Fervo Energy's Project Red with Google is officially operational. Photo via blog.google

Google is on a mission to run all of its data centers and office campuses on constant carbon-free energy by 2030, and the tech giant is one step closer to that goal.

Last week, Google announced that its 24/7 carbon-free energy, or CFE, in Nevada to power its local data center in the state is officially operational. The facility is powered by Houston-based Fervo Energy's geothermal technology, a project — called Project Red — that began in 2021 and celebrated its successful pilot this summer.

"When we began our partnership with Fervo, we knew that a first-of-a-kind project like this would require a wide range of technical and operational innovations," Michael Terrell, senior director of energy and climate at Google, writes in a blog post about the partnership.

Fervo relies on tried and true drilling techniques from the oil and gas industry, accessing heat energy that previously has been elusive to traditional geothermal methods, Terrell continues. Fervo dug two horizontal wells at the Nevada plant, as well as installed fiber-optic cables to capture data that tracks performance and other key information.

"The result is a geothermal plant that can produce round-the-clock CFE using less land than other clean energy sources and drawing on skills, knowledge, and supply chains that exist in other industries," Terrell says. "From our early commitment to support the project’s development to its successful completion, we’ve worked closely with Fervo to overcome obstacles and prove that this technology can work."

Google also recently announced a partnership with Project InnerSpace, a nonprofit focused on global geothermal energy development.

Fervo is working on another nearby project, the company announced in September. The 400-milliwatt geothermal energy project in Cape Station, Utah, will start delivering carbon-free power to the grid in 2026, with full-scale production beginning in 2028.

The project, in southwest Utah, is about 240 miles southwest of Salt Lake City and about 240 miles northeast of Las Vegas. Cape Station is adjacent to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy (FORGE) and near the Blundell geothermal power plant.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Sarah Hein of March Biosciences, Sean Kelly of Amperon, Donnell Debnam Jr. of the Google in Residence program, and the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards judges. Photos courtesy

3+ Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries, from biotech to energy software, recently making headlines in Houston innovation — plus the decision makers for the Houston Innovation Awards.

Sarah Hein, CEO and co-founder of March Biosciences

Early-stage cell therapy startup March Biosciences has partnered with CTMC. Photo via march.bio

Named in part after one of the best months out of the year for Houstonians, March Biosciences has entered into a uniquely Houston partnership. Sarah Hein, CEO and co-founder of the cancer immunotherapy startup, met her co-founders at the TMC Accelerator for Cancer Therapeutics.

“It's a perfect example of the opportunities here in Houston where you can go from bench to bedside, essentially, in the same institution. And Baylor has been particularly good at that because of the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy,” says Hein.

The company recently announced a partnership with another Houston institution, CTMC. Read more.

Sean Kelly, CEO and co-founder of Amperon

It's payday for a startup that's improving analytics for its energy customers. Photo via Getty Images

Amperon Holdings Inc. raised $20 million in its latest round of funding in order to accelerate its energy analytics and grid decarbonization technology.

The fresh funding will support the company in evolving its platform that conducts electricity demand forecasting to a comprehensive data analytics solution.

“The energy transition is creating unprecedented market volatility, and Amperon is uniquely positioned to help market participants better navigate the transitioning grid – both in the U.S. and as we expand globally,” Sean Kelly, CEO and co-founder of Amperon, says. Read more.

Donnell Debnam Jr., instructor in the Google in Residence program

Thanks to Google, Donnell Debnam Jr. is helping train future software engineers at Prairie View A&M University. Photo via LinkedIn

Computer science students at Prairie View A&M University are gaining firsthand knowledge this semester from a Google software engineer.

As an instructor in the Google in Residence program, Donnell Debnam Jr. is helping train future software engineers — and other potential tech professionals — who are enrolled this fall in Prairie View A&M’s introductory computer science course. Fifty-four students are taking the class.

“I participated in the Google in Residence program as a student, and I am honored to return as an instructor,” says Debnam. “This innovative program was created to support greater diversity in the tech industry, and as an instructor, I have the privilege of helping the next generation of software engineers create a more inclusive culture within the STEM fields.” Read more.

2023 Houston Innovation Awards judges

Bonus innovators to know: The 10 Houstonians deciding the finalists and winners for this year's Houston Innovation Awards. Photos courtesy

Ten Houstonians are in the hot seat for deciding the best companies and individuals in Houston's innovation ecosystem.

InnovationMap has announced its 2023 Houston Innovation Awards judging panel, which includes startup founders, nonprofit leaders, investors, corporate innovators, and more.

Meet the 10 selected judges who will evaluate applications from the nearly 400 nominations that were submitted this year. Read more.

Thanks to Google, Donnell Debnam Jr. is helping train future software engineers at Prairie View A&M. Photo via LinkedIn

Google program plants software expert at Houston-area university

meet the faculty

Computer science students at Prairie View A&M University are gaining firsthand knowledge this semester from a Google software engineer.

As an instructor in the Google in Residence program, Donnell Debnam Jr. is helping train future software engineers — and other potential tech professionals — who are enrolled this fall in Prairie View A&M’s introductory computer science course. Fifty-four students are taking the class.

“I participated in the Google in Residence program as a student, and I am honored to return as an instructor,” says Debnam. “This innovative program was created to support greater diversity in the tech industry, and as an instructor, I have the privilege of helping the next generation of software engineers create a more inclusive culture within the STEM fields.”

Prairie View A&M is one of 14 historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-serving schools that are benefiting this fall from the Google residency program. Since being founded in 2013, the program has enabled more than 8,000 college students across the country to absorb knowledge from Google tech professionals.

The Google program addresses a nationwide gap in tech diversity.

A 2023 report from CompTIA, a trade group for the tech industry, shows Black professionals make up 12 percent of the U.S. workforce but eight percent of tech occupations, while Hispanic professionals represent 17 percent of the U.S. workforce but eight percent of tech occupations.

Prairie View A&M, an HBUC, is one of two Texas universities in this fall’s program. The other is the University of Texas at El Paso, a Hispanic-serving school. The main campus of Prairie View A&M is roughly 45 miles northwest of Houston.

Google says Debnam is equipping students at Prairie View A&M “with the skills needed to enter the workforce, such as fundamental coding concepts, how to debug, and how to prepare for technical interviews.”

As a student in 2017, Debnam participated in the Google residency program at Hampton University, an HBCU in Hampton, Virginia. In a LinkedIn post, Debnam wrote that since then, “I always said to myself and others that if I could figure out a way to get into Google someday, I would make it a priority to try to be part of this program.”

After completing two Google internships and earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Hampton, Debnam joined the tech giant as a full-time software engineer in 2021.

“If you know me, you know I have a passion for tech, but an even deeper passion for working with students and being a resource in any way possible,” he wrote on LinkedIn.

Nai-Hui Chia, an assistant professor of computer science at Rice, was recognized for his research on Hamiltonian simulations, a method for representing the motion of moving particles. Photo via Rice.edu

Houston professor earns Google Scholar award for quantum computing research

recent recognition

A Rice University quantum computer scientist was one of 78 global professors to be presented with a 2023 Google Scholar award, the university announced this month.

Nai-Hui Chia, an assistant professor of computer science at Rice, was recognized for his research on Hamiltonian simulations, a method for representing the motion of moving particles. Chia aims to understand if quantum computers or machines can simulate a "Hamiltonian matrix" with a shorter evolution time.

"We call this fast-forwarding for a Hamiltonian simulation,” Chia says in a statement.

Chia aims to use the funds from Google to discover Hamiltonians that can be fast-forwarded using parallelism or classical computation, according to Rice. He will present his current work on Hamiltonians and their connection to cryptology in July at the 2023 Computational Complexity Conference in Warwick, UK.

The Google Research Scholar program grants funds of up to $60,000 to support professors' research around the world. This year's cohort works in fields ranging from algorithms and optimization to natural language processing to health research.

Three other Texas researchers were awarded funds in the 2023 cohort.

The University of Texas at Austin's Jon Tamir was awarded for his work in applied sciences. Atlas Wang, also from UT, was awarded in the machine learning and data mining category. Shenglong Xu, from Texas A&M University, joined Chia in the quantum computing category.

Tech behemoth Google has awarded funds to several Houston innovators in recent years.

Last summer the company named AnswerBite, Boxes and Ease to its inaugural cohort of the Google for Startups Latino Founders Fund. Selected companies received an equity-free $100,000 investment, as well as programming and support from Google.

In September 2022, ChurchSpace and Enrichly were named part of the Google for Startups Black Founders Fund. The companies also received $100,000 non-dilutive awards along with mentoring and support.

DOSS is a real estate platform founded in Houston that helps democratize access to homeownership. Photo via Getty Images

How this Houston innovator is tapping into tech to make homeownership more accessible

ask DOSS

Real estate and homeownership has been historically exclusionary. Bobby Bryant — the first Black man to create and franchise a real estate brokerage brand — wanted to do something about that.

Considering the history of the real estate industry — women weren't able to buy homes without being married and African Americans were refused outright thanks to the country's history of redlining — Bryant tells InnovationMap he saw an opportunity for a business.

“I look at diversity as our superpower, and I look at the opportunity to kick that door down," he says.

Bryant is the CEO and founder of DOSS, a digital brokerage that uses tech to make homeownership more affordable. DOSS is in the process of developing what Bryant describes as a “real estate super app.” The company, which was born in 2016, has developed a technology where customers are able to ask for real-estate advice and tips, search for home listings, get neighborhood information, and recent sales data.

The effort received funding via the Google for Startups Black Founders program, which totalled $100,000. DOSS touts its platform as a dynamic and effective effort to methodically dissect the entire real estate process and rebuild a modern-day digital real estate brokerage with a “flex-model” that's more modern.

Bryant is looking to grow DOSS using a franchise method. Franchisees get a program that lowers their expenses, increases their bottom line, and provides cutting edge technology that includes use of artificial intelligence. While the real estate space is competitive, and for some could be daunting, Bryant looks to modernize the industry, while making it simpler to navigate. And that's where the tech comes in.

“The fluidness of the process, not making it as restrictive to certain groups, it really opens things up, and that is what we’ve seen with our technology,” Bryant says. “How do we turn around and make data more humanistic and centralize it?

"We want people to feel comfortable asking questions and getting accurate answers," he continues. "Millenials and Gen Z are the most-educated generations we’ve seen in history. They are also the most diverse in history. We understand that."

Bryant explains how important equity and honesty is to these new generations, and he's built DOSS with them in mind. As a former educator with two master's degrees in education, Bryant transitioned to the world of real estate in 1999. He says he sees a connection in his journey from helping students to now helping people find a home — especially to these younger generations of first-time buyers who are dealing with an ever-changing market.

“Education is a part of all of our lives,” Bryant says. “I've been able to educate people on the process, and create a technology that makes it all more fluid, and insightful and transparent with the real estate industry. ... What I’ve done is incorporate an educational process, which I guess you can say is an advantage I have.”

Bobby Bryant founded Doss to make it easier to learn about homeownership. Photo via askdoss.com

Day Edwards, co-founder of ChurchSpace, and Margo Jordan, CEO of Enrichly, were among the recipients of grants from Google. Photos courtesy

Google awards $100K to two Black-owned Houston startups

winner, winner

Two Houston-based startups were named among 50 companies nationwide to receive $100,000 as part of the Google for Startups Black Founders Fund this month.

The $5 million fund aims to close the wealth gap for Black founders around the country by offering 50 $100,000 non-dilutive awards, meaning that the investment does not require founders to give up equity in exchange for funding. The award also includes programming, mentorship and access to free mental health therapy and now includes 176 founders in the United States.

ChurchSpace and Enrichly were the two Houston-based companies to receive the award.

ChurchSpace, known as the Airbnb for churches, is a mission-based company that aims to help churches convert underused real estate into event, meeting and commercial kitchen space to boost revenue and relieve financial burden while remaining compliant with IRS regulations for non-profits.

“We applied to Google for Black Startups to have the opportunity to gain perspective on how to build a better product and experience for our customers,” Day Edwards, co-founder of ChurchSpace, said in a statement. “We believe that being a part of the program will enable us as Black founders to better lead and build a tech-enabled platform that is eradicating church underutilization rates across the nation.”

The company recently participated in the inaugural cohort of the AWS Impact Accelerator for Black Founders, which included a pre-seed fundraising campaign and a $125,000 equity-free grant from Amazon. The company plans to launch the second iteration of its marketplace in December 2022.

Meanwhile, Enrichly provides on-site mental health curriculums for schools through machine learning, gamification and data automation. The company's logic model is designed to have short-term, mid-term and long-term results in students' goal setting abilities, emotion and stress management techniques, conflict resolution, etiquette, relationships, resilience and more.

“The Google for Startups Black Founders Fund is an incredible opportunity for the growth of our company.” Margo Jordan, CEO of Enrichly, said in the statement.

Enrichly plans to use the funds to expand its team and reach growth goals in the future.

Earlier this summer, Google for Startups also selected three Houston companies for its inaugural Google for Startups Latino Founders Fund. Read more about the companies selected here.
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New Houston venture studio emerges to target early-stage hardtech, energy transition startups

funding the future

The way Doug Lee looks at it, there are two areas within the energy transition attracting capital. With his new venture studio, he hopes to target an often overlooked area that's critical for driving forward net-zero goals.

Lee describes investment activity taking place in the digital and software world — early stage technology that's looking to make the industry smarter. But, on the other end of the spectrum, investment activity can be found on massive infrastructure projects.

While both areas need funding, Lee has started his new venture studio, Flathead Forge, to target early-stage hardtech technologies.

“We are really getting at the early stage companies that are trying to develop technologies at the intersection of legacy industries that we believe can become more sustainable and the energy transition — where we are going. It’s not an ‘if’ or ‘or’ — we believe these things intersect,” he tells EnergyCapital.

Specifically, Lee's expertise is within the water and industrial gas space. For around 15 years, he's made investments in this area, which he describes as crucial to the energy transition.

“Almost every energy transition technology that you can point to has some critical dependency on water or gas,” he says. “We believe that if we don’t solve for those things, the other projects won’t survive.”

Lee, and his brother, Dave, are evolving their family office to adopt a venture studio model. They also sold off Azoto Energy, a Canadian oilfield nitrogen cryogenic services business, in December.

“We ourselves are going through a transition like our energy is going through a transition,” he says. “We are transitioning into a single family office into a venture studio. By doing so, we want to focus all of our access and resources into this focus.”

At this point, Flathead Forge has seven portfolio companies and around 15 corporations they are working with to identify their needs and potential opportunities. Lee says he's gearing up to secure a $100 million fund.

Flathead also has 40 advisers and mentors, which Lee calls sherpas — a nod to the Flathead Valley region in Montana, which inspired the firm's name.

“We’re going to help you carry up, we’re going to tie ourselves to the same rope as you, and if you fall off the mountain, we’re falling off with you,” Lee says of his hands-on approach, which he says sets Flathead apart from other studios.

Another thing that's differentiating Flathead Forge from its competition — it's dedication to giving back.

“We’ve set aside a quarter of our carried interest for scholarships and grants,” Lee says.

The funds will go to scholarships for future engineers interested in the energy transition, as well as grants for researchers studying high-potential technologies.

“We’re putting our own money where our mouth is,” Lee says of his thesis for Flathead Forge.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Houston-based lunar mission's rocky landing and what it means for America's return to the moon

houston, we have a problem

A private U.S. lunar lander tipped over at touchdown and ended up on its side near the moon’s south pole, hampering communications, company officials said Friday.

Intuitive Machines initially believed its six-footed lander, Odysseus, was upright after Thursday's touchdown. But CEO Steve Altemus said Friday the craft “caught a foot in the surface," falling onto its side and, quite possibly, leaning against a rock. He said it was coming in too fast and may have snapped a leg.

“So far, we have quite a bit of operational capability even though we’re tipped over," he told reporters.

But some antennas were pointed toward the surface, limiting flight controllers' ability to get data down, Altemus said. The antennas were stationed high on the 14-foot (4.3-meter) lander to facilitate communications at the hilly, cratered and shadowed south polar region.

Odysseus — the first U.S. lander in more than 50 years — is thought to be within a few miles (kilometers) of its intended landing site near the Malapert A crater, less than 200 miles (300 kilometers) from the south pole. NASA, the main customer, wanted to get as close as possible to the pole to scout out the area before astronauts show up later this decade.

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will attempt to pinpoint the lander's location, as it flies overhead this weekend.

With Thursday’s touchdown, Intuitive Machines became the first private business to pull off a moon landing, a feat previously achieved by only five countries. Japan was the latest country to score a landing, but its lander also ended up on its side last month.

Odysseus' mission was sponsored in large part by NASA, whose experiments were on board. NASA paid $118 million for the delivery under a program meant to jump-start the lunar economy.

One of the NASA experiments was pressed into service when the lander's navigation system did not kick in. Intuitive Machines caught the problem in advance when it tried to use its lasers to improve the lander's orbit. Otherwise, flight controllers would not have discovered the failure until it was too late, just five minutes before touchdown.

“Serendipity is absolutely the right word,” mission director Tim Crain said.

It turns out that a switch was not flipped before flight, preventing the system's activation in space.

Launched last week from Florida, Odysseus took an extra lap around the moon Thursday to allow time for the last-minute switch to NASA's laser system, which saved the day, officials noted.

Another experiment, a cube with four cameras, was supposed to pop off 30 seconds before touchdown to capture pictures of Odysseus’ landing. But Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s EagleCam was deliberately powered off during the final descent because of the navigation switch and stayed attached to the lander.

Embry-Riddle's Troy Henderson said his team will try to release EagleCam in the coming days, so it can photograph the lander from roughly 26 feet (8 meters) away.

"Getting that final picture of the lander on the surface is still an incredibly important task for us,” Henderson told The Associated Press.

Intuitive Machines anticipates just another week of operations on the moon for the solar-powered lander — nine or 10 days at most — before lunar nightfall hits.

The company was the second business to aim for the moon under NASA's commercial lunar services program. Last month, Pittsburgh's Astrobotic Technology gave it a shot, but a fuel leak on the lander cut the mission short and the craft ended up crashing back to Earth.

Until Thursday, the U.S. had not landed on the moon since Apollo 17's Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt closed out NASA's famed moon-landing program in December 1972. NASA's new effort to return astronauts to the moon is named Artemis after Apollo's mythological twin sister. The first Artemis crew landing is planned for 2026 at the earliest.

3 female Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Welcome to another Monday edition of Innovators to Know. Today I'm introducing you to three Houstonians to read up about — three individuals behind recent innovation and startup news stories in Houston as reported by InnovationMap. Learn more about them and their recent news below by clicking on each article.

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

If the energy transition is going to be successful, the energy storage space needs to be equipped to support both the increased volume of energy needed and new energies. And Emma Konet and her software company, Tierra Climate, are targeting one part of the equation: the market.

"To me, it's very clear that we need to build a lot of energy storage in order to transition the grid," Konet says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The problems that I saw were really on the market side of things." Read more.

Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. Photo courtesy of Sage

A Houston geothermal startup has announced the close of its series A round of funding.

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. The proceeds aim to fund its first commercial geopressured geothermal system facility, which will be built in Texas in Q4 of 2024. According to the company, the facility will be the first of its kind.

“The first close of our Series A funding and our commercial facility are significant milestones in our mission to make geopressured geothermal system technologies a reality,” Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems, says. Read more.

Clemmie Martin, chief of staff at The Cannon

With seven locations across the Houston area, The Cannon's digital technology allows its members a streamlined connection. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

After collaborating over the years, The Cannon has acquired a Houston startup's digital platform technology to become a "physical-digital hybrid" community.

Village Insights, a Houston startup, worked with The Cannon to create and launch its digital community platform Cannon Connect. Now, The Cannon has officially acquired the business. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“The integration of a world-class onsite member experience and Cannon Connect’s superior virtual resource network creates a seamless, streamlined environment for member organizations,” Clemmie Martin, The Cannon’s newly appointed chief of staff, says in the release. “Cannon Connect and this acquisition have paved new pathways to access and success for all.” Read more.