This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Emily Keeton of Loeb.nyc, Steve Kean of GHP, and Lacey Tezino of Passport Journeys. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from investing to mental health — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Emily Keeton, operating partner and investor of Loeb.nyc

Emily Keeton has worn a lot of hats in Houston's innovation ecosystem and beyond. She shares on the Houston Innovators Podcast how she's engaging with companies these days, what the future holds for Houston, and more. Photo courtesy

Emily Keeton has had a front-row seat as the Houston innovation ecosystem developed — first hands on as a co-founder of Station Houston, and later from outside looking in from New York. As she shared on the Houston Innovators Podcast, she's hopeful about the future of the community.

"I am very optimistic about the future of Houston. It's a long game, and I think people need to keep showing up," she says on the show.

Now based in Houston, her latest endeavor is working with Michael Loeb on Loeb.nyc, a New York-based investment firm with shared services — marketing, design, etc. — with his portfolio. Read more.

Steve Kean, incoming president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership

Steve Kean will transition from leading Kinder Morgan to assuming the role of president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership later this year. Photo courtesy of the GHP

Steve Kean, who currently serves as the CEO of Kinder Morgan Inc., has been announced as the next president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership. He's expected to transition from CEO to board of directors member at Kinder Morgan on August 1. Kean will then assume his new position at GHP no later than Dec. 1.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve our region in this role," he says. "I look forward to building on what Bob, the Board, members, and staff of the Partnership have accomplished. I know first-hand the opportunities that a vibrant business sector can create for people and communities. I look forward to expanding those opportunities further.”

The GHP's outgoing president and CEO, Bob Harvey, announced his retirement earlier this year, and will remain in his position until Kean is onboarded. Read more.

A Houston-founded company is targeting mothers and daughters with their teletherapy app. Photo courtesy of Passport Journeys

When Lacey Tezino’s mother died of cancer she vowed to help other mothers and daughters find their own ways to bond in beautiful, nurturing ways. She turned that vow into a mission that is now available for others to embark on with an online therapy app tailored specifically for the mother-daughter dynamic Passport Journeys.

The app, which launched aptly on Mother's Day, can be downloaded via Apple or Google Play, and includes video therapy sessions, journal opportunities, interactive worksheets, and help those who need access to this form of mental health help with ease.

“Outside of our target audience being mother-daughter, we are also the first teletherapy app to find prescribed activities,“ Tezino tells InnovationMap. “We are the first ones that are actually having the therapist in between their video sessions assign the mother-daughter pair intentional bonding activities. It is meant for them to spend quality time on where they are at in their relationship…there aren’t any other apps that are doing that.” Read more.

A new sports festival is headed to Houston next year. Rendering courtesy of Pokatok

New sports festival reveals plans to take over downtown Houston next spring

pokatok prep

A Houston team announced their plans to bring the “world’s fair for sports” to downtown Houston in April 2024.

Pokatok, the four-day festival, will feature a sports tech expo, a film festival, speakers and panels, live music, pitch competitions, and more. The venue will be George R. Brown Convention Center, Discovery Green, and various nearby hotels, according to the release.

Gow Companies, founded by Lawson Gow (who is the son of David Gow, InnovationMap's parent company's CEO), announced that the team has secured support from Houston First, the Greater Houston Partnership, and the Harris County Houston Sports Authority to put on the event, which is slated to take place April 4-7, 2024. The company also owns Houston Exponential and a sports accelerator called Pokatok Labs.

“Pokatok will not only be the largest gathering of the entire sports tech ecosystem, it will also be a true fan festival for sports enthusiasts,” says Gow in the news release. “Everyone speaks the language of sport, it’s an incredibly powerful unifier of our society, and this festival will bring together people from around the world to experience hundreds of events revolving around the new and the next in sport.”

The festival will take place in April 2024 in downtown. Rendering courtesy of Pokatok

The festival will feature two tracks — one focused on sports innovation and the other surrounding a fan experience. Pokatok X will include an expo and showcase focused on sports innovation, bringing together startups, investors, accelerators, athletes, and industry experts to dive into sports tech.

The Pokatok Fan Festival's track will include product releases, demos for sports technology, sporting events, competitions, tournaments, and more.

Houston is no stranger to hosting major sport events, Harris County - Houston Sports Authority CEO Janis Burke points out in the news release, including the 2023 NCAA Men’s Final Four and the upcoming 2024 College Football National Championship, the 2024 Cricket World Cup, and the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

"Houston is known as one of the best sports destinations in the world," Burke continues. "As an organization, we are consistently looking for ways to innovate and grow in the sports sector. Events like Pokatok are great for advancing sports within the region and providing unique opportunities for our community!"

Tickets are expected to go on sale in the fall, and the organization is looking for potential speakers and partners. The festival's name derives from sport of pok-a-tok, which dates back thousands of years as the world’s first team sport played throughout Mesoamerica.

“The City of Houston is a sports town to its core and has been host to some of the greatest events and moments in sports,” says Mayor Sylvester Turner in the release. “Pokatok will help further Houston’s vision of being a destination city for global sporting events and innovations. The business community also supports this venture, and I thank them for their involvement and support. This project is an excellent example of local business leaders joining forces to expand the attractions the City has to offer to both residents and visitors.”

Pokatok will take place in and around the George R. Brown Convention Center. Rendering courtesy of Pokatok

According to a new report, Houston is one of the top cities for funding for sustainability companies. Photo via Getty Images

Houston ranked a top market for attracting funding for sustainability-focused startups

by the numbers

From a financial standpoint, Houston appears to be a sustainable environment for sustainability-focused startups.

An analysis by PromoLeaf, a retailer of sustainable promotional products, finds that Houston ranks fourth among U.S. cities for the average funding raised by locally based startups in the sustainability sector, according to Crunchbase data.

Per the report, the Bayou City attracts $150.7 million in sustainability funding for startups. Ahead of Houston are Salt Lake City with $204.5 million; Santa Monica, California, with $154.3 million; and Fremont, California, with $153.4 million.

PromoLeaf’s analysis features cities where at least 20 companies are focused on sustainability.

The analysis indicates Houston has 20.6 sustainability startups per 100,000 residents. Ranking first in that regard is Boulder, Colorado (115 per 100,000 residents).

While Houston trails Boulder by a long distance, it fares well among the Texas cities in the analysis:

  1. Austin, 26.2 sustainability startups per 100,000 residents
  2. Houston, 20.6 sustainability startups per 100,000 residents
  3. Midland, 18.8 sustainability startups per 100,000 residents
  4. Plano, 11.9 sustainability startups per 100,000 residents
  5. Dallas, 11 sustainability startups per 100,000 residents
  6. Fort Worth, 5.3 sustainability startups per 100,000 residents
  7. San Antonio, 5.2 sustainability startups per 100,000 residents

PromoLeaf says more than 21,600 sustainability startups operate in the U.S. They’re in the renewable energy, recycling and pollution control, environmental engineering, green consumer goods, and environmental consulting industries.

The analysis shows Houston has:

  • 13.7 renewable energy startups per 100,000 residents
  • 5.8 recycling and pollution control startups per 100,000 residents
  • 3.5 environmental engineering startups per 100,000 residents
  • 2.9 environmental consulting startups per 100,000 residents
  • 0.70 green consumer goods startups per 100,000 residents

According to the Greater Houston Partnership, renewable energy startups leading Houston’s energy transformation include Energy Transition Ventures, Fysikes Biosolutions, Ionada, Katz Water Technologies, Pressure Corp., and Renewell Energy.

“A dynamic business climate combined with growth in venture capital funding in Houston has created fertile ground for companies of all stages aiming to power our world through the global energy transition,” the partnership says. “As the Energy Capital of the World, Houston has become a hub for startups and venture capital firms investing in the region’s energy future.”

Outside the energy sector, Houston startups like Trendy Seconds also are making their mark in sustainability. The company runs an online marketplace where women can find preowned clothing or shop for new clothing from sustainable brands.

“Our ultimate goal is to make responsible consumption super easy,” Maria Burgos, founder of Trendy Seconds, told InnovationMap last year.

Bob Harvey has announced his retirement plans. Photo courtesy of GHP

Greater Houston Partnership leader to retire, executive search committee forms to find new CEO

transition plans

Bob Harvey, who has been at the helm as the Greater Houston Partnership for over a decade has announced his retirement plans.

In an announcement today, the GHP revealed that Harvey, the president and CEO of the organization since 2012, plans to retire at the end of the year.

“This last decade has been a dynamic time for Houston and the Partnership. As a life-long Houstonian, it is a true honor to wake up each day focused on supporting Houston’s growth and working with the business community to create opportunities for all Houstonians,” says Harvey in a news release. “The commitment of business leaders to the success of this region is inspiring, and I look forward to continuing to lead the Partnership over the next year as we move Houston forward.”

Thad Hill, the current board chair of GHP and president and CEO of Calpine Corporation, has created an executive search committee made up of Partnership board members and chaired by Marc Watts, the 2018 Partnership board chair and president of The Friedkin Group. According to the release, the search will be national but the new CEO will be expected to "have some working familiarity with Houston and its business community." Current staff members will also be considered.

“I want to thank Bob for his tremendous leadership over the last decade as we’ve made great strides as an organization and as a region,” Hill says in the release. “I am grateful that Bob will continue to advance the organization over the coming months as we begin the process to find his successor. Under Bob’s leadership, the Partnership plays an essential role in the inclusive growth and prosperity of our great community, and I am confident his successor will expand on that legacy.”

The GHP is an economic development organization that serves the 12-county region encompassing Houston. It also acts as the business community’s advocate within policy across the local, state, and federal levels.

Under Harvey, the GHP has rolled out several initiatives, including workforce development program UpSkill Houston, the Houston Energy Transition Initiative, and diversity, equity, and inclusion program One Houston Together.

“The Partnership is an outstanding organization with strong board and staff leadership, impeccable financials, and a mission-oriented bias for action to make Houston a better place to live, work and build a business,” Hill says in the release. “The next leader of the Partnership is set-up to succeed, and I look forward to the process to identifying this person who will continue the organization’s momentum forward.”

According to a recent report from the Greater Houston Partnership, exports from the Houston area reached a record-breaking $140.8 billion last year. Photo via Pexels

Houston area sees record exports in 2021, according to report

by the numbers

Even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Houston is demonstrating its might in the global economy.

In 2021, exports from the Houston area reached a record-breaking $140.8 billion, according to a report from the Greater Houston partnership. The previous record, set in 2019, was $128.7 billion. The Houston-Galveston Customs District, comprising eight ports, now handles more tonnage (over 351.5 million metric tons in 2021) than it did before the pandemic.

“COVID had a short-lived impact on Houston’s exports,” the report says.

The report suggests the region’s export activity supports more than 450,000 direct and indirect jobs here.

According to the report, the Houston metro area leads all U.S. metros for the value of exports. It ranks well above New York City ($103.9 billion), Los Angeles ($58.6 billion), Chicago ($54.5 billion), and Dallas-Fort Worth ($43.2 billion). Houston’s top exports include chemicals, plastics, crude oil, and oilfield equipment.

“As retailers work to rebuild their inventories, as factories struggle to resolve supply chain issues, as the global economy continues to grow, so will the demand for Houston’s exports, and so will Houston employment,” the report says.

The report cites four factors that will continue to drive Houston’s export activity, at least in the short term:

  1. U.S. companies are still rebuilding inventories and need to bring in more goods from overseas.
  2. Some container traffic has started to shift to Houston from congested areas like Los Angeles and Long Beach, California.
  3. The Houston area continues to grow as a distribution center. Developers have added more than 96 million square feet of warehouse space in the region over the past five years.
  4. Houston is once again among the most rapidly growing metros, “which will drive the need for more consumer goods, most of which will arrive in a container via the Port of Houston.”

Houston’s top 10 trade partners and the value of that trade in 2021 were:

  • China — $24.7 billion, up from $19.3 billion in 2020.
  • Mexico — $21.6 billion, up from $14.5 billion in 2020.
  • Brazil — $16.9 billion, up from $12.0 billion in 2020.
  • Korea — $16.2 billion, up from $9.5 billion in 2020.
  • India — $13.9 billion, up from $8.0 billion in 2020.
  • Netherlands — $13.8 billion, up from $9.5 billion in 2020.
  • Germany — $11.9 billion, up from $9.5 billion in 2020.
  • Japan — $11.5 billion, up from $7.7 billion in 2020.
  • United Kingdom — $9.8 billion, up from $7.6 billion in 2020.
  • Columbia — $7.1 billion, up from $5.3 billion in 2020.

“Houston’s ties to the globally economy have grown with the city. In many ways, those ties propelled Houston’s growth. The region’s fortune now rise and fall with those of the global economy,” the report says.

There's a lot of clean tech potential in hydrogen — and Houston might be the place to lead the way. Image via Getty Images

New report shows why now is the time for Houston to emerge as a hub for hydrogen innovation

clean energy

Houston, known for being the energy capital of the world, has potential to lead innovation within the hydrogen space, and a new report lays out how.

The report, which was released today by the Center for Houston’s Future, is titled "Houston as the epicenter of a global clean hydrogen hub." The information explains how Houston-based assets can be leveraged to lead a global clean hydrogen innovation.

“The Houston region has the talent, expertise and infrastructure needed to lead the global energy transition to a low-carbon world. Clean hydrogen, alongside carbon capture, use, and storage are among the key technology areas where Houston is set up to succeed and can be an example to other leading energy economies around the world,” says Bobby Tudor, chair of the Greater Houston Partnership’s Houston Energy Transition Initiative, in a news release.

Together, GHP's HETI and over 100 experts representing 70 companies and organizations produced the report, along with McKinsey and Company, which donated significant research and economic analyses. Here are some highlights from the study, according to the release:

  • Clean hydrogen production could grow 5 times over current hydrogen production by 2050.
  • The establishment of a clean hydrogen industry could create 180,000 jobs (direct, indirect and induced) statewide, while adding $100 billion to Texas' GDP growth.
  • Globally, a Houston-led clean hydrogen hub could abate 220 million tons (MT) tons of carbon emissions by 2050.

“This report gives additional weight to the already strong case that Houston is uniquely positioned to lead a transformational clean hydrogen hub with global impact,” says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. “We can also deliver economic growth, create jobs and cut emissions across Houston and the Gulf Coast, including in underserved communities.”

The Houston region already produces and consumes a third of the nation’s hydrogen, per the release, and has more than 50 percent of the country’s dedicated hydrogen pipelines. These assets can be utilized to accelerate a transition to clean hydrogen, and the report lays out how.

"Using this roadmap as a guide and with Houston’s energy sector at the lead, we are ready to create a new clean hydrogen economy that will help fight climate change as it creates jobs and economic growth,” says Center for Houston’s Future CEO Brett Perlman. “We are more than ready, able and willing to take on these goals, as our record of overwhelming success in energy innovation and new market development shows.”

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Texas Space Commission launches, Houston execs named to leadership

future of space

Governor Greg Abbott announced the Texas Space Commission, naming its inaugural board of directors and Texas Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium Executive Committee.

The announcement came at NASA's Johnson Space Center, and the governor was joined by Speaker Dade Phelan, Representative Greg Bonnen, Representative Dennis Paul, NASA's Johnson Space Center Director Vanessa Wyche, and various aerospace industry leaders.

According to a news release, the Texas Space Commission will aim to strengthen commercial, civil, and military aerospace activity by promoting innovation in space exploration and commercial aerospace opportunities, which will include the integration of space, aeronautics, and aviation industries as part of the Texas economy.

The Commission will be governed by a nine-member board of directors. The board will also administer the legislatively created Space Exploration and Aeronautics Research Fund to provide grants to eligible entities.

“Texas is home to trailblazers and innovators, and we have a rich history of traversing the final frontier: space,” Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick says in a news release. “Texas is and will continue to be the epicenter for the space industry across the globe, and I have total confidence that my appointees to the Texas Space Commission Board of Directors and the Texas Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium Executive Committee will ensure the Texas space industry remains an international powerhouse for cutting-edge space innovation.”

TARSEC will independently identify research opportunities that will assist the state’s position in aeronautics research and development, astronautics, space commercialization, and space flight infrastructure. It also plans to fuel the integration of space, aeronautics, astronautics, and aviation industries into the Texas economy. TARSEC will be governed by an executive committee and will be composed of representatives of each higher education institution in the state.

“Since its very inception, NASA’s Johnson Space Center has been home to manned spaceflight, propelling Texas as the national leader in the U.S. space program,” Abbott says during the announcement. “It was at Rice University where President John F. Kennedy announced that the U.S. would put a man on the moon—not because it was easy, but because it was hard.

"Now, with the Texas Space Commission, our great state will have a group that is responsible for dreaming and achieving the next generation of human exploration in space," he continues. "Texas is the launchpad for Mars, innovating the technology that will colonize humanity’s first new planet. As we look into the future of space, one thing is clear: those who reach for the stars do so from the great state of Texas. I look forward to working with the Texas Space Commission, and I thank the Texas Legislature for partnering with industry and higher education institutions to secure the future of Texas' robust space industry."

The Houston-area board of directors appointees included:

  • Gwen Griffin, chief executive officer of the Griffin Communications Group
  • John Shannon, vice president of Exploration Systems at the Boeing Company
  • Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby, co-founder and CEO of Venus Aerospace
  • Kirk Shireman, vice president of Lunar Exploration Campaigns at Lockheed Martin
  • Dr. Nancy Currie-Gregg, director of the Texas A&M Space Institute

Additionally, a few Houstonians were named to the TARSEC committee, including:

  • Stephanie Murphy, CEO and executive chairman of Aegis Aerospace
  • Matt Ondler, president and former chief technology officer at Axiom Space
  • Jack “2fish” Fischer, vice president of production and operations at Intuitive Machines
  • Brian Freedman, president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership and vice chairman of Wellby Financial
  • David Alexander, professor of physics and astronomy and director of the Rice Space Institute at Rice University

To see the full list of appointed board and committee members, along with their extended bios, click here.

City of Houston approves $13M for new security tech at renovated IAH​ terminal

hi, tech

A new terminal currently under construction at George Bush Intercontinental Airport just got the green light for new security technology.

This week, Houston City Council unanimously approved the funding for the new Mickey Leland International Terminal's security equipment. The Mickey Leland International Terminal Project is part of the $1.43 billion IAH Terminal Redevelopment Program, or ITRP, which is expected to be completed by early next year.

This new IAH International Terminal will feature an International Central Processor, or ICP, with state-of-the-art technology in a 17-lane security checkpoint — among the largest in the country — as well as ticket counters and baggage claim.

“Houston Airports strives to get passengers through TSA Security in 20 minutes or less. Today, we meet that goal at Bush Airport more than 90 percent of the time,” Jim Szczesniak, director of aviation for Houston Airports, says in a news release. “This investment in innovative technology will enhance our efficiency and ensure that our passengers have a world-class experience each time they visit our airports.”

Going through security at IAH is about to be smoother sailing. Rendering courtesy of Houston Airports

The funding approval came from two ordinances, and the first one appropriates $11.8 million from the Airports Improvement Fund to buy, service, install, and train staff on nine new automated screening lanes, called Scarabee Checkpoint Property Screening Systems, or CPSS.

Per the news release, each of these CCPS automated lanes "is capable of screening more than 100 additional people and bags/hour than existing equipment used today." Currently, Terminal D's TSA is using eight CPSS Lanes, so the additional nine lanes will bring the total to 17 lanes of security.

The other appropriates another $1.2 million from the Airports Improvement Fund to buy, install, maintain, and train staff on six new Advanced Imaging Technology Quick Personnel Security Scanners.

The new scanners, which don't require the traveler to raise their arms, "is capable of screening more than 100 additional people/hour than existing equipment used today," per the release.

“These new security screening machines are faster, have fewer false alarms and have improved detection rates, which creates a safer experience for our passengers and airlines,” Federal Security Director for TSA at IAH Juan Sanchez adds.

The Mickey Leland International Terminal originally opened in 1990 and is currently under renovation. Rendering courtesy of Houston Airports

Texas has the 5th highest health care costs in the nation, Forbes says

dollar signs

A new Forbes Advisor study shedding light on Americans' top financial worries has revealed Texas has the fifth highest health care costs in the nation.

Forbes Advisor's annual report compared all 50 states and Washington, D.C. across nine different metrics to determine which states have the most and least expensive health care costs in 2024.

Factors include the average annual deductibles and premiums for employees using single and family coverage through employer-provided health insurances and the percentage of adults who chose not to see a health care provider due to costs within the last year, among others. Each state was ranked based on its score out of a total 100 possible points.

Texas was No. 5 with a score of 91.38 points. North Carolina was No. 1, followed in order by South Dakota, Nebraska, and Florida.

According to Forbes, out-of-state families considering a move to the Lone Star State should be aware of the state's troubling statistics when it comes to family health care. More specifically, nearly 15 percent of Texas children had families who struggled to pay for their medical bills in the past 12 months, the highest percentage in the nation.

Furthermore, Texans have the highest likelihood in the U.S. to skip seeing a doctor because of cost. The report showed 16 percent of Texas adults chose not to see a doctor in the past 12 months due to the cost of health care.

"Unexpected medical bills and the cost of health care services are the top two financial worries for Americans this year, according to a recent KFF health tracking poll," the report said. "These financial fears have real-world consequences. The high cost of healthcare is leading some Americans to make tough choices—often at the expense of their health."

In the category for the percentage of adults who reported 14 or more "mentally unhealthy" days out of a month, who could not seek health care services due to cost, Texas ranked No. 3 in the U.S. with 31.5 percent of adults experiencing these issues.

The report also highlighted the crystal clear inequality in the distribution of health care costs across the U.S.

"In some states, residents face much steeper health care expenses, including higher premiums and deductibles, which make them more likely to delay medical care due to costs," the report said.

For example, Texas' average annual premiums for both plus-one health insurance coverage ($4,626, according to the study) and family coverage ($7,051.33) through employer-provided policies was the No. 4-highest in the nation.

Elsewhere in the U.S.

The state with the most expensive health care costs is North Carolina, with a score of 100 points. 27 percent of adults in North Carolina reported struggling with their mental health who could not seek a doctor due to cost, and 11.3 percent of all adults in the state chose not to see a doctor within the last 12 months because of costs.

Hawaii (No. 50) is the state with the least expensive health care costs, according to Forbes. Hawaii had the lowest percentages of adults struggling with mental health (11.6 percent) and adults who chose not to see a doctor within the last year (5.7 percent). The average annual premium for employees in Hawaii using a family coverage plan through employer-provided health insurance is $5,373.67, and the average annual deductible for the same family coverage plan is $3,115.

The top 10 states with the most expensive health care are:

  • No. 1 – North Carolina
  • No. 2 – South Dakota
  • No. 3 – Nebraska
  • No. 4 – Florida
  • No. 5 – Texas
  • No. 6 – South Carolina
  • No. 7 – Arizona
  • No. 8 – Georgia
  • No. 9 – New Hampshire
  • No. 10 – Louisiana

The full report and its methodology can be found on forbes.com.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.