Houston energy leader Barbara Burger joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the energy transition's biggest challenges and her key takeaways from CERAWeek. Photo courtesy

Houston energy innovation leader calls for collaboration to tackle the industry's biggest hurdles

Houston Innovators Podcast Episode 231

When Barbara Burger moved to Houston a little over a decade ago to lead Chevron Technology Ventures, she wondered why the corporate venture group didn't have much representation from the so-called energy capital of the world.

“I had no companies in my portfolio in CTV from Houston, and I wondered why,” Burger says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Much has changed in the ecosystem since then, she says, including growth and development to what the community looks like now.

“There are a few things I’m proud of in the ecosystem here, and one of theme is that it’s a very inclusive ecosystem,” she explains, adding that she means the types of founders — from universities or corporate roles — and the incumbent energy companies. “The worst way to get people to not join a party is to not invite them.”

“No one company or organization is going to solve this. We have to get along,” she continues. “We have to stop thinking that the mode is to compete with each other because the pie is so big and the opportunity is so big to work together — and by and large I do see that happening.”



Burger, who has since graduated from Chevron to act as an adviser, mentor, and philanthropist across her passions, also shares her insider perspective on CERAWeek by S&P Global — from the key topics discussed to who was there this year and, notably, who wasn't. One thing that stood out to here was the practicality problems that were on the agenda.

“We need an energy system that focuses on climate, the economy, security — a lot of this is just the block and tackling of engineering, policy, economics, and community engagement. I think it was a practical discussion,” she says.

Another huge topic was the amount of energy needed in the near future.

“Everybody has woken up and realized that our load growth — our demand — is growing, and because of all kinds of things pointing toward electrification. I think that the big one in the room was AI and the power demands for it,” she says.

In addition to finding the funding to grow these new technologies, scale is extremely important when it comes to making an impact on the energy transition.

“It’s not just about the innovation — it’s really about scaling that innovation and that execution, because that’s when we get impact, when these technologies are actually used in the energy system, and when we create new businesses,” she explains on the show. “It’s going to take investment, capabilities, a real understanding of the marketplace, and, in many cases, it’s going to take a relationship with the government.”

A Houston-based initiative has been selected by the DOE to receive funding to develop clean energy innovation programming for startups and entrepreneurs. Photo via Getty Images

Houston initiative selected for DOE program developing hubs for clean energy innovation

seeing green

Houston has been selected as one of the hubs backed by a new program from the United States Department of Energy that's developing communities for clean energy innovation.

The DOE's Office of Technology Transitions announced the the first phase of winners of the Energy Program for Innovation Clusters, or EPIC, Round 3. The local initiative is one of 23 incubators and accelerators that was awarded $150,000 to support programming for energy startups and entrepreneurs.

The Houston-based participant is called "Texas Innovates: Carbon and Hydrogen Innovation and Learning Incubator," or CHILI, and it's a program meant to feed startups into the DOE recognized HyVelocity program and other regional decarbonization efforts.

EPIC was launched to drive innovation at a local level and to inspire commercial success of energy startups. It's the third year of the competition that wraps up with a winning participant negotiating a three-year cooperative agreement with OTT worth up to $1 million.

“Incubators and Accelerators are uniquely positioned to provide startups things they can't get anywhere else -- mentorship, technology validation, and other critical business development support," DOE Chief Commercialization Officer and Director of OTT Vanessa Z. Chan says in a news release. “The EPIC program allows us to provide consistent funding to organizations who are developing robust programming, resources, and support for innovative energy startups and entrepreneurs.”

CHILI, the only participant in Texas, now moves on to the second phase of the competition, where they will design a project continuation plan and programming for the next seven months to be submitted in September.

Phase 2 also includes two national pitch competitions with a total of $165,000 in cash prizes up for grabs for startups. The first EPIC pitch event for 2024 will be in June at the 2024 Small Business Forum & Expo in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Last fall, the DOE selected the Gulf Coast's project, HyVelocity Hydrogen Hub, as one of the seven regions to receive a part of the $7 billion in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The hub was announced to receive up to $1.2 billion — the most any hub will get.

The DOE's OTT selections are nationwide. Photo via energy.gov

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

It's 2024 and women are still making less money than men. Photo by LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash

Report: Here's how Houston ranks in terms of its gender pay gap

by the numbers

It's 2024 and women are still making less money than men, thus keeping the unfortunate reality of the wage gap alive. But at least in Houston, the wage gap isn't as bad as other Texas cities, according to a new earnings study by Chamber of Commerce.

Houston ranked No. 142 on the list, which examined earnings for full-time workers in 170 of the most populous cities in the United States.

The study found that, in 2024, men in Houston are currently making $4,474 more than women — a figure that's significantly lower than the national wage gap, which is a little over $11,000.

The U.S. city with the worst gender pay gap is none other than Frisco, a Dallas suburb. Men in Frisco are currently making a staggering $52,216 more than women, which is more than $12,000 more than the gap in 2023.

Also in North Texas, McKinney remained in the No. 5 spot for the second consecutive year. McKinney men make $24,568 more than women, which is a $4,400 decrease year-over-year. Plano's gender wage gap has worsened since 2023: The Dallas suburb is now listed among the top 10 worst pay gaps in the U.S., climbing to No. 6. The study says the Plano's wage gap is now $23,415, or nearly $2,300 more than last year.

Statewide gender pay gap

Chamber of Commerce found that Texas' gender pay gap has increased since last year; The 2023 study found that women made nearly $11,000 less than men, and that discrepancy has widened in 2024 to nearly $12,000.

However, Texas' ranking has improved 10 spots from No. 29 last year to No. 19 this year.

For added context, New Hampshire has the No. 1 worst pay gap in the nation, with men making over $18,000 more than women.

Other Texas cities that earned spots in the report are:

  • No. 20 – Amarillo
  • No. 22 – Laredo
  • No. 24 – Austin
  • No. 30 – Corpus Christi
  • No. 31 – Pasadena
  • No. 33 – Irving
  • No. 52 – Lubbock
  • No. 59 – El Paso
  • No. 65 – Grand Prairie
  • No. 81 – Fort Worth
  • No. 118 – Dallas
  • No. 121 – San Antonio
  • No. 125 – Arlington
  • No. 167 – Brownsville
  • No. 168 – Garland

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

It's not all bad for the Bayou City, but if you're making the same as last year, you're probably feeling the pinch. Photo via Getty Images

Report: Houstonians need $12K more to live comfortably than they did last year

pinching pennies

As inflation and the cost of living rise in most places around the United States, so does the amount of money a resident needs to live comfortably. But Houstonians are faring far better than residents of some of the biggest cities in America.

Houston requires the lowest salary needed to live comfortably in 2024, according to a new SmartAsset report. Specifically, they say, Houston ranks No. 1 for "the lowest annual salary needed for a single adult to live in sustainable comfort using the 50/30/20 budgeting rule" — that is, 50 percent of a salary allocated toward needs (housing, groceries, transportation); 30 percent toward wants (entertainment and hobbies); and 20 percent toward paying off debt, saving, or investing.

Houstonians need to make $75,088 individually to lead a comfortable lifestyle and avoid living paycheck to paycheck, or a $36.10 hourly wage, says the report, which analyzed 99 major U.S. cities.

The necessary salary to live a financially stable life in Houston is nearly $12,000 more than in SmartAsset's 2023 report, which said Houston residents needed to make $62,260 a year to live comfortably in 2023.

New in the 2024 report, SmartAsset also found that for a Houston-based family of four (two adults with two children), the total combined income needed to live a secure lifestyle is currently $175,219.

Breaking down the cost of living in Houston SmartAsset gathered data from MIT’s Living Wage Calculator to determine the cost of living for a childless adult and for a family of four (two working adults and two children) in the 99 largest American cities.

To live a financially stable life in Houston based on the 50/30/20 strategy and using SmartAsset's salary requirement, a childless Houstonian would need to spend $37,544 of their salary on living expenses, about $22,526 for discretionary expenses, and put about $15,017 toward their savings or debt payments.

Meanwhile, families of four would have to spend about $87,610 on living expenses, $52,566 on entertainment or hobbies, and put away $35,044 into savings or paying down debt in order to live comfortably in Houston, based on the study's findings.

Despite residents' growing financial constraints, the income necessary to live in Houston is much better than the national average of $96,500 a year for singles and $235,000 per year for a family of four, SmartAsset says.

Elsewhere in Texas
Among Texas cities, Austin has the highest necessary income required to live a financially stable life, but the capital city ranked No. 65 out of all 99 cities in the report. A single adult living in Austin would need to make $47.96 an hour, or $99,757 a year, to live comfortably. The combined income needed for two adults with two children is $223,891.

Here's how other Texas cities stack up, from lowest salary to highest:

  • No. 2 – El Paso ($75,254 for single adults, $175,219 for families)
  • No. 3 – Lubbock ($75,379 for single adults, $181,043 for families)
  • No. 5 – Laredo ($78,458 for single adults, 179,046 for families)
  • No. 16 – Corpus Christi ($82,493 for single adults, $192,275 for families)
  • No. 25 – San Antonio ($85,072 for single adults, $200,762 for families)
  • No. 42 – [Tied] Dallas, Plano, Irving, Garland ($91,770 for single adults, $208,000 for families)
  • No. 57 – [Tied] Fort Worth, Arlington ($94,765 for single adults, $214,490 for families)

Not surprisingly, the U.S. city that requires the highest salary to live comfortably is New York City. Single adults would need to make an hourly wage of $66.62, or an annual salary of $138,570, to prevent living paycheck to paycheck. And for a family of four, the combined salary needed is $318,406 a year, SmartAsset says.

The full report and its methodology can be found on smartasset.com.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Was Houston snubbed? Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

Houston falls behind other Texas cities in report ranking best tech hubs

ouch

In a recent report analyzing metrics for best cities for tech hubs, Houston failed to crack the top 20 — unlike a few other Texas cities.

The new report, "The Top Tech Cities in the US: Ranking 100 Cities in 2024," by online security experts Cloudwards, examined 100 tech-reliant cities in the nation across 17 key indicators, including salaries for information technology professionals, a city's cost of living, internet quality, job opportunities and tech-related companies, and more.

Austin is the No. 7 best tech city in the nation, yet somehow not the best in Texas; The Dallas suburb of Plano outshone the capital city at No. 4, and its neighbor Frisco came in at No. 10. Houston, however, came in at No. 22.


Courtesy of: Cloudwards.net

Here's how Houston stacked up in the major categories in the study:

  • No. 13 – Cost of Living and Tech Salaries
  • No. 16 – Career and Education
  • No. 40 – Tech Community
  • No. 44 – Innovation and Entrepreneurship
  • No. 53 – Internet Coverage and Quality

Austin's spot in No. 7 behind Plano's No. 4 might be surprising, but, according to the report, the Texas capitol's higher cost of living is to blame.

"Texas’s capital, Austin is a good place for startups since it’s easy to find top talent, initial capital and inexpensive office space," wrote the report's author. "However, due to the rapid rise in population (3 percent between 2021 and 2022), the cost of living has increased and access to good real estate has become more costly. Even so, the city’s distinct culture, access to educational opportunities and work-life balance continue to make Austin a popular choice for many IT professionals."

With many employers still embracing remote work, having a good wifi connection can make or break a person's ability to work from home. It seems that helped Plano get a leg up on Austin; 96 percent of Plano households have internet access, which was the single best connection rate of any city in the study. Austin didn't make the top five — but at least it didn't make the bottom five either.

Frisco also topped out in one category in particular, earning the title as "the most livable city in the U.S." according to Cloudwards.

Average salaries for IT professionals in Frisco come out to about $95,516 annually, which is only a $217 difference from Plano at $95,733. Given Austin's middling rank on the list above, no data was shared.

Central Texas didn't have much representation on the list. Although there were several North Texas suburbs, the only city near Austin was San Antonio, which came in at No. 18. It was the "Innovation and Entrepreneurship" category that brought it down, ranking No. 72.

Nationally, the cities that round out the top five most tech-savvy cities in the U.S. are:

  • No. 1 – New York City, New York
  • No. 2 – Washington, D.C.
  • No. 3 – San Francisco, California
  • No. 4 – Plano, Texas
  • No. 5 – Jersey City, New Jersey

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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New program to produce innovative, sustainability-focused workforce for energy industry

coming this fall

A Houston university has committed to preparing the workforce for the future of energy with its newest program.

Rice University announced plans to launch the Master of Energy Transition and Sustainability, or METS, in the fall. The 31 credit-hour program, which is a joint initiative between Rice's George R. Brown School of Engineering and the Wiess School of Natural Sciences, "will train graduates to face emergent challenges in the energy sector and drive innovation in sustainability across a wide range of domains from technology to economics and policy," according to the university.

“We believe that METS graduates will emerge as leaders and innovators in the energy industry, equipped with the skills and knowledge to drive sustainable solutions,” Rice President Reginald DesRoches says in the release. “Together we can shape a brighter, more resilient and cleaner future for generations to come.”

Some of the focus points of the program will be geothermal, hydrogen, and critical minerals recovery. Additionally, there will be education around new technologies within traditional oil and gas industry, like carbon capture and sequestration and subsurface storage.

“We are excited to welcome the inaugural cohort of METS students in the fall of 2024,” Thomas Killian, dean of the Wiess School of Natural Sciences and a professor of physics and astronomy, says in the release. “This program offers a unique opportunity for students to delve into cutting-edge research, tackle real-world challenges and make a meaningful impact on the future of energy.”

The new initiative is just the latest stage in Rice's relationship with the energy industry.

“This is an important initiative for Rice that is very much aligned with the university’s long-term commitment to tackle urgent generational challenges, not only in terms of research — we are well positioned to make significant contributions on that front — but also in terms of education,” says Michael Wong, the Tina and Sunit Patel Professor in Molecular Nanotechnology, chair and professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and a professor of chemistry, materials science and nanotechnology and of civil and environmental engineering. “We want prospective students to know that they can confidently learn the concepts and tools they need to thrive as sustainability and energy transition experts and thought leaders.”

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Houston-area school secures grant to foster STEM innovation, entrepreneurship

fresh funding

Three academics at Sam Houston State University have secured grant funding to support innovation and entrepreneurship at the university across science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Kyle Scott, assistant professor of entrepreneurship, and Bob Milner and Pamela Zelbst, co-directors of the Center for Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship at Sam Houston State University, have been awarded catalytic grant funding from VentureWell, a nonprofit that supports early-stage science and technology innovators. Sam Houston State University’s project was selected from a national pool of applicants.

The grant is part of the selective Course & Program Grants program, which supports faculty and staff in U.S. higher education institutions to expand and strengthen STEM innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems. The goal for these grants is to assist with “accelerating sustainable and inclusive innovation” according to a news release.VentureWell will also help grantees in a cohort-based community of practice that will provide networking opportunities and assistance.

The grantee teams can use the funds to develop new technology transfer certificate programs for underrepresented STEM student entrepreneurs.

“VentureWell is committed to broadening pathways for science and technology innovators and the faculty supporting them—particularly those from historically underrepresented groups in the field,” said VentureWell President and CEO Phil Weilerstein in a news release . “We are excited to provide these talented grantees with resources and support to create impactful programs and learning experiences on their campuses, in their communities, and in the broader innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem.”

Some of the projects the Center for Innovation, Technology & Entrepreneurship has recently done include a “Robohand” to help a child with Amniotic Band Syndrome (ABS).

Houston expert shares 3 strategies for integrating AI into the workforce

guest column

The rapid advancement of artificial intelligence is forcing businesses to evaluate how they will manage the inevitable changes this technology will bring. With its ability to automate tasks, analyze large amounts of data, and provide detailed insights, AI offers an enormous opportunity for businesses of all sizes. However, realizing this potential requires a strategic approach that positions AI as a powerful partner, rather than a replacement for human ingenuity.

The British Council reports that an estimated 65 percent of today's students will eventually work in professions that have yet to be conceived. With the emergence of new AI, this projection emphasizes the importance of cultivating a versatile skill set that allows us to adapt to the ever-changing landscape. It also underscores the importance of having a strategy that embraces the division of labor between humans and machines.

What this means is that an AI strategy shouldn't just be about automation – it should also incorporate an understanding of the human-AI partnership that will be necessary for future success. By using the concepts of automation, augmentation, and autonomy, businesses can unlock the full potential of AI to boost efficiency, enhance decision-making, and ultimately drive continued success.

Automation: Delegating to the AI

We know AI can automate many tasks in a business. However, we should also look at automation from a strategy standpoint by asking, "What tasks can be fully delegated to the AI?" Answering this question might include considering routine, repetitive, and time-consuming tasks that shouldn't require human intervention or those that would be more susceptible to human error. The goal here should be to identify tasks that don't benefit from human nuance, meaning asking questions about time, precision, and compliance could offer even more value.

  • Time. What tasks are time-consuming and could be completed quickly with well-written instructions?
  • Precision. What tasks require precision that is difficult for humans to achieve?
  • Compliance. What tasks involve critical safety procedures or adherence to strict compliance that humans might overlook?

Augmentation: Using AI to boost your potential

Beyond automation, AI's true power lies in its ability to boost human capabilities. In this lens, you should ask, "How can the AI boost my output potential?" Think of AI as a skilled assistant that can analyze vast datasets, identify complex patterns, and present insights that aren't readily apparent to humans alone. The focus here is on tasks that still require a human touch but can benefit from computers' speed and data processing power. When exploring this further, consider asking questions about skill boosts, assistance, and focus.

  • Skill boosts. What tasks am I doing that I understand but need to be an expert at?
  • Assistance. What tasks still require a human's touch but could use processing or speed boosts?
  • Focus. What tasks are causing employees to spend more time on tools and less on goals?

Autonomy: The importance of humans in the loop

One question that comes up frequently when discussing AI is whether it will replace a particular set of jobs. My thoughts, however, are that while AI is remarkably powerful, the key to making all this work is understanding that not every task requires automation. In fact, some tasks would suffer from automation. This step requires you to ask, "Where are human emotion, creativity, intuition, and oversight essential?" Autonomy, in this sense, means digging into creativity, intuition, and uniqueness.

  • Creativity. Does this task require a level of creativity that a machine can't replicate?
  • Intuition. Does this task require emotional awareness that a machine can't discern?
  • Brand Uniqueness. Does this task represent a part of my brand that shouldn't be automated or machine-driven?

AI brings a lot to look forward to. It’s fair to say it’s on its way to transforming the world, but it's important to remember that the businesses that strategically embrace a human-centered approach to integrating AI into everyday business activities are the ones that will thrive. The three A’s: automation, augmentation, and autonomy, provide an essential foundation to begin this journey. By understanding the best applications for each aspect of AI, businesses of all sizes can discover areas for increased efficiency, more thoughtful decision-making, and a competitive edge that drives long-term success. AI's true potential lies in its ability to enhance human capabilities, not replace them.

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Kelsey Ruger is the chief technology and product officer for Hello Alice.