Greentown Houston has revealed what it will look like in the new Houston Innovation District. Graphic courtesy of Greentown

Construction is underway on the Bayou City's first-ever clean tech incubator known as Greentown Houston.

Via a virtual ceremony on Feb 2, Mayor Sylvester Turner and a team from Massachusetts-based Greentown Labs revealed what the massive space in the new innovation district will look and feel like from the outside in.

The building's exterior will be painted grey and will be flocked by verdant green accents and foliage. According to a statement, Greentown Houston is also working with the Houston Arts Alliance to create a large mural by a local artist on the east side of the building.

The 40,000-square-foot interior — though still very much a construction zone today — will also incorporate Greentown's signature use of the color green in its designs in a bright, airy, and modern setting. A sleek gathering place and entryway will reside under a towering atrium from the building's past life as a Fiesta Mart, while ample square footage leaves room for prototyping and wet lab space, offices, and community gathering areas for about 50 startup companies working to solve climate and environmental challenges.

The Greentown space is being built out from a former grocery store. Photo courtesy of Greentown

"We are the energy capital of the world and we are very proud of it," says Turner. "We plan to lead energy transition and we are very proud of that."

"Last year, we released our first-ever Climate Action Plan, and we believe organizations like Greentown Labs, its impressive network of partners, and climatech entrepreneurs will help us achieve the ambitious goals outlined in the plan," he added.

Greentown Lab first announced its entrance into the Houston market last summer. It currently operates a similar 100,000-square-foot lab outside of Boston and boasts partnerships with some of the largest energy companies in the world.

At the ceremony, the organizations announced that CenterPoint Energy, Gexa Energy of NextEra Energy Resources, EIV Capital, Wells Fargo, and Williams have come on board as foundation and grand opening partners.

The 14 inaugural partners were announced last year and include Chevron, NRG Energy and Reliant Energy, Shell, BHP, Vinson & Elkins, Microsoft, ENGIE North America Inc., Rice Management Company, Saint-Gobain, Sunnova Energy International Inc., The American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Impact, SCF Partners; Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. and Direct Energy.

Greentown Houston is also a member of the Greater Houston Partnership.

"We are thrilled to join Greentown Houston to celebrate this critical step forward in their much-anticipated expansion with the addition of these new partners," says Susan Davenport, chief economic development officer with the Greater Houston Partnership. "These organizations, and the expertise and resources they bring, join a thriving ecosystem built of major corporate energy R&D centers, corporate venture arms, and VC-backed energy startups. We are eagerly anticipating Greentown Houston's official opening."

Greentown Houston is slated to open this spring. The incubator has accepted 16 inaugural startups and is looking to bring more on board.

Greentown Labs,the City of Houston, and the Greater Houston Partnership will also be hosting a public, virtual preview of the new space at 4 p.m. on Thursday, February 4. Interested parties can register for the free EnergyBar event here.
Register for some of these informative online events happening throughout the month of February. Photo via Getty Images

10+ can't-miss Houston business and innovation events online in February ​

where to be online

February may be the shortest month, but it's jam-packed with online innovation and startup events that Houston innovators need to know about.

Here's a roundup of virtual events not to miss this month — from workshops and webinars to summits and pitch parties. Note: This post might be updated to add more events.

February 2 — Perfecting Your Pitch Deck

Join The Ion for our series with DeckLaunch and Fresh Tech Solutionz as they discuss the importance and value of your pitch deck when reaching your target audience.

The event is on Tuesday, February 2, at 1 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

February 4 — Building Together for the Future

A celebration of building—building Greentown Houston, building community, and building connections across Houston's cleantech ecosystem.

The event is on Thursday, February 4, at 4 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

February 4-5 — Venture Houston

The HX Venture Fund and its partners are putting on a jam-packed two-day online conference focused on venture capital in Houston. There will also be. a pitch competition with over $1.6 million in prizes. (InnovationMap is the media partner for Venture Houston.)

The event is on Thursday, February 4, and Friday, February 5. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

February 5 — Funding Your Startup Ask Me Anything

Join Hello Alice for an AMA event to learn all about Funding Your Business Startup with our expert Henri Pierre-Jacques, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Harlem Capital, a venture capital firm changing the face of entrepreneurship. He has led 13 investments and currently sits on 4 boards.

The event is on Friday, February 5, at 1:30 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

February 9 — Ladies who LaUNCH #11: Etiquette in Entrepreneurship with Merci Grace

Etiquette in entrepreneurship is a well-kept secret, and an understanding of startup culture and decision-making can set successful entrepreneurs and companies apart from the rest. Join Rice University's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship for its 11th Ladies who LaUNCH event, featuring Merci Grace, partner at Lightspeed Ventures.

The event is on Tuesday, February 9, at noon. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

February 10 – Lilie Lecture with John Paul DeJoria

Join Rice University's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship for its first fireside chat with the inspirational, rags-to-riches serial entrepreneur, John Paul Dejoria — co-founder of Paul Mitchell hair products and The Patrón Spirits Company — as he shares his entrepreneurial journey.

The event is on Wednesday, February 10, at 4 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

February 16 — Black in Tech Summit presented by Deloitte

Capital Factory is dedicated to increasing diversity in the tech community and making its coworking space an inclusive environment for people of all backgrounds and identities. The organization says the 3rd annual event is ideal for Black leaders, entrepreneurs, and allies in tech who support and invest in diversity and inclusion.

The event is on Tuesday, February 16, at noon. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

February 16 — E-Commerce Panel Discussion: Overcoming E-Commerce Challenges

As the world continues to navigate this new normal in the midst of COVID-19, The Ion will continue to bring panel discussions that will cover tools and strategies that are making it possible for businesses and consumers to stay connected.This month's guests are the co-founders of Melanoid Exchange.

The event is on Tuesday, February 16, at 5:30 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

February 17 — MassChallenge: From Idea to IPO

The journey from idea to IPO is full of twists and turns. Hear how two expert CEOs stayed laser-focused on impact amidst uncertainty, successfully taking their startups public during the COVID pandemic. This exclusive MassChallenge event will feature Thomas Healy, CEO of Hyliion (MC Boston 2015), and Armon Sharei, CEO of SQZ BioTech (MC Boston 2014).

The event is on Wednesday, February 17, at 10:30 am. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

February 17 — Top Legal Considerations for Startups

Join Rice University's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship for a session with corporate and securities lawyer Aaron Barker, who specializes in advising companies from formation to exit, will give you the inside knowledge to help you launch your venture, and possibly save you from making a rookie mistake.

The event is on Wednesday, February 17, at 4 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

February 17 — EnventureSA "Inspire" Seminar Series - With Dr. Rafael Veraza

Enventure's "Inspire" Seminar Series teaches about the reality of working in the biotech and biomedical fields. This month's event will star Dr. Rafael J. Veraza as guest speaker. Dr. Veraza received an MPH at Emory University and a PhD in Translational Science at UT Health San Antonio. After graduating, he also completed a Postdoc at UT Health while working as a Senior Scientist at Vascular Perfusion Solutions, Inc. where he currently serves as the Director of Translational Science.

The event is on Wednesday, February 17, at 6 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

February 18 — Tech and Space

Five Space City representatives join General Assembly to discuss all about space challenges and innovations.

  • Deanea LeFlore - Senior Director, Partnerships, The Ion
  • Nicholas Skytland - Deputy Chief, Exploration Technology Office, NASA
  • Guy de Carufel - CEO, Cognitive Space
  • Samantha Snabes - Co-founder: Catalyst, re:3D Inc
  • Tara Karimi - Founder and Chief Scientist, Cemvita Factory Inc.

The event is on Thursday, February 18, at noon. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

February 18 — Building Black Wealth in the 21st Century

Join Urban Capital Network (UCN) and special guests to engage in an open discussion on building black wealth in the 21st century.

The event is on Thursday, February 18, at 5:30 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

February 24 — Houston Startup Showcase

The Houston Startup Showcase is a flagship event from The Ion, formerly known as Demo Day. This event will allow for developing companies to receive feedback from subject matter experts and showcase their successes thus far. The event is a year-long series of monthly pitch competitions, and results in a final winner to close the series in November. Companies are encouraged to apply online to pitch.

The event is on Wednesday, February 24, at 6 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

Greentown Labs has announced its inaugural batch of members for its new Houston location. Photo via greentownlabs.com

New-to-Houston cleantech incubator names inaugural members

to the lab

A Somerville, Massachusetts-based cleantech accelerator has announced the 16 startups that will be a part of its new Houston incubator program.

Greentown Labs named the companies in the cohort this week just a few weeks after announcing the location of its new lab and workspace. The 40,000-square-foot space is being renovated from a former grocery store and is expected to open next spring.

"These early-access members are innovating across the key greenhouse gas-emitting sectors—including electricity, manufacturing, buildings, and more—and their solutions are helping create a sustainable future for all," reads a blog post on the company's website.

Here are Greentown Houston's inaugural members:

  • Austin-based Applied Bioplastics is creating affordable plastic alternatives with plant matter to help reduce consumers' carbon footprint.
  • Black Mountain Metals, based in Fort Worth, is focused on nickel and copper mining for lithium-ion battery cathodes.
  • Carbon Free Technologies created a home battery system that can store electricity when rates are low.
  • ClearValue uses pure hydrogen and oxygen as a sustainable power system.
  • e^2: equitable energy is described as a "multi-brand cause-marketing platform" that connects consumers to sustainable energy solutions through promotion and incentivization.
  • Eclipse Solar Projects builds, owns, and operates solar projects across the country through new technology and battery storage operations.
  • Houston-based Ennuity Holdings allows users to have access to solar energy subscription service — even though they don't have access to installing panels themselves.
  • Excipicio Energy , based in Houston, is taking renewable energy offshore by integrating wind, wave, and more into a single floating platform.
  • Houston-based Quantum New Energy platform, EnerWisely, helps people and companies make smart energy choices "to maximize their monetary savings and reduce their environmental impacts."
  • Spring, Texas-based Renu Energy is creating sustainable change through waste recycling and community engagement, according to its website.
  • REVOLUTION Turbine Technologies, based in North Carolina, is working on a power generator that can be used in the offshore setting.
  • Houston-based Revterra is developing a long-duration energy storage solution.
  • Skylark, based in Houston, created a "broadband last-mile radio systems for internet service providers, with a focus on 40 million unserved Americans in rural markets."
  • Austin-based swytchX is working on a cloud-based SaaS solution that uses blockchain technology to optimize renewable energy delivery.
  • Houston-based Varea Energy, a software company, uses data to build business models focusing on eliminating barriers to green initiatives.
  • California-based Veloce Energy develops faster electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
Companies interested in joining the incubator should reach out to Greentown Labs online.

The 16 startups will move into the Greentown space when it opens in the spring. Image via greentownlabs.com

Greentown Houston is headed for the Innovation District, which is being developed in Midtown. Photo via Getty Images

Cleantech incubator announces location in Houston, names newest partners

Greentown's moving in

After announcing its plans to expand to Houston in June, Boston-based Greentown Labs has selected its site for its cleantech startup and tech incubator.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and the Greater Houston Partnership announced that Greentown Houston will be opening in the Innovation District, being developed by Rice Management Co. and home to The Ion. The site is located at 4200 San Jacinto St., which was Houston's last remaining Fiesta grocery story before it closed in July.

The facility is expected to open this coming spring and will feature 40,000 square feet of prototyping lab, office, and community space that can house about 50 startups, totaling 200 to 300 employees.

"We are thrilled to announce the selection of Greentown Labs' inaugural location in partnership with RMC, the City of Houston, the Partnership, and leading global energy and climate impact-focused companies," says Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs, in a press release. "In order to meet the urgent challenge of climate change, we must engage the talent and assets of major ecosystems around the country. We look forward to catalyzing the Houston ecosystem's support for climatetech startups as we work together toward a sustainable future for all."

Emily Reichert is the CEO of Greentown Labs. Photo courtesy of Greentown Labs

Greentown Labs launched in 2011 as community of climatetech and cleantech innovators bringing together startups, corporates, investors, policymakers, and more to focus on scaling climate solutions. Greentown Labs' first location is 100,000 square feet and located just outside of Boston in Somerville, Massachusetts. Currently, it's home to more than 100 startups and has supported more than 280 startups since the incubator's founding. According to the release, these startups have created more than 6,500 jobs and raised over $850 million in funding

"We are so pleased that Greentown Houston will locate in the heart of the Innovation District, where they will seamlessly integrate into the region's robust energy innovation ecosystem of major corporate energy R&D centers, corporate venture arms, VC-backed energy startups, and other startup development organizations supporting energy technology," says Susan Davenport, chief economic development officer at the Greater Houston Partnership, in the release. "Houston truly is the hub of the global energy industry, and Greentown Houston will ensure we continue to attract the next generation of energy leaders who will create and scale innovations that will change the world."

Greentown Houston, which previously announced several founding partners in June, has just named new partners, including: RMC, Microsoft, Saint-Gobain, and Direct Energy. According to the release, Greentown Houston is also looking for Grand Opening Partners. Naturgy and and FCC Environmental Services (FCC) are the first to join on as a grand opening partners, and startups and prospective partners can reach out for more information via this form.

Reichert previously told InnovationMap that it was looking for an existing industrial-type building that could be retrofitted to meet the needs of industrial startups that need lab space. She also said that this approach is very similar to how they opened their first location.

Rice Management Company is developing the Innovation District in the center of Houston. Screenshot via ionhouston.com

The new location will be in the 16-acre Innovation District that's being developed by RMC, which will be anchored by The Ion, a 270,000-square-foot hub that is being renovated from the former Sears building.

"What we love about Greentown Labs as much as its commitment to helping Houston become a leader in energy transition and climate change action is its proven track record of job creation through the support of local visionaries and entrepreneurs," says Ryan LeVasseur, managing director of Direct Real Estate at RMC, in the release. "Greentown Houston, like The Ion, is a great catalyst for growing the Innovation District and expanding economic opportunities for all Houstonians. We're thrilled Greentown Labs selected Houston for its first expansion and are honored it will be such a big part of the Innovation District moving forward."

Acquiring the new Greentown location is a big win for the mayor, who released the city's Climate Action Plan earlier this year. The plan lays out a goal to make Houston carbon neutral by 2050.

"We are proud to welcome Greentown Labs to Houston, and we are excited about the new possibilities this expansion will bring to our City's growing innovation ecosystem," says Turner in the release. "Organizations and partners like Greentown Labs will play a vital role in helping our City meet the goals outlined in the Climate Action Plan and will put us on the right track for becoming a leader in the global energy transition. The City of Houston looks forward to witnessing the innovation, growth, and prosperity Greentown Labs will bring to the Energy Capital of the World."

Greentown Labs will host a celebratory networking event on September 24 at 4 p.m. Registration for the EnergyBar is open here.

Juliana Garaizar is working to help set up Houston's Greentown Labs incubator with diversity and inclusion in mind. Courtesy photo

Local innovation leader to focus on diversity while standing up new-to-Houston cleantech incubator

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 38

As Greentown Labs, a cleantech startup incubator based outside of Boston, enters into the Houston market, it's doing so with diversity and inclusion in mind, says Juliana Garaizar, launch director at Greentown Houston.

Garaizar has been involved in the Houston innovation ecosystem for years from her stints at the Houston Angel Network followed by the Texas Medical Center's venture fund. She's also been involved with Portfolia — a female-focused venture network — and is president at the Business Angel Minority Association, or baMa. She's spent much of her time lately advocating and promoting diversity in investing — something that falls in line with Greentown's priorities as they enter into the most diverse city in the country.

"The latest founding partners that we've had at Greentown Labs when they were considering becoming a partner, they all asked what we are doing in terms of diversity and inclusion," Garaizar says in this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We are putting together a working group at Greentown for D&I. It's exciting that many of our partners are engaging."

She's referring to the 11 — and counting — corporate founding partners Greentown Houston has announced so far. Greentown's entrance into Houston has been long awaited, and Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs, hired Garaizar and her colleague, Jason Ethier, the operations lead for Greentown Houston, to be the boots on the ground during this time.

With COVID-19 affecting so much of the organization's roll out strategy, Garaizar says its actually been a blessing in disguise for the organization.

"I think the silver lining of this COVID-19 experience is that we are much more integrated with the Boston team, and we're learning at a much faster rate," she says. "That's why we decided to also open Houston for virtual memberships before we open our building in Q1 of 2021."

While launching during a pandemic isn't the most ideal, the timing for the new Houston location has been. Garaizer says she's seeing more and more energy companies prioritizing clean energy innovations and new technologies.

"I believe that Greentown Labs is going to be a catalyst for the energy transition here in Houston," she says. "There are several things that are changing in Houston, and I think we're coming in at the right time."

Listen to the full interview with Garaizer below — or wherever you get your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs, shares why the incubator's expansion was a year in the making — and only just the beginning. Photo courtesy of Greentown Labs

New-to-Houston startup incubator CEO on why there's 'no better place' to expand

Q&A

Greentown Labs announced its intent on expanding to Houston last week with 11 corporate partners signed on already, and is currently scouting out its physical location in town

Already, says Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs, the Bayou City has left a positive impression on her and her team.

"It's exciting to see how many people we can engage in being part of the future of energy," Reicher shares in an interview with InnovationMap. "I think there's really no better place for that to be led out of Houston."

Two Houstonians have been identified to lead local efforts. Jason Ethier, a Houston-based energy tech founder, is the operations lead for Greentown Houston, and Juliana Garaizar, local investor and former director of the TMC Venture Fund, is the Greentown Houston launch director.

Reichert, in the Q&A with InnovationMap, shares more on what her organization's Houston plans are, what she's looking for in participating startups, and when the city will know more about the brick-and-mortar space.

InnovationMap: When did Greentown Labs start considering a second location?

Emily Reichert: Greentown I think seriously began entertaining the idea of Houston as a possibility during the CERAWeek conference in March 2019. I was there to speak in a couple of their pods, and there were actually 10 Greentown teams there as well.

Jason Ethier of Dynamo Micropower, who was on our board and based in Houston, had been encouraging us to consider Houston for a long time because of the need for someone to be bringing together the community of entrepreneurs around cleantech in Houston. And he felt, talking to other entrepreneurs, that there was a bit of a gap there and that it would be beneficial to have a Greentown labs in Houston to convene that community. Up until that point, I had kind of said, "Jason, I can't think about that." We were expanding in Boston just a year earlier, and we had more than doubled in size. But for the first time in March 2019, it seems like something that we should at least entertain.

During that course of that visit, the Greater Houston Partnership, Jason, and I believe some folks from Houston Exponential as well, were involved in setting up a series of meetings for me to really test the idea of Greentown Labs coming to Houston.

So, I talked with a diversity of partners, city officials, and — probably most importantly from my perspective — a bunch of entrepreneurs that showed up with less than a week's notice at a bar in EaDo. They really expressed to me that they felt that need for a community for cleantech entrepreneurs. And that there really wasn't anything equivalent and that there was a gap there.

To me, that was really the trigger for turning this all on as a serious opportunity for Greentown. We're really all about entrepreneurs. Our mission is to support them and help them get their clean technology into the world where it can have an impact and make a difference. Knowing that there was an entrepreneur community that needed fostering and growing and building was really a reason for Greentown Labs to come to Houston.

IM: What about Houston was alluring for the organization?

ER: When people ask me, "Why Houston?" the first thing that I always say is it's the energy capital of the world, and we are an organization that is promoting the entrepreneurship of companies that are developing the world's next energy solutions. It makes total sense to be working in the place where the companies and customers are that are really putting these technologies into the marketplace. So, it being the energy capital of world is kind of a key driver — and one that we think needs to be the energy transition capital of the world, which is where we're all headed in needing to address climate change.

IM: I see several corporate partners have been announced — are you looking for more and what role do the corporates play in the incubator?

ER: The corporate partners are incredibly important to the entrepreneurs that Greentown Labs support. The reason for that is that most of the startups that we work with are going to be selling their solutions to a larger partner. They're not consumer oriented startups — they're going to be a B2B-type play. So, in order to get these solutions that the startups are building to scale, they need to partner with usually another large entity to help that happen.

From the get-go, corporate partners have been part of Greentown's overall community of solutions for startups to get their technology to scale. We work with about 50 corporate partners total.

I'd say there's a variety of ways that they participate — one is simply mentorship and expertise that they can provide the startup real market knowledge and know how. They can also provide investment or a place to do pilot studies, they can do licensing agreements, and they can be customers — that's another important role.

We are absolutely looking for more corporate partners because the energy transition is a big problem, and we're going to need lots of partners in the solution. We would invite others to reach out to us.

IM: How will Greentown Houston be different from the original in Massachusetts?

ER: We're starting at a more modest size than we are currently in Massachusetts. We're a 100,000-square-foot, three-building campus in Somerville just outside of Boston, and we can accommodate about 100 startups in that location.

In Houston, we're starting at the scale that we actually started at in 2013, and that is about a capacity for about 50 startups in about 30,000 square feet with about 120 desks and about 20,000 square feet of prototyping lab space. The space that we're building in Houston will be smaller, but also very flexible.

We don't quite know yet what the Houston market wants and needs, and so we have to just kind of plan to create a flexible structure based on what we know that Houston entrepreneurs need and then kind of evolve from there.

IM: You don't have office space pinned down yet — what are you looking for in an office and what's your timeline for announcing more details?


ER: I think we'll be able to announce that in September. But, I will say that we've been pleasantly surprised by the different opportunities that are available and how so many people just trying to help and provide us with space, but I'd say we are pretty much there on selecting the space.

We will be retrofitting an existing building, which is exactly what we did whenever we moved into Somerville in 2013. We like to preserve flexibility and, until we really understand the market, we don't want to custom build anything because what if we created it and then no one needed it?

Instead, we're going to take over an existing industrial-type building that can be utilized for our purpose. And for our purpose, we need a lot of electricity, we need cement floors that can take a lot of weight, and we need to kind of have some isolation in terms of the machine tools and whatnot that can make a lot of noise — so can our events.

IM: With two pairs of boots on the ground already, will you be growing your Houston team?

ER: It somewhat depends on the track of our fundraising, but currently the plan right now is to do some additional hiring in late 2020 or 2021 — at which time we'll probably be looking for a community manager, a lab manager, and a program manager. Those all won't happen at the very beginning, but the community manager is probably the next position we'd be hiring for. That role is just incredibly critical to doing what we do at Greentown Labs, which is bringing together that community of entrepreneurs, helping them connect with one another, and really just helping them to support one another as peers.

IM: What are you looking for in participating startups and how can Houston startups get involved and learn more?

ER: Absolutely. We would love it if Houston entrepreneurs want to reach out to us. We have a landing page specifically for Houston on our website, and that will allow you to actually fill out a form that allows us to follow up with you.

We will be starting to have early access membership that Houston entrepreneurs can take advantage of uniquely, and that will allow entrepreneurs to start getting engaged in what right now will probably be mainly virtual events, but going forward, it's a great way to start learning about the community and really for the community to be built before we have a physical location that can bring people in. More information out that will be coming out in the next couple of weeks.

In terms of what we're looking for, we are looking for startups that are actively working on climate or environmental solutions — especially those that are working on reducing greenhouse gas emissions through electricity, transportation, agricultural tech and water, building, manufacturing, or industry industrial applications. There's a lot of broad categories, but reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a big challenge and it needs to be attacked in all sectors of the economy.

Even beyond energy or renewable energy, there are a lot of different solutions that we consider as part of clean tech and climate tech. We're just really excited to learn about more entrepreneurs and engage with them as a part of building Greentown Labs Houston.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

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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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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.