Chevron Technology Ventures completed the build out of its new office in the Ion — plus more local Houston innovation news. Photo courtesy of Gensler

Houston is buzzing with local startup and innovation news lately, and there might be some headlines you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, Chevron Technology Ventures reveals their Gensler-designed office in the Ion, a Houston startup received a grant from the Air Force, and more.

Chevron reveals completed Ion office

CTV now has an office at The Ion. Photos courtesy of Gensler

Chevron Technology Ventures tapped Gensler to design its office in The Ion. According to Gensler, the office was designed to be "an innovative think tank and collaboration space within The Ion for its employees, and for interfacing with external consultants, partners, and vendors."

Per Gensler, some of the design elements of the office space includes:

  • Chevron-branded biophilia wall, accented with various artifacts showcasing Chevron’s rich history in the energy industry
  • Multiple meeting rooms for internal teams to collaborate on projects, for vendors to conduct demos and test emerging technologies, or to host case competitions, recruiting events, and more
  • A dedicated recording studio with state-of-the-art acoustics and lighting serves as a hub for bringing videos and podcasts to life
  • A coffee bar and social area

HTX Labs receives $1.25M Air Force grant

HTX Labs' EMPACT product will be further developed to support the Air Force. Image courtesy of HTX Labs

HTX Labs, a Houston-based company that designs extended reality training for military and business purposes, announced earlier this month that it has been awarded a new $1.25 million Small Business Innovation Research Phase II contract with US Air Force Global Strike Command to enhance its product, EMPACT Immersive Learning Platform, to facilitate collaborative, multi-role immersive learning capabilities in support of maintenance training for the B-52 aircraft.

“HTX Labs is excited to expand our presence into Global Strike Command and take on the challenge to aid Global Strike with its mission to produce highly qualified, engaged, and prepared Airmen. Our main objective with this SBIR award is to build on the success of the immersive training programs we have helped drive within AETC, and bring those successful results along with lessons learned over to Global Strike," says Chris Verret, president and co-founder, HTX Labs, in a news release.

"When coupled with EMPACT’s no-code immersive content authoring tools, this capability will support just-in-time mission training, enabling delivery of the right training at the right time – across geographically disparate locations to the Airmen who need it,“ he continues.

The goals of the project is to "increase throughput of the training pipeline, lower overall training costs, and produce more fully mission-ready Airmen," according to the release.

Scott Schneider, co-founder of the company, recently joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how he and his team have tapped into the military sector. Click here to listen.

Pitch competition reveals

Here's who will be pitching at The Cannon later this month. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

Dell for Startups is bringing a pitch competition to The Cannon on Wednesday, June 29, and the eight companies who will be pitching for cash prizes were announced.

Here's what Houston companies will take the stage:

The judges for the competition are Andrea Course of Shell Ventures, Sunny Zhang of Born Global, Joey Sanchez of The Ion Houston, Sharita Humphrey of Black Girl Ventures, and Megan Wright and Lucas Chaya Del Pino of Dell Technologies.
The event begins on Wednesday, June 29, at 4 pm with a panel discussion, and the pitch competition will begin at 5:30. Click here to register.

Houston artist completes Greentown Labs mural

Hannah Bull painted a mural depicting the future of climatetech on Greentown Houston's building. Photo courtesy of Greentown

Houston artist Hannah Bull was selected and commissioned by Greentown Labs to paint a mural on the outside of Greentown Houston. The project wrapped up and the mural, entitled “Powering the Future Through Climatetech,” can be found on east exterior wall. Watch a timelapse of the painting by clicking here.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Amazon rolls out hundreds of new electric vans for Houston's holiday delivery season

Electric avenue

Amazon CEO/occasional space traveler Jeff Bezos is doing his best to supplant a certain jolly fellow from the North Pole as tops for holiday gift delivery.

His latest move: Amazon is rolling out more than 1,000 electric delivery vehicles, designed by electric vehicle manufacturer Rivian, ready to make deliveries in more than 100 cities across the U.S. On the Texas good list: Houston, Austin, and Dallas. Bezos' juggernaut began deliveries in Dallas in July, along with Baltimore, Chicago, Kansas City, Nashville, Phoenix, San Diego, Seattle, and St. Louis.

These zero-emissions vans have delivered more than 5 million packages to customers in the U.S., according to Amazon. The latest boost in vehicles now includes Houston and Austin; Boston; Denver; Indianapolis; Las Vegas; Madison, Wisconsin; Newark, New Jersey; New York, Oakland, California; Pittsburgh, Portland, Oregon; Provo, Utah; and Salt Lake City.

Plans for the Amazon and Rivian partnership call for thousands of vehicles on the road by the end of the year and 100,000 vehicles by 2030.

“We’re always excited for the holiday season, but making deliveries to customers across the country with our new zero-emission vehicles for the first time makes this year unique,” said Udit Madan, vice president of Amazon Transportation, in a statement. “We’ve already delivered over 5 million packages with our vehicles produced by Rivian, and this is still just the beginning—that figure will grow exponentially as we continue to make progress toward our 100,000-vehicle goal.”

This all comes as part of Amazon's commitment to reaching net-zero carbon by 2040, as a part of its The Climate Pledge; Amazon promises to eliminate millions of metric tons of carbon per year with it s commitment to 100,000 electric delivery vehicles by 2030, press materials note.

Additionally, Amazon announced plans to invest more than $1 billion over the next five years to further electrify and decarbonize its transportation network across Europe. This investment is meant to spark innovation and encourage more public charging infrastructure across the continent.

“Fleet electrification is essential to reaching the world’s zero-emissions goal,” said Jiten Behl, chief growth officer at Rivian, in a statement. “So, to see our ramp up in production supporting Amazon’s rollout in cities across the country is amazing. Not just for the environment, but also for our teams working hard to get tens of thousands of electric delivery vehicles on the road. They continue to be motivated by our combined mission and the great feedback about the vehicle’s performance and quality.”

A little about the vans: Drivers’ favorite features include a spacious cabin and cargo area, superior visibility with a large windshield and 360-degree cameras, and ventilated seats for fast heating and cooling — a must for Bayou City summers ... or winters, for that matter.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston low-carbon fuel company scores United investment, plans to IPO via spac

big moves

It’s been a momentous month for Houston-based NEXT Renewable Fuels Inc.

On November 15, United Airlines Ventures announced an investment of up to $37.5 million in the next-generation, low-carbon fuel producing company.

Just a week later, the company revealed it’s going public through a SPAC merger with Industrial Tech Acquisitions II Inc. The deal, expected to close in the second quarter of 2023, assigns a $666 million equity value to NEXT. The publicly traded company will be named NXTCLEAN Fuels Inc.

NEXT, founded in 2016, produces low-carbon fuels from organic feedstock. The company plans to open a biofuel refinery in Port Westward, Oregon, that’s set to start production in 2026. The refinery could produce up to 50,000 barrels per day of sustainable aviation fuel, renewable diesel, and other renewable fuels.

“West Coast states are demanding a clean fuels conversion of the transportation and aviation industries with aggressive targets necessitating rapid increases in clean fuel supplies,” Christopher Efird, executive chairman and CEO of NEXT, says in a news release. “[The company] is advancing toward becoming one of the largest U.S.-based suppliers of clean fuels for these markets, and is investigating and pursuing potential vertical expansion into other clean fuels.”

The proposed public listing of NEXT’s stock on the Nasdaq market and United’s investment are poised to help NEXT reach its goal of becoming a leader in the clean fuel sector. United’s investment appears to be the first equity funding for NEXT.

“Right now, one of the biggest barriers to increasing supply and lowering costs of sustainable fuel is that we don’t have the infrastructure in place to transport it efficiently, but NEXT’s strategic location and assets solve that problem and provide a blueprint for future facilities that need to be built,” Michael Leskinen, president of United Airline Ventures, says in a news release.

United’s investment arm, launched in 2021, targets ventures that will complement the airline’s goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.