Houston sustainable materials startup moves into new facility, plans to hire

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 161

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, an alternative materials startup is gearing up to move into its new facility.

BUCHA BIO, a climatetech company that's creating sustainable materials to replace plastics and leather for the fashion industry and beyond, closed its most recent round of funding at $1.1 million in September. Now, the company is full speed ahead getting ready to move into a larger office and lab space this month while hiring within technical roles, supply chain, quality control scientists, and more to make sure BUCHA BIO is ready to scale.

"That's the biggest deployment of capital — making sure we have the team that can scale this and so we can set up the logistics needed," CEO Zimri T. Hinshaw says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It's not all fun innovative materials — it's also really fun international supply chain logistics. Some of these things we don't always talk about are equally important to make sure we are creating a product that has the potential to displace plastic and leather at scale."

Hinshaw shares on the podcast how his technology takes the raw material from bacterial and plant-based ingredients — basically a thick malleable substance — and turns it into a durable sheet of material that can be used in fashion, but also automotive and energy-adjacent industries.

BUCHA BIO was founded in New York City in 2020, but after the company participated in SOSV's IndieBio program, 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.

"Manhattan is a notoriously difficult place to live and work — and to grow a company like this. It just came to a point where we couldn't afford to give the talent a high quality of life, and that's important to me as a leader," Hinshaw says. "We couldn't afford the space. ... That was the tipping point for us."

Hinshaw says he looked at over 20 cities closely — Austin; Akron, Ohio; Dallas; Miami; and more. He narrowed it down to 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. "We aren't manufacturing onsite — we're prototyping and improving manufacturing onsite."

The technology BUCHA BIO uses to produce its materials is called an extruder, and the company has its own smaller scale model within its facilities. Hinshaw says the process includes outsourcing the larger scale process at existing facilities.

After fully moving in and hiring the new team members the company needs at this phase of scaling, Hinshaw says he'll execute on his current plan to raise more funding from investors.

"As of right now, we are looking to catch up to the competition and to be a major player," Hinshaw says, adding that, as of now, he's aiming for a $10 million series A round. "We're breaking out, and this next round is going to prove that."

Hinshaw shares more about his game plan for BUCHA BIO and his passion for helping to make Houston a leader within the sustainability space on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


What do Houston's three key industries — aerospace, medicine, and energy — have in common? Pumps and pipes, Stuart Corr explains. Photo via pumpsandpipes.org

Health tech innovator shares details on uniquely Houston organization

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 160

Though most people would not connect the dots on what all the health care, energy, and aerospace industries have in common, but for Stuart Corr, the connection is clear. It's all a bunch of pumps and pipes.

Pumps & Pipes is a Houston organization that was founded in 2007 to strengthen the collaboration across Houston's three key industries. The city has NASA down the street, the world's largest medical center, and is regarded as the "energy capital of the world." Through the Pumps & Pipes network, innovators across these entities can share resources and collaborate.

"Pumps & Pipes is all about our network — about innovation on demand. It's the idea that we understand what's in other people's toolkits and innovation and technology portfolios," Corr says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovator Podcast. "Ideally, we want to use these new technologies to solve our own problems."

Corr is the executive director of Pumps & Pipes, which is part of Houston Methodist DeBakey CV Education. He is also the director of innovation systems engineering at Houston Methodist and associate professor of biomedical engineering research at Cornell University.

Not only is Houston the perfect place for the intersection of these three industries, but the city's diverse population — particularly the diversity of thought here, he says — also makes for a prime opportunity for collaboration.

"You have to be able to collaborate in order to drive innovation," Corr says on the show. "It's teamwork through and through. Houston is such a diverse city ... and that's a unique aspect of Houston."

For years, Pumps & Pipes has been facilitating this collaboration at its annual event. After two years of virtually connecting, Corr says the organization is going big for its return to an in-person setting. The theme is "Ion to Infinity" and experts will be joining in panels and discussions on four technologies — artificial intelligence, extended reality, Web3, and robotics — and how they are affecting each industry's innovation scene.

The event is on December 5 at the Ion. Tickets are on sale now.

Corr shares more on the event and the organization on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Betsy Furler, co-founder and CEO of For All Abilities, joins this week's Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of For All Abilities

Houston founder grows B2B SaaS platform that's supporting the neurodiverse workforce

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 159

Much of the workforce — and humanity in general – is neurodiverse, and the business world doesn't factor in cognitive differences into the workplace like it should in order to support employees of all learning abilities.

Betsy Furler wanted to change that. As the founder and CEO of Houston-based For All Abilities, she wanted to provide a tech platform to enhance the relationships between individuals with cognitive differences and their employers.

"We're an organization that helps employers get the best out of all their employees — make them more productive and efficient in the workplace — and help with ADA accommodations issues," Furler says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "I'm a speech pathology by training, and I've worked with all abilities of all ages and settings over many years."

The platform begins with an employee self-assessment. Furler says on the show that employers believe that around 1 percent of their employees are not neurotypical, but, per the reports from For All Abilities, up to 50 percent of employees are reporting as neurodiverse.

After its initial assessment, For All Abilities, which operates as a subscription software model for businesses, provides employees with curated low or no-cost apps and efficiency tools. While her work is mission-driven, Furler says on the show she was very intentional on starting her organization as a for-profit tech startup.

"It really makes sense from a business perspective to support your employees this way," she says.

The company launched its prototype in December of 2019 and its beta in 2020. Furler says she had to pivot to do consulting work amid the pandemic while finalizing out the second version of her platform. She onboarded her first customer in January of 2021 and has only scaled from there.

Now, the company is looking for more mid-sized companies as customers, as well as universities. Furler launched a collegiate version of the For All Abilities platform based off an opportunity that came about in Austin.

Along with the new product launch, Furler also announced a new co-founder and COO. Montie Krumnow, a Houston-based investor who recently retired from the energy industry, will help further grow the platform as it heads toward a funding round in early next year.

Furler shares more about the work she's doing with For All Abilities on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.



Montie Krumnow (left) recently joined Betsy Furler as co-founder and COO of For All Abilities. Photo courtesy of For All Abilities

Meet Natara Branch — the new CEO of HX. Photo courtesy of Natara Branch

New HX leader strives to unlock Houston's potential

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 158

For the past few weeks, Natara Branch has been on a listening tour of Houston's innovation ecosystem. Recently named the CEO of Houston Exponential, Branch says one word comes to mind when she thinks of the future of HX: Potential.

"I know that's an overused word," Branch says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, "but I think we really have to get everyone in Houston galvanized around the fact that we do have this potential so that people can see it and invest in Houston — both internally and externally. I really do believe Houston has so much to offer people who live or want to live here."

After spending over 18 years at the National Football League driving that organization forward, Branch says she was looking a role that would bring her back to her adopted hometown of Houston — a city she's been cheering on from afar during her tenure at the NFL based in New York City.

Branch joins HX as the organization changed ownership — it was acquired by Gow Companies, a company founded by Lawson Gow (who is the son of David Gow, InnovationMap's parent company's CEO) — and transitioned from being a nonprofit into being a for-profit company. Branch says that this transition shouldn't affect Houston entrepreneurs' interaction with HX other than improve on the experience as now HX is an entity for entrepreneurs and by entrepreneurs too.

"I'm an entrepreneur, I'm a consultant, I invest, and I work with entrepreneurs all the time," she says on the podcast. "I'm an entrepreneur at heart. ... If you're a founder, you know it's a unique experience. If you're an investor, it's a risky experience, and I've been on both sides."

Branch shares more on the show about her passion for the city of Houston, and how she's got open ears to anyone in the ecosystem who wants to contribute to the advancement of the city's tech ecosystem. And, as she explains, she is getting her fair share of feedback — but she has an ask for anyone who she's met.

"I am challenging people. You're not just going to give me feedback and sit back and watch. You're going to participate," Branch says. "I have not met one person who doesn't want Houston to win — they wouldn't be here if they didn't."

Next week, Branch is making her Houston debut to the greater community at the Houston Innovation Awards Gala, a collaborative event hosted by HX and InnovationMap, on November 9 at the Ion. She shares what all she's excited about for the event on the show. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Juliana Garaizar joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the incubator's upcoming Climatetech Summit. Photo courtesy of Juliana Garaizar

How this innovator is bridging the gap for international energy companies expanding into Houston

Houston innovators podcast Episode 157

A year and a half after opening in Houston, Greentown Labs has continued to evolve to meet the unique needs of the energy tech companies based out of its local incubator. The company, based originally in the Boston area, always knew it wasn't going to be as simple as copying and pasting its Somerville, Massachusetts, location in Texas.

Lately, as Juliana Garaizar, head of thee Houston incubator and vice president of innovation for Greentown, says on this week's Houston Innovators Podcast, the surprising element emerging in Houston is the need for an entry point into the United States from foreign companies — mostly emerging from Latin America.

"We're realizing that we're becoming the landing pad for many international companies or companies coming from other ecosystems," she says on the show. "We are glad to be that landing pad for many companies looking to enter the United States through Texas."

Last year, Houston played a role in Greentown's annual Climatetech Summit. The two-day streamed event in 2021 attracted over 2,500 viewers from 38 different countries. This year's event will return to in-person but keep the streaming element to maintain this opportunity to reach people all over the world.

The summit kicks off on November 2 in Houston and continues on November 3 in Boston. (InnovationMap is a partner for the Houston portion of the summit.) The program is focused on elevating the conversation around clean energy and the energy transition in Houston and beyond, as well as serving as a showcase for emerging technologies coming out of Greentown's member companies.

"The main theme for this Climatetech Summit is commercialization, and we're trying to explore it in different ways," Garaizar says. "We're going to have some great panels on rapid commercialization and Houston and the energy transition."

Garaizar explains that the program is a must-attend event for innovators within energy innovation, and she hints that, at the conclusion of the day, Greentown may have some news to share with attendees.

"We're also going to be announcing a few things at the end of the program, so you'll have to stay tuned," she says.

Garaizar shares more about the event on the podcast, as well as some of the challenges Houston energy startups are facing. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Katie Eick, founder and CEO of Rockin' Pets Rollin' Vets joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss her company's growth. Photo courtesy of Rollin' Vets

Houston innovator grows mobile vet clinic amid growing industry challenges

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 156

For years, Dr. Katie Eick wanted to provide mobile veterinary care for her patients, but the technology wasn't where it needed to be. She took a gamble and bought her first truck in 2016 as ridesharing and mobile ordering took off. A new business of convenience was booming, before blasting off again amid the pandemic.

Now, the founder and CEO of Rockin' Pets, Rollin' Vets says she's got the equipment, the market demand, and a $5 million round of investment to expand her business model.

The other challenge Eick says she faced early on was a misconception that mobile vet care was limited to vaccinations.

"We provide the highest level of veterinary care — right in your driveway," Eick says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, explaining how each of her trucks — she now has five — have the capability to provide all sorts of treatment.

"We have a surgery suite, we have high-speed dental equipment — just like your dentist has. We have X-ray machines and ultrasound machines on almost all of our trucks," she explains. "We carry a full pharmacy on every truck."

It took a while to get to where she is today, which is caring for clients across Houston, with a recent expansion into The Woodlands and a soft launch in Austin. She plans to expand in Central Texas, including San Antonio, before tackling the northern region of the state. She also has a franchise model that she hopes to utilize to grow the brand nationally and even abroad.

"It was hard to educate the public on what we can do on those trucks," Eick adds "It took the first year, and once the word started to get out, then it snowballed."

Contributing to the snowball effect was the pandemic, which led pet owners to looking into alternative ways to access vet treatment. Now, Eick is focused on growing her team to support the company's growth. And, she adds, this is no easy task in today's employment climate.

"In this day and age, everyone has a shortage. ... The workforce is just smaller," Eick says. "There's a nationwide shortage of vets, and it's a confluence of things that have happened that I wished we saw coming."

Eick explains how the level of care vets are now able to — and expected to — give has increased with new technologies, specialist practices, and more. But the number of new vets with each graduating class has remained the same. Retention is also an issue, as the toll on veterinarians' mental health takes providing such frequent end of life care — on top of an increasingly busier schedule.

Eick shares more on the show about her observations on the current challenges within the industry as well as how she's innovating within her own practice to combat these obstacles. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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Houston energy storage startup secures $10M in federal funding

seeing green

A Houston-based company that's got a solution to renewable energy storage has just secured funding from a federal entity.

The U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, is granting Quidnet Energy $10 million in funding, the Houston company announced this week. The funding is a part of the ARPA-E Seeding Critical Advances for Leading Energy technologies with Untapped Potential, the SCALEUP program. This initiative is aimed at providing funding to previous ARPA-E teams "that have been determined to be feasible for widespread deployment and commercialization domestically," per a news release.

“We’re honored that ARPA-E has selected Quidnet Energy as an awardee of the SCALEUP program,” says Joe Zhou, CEO of Quidnet Energy, in the release. “This funding will support continued work on our Geomechanical Pumped Storage (GPS) project with CPS Energy, which will demonstrate the benefits of using proven pumped hydro technology to create a long-duration energy storage resource that doesn’t require mountainous terrain. We look forward to continuing our partnership with CPS Energy and thank ARPA-E for acknowledging the potential of GPS for long-duration storage.”

The company's technology can store renewable energy for long periods of time in large quantities. The process includes storing pressurized water underground and, when the stored energy is needed, the water propels hydroelectric turbines and produces the electricity to support the grid at a fraction of the cost, per the news release. The concept is similar to existing gravity-powered pumped storage, but with less land required.

The fresh funding will be used toward Quidnet Energy’s ongoing project with San Antonio-based utilitary provider CPS Energy. This collaboration is scaling the company's GPS to a 1 MW/10 MWh commercial system, per the release, that will provide CPS Energy with over 10 hour long-duration energy storage system.

In 2020, Quidnet closed its $10 million series B financing round and secured a major contract with the New York State Energy Development Authority. The series B round included participation from Bill Gates-backed Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Canada-based Evok Innovations, which both previously invested in the company, as well as new investors Trafigura and The Jeremy and Hannelore Grantham Environmental Trust.

New Texas-based mental health subscription box plans national launch at SXSW 2023

speak now and hold your peace

Mental health apps are so alluring, but once you’ve recorded your two-week streak and things are feeling a little more organized, it can be hard to keep going. It’s hard enough to keep up with journaling and a great bedtime routine, and many lovely self-help tools also lose their effectiveness when the novelty wears off.

A smart company might harness that novelty as its hook — and an easily distracted self-helper won’t fall off the wagon. Like many other companies in the mental health space, Speak As One will work on a subscription model, but this one won’t languish, unused on a credit card statement. The service, which plans to launch during SXSW 2023, delivers boxes of tangible mental health tools, inspiration, games, and even sensory objects that act as a monthly nudge to try something new, and curiosity takes care of the rest.

A sample box included:

  • Stress balls with short inspirational phrases by MindPanda
  • An Emotional First Aid Kit containing advice for situations as they come up, like sleeplessness and feelings of inadequacy
  • Tiny colorful putties at different resistances by Flint Rehab
  • A notebook, and two books: Athlete Mental Health Playbook and 1000 Unique Questions About Me
  • Other small items

It’s more than packing and shipping out a few toys each month. The boxes are curated with help from a licensed therapist, who leaves a personal note along with tips on how to use the items inside and additional resources. There is one type of box right now that aims to “reduce anxiety, increase mindfulness, and promote peace and balance,” but for further customization (for $10 more), the team is working on boxes tailored to first responders, veterans, athletes, and people in “recovery.”

Speak As One emphasizes community stories in its branding outside the delivery box, and uses inspiration from “influencers” (less content creators and more so people who can embody a relatable story) to build the specialty boxes. The company’s YouTube channel shares dozens of interviews with founder Julie Korioth, a former board member for Austin’s SIMS Foundation, a well-respected mental health resource for members of the local music industry.

“With hundreds of millions of people struggling with mental health, and COVID making the issue much worse, society continues to ostracize those who openly discuss mental health issues,” said Korioth in a release. “I founded this company so we can change the way the world sees, discusses, and supports mental health. Our goal is to promote empathy, connectedness, acceptance, and thoughtfulness with an innovative toolkit that caters to specific needs."

In addition to offering a nudge, these boxes could make great care packages for a loved one who is feeling introspective or going through a significant life event. It is possible to buy gift boxes, if presentation is your thing, but it’d be just as easy to repackage a box that comes before the receiver ready to appreciate the items at home.

The cost of one box is manageable at $49.99 (especially considering the retail value of products included, which the sample box far exceed), but for many subscribers this adds up fast. Luckily, there is no pressure to continue a lengthy commitment — subscriptions last between one and six months, so users have plenty of time to reconsider and sit with the items that have already been delivered.“

The goal is to meet our audience at any phase of their mental health journey,” said Korioth. “We’re creating change and a global life-long support system for children and adults dealing with mental health challenges. We simultaneously highlight businesses, the tech community, athletes, and artists doing wonderful work in this space.”

The company plans to partner with corporations to connect with employees and provide boxes to individuals the company chooses, and will turn some content into session albums with sales proceeds dedicated to mental health research.

More information and links to preorder are available at speakasone.com.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston expert shares tips for navigating cybersecurity challenges amid the holiday season

guest column

It’s a grinch's cyber-playground, and this holiday season, you’re at risk — even if you think it won’t happen to you.

The good news is you can protect yourself from scams and fraud. Just remember that cybercriminals don’t discriminate, they can prey on anyone.

These statistics may surprise you:

  • Anxiety about having a mobile device hacked differs by demographic; low-income Black women rank mobile security as their number one concern, while the general population ranks mobile security as their third largest concern, according to a recent Recon Analytics survey of more than 3,297 U.S. consumers.
  • 44 percent of millennials have been victims of online crime in the last year and 31 percent admit they share their passwords with others.
  • Romance scams resulted in the most financial losses for adults aged 60 and over
  • Younger consumers took fewest actions after being notified of a data breach affecting their identity/online accounts in Q1 2022
  • Nearly 50 percent of American gamers have experienced a cyberattack on their gaming account or device
  • 47 percent of women who live in cities say their identities and/or data has been compromised in the past 6 months due to lack of home internet protections, compared with 53 percent of city men who say the same thing, according to a recent Recon Analytics survey.

People everywhere, regardless of gender, race, income level, education, or age, deserve to feel safe online. And yet, many aren’t aware how to protect themselves, don’t make it a priority, or wait to act until they are alerted to suspicious activity.

With words like malware, phishing, spoofing, and encryption, learning to protect yourself can feel like a college-level course. But it doesn’t have to be that complicated.

Top 5 ways to guard against cyberthreats

By following five simple steps, you can start to protect your network, devices and data from many digital threats.

  1. Understand cyberattacks are real. One of the first hacks was documented in 1963 and today, nearly 60 years later, hackers are attacking phones and computers every 39 seconds. Cyberattacks continue to grow in number every year.
  2. Be proactive. Don’t wait for an attack to happen. Monitor your accounts daily so you are the first to know if suspicious activity is occurring. Check with your wireless carrier to see if they have tools to help. AT&T customers can download the free ActiveArmor mobile security app to help block spam calls and secure their personal data. And ask your internet provider about extra layers of security available to you at home. AT&T Fiber customers can access AT&T ActiveArmor internet security features at no additional cost to them.
  3. Step up your mobile security. Mobile devices now account for more than 60 percent of digital fraud. Mobile banking, online shopping, streaming videos and storing documents make our phones a central location for sensitive information. Your wireless carrier may be able to help. AT&T offers advanced security like Public Wi-Fi Protection, Identity Monitoring and Safe Browsing for no extra charge with some of our plans. Check with your carrier to make sure they’re doing what they can to keep you safe.
  4. Protect your passwords. We all know it’s necessary, but not all of us take steps to do it. 68 percent of people admit to using the same password across multiple logins. Using a strong password that differs from site-to-site will help decrease your chances of being hacked. If you struggle with passwords, consider getting a password manager.
  5. Report suspicious text messages. As mobile operators have more success blocking illegal robocalls, scammers have turned to text messages. But now it’s easier than ever to report spam texts to help block and control them. The latest iOS and Android operating systems have a simple reporting feature in their Apple and Google messaging apps.
Dedicate some time to safeguard your information this holiday season. For more cybersecurity resources (regardless of your carrier), visit att.com/CyberAware. If you or someone you know is new to computers or mobile devices, click here for more information on our free digital literacy courses.

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Luis Silva is vice president and general manager at AT&T.