Houston's DEI Champions share obstacles they are overcoming promoting equitable innovation

EAVESDROPPING AT THE HOUSTON INNOVATION AWARDS GALA

These five individuals are up for the DEI Champion award this week. Here's what challenges they are facing promoting an equitable innovation ecosystem. Photos courtesy

As one of the most diverse cities in the world, Houston's business and innovation community has a unique opportunity to prioritize not just its diverse population, but also to make sure the city has equitable and inclusive opportunities.

Five Houstonians have been named finalists in the DEI Champion category for the Houston Innovation Awards Gala, which will be held on November 9. They shared some of the challenges they are facing as they fight to make sure Houston has an equitable innovation ecosystem.

"I have always been the only Black women in all of my engineering roles, and I worked so hard to get there and quite often feel so uncomfortable in this space. So, individuals who question my name don't always understand the important of someone expressing that I see you to an individual can mean. However, this is a challenge I am willing to face because I am changing people lives and these lives I am changing will impact the world."

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— Kara Branch, founder and CEO of Black Girls Do Engineer Corp. "Although I believed in myself and that girls that look like me needed that representation and someone to mentor them and expose them to S.T.E.M., I had no one to do this for me, so I had to do this for girls in my community," she says. "I have faced some people who fight me about my name, but my name had to be my name because I needed to let Black girls know I was talking to them."

"You can’t expect to make an impact, big or small, if you’re not willing to meet people where they are. One challenge we’ve seen when it comes to talking about and implementing DEI programs within the organization is that not everyone has the same understanding of what diversity, equity, and inclusion is."

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Arianne Dowdell, vice president and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer for Houston Methodist. "Another challenge we see is that sometimes people expect to see change immediately," she continues. "This is a journey not a race, and if done right, it’s something that will continue to evolve and grow."

"Nobody wants to be tagged as difficult or uncomfortable to be with. A lot of bystanders will also make a calculated risk when witnessing bias, what is in it for me? Many will turn a blind eye if there are other interests at play."

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— Juliana Garaizar, head of Houston incubator for Greentown Labs and lead investor for Portfolia. Garaizar explains that she sees people afraid of facing the repercussions that come with speaking up or standing up to bias and harassment.

"Sustainable funding. We have the talent, the access to mentors and STEM education/activities and preparation workshops and certifications. But not having the capital to hire and effectively manage this growth has been very challenging to where we've had to say know to expansion (girls in need) and and increase in girls within our yearlong and skill-building programs."

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— Loretta Williams Gurnell, founder of SUPERGirls SHINE Foundation. She continues, "However, because we are serious in creating a diverse and sustained pipeline for more underserved girls (women) in STEM, we heavily rely on organizations that are like-minded in practices and core values to partner with and provide our services and opportunities to their girls and vice versus. It builds community and sustainability for all who are involved."

"The problems we face are so daunting and overwhelming that it can be hard to know where to start. ... At some point I realized that you just have to start somewhere, and you have to go deep in one area." 

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— Rob Schapiro, director of Microsoft's Energy Acceleration Program. "Only 27 percent of STEM workers are women. A mere 2 percent of venture capital money goes to women and far less to black women. The average wealth of the top 5 percent of White American households is seven times more than the average of the top 5 percent of Black households. These kinds of statistics can paralyze you into inaction," he explains. "It is great to be an ally to all, but you can have more impact if you focus your attention and efforts on a specific area. What is challenging still is that you will want to do more and spread your efforts, but you have to stay disciplined. One person cannot fix everything. But, using your privilege and your network you can influence many others and through them make a huge impact."

Greentown Labs announced its latest accelerator program — this one is focused on DEI in clean energy innovation. Photo via GreentownLabs.com

Greentown Houston announces co-located accelerator for energy innovators of color

browning the green space

Greentown Labs has announced its latest accelerator program that will be co-located in both its Houston and Boston-area spaces.

In partnership with Browning the Green Space, Greentown Labs has officially launched the Advancing Climatetech and Clean Energy Leaders Program, or ACCEL, and is seeking applications from climatetech entrepreneurs who identify as Black, Indigenous, and/or People of Color.

The startups accepted into the year-long program will receive a curated curriculum, incubation at one of the Greentown locations, and mentorship from its large network of energy professionals. Each participant will also receive a non-dilutive $25,000 grant. Applications for ACCEL are open now and are due by Dec. 23

“We need all hands on deck to solve the climate crisis and foster a just energy transition,” says Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs, in a news release. “We are proud to partner with Browning the Green Space on this important program, and are eager to support more underrepresented founders through ACCEL to help build a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable climatetech industry.”

BGS is a nonprofit that is focused on making clean energy other climate-related fields more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. The organization is headquartered in Boston.

“We are excited to work in partnership with Greentown Labs to build critical support infrastructure for entrepreneurs of color and accelerate the equitable development and distribution of climate solutions across all communities,” says Kerry Bowie, executive director and president of Browning the Green Space, in the release. “ACCEL will help us move closer to where we all should be collectively, and create the opportunity to change the face of clean energy as we know it.”

The new program is also supported the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, a state economic development agency dedicated to accelerating the growth of the clean energy sector across the Commonwealth, and then Boston-based Barr Foundation, a foundation with a regional focus, working in partnership with partners to elevate the arts, advance solutions for climate change, and connect all students to success in high school and beyond, per the news please.

“The Barr Foundation’s climate program has made a commitment to centering racial equity in the energy transition,” says Kathryn Wright, senior program officer of Clean Energy at The Barr Foundation, in the release. “We are excited to support this crucial opportunity to provide education and mentorship for underrepresented climate entrepreneurs in our region. We look forward to seeing the impact of the ACCEL program in the coming years.”

The curriculum for ACCEL will be led by Hadley, Massachusetts-based VentureWell, a nonprofit that funds and trains innovators to create successful, socially beneficial businesses. Applicants may be based anywhere in the world, but will be expected to attend in-person elements of the program at either Greentown Boston or Greentown Houston.

Check out these conferences, pitch competitions, networking, and more in the month of November. Photo via Getty Images

10+ can't-miss Houston business and innovation events for November

Where to be

Hold onto your hats, Houston. If you thought October was a busy month for business events, November even more exciting and full of pitches, conferences, summits, and more. Here's a rundown of what all to throw on your calendar for November when it comes to innovation-related events.

This article will be updated as more business and tech events are announced.

FEATURED: November 9 — Houston Innovation Awards Gala

Find out what Houston startups and innovators go home with the big win at InnovationMap and Houston Exponential's gala. Learn more about this year's finalists by clicking here.

The event is Wednesday, November 9, at 6 pm, at the Ion. Click here to register.

November 1-3 — Urban Manufacturing Alliance's Houston Gathering

Learn about the unique challenges and opportunities within manufacturing in the current economy, as well as network with Houston manufacturing professionals.

The event is Tuesday, November 1, to Wednesday, November 3, at West Houston Institute. Click here to register.

November 2 — Greentown Labs Climatetech Summit

Hear from the climatetech industry's leaders at Greentown Labs' annual event. The morning features panels and pitches, followed by lunch, networking, and an expo. The summit continues on November 3 in Boston, and both days will be streamed for viewers.

The event is Wednesday, November 2, at 8 am, at Greentown Houston and streaming online. Click here to register.

November 4 — Enventure's 10-Year Anniversary

Join Enventure as we celebrate its 10th Anniversary — from the organization's accomplishments to a look toward what the future brings to Enventure.

The event is Friday, November 4, at 7 pm, at III by Wolfgang Puck. Click here to register.

November 5 — Tech Fest Live in-person Experience at the Ion

The Ion as partnered with Tech Fest Live to bring your family to an engaging Family Tech Day experience, designed with middle and high school students in mind.

The event is Saturday, November 5, at 9:30 am, at the Ion. Click here to register.

November 8 — Texas Life Science Forum

The Texas Life Science Forum, co-hosted by BioHouston and Rice Alliance, is the premier life science and healthtech event in Texas that brings together members from industry, emerging life science companies, academic and investors. Hear pitches from innovative and early stage life science companies, network and enjoy exciting panels, keynotes and speakers.

The event is Tuesday, November 8, at 8:30 am, at Rice University. Click here to register.

November 9 — The Future of Industrial Automation Lunch & Learn with Yokogawa

In this Lunch & Learn, Elbert van der Bijl (Director of Marketing & Solutions Consulting for Yokogawa North America), will talk about the journey from industrial automation to industrial autonomy (IA2IA). He will also speak about how new technologies are being embraced to be able to make this transition. The presentation will highlight some key developments like Open Process Automation (OPA), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), and mobile Robotics and how they will play a role in the future of Industrial Automation.

The event is Wednesday, November 9, at 11:30 am, at The Cannon-West Houston. Click here to register.

November 10 — Greater Houston Partnership's State of the Port

Join the Greater Houston Partnership at the annual State of the Port featuring Ric Campo, Chairman of the Port Commission of the Port of Houston Authority. Campo will discuss innovations taking place at Port Houston and Project 11. The highly anticipated Project 11 will deepen and widen the Houston Ship Channel and increase economic impact, jobs and address supply chain challenges.

The event is Thursday, November 10, at 10:30 am, at The Omni Riverway. Click here to register.

November 10 — BGV Pitch Tour Houston

The BGV Pitch Tour is coming to Houston November 10th in partnership with Omaze and the aid of our amazing 6 Change Agents to throw a BGV Pitch Competition. Thee BGV Change Agents are amazing Black and/or Brown women-identifying founders who are actively working to uplift and grow the city's ecosystem for Black and Brown founders in their area.

The event is Thursday, November 10, at 6 pm, at The Cannon-West Houston. Click here to register.

November 15 — Lilie's Community Celebration

Celebrate the end of the semester and take a peek into what all the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship community has going on.

The event is Tuesday, November 15, at 6 pm, at the Lilie offices at Rice University. Click here to register.

November 17 — Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator 2022 Demo Day

Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator is hosting a Demo Day to showcase its Class 2 startups who are ready for investment, pilots and accelerating the energy transition.

The event is Thursday, November 17, at 1:30 pm, at the Ion. Click here to register.

November 19 — Pearland Innovation Hub Pitch Competition

Come attend this event open to the community to hear pitches from local small business owners, network, and learn about the Pearland Innovation Hub.

The event is Tuesday, November 17, at 4 pm, at Pearland City Hall. Click here to register.

November 30 — Commercial ZEV Event

This event by Houston-based Evolve is your chance to drive zero-emissions commercial vehicles and learn how you can convert your fleet to save on costs.

The event is Wednesday, November 30, at 8:30 am to 5 pm, at NRG Park. Click here to register.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Juliana Garaizar of Greentown Labs, Trevor Best of Syzygy Plasmonics, and Nathan Ough of VoltaGrid. Photos courtesy

3 Houston energy 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 the energy industry recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Juliana Garaizar, head of the Houston incubator and vice president of innovation at Greentown Labs

Juliana Garaizar joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the incubator's upcoming Climatetech Summit. Photo courtesy of Juliana Garaizar

This week, Greentown Labs is hosting a two-day summit focused on elevating the conversation around clean energy and the energy transition in Houston and beyond, as well as serving as a showcase for emerging technologies coming out of Greentown's member companies.

"The main theme for this Climatetech Summit is commercialization, and we're trying to explore it in different ways," Juliana Garaizar, head of the Houston incubator and vice president of innovation for Greentown, says on this week's Houston Innovators Podcast. "We're going to have some great panels on rapid commercialization and Houston and the energy transition."

Last year, Houston played a role in Greentown's annual Climatetech Summit. The two-day streamed event in 2021 attracted over 2,500 viewers from 38 different countries. This year's event will return to in-person but keep the streaming element to maintain this opportunity to reach people all over the world. The summit kicks off on November 2 in Houston and continues on November 3 in Boston. (InnovationMap is a partner for the Houston portion of the summit.) Click here to read more.

Trevor Best, co-founder and CEO of Syzygy Plasmonics

Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy Plasmonics, announced a new tool for clean energy. Photo courtesy of Syzygy

Houston-area energy tech startup Syzygy Plasmonics just released a free online tool at CarbonModel.com that enables users to calculate the greenhouse gas emissions and emission-reduction costs in as little as 60 seconds. It’s a more straightforward way of making those calculations than is offered by Argonne National Laboratory’s Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy use in Technologies (GREET) model, the startup says.

Syzygy co-founder and CEO Trevor Best calls the Inflation Reduction Act “a major tailwind” for energy transition and hydrogen adoption.

“Existing hydrogen producers now have the fiscal support needed to sanction new projects. And companies that had been mulling hydrogen as a new business are incentivized to move more quickly,” Best says. “Both existing and new entrants in the hydrogen market want to know if their hydrogen is clean enough to qualify for [Inflation Reduction Act] tax credits.” Click here to read more.

Nathan Ough, president and CEO of VoltaGrid

Houston-based VoltaGrid provides small-scale, self-contained microgrids that can operate independently of major power grids or in tandem with other microgrids. Photo via LinkedIn

Bellaire-based VoltaGrid, which provides small-scale, self-contained microgrids that can operate independently of major power grids or in tandem with other microgrids, has hauled in $150 million in equity funding. VoltaGrid’s product consists of natural gas engines, portable energy storage, natural gas processing and grid power connectivity.

VoltaGrid says it will spend the fresh cash to grow its power generation portfolio, along with its low-carbon fuel program in partnership with Pilot. The low-carbon platform features hydrogen and compressed natural gas.

“VoltaGrid continues to set new milestones across multiple sectors and business lines as we execute on our proven strategy with key partners,” Nathan Ough, president and CEO of VoltaGrid, says. Click here to read more.

A new program is launching to support the next generation of energy innovators. Photo via greentownlabs.com

Greentown Labs launches student-driven entrepreneurship program in Texas

back to school

The country's largest climatetech startup incubator and several schools are teaming up to prepare the next generation of clean energy innovators.

Greentown Labs, based in Boston and Houston, announced its new Texas Entrepreneurship Exchange for Energy (TEX-E) this week. The collaborative initiative aims to strengthen the student-driven entrepreneurship ecosystem in Houston, according to a news release, to focus on energy innovation. Greentown Labs, MIT’s Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship, and universities across Texas — including The founding institutions of TEX-E are Rice University, Texas A&M University, Prairie View A&M University, University of Houston, and The University of Texas at Austin — are collaborating on the project.

“Houston has long been known as the energy capital of the world, but to lead the world’s energy transition, the city must create a strong, vibrant innovation ecosystem to support the next generation of entrepreneurs and energy companies,” says Lara Cottingham, chief of staff at Greentown Labs, in the news release. “TEX-E will build upon Texas universities’ deep and long-standing connections to the energy industry by helping to attract and retain the world-class talent needed to supercharge Houston’s innovation ecosystem.”

The program, though based in Texas, will integrate both Greentown Labs locations, providing students with access to mentorship with incubator startups, networking events, career opportunities, and cross-learning with MIT.

“Boston and Houston might seem like an odd pairing, but they complement one another beautifully,” says Ben Soltoff, ecosystem builder and entrepreneur in residence at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, in the release. “The Boston area has a strong community-driven ecosystem around climate innovation, including MIT’s pioneering Climate and Energy Ventures Course in Cambridge, which has spawned over 30 companies. But often when MIT startups need to scale up, they look towards Texas, where they can find talent, space, and industry knowhow in spades.

"Together, these two regions are unstoppable,” he adds.

The five schools are just the beginning for the program, which plans to expand the collaboration over time. Locally, Houston area schools have collaborated with Greentown Houston since its opening over a year ago.

“The TEX-E collaboration will provide valuable opportunities to our students, and Houston is a natural location to create such an ecosystem,” says Ramanan Krishnamoorti, vice president for energy and innovation at the University of Houston, in the release. “Training new talent and supporting their pursuit of innovative ideas are vital in addressing the growing global need for affordable, reliable, and environmentally sustainable energy.”

For more information, students and educators should sign up for the TEX-E newsletter and attend an upcoming event at Greentown Houston. The next event at the incubator is the Climatetech Summit on November 2.

Juliana Garaizar joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the incubator's upcoming Climatetech Summit. Photo courtesy of Juliana Garaizar

How this innovator is bridging the gap for international energy companies expanding into Houston

Houston innovators podcast Episode 157

A year and a half after opening in Houston, Greentown Labs has continued to evolve to meet the unique needs of the energy tech companies based out of its local incubator. The company, based originally in the Boston area, always knew it wasn't going to be as simple as copying and pasting its Somerville, Massachusetts, location in Texas.

Lately, as Juliana Garaizar, head of thee Houston incubator and vice president of innovation for Greentown, says on this week's Houston Innovators Podcast, the surprising element emerging in Houston is the need for an entry point into the United States from foreign companies — mostly emerging from Latin America.

"We're realizing that we're becoming the landing pad for many international companies or companies coming from other ecosystems," she says on the show. "We are glad to be that landing pad for many companies looking to enter the United States through Texas."

Last year, Houston played a role in Greentown's annual Climatetech Summit. The two-day streamed event in 2021 attracted over 2,500 viewers from 38 different countries. This year's event will return to in-person but keep the streaming element to maintain this opportunity to reach people all over the world.

The summit kicks off on November 2 in Houston and continues on November 3 in Boston. (InnovationMap is a partner for the Houston portion of the summit.) The program is focused on elevating the conversation around clean energy and the energy transition in Houston and beyond, as well as serving as a showcase for emerging technologies coming out of Greentown's member companies.

"The main theme for this Climatetech Summit is commercialization, and we're trying to explore it in different ways," Garaizar says. "We're going to have some great panels on rapid commercialization and Houston and the energy transition."

Garaizar explains that the program is a must-attend event for innovators within energy innovation, and she hints that, at the conclusion of the day, Greentown may have some news to share with attendees.

"We're also going to be announcing a few things at the end of the program, so you'll have to stay tuned," she says.

Garaizar shares more about the event on the podcast, as well as some of the challenges Houston energy startups are facing. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston startups raise funding, secure partnerships across space, health, and sports tech

short stories

It's been a new month and a few Houston startup wrapped up November with news you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, three Houston startups across health care, space, and sports tech have some news they announced recently.

Houston digital health company launches new collaboration

Koda Health has a new partner. Image via kodahealthcare.com

Houston-based Koda Health announced a new partnership with data analytics company, CareJourney.

"This collaboration will aim to develop benchmarking data for advance care planning and end-of-life metrics," the company wrote on LinkedIn. "Koda will provide clinical and practice-based expertise to guide the construction of toolkits, dashboards, and benchmarks that improve ACP programs and end-of-life outcomes."

Koda Health announced the partnership in November..

“Beyond the checkbox of a billing code or completed advance directive, it’s important to build and measure a process that promotes thoughtful planning among patients, their care team, and their loved ones,” says Desh Mohan, MD, Koda's chief medical officer, in the post.

CareJourney was founded in 2014 in Arlington, Virginia.

"I'm hopeful next-generation quality measures will honor the patient’s voice in defining what it means to deliver high quality care, and our commitment is to measure progress on that important endeavor," noted Aneesh Chopra, CareJourney's co-founder and president.

Sports tech startup raises $500,000 pre-seed investment

BeONE Sports has created a technology to enhance athletic training. Photo via beonesports.com

Houston-founded BeONE Sports, an athlete training technology company, announced last month that it closed an oversubscribed round of pre-seed funding. The company announced the raise on its social media pages that the round included $500,000 invested.

Earlier in November, BeONE Sports completed its participation in CodeLaunch DFW 2022. The company was one of six finalists in the program, which concluded with a pitch event on November 16.

Space tech company snags government contracts

Graphic via cognitive space.com

The U.S. Air Force has extended Houston-based Cognitive Space’s contract under a new TACFI, Tactical Funding Increase, award. According to the release, the contract "builds on Cognitive Space’s work to develop a tailored version of CNTIENT for AFRL to achieve ultimate responsiveness and optimized dynamic satellite scheduling via a cloud-based API.

The $1.2 million award follows a $1.5 million U.S. Air Force Small Business Innovation Research award that the company won in 2020 to integrate CNTIENT with commercial ground station providers in support of AFRL’s Hybrid Architecture Demonstration program.

“The TACFI award allows Cognitive Space to continue supporting AFRL’s vitally important HAD program to help deliver commercial space data to the warfighter,” says Guy de Carufel, the company’s founder and CEO, in the releasee. “CNTIENT’s tailored analytics platform will enable HAD and the GLUE platform to integrate modern statistical approaches to optimize mission planning, data collection, and latency estimation.”

Houston airport powers up new gaming lounge for bored and weary travelers

game on and wheels down

Local gamers now have a new option to while away those flight delays and passenger pickup waits at Hobby Airport.

Houston's William P. Hobby Airport is now one the first airports in the country to offer what's dubbed as the "ultimate gaming experience for travelers." The airport has launched a premium video game lounge inside the international terminal called Gameway.

That means weary, bored, or early travelers can chill in the lounge and plug into15 top-of-the-line, luxury gaming stations: six Xbox stations, five Playstation stations, four PC stations, all with the newest games on each platform. Aficionados will surely appreciate the Razer's Iskur Gaming Chairs and Kraken Headsets, along with dedicated high speed internet at each PC station.

The Gameway lounge pays homage to gaming characters, with wall accents that hark to motherboard circuits Crucial for any real gamer: plenty of sweet and savory snacks are available for purchase to fuel up on those fantasy, battle, or sporting endeavors. As for the gaming console stations, players can expect high definition screens, comfortable seating, and plenty of space for belongings.

Make video games a part of your pre-flight ritual. Photo courtesy of Gameway

This gaming addition comes just in time for the holiday rush, when travelers can expect long lines, delays, and are already planning for extended time for trips. As CultureMap previously reported, Hobby will see a big boost in travelers this season — the largest since 2019. Now, those on a long journey can plug in, decompress, and venture on virtual journeys of their own.

Texan travelers may be familiar with Gameway; the company opened its first two locations at Dallas Fort-Worth Airport. The buzzy lounge an industry wave of acclaim: Gameway was awarded Best Traveler Amenity in 2019 at the ACI-NA Awards and in 2020, voted “Most Innovative Customer Experience” at the Airport Experience Traveler Awards, per press materials.

Two new locations followed in 2021: LAX Terminal 6 and Charlotte Douglas International Airport. The first of Gameway's Ultra lounge brand opened in September at Delta's Terminal 3 in LAX.

Gaming culture is a way of life in the Bayou City , which hosts Comicpalooza, the largest pop culture festival in Texas, and is home to several e-sports teams, including the pro esports squad, the Houston Outlaws.

A delayed flight never seemed so ideal for gamers flying out of Hobby. Photo courtesy of Gameway

“Gameway is the real reason to get to the airport early,” said Co-Founder Jordan Walbridge in a statement. “Our mission is to upgrade the typical wait-at-the-gate experience with a new stimulating, entertaining option for travelers of all ages.”

Here's guessing Hobby might just see an increase in missed or late flight arrivals — as travelers simply must beat those big bosses, solve puzzles, or win sports matches in the lounge.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.