Texas is about a month away from the anniversary of Winter Storm Uri — would the state fair better if it saw a repeat in 2022? Photo by Lynn in Midtown via CultureMap

The Winter Storm Uri, which struck Texas in February of 2021, was an unprecedented event in both severity and duration. At its most extreme, temperatures were as much as 40 to 50 degrees below their historic averages. The storm resulted in the largest controlled blackout in U.S. history, forcing the shedding of more than 23 gigawatts of load, the loss of power to 4.5 million homes and businesses for periods of one to four days, and the tragic loss of hundreds of lives.

A crisis of this magnitude has resulted in an intense re-examination of the Texas power grid. Not surprisingly, it has also resulted in record levels of finger-pointing and an ongoing search to identify the parties responsible. Among the casualties were all three Public Utility Commissioners that regulate the industry and a virtual purge of ERCOT, the organization that operates and manages the grid.

The Texas 87th Legislature filed an inordinate number of bills to address the electric system's failings, and Governor Abbott’s office has been vocal and actively working to ensure that there will never again be a repeat of the events of February 2021. The principal focus of the now reconstituted and expanded Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) has been defining and implementing changes to system rules and operations in order to extract a greater degree of reliability from existing assets and incentivize the construction of significantly more MW of dispatchable generation. Many of the changes implemented by the PUCT will provide the market with a greater cushion against shocks to the system, moving the market away from a crisis management mode and towards a more proactive footing. We can expect even more change once current policies are assessed and more aggressive proposals are analyzed to determine whether they offer more benefit than harm to the market.

Amid all the debate, discussion, and wringing of hands, only one report has come close to identifying the smoking gun at the center of the crisis: the need for weatherization. The notion that weatherizing of generating assets is the key to future reliability has been discussed ad nauseum, but the report issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on November 16, 2021, attributes an equal share of the blame to the natural gas producing, processing, and transportation sector and its inability to perform reliably under the harsh conditions of Uri.

In the areas affected worst by the storm, gas production in Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana fell by more than 50 percent at its lowest point when compared to average production in the prior month. The Railroad Commission, not the Public Utility Commission, regulates natural gas transmission, and it was slow off the mark given the focus on generation. The Railroad Commission has now begun to implement weatherization requirements, with new initiatives slated to be in full effect for the winter of 2023.

It is imprudent to use “never” as a time scale, but I would place the probability at “remote” that Texas will see a recurrence of the events of February 2021 in 2022. In the unlikely event we did, the impacts would likely pale in comparison to those experienced last February. This is due both to the heightened state of preparedness with which the industry will approach the coming winter and the impact of changes put into effect by the PUCT as of January 1, 2022.

Governor Abbott has gone on record guaranteeing that the lights will stay on this winter, and I am inclined to agree. With the reinforcement of our fuel systems being mandated by the Railroad Commission, 2023 to 2025 should receive the same guarantee. Beyond that, as the demand for electricity in Texas continues to grow, we will need to rely on the initiatives under consideration by the PUCT to attract investment and innovation in new, dispatchable generation and flexible demand solutions to ensure long-term stability in the ERCOT market.

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Don Whaley is president at OhmConnect Texas and has worked for over 40 years in the natural gas, electricity, and renewables industries, with specific experience in deregulated markets across the U.S. and Canada. He founded Direct Energy Texas and served as its president during the early years of deregulation.

While adapting your business to better serve and retain your employees, here are three questions to keep in mind and review your business on in 2022. Photo via Getty Images

3 questions Houston business owners should ask themselves as they start the new year

guest column

Many businesses tend to focus solely on tangible metrics during annual reporting, such as revenue, new year budgets and customer satisfaction. What is often overlooked are internal aspects of the business (unless it is a problem), measuring and scoring yourself on employee engagement and happiness.

As you start 2022, we challenge businesses to ask themselves important questions on how they are measuring their businesses, internally. We all know that over the past 20 months, we have witnessed businesses rapidly evolving to make significant changes within their organizations to meet employees' changing demands and expectations. How are they working? Many of these new business practices, such as hybrid work, will benefit employees of all generations and boost employee engagement, but is it what your employees want and need to succeed?

While adapting your business to better serve and retain your employees, here are three questions to keep in mind and review your business on in 2022.

Am I providing a space for my employees to thrive?

The COVID-19 pandemic was a formative experience that caused many, especially the new Gen Z employees, to push their employers outside of their comfort zones and have them truly reassess the need to go back to a traditional office environment. It’s important to keep in mind that many in the Gen Z demographic kickstarted their careers from a “work from home” environment while so many of us were rapidly shifting and getting used to a completely new way of working, they were entering their new norm.

As the conversations of in-office versus work-from-home arise, remember that one size does not fit all. When having these conversations, keep an open mind and be sure to actively listen. Allowing your employees to work remotely may be worrisome, but there’s evidence that some employees do thrive in this environment.

According to statistics gathered by Airtasker, remote employees worked 1.4 more days on average than those working in the office each month. These days were also more productive as remote workers reported only 27 workday minutes lost to distractions while office workers reported 37 workday minutes lost to distractions. Without a need for commuting, employees also increase their productivity by being able to start their workdays immediately.

Talk to your employees who prefer in-office about the changes you can make to improve their quality of life at work, such as new office equipment or benefits in the office like catered lunch or dry cleaning pickup/drop-off. Consider setting new policies that allow for more breaks throughout the day such as a 2-hour window with no meetings or Zoom calls or team walks. According to the Wellbeing Thesis, breaks have been proven to increase employees’ productivity. For example, relaxation breaks can help reduce stress while social breaks help boost camaraderie in a team. Understand what your team needs and most importantly, be flexible when employees who mainly work in-office want to take their work home for the day, and vice versa.

We have decided to offer our distributed employees around the country the option to work from home or from a co-working space, if they are more productive out of the house. We also have a rotating schedule of travel to Houston to spend time with the CEO in our headquarters to get some valuable face-to-face time with the team.

Regardless of the path a business wants to take in terms of work environment, remote work is a growing demand among Gen Z. This may be a scary idea for some employers, but through Ampersand’s rigorous curriculum, we are training the newest generation of professionals how to be productive and effective employees wherever they work. With courses ranging from “how to send a calendar invite” to “how to talk to your manager about a missed deadline,” Gen Z professionals will be prepared to take the world by storm after completing Ampersand’s curriculum. Additionally, Ampersand’s coaches work one-on-one with each young professional to make sure they fully understand and practice each skill, which means that they will have more than enough practice by the time they join your team.

​Am I actively contributing to their growth?

As a leader in your organization, your goal should always be to help cultivate your employees’ skills and transition them into the best version of themselves. Gen Z grew up in a society where the importance of self-improvement and emotional well-being is increasing. They openly receive feedback and advocate for their needs, which can help encourage other generations in the office to do the same.

Determining how to help your team grow individually and fulfill the needs of the company within their role can easily be evaluated during regularly scheduled check-ins. At these check-ins, leaders need to encourage candid, honest conversations with each employee to gain a better understanding of each employee’s individual goals and needs. Carefully listen to the feedback each employee gives and create an action plan catered to that individual. When employees feel that their company cares about them as individuals, in addition to the company goals, they are more motivated to achieve success in their roles.

At Ampersand, we teach young professionals how to have these conversations in a productive way, take the feedback they receive and implement it in their day-to-day growth. While Gen Z may be more upfront about their needs, taking the time to understand what each employee hopes to achieve in their role and career will build stronger ties with each person in the company, regardless of their generation.

Am I giving them space to share their ideas?

Gen Z is energizing all employees to advocate for work-life balance while introducing new tools and tactics that can modernize business practices. For example, newer employees are often seen setting boundaries for themselves and advocating for transparent communication from their employers. While this can seem jarring to some managers who don’t know how to handle the candidness, it can be refreshing to see and something we can all learn from - as long as they still respect their teams and deliver upon the expectations in the role. As Gen Z introduces new ideas to their team, leaders should encourage other generations on the team to listen and research the proposed new opportunities. The fresh new ideas may even prompt employees of other generations to share their wealth of knowledge with Gen Z to create a more collaborative work environment.

As we kickoff 2022, we encourage you to really consider how you are retaining and attracting your talent, especially Gen Z. It is up to each individual employer to look inside themselves as to why The Great Resignation is happening and consider these important questions, and be open to evolving and being mindful to provide a space (in person or not!) where employees can thrive, grow and share their ideas. The conscious effort and consideration will lead to an increase in company success and employee satisfaction, across generations.

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Allie Danziger is the co-founder and CEO of Houston-based Ampersand Professionals.

What startup advice and observations trended this year on InnovationMap? Why this tech company opened a Houston office, PR tips, and more. Photo courtesy of All You Need Method

These were the top guest columns on InnovationMap this year

2021 in review

Editor's note: So far this year, InnovationMap — Houston's only news source and resource about and for startups — had dozens of guest columns written by tech entrepreneurs, public relations experts, data geniuses, and more. As we get ready for 2022, here are some of this year's top guest contributor pieces — each with pertinent information and advice for startups both at publishing and into the new year.

Interested in contributing? Email natalie@innovationmap.com to learn more.

Houston expert: How to use the power of data and analytics to inform ​small businesses​

Startups and small businesses are accumulating data daily — here's how to use that to your advantage. Photo via Getty Images

By Shanna Jin, communications and marketing specialist of the Data to Knowledge Lab at Rice University.

Starting a business in a digital era brings entrepreneurs unprecedented advantages with technology and tools designed to optimize a business' operation. Whether it is a B2C or B2B, business owners can gather almost any data and metrics to improve their performance.

Being able to interpret data and making data-driven decisions becomes the key to the success of a business. It is not just a privilege for big companies anymore. Small businesses need it more than ever to make sustainable growth in the digital era.

The challenge? There are countless analytic tools and resources available that can generate data, but you need people who can extract insights from the massive amount of data. Click here to continue reading.

What do post-pandemic offices look like? This Houston expert explains

In-office working isn't going away — but it'll look different for decades to come. Photo courtesy Eric Laignel/IA Interior Architects

By Mark Gribbons, principal and design director at IA Interior Architects, and Jon Pickard, principal and co-founder of Pickard Chilton.

Reflecting on what we have all recently experienced, our physical relationship with the workplace has out of necessity become more fluid. However, we believe that this pandemic will be the catalyst that will accelerate positive change in workplace design.

The shift ahead in workplace design will not simply be driven by performance measures. There is a renewed longing for a workplace that is driven by direct human experiences – one that enhances face-to-face encounters, offers spaces tailored to the moment, and deliberately fosters health and wellness. We all are reexamining the next generation of office buildings in search of a solution. Click here to continue reading.

Why my global tech startup picked Houston for its next location

Here's why ClassPass tapped Houston as a prime place to expand. Photo via Getty Images

By Rachel Moncton, vice president of Global Marketing at ClassPass. She is based in Houston.

Most people know that fitness and wellness leader ClassPass started in New York City. It's less well known that ClassPass has a large office in Missoula, Montana that houses several members of our leadership team, including CEO Fritz Lanman.

In 2017, the ClassPass team spent nine months conducting an intensive nationwide search for a city that matched our mission and values. As a brand focused on supporting an active lifestyle, we wanted a city that offered a connection to the outdoors. One of the most important driving factors in our search was finding a city where we could attract incredible talent to our team. Though we settled on Missoula, Houston was high on the list.

I'm thrilled that four years later, we are finally adding Houston as the fourth US ClassPass office. I have personally relocated to this city and now call myself a Houstonian. Click here to continue reading.

Expert shares advice for Houstonians experiencing a pandemic-sparked career change

Many Houstonians are unemployed, laid off, or furloughed amid the pandemic. Others are literally burned out and ready for a life-altering career change. This expert has advice for both. Photo via Pexels

By Briar Dougherty, CEO and president of Career Organic, an Atlanta-based career coaching company.

I've had so many pivots in my professional career; moving across the country, internal promotions, leaving a corporate job to launch my own company, and repositioning myself and my brand in new markets. But I'm one of those people who enjoy lots of change, and as I've continued in my career journey, I've found that those sentiments are not shared by many.

Making a career transition can not only be stressful for a majority of professionals but can paralyze people from making decisions that carry their livelihood alongside them. This is one reason I am fueled to help professionals, to be a support system for these complexities and helping them make decisions based on facts and strengths, not on fear.

As a career coach, it's my job to find a way to piece together years of experience for professionals in order to tell a story of growth, change, and transferable potential to sway key decision-makers for employment and economic opportunity.

Over the past several years, I've seen many trends in client challenges, storytelling similarities and developed a knack for helping people with complex stories make a successful career or entrepreneurial leap. Click here to continue reading.

5 PR and marketing tips for Houston startups and small businesses in 2021

What does your company plan on bringing into the new year — and how do you plan to communicate your efforts? Photo courtesy of All You Need Method

By Kathryn Worsham Humphries and Carla M. Nikitaidis, co-creators of Houston-based All You Need Method, a PR and marketing resource for small business owners and entrepreneurs.

The past year has been a rollercoaster for small businesses. When the pandemic hit, every single person was affected. We've all had to pivot in some way either personally, professionally, or both.

As public relations and marketing professionals who specialize in working with small businesses, we've spent the last 10 months in the trenches with our clients, advising and helping business owners and entrepreneurs navigate these uncertain times. While small business revenue is down since January 2020, it's not all doom and gloom out there – we've seen many other businesses experience unexpected success and growth, and according to economists, we are entering the greatest entrepreneurial economy of our time.

And as we start this new year, there is no better time to invest in business growth and planning. Click here to continue reading.

No one should be overpaying for energy, especially as a result of sneaky price hikes that they didn't know about. Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert: Texas energy customers deserve transparency

guest column

As Texas continues to grapple with fallout from Winter Storm Uri and state regulators determine the next steps forward to strengthen the electricity grid, protecting consumers and providing transparency regarding their energy bills must be the top priority.

When you think about it, asking for transparency from energy suppliers in the state is a simple and direct request. Free markets thrive only when customers have full transparency and information. There are large discrepancies, however, between notification requirements when it comes to variable rate products—where energy prices change monthly based on the market, versus fixed-rate energy products—where prices are locked in for a defined amount of time. Often, consumers are presented with variable rates that can be twice as much as the original fixed rates, and more transparency is needed to fix this.

Due to new regulations enacted recently as a result of HB16, suppliers are required to notify residential consumers of any change to their fixed rate plans. The legislation falls short, however, in protecting the larger segment of energy consumers, those who are already on a variable rate plan either because their plan expired in the past or they actively chose variable short-term rates, by not requiring notification of rate change for these variable rates. As a steadfast, customer-focused energy provider, we are encouraging the Public Utilities Commission of Texas to adopt legislation that would require that any customer on a variable rate be notified ahead of time of a change so they can make more informed decisions — a pricing notification that 82 percent of consumers are in favor of.

Why are notifications important? 

Unfortunately, many energy suppliers thrive by remaining opaque and confusing to the very customers who have invested their trust, and hard earned dollars, in them. In fact, many suppliers have crafted entire business models around the idea that customers will forget that they are on variable rate products and take gross advantage by not notifying customers when the rate changes. This is not a good business practice.

In this type of system, energy providers hike up rates and count on their customers to not notice — it is how they make the most money and secure their bottom line, all at the expense of the customer. As a result, energy consumers are potentially overpaying significant amounts for their energy. We have found some customers were paying almost twice our standard rate before they switched to us.

Second, it is incredibly low cost for energy suppliers to provide this basic notification while also extremely high value to customers. It is consumer protection at its core: providing the consumer with necessary information so that they can make informed decisions about their energy.

Transparency by consumer services is the norm

Rather than keeping business as usual, new legislation should be introduced to mandate email or text message notifications well in advance of any rate change on a variable energy product. If a customer is on a monthly variable rate, for example, this means suppliers would be required to send a notification every month before a rate changes, providing consumers with the opportunity to change energy providers or products as they see fit. These notifications on price hikes and slashes are already in demand: The majority of customers (83 percent) have noted that it is important that their energy provider is transparent with rate changes. We are simply advocating that customers want and should be informed. Life is busy. Customers should have all the important information, such as their energy rates, at their fingertips.

Other consumer services that we use every day, including streaming platforms such as Netflix, Hulu and Disney+, regularly provide this information to their customers. When prices increase on these platforms, customers are notified ahead of time via email and can choose whether to continue service at the new rate or cancel. This simple act of consumer transparency, no matter how long a customer has been a subscriber, is simple, effective and shows trustworthiness from the companies. Most importantly, consumers are always informed and are provided the information needed to make a decision that best fits their lifestyle. Despite the energy industry's long history of opaqueness, the same should be the case for energy suppliers and their customers.

New age of innovation and consumer choice

In addition to acting in the best interest of consumers, legislation requiring energy suppliers to provide timely rate updates to customers on variable energy products would also encourage healthy market competition and spur more innovation within the energy industry. Suppliers would be pushed to think more creatively about the types of products they offer their customers, creating even more options for consumers to choose and benefit from.

No one should be overpaying for energy, especially as a result of sneaky price hikes that they didn't know about. While HB16 tries to address this, it doesn't go far enough. Transparency in energy pricing is necessary and simply the right thing to do.

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Michael Lee is the CEO of Octopus Energy. He is based in Houston.

It's time for large corporations to step up to support small businesses founded by people of color. Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert: Corporations can help level the playing field for BIPOC-owned businesses

Guest column

There were times when I wasn't sure what to do next.

When I started Connect the Dots PR in 2012, I wrote out detailed business plans, saved startup dollars, and leaned heavily on people in the PR industry to guide me in terms of pricing and feedback. Of course, we had contingency plans for unexpected hardships, but you hope not to use them.

My contingency plans went out the window when we saw we were looking at more than a year of pandemic-related shutdowns and slowdowns. I didn't have time to wait it out or say let's see what happens. It was time to move strategically.

Like most businesses, we hit a snag. A big chunk of our client base was reeling with corporate layoffs, shutdowns and revamped budgets. We've held on, but at times, it was overwhelming. I remember when the pandemic initially shut everything down, my fear was what is going to happen to my business and those that depend on me, such as employees, vendors, clients and contractors? At the onset of the pandemic, an employee came to me and said if I needed to let them go they understood. It hurt to do so, but it was a mutual decision and he landed on his feet and relocated to another state.

For a business owner of color, the hurdles are higher. When building Connect the Dots PR, the most important driver was access to startup capital. But studies have shown that white entrepreneurs are able to contribute considerably more personal equity to their new businesses than entrepreneurs of color, because white American families have nearly 10 times as much wealth as Hispanic or Black American families.

While inequities existed before the pandemic, over the last year, they've gotten worse. Beyond the physical toll of COVID-19, which affected BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities, which includes Hispanic and Asian American communities among others, more severely than white ones, BIPOC-owned businesses have had less of a safety net to fall back on, have been more likely to close, and have had a harder time getting Paycheck Protection Program loans. Studies last summer showed that the pandemic shuttered Black-owned businesses at more than double the rate of white-owned businesses. It all leads to the deeply unequal recovery that we're just now embarking upon.

The journey ahead can feel discouraging, but the good news is that now I have a much better idea of what it will take to build an equitable road back and get businesses like mine on even footing.

First and foremost, there needs to be an investment in people of color-owned businesses from the public, private and nonprofit sectors. Six months ago, I applied to the Comcast RISE program which, since late last year, has invested in 2,500 BIPOC-owned businesses nationwide with monetary grants, technology makeovers and marketing services. I received the Comcast RISE Investment Fund for Connect the Dots PR, which provided relief when it was most needed. With this grant, I have been able to focus on the business and invest in my brand.

We're not the only ones. Comcast RISE plans to name 13,000 recipients by 2022. Houston was also one of five cities selected to award a $10,000 grant to 100 local businesses from the Comcast RISE Investment Fund, which is the grant I received. We need similar commitments from other corporations to level the playing field for people of color business owners.

Federal, state and local recovery programs need to target minority entrepreneurs. Too many of the existing relief efforts have had limited application windows or been first-come-first-served, which disadvantages businesses that are already starting from behind. Local organizations like the Greater Houston Black Chamber of Commerce can be useful allies in reaching businesses owned by historically disadvantaged groups.

Finally, financial institutions need better guardrails to ensure that they don't discriminate against nonwhite business owners. When accessing startup capital, barriers still exist for minority entrepreneurs, and keeping checks and balances on those with the balance sheets is the only way to make sure all businesses are starting on equal footing.

That way, when the next crisis hits, you'll have fewer businesses starting from behind, and we'll all find our way to recovery much faster. For all of us, that's a business plan worth holding onto.

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Vanessa Wade, is the founder and owner of Houston-based PR firm Connect the Dots.

Now is the time to analyze and manage costs and investments, which will be crucial to capitalize on as we head into an upswing in business. Photo by Hero Images

Houston experts: What business owners need to know about navigating government aid

guest column

Although the world may be going back to normal and it feels like we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, business owners across the country are seeing lasting negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on their companies. Especially in the restaurant industry, local business owners are having to rely on government aid to make sure employees and rent are paid, keeping stress levels very high.

Our company, Cerboni, is a financial firm that works with clients to relieve the burden business owners face by taking things like back-office work, inventory management and more off their plate to give them the freedom to focus on their trade. To help alleviate some of this stress, we are taking an in-depth look at some of the options available to business owners working to navigate government aid applications, along with opportunities for future prosperity.

Don’t let financial opportunities fall through the cracks

While business owners are often pulled in many directions, it's important to make sure you are taking advantage of any help that is available to you. Currently, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, Employee Retention Credit and the Paycheck Protection Program are available to qualifying business owners. Taking the time to figure out which opportunities you should apply for and which ones are the best fit, will greatly benefit your company in the long run.

What to know about the Restaurant Revitalization Fund

The Restaurant Revitalization Fund provides funding equal to pandemic-related revenue loss up to $10 million per business and no more than $5 million per physical location for eligible restaurants, bars and other qualifying businesses where onsite sales to the public make-up at least 33 percent of gross sales receipts. Recipients have two years to use these funds, and the money can be used for business expenses such as payroll, mortgage obligations, rent payments, maintenance expenses, construction of outdoor seating and more.

The most important thing to know about this fund is how to calculate the funding amount. For those operating prior to or on January 1, 2019, applicants will calculate the 2019 gross receipts minus 2020 gross receipts minus PPP loan amounts. Applicants that began operations partially through 2019 should average the 2019 monthly gross receipts and multiply by 12, subtract 2020 gross receipts and then subtract PPP loan amounts. Businesses that began operations between January 1, 2020 and March 10, 2021, or those who have not yet opened but have incurred eligible expenses as of March 11, 2021, should calculate the amount spent on eligible expenses between February 15, 2020 and March 11, 2021, subtract 2020 gross receipts, then subtract 2021 gross receipts (through March 11, 2021) and, lastly, subtract PPP loan amounts.

Utilizing Employee Retention Credit

The Employee Retention Credit is a fully refundable tax credit for "qualified wages" paid to employers that were ordered to suspend operations fully or partially during 2020 or experienced a significant decline (below 50%) in gross receipts during the calendar quarter. The purpose of the Employee Retention Credit is to encourage employers to keep employees on payroll during the pandemic. Recipients can receive up to $5,000 for each full-time employee retained between March 13, 2020 and December 31, 2020 and up to $14,000 for each employee retained between January 1, 2021 and June 30, 2021. Qualified wages depend on the size of the operation. If the employer averaged more than 100 employees in 2019, the wages are only paid for the time the employee is not providing services. If the employer has less than 100 employees, the wages are paid to any employee during any period of hardship due to the pandemic. Recipients of PPP are not eligible for Employee Retention Credit.

Future prosperity

The restaurant industry was greatly impacted by the pandemic, but if you survived, you now have a great opportunity ahead of you. People are starting to return to a sense of normalcy and want to get back to enjoying things like events, shopping, eating out with friends and family and more.

Now is the time to analyze and manage costs and investments, which will be crucial to capitalize on as we head into an upswing in business. Understanding all of these financial nuances can seem daunting, so Cerboni can assist with knowing how to make the right investments in order to increase sales and profitability – this could be through marketing and advertising, changing up the menu to minimize cost of goods sold or managing operating costs.

For those who want to grow their footprint, the market is hot, and it's the perfect time to expand your market presence through negotiation of better lease terms and lower interest rates. Use this time to strategize on how to not only cut costs, but how to increase sales, and how to ultimately grow.

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Maria Degaine and Joshua Santana are co-founders of Houston-based Cerboni.

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3 businesses join Houston initiative for carbon capture and storage

seeing green

Three big businesses — Air Liquide, BASF, and Shell — have added their firepower to the effort to promote large-scale carbon capture and storage for the Houston area’s industrial ecosystem.

These companies join 11 others that in 2021 threw their support behind the initiative. Participants are evaluating how to use safe carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology at Houston-area facilities that provide energy, power generation, and advanced manufacturing for plastics, motor fuels, and packaging.

Other companies backing the CCS project are Calpine, Chevron, Dow, ExxonMobil, INEOS, Linde, LyondellBasell, Marathon Petroleum, NRG Energy, Phillips 66, and Valero.

Business and government leaders in the Houston area hope the region can become a hub for CCS activity.

“Large-scale carbon capture and storage in the Houston region will be a cornerstone for the world’s energy transition, and these companies’ efforts are crucial toward advancing CCS development to achieve broad scale commercial impact,” Charles McConnell, director of University of Houston’s Center for Carbon Management in Energy, says in a news release.

McConnell and others say CCS could help Houston and the rest of the U.S. net-zero goals while generating new jobs and protecting current jobs.

CCS involves capturing carbon dioxide from industrial activities that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and then injecting it into deep underground geologic formations for secure and permanent storage. Carbon dioxide from industrial users in the Houston area could be stored in nearby onshore and offshore storage sites.

An analysis of U.S Department of Energy estimates shows the storage capacity along the Gulf Coast is large enough to store about 500 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is equivalent to more than 130 years’ worth of industrial and power generation emissions in the United States, based on 2018 data.

“Carbon capture and storage is not a single technology, but rather a series of technologies and scientific breakthroughs that work in concert to achieve a profound outcome, one that will play a significant role in the future of energy and our planet,” says Gretchen Watkins, U.S. president of Shell. “In that spirit, it’s fitting this consortium combines CCS blueprints and ambitions to crystalize Houston’s reputation as the energy capital of the world while contributing to local and U.S. plans to help achieve net-zero emissions.”

Texas doctor dives into Shark Tank with invention that stops hiccups

shark bait

Humans are weird. Take, as a perfect example, the phenomenon of hiccups — the sudden and involuntary spasm of the diaphragm muscle between regular breaths. All humans experience them, and so do other mammals and even amphibians. But we’re guessing other animals don’t approach treating hiccups in the wacky ways humans do.

For instance, some less-than-successful hiccup remedies of lore include sipping water upside down (and subsequently trying to not drown), holding one’s breath for a long time (and often hiccupping throughout the hold anyway), sucking on a peppermint, gagging oneself or pulling on the tongue, and even gobbling up a spoonful of peanut butter to help change the breathing and swallowing pattern.

The truth is those ideas are mostly a waste of breath. Luckily, one San Antonio doctor has invented a device that supposedly instantly relieves hiccups — and his invention is getting so much attention that he’s even hooked a chance to pitch the product on a new episode of ABC’s entrepreneurial-focused reality show, Shark Tank.

Dr. Ali Seifi, a neurointensivist at UT Health San Antonio and the inventor of the aptly named HiccAway, will appear on an episode of Shark Tank that airs tonight, January 21 at 7 pm.

HiccAway, a straw-like device that a hiccup sufferer uses to sip water through, is likely to wow the sharks — maybe even take their breath away? — as it is the world’s first scientifically proven medical product that safely relieves hiccups.

In fact, HiccAway was recently the subject of an article in JAMA Network Open, a publication of the Journal of the American Medical Association Network. The article addresses a four-month cross-sectional study of 249 participants from multiple countries that found that HiccAway stopped hiccups in almost 92 percent of cases and was rated a heck of a lot more favorably than home remedies.

“I believe that the science behind our product is what makes our product trustworthy and reliable. There are many hiccup remedies that are all hit and miss with no exact science to them,” Seifi says. “Some healthcare products claim they can cure a medical condition, but they don’t have scientific backup to support the product. I can confidently state that HiccAway is one of the few products on Shark Tank so far with a strong published research study as a backup.”

While hiccups are simply an annoyance for most of us, they can also be chronic for patients with cancer, meningitis, multiple sclerosis, stroke, traumatic brain or thoracic injury, and even for patients who have had surgery that requires anesthesia.

“After I witnessed my own neurology patients suffering from hiccups without an effective treatment, I was inspired to develop a safe and effective device that would be simple to use and easily available to all people,” Seifi says. “When you forcefully sip water through the device, it keeps the phrenic and vagus nerves occupied, so they don’t have enough time to cause unwanted spasms in the diaphragm. This interruption stops the hiccups.”

While the HiccAway device is already available to purchase through hiccaway.com and on Amazon, as well as at walmart.com and even in H-E-B stores throughout South Texas and at heb.com, Shark Tank (which boasts a viewing audience of about 7 million) could propel HiccAway and Seifi into a new realm of entrepreneurial success.

“For me, the experience was surreal,” says Victor Fehlberg, president and CEO of Higher Innovations Inc., which manufactures and distributes HiccAway from the Denver area. “It took so long to prepare, so much time was spent waiting, that when the pitch and appearance were finally recorded, it went too fast. It was like I was dreaming because it had been so long in the making.”

The Shark Tank appearance is likely a dream come true for Seifi and the HiccAway team — and a total breath of fresh air for the hiccup-suffering public.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.