This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Tim Latimer of Fervo Energy, Karen Leal of Insperity, and Kevin Knobloch of Greentown Labs. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a fast-growing geothermal company, a human resources expert, and an outgoing climatetech CEO.

Tim Latimer, co-founder and CEO of Fervo Energy

Tim Latimer, CEO and co-founder of Fervo Energy, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of Fervo Energy

Geothermal energy has been growing in recognition as a major player in the clean energy mix, and while many might think of it as a new climatetech solution, Tim Latimer, co-founder and CEO of Fervo Energy, knows better.

"Every overnight success is a decade in the making, and I think Fervo, fortunately — and geothermal as a whole — has become much more high profile recently as people realize that it can be a tremendous solution to the challenges that our energy sector and climate are facing," he says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

In fact, Latimer has been bullish on geothermal as a clean energy source since he quit his job as a drilling engineer in oil and gas to pursue a dual degree program — MBA and master's in earth sciences — at Stanford University. He had decided that, with the reluctance of incumbent energy companies to try new technologies, he was going to figure out how to start his own company. Through the Stanford program and Activate, a nonprofit hardtech program that funded two years of Fervo's research and development, Latimer did just that. Read more.

Karen Leal, performance specialist at Insperity

Karen Leal, performance specialist at InsperityTime to think ahead, business owners. Here's what this expert thinks you need to prioritize. Photo courtesy

Not only is upskilling your workforce on a regular basis good for performance purposes, it also contributes to a positive company culture, writes Karen Leal, performance specialist with Houston-based Insperity, in a guest column.

"Learning and development (L&D) programs give employees the resources to grow within their current role and ready them for their possible advancement into new positions and/or another role or function," she writes. "This development should be a collaborative effort with the employee to support the employee’s growth goals. L&D programs build and strengthen your organization’s learning culture, which encourages employees to lean into the overall corporate culture and promotes employee engagement."

She goes on to outline the major benefits when developing L&D programs that impact business success. Read more.

Kevin Knobloch, CEO of Greentown Labs

Kevin Knobloch is stepping down as Greentown Labs CEO, effective on July 31. Photo via LinkedIn

While not based full time in Houston, Kevin Knobloch has led Greentown Labs, which is co-located in the Boston and Houston areas, as president and CEO for the past several months. Last week, he announced he's stepping down.

Knobloch will continue in his role until the end of July 2024.

“It has been an honor to lead this incredible team and organization, and a true privilege to get to know many of our brilliant startup founders," Knobloch says in the news release. “Greentown is a proven leader in supporting early-stage climatetech companies and I can’t wait to see all that it will accomplish in the coming years.” Read more.

Kevin Knobloch is stepping down as Greentown Labs CEO, effective on July 31. Photo via LinkedIn

Clean energy nonprofit CEO to step down, search for replacement to begin

moving on

Greentown Labs, which is co-located in the Boston and Houston areas, has announced its current CEO is stepping down after less than a year in the position.

The nonprofit's CEO and President Kevin Knobloch announced that he will be stepping down at the end of July 2024. Knobloch assumed his role last September, previously serving as chief of staff of the United States Department of Energy in President Barack Obama’s second term.

“It has been an honor to lead this incredible team and organization, and a true privilege to get to know many of our brilliant startup founders," Knobloch says in the news release. “Greentown is a proven leader in supporting early-stage climatetech companies and I can’t wait to see all that it will accomplish in the coming years.”

The news of Knobloch's departure comes just over a month after the organization announced that it was eliminating 30 percent of its staff, which affected 12 roles in Boston and six in Houston.

According the Greentown, its board of directors is expected to launch a national search for its next CEO.

“On behalf of the entire Board of Directors, I want to thank Kevin for his efforts to strengthen the foundation of Greentown Labs and for charting the next chapter for the organization through a strategic refresh process,” says Dawn James, Greentown Labs Board Chair, in the release. “His thoughtful leadership will leave a lasting impact on the team and community for years to come.”

Knobloch reportedly shifted Greentown's sponsorship relationships with oil companies, sparking "friction within the organization," according to the Houston Chronicle, which also reported that Knobloch said he intends to return to his clean energy consulting firm.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

The cuts to positions affects both Greentown Labs locations. Photo via Greentown

Greentown Labs reduces roles at Houston, Boston incubators

tough decisions

Greentown Labs has announced a reduction in its staff, which affects both of its locations.

In a letter addressed to the Greentown Labs community, the organization's CEO and President Kevin Knobloch reported that Greentown will be reducing its staff by 30 percent, eliminating 12 roles in Boston and six in Houston. Knobloch noted changes in leadership, growth of the team, and adjustments following the pandemic.

"Greentown Labs grew rapidly over the past four years in pursuit of advancing its mission to catalyze climate action through entrepreneurship, partnership, and collaboration," Knobloch writes in the letter. "This created a structural deficit where growth outpaced revenue."

The letter did not provide details of which positions were eliminated at either location.

With these resizing of the staff and reduced expenses, Knobloch writes that the organization is positioned well for its future.

"Despite this decision, I remain optimistic about the future for Greentown and the impact we will have on addressing the climate crisis," Knobloch tells the community. "Our mission is as urgent as ever and we remain committed to supporting all of you—our startups—by prioritizing core operations, member services, and strategic partner engagements."

Knobloch took the helm of Greentown last summer. He previously served as chief of staff of the United States Department of Energy in President Barack Obama’s second term.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

The seven selected startups will have year-long curated curriculum, incubation at Greentown's two locations, a non-dilutive $25,000 grant, and access to mentors, corporates, and more from both Greentown and BGS's networks. Photo via GreentownLabs.com

2 Houston startups join inclusive accelerator for sustainability innovation

ready to grow

Two organizations have named the seven startup participants for their accelerator that works to advance BIPOC-led startups in the climatetech space.

Greentown Labs and Browning the Green Space named the newest accelerator for the Advancing Climatetech and Clean Energy Leaders Program, or ACCEL. The seven selected startups will have year-long curated curriculum, incubation at Greentown's two locations, a non-dilutive $25,000 grant, and access to mentors, corporates, and more from both Greentown and BGS's networks.

"Building on the momentum and success of our inaugural year, Greentown Labs is proud to welcome this incredible cohort of BIPOC-led startups to Year 2 of ACCEL," Greentown Labs CEO and President Kevin Knobloch says in a news release. "These founders and their teams are developing a dynamic array of much-needed climatetech solutions, and we're privileged to support them on their startup journeys as they advance their technologies and grow their teams."

The 2024 cohort includes:

  • AtmoSpark Technologies, based in Houston, is an atmospheric water generation company with a patented electro-condensation technology, which has a lower energy footprint than that of current water-generation methods.
  • Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Aquasaic is harnessing biology to clean water for planetary and human health.
  • Houston-based Axis Sky Renewablescreates innovative wind solutions, specializing in vertical-axis wind turbines that are less expensive to produce, deploy, and maintain than traditional wind turbines.
  • Carbon Negative Solutions, from Rock Hill, New York, is creating smart-city-ready, carbon-negative concrete products.
  • NYC-based Cellsense develops interactive bio-embellishments that create new possibilities for designers while eliminating microplastics and replacing fossil-fuel-based material at scale.
  • EcoForge, headquartered in Providence, Rhode Island, is a building-material technology company developing affordable, high-performance building materials from local agricultural residues, replacing energy-intensive, fossil-based materials.
  • Boston-based Sankofa Dynamics creates low-cost, eco-friendly solutions for water, air, and energy problems.

The program is supported by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center,Microsoft's Climate Innovation Fund, Equinor, Barr Foundation.

"These BIPOC-led startups are developing climate technologies that will lead us to a more equitable and sustainable future," MassCEC CEO Dr. Emily Reichert, the former CEO of Greentown, says in the release. "We want ALL climatetech innovators and entrepreneurs to thrive here in Massachusetts. We are proud to support the ACCEL accelerator, created and led by Greentown Labs and Browning the Green Space. The ACCEL program is helping us build a more diverse innovation ecosystem by breaking down barriers and expanding opportunities."

ACCEL was announced in 2022, and the first cohort featured six climatetech startups — two based in Houston.

"Our second year of ACCEL brings together an inspirational and diverse cohort of seven BIPOC-led startups developing tech to accelerate the distribution of climate solutions that address community needs," Browning the Green Space President and Executive Director Kerry Bowie adds. "We are thrilled to continue to strengthen our partnership with Greentown Labs and VentureWell and build on the learnings from the pilot cohort to provide critical support infrastructure for entrepreneurs of color."

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Here's what you need to know about HTR this year. Photo courtesy

Know before you go: 2024 H-Town Roundup

Plan your week

Next week, Houston Exponential's annual week of innovation and networking is taking place. Here are five things you need to know before you go.

1. New year, new name.

Houston Tech Rodeo, which originated in 2020, has been rebranded to H-Town Roundup, but the week of innovation and entrepreneurship still has the same goal of providing programming and events that connect and educate Houstonians.

On a recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, Natara Branch, CEO of Houston Exponential, says the change is meant to make for a more inclusive experience for entrepreneurs of small businesses, something she's seen a need for since she took on her role last year.

"This year, we've had the better part of a year to think about what can be different and how can we serve the founder," she says.

Branch explains that some members of the Houston community confused the event for being associated with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo or for being only for true tech people. Branch says the wanted to open the door a little wider to entrepreneurs who are innovative without necessarily working in technology.

"That's not what we wanted — to exclude anyone," she says. "H-Town Roundup is going to allow us to be more inclusive."

2. It's completely free to attend.

Dozens of events are taking place around town, and all are free to Houston entrepreneurs, investors, and more. Simply register for anything you're able to attend.

For reference, a full, detailed agenda is available online too.

3. There are two featured events.

Need to make some priorities? This year, there are two featured events for HTR.

  • Tech and Tequila Talk powered by Blue People at 5 to 7:30 pm, on Tuesday, February 27, at the UH Tech Bridge Innovation Center.
  • CodeLaunch Houston at 4 to 9 pm, on Wednesday, February 28, at Bayou Music Center.

4. Introducing: The Founder Lounge.

For attendees with the founder pass, The Founder's Lounge at Esperson Building in downtown is open Monday through Thursday from 10 am to 3 pm next week.

The full agenda of talks planned at the lounge is online.

5. Find the activity zones.

HTR again is rotating venues. Here's where and when you can expect to find HTR activities.

  • Sunday (1 to 5 pm) - Esperson Building
  • Monday (8 am to 12:30 pm) - TMC Innovation
  • Monday (1:30 to 5 pm) - The Cannon Downtown
  • Tuesday (1 to 7:30 pm) - UH Tech Bridge
  • Wednesday (10 am to 1 pm) - Esperson Building
  • Wednesday (4 to 9 pm) - Bayou Music Center
  • Thursday ( 8 am to noon) - HCC Central Campus
  • Thursday (1 to 7 pm) - Greentown Labs
  • Friday (9 am to 3:30 pm) - the Ion
  • Saturday (10 am to 2 pm) - Esperson Building

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Angela Holmes of Omniscience, David Pruner of TEX-E, and Jessica Traver of IntuiTap. Photos courtesy

3 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.

Angela Holmes, CEO of OmniScience

Angela Holmes is the CEO of OmniScience. Photo via omniscience.com

A Houston organization established to provide critical data science support to its clients has rebranded and entered into its latest era.

Mercury Data Science has officially rebranded as OmniScience. Founded in 2017 as a spin off of Mercury, a local venture capital group, the data science-focused software company is led by CEO Angela Holmes, who was named to the position in 2022.

"OmniScience signifies our commitment to being a force of innovation in data science and life sciences," Holmes says in the release. "The new brand mirrors our vision for the future, where data science is a driving force for positive change in life sciences." Read more.

David Pruner, executive director of TEX-E

David Pruner, executive director of TEX-E, joins the Houston Innovator Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

Collaboration is the name of the game for David Pruner, executive director of the Texas Entrepreneurship Exchange for Energy, known as TEX-E, a nonprofit housed out of Greentown Labs that was established to support energy transition innovation at Texas universities.

TEX-E launched in 2022 in collaboration with Greentown Labs, MIT’s Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship, and five university partners — Rice University, Texas A&M University, Prairie View A&M University, University of Houston, and The University of Texas at Austin.

Pruner was officially named to his role earlier this year, but he's been working behind the scenes for months now getting to know the organization and already expanding its opportunities from students across the state at the five institutions.

"In the end, we have five different family members who need to be coordinated differently," Pruner says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "There's plenty of bright students at each of these schools, and there's plenty of innovation going on, it's whether it can grow, prosper, and be sustainable." Read more.

Houston health tech startup revolutionizing spinal taps receives FDA clearance

Co-founded by CEO Jessica Traver, IntuiTap says it plans to roll out the device at U.S. hospitals within the next year. Photo courtesy of IntuiTap

Houston startup IntuiTap Medical has gained clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its VerTouch medical device.

The company says VerTouch is designed to make spinal punctures more accurate and consistent. The handheld imaging tool helps health care providers perform spinal punctures at a patient’s bedside.

IntuiTap says it plans to roll out the device at U.S. hospitals within the next year. The company is mulling global partnerships to help launch VerTouch.

Jessica Traver, co-founder and CEO of IntuiTap, says the FDA clearance “marks a crucial milestone in our team’s journey to making epidurals, spinals, and lumbar punctures more accurate and efficient.” Read more.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Report ranks Houston as a top global city — with one thing holding it back

take note

A new analysis positions the Energy Capital of the World as an economic dynamo, albeit a flawed one.

The recently released Oxford Economics Global Cities Index, which assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the world’s 1,000 largest cities, puts Houston at No. 25.

Houston ranks well for economics (No. 15) and human capital (No. 18), but ranks poorly for governance (No. 184), environment (No. 271), and quality of life (No. 298).

New York City appears at No. 1 on the index, followed by London; San Jose, California; Tokyo; and Paris. Dallas lands at No. 18 and Austin at No. 39.

In its Global Cities Index report, Oxford Economics says Houston’s status as “an international and vertically integrated hub for the oil and gas sector makes it an economic powerhouse. Most aspects of the industry — downstream, midstream, and upstream — are managed from here, including the major fuel refining and petrochemicals sectors.”

“And although the city has notable aerospace and logistics sectors and has diversified into other areas such as biomedical research and tech, its fortunes remain very much tied to oil and gas,” the report adds. “As such, its economic stability and growth lag other leading cities in the index.”

The report points out that Houston ranks highly in the human capital category thanks to the large number of corporate headquarters in the region. The Houston area is home to the headquarters of 26 Fortune 500 companies, including ExxonMobil, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Sysco.

Another contributor to Houston’s human capital ranking, the report says, is the presence of Rice University, the University of Houston and the Texas Medical Center.

“Despite this,” says the report, “it lacks the number of world-leading universities that other cities have, and only performs moderately in terms of the educational attainment of its residents.”

Slower-than-expected population growth and an aging population weaken Houston’s human capital score, the report says.

Meanwhile, Houston’s score for quality is life is hurt by a high level of income inequality, along with a low life expectancy compared with nearly half the 1,000 cities on the list, says the report.

Also in the quality-of-life bucket, the report underscores the region’s variety of arts, cultural, and recreational activities. But that’s offset by urban sprawl, traffic congestion, an underdeveloped public transportation system, decreased air quality, and high carbon emissions.

Furthermore, the report downgrades Houston’s environmental stature due to the risks of hurricanes and flooding.

“Undoubtedly, Houston is a leading business [center] that plays a key role in supporting the U.S. economy,” says the report, “but given its shortcomings in other categories, it will need to follow the path of some of its more well-rounded peers in order to move up in the rankings.”

6 Houston startups graduate early-stage accelerator

ready to grow

The latest cohort of promising Houston startups has made it through the local program for the the world's largest pre-seed startup accelerator.

The Houston Founder Institute graduated its 2024 cohort this month, celebrating the class on May 21. The organization also opened applications for its next round.

"After meticulous selection process and intense four months of aggressive business-building sprints, constant evaluation, and feedback from investors and mentors, just 6 companies were able to make it through," the organization writes in a blog post. "Each of these Founders have demonstrated a high level of perseverance and creativity, and their businesses have been thoroughly vetted and supported by a panel of Houston's top startup experts and investors."

The newest alumni of the Houston program include:

  • Quickgredients, a company that's empowering diners with dietary needs and attract new customers for food businesses through targeted marketing and efficient management.
  • Truckersfinder, a platform connecting trucking companies to essential service providers to streamline their operations.
  • SEKCO, which is developing a technology to help laundry business operators offer a service to wash and press in five minutes or less by integrating wet vacuum cleaning and pressing in manual or automated stations.
  • Gym Rat, a hardware-software integration to improve and better track the fitness experience.
  • ReachAI is impowering small and medium-sized enterprises to elevate their digital footprint and online visibility through cutting-edge marketing strategies and comprehensive web presence optimization solutions.
  • STEMperts, a platform that's helping students learn better and improve grades by engaging them through a combination of interests and learning styles.

Houston Founder Institute is run by local directors James Phelan, Martín Martinez, Mery Ramirez, and Natasha Gorodetsky.

Following the completion of the program, the portfolio companies continue to have access to the Founder Institute's global network and post-graduate support programs to continue building their business.