Houston innovation hub names interim leader

eye on the ion

Jan Odegard has been named interim executive director of the Ion. Photo courtesy of The Ion

A developing innovation hub rising in Midtown Houston has named an interim executive director following the sudden exit of its former leader.

Jan Odegard has been named interim executive director of the Ion after Gabriella Rowe announced her resignation. Odegard has served as senior director of Academic and Industry Partnerships at The Ion for six months and as the executive director of Rice University's Ken Kennedy Institute for Information Technology since 2002.

"I am excited to help move forward and ensure the Ion is a success," Odegard says in a press release from Rice. "My interim role is made easier by the fact that everyone involved in the Ion, including Rice Management Co., is focused on making it a success for all Houstonians."

Rice Management Co. is leading The Ion project, a renovation of an old 270,000-square-foot Sears building. The goal is to create an innovation hub for startups, entrepreneurs, academics, corporations, and more.

"We're already supporting business owners, the community and entrepreneurs," Odegard says in the release. "Our building is slated to open in early 2021, but the Ion is more than a place. It is the programming, partnerships and resources we are creating to support Houston's innovation and tech economy, and above all, it is the people who are coming together to take part and join us."

In an interview with InnovationMap, Rowe shared details of her resignation and says that she will continue focusing on technology and equity.

"I am stepping back from the Ion role in order to focus my time exclusively with the issues of equity and access in growing our tech ecosystem and economy," Rowe says, "because I think that is going to be an instrumental part of the recovery of Houston moving forward."

Gabriella Rowe has stepped down from her role as executive director of The Ion. Courtesy of Station Houston

Houston innovation hub leader shares details on recent resignation

on to the next

A Houston tech ecosystem leader has announced her resignation from her position in order to seek out a new role.

Gabriella Rowe, who served The Ion as executive director until earlier this week, has confirmed she has resigned from her position. The Ion is Rice Management Company's innovation center rising in Midtown, and Rowe was named executive director in October of last year. She was previously the CEO of Station Houston since August 2018, which was later merged with Austin-based Capital Factory.

Rowe, who was selected for Mayor Sylvester Turner's new Health Equity Response task force that was established to help the city respond to COVID-19, says she hasn't yet announced what her next move is, but she tells InnovationMap will continue focusing on technology and equity.

"I am stepping back from the Ion role in order to focus my time exclusively with the issues of equity and access in growing our tech ecosystem and economy," Rowe says, "because I think that is going to be an instrumental part of the recovery of Houston moving forward."

While Rowe will have no official role at The Ion moving forward, she imagines her to-be-announced opportunity will work hand-in-hand with the mission of The Ion, which is expected to deliver next year.

"The Ion is going to be an incredibly successful project that is going to have all the positive effect on the long term future of Houston that it is designed to do. I feel confident that it's set up to do that and has the people in place to carry it forward," she says.

Rowe says her foray into Houston's tech ecosystem began when she was head of school of The Village School in West Houston. Now, her driving factor is creating a city where those students could grow their tech education and skills and have plenty of care opportunities in Houston.

"From the very start, this has been for me about building a tech ecosystem in Houston that can support the development of the tech economy that would give our Houston talent an opportunity to stay here in this city and partake in this global opportunity," she says.

The Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator has selected its next cohort. Courtesy of The Ion

Houston accelerator announces newest cohort to tackle cleantech

Smart cities

As the world celebrated the 50th annual Earth Day on April 22, a Houston innovation organization announced a new group of startups for its accelerator program that will focus on cleantech solutions within the city of Houston and beyond.

The Ion's accelerator, which recently renewed its focus on resiliency, announced its second cohort with six startups that will create solutions for Houston's air quality, water purification, and other cleantech needs.

"Through leveraging the power of our local Ion community, The Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator is committed to solving challenges Houstonians face every day," says Christine Galib, senior director of accelerator programs at The Ion and the director of the accelerator, in a news release. "We connect participating startups with mentors, partners, and stakeholders, so they gain access to the resources they need to build, validate, and scale their technologies. Together, we are building a safer, smarter, and more accessible city for all Houstonians."

The program is supported by Intel, Microsoft, and TX/RX and has began its programming for the new cohort. The six startups selected for the program are:

  • Houston-based Eigen Control uses machine learning and chemical engineering models to combat rising CO2 emissions. Distillation process plants emit so much CO2 — and Eigen Control's processes are working to change that.
  • Houston-based Annapurna Solutions has cloud-based solutions for hazardous and solid waste management.
  • Mexico City-based S2G Energy focuses on sustainable and optimized solutions for businesses and governments with its energy-management-as-a-service technology.
  • Houston-based re:3D is a 3D-printing nonprofit that is democratizing small-scale manufacturing. Its Gigabot can use recycled and reclaimed materials for more sustainable and affordable production. The company, which has offices in Puerto Rico and Austin, donates a printer to someone making a difference with every 100 printers it sells.
  • Austin-based LifePod Corps is a nonprofit that provides disaster relief through renewable and sustainable technologies built and delivered by military veterans.
  • Houston-based Water Lens has created a real-time water data analytics platform for industries that use a lot of water — like oil and gas, agriculture, power generation, coal mining, and food processing. The technology allows for quicker, more reliable results.

The accelerator's leaders chose its theme for the cohort based on the City of Houston's Resilient Houston Strategy and Climate Action Plan. The program has identified these six startups as movers and shakers within these Smart Cities challenges.

"We are thrilled to collaborate with these startups to further develop Houston as one of America's smartest and most resilient cities," says Gabriella Rowe, executive director of The Ion, in the release. "By leveraging our resources and networks, the accelerator and Cohort 2 improve living conditions for all Houstonians. In this way, we stimulate our local economy with new jobs and economic opportunities."

Last year's inaugural cohort was announced in August and focused on resilience and mobility. After a demo day in December, the cohort continued its work in Houston through 15 pilot programs the startups had with the city. The third cohort is expected to launch toward the end of 2020, but the next theme has not yet been decided.

The Ion's accelerator program has pivoted to more prominately feature startups with resiliency solutions. Photo courtesy of The Ion

Houston accelerator renews focus on resiliency amid COVID-19 crisis

get smart

The Ion's accelerator program has taken the current COVID-19 outbreak as an opportunity to focus on resiliency. The Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator, as it's now known, will launch it's second cohort virtually at the end of the month.

"Resiliency has always been a core pillar of our accelerator — in my opinion, you really can't have a smart city unless you're a resilient city," Galib tells InnovationMap. "Language is so important to our culture, and we had not had that word in the accelerator, and so now we do."

The change is effective immediately and comes just ahead of the accelerator's second cohort, which will focus on air quality, water purification, and clean tech. Just like the first cohort, the selected startups will participate in a few months of programming — this time, all online — before entering into pilot programs with the city of Houston.

Later in this spring, the accelerator plans to call for remote education and online technologies. With schools closed, Galib says she's seen a need for tech optimization for both students and teachers.

"By harnessing smart technologies, cities become more resilient in the face of crises," says Gabriella Rowe, executive director of The Ion, in a news release. "The innovation of the Ion Smart & Resilient Cities Accelerator will empower and create the smart technology we need to keep our city's operations moving and our residents safe as we inevitably face sociological challenges and natural disasters. We are excited to play a role in improving our city's fabric and quality of life."

The first cohort resulted in a collective fifteen projects across nine startups. The program is backed by the city of Houston, Microsoft, Intel, and TXRX. The third cohort is expected to launch toward the end of 2020, and Galib says she's not sure what the focus will be yet.

"As we look toward the Ion's opening in January 2021, I look at the accelerator program and its capacity to accelerate entrepreneurship spirit," Galib says. "I truly see the next few months as a chance for us to double down on our efforts to find entrepreneurship everywhere in Houston so that we see every entrepreneur from all walks of life."

Austin Rolling, Gabriella Rowe, and Aaron Knape are this week's Houston innovators to know. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

In this weekly roundup of Houston innovators, we find an entrepreneur who created the tech solution he wished he'd had as a salesman, an innovation leader with big goals for The Ion, and a startup founder who's in for a very busy March.

Here are this week's Houston innovators to know.

Austin Rolling, CEO and co-founder of Outfield

austin rolling

Photo courtesy of Outfield

As an experienced salesman, Austin Rolling knows the challenges salespeople face on a daily basis. Rolling, who worked in a number of positions in both inside and outside sales with such big name companies as Whirlpool and Beats by Dre. He tells InnovationMap about how he wished he had better tools for communication and keeping organized.

"Fast forward some years later, my co-founder and I decided to work on a solution that could help support outside sales agents and I was able to use my domain expertise as an outside sales rep to ID the realm of solutions for various customer segments," Rolling says.

Rolling runs Outfield, a Houston-based software company gives field reps an intuitive interface to manage their territory and accounts on-the-go as well as instantly communicate with the rest of their team effortlessly across all devices. Click here to read more.

Gabriella Rowe, executive director of The Ion

Courtesy of Station Houston

Now that Station Houston has merged with Capital Factory, Gabriella Rowe, who previously served Station as CEO, has completely transitioned into her role as executive director of The Ion. On last week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, Rowe discussed the merger and how her goal for The Ion is to make the facility a vehicle for innovation development, but also create a diverse and inclusive environment reflective of Houston's own diversity.

"We're creating an opportunity for Houstonians," Rowe says on the episode, explaining why she's focused on bringing in a wide range of programming and education into The Ion.

In the episode, Rowe also discusses the Ion Smart Cities Accelerators, which has 10 companies from its inaugural cohort in pilot mode across Houston and has launched applications for its second cohort, as well as why she thinks Houston's innovation ecosystem is sure to succeed this time around. Click here to read more and stream the podcast.

Aaron Knape, co-founder and CEO of sEATz

Courtesy of sEATz

Like most lifelong Houstonians, Aaron Knape has a long history with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. But this season, he'll be involved in a whole new way. Knape's startup, sEATz, an in-seat delivery app, will be live in certain sections of the rodeo at NRG Stadium.

"It's really great to be able to be a part of the rodeo as far as a provider to help enhance that experience in the stadium," Knape says. "It goes back to our model of we want to serve a venue and the fans in that venue — not necessarily a specific sport or concert."

SEATz had a busy football season, servicing the likes of The Texans, the University of Houston Cougars, and more, but turns out, football is not over. Through its partnership with Delaware North, the food and beverage provider for UH's TDECU Stadium, sEATz has added the XFL's Houston Roughnecks fans to its roster of users. Click here to read more.

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Houston energy blockchain company announces $7.7M in funding, plans to expand to the Middle East

money moves

A Houston-based tech company has announced another round of funding to support its blockchain network growth as well as to establish a presence in the Middle East.

Data Gumbo has closed its series B funding round totaling $7.7 million with follow-on investments led by Equinor Ventures. The round includes participation from Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures and Bay Area and Houston-based venture firm L37. The round's first close was announced in September 2020 at $4 million. The additional funds to close the Series B will be used to scale Data Gumbo to serve demand for GumboNet™ and GumboNet™ ESG. Additionally, Data Gumbo plans to establish a presence in the Middle East to cover expected demand growth in the region.

"The successful close of our series B is continued proof of the efficacy and booming interest in our ability to capture critical cost savings, deliver trust and provide transparency across commercial relationships," says Andrew Bruce, founder and CEO of Data Gumbo, in a news release. "Compounded by the growing demand for transparent, accurate sustainability data and the launch of our automated ESG measurement solution, GumboNet™ ESG, Data Gumbo's trajectory is well-positioned to serve our growing customer base by ensuring economic productivity and value. This infusion of capital will support our expansion efforts as we bring more international users to our network."

With this latest raise, Data Gumbo's total funding raised to date is $18.4 million.

"Data Gumbo's success is marked by a wide variety of business use cases and opportunities for expansion," says Bruce Niven, chief investment officer at Aramco Ventures, in the release. "Our continued investment is a testament to our continued support as the company attracts new customers, experiences further demand for its network and gains traction in new markets."

The company's technology features smart contract automation and execution, which reduces contract leakage, frees up working capital, enables real-time cash and financial management, and delivers provenance with unprecedented speed, accuracy, visibility and transparency, per the release.

"Data Gumbo is the market leader for smart contracts backed by blockchain, and the coming year will be a period of exponential growth for the company as they penetrate new industrial markets," says Kemal Farid, partner at L37, in the release. "We believe strongly that GumboNet will become the de facto network for smart contracts across industries for capturing value and solving enormous pain points in contractual relations. Additionally, as companies move to meet increasing sustainability measurement demands and ESG improvements, there is a huge growth path available for Data Gumbo with the launch of GumboNet ESG."

Earlier this year, the company announced its environmental, social and corporate governance tracking and reporting tool.

"Equinor's recent pilot at the Johan Sverdrup field has demonstrated that GumboNet can create strong value for the partnership," says Gareth Burns, head of Equinor Ventures, in the release. "Our follow-on investment confirms Equinor Ventures' confidence in Data Gumbo's solution for our company and the broader energy industry."

3 Houston startups announce strategic appointments across health tech, materials, and software

short stories

Three Houston tech startups have new hires they're excited about this summer. From new board members to c-level execs, here's who's moving and shaking in Houston innovation.

Former Memorial Hermann CEO joins board of ZIBRIO

This Houston medical device startup has added a big name to its board. Photo courtesy of ZIBRIO

Dan Wolterman, who served as president and CEO of Memorial Hermann Health System for 15 years, has been named to the board of directors of Houston-based ZIBRIO. The health tech company, which was founded based on NASA technology, has developed a device that measures balance.

"We're delighted to have Dan on the team," says Katharine Forth, ZIBRIO CEO and co-founder, in a news release. "He understands ZIBRIO's vision to work across the full continuum of care, empowering older patients and clinicians with quantifiable fall prevention. His experience and enthusiasm will be invaluable in helping us to achieve it."

Falling is the top cause of trauma injury and trauma death across all age groups, according to ZIBRIO's release, and the current cost of falls in people over 65 is $50 billion – which is expected to double.

"ZIBRIO is coming to market at a time when population health and prevention are key for Healthcare systems to generate outcomes. They have a strong team and an elegant solution to a complex problem that will help millions," Wolterman says in the release.

Inhance adds to its C-suite

Inhance Technologies has added an integral member to its leadership. Photo via inhancetechnologies.com

Inhance Technologies, an international provider of polymer material science solutions based in Houston, has named its new CFO. Andrew Leeser, previously at Cimarron Energy, has joined the company to lead global finance, accounting and treasury functions, as well as human resources and information technology.

"I'm delighted to welcome Andrew to the Inhance Technologies family. He has an excellent track record in organizations spanning a range of industries, and I'm sure that his experience will help us continue on our upward trajectory," says Andrew Thompson, president and CEO of Inhance Technologies, in a news release. "We look forward to working with him to build a bright future for the company and our customers as we help them make a conscious choice towards more sustainable plastics."

The company just recently announced its expansion, including another new C-level exec and a new 75,000-square-foot site in St. Louis.

"I'm very pleased to have joined Inhance Technologies and I look forward to helping the organization achieve its goals over the next few years. With the significant growth in demand for our fully recyclable barrier technology Enkaseä, as well as our global expansion, there is no doubt I'm joining the company at an exciting time," says Leeser in the release.

Houston fintech unicorn names new council

Meet the new council dedicated to supporting HighRadius's new platform. Photo via LinkedIn

HighRadius, a Houston-based fintech company that reached unicorn status last year, has announced the members of its advisory council for its new microlearning and community platform Highako Academy.

Bob Shultz, managing partner of Quote-to-Cash Consulting, will serve as chairman of the council.

Other council members include:

  • John LaRocca, Sr. Director of Global Credit, Hitachi Vantara
  • Roger Torneden, Director of Business, Management and Legal Programs for UCLA Extension
  • R. Britt Hastey, Chair, Business Administration Department, Los Angeles City College
  • Bruce Lynn, Managing Partner, the FENG LLC
  • Scott Blakeley, Partner, Blakeley LLP

The council "will identify and improve courseware, certification programs and the methods of delivery based on current and future industry and professional trends," according to an email from the company. Highako Academy is aimed at helping teams and customers develop critical industry skills.

"Our customers have asked us for an online self-service learning platform, and that led us to launch highako.com as a beta platform last year," says Urvish Vashi of HighRadius in a recent release. "With 10,000+ users on the platform and a vibrant partner ecosystem consisting of credit groups, collection agencies, attorneys and industry associations, we see this echoing a larger trend of millennials and Gen Z gravitating towards microlearning platforms."

Expert: How to ensure your tech is ready for a hurricane in Houston

Guest column

Houstonians are no strangers to hurricanes. We've already seen some activity this summer, and we still have a few months to go. Although we can't prevent every negative situation when it comes to weather, AT&T has picked up a few tried and true tips that can help you stay safe prepared during this hurricane season.

Tips to plan ahead:

  • Save your smartphone's battery life. In case of a power outage, extend your device's battery life by putting it in power-save mode, turning off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, deleting apps, or putting your phone in Airplane Mode. This may prevent you from using certain features but will ultimately save battery power.
  • Keep your mobile devices charged. Be sure to have another way to charge your smartphone if the power goes out. One option might be using your car's USB port or a USB car charger.
  • Keep your mobile devices dry. Mobile phones can be a critical lifeline during a storm. To protect yours, store it in a water-resistant case, floating waterproof case, or plastic bag. A car charger or back-up battery pack can come in handy. If you have multiple devices to keep charged, consider a multi-port back-up battery pack.
  • Back up important information and protect vital documents. Consistently back up insurance papers, medical information and the like to the Cloud or your computer. With cloud storage, you can access your data from any connected device.
  • Have a family communications plan. Choose someone out of the area as a central contact in case your family is separated. Most importantly, practice your emergency plan in advance.
  • Store emergency contacts in your mobile phone. Numbers should include the police department, fire station, hospital, and family members.
  • Forward your home number to your mobile number in the event of an evacuation. Because call forwarding is based out of the telephone central office, you will get calls from your landline phone even if your local telephone service is down.
  • Track the storm on your mobile device. If you lose power at your home during a storm, you can use your mobile device to access local weather reports.

Likewise, we take a series of steps to ensure our Houston area network is ready to withstand the storm season each year.

Preparing our network in Houston:

When we know a storm is coming, we immediately assess what is needed to prepare our network. Some of those measures include:

  • Engaging Network Operations Center to monitor the network and partner with local personnel for recovery efforts.
  • Maintaining backup generators at cell sites and switching facilities in case of power loss.
  • Staging portable generators at strategic locations for deployment after an event.
  • Working with State and Federal Emergency Operations Centers to ensure first responders have the mobile connectivity they need before, during and after an event.

Keeping first responders connected:

Communication is critical to rescue and recovery efforts. That's why we were selected by the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) – an independent agency within the federal government – to deliver FirstNet® to first responders and the extended public safety community. FirstNet is the only nationwide network built with and for America's first responders. In the Houston area, agencies using FirstNet include Law Enforcement, Fire, EMS, and Emergency Management, among others. FirstNet is used in day-to-day operations and during emergency response, including hurricane preparedness and response. In addition, organizations and agencies that could be called on to help support public safety also use FirstNet. These include healthcare, public works, essential government services, school security, utilities, energy, and transportation that operate in support of primary public safety entities and are critical to the response efforts. Together, these agencies utilize the FirstNet network for broadband connectivity for voice and data to prepare for and respond to hurricane events. FirstNet provides the connectivity they need with:

  • Priority & Preemption: In emergencies and disasters, commercial networks can quickly become congested. That's why FirstNet is the only nationwide network that gives first responders always-on priority and preemption. It puts them at the front of the "communications line."
  • Greater Command & Control: Public safety agencies have access to a fleet of more than 100 dedicated mobile cell sites that link to FirstNet via satellite and do not rely on commercial power availability. New this storm season, there's a giant addition to the FirstNet disaster response arsenal: FirstNet One – an approximately 55-foot aerostat, more commonly known as a blimp. And, to give first responders greater command and control of their network, the FirstNet Response Operations Program aligns with the National Incident Management System to better guide the deployment of these assets.
  • Enhanced Coverage and Capacity: We've also deployed FirstNet Band 14 spectrum. Band 14 is nationwide, high-quality spectrum set aside by the U.S. government specifically for FirstNet. We refer to it as public safety's VIP lane- during an emergency, this band can be cleared and locked just for FirstNet subscribers.

Recovery and relief:

During those unfortunate times when recovery response is needed, our Natural Disaster Recovery program and FirstNet Response Operations Group have technology and equipment to help with relief efforts such as:

  • Mobile cell sites and mobile command centers, like Cell on Wheels (COWs) and Cell on Light Trucks (COLTs)
  • Emergency Communications Vehicles (ECVs)
  • Flying Cell on Wings (Flying COWs)
  • Drones
  • A self-sufficient base camp: complete with sleeping tents, bathrooms, kitchen, laundry facilities, an on-site nurse, and meals ready to eat (MREs)
  • Hazmat equipment and supplies
  • Technology and support trailers to provide infrastructure support and mobile heating ventilation and air conditioning
  • Internal and external resources for initial assessment and recovery efforts

Together, let's have a smart and safe hurricane season.

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Luis Silva is vice president and general manager at AT&T.