Fort Worth oil and gas heir Robert Bass — $4.8 billion, No. 139. Last year: $4.9 billion.
  • Dallas oil and gas heir Ray Lee Hunt — $4.6 billion, No. 154. Last year: $5.2 billion.
  • Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban — $4.2 billion, No. 177. Last year: $4.1 billion.
  • Margot Birmingham Perot, widow of Dallas tech entrepreneur Ross Perot — $4 billion, No. 186. Last year: $4.2 billion.
  • Fort Worth private equity titan David Bonderman — $4 billion, No. 186. Last year: $3.7 billion.
  • Omni Hotels and Gold's Gym king Robert Rowling of Dallas — $3.9 billion, No. 197. Last year: $5.5 billion.
  • Oil and gas chief Trevor Rees-Jones of Dallas — $3.5 billion, No. 228. Last year: $3.7 billion.
  • Dallas pipeline executive Kelcy Warren — $2.8 billion, No. 299. Last year: $4.3 billion.
  • Dallas real estate honcho H. Ross Perot Jr. — $2.5 billion, No. 339. Last year: $2.2 billion.
  • Fort Worth oil heir Sid Bass — $2.3 billion, No. 359. Last year: $3.1 billion.
  • Dallas banker Gerald Ford — $2.1 billion, No. 391. Last year: $2.3 billion.

Austin:

  • Michael Dell, tech magnate — $35.6 billion, No. 18. Last year: $32.3 billion.
  • Robert Smith, private equity entrepreneur — $6.2 billion, No. 125. Last year: $5 billion.
  • Bert "Tito" Beveridge, vodka tycoon — $4.6 billion, No. 154. Last year: $4.2 billion.
  • Thai Lee, tech entrepreneur — $3.1 billion, No. 268. Last year: $3 billion.
  • Joe Liemandt, software entrepreneur — $3 billion, No. 278. Last year: $3 billion.
  • John Paul DeJoria, hair care and tequila mogul — $2.7 billion, No. 319. Last year: $3.1 billion.
  • Jim Breyer, venture capitalist — $2.4 billion, No. 353. Last year: $2.5 billion. (Breyer recently relocated from Silicon Valley to Austin).
  • Brian Sheth, private equity entrepreneur — $2.3 billion, No. 359. Last year: $2.2 billion.

Of note, in just one year, Dell's net worth soared by $3.3 billion — more than the entire net worth of fellow Austin billionaire Thai Lee. The chairman and CEO of the Round Rock-based tech company that bears his name is Austin's richest resident.

Elsewhere in Texas:

  • Walmart heiress Ann Walton Kroenke — $8.4 billion, No. 58. Last year: $7.5 billion.
  • Real estate, sports, and entertainment big shot Stan Kroenke — $8.3 billion, No. 59. Last year: $9.7 billion. (The Kroenkes live on a massive ranch near the North Texas town of Vernon.)
  • Investor and former grocery distributor Drayton McLane Jr. of Temple — $2.8 billion, No. 299. Last year: $2.6 billion. McLane is former owner of the Houston Astros.
  • Hearing-aid mogul Bill Austin of Brownsville — $2.2 billion, No. 378. Last year: $2.4 billion.
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Three Houston companies are among the best startups for employees. 10'000 Hours/Getty Images

3 Houston companies plug into Forbes' first-ever best startup employers list

FORCES IN THE WORKFORCE

Three businesses based in the Houston area appear in Forbes magazine's inaugural ranking of the best startup employers.

Forbes teamed up with market research company Statista to identify up-and-coming companies that are liked most by those who work there. Researchers evaluated 2,500 U.S. businesses with 50 or more employees on three criteria: employer reputation, employee satisfaction, and growth. The result: Forbes' first-ever ranking, released March 10, of the country's 500 best startup employers.

To create the ranking, Statista looked at articles, blogs, and social media posts about each employer; employee reviews on job websites like Glassdoor and Indeed; and website traffic and employee headcounts for each startup over a two-year span.

The three Houston-area startups that are ranked are: Houston-based 2nd.MD (No. 280), Pearland-based Code Ninjas (No. 350), and Houston-based Onit (No. 463).

San Francisco-based footwear retailer Allbirds snags the No. 1 ranking on the Forbes list, and the Dallas-Fort Worth leads Texas metro areas for the most startups on the list with its 13 startup companies.

Ranked 25th, the highest in Texas, Fort Worth-based Koddi garners the top ranking among all Texas startups. The company provides marketing software for advertisers in the travel industry. In 2019, the Digiday Worklife Awards program named Koddi the tech company with the most collaborative culture.

"Koddi gives its employees the ability to shape the direction of their own careers and empowers them to succeed," Zachary Rector, associate director of account services, said in a 2017 release. "Every day at Koddi offers a unique challenge to overcome and the opportunity for personal growth. All of your coworkers are fully committed to one another's success and help each other learn. Koddi is a fast-paced, ever-changing, and engaging place to work."

Here are the 12 other Dallas-Fort Worth startups that appear in the Forbes ranking:

  • No. 50 — Bestow, Dallas
  • No. 59 — Veryable, Dallas
  • No. 118 — Sector 5 Digital, Fort Worth
  • No. 149 — Stryve Biltong, Plano
  • No. 231 — PestRoutes, McKinney
  • No. 265 — Titus Industrial, Dallas
  • No. 275 — Student Success Agency
  • No. 271 — Meritize, Frisco
  • No. 272 — Defi Solutions, Westlake
  • No. 305 — Crystal Clear Concepts, Grand Prairie
  • No. 325 — WellKept, Arlington
  • No. 411 — Tap Water Watch, Dallas

Meanwhile, Austin had a dozen startups on the list. At No. 87, Austin-based SchooX is the top-ranked startup in the Central Texas region. The company provides a workplace learning platform.

"Working at SchooX provides an awesome environment with great people that changes the way people learn," employee George Litos says on the company's website. "SchooX is shaping the future of e-learning, and I'm proud to be a part of it."

Here are the 11 other Austin-area companies that claim spots in the top 500:

  • No. 97 — Iris Telehealth, Austin
  • No. 201 — Jungle Scout, Austin
  • No. 226 — RigUp, Austin
  • No. 301 — TrustRadius, Austin
  • No. 315 — Shipwell, Austin
  • No. 399 — AlertMedia, Austin
  • No. 430 — Everlywell, Austin
  • No. 451 — Innovetive Petcare, Cedar Park
  • No. 457 — SubjectWell, Austin
  • No. 463 — ScaleFactor, Austin
  • No. 478 — Outdoorsy, Austin
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Texas was named the second best state for business by Forbes, and Oxford Economics predicted Houston's economic growth to be more significant over the next few years than most other major metros. Getty Images

Texas recognized as second best state for business, while Houston expected to see key economic growth

Feathers for our cap

Houston and the rest of Texas received two early Christmas presents signaling that their economies continue to percolate.

In a report released December 23, economic forecasting and analysis firm Oxford Economics predicted Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth will enjoy a greater share of economic growth through 2023 than any other mega-metro area in the U.S. except San Francisco.

Meanwhile, Forbes magazine declared on December 19 that Texas is the second best state for business, behind only North Carolina. Texas previously sat in the No. 3 spot on the Forbes list, preceded by North Carolina and Utah.

Through 2023, Oxford Economics forecasts average compound GDP growth of 2.4 percent in Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth. Among the country's 10 biggest metro areas, only the projection for San Francisco is higher (2.7 percent).

For Houston, the 2.4 percent figure would be an improvement over recent economic performance. From 2014 to 2018, the region's GDP growth rate was 1 percent, while it was 1.5 percent for 2015-19. In the 2020-21 timeframe, the growth rate for Houston is expected to be 1.9 percent.

In a recent forecast, the Greater Houston Partnership envisions the Houston area adding 42,300 jobs in 2020, mostly outside the energy sector. Among the region's top-performing sectors in 2020 will be healthcare, government, food services, and construction, the partnership says. Meanwhile, the energy, retail, and information sectors are expected to shrink.

In November, Robert Gilmer of the University of Houston's Institute for Regional Forecasting explained that by the end of 2022, job losses in the oil industry should have a limited effect on the region's economy. Still, he anticipates Houston's job growth through 2024 will be "moderate and just below trend."

In forecasting strong economic growth for Houston and DFW, Oxford Economics says the "industrial structures" of the two regions "are not exceptional, but low costs and low regulation mean that the industries that they do have grow faster than elsewhere."

"San Francisco's very high costs are creating affordability problems and rising inequalities that may eventually undermine its model," Oxford Economics adds. "Competitive advantages never last forever. The Sunbelt cities [including Houston and DFW] may yet give it a run for its money."

Houston's and DFW's competitive advantages mesh with those of the entire state. Texas' high points include lower taxes, lower labor expenses, lower cost of living, and low levels of regulation, Oxford Economics says.

As noted by Forbes, Moody's Analytics predicts Texas businesses will add close to 1 million new jobs by 2023, which would be the third highest average annual job growth rate among the states. Meanwhile, the share of Texans who launched businesses last year was the fourth highest in the country, according to Kauffman Foundation data cited by Forbes. And just three states — California, New York and Washington — saw more venture capital flow into them in 2018 and 2019 than Texas did, according to PwC.

Texas earned these rankings on the Forbes list:

  • No. 1 state for growth prospects
  • No. 1 state for business costs
  • No. 4 state for economic climate
  • No. 10 state for labor supply
  • No. 15 state for quality of life
  • No. 21 state for regulatory environment
In his 2019 State of the State address, Gov. Greg Abbott praised Texas as "the most powerful state in America," thanks in part to healthy job growth, low unemployment, and rising wages. "Texas is the premier economic destination in the United States," he said.
Pipeline mogul and Memorial Park benefactor Richard Kinder (pictured with his wife, Nancy) leads the Houston billionaires. Photo by Michelle Watson/Catchlight Group

Houston billionaires named to Forbes' list of richest Americans for 2019

Seeing dollar signs

Who's the richest person in Texas? That title once again goes to Walmart heiress Alice Walton, of Fort Worth, according to the newly released Forbes 400 ranking. But seven very wealthy Houstonians also appear on the list of the 400 richest people in the country right now.

The top Houstonian on the list is Houston pipeline mogul Richard Kinder, who is tied with another Walmart heiress, Ann Walton Kroenke, for sixth place in Texas and No. 67 nationally. Forbes estimates they're each worth $7.5 billion.

The other Houston billionaires on the list are:

  • Randa Duncan Williams and her siblings Dannine Avara, Scott Duncan, and Milane Frantz, all of whom live in Houston. Each boasts an estimated net worth of $6.3 billion, tying them for the eighth place in Texas and 100th place nationally.
  • Restaurant mogul and Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, $4.9 billion. Tied for 15th in Texas and No. 140 in U.S.
  • Toyota titan Dan Friedkin, $4 billion. Tied for No. 21 in Texas. Tied for No. 187 in U.S.
  • Houston Texans co-founder Janice McNair, widow of businessman and Texans co-founder Bob McNair, $4 billion. Tied for No. 21 in Texas and No. 187 in U.S.
  • Energy executive Jeffery Hildebrand, $3.8 billion. No. 23 in Texas. Tied for No. 207 in U.S.
  • Former hedge fund manager John Arnold, $3.3 billion. No. 26 in Texas. No. 261 in U.S.
  • Energy mogul George Bishop of The Woodlands, $2.4 billion. Tied for No. 33 in Texas and No. 355 in U.S.

With an estimated net worth at $51.4 billion, Walton is the 11th richest person in the country (and the richest person in the Lone Star State). Second in line is Austin's Michael Dell, founder, chairman, and CEO of Round Rock-based Dell Technologies, who notches a net worth of $32.3 billion, which puts him at No. 18 on the list of America's billionaires. Holding down third place in Texas and 48th in the U.S. is Dallas banker and real estate titan Andy Beal, with an estimated net worth of $9.8 billion.

This year, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones got muscled out of the No. 4 spot in Texas by Stan Kroenke, whose professional sports holdings include the NFL's Los Angeles Rams. The estimated net worth of Kroenke, who owns a 520,000-acre ranch west of Wichita Falls, is $9.7 billion, compared with $8.6 billion for Jones. That puts Kroenke in 49th place and Jones in 56th place among the richest Americans.

Here are the other Texans who made it onto this year's Forbes 400, in order of ranking:

  • Omni Hotels and Gold's Gym king Robert Rowling of Dallas. $5.5 billion. No. 12 in Texas. Tied for No. 119 in U.S.
  • Oil and gas heir Ray Lee Hunt of Dallas. $5.2 billion No. 13 in Texas. No. 127 in U.S.
  • Venture capital entrepreneur Robert Smith of Austin. $5 billion. No. 14 in Texas. Tied for No. 131 in U.S.
  • Oil heir Robert Bass of Fort Worth. $4.9 billion. Tied for No. 15 in Texas and No. 140 in U.S.
  • Pipeline executive Kelcy Warren of Dallas. $4.3 billion. No. 17 in Texas. Tied for No. 159 in U.S.
  • Vodka tycoon Bert "Tito" Beveridge of Austin. $4.2 billion. Tied for No. 18 in Texas and No. 168 in U.S.
  • Margot Birmingham Perot of Dallas, widow of tech entrepreneur H. Ross Perot. $4.2 billion. Tied for No. 18 in Texas and No. 168 in U.S.
  • Tech entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban of Dallas. $4.1 billion. No. 20 in Texas. Tied for No. 179 in U.S.
  • Private equity giant David Bonderman of Fort Worth. $3.7 billion. Tied for No. 24 in Texas and No. 217 in U.S.
  • Oil and gas chief Trevor Rees-Jones of Dallas. $3.7 billion. Tied for No. 24 in Texas and No. 217 in U.S.
  • Investor and oil heir Sid Bass of Fort Worth. $3.1 billion. Tied for No. 27 in Texas and No. 275 in U.S.
  • John Paul DeJoria of Austin. $3.1 billion. Tied for No. 27 in Texas and No. 275 in U.S.
  • Tech entrepreneur Thai Lee of Austin. $3 billion. Tied for No. 29 in Texas and No. 287 in U.S.
  • Software entrepreneur Joe Liemandt of Austin. $3 billion. Tied for No. 29 in Texas and No. 287 in U.S.
  • Oil heir W. Herbert Hunt of Dallas. $2.6 billion. Tied for No. 31 in Texas and No. 333 in U.S.
  • Investor and former grocery distributor Drayton McLane Jr. of Temple. $2.6 million. Tied for No. 31 in Texas and No. 333 in U.S.
  • Hearing-aid titan Bill Austin of Brownsville. $2.4 billion. Tied for No. 33 in Texas and No. 355 in U.S.
  • Energy entrepreneur and Texas Rangers co-owner Ray Davis of Dallas. $2.3 billion. Tied for No. 35 in Texas and No. 363 in U.S.
  • Big-time banker Gerald Ford of Dallas. $2.3 billion. Tied for No. 35 in Texas and No. 363 in U.S.
  • Oil heir Edward Bass of Fort Worth. $2.2 billion. Tied for No. 37 in Texas and No. 370 in U.S.
  • Oil heir Lee Bass of Fort Worth. $2.2 billion. Tied for No. 37 in Texas and No. 370 in U.S.
  • Real estate developer H. Ross Perot Jr. of Dallas. $2.2 billion. Tied for No. 37 in Texas and No. 370 in U.S.
  • Private equity entrepreneur Brian Sheth of Austin. $2.2 billion. Tied for No. 37 in Texas and No. 370 in U.S.
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Rice University develops 2 new innovative tools to detect COVID-19

pandemic tech

Rice University is once again spearheading research and solutions in the ongoing battle with COVID-19. The university announced two developing innovations: a "real-time sensor" to detect the virus and a cellphone tool that can detect the disease in less than an hour.

Sensing COVID
Researchers at Rice received funding for up to $1 million to develop the real-time sensor that promises to detect minute amounts of the airborne virus.

Teams at Rice and the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston are working to develop a thin film electronic device that senses as few as eight SARS-CoV-2 viruses in 10 minutes of sampling air flowing at 8 liters per minute, per a press release.

Dubbed the Real-Time Amperometric Platform Using Molecular Imprinting for Selective Detection of SARS-CoV-2 (or, RAPID), the project has been funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Rice notes. Further funding will be contingent upon a successful demonstration of the technology.

Attacking with an app
Meanwhile, the university announced that its engineers have developed a plug-in tool that can diagnose COVID-19 in around 55 minutes. The tool utilizes programmed magnetic nanobeads and a tool that plugs into a basic cellphone.

First, a stamp-sized microfluidic chip measures the concentration of SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein in blood serum from a standard finger prick.

Then, nanobeads bind to SARS-CoV-2 N protein, a biomarker for COVID-19, in the chip and transport it to an electrochemical sensor that detects minute amounts of the biomarker. Paired with a Google Pixel 2 phone and a plug-in tool, researchers quickly secured a positive diagnosis.

This, researchers argue, simplifies sample handling compared to swab-based PCR tests that must be analyzed in a laboratory.

"What's great about this device is that it doesn't require a laboratory," said Rice engineer Peter Lillehoj in a statement. "You can perform the entire test and generate the results at the collection site, health clinic or even a pharmacy. The entire system is easily transportable and easy to use."

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Chevron's Houston-based venture arm launches $300M fund focusing on low-carbon tech

show me the money

Chevron Corp.'s investment arm has launched a $300 million fund that will focus on low-carbon technology.

Chevron Technology Ventures LLC's Future Energy Fund II builds on the success of the first Future Energy Fund, which kicked off in 2018 and invested in more than 10 companies specializing in niches like carbon capture, emerging mobility, and energy storage. The initial fund contained $100 million.

"The new fund will focus on innovation likely to play a critical role in the future energy system in industrial decarbonization, emerging mobility, energy decentralization, and the growing circular carbon economy," Houston-based Chevron Technology Ventures says in a February 25 release.

Future Energy Fund II is the eighth venture fund created by Chevron Technology Ventures since its establishment in 1999. In 2019, the investment arm started a $90 million fund to invest in startups that can help accelerate the oil and gas business of San Ramon, California-based Chevron.

Chevron Technology Ventures' portfolio for low-carbon technology comprises a dozen companies: Blue Planet, Carbon Clean, Carbon Engineering, ChargePoint, Eavor, Infinitum Electric, Natron Energy, Spear Power Systems, Svante, Voyage, Vutility, and Zap Energy.

Only one of the companies in the low-carbon portfolio is based in Texas — Infinitum Electric, located in Round Rock. However, Chevron Technology Ventures is active in the Houston entrepreneurial ecosystem as a participant in the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, Greentown Labs, The Cannon, and The Ion. Chevron's investment arm was the first tenant at The Ion.

In an August 2020 interview with InnovationMap, Barbara Burger, president of Chevron Technology Ventures, said the investment arm places a priority on helping advance entrepreneurship in Houston. "It is our home court," she said.

Burger said that for Houston to succeed in energy innovation, companies, government agencies, investment firms, and universities must rally around the city.

"We're doing a lot of things right — almost in spite of the world being crazy. … I think constancy of purpose is important," she said. "Despite the headwinds from COVID and despite the headwinds that industries are facing, we need to stay committed to that."

Burger noted that innovation "is not a straight path."

"We've got to plant a bunch of these seeds and see how they grow — we need to water them every day, and then I think we'll have a beautiful garden," she said.