Here are the most promising energy tech startups in the market today. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

This week, 39 energy startup companies from all over the world pitched in Houston — and nine were recognized as being the most promising of the batch.

The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship returned its Offshore Technology Conference pitch event to its in-person capacity and host the annual event at the Ion Houston for the first time. The event featured three-minute pitches from the companies, and a select group of corporate and venture investors decided on the top nine to honor.

"We asked investors and corporates to look at the companies here today and help us determine the companies most promising — based on those that have an innovative technology that is solving a large problem, has customers willing to pay for it, and has the right team to build and grow their company," Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance says to the crowd at the event on May 3.

Here's which energy tech companies stood out to investors.

EarthEn

EarthEn, a Chandler, Arizona-based company, is a grid-scale energy storage solution. The technology can provide short-term — 6 to 8 hours — and long-term — over 100 hours — storage. The EarthEn pods provide a cheaper alternative and are built using 3D printing.

Echogen Power Systems

Based in Akron, Ohio, Echogen Power Systems has created a technology that captures heat that would otherwise be lost and converts it to a useable power source. The solution allows for any customer that operates at significant levels of heat to have a cost-effective energy option.

FuelX Innovation

Based in Aiken, South Carolina, FuelX Innovation is manufacturing solid-state hydrogen products and power systems, impacting mobile hydrogen fuel cell-powered applications. The company is focused on producing the lowest cost Alane, or aluminum hydride, for the fuel cell.

Lillianah Technologies

Lillianah Technologies, based in the Houston area in Spring, uses algae to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The company sells carbon offsets to corporations.

oPRO.ai

oPRO.ai — which is based in Los Altos, California — is providing its customers with deep learning optimization software for process and responsible operations for oil and gas, petrochemical, chemicals, and metal industries.

Proteum Energy

Phoenix, Arizona-based Proteum Energy provides its customers low-cost, clean hydrogen by reforming renewable ethanol into renewable hydrogen.

Sync Power Solutions

Embracing a clean sheet approach, Sync Power Solutions, based in Abilene, Texas, created a solution involving a redesign of electric motors and generators to increase energy efficiency, save on costs, and more.

Utility Global

Houston-based Utility Global is using high temperature electrolysis without the use of electricity to produce hydrogen from waste gases.

ZL Innovations

Based in Portland, Oregon, ZL Innovations is focused on eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from failed industrial valves. The company's solution is a magnetic actuation assembly that can be better sealed to prevent emissions.

Here's your one-stop shop for innovation events in Houston this month. Photo via Getty Images

10+ can't-miss Houston business and innovation events in May

Where to be

It's May, and as Houston heats up ahead of summer, so does the innovation ecosystem with hot events, panels, networking opportunities, and more not to miss. Here's a rundown of what all to throw on your calendar for May.

This article will be updated as more business and tech events are announced.

FEATURED EVENT: May 18 — Navigating Technology Transfer in Houston

Research within Houston institutions is fueling early-stage innovation across the city. Universities and hospital systems are tasked with cultivating and supporting innovators, researchers, and entrepreneurs so that their innovations can advance from ideation to commercialization.

The event is Wednesday, May 18, 6 to 8 pm, at UH Technology Bridge (Building 4, Innovation Center Room 230 - 2nd Floor, 5000 Gulf Freeway). Click here to register.

May 2-5 — Offshore Technology Conference

The 2022 OTC conference will be the first fully in-person conference since 2019 — and will include a new cleantech addition. The Energy Transition Pavilion will showcase technological advances in alternative energy, including efforts to promote energy decarbonization and sustainability. OTC describes the pavilion as a “go-to meeting place for conversation and dialogue around the energy transition.”

The conference is Monday, May 2, to Thursday, May 5, at NRG Park (1 NRG Pkwy). Click here to register.

May 3 — 2022 Rice Alliance Energy Venture Day

During the week of the Offshore Technology Conference, the Rice Alliance Energy Venture Day will feature pitches from 40 energy ventures. At the conclusion of the program, companies will be announced “Most Promising Companies” voted on by the audience.

The event is Tuesday, May 3, 2 to 5:30 pm, at the Ion (4201 Main St.). Click here to register.

May 3 — Oceanit 2022 Energy Transformation Technology Showcase

From disruptive innovations to scalable turnkey technology solutions, Oceanit will demonstrate the latest in advanced nanocomposites, hydrogen technologies, subsea broadband, smart materials, novel approaches to AI, and more – technologies aimed at transforming the way we engage in climate challenges through the lens of EDGE, Oceanit’s endeavor to address an array of next-gen energy challenges like carbon sequestration, new energy sources like green hydrogen, energy efficiency, and predictive and prescriptive maintenance. Join the company on May 3rd for live technology demonstrations, discussions, food, and drinks.

The event is Tuesday, May 3, 5 to 9 pm, at Greentown Houston (4200 San Jacinto St.). Click here to register.

May 5 — Legal Launch Services Luncheon with Baker Botts & Bunker Labs at The Ion

Join Bunker Labs - Houston for a comprehensive panel discussion and networking luncheon sponsored by Legal Launch Services. In 2020, the international law firm Baker Botts formed an affinity group for military Veterans, called “BB Vets.” The group serves as a network and resource for all firm personnel who served in the military, provide opportunities for professional and personal growth through mentorships, client engagement and community outreach, and raise awareness of the issues unique to Veterans and military families.

The event is Thursday, May 5, 1 to 2:30 pm, at the Ion (4201 Main St.). Click here to register.

May 9 — Innovation Districts and the Future of Cities

Across the country, public, private, university, and community partners are investing in innovation districts that attract talent, business, and investors by connecting anchor institutions with start-ups, business incubators, and accelerators. Join the ion for an engaging conversation and Q&A with leaders representing some of the nation’s most acclaimed epicenters advancing inclusive economic and workforce development. This panel will focus on how these world-class facilities across Houston, Atlanta, New York City, and beyond can learn from each other and advance the future of resilient, equitable, and livable cities.

The event is Monday, May 9, 1 to 2:15 pm, at the Ion (4201 Main St.). Click here to register.

May 10 — Energy 2.0

Energy 2.0 is the UNconference where attendees celebrate diverse perspectives, technologies, people, and the community at large who are driving the energy transition forward. Ally Energy's platform is for the workforce, leaders, investors, policymakers, and communities to share ideas to transform business at this pivotal time. E2Dot0 is where unique perspectives, generations, backgrounds, art, science, and technology collide.

The event is Tuesday, May 10, 8 am to 6 pm, at Greentown Labs (4200 San Jacinto St.). Click here to register.

May 11 — Houston Startupalooza

As a part of the Ion Activation Festival, Houston Startupalooza will celebrate the Future of HOU and showcase Houston-area startups. Houston Startupalooza is a startup crawl-style event hosted with Ion Acceleration Hub, Capital Factory, DivInc and others. Get ready to meet and greet with the next big companies in Houston.

The event is Wednesday, May 11, 5 to 7 pm, at the Ion (4201 Main St.). Click here to register.

May 12 — Space Health: Surviving in the Final Frontier

Stop in for a first look at the new documentary, Space Health: Surviving in the Final Frontier, spearheaded by the Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH). Stick around to hear from a panel of experts, including the executive director of TRISH and the producer of the documentary, discuss the past, present and future of space health research, science and innovation through NASA’s Human Research Program as well as demo health-in-space solutions currently used in space and on Earth.

The event is Thursday, May 12, 4:30 to 8 pm, at the Ion (4201 Main St.). Click here to register.

May 12 — May Transition On Tap: Member Resource Fair

This month's Transition on Tap is our Member Resource Fair edition, bringing together the individuals behind the more than $1M worth of member resources provided to the Greentown startup community. This includes discounts or free access to a host of software providers, pro bono support from legal firms, shared tools and equipment for prototyping, university partnerships, and business development, education, and fundraising tools. It is an exciting opportunity to connect with the companies and ecosystem members taking action in supporting our startups to scale in climatetech.

The event is Thursday, May 12, 3 to 7 pm, at Greentown Houston (4200 San Jacinto St.). Click here to register.

May 19 — Pearland Innovation Hub Launch Party

In partnership with the Pearland Economic Development Corporation and The Cannon, the Pearland Innovation Hub exists to support Pearland, Texas' small business community by providing entrepreneurs, startups and small businesses the resources they need to start, scale and succeed. Hear from leadership team members of the Pearland Economic Development Corporation and The Cannon as well as the Pearland Navigator about the goals for the Hub and how you can get involved.

The event is Thursday, May 19, 10:30 am to 1:30 pm, at BAKFISH Brewing Company (1231 Broadway Street). Click here to register.

May 19-20 — Women in Tech Texas

Calling all female tech professionals. Women in Tech Texas is welcoming 1,000 tech leaders, decision makers, innovators, and pioneers from the most successful tech companies and disruptive startups, to celebrate the power of resilience.

The event is Thursday, May 19, and Friday, May 20, at Hilton Americas (1600 Lamar St.) or online. Click here to register.

May 20 — Halliburton Labs Finalists Pitch Day

Join Halliburton Labs for a hybrid event where attendees can attend in person at The Ion Houston or virtually online for a full program of innovative ideas, discussion, and inspiration — all centered on the startup finalists who are advancing the future of clean energy. The event will include a lively keynote discussion with Jennifer Holmgren, CEO of LanzaTech, hosted by Walter Isaacson, Halliburton Labs Advisory Board Member and Leonard Lauder Professor of American History and Values at Tulane.

The event is Friday, May 20, 9 am to 12:30 pm, at the Ion (4201 Main St.) or online. Click here to register.

May 20 — State of Houston's Global Economy

The State of Houston’s Global Economy provides an analysis of global business and economic trends and their impact on our regional market. The Partnership’s Senior Vice President of Research, Patrick Jankowski, will present the 2022 Global Houston publication, offering insights on the Houston region's leading international trade partners and other global business data.The event explores how Houston's international ties impact the regional and national economy through presentations from leading economists and business experts.

The event is Friday, May 20, 10:30 am to 1:30 pm, at the Omni Hotel (4 Riverway). Click here to register.

May 26 — SPARK Award Luncheon

Houston-based alliantgroup is hosting a celebration of its SPARK Award Finalists, in partnership with HISD. The company will recognize our outstanding science teachers for 2022 with a luncheon and award ceremony, where they will name our grand prize winner.

The event is Thursday, May 26, 11:30 am to 1 pm, at the alliantgroup (3009 Post Oak Blvd, Suite 2000). Click here to register.

The Ion has joined the ranks of an international network of hotspots for innovation. Photo courtesy of The Ion

Houston's emerging innovation district gets global recognition from prestigious program

tech hotspot

The Ion Houston has a new feather to add to its cap. Rice Management Company's Midtown innovation hub has been recognized on a global scale.

The Global Network of Innovation Districts has added The Ion District to its network of innovation hubs, and the Ion is the first district in Texas to join. Affiliated with the Brookings Institute, the global organization consists of thought leaders and innovation district developers. With the addition of the Ion, there are 22 members in the Global Network, including the Pittsburgh Innovation District, Cortex Innovation Community in Missouri, Tech Central in Sydney, and Knowledge District Zuidas in Amsterdam.

“GIID’s Global Network is utilizing best practices of world-renowned innovation districts to accelerate regional economies. Their focus on placemaking, startup services, and community engagement are some of the critical components that lead to successful districts,” says Bryson Grover, investment manager of real estate development at Rice Management Company, in a news release. “With GIID, we will continue to think creatively about how the built environment and specialized programming can inform future development and allow equitable access to an ever-changing workforce.”

The Ion, a 266,000-square-foot space in the renovated Midtown Sears building, is the anchor of the district, which also includes Greentown Labs. According to the release, the next building is under construction, with three more projects to begin in the next year. Overall, the build-out of the Ion District will deliver three million square feet of development across 16 acres over the next decade.

“The Ion and the Ion District represent a major commitment and investment in the success of Houston as a center of innovation and a foundation of Houston’s economic future. From the very beginning of our planning, we visited innovation hubs and districts around the country and around the world to make sure that we drew on their experiences and best practices,” says Rice President David Leebron in the release. “And by participating in the Global Network now, the Ion District will contribute to and benefit from a global exchange of knowledge among the very best innovation districts, which complements Rice’s broader international engagements and strategies.”

GIID is a nonprofit dedicated to research on and connecting innovation districts in new geographies of innovation, per the release. Headquartered in New York, the organization was founded in 2018 to help position innovation districts as engines of economic development and spur productive, inclusive, and sustainable environments.

“We’re thrilled for The Ion and Ion District to join our network, especially as it commences its next steps on development later this year,” says Julia Wagner, president of GIID, in the release. “Our team has extensive experience working with unique real estate ventures that aim to transform how communities learn, work, and live. We look forward to playing a part in Houston’s transformation, and as we have documented in innovation districts around the world, having a leader like Rice drive the creation of the district is a key ingredient of its continued and growing success.”

New programming at the Ion hopes to equip the workforce with valuable skills and education. Photo courtesy of The Ion

Ion Houston offers up low-cost workforce development programs

digital skillset

The Ion announced this week that it will launch four new workforce development programs that aim to enhance learner's digital skills and prepare them for careers in tech.

The courses will start in February and will take on a variety of formats, from bootcamps to traditional courses and virtual coaching sessions. All were created with the support of The Ion's founding partner Microsoft.

“The Ion is collaborating with new and existing organizations to create visible pathways to careers in technology for underrepresented populations and job seekers,” says Jan E. Odegard, executive director at The Ion, in a statement. “The Ion is excited to offer low-cost programming that meets learners of all skill sets and financial backgrounds where they are to make a tech-fueled career or career in tech possible.”

The programs are in development with:

Innovation Map spoke with The Ion's senior director Joey Sanchez last month about the programming that's slated for the Midtown innovation hub in 2022.

"I'm focusing specifically on the communities of entrepreneurs, startups, investors — and trying to bridge connections among them," he said on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "This is the biggest challenge in Houston and we want to flip that with density. Density is really the key to solving connections."
This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Joey Sanchez of The Ion, Nisha Desai of Intention, and Moji Karimi of Cemvita Factory. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from startup development to energy transition — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Joey Sanchez, senior director of ecosystems at the Ion Houston

Joey Sanchez joins the Houston Innovator Podcast to discuss his new role at The Ion Houston. Photo via LinkedIn

Joey Sanchez, who previously served as director of corporate engagement at Houston Exponential, has been in his new role as senior director of ecosystem at The Ion for about three months now.

"I'm focusing specifically on the communities of entrepreneurs, startups, investors — and trying to bridge connections among them," Sanchez says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "This is the biggest challenge in Houston and we want to flip that with density. Density is really the key to solving connections."

Sanchez joined the Houston Innovators Podcast and shares about what gets him so excited about Houston innovation on the show. Click here to listen and read more.

Nisha Desai, founder and CEO of Intention

Four climatetech-focused individuals have been named to Greentown Lab's board. Photo via LinkedIn

Greentown Labs named new board members, including two community board members to act as liaisons between startups and Greentown Labs. Greentown Houston's appointed representation is Nisha Desai, founder and CEO of Intention, and community member.

Desai's current startup, Intention, is climate impact platform for retail investors, and she has previously worked at six energy-related startups including Ridge Energy Storage, Tessera Solar, and ActualSun, where she was co-founder and CEO. She's also worked in a leadership role at NRG Energy and spent several years as a management consultant with the energy practice of Booz Allen Hamilton — now Strategy&, a PWC company.

"I'm honored to join the board of Greentown Labs as a representative of the startup community," she says in the release. "This is a pivotal time for climate and energy transition. I look forward to working with the rest of the board to expand the collective impact of the Greentown Labs ecosystem." Click here to read more.

Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita Factory

Moji Karimi joins InnovationMap to discuss how Cemvita Factory has deployed its recent investment funding and what's next for the company and Houston as a whole when it comes to biomanufacturing. Photo courtesy of Cemvita

Moji Karimi and his sister Tara had the idea for a company that could transform carbon emissions and mitigate new damage to the environment. Only, it seems, they were a bit ahead of their time.

Houston-based Cemvita Factory, founded in 2017, uses synthetic biology and take carbon emissions and transform them into industrial chemicals. However, it's only been since recently that the conversation on climate change mitigation has focused on carbon utilization.

"I think people are realizing more about the importance of really focusing on carbon capture and utilization because fossil fuels are gonna be here, whether we like it or not, for a long time, so the best thing we could do is to find ways to decarbonize them," Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO, tells InnovationMap. "There's been this focus around carbon capture and storage, and I think the next awakening is going to be utilization." Click here to read more.

Joey Sanchez joins the Houston Innovator Podcast to discuss his new role at The Ion Houston. Photo via LinkedIn

New Ion exec focuses on building density, bridging the gaps within Houston innovation

houston innovator podcast episode 117

After years of being in the works, The Ion Houston opened last year — but not in the way it was always hoping to. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the 300,000-square-foot space in the renovated historic Sears building in Midtown slowly opened its doors to the Houston innovation community and brought back in-person programming as safely as it could.

Despite the challenges the pandemic posed, The Ion, which is owned and operated by Rice Management Company, had a lot to show for 2021 — 95 events on and offline, new coworking space opened, corporate partners built out their offices, and more. And, among the additions to The Ion, was Joey Sanchez, who previously served as director of corporate engagement at Houston Exponential. Sanchez has been in his new role as senior director of ecosystem at The Ion for about three months now.

"I'm focusing specifically on the communities of entrepreneurs, startups, investors — and trying to bridge connections among them," Sanchez says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "This is the biggest challenge in Houston and we want to flip that with density. Density is really the key to solving connections."

Sanchez says The Ion, and the surrounding Innovation District, is building out to be that convening space for this density of innovation and tech activity.

This month, The Ion is set to deliver on a few of the amenities that have been in the works. First, the investor studio, a place for venture capital investors to meet with local businesses, will open next week. Later this month a high-tech prototyping lab will be unveiled as well as Common Bond, which Sanchez describes as a must-visit coffee shop for Houston's innovators.

"That's going to be the hottest coffee shop in Houston to run into a co-founder, tech talent, an investor — it really is exciting," Sanchez says. "Bridging these connections has been made easier now that I have a home that's as large as this."

Sanchez is familiar with connecting over coffee. He launched a weekly coffee meet up for Houston innovators. He hosts Cup of Joey every Friday morning at Finn Hall in downtown Houston to give everyone in Houston — new or old to the tech ecosystem — a chance to connect. He says he's excited to keep this up throughout 2022 too.

As for taking initial steps into Houston innovation, Sanchez advises attending any of the 400 to 500 events — virtual and in person — that happen in Houston.

"Just show up," Sanchez says. "It's so underrated, and through a pandemic it was obviously tough to do, but just showing up is the first step."

Sanchez shares more about what gets him so excited about Houston innovation on the show. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes



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Early-stage startup accelerator names latest Houston cohort, new local leader

new to Hou

A national startup accelerator has announced its fifth local cohort, which includes five Houston companies participating in the spring 2022 class.

Madison, Wisconsin-based gener8tor has announced today the five participating startups in gBETA Houston. The program will be led by Muriel Foster, the newly named director of gBETA Houston, which originally launched in Houston in 2020 thanks to a grant from from the Downtown Redevelopment Authority.

The program, which is designed to help guide early-stage startups find early customer traction, connect with mentors, and more, is based in the Downtown Launchpad, and is free and does not take equity in the participating companies. The cohort kicked off on April 21 and concludes on June 10.

The new cohort includes:

  • Founded by CEO Steffie Thomson a year ago, Getaway Sticks has designed a shoe that gives women the painless support they need using athletic foam to create a shoe that gives women the painless support they need. Getaway Sticks provides the solutions to women’s #1 wardrobe complaint of high heel pain. Since launch, the company has earned over $35,000 in revenue from over 150 customers.
  • Through a combination of software and hardware technology, LocBox is rethinking the shopping experience for online and local purchases. If you shop, ship, or have food delivered to your house, LocBox will make your life easier. Led by CEO Sterling Sansing, LocBox has previously participated in the Texas A&M MBA Venture Challenge.
  • SpeakHaus is focused on equipping young professionals and entrepreneurs with public speaking skills through its on-demand training platform and group coaching program. Since launching in October 2021, SpeakHaus has facilitated 6 corporate trainings and coached 61 business leaders generating over $49,000 in revenue. The company is led by CEO Christa Clarke.
  • Led by CEO LaGina Harris, The Us Space is creating spaces intentionally for women of color, women-led businesses, and women-centric organizations. Since launching in June 2021, The Us Space has created partnerships with more than a dozen community organizations, sustainable businesses, and organizations creating positive economic impact in the City of Houston.
  • Founded in August 2021, Urban Eatz Delivery is a food delivery service app that caters to the overlooked and underrepresented restaurants, food trucks, and home-based food vendors. Urban Eatz Delivery has earned over $88,000 in revenue, delivered to over 2,000 users, and worked with 36 restaurant and food vendors on the app. The company is led by CEO D’Andre Good.

“The five companies selected for the Spring 2022 cohort tackle unique problems that have propelled them to create a business that solves the issues they once faced," Foster says in a news release. "From public speaking, apparel comfort, and food delivery from underrepresented restaurant owners, these founders have found their niche and are ready to continue to make an enormous impact on the Houston ecosystem."

it's Foster's first cohort at the helm of the program. A Houston native, she has her master’s in public administration from Texas Southern University and a bachelor’s in marketing from Oklahoma State University. Her background includes work in the nonprofit sector and international business consulting in Cape Town, South Africa, and she's worked within programming at organizations such as MassChallenge, BLCK VC, and now gener8tor.

The program is housed at the Downtown Launchpad. The five startups will have access to the space to meet with mentors, attend events, and run their companies.

"Creating (the hub) was a little like a moonshot, but it’s paying off and contributing enormous impact to the city’s economy. The five startups selected for the gBETA Houston Spring cohort will continue that legacy,” says Robert Pieroni, director of economic development at Central Houston Inc., in the release. “As these entrepreneurs chase their dreams and create something epic, they will know Downtown Houston is standing behind them. I am so proud of what Downtown Launchpad is already, and what it will become.”

Muriel Foster, a native Houstonian, is the new director of gBETA Houston. Image via LinkedIn

Vote now for your favorite 2022 Houston science teacher

Rewarding the Spark

Since 2019, alliantgroup and the Houston Independent School District have been partnering for the SPARK Award, a program that rewards outstanding HISD science teachers who are increasing student engagement and achievement through innovative lesson plans that emphasize both the importance and fun aspects of science.

The overall winner receives a $3,500 personal award plus $500 for their classroom, and the other five finalists receive $1,300 each plus another $500 to spend on their classrooms.

Get to know this year's crop of nominees below, then be sure to cast your vote once a day here until May 25.

After working for three years as an accountant, Lynell Dillard taught a weekly finance class where her students became her inspiration to pursue a full-time career in the classroom.

She secured her first teaching position in 2002 and hasn’t looked back. For three years now, she has been teaching science and giving her students hands-on learning opportunities they may not experience outside of the classroom.

Dillard explains that for many of her students, her role as a teacher is to give them as many opportunities to interact with the natural environment as possible. She knows many of her students and their families would not have access to these resources if it were not for the school district.

"We all learn in a different way, so we have to be willing to help that other person if they don’t get what I get, and there’s no criticism in it," Dillard says. "I tell them they are my future. Every single part of your education is important."


"Before I went to foster care, I was not doing well in my education," Ruth Giles says. "My foster mom, Nancy, took the time to figure out how I learned. She figured out I’m good with memorization, flashcards, and practicing. I would not be here without her today."

Sadly, Nancy passed away in January from COVID-19. Now, more than ever, it’s important to Giles that she continue sharing her experiences with her students to keep Nancy’s legacy alive.

Giles says the best part of teaching fifth-grade science is helping her students view the world in a different way, just like Nancy did for her.


Melanie Jenkins has been a fifth grade ESL teacher at Katherine Smith Elementary School for three years, but first got started in substitute teaching. She then went on to fulfill her childhood dream of working in finance, but found it wasn’t all she thought it would be.

"I still had in the back of my mind these kids whose lives I touched and who remembered me and understood what I was trying to teach them," she says.

Now she can't imagine doing anything else. It's challenging that many of her students are learning English for the first time, but she focuses on vocabulary and giving them resources in both English and Spanish is key, along with truly forming relationships with them.

“I try to figure out who likes what and how I can bring that into the classroom,” says Jenkins. “If you are a hands-on learner, we have the opportunities to put our hands on things. If you are a project-based learner, you have the opportunity to do projects. So there’s no one size fits all.”


According to science teacher Mimi Muñoz, STEM education is important but learning to be kind should be first in any classroom environment.

She also works hard to get her fifth-grade students engaged in their lessons and understand why science is important to their everyday lives.

“They get so excited to do hands-on activities, experiments, and projects,” Muñoz explains. “One thing I really want them to understand is that you need learning every day of your life. And learning science, as well as the world around us, is their real life. The things I’m teaching you [in the classroom] are important.”

Muñoz has been teaching for three years and spent her entire career at Seguin Elementary. She says the last two years were very tough on her students because of the pandemic, but despite virtual learning, it has only strengthened the way she connects to her students.


An educator of 17 years, Gerjuan O’Neal is following in her family’s footsteps.

"My maternal grandmother was a second and third grade teacher, and my maternal grandfather was a high school government teacher," she says. "My great-aunt was an elementary teacher and then a homebound teacher. My favorite thing is that I teach kindergarten through fifth grade, so every day is different."

She loves teaching STEM to her students because they can see how it applies to the other subjects they are also learning in school.

"I really like for my students to be creative problem solvers, and I like to show them all the different components of STEM," O’Neal explains. "If we are doing a science technology map, everything fits together. If we do a Lego build, we’re doing estimating with numbers. If we are coding, they get to see where math is involved and where they must be critical thinkers."


Although this is her first year teaching at Bonner Elementary School, Leticia Sifuentes is a veteran of the classroom with 24 years of experience.

Her favorite part about teaching is seeing her students become just as passionate about science as she is.

“I tell my students I’m a science nerd. We watch a movie — where’s the science? We go somewhere — where’s the science? They’re able to bring science to everything they talk about. It’s in reading, it’s in math, it’s just the way we can incorporate science in everyday life.”

Sifuentes was named an honorable mention teacher for alliantgroup’s 2019 SPARK Award, but three years later she says she is a better educator after working through the challenges of a pandemic and virtual learning. She now realizes that as an educator it is not only her responsibility to ensure her students are performing well academically but also emotionally, socially, and mentally.

CAST YOUR VOTE ONCE A DAY HERE before May 25.

Houston ranks as No. 3 city for Asian American entrepreneurs

diverse city

Known for its diversity, Houston ranks as the third best major metro area in the U.S. for Asian American entrepreneurs, according to a new study.

Personal finance website SmartAsset analyzed data for 52 of the largest metro areas to come up with the ranking. The analysis looked at nine metrics in three categories: prevalence of Asian-owned businesses, success of new businesses, and income and job security.

About 9 percent of the Houston metro area’s residents identify as Asian.

The SmartAsset study puts Houston in fifth place for the number of Asian-owned businesses (nearly 19,900) and in fourth place for the share of Asian-owned businesses (almost 17.9 percent) among all businesses. Furthermore, Houston ranks 14th for the increase (nearly 9.6 percent) in the number of Asian-owned businesses from 2017 to 2019.

Leading the SmartAsset list is the San Francisco metro area, followed by Dallas-Fort Worth. Austin comes in at No. 11 and San Antonio at No. 14.

The largest minority-owned business in the Houston area, as ranked by annual revenue, is Asian-owned private equity firm ZT Corporate.

Founded in 1997 by Chairman and CEO Taseer Bada, who was born in Pakistan, ZT Corporate is valued at more than $1 billion. ZT Corporate generates more than $600 million in annual revenue and employs over 3,000 people.

“As we look ahead, the vision for ZT Corporate is limitless. Our team will continue pushing boundaries and finding the bright spots in the economy that produce consistent financial gains for our investors,” Bada says in a news release marking his company’s 25th anniversary.

ZT Corporate’s flagship businesses are:

  • Altus Community Healthcare, a provider of health care services.
  • ZT Financial Services, a wealth management firm.
  • ZT Motors, which owns and operates auto dealerships. Last year, ZT Motors bought three Ron Carter dealerships in the Houston area.

“ZT Corporate is a vital asset to our citizens as a longtime local employer,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says, “and has positively affected many lives through their health care organizations and philanthropic efforts.”