Tenants of this downtown office building just got an upgrade. Rendering via 717texas.com

Houston-based real estate giant Hines is rolling out a new smart building platform with the goal of better serving workers and workplaces at its buildings across the country, including one building in Houston that's aiming to be an office building of the future.

From the employee perspective, the new Hines app will allow employees and employers to book spaces within buildings, order food from on-site cafes and restaurants, book on-site fitness classes and access the building via their smartphone or smartwatch. For employers and tenants, the app will help them gain insights into building performance, occupancy data, ESG targets and employee satisfaction, according to a statement from Hines.

“We’re committed to a people-centric experience and this investment takes that commitment to the next level,” Ilene Goldfine, chief digital strategy officer at Hines, says in a statement. “The traditional systems were managed building by building and made it difficult or impossible to track performance across a portfolio. This new digital ecosystem, which unites back-end technology with front-end experiences, will deliver long-term cost savings to our investors and clients.

"Our clients will also be able to track employee satisfaction, make informed decisions about their space needs and ensure they’re monitoring their carbon targets,” Goldfine continues.

The new digital platform will be launched at eight Hines buildings across five cities, including 717 Texas Ave., a 33-story Class A office tower in Downtown Houston.

The other buildings where Hines will roll out the app include:

  • Salesforce Tower in Chicago
  • 1144 15th Street in Denver
  • The Kearns Building in Salt Lake City
  • CIBC Square in Toronto
  • T3 Bayside in Toronto
  • Two buildings at T3 Sterling Road in Toronto

The company plans to add more locations across its global portfolio.

Hines' opened its first location of The Square coworking space at 717 Texas Ave. in 2020 as part of its coworking concept Hines². The company, in collaboration with Montreal-based Ivanhoé Cambridge, opened a second Houston location of The Square recently and has a coworking space in The Kearns Building in Salt Lake City where it will roll out the new app.

Earlier this year, Hines also launched a sustainability-focused business unit, known as EXP by Hines. The unit, led by Hines veteran Doug Holte, aims to address “the disruptive changes in the built environment.”
Hines, which has its global HQ in downtown Houston, has established an ESG-focused initiative. Photo via hines.com

Houston-based real estate giant rolls out sustainability-focused business unit

seeing green

Houston-based real estate investor, developer, and manager Hines is stepping up its commitment to sustainability.

The company just formed a business unit, EXP by Hines, that is aimed at addressing “the disruptive changes in the built environment.”

EXP by Hines comprises two parts: Global ESG and the Global Venture Lab. Doug Holte, who was a senior partner at Hines from 1987 to 2009, has been hired as CEO of EXP.

“EXP by Hines is an engine of growth using the most innovative ideas in capital, culture, and environmental stewardship to connect every stakeholder in the built environment and create healthy, activated communities,” Holte says in a news release. “EXP is looking beyond the boundaries of real estate to solve complex problems while creating long-term value.”

Peter Epping, who joined Hines in 2001, is the company’s global head of ESG (environmental, social, and governance). A 2022 survey by professional services firm Deloitte found that ESG continues to gain ground in the corporate world. Business executives questioned for the survey believe ESG strategies will:

  • Strengthen stakeholder trust
  • Elevate brand reputation
  • Boost employee retention
  • Improve ROI
  • Reduce risk

Kathryn Scheckel, who joined Hines in 2019, leads the company’s new Global Venture Lab, which is tasked with identifying and accelerating ventures, partnerships and investments. The lab includes a startup incubator and a VC arm.

According to the news release, priorities of the Global Venture Lab include innovations in the use of physical space, development of ESG solutions, and creation of “revolutionary built-world technologies.”

The efforts being spearheaded by Holte, Epping, and Scheckel are geared in part toward Hines achieving net zero carbon by 2040 in its nearly 231 million-square-foot global portfolio without buying carbon credits.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Zimri Hinshaw of BUCHA BIO, Kelly Klein of Easter Seals of Greater Houston, ad John Mooz of Hines. Photos courtesy

3 Houston 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 industries — from esports to biomaterials — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Zimri Hinshaw, CEO of BUCHA BIO

Zimri T. Hinshaw, CEO of BUCHA BIO, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how he's planning to scale his biomaterials startup to reduce plastic waste. Photo courtesy of BUCHA BIO

After raising a seed round of funding, BUCHA BIO is gearing up to move into its new facility. The biomaterials company was founded in New York City in 2020, but CEO Zimri T. Hinshaw shares how he started looking for a new headquarters for the company — one that was more affordable, had a solid talent pool, and offered a better quality of life for employees. He narrowed it down from over 20 cities to two — San Diego and Houston — before ultimately deciding on the Bayou City.

Since officially relocating, Hinshaw says he's fully committed to the city's innovation ecosystem. BUCHA BIO has a presence at the University of Houston, Greentown Labs, and the East End Maker Hub — where the startup is building out a new space to fit the growing team.

"By the end of this month, our laboratories will be up and running, we'll have office space adjacent, as well as chemical storage," Hinshaw says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. Listen to the episode and read more.

Kelly Klein, development director of Easter Seals Greater Houston

A nonprofit organization has rolled out an esports platform and event to raise awareness and funding for those with disabilities. Photo via Easter Seals

For many video games is getaway from reality, but for those with disabilities — thanks to a nonprofit organization —gaming can mean a lot more. On Saturday Dec. 3 — International Day of Persons with Disabilities — from 1 to 9 pm, Easter Seals Greater Houston will be joining forces with ES Gaming for the inaugural Game4Access Streamathon.

Gaming helps enhance cognitive skills, motor skills, improve mental well-being, and can help reduce feelings of social isolation due to the interactive nature of playing with others.

“This is really a unique way for (people) to form a community without having to leave their house, and being part of an inclusive environment,” says Kelly Klein, development director of Easter Seals Greater Houston. ”The adaptive equipment and specialized technology just does so many miraculous things for people with disabilities on so many levels — not just gaming. With gaming, it is an entrance into a whole new world.” Read more.

John Mooz, senior managing director at Hines

Levit Green has announced its latest to-be tenant. Photo courtesy

Levit Green, a 53-acre mixed-use life science district next to the Texas Medical Center and expected to deliver this year, has leased approximately 10,000 square feet of commercial lab and office space to Sino Biological Inc. The Bejing-based company is an international reagent supplier and service provider. Houston-based real estate investor, development, and property manager Hines announced the new lease in partnership with 2ML Real Estate Interests and Harrison Street.

“Levit Green was meticulously designed to provide best-in-class life science space that can accommodate a multitude of uses. Welcoming Sino Biological is a testament to the market need for sophisticated, flexible space that allows diversified firms to perform a variety of research,” says John Mooz, senior managing director at Hines, in a press release. “Sino is an excellent addition to the district’s growing life science ecosystem, and we look forward to supporting their continued growth and success.” Read more.Read more.

Levit Green has announced its latest to-be tenant. Rendering courtesy

Rising Houston life science district signs health tech tenant​

growing on the green

A rising life science hub has signed its latest tenant.

Levit Green, a 53-acre mixed-use life science district next to the Texas Medical Center and expected to deliver this year, has leased approximately 10,000 square feet of commercial lab and office space to Sino Biological Inc. The Bejing-based company is an international reagent supplier and service provider. Houston-based real estate investor, development, and property manager Hines announced the new lease in partnership with 2ML Real Estate Interests and Harrison Street.

“Levit Green was meticulously designed to provide best-in-class life science space that can accommodate a multitude of uses. Welcoming Sino Biological is a testament to the market need for sophisticated, flexible space that allows diversified firms to perform a variety of research,” says John Mooz, senior managing director at Hines, in a press release. “Sino is an excellent addition to the district’s growing life science ecosystem, and we look forward to supporting their continued growth and success.”

With a global presence, Sino Biological is a leading provider of mammalian cell-based recombinant proteins, antibodies, and related contract research services, per the release, and the recently announced location represents the company’s first US-based manufacturing facility.

“We are extremely excited about our new partnership with the Hines team and our forthcoming laboratories and production facilities at Levit Green. Hines is at the forefront of next-generation laboratory space design and development, and our new site at the Levit Green master-planned district in the heart of Houston’s Texas Medical Center will enable Sino Biological to considerably expand its research services and bioreagent manufacture capabilities into the United States,” says Dr. Rob Burgess, chief business officer for Sino Biological, in the release.

Sino's space will be in Building I at Levit Green — a 290,000-square-foot, five-story building with wet lab and incubator space — and is expected to be ready for move-in by the third quarter of 2023. The facility is the first to deliver in the nine-building Levit Green masterplan, which includes office and research space, as well as retail, residential, and more. According to the release, the building will also feature amenities — a 5,800-square-foot fitness center and outdoor garden, a 7,000-square-foot conference center, 3,500 square feet of café and restaurant space, and on-site parking.

Levit Green was first announced in the summer of 2020.

Hines, which opened its Texas Tower in 2021, is hoping to reach net-zero operational carbon by 2040. Image via Hines

Houston real estate giant cracks down on carbon emissions

seeing green

Houston-based real estate giant Hines is on a mission to make its entire global portfolio free of carbon emissions.

Hines recently set a target of its 1,530 properties in 28 countries being net-zero operational carbon by 2040, including the 27.7 million square feet of space it owns or manages in the Houston area. Operational carbon refers to greenhouse gases produced by building operations.

The company says it will accomplish the net-zero goal by reducing emissions through renewable technology, and not by purchasing carbon offset credits.

Peter Epping, global head of ESG (environmental, social, and governance) at Hines, says that because the company has made its carbon-neutral plan public, “investors, developers, engineers, and building managers across our industry can use it to guide their own carbon-reduction efforts.”

Hines notes that the real estate sector emits nearly 40 percent of global carbon emissions related to energy. The World Building Council’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment calls for decarbonizing half of buildings by 2030 and all buildings by 2050.

“As the impact of climate change is becoming increasingly integrated into our lives every day, the real estate industry has a responsibility to acknowledge this growing problem and take meaningful action to reduce our collective carbon emissions,” Jeff Hines, chairman and co-CEO of Hines, says in a news release. “By seeking to achieve net-zero operational carbon without relying on offsets, Hines wants to raise the bar for sustainability and invest in a plan designed to achieve significant and tangible results.”

To achieve those results, Hines plans to:

  • Halting the use fossil fuels to power buildings in its $90.3 billion portfolio.
  • Reducing energy demand by improving building efficiencies.
  • Boosting reliance on renewable energy.
  • Using “circular systems” to reduce energy waste and enhance efficiency.
  • Promoting carbon capture.

A recent report from Houston-based law firm Vinson & Elkins underscores the economic benefits that the net-zero movement presents to commercial real estate players like Hines.

“Real estate increasingly attracts attention from sustainability-minded investors amid a wider push for ESG considerations in bond and loan markets. … Decarbonizing the real estate industry will likely require trillions of dollars of capital, but there is vast opportunity for environmentally friendly projects to access additional financing sources, often on favorable terms,” Caitlin Snelson, sustainable finance senior associate in the Houston office of Vinson & Elkins, says in a news release.

Beyond real estate, Hines’ net-zero campaign aligns with efforts to transform Houston into a net-zero industrial hub. A whitepaper published by Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy declares that Houston is well-positioned to become a “best in class” net-zero hub.

According to the whitepaper, the hub “could serve as a magnet for new and emerging industries, innovators and entrepreneurs and investment in energy transition companies and resources. Failure to develop a hub could lead to loss of these benefits and opportunities.”

Consulting giant McKinsey & Co. points out that clean hydrogen is emerging as a vehicle to achieve net-zero status and says Houston could evolve into a global hub for clean hydrogen. A Houston hub that’s in place by 2050 could generate 180,000 jobs and an economic impact of $100 billion, according to McKinsey.

“With the right supportive policy frameworks, Texas could become the global leader in clean-hydrogen production, application, development, and exports with Houston at its core; the resulting thriving hydrogen community could push innovation and develop the necessary talent to conceive and deliver hydrogen projects,” McKinsey says.

Laura Hines-Pierce, 38, is the new co-CEO with her father Jeff Hines. Photo courtesy of Hines

Gerald D. Hines' granddaughter named new co-CEO of global real estate powerhouse

boss up

A global real estate juggernaut now has a new — and familiar — face in the executive office. Hines announced that Laura Hines-Pierce has been promoted to co-CEO, joining Jeff Hines, her father.

This move makes Hines-Pierce, 38, one of the youngest CEOs of a major real estate organization and one of only a few women in an often male-dominated industry.

Hines-Pierce was most recently Hines’ senior managing director in the office of the CEO since 2020, and before that, served as the firm’s transformation officer. She is credited with building the investment management platform that launched three flagship funds across the U.S. and Asia with a total current investment capacity of $4.8 billion in equity, translating to $10.8 billion in purchasing power.

Other work included integrated innovation into all areas of the business and further defined the firm’s ESG commitments, per press materials.

While serving as the firm’s transformation officer, Hines-Pierce worked with the co-heads of investment management, the global chief investment officer, and the CEO of capital markets, to refine investment strategy and acquisition efforts.

On-the-ground and grassroots work also included serving as project manager for River Point, a one-million-square-foot development in Chicago. She was also part of the OneHines Women’s Network, which focused on the company’s diversity and inclusion.

Before her Hines tenure, Hines-Pierce worked for Sotheby’s in New York. She graduated from Duke University with a BA in Economics and Art History and received her MBA from Harvard University, per her bio.

As far as next steps, Hines is keeping it in the family: plans include Hines-Pierce’s two brothers, Adam and Matthew Hines, who are expected to join her and Jeff in the office of the CEO.

“I’m proud to become co-CEO and continue the momentum we’re experiencing across the board at Hines,” said Hines-Pierce in a statement. “My father has been the catalyst for our global expansion and growth over the past three decades and I’m excited to partner with him at this pivotal moment for the firm. The pace of innovation in real estate is finally catching up with other industries; my primary focus has always been – and continues to be – positioning Hines at the forefront of those changes.”

Hines is the brainchild of real estate icon Gerald D. Hines, who passed away in 2020 at the age of 95. Gerald Hines engineered his fledgling firm from an entrepreneurial startup in Houston in 1957 into an international powerhouse that has developed, owned, and managed some of the world’s most recognizable architectural landmarks across five continents. The firm boasts nearly 1,500 buildings in 255 cities in 27 countries and some $84 billion in assets.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Houston ecommerce scale-up company acquires Amazon advertising partner

all aboard

A Houston tech company has tapped an Amazon partner in a strategic acquisition and is bringing the company's full team on board.

Cart.com acquired Ohio-based Amify, a company that provides optimization and advertising solutions. The terms of the deal were not disclosed but Cart.com will on board Amify’s entire employee base, including its founder Ethan McAfee, CEO Chris Mehrabi, and COO Christine McCambridge.

As chief delivery officer, Mehrabi will take the helm of Cart.com’s professional services business and McCambridge will lead Cart.com’s marketplace services team as vice president of marketplace services operations.

“I’m happy to welcome the entire Amify team to Cart.com and have industry veterans Chris Mehrabi and Christine McCambridge join our leadership team,” Cart.com Founder and CEO Omair Tariq says in a news release. “Amify has been widely recognized for their expertise and technology and we’re excited to leverage their experience to help our customers maximize their potential across channels.”

Cart.com's membership will have access to Amify's proprietary technology platform, including advertising, creative content, supply chain strategy, and analytics. The company, which was founded in 2011, currently supports over 50 global brands and manages approximately $1 billion in gross merchandise value. According to LinkedIn, Amify has over 50 employees.

“We could not be more excited to join Cart.com and leverage the company’s resources and scale to deliver value to both our customers and employees,” Mehrabi says. “I’m honored to step into the role of Chief Delivery Officer and contribute to Cart.com’s incredible growth story and innovative reputation.”

Founded in Houston in 2020, Cart.com provides comprehensive physical and digital infrastructure for online merchants. The company raised a $60 million series C and grown its customer base to over 6,000 users. After making several acquisitions, the company also operates 14 fulfillment centers nationwide.

Earlier this year, Tariq sat down with the Houston Innovators Podcast to share a bit about how the company is currently in scale-up mode.

Houston health tech innovator collaborates on promising medical device funded by DOD

team work

The United States Department of Defense has awarded a grant that will allow the Texas Heart Institute and Rice University to continue to break ground on a novel left ventricular assist device (LVAD) that could be an alternative to current devices that prevent heart transplantation and are a long-term option in end-stage heart failure.

The grant is part of the DOD’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP). It was awarded to Georgia Institute of Technology, one of four collaborators on the project that will be designed and evaluated by the co-investigator Yaxin Wang. Wang is part of O.H. “Bud” Frazier’s team at Texas Heart Institute, where she is director of Innovative Device & Engineering Applications Lab. The other institution working on the new LVAD is North Carolina State University.

The project is funded by a four-year, $7.8 million grant. THI will use about $2.94 million of that to fund its part of the research. As Wang explained to us last year, an LVAD is a minimally invasive device that mechanically pumps a person’s own heart. Frazier claims to have performed more than 900 LVAD implantations, but the devices are far from perfect.

The team working on this new research seeks to minimize near-eventualities like blood clot formation, blood damage, and driveline complications such as infection and limitations in mobility. The four institutions will try to innovate with a device featuring new engineering designs, antithrombotic slippery hydrophilic coatings (SLIC), wireless power transfer systems, and magnetically levitated driving systems.

Wang and her team believe that the non-contact-bearing technology will help to decrease the risk of blood clotting and damage when implanting an LVAD. The IDEA Lab will test the efficacy and safety of the SLIC LVAD developed by the multi-institutional team with a lab-bench-based blood flow loop, but also in preclinical models.

“The Texas Heart Institute continues to be a leading center for innovation in mechanical circulatory support systems,” said Joseph G. Rogers, MD, the president and CEO of THI, in a press release.

“This award will further the development and testing of the SLIC LVAD, a device intended to provide an option for a vulnerable patient population and another tool in the armamentarium of the heart failure teams worldwide.”

If it works as hypothesized, the SLIC LVAD will improve upon current LVAD technology, which will boost quality of life for countless heart patients. But the innovation won’t stop there. Technologies that IDEA Lab is testing include wireless power transfer for medical devices and coatings to reduce blood clotting could find applications in many other technologies that could help patients live longer, healthier lives.

Houston investor on SaaS investing and cracking product-market fit

Houston innovators podcast episode 230

Aziz Gilani's career in tech dates back to when he'd ride his bike from Clear Lake High School to a local tech organization that was digitizing manuals from mission control. After years working on every side of the equation of software technology, he's in the driver's seat at a local venture capital firm deploying funding into innovative software businesses.

As managing director at Mercury, the firm he's been at since 2008, Gilani looks for promising startups within the software-as-a-service space — everything from cloud computing and data science and beyond.

"Once a year at Mercury, we sit down with our partners and talk about the next investment cycle and the focuses we have for what makes companies stand out," Gilani says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The current software investment cycle is very focused on companies that have truly achieved product-market fit and are showing large customer adoption."



An example of this type of company is Houston-based RepeatMD, which raised a $50 million series A round last November. Mercury's Fund V, which closed at an oversubscribed $160 million, contributed to RepeatMD's round.

"While looking at that investment, it really made me re-calibrate a lot of my thoughts in terms what product-market fit meant," Gilani says. "At RepeatMD, we had customers that were so eager for the service that they were literally buying into products while we were still making them."

Gilani says he's focused on finding more of these high-growth companies to add to Mercury's portfolio amidst what, admittedly, has been a tough time for venture capital. But 2024 has been looking better for those fundraising.

"We've some potential for improvement," Gilani says. "But overall, the environment is constrained, interest rates haven't budged, and we've seen some potential for IPO activity."

Gilani shares more insight into his investment thesis, what areas of tech he's been focused on recently, and how Houston has developed as an ecosystem on the podcast.