Introducing: Houston Energy and Climate Startup Week, a collaborative initiative that will showcase Houston's ecosystem of energy tech innovators. Photo via Getty Images

Three organizations are teaming up to put on a week of programming and events focused on energy and climate startups.

Greentown Labs, Halliburton Labs, and the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship have announced Houston Energy and Climate Startup Week 2024 taking place September 9 to 13.

“These organizations will execute events that will serve as a launching pad for an Energy and Climate Startup Week in Houston, showcasing the city as a national hub for the energy future,” Brad Burke, executive director of the Rice Alliance, says in the release. “We welcome the community to bring other energy and climate events to the week, which we’ll cross-promote as the dates approach.”

The week will assemble investors, industry leaders, and startups from across the energy industry and from around the world to showcase Houston's growing sustainable, low-carbon energy future.

The initiative is in collaboration with the Houston Energy Transition Initiative, or HETI, an initiative of the Greater Houston Partnership, as well as Activate, Digital Wildcatters, Renewable Energy Alliance Houston, and TEX-E.

“As the energy capital and one of the most diverse cities in the world, Houston stands as a center point for these solutions. The region is welcoming, diverse and has the know-how to play a critical role in building an energy abundant, low-carbon future," Jane Stricker, executive director of HETI and senior vice president at GHP, says in the release. "We welcome all who want to be part of the solution to join for this exciting, inaugural week of events.”

Attendees can expect tech and startup showcases, panels, pitches, discussions, and networking events to be hosted across Houston and at the Ion, Rice's innovation hub in Midtown. More details on the events will be added to the Ion's website as they become available.

“We look forward to the opportunity to highlight talented founders and connect them with investors, industry practitioners and university resources to help accelerate energy innovation,” Dale Winger, managing director of Halliburton Labs, says in the release. “The collaboration to launch Energy and Climate Startup Week reflects how Houston works together to scale solutions."

Rice University is in the process of restructuring operations at the Ion. Photo courtesy of the Ion

Houston innovation hub restructures, pulls in more Rice resources

cha-cha-changes

Rice University is leaning in on the Ion by restructuring the innovation hub's team and increasing the university's presence at the hub.

Paul Cherukuri, vice president for innovation, tells InnovationMap that the changes being made at the Ion — Rice's Midtown innovation hub — are a reflection of Rice President Reginald DesRoches's vision for the hub and for the university as a leader of innovation.

"We're embracing the community even further by what we've done with this restructuring," Cherukuri says. "The restructuring is really a result of Reggie's vision of us wanting to move forward with helping the community to grow innovation across Houston, throughout Texas, if not the world."

He adds that the university is "putting resources from Rice Alliance and amping up what's happening at the Ion."

Earlier this month, Rice announced that Brad Burke, executive director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, has been named associate vice president for industry and new ventures reporting to Cherukuri's Office of Innovation.

Cherukuri confirms that the Rice Alliance will take over programming at the Ion, and that he too will have an increased presence at the hub. The restructuring includes elimination of positions at the Ion; however, Rice declined to comment on matters of personnel.

"We have members of the Ion staff who are going to be integrated to the Rice Alliance," Cherukuri says. "The direction of this is really so that we can no longer stay behind the hedges and do more for the Houston community."

Cherukuri says the university has already made a concerted effort on this, and soon will deliver on the Rice Nexus, a hub within the Ion for showcasing and connecting Rice innovation. Additionally, Rice announced last month that it's partnering with Woodside Energy, which committed $12.5 million over the next five years to create the Woodside Rice Decarbonization Accelerator.

Last year, Cherukuri joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to expound upon his vision for the Ion in his role as the inaugural vice president for innovation, which he was named to in 2022.


Rice University announced a new climate tech initiative backed by Woodside Energy. Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Rice University launches $12.5M climate tech accelerator

coming soon

Rice University has announced its latest initiative to advance clean energy technology into commercialization with a new partnership with a global energy company.

Woodside Energy, headquartered in Australia with its global operations in Houston following its 2022 acquisition of BHP Group, has committed $12.5 million over the next five years to create the Woodside Rice Decarbonization Accelerator.

"The goal of the accelerator is to fast track the commercialization of innovative decarbonization technologies created in Rice labs," Rice University President Reginald DesRoches says to a crowd at the Ion at the initiative's announcement. "These technologies have the potential to make better batteries, transitistors, and other critical materials for energy technologies. In addition, the accelerator will work on manufacturing these high-value products from captured and converted carbon dioxide and methane."

"The Woodside Rice Decarbonization Accelerator will build on the work that Rice has been doing in advanced materials, energy, energy transition, and climate for many years. More than 20 percent of our faculty do some related work to energy and climate," he continues. "Harnessing their efforts alongside an esteemed partner like Woodside Energy is an exciting step that will undoubtedly have an impact far and wide."

Woodside, which has over 800 employees based in Houston, has been a partner at the Ion since last spring. Daniel Kalms, Woodside Energy's CTO and executive vice president, explains that the new initiative falls in line with the three goals of Woodside's climate strategy, which includes keeping up with global energy demand, creating value, and conducting its business sustainably. The company has committed a total of $5 billion to new energy by 2030, Kalms says.

"We know that the world needs energy that is more affordable, sustainable, and secure to support the energy transition — and we want to provide that energy. Energy that is affordable, sustainable, and secure requires innovation and the application of new technology. That's what this is about," he says.

"Of course collaboration will be the key," Kalms continues. "By working with researchers, entrepreneurs, leading experts and parallel industries, we can combine our capability to solve collective challenges and create shared opportunities. That's why we are excited to be partnering with Rice."

The accelerator will be run by Paul Cherukuri, vice president of innovation at Rice University, and Aditya Mohite, associate professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Materials Science and Nanoengineering. Additional Rice professors will be involved as well, Cherukuri says.

"Success for us will not be papers, it will be products," Cherukuri says of what Woodside wants from the partnership. "We picked faculty at Rice in particular who were interested in taking on this charge, and they were all faculty who created companies."

Last fall, Rice announced a grant and venture initiative to accelerate innovation from Rice in the biotech space.

Samra Nawaz founded WellWorth to tackle the convoluted financial modeling process in upstream oil and gas. Photo courtesy of WellWorth

How this Houston SaaS startup plans to scale with future of energy in mind

houston innovators podcast episode 216

As much as she loves a good Excel spreadsheet, Samra Nawaz had just about had it with the convoluted — and not always completely accurate — process of building financial models within upstream oil and gas.

"Excel is generally a good tool to automate workflows and build really robust spreadsheets. I live in Excel — I have a spreadsheet for everything," Nawaz says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "What Excel is not is a database."

Engineering teams work with massive amounts with data that's too big for Excel, she explains, so finance teams then have to work off of aggregated data to build their financial models. She was ranting about why there isn't a better process to her husband, Vinay Acharya, who suggested that they build it themselves.



After thinking it through together, the duo co-founded WellWorth in 2018. Since then, the company has developed its MVP, completed a few accelerators — Rice University's OwlSpark, MassChallenge, and Softeq Ventures, to name a few — and won this year's Startup Pitch Competition hosted by the Ion.

Now, the bootstrapped startup looks to 2024 to bring on its first venture capital investors and team members — first to thoroughly tackle upstream O&G before expanding into other parts of the energy sector, including renewables.

"We're focusing on a specific workflow, and that is for engineering and finance teams and automating the corporate financial modeling side of the workflow," Nawaz says. "But we also see a lot of the renewables companies sprouting up, and we understand the attention on renewables verticals is only going to increase in the next few years.

"We're building WellWorth in a very modular way, so that when the time is right, we can easily start working with customers in the renewable space as well," she adds.

Nawaz, CEO of WellWorth, shares more about her company's growth plan and the impact the technology has on its early customers on the podcast.

The Ion now officially has more coworking space. Photo via thecommondesk.com

Coworking concept delivers 28,000-square-foot expansion in the Ion

move in ready

The coworking space in the Ion has increased by 50 percent thanks to a recent expansion project.

Dallas-based Common Desk has officially delivered on its project to expand the coworking space in the Ion that it originally opened on the second floor two years ago. Now, coworkers have access to a total of 86,400 square feet of space, including newly opened space on the fourth floor. The company has agreed to a 10-year commitment to the Ion with the expansion.

“This expansion of Common Desk at The Ion was designed specifically to complement the existing amenities and serve remote and hybrid work styles," Austin Gauley, head of design at Common Desk says in the news release. "There's a variety of video conferencing room types—from multiple individual private rooms, to a large group presentation-style room—all equipped with state-of-the-art technology that is also user-friendly.

"We doubled down on outfitting our space with more art from local artists and creative works that reflect the community," Gauley continues. "Altogether, we've built a range of workspace solutions to fuel creativity and productivity."

Common Desk has grown in Houston over the past few years, opening its sixth location earlier this year. The Ion location is home to many Houston startups and entrepreneurs. Passes, desks, and offices are all available at the Ion's coworking space.

"Common Desk's expansion at the Ion is a testament to the community and experience we've created here," Jan Odegard, executive director at the Ion, says in the release. "Accessibility to connections and an array of amenities and resources continues to drive traffic for us, and we are thrilled to welcome the anticipated growth of new like-minded individuals coming to the Ion daily."

Passes, desks, and offices are all available at the Ion's coworking space. Photo via thecommondesk.com

Tim Craine is co-founder and CTO of Intuitive Machines. Photo via intuitivemachines.com

Houston innovator discusses the power of a pivot and the future of the Space City

houston innovators podcast episode 208

It might surprise many to learn that publicly traded, NASA-backed Intuitive Machines, which has emerged as a commercial leader within lunar access technology development, had several pivots before finding its niche within space innovation.

In fact, as Co-Founder and CTO Tim Crain explains on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, the company was founded as a space-focused think tank. Crain, along with his co-founders CEO Steve Altemus and Chairman Kamal Ghaffarian, came together in 2013 to start Intuitive Machines, which recently moved into a $40 million headquarters in the Houston Spaceport.

"At the time, our thought was, 'let's take the best of human space flight engineering processes, disciplines, and know how, and look at how we might commercially deploy that for biomedical, energy, big data, and aerospace,'" Crain says on the show. "We wanted to look at how we use great engineering for some of the hard problems outside of NASA's aerospace sphere."

Crain describes the early years of IM as important to the company because the founders learned how to run a business and meet customers' needs and expectations — things he had little experience from his previous roles as a civil servant at NASA. But Crain says they never fell in love with any of the early technologies and ideas they developed — from long-range drones to precision drilling technologies.

Then, everyone's eyes were on returning to the moon. With this new vision, NASA created the Commercial Lunar Payload Services Program. As Crain explains, this evolution involved looking to hire companies to deliver scientific and developmental payloads to the moon. IM won three of the NASA contracts so far, representing three missions for NASA.

"We dipped our toe in the 'let's develop the moon' river and promptly got pulled all the way in," Crain says. "We left our think tank, broad, multi-sector efforts behind, and really pivoted at that point to focus entirely on NASA's CLPS needs. ... The timing really could not have been any better."

Later this month, Crain will discuss IM's journey in detail for a NASA Tech Talk at the Ion. If you're interested in learning more after listening to the podcast, click here to sign up for the free October 26 event.

With Crain's decades in the space industry, he's observed a resurgence lately, and that has directly impacted Houston's role in the industry.

"The future of Space City is really just beginning to move into a time of producing the hardware here and having Houstonians make the spacecraft, space systems, and the technologies that we use to explore and develop the solar system," Crain says on the show.

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Annual student startup competition in Houston names teams for 2024

ready to pitch

The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship announced the 42 student-led teams worldwide that will compete in the highly competitive Rice Business Plan Competition this spring.

The annual competition, known as one of the world’s largest and richest intercollegiate student startup competitions, will take place April 4 to 6 in Houston. Teams in this year's competition represent 35 universities from four countries, including two teams from Houston and four others from Texas.

Teams, made up of graduate students from a college or university anywhere in the world, will present their plans before 350 angel, venture capital, and corporate investors to compete for more than $1 million in prizes. Last year, teams were awarded $3.4 million in investment and in-kind prizes, the largest total awarded thus far in the decades-old competition after some investors doubled — or even tripled — down on investment awards.

The 2024 RBPC will focus on five categories: Energy, Cleantech and Sustainability; Hard Tech; Life Sciences and Healthcare Solutions; Digital Enterprise; Consumer Products and Services.

Invitees include:

  • AIRS ML, Imperial College London (United Kingdom)
  • Blaze Power, UCLA
  • ChiChi Foods, Washington University in St. Louis
  • CureWave Sciences, Rutgers University
  • CurveAssure, Johns Hopkins University
  • D.Sole, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Dendritic Health AI, Northwestern University
  • Dialysis Innovations, University of Michigan
  • FlowCellutions, University of Pittsburgh
  • HEXAspec, Rice University
  • HydroPhos Solutions, University of New Hampshire
  • Icorium Engineering Company, University of Kansas
  • Informuta, Tulane University
  • Kiwi Charge, York University (Canada)
  • Korion Health, University of Maryland, College Park
  • Limitless Aeronautics, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University
  • LiQuidium, University of Houston
  • Malleous, University of Pittsburgh
  • MesaQuantum, Harvard University
  • MineMe, University of Pennsylvania
  • NaviAI, Cornell University
  • NutriAI, Tufts University
  • OSPHIM, RWTH Aachen University (Germany)
  • Overture Games, Northwestern University
  • OX SOX, University of Georgia
  • Oxylus Energy, Yale University
  • Palanquin Power, University of Texas at Austin
  • Paradigm Robotics, University of Texas at Austin
  • Particle-N, University of Connecticut
  • Poka Labs, Harvard University
  • Power2Polymer, RWTH Aachen University (Germany)
  • ProPika, University of Arkansas
  • Protein Pints, Michigan State University
  • Samtracs, Oklahoma State University
  • Sancorda Medical, University of Texas at Dallas
  • Side Coach Sports, Baylor University
  • Socian AI, Rochester Institute of Technology
  • Somnair, Johns Hopkins University
  • TouchStone, University of California, Berkeley
  • Vita Innovations, Stanford University
  • WattShift, University of Chicago
  • ZebraMD, UCLA

The companies join more than 700 RBPC alumns that have collectively raised more than $5.5 billion in funding. More than 269 RBPC companies are in business or have made successful exits, according to the Rice Alliance's website.

Last year, Texas A&M-based team FluxWorks took home $350,000 and won the competition based on judges scores. The company's technology includes magnetic gears that are four times quieter than standard with 99 percent efficiency.

Sygne Solutions and TierraClimate, two Rice-led teams, won second and fourth places, respectively. Zaymo, from Brigham Young University, took home the most in investment dollars. Click here to see the full list of 2023 teams.

Texas is the No. 1 destination for Gen Zers on the move, study says

by the numbers

A new population analysis by real estate marketplace Zillow has pegged the Lone Star State as the No. 1 destination for adults born between 1996 and 2004 – also known as Gen Z.

Using data from the 2022 U.S. Census Bureau, the report identifies the Top 10 states to which Gen Zers are moving, and Texas was the runaway winner – far outranking No. 2 destination, California, with 76,805 Gen Z movers, versus California's 43,913.

Reasons for moving vary, but the report says young adults from 18 to 24 years old may prefer to live in states with high performing job markets, especially in a place like San Antonio where one of the nation's top employers resides. San Antonio is also a great place for remote work, according to estimations by Forbes.

Favorable weather also may play a factor in the high migration of Gen Z'ers, the report suggests. Texas' mostly year-round sunshine makes it more attractive to younger crowds who are looking for fun activities around the state, not to mention the advantageous impact on dating opportunities.

Other top states with high influx of Gen Z movers include Washington (No. 5), which added over 33,500 Gen Z movers in 2022, and Colorado (No. 6) with less than 31,000 new Gen Z residents.

Their least favorite destination was Michigan, and the Northeast also ranked poorly, with four New England states – Vermont, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Maine – all in the bottom 10.

State with a high cost-of-living like Washington, Colorado, and Virginia (No. 7) are places where young adults are more likely to have a bachelor's degree, work in tech, or serve in the military, according to Zillow principal population scientist Edward Berchick.

However, becoming a homeowner is much more difficult, as the report found 77 percent of the Gen Z workers in these states are renters.

"Gen Z movers are likely drawn to the job opportunities in these states, despite the higher costs of housing," Berchick explains. "They may also be in a stage of life where they're willing and able to be flexible in their standards of living while starting their careers."

The top 10 states for Gen Z movers are:

  • No. 1 – Texas
  • No. 2 – California
  • No. 3 – Florida
  • No. 4 – North Carolina
  • No. 5 – Washington
  • No. 6 – Colorado
  • No. 7 – Virginia
  • No. 8 – Illinois
  • No. 9 – Georgia
  • No. 10 – Arizona

The full report can be found on zillow.mediaroom.com.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Op-Ed: Black-owned businesses are making history in Texas, across America

guest column

In recent years, our small business community has weathered a global pandemic, persistent supply chain issues, sometimes volatile prices, and a tight labor market—and Black-owned businesses in our state have faced disproportionate impacts from these pandemic challenges.

Despite those headwinds, Black-owned businesses across Texas are fueling one of the largest and most diverse waves of new business creation America has ever seen—what President Biden calls America’s Small Business Boom.

As we mark America’s 48th national celebration of Black History Month, the SBA is highlighting Black-owned businesses’ achievements here in Texas and throughout the nation. The past three years have been the three strongest years of new business formation in American history.

The 16 million new business applications filed during this period show Americans starting businesses at nearly twice the rate—86 percent faster—compared to the pre-2021 average. During that time, U.S. small businesses have created more than 7.2 million net new jobs. And Black-owned businesses are responsible for some of the most significant gains.

The Invest in America agenda is powering the Biden Small Business Boom, and unlike many economic recoveries of the past, this one includes entrepreneurs of color. One of the reasons for that is the SBA’s Community Navigator Pilot Program (CNPP). This innovative hub-and-spoke partnership connected hundreds of community organizations around the country - like the U.S. Black Chambers of Commerce and the National Urban League - with entrepreneurs, helping them make the most of SBA resources. “The SBA CNPP allowed the

Houston Area Urban League Entrepreneurship Center to leverage existing partnerships with organizations that offered services to socially and economically disadvantaged business owners and women-owned businesses,” states Eric Goodie, Executive Vice President of the Houston Area Urban League. “Through the CNPP we provided comprehensive business planning and support, e-commerce technical assistance, financial and credit education, opportunities for business networking, access to capital and procurement opportunities,while providing assistance with obtaining various business certifications. We also found theSBA Lender match portal to be a critical resource in the capital acquisition process."

Under Administrator Isabel Guzman, the SBA has also delivered record-breaking government contracting for small businesses—including the most federal contracting dollars going to Black-owned businesses in history. And we’re addressing longstanding gaps in access to capital for Black entrepreneurs, more than doubling our small business loans toBlack-owned businesses since 2020.

These investments are making a big impact. Black business ownership is growing at the fastest pace in 30 years. The share of Black households owning a business doubled between 2019 and 2022. In 2023 alone, Census data showed Americans filed 5.5 million new business applications across the country, including over 500,000 here in Texas. That success is creating a rising tide. Black wealth is up a record 60 percent from before the pandemic, and Black unemployment has reached historic lows since 2021.

The SBA also understands that the work must continue. Black entrepreneurs and other historically underserved communities still face obstacles accessing capital. That's why President Biden and the SBA are committed to ensuring that anyone with a good idea can pursue that opportunity, and the Small Business Boom speaks to that success. We're helping more Americans than ever access the funds they need to realize their dreams of small business ownership – and that means more jobs, more goods and services, and more resilient communities, no matter the zip code.

To learn more about SBA resources, entrepreneurs are invited to join the SBA Houston District Office as it teams up with the Emancipation Economic Development Council and dynamic community organizations to celebrate Black History Month. The organizations will host the Resources to Empower Entrepreneurs event at the Emancipation Cultural Center on Wednesday, February 28, and will feature discussions surrounding resources, funding, and training available for small business owners.

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Mark Winchester is the SBA Houston District Office's acting district director.