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

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.”

Aziz Gilani, managing director at Mercury, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston investor on SaaS investing and cracking product-market fit

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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.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Marc Nathan of Michael Best, Teresa Thomas of Deloitte, and Luis Arregoces of Blue People. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Welcome to another Monday edition of Innovators to Know. Today I'm introducing you to three Houstonians to read up about — three individuals behind recent innovation and startup news stories in Houston as reported by InnovationMap. Learn more about them and their recent news below by clicking on each article.

Marc Nathan, senior director of market development at Michael Best

Headed to SXSW? Marc Nathan shares what you need to know. Photo via Michael Best

Tens of thousands of people are descending upon Austin for SXSW — many of whom are ambitious startup founders. For Houston entrepreneurs, there's a lot to consider before heading down the street to Austin, and Marc Nathan can help.

The native Houstonian, who works with startups as senior director of market development at Michael Best and is based in Austin, has attended the conference for over 20 years. Every year, he assembles a comprehensive SXSW guide including round up of must-attend events, tips, and more.

He joined the Houston Innovators Podcast this week to provide his thoughts on how Houston founders can make the most of the tech-focused Interactive track — or the unofficial experiences taking place around Austin.

"You do not need a badge to enjoy and get the most out of SXSW," Nathan says, explaining that having a badge is ideal for a first timer experience. "For struggling founders who are typically broke, if you can swing the travel to get to Austin — getting here, staying here, and eating here, which are all not very cheap to start with — if you can swing that, then a badge is not that critical." Read more.

Teresa Thomas, vice chair and national sector leader for energy and chemicals at Deloitte

Teresa Thomas, newly named vice chair and national sector leader for energy and chemicals at Deloitte, shares her vision in an interview. Photo via LinkedIn

Deloitte is undergoing a leadership shift — and this evolution for the nearly 200-year-old company directly affects its Houston office and the energy transition line of business.

Earlier this year, Teresa Thomas was named vice chair and national sector leader for energy and chemicals at Deloitte. Based in Houston, she will also serve as an advisory partner and leader in Deloitte & Touche LLP's Risk & Financial Advisory energy and chemicals practice. She succeeds Amy Chronis, partner at Deloitte LLP, who will continue to serve within the energy and chemicals practice until her retirement in June 2024. Read more.

Luis Arregoces, chief artificial intelligence officer at Blue People

Blue People has named Luis Arregoces as the company’s first chief artificial intelligence officer. Photo courtesy of Blue People

A Houston-based software company has named its first chief artificial intelligence officer.

Blue People has named Luis Arregoces as the company’s CAIO. With 20 years of experience, Arregoces has led AI projects for global Fortune 100 companies in various industries.

“I am honored to join Blue People and be a part of this historic moment,” Arregoces says in a news release. ”Together, we have the opportunity to shape the future of AI in Houston and beyond. AI’s versatility and transformative potential make it indispensable across all industries to drive innovations, efficiency, and competitiveness.” Read more.

Scott Gale, executive director of Halliburton Labs, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share his call to action for Houston Energy and Climate Startup Week. Photo courtesy of Halliburton Labs

Houston innovator calls for collaboration from energy tech community

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Scott Gale will be the first to admit that hosting a week of curated events targeted to a group of individuals within the tech and energy space isn't a novel idea — Climate Week NYC has been taking over Manhattan for over a decade. But Gale believes Houston deserves to have its own time to shine.

Earlier this month, Halliburton Labs, Rice Alliance, and Greentown Houston announced the inaugural Houston Energy and Climate Startup Week 2024 to take place in September, but Gale, executive director of Halliburton Labs, says he hopes this is just the beginning of Houston organizations coming together to collaborate on the initiative.

"I think we have a really awesome initial coalition. Whether your the fifth company or organization to raise its hand to do something that week or the 50th — it really doesn't matter," Gale says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It really is an open invitation — and I want to make that super clear."



Gale says that he's looked at some of the successful week-long events — like SXSW and others — and the key factors are calendar coordination and cross promotion. Now that Houston has the week set — September 9 to 13, 2024 — it's time for everyone to fill that week with a density of events anywhere around Houston to showcase the city's innovative energy community.

Those interested can learn more or submit their event information online.

The initiative falls in line with how Gale has led Halliburton Labs from its early days in 2020 to now with a focus on community. While the corporate world always needs eyes on its return on investment, supporting the innovation ecosystem has been a bit of a leap of faith – and it always will be.

"There's always this idea of having a line of sight to the outcomes (of your investment). And when you're interfacing with or investing in the startup community, you don't have the benefit of line of sight. A lot of the things that are being solved for are just too early stage. And that can be really hard for corporates to wrap their heads around," Gale says.

"One of the things that we got to was this idea that you can invest in the startup community, and you don't know where the returns will come from, but you know they will come," he continues.

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

Meet the Houston innovator who's creating a new market for decarbonizing energy storage

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 225

If the energy transition is going to be successful, the energy storage space needs to be equipped to support both the increased volume of energy needed and new energies. And Emma Konet and her software company, Tierra Climate, are targeting one part of the equation: the market.

"To me, it's very clear that we need to build a lot of energy storage in order to transition the grid," Konet says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The problems that I saw were really on the market side of things."

Konet says she was bullish on the energy storage side of things when she was an early hire at Key Capture Energy, a private equity-backed energy storage project developer. The issue with energy storage projects, as Konet describes, is they aren't being monetized properly and, in some cases, aren't sustainable and increasing emissions.

"The product we're building is solving these problems. It's a financial product, but what it's doing is solving a market deficiency," she says. "We're sending the right signal to the battery to operate in a way that reduces emissions, and then we're paying them for it because there's a demand to decarbonize."

For over a year, Konet, as co-founder and CTO, has worked on the platform, which is essentially a marketplace for corporates to buy carbon offsets, incentifying and monetizing storage projects.

Tierra Climate is technology agnostic, so while the company is seeing activity in the battery space, they can also work with other types of storage — like hydrogen, pumped water, and more. Konet says her ideal customers are companies with money and interest in playing a role in the energy transition and looking to offset their scope two and three emissions.

"The ultimate vision for our company is for this to be an accessible product that has a high degree of integrity that small to very large companies can execute on, because it's a pay-per-performance mechanism that doesn't lock companies into a really large contract," she says. "It's really scalable."

This year, she says the company, which won fourth place in the 2023 Rice Business Plan Competition, is focused on securing its first big contract and fundraising for its seed round.

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

This Houston innovator's statewide mission to advance energy transition innovation on college campuses

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

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

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

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

Pruner describes the organization as pulling the best resources from each of the schools, with TEX-E operating as a bit of a matchmaker to connect students across the state through in-person opportunities and its digital platform.

"Our main job is to look to connect everyone, so that an engineer at Texas A&M that has an idea that they want to pursue, but they don't know the business side, can meet that Rice MBA," Pruner says, giving a hypothetical example. "Then, when they realize it's going to be a highly regulated product, we need a regulatory lawyer at UT — we can make all that happen and connect them."

TEX-E's programming includes a bootcamp course, fellowship opportunities at each school, and an annual startup competition at CERAWeek with $50,000 of pre-seed funding up for grabs. Next year, as Pruner explains on the show, the organization will also roll out an accelerator.

Pruner shares more about the program and its future, as well as his views on Houston as a major leader for the energy transition.

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Report: Houston secures spot on list of top 50 startup cities

by the numbers

A new ranking signals great promise for the growth of Houston’s startup network.

Houston ranks among the world’s top 50 startup cities on a new list from PitchBook, a provider of data and research about capital markets. In fact, Houston comes in at No. 50 in the ranking. But if you dig deeper into the data, Houston comes out on top in one key category.

The city earns a growth score of 63.8 out of 100 — the highest growth score of any U.S. city and the seventh highest growth score in the world. In the growth bucket, Houston sits between between Paris (64.4) and Washington, D.C. (61.7).

The PitchBook growth score reflects short-term, midterm, and long-term growth momentum for activity surrounding venture capital deals, exits, and fundraising for the past six years.

PitchBook’s highest growth score (86.5) goes to Hefei, a Chinese manufacturing hub for electric vehicles, solar panels, liquid crystal displays, home appliances, and Lenovo computers.

The overall ranking is based on a scoring system that relies on proprietary PitchBook data about private companies. The system’s growth and development scores are based on data related to deals, exits, fundraising and other factors.

Houston earns a development score of 34.1 out of 100, which puts it in 50th place globally in that regard. This score measures the size and maturity of a city’s startup network.

Topping the overall list is San Francisco, followed by New York City and Beijing. Elsewhere in Texas, Austin appears at No. 16 and Dallas at No. 36.

The ranking “helps founders, operators, and investors assess locations when deciding where to expand or invest,” says PitchBook.

“Network effects matter in venture capital: Investors get more than half of their deals through referrals, according to research led by Harvard professor Paul Gompers,” PitchBook goes on to say. “So it stands to reason that dealmakers should seek these networks out when deciding where to do business.”

4 Houston universities earn top spots for graduate programs in Texas

top schools

Houston's top-tier universities have done it again. U.S. News and World Report has four Houston-area universities among the best grad schools in the state, with some departments landing among the top 100 in the country.

U.S. News publishes its annual national "Best Graduate Schools" rankings, which look at several programs including business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, and many others. For the 2024 report, the publication decided to withhold its rankings for engineering and medical schools. It also changed the methodology for ranking business schools by adding a new "salary indicator" based on a graduate's profession.

U.S. News also added new rankings for doctoral and master's programs in several medical fields for the first time in four years, or even longer in some cases. New specialty program rankings include audiology, occupational therapy, physical therapy, pharmacy, nurse midwifery, speech-language pathology, nurse anesthesia, and social work.

"Depending on the job or field, earning a graduate degree may lead to higher earnings, career advancement and specialized skill development," wrote Sarah Wood, a U.S. News Education reporter. "But with several types of degrees and hundreds of graduate schools, it can be difficult to narrow down the options."

Without further ado, here's how the local schools ranked:

Rice University's Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business maintained its position as No. 2 in Texas, but slipped from its former No. 24 spot in the 2023 report to No. 29 overall in the nation in 2024. Its entrepreneurship program tied for No. 8 in the U.S, while its part-time MBA program ranked No. 15 overall.

Houston's University of Texas Health Science Centerearned the No. 3 spots in Texas for its masters and doctorate nursing programs, with the programs earning the No. 31 and No. 45 spots overall in the nation. The school ranked No. 25 nationally in the ranking of Best Public Health schools, and No. 36 for its nursing-anesthesia program.

Prairie View A&M University's Northwest Houston Center ranked No. 5 in Texas and No. 117 in the nation for its master's nursing program. Its Doctor of Nursing Practice program ranked No. 8 statewide, and No. 139 nationally.

The University of Houstonmoved up one spot to claim No. 4 spot in Texas for its graduate education program, and improved by seven spots to claim No. 63 nationally. Its graduate business school also performed better than last year to claim No. 56 in the nation, according to the report. The University of Houston Law Center is the fifth best in Texas, and 68th best in the U.S. Most notably, its health care law program earned top nods for being the seventh best in the country.

Among the new specialty program rankings, UH's pharmacy school ranked No. 41 nationally, while the speech-language pathology program earned No. 44 overall. The graduate social work and public affairs programs ranked No. 67 and No. 76, respectively, in the nation.

The full list of best graduate schools can be found on usnews.com.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Op-Ed: Removing barriers is critical for the future of Houston's health care workforce

guest column

Houston houses one of the most renowned medical communities in the world. However, Texas' current health care workforce shortage has severely impacted the city, with large swaths of the Gulf Coast Region deemed medically underserved. Thousands of Houstonians are impacted year after year due to the lack of access to life-saving medical care.

The obvious solution to this problem is to form a pipeline of health care workers by equipping students with the necessary skills and education to fill this gap. Sadly, many individuals who lack opportunity yet aspire to pursue a career in the health care industry face barriers related to childcare, transportation, mentorship gaps and life's unexpected circumstances.

Dwyer Workforce Development (DWD), a national health care training nonprofit, has recently expanded its footprint to Texas and has joined Houston Community College (HCC), one of the largest community colleges in the country, to provide life-changing support and create a pipeline of new health care workers, many who come from underserved areas.

Last year, our organizations launched the Dwyer Scholar Apprenticeship program, which is actively enrolling to combat the health care shortage and bring opportunities to those lacking. Working together, we are supporting apprentices each year to earn their Certified Nurse Aide (CNA) certificates, where students can choose a Phlebotomy or EKG specialization, helping our city meet the demand for one of the most essential and in-demand jobs in health care each year. Our program will help address Texas' loss of 36 percent of its CNAs over the past decade while providing gateways for highly motivated students—Dwyer Scholars—to thrive in long-term health care careers.

We know financial barriers prevent many potential health care workers from obtaining the certifications needed to enter the workforce. That's why we are bringing our innovative programs together, enabling Scholars to earn while they learn and opening doors for those who do not have the financial luxury of completing their training in a traditional educational atmosphere.

After enrollment, DWD continues to provide case management and additional financial support for pressures like housing, childcare, and transportation so Scholars don't have to put their work before their education. Scholars are placed with employers during the program, where they complete their apprenticeships and begin full-time employment following graduation.

The Texas Workforce Commission has identified apprenticeship programs as a key area for expansion to meet employer demand for skilled workers. Through our partnership, we are doing just that – and the model is proven. More than 85 percent of DWD Scholars in Maryland, where the program was established, have earned their certificates and are now employed or on track to begin their careers.

Our work doesn't end here. Over the next decade, Texas will face a shortage of 57,000 skilled nurses. Texas must continue to expand awareness and access to key workforce training programs to improve outcomes for diverse needs. Our organizations are working to vastly expand our reach, making the unattainable attainable and helping to improve the lives and health of our community.

No one's past or present should dictate their future. Everyone deserves access to health care, the ability to further their education and the chance to set and achieve life goals. The opportunities to reach and empower underserved populations to participate in the health care workforce are limitless.

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Barb Clapp is CEO of Dwyer Workforce Development, a nonprofit that supports individuals who aspire to pursue a career in the health care industry. Christina Robinson is the executive director for work-based learning and industry partnerships at Houston Community College.