Get to know the Houston innovation community's top ecosystem builders. Photos courtesy

This year's finalists in the Ecosystem Builder category for the Houston Innovation Awards have a lot to say about the city's innovation community — and they are the right ones to say it.

Selected as finalists for the newly created category, each of the five finalists are leaders for the Houston innovation ecosystem. They were each asked some questions about the development of the Houston tech and startup community. Here's what they had to say.

InnovationMap: What is your favorite part of Houston's innovation ecosystem? How have you helped contribute to that aspect of the community?

Jan E. Odegard, executive director of the Ion: Can do attitude and willingness to make big bets that can solve hard problems with global societal impact. Creating and supporting a place where this can happen is critical to the success, a place where we create the necessary density for collisions and that will sprue the next ideas.

Jason Ethier, co-founder of Lambda Catalyzer and host of the Energy Tech Startups podcast: Perhaps small, but the Ion District in the small part we have to play in it. Being able to be in a place where you can cross paths with active investors, innovators and partners. This is the hub we hoped to build over the last few years. That connective tissue may be small and focused compared to other ecosystems, but it is very strong here.

Joey Sanchez, founder of Cup of Joey and senior director of ecosystems at the Ion: My favorite part of the Houston Innovation Ecosystem is the progress and potential. We have gone from talking about how to build a Houston ecosystem to now exploring our collective potential. The conversations are now tactical actions to scale our efforts.

Kendrick Alridge, senior manager of community at Greentown Labs: My favorite part of the ecosystem is the Cup of Joey gathering. It's a great opportunity to run into or catch up with people looking to get involved in the ecosystem or looking for support. It's a great networking opportunity.

Wade Pinder, founder of Product Houston: I love seeing how the community has really connected this past year specifically. We've gathered momentum and have a "gravity well" of community leaders feeding value to one another.

IM: What are the strengths of the Houston innovation ecosystem?

Odegard: Access to (engineering) talent, capabilities, and global connectivity that are not afraid of getting her hands dirty to build and scale.

Ethier: The diversity of the founders and the intrinsic diversity of the Houston ecosystem. There are few native Houstonians, and most of the fantastic founders we meet are from somewhere else. The energy industry brings the best of the best from around the world and they inject Houston with unique excellence.

Sanchez: We are a resource right environment. We have a plethora of talent and capital. With the economy the size of Belgium, we have access to industries and talent unlike any other city. Also the convergence of energy, medical and aerospace is one of a kind. Each industry is transforming and providing a ripe opportunity for innovation.

Alridge: The growing number of startup development organizations (SDOs), incubators and accelerators, makerspaces, co-working spaces, non-profits, and academic institutions that is available is a strength, because their are plenty of places to get support and your ideas off the ground.

Pinder: We do hard things here because the ARE hard! 1) Life and death situations en masse, 2) infrastructure at scale 3) Boldly going where no one has gone before! That's what we've done here. That's what we stand to innovate on! If it's a hard problem, Houston gets it done!

IM: What are the weaknesses of the Houston innovation ecosystem? Are you helping to make improvements to these weaker aspects of the community and, if so, how?

Odegard: Access to more risk capital.

Ethier: We need a skill set on scaling businesses. This is something the valley does exceptionally well. When there is product market fit, the startup ecosystem knows how to scale teams from 20-200 and do so repeatedly. Houston knows how to do big energy projects; from sput to TD, there is a skill set here around complexity...but how that applies to scaling businesses its unclear we have what it takes. This is why its imperative we bring in mature startups from around the country and try to transfer knowledge from the energy industry into the startup space. Building an acceleration program like Lambda is a step in solving this problem.

Sanchez: Density is our biggest challenge. The geographic sprawl of our region is vast. Serendipitous meetings are a challenging. The Ion has created a central place where our ecosystem can come together. Every Friday we meet for Cup of Joey and now we host a Cup of Joey in The Woodlands, Space Center Houston, Sugar Land and The Cannon West. Creating eight Cup of Joey meetups each month. The most exciting element of Cup of Joey is coming in an online platform for connection.

Alridge: We need a robust cadre of startup specialists, serial entrepreneurs who have successfully started companies. Especially in business and STEM fields, is needed in the innovation system. Higher education in providing talent is important, I'm doing my part by organizing opportunities for students to work with our startups which can directly and indirectly contribute to the workforce and the grown startup community.

Pinder: We're changing this... but we still have a ways to go with the "I'm good... what do I need to show up for?" thinking. It's not for lack of wanting to show up... traffic makes it tougher to show up most of the time.

IM: What do you wish more people knew about the Houston startup community?

Odegard: That Houston IS a tech hub addressing some of the biggest societal challenges we are face today, such as: power (security), healthcare (affordable and accessible), sustainability (clean and green), and equitable access to economic opportunities.

Ethier: How climate focused everyone is, from the founders, to the SMEs, industry and SMEs. Houston (and energy companies) know how to manage what's measured and now that we have targets around decarbonization, we are going to get it done.

Sanchez: I wish the world knew more about Houston and our Houston startup community. I believe that our foundation is strong and we are ready for scale. 2026 to 2036 will be a decade of massive growth for Houston and our ecosystem.

Alridge: We are more than oil and gas and health care.

Pinder: We've got the solutions to some huge problems sitting right here in Houston.

Click here to secure your tickets to the November 8 event where we announce the winner of this exciting new category.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Jason Ethier of Greentown Labs, Megan Eddings of Accel Lifestyle, and Omair Tariq of Cart.com. Photos courtesy

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 clean energy to materials science — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Jason Ethier, senior director of membership at Greentown Labs

Jason Ethier witnessed Greentown Labs, a climatetech incubator based in Somerville, Massachusetts, outside of Boston, from its early days.

"Greentown is one of those things where a business seems obvious in retrospect," says Ethier, a serial energy entrepreneur, on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, explaining how the incubator launched as just a way to enable coworking between startups. As it grew and eventually expanded to Houston, Ethier had a front-row seat.

Ethier, whose previous startup brought him to Houston frequently, recognized the same scrappy founder mentality and need for incubation support in the Bayou City and was a key player in expanding Greentown to Houston in 2021.

"Every city is proud of who they are, but I think Houston especially is a city that likes to solve problems and build things locally," Ethier says. "When presented the opportunity to help build and ecosystem here, members of the ecosystem raised their hands and said, 'how can I help.'" Read more.

Megan Eddings, founder of Accel Lifestyle

Houston-based Accel Lifestyle's innovative line of athleisure has made it into Talbots. Photo courtesy of Accel

For a year, Megan Eddings, founder of Accel Lifestyle, has been working on the logistics of getting her clothing — made from eco-friendly, sustainable, antibacterial fabrics — into Talbots, and she's finally sealed the deal.

Shoppers can now find Accel Lifestyle apparel on Talbot's website. This partnership marks the first-ever collaboration for the athleisure brand of Talbots, T by Talbots. By teaming up with Accel Lifestyle, Talbots expands its product offerings and also provides its loyal, forward-thinking, and ethically minded customers with a new clothing option that perfectly fits with their values.

"We are beyond elated about the Accel x Talbots launch," Eddings tells CultureMap." Amanda Cotler, Accel's Director of Operations, and I have been working on this opportunity for a year, and it feels incredible for the collaboration to be live. Our passions are textiles with technology and an ethical made-in-the-USA supply chain. To have a multi-billion dollar company like Talbots care about the same things brings us so much joy." Read more.

Omair Tariq, CEO and co-founder of Cart.com

Omair Tariq's Cart.com raised a big round this week. Photo via Cart.com

Houston-founded Cart.com, which provides a suite of software solutions for commerce and logistics enablement, can now check the box saying "unicorn" with its $1.2 billion valuation that came with its $60 million series C equity funding round.

According to a news announcement from the company, Cart.com will use the funding for international expansion, continued product development, and to meet increased client demand.

“We are proud to partner with this prestigious group of investors to accelerate our growth and continue to deliver best-in-class solutions to our customers,” says Omair Tariq, CEO and co-founder of Cart.com, in a statement. “As a leading commerce software and services provider, we are focused on enabling our customers to compete and win across every channel through digital tools and digitally driven logistics capabilities. We will continue to invest in our industry-leading commerce data capabilities, which are built to address the specific inventory, channel and supply chain challenges facing enterprises.” Read more.

Jason Ethier, who's seen Greentown Labs from its early days to it's impressive impact today, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy

Why this innovator is dedicated to supporting, showcasing Houston energy tech startups

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 192

Like many successful operations, Greentown Labs, a climatetech incubator based in Somerville, Massachusetts, outside of Boston, had its humble beginnings.

"Greentown is one of those things where a business seems obvious in retrospect," says Jason Ethier, a serial energy entrepreneur, on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

He says he and a few other founders were working on their various ventures in a building that ended up getting slated for demolition, forcing them to find a new place to set up shop.

"We were all building stuff within energy and technology," Ethier remembers. "We had to find a new building, and the landlord looked at us and said, 'I don't want to deal with a bunch of small companies. I want one company, one check, and one lease."

The group of entrepreneurs formed Greentown as a way to make the rent work, but they started attracting interest from other founders who wanted in. The organization evolved to what it is today — a dual-located energy incubator that's supported over 500 companies that have raised over $4 billion in funding.

Ethier, whose startup at the time brought him to Houston frequently, recognized the same scrappy founder mentality and need for incubation support in the Bayou City and was a key player in expanding Greentown to Houston in 2021.

"Every city is proud of who they are, but I think Houston especially is a city that likes to solve problems and build things locally," Ethier says. "When presented the opportunity to help build and ecosystem here, members of the ecosystem raised their hands and said, 'how can I help.'"

Juliana Garaizar, who was hired as launch director for Houston and now is head of Greentown Houston, tapped Ethier to support the expansion into town. Now, as senior director of membership at Greentown Labs, he works hands on with startups at Greentown.

He's taken his knowledge as a serial entrepreneur and incubation leader to launch the EnergyTech Startups podcast with co-host Lara Cottingham, the vice president of strategy, policy, and climate impact at Greentown Labs.

"As an entrepreneur, sometimes you feel a gap in the market in your bones and you just have to do something about it," Ethier says, explaining that he observed that when meeting people, he realized Houston got a bad rap. "Houston isn't viewed as a cool place to build a company if you don't know how good it is to be here."

The other thing Ethier says he realized was that Houston founders were understated in what they accomplished. So, he set out to start a podcast that would shine the spotlight on a Houston energy entrepreneur on a regular basis. The show, launched last fall, das now introduced listeners to over 20 energy founders and is continuing to do so on a biweekly basis.

Ethier shares more on his views of the future of Houston as an energy transition leader on the show. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston college lands $5M NASA grant to launch new aerospace research center

to infinity and beyond

The University of Houston was one of seven minority-serving institutions to receive a nearly $5 million grant this month to support aerospace research focused on extending human presence on the moon and Mars.

The $4,996,136 grant over five years is funded by the NASA Office of STEM Engagement Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP) Institutional Research Opportunity (MIRO) program. It will go toward creating the NASA MIRO Inflatable Deployable Environments and Adaptive Space Systems (IDEAS2) Center at UH, according to a statement from the university.

“The vision of the IDEAS2 Center is to become a premier national innovation hub that propels NASA-centric, state-of-the-art research and promotes 21st-century aerospace education,” Karolos Grigoriadis, Moores Professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of aerospace engineering at UH, said in a statement.

Another goal of the grant is to develop the next generation of aerospace professionals.

Graduate, undergraduate and even middle and high school students will conduct research out of IDEAS2 and work closely with the Johnson Space Center, located in the Houston area.

The center will collaborate with Texas A&M University, Houston Community College, San Jacinto College and Stanford University.

Grigoriadis will lead the center. Dimitris Lagoudas, from Texas A&M University, and Olga Bannova, UH's research professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Space Architecture graduate program, will serve as associate directors.

"Our mission is to establish a sustainable nexus of excellence in aerospace engineering research and education supported by targeted multi-institutional collaborations, strategic partnerships and diverse educational initiatives,” Grigoriadis said.

Industrial partners include Boeing, Axiom Space, Bastion Technologies and Lockheed Martin, according to UH.

UH is part of 21 higher-education institutions to receive about $45 million through NASA MUREP grants.

According to NASA, the six other universities to received about $5 million MIRO grants over five years and their projects includes:

  • Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage: Alaska Pacific University Microplastics Research and Education Center
  • California State University in Fullerton: SpaceIgnite Center for Advanced Research-Education in Combustion
  • City University of New York, Hunter College in New York: NASA-Hunter College Center for Advanced Energy Storage for Space
  • Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee: Integrative Space Additive Manufacturing: Opportunities for Workforce-Development in NASA Related Materials Research and Education
  • New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark:AI Powered Solar Eruption Center of Excellence in Research and Education
  • University of Illinois in Chicago: Center for In-Space Manufacturing: Recycling and Regolith Processing

Fourteen other institutions will receive up to $750,000 each over the course of a three-year period. Those include:

  • University of Mississippi
  • University of Alabama in Huntsville
  • Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge
  • West Virginia University in Morgantown
  • University of Puerto Rico in San Juan
  • Desert Research Institute, Reno, Nevada
  • Oklahoma State University in Stillwater
  • Iowa State University in Ames
  • University of Alaska Fairbanks in Fairbanks
  • University of the Virgin Islands in Charlotte Amalie
  • University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu
  • University of Idaho in Moscow
  • University of Arkansas in Little Rock
  • South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City
  • Satellite Datastreams

NASA's MUREP hosted its annual "Space Tank" pitch event at Space Center Houston last month. Teams from across the country — including three Texas teams — pitched business plans based on NASA-originated technology. Click here to learn more about the seven finalists.

Booming Houston suburb, other Texas towns among the fastest-growing U.S. cities in 2023

by the numbers

One Houston suburb experienced one of the most rapid growth spurts in the country last year: Fulshear, whose population grew by 25.6 percent, more than 51 times that of the nation’s growth rate of 0.5 percent. The city's population was 42,616 as of July 1, 2023.

According to U.S. Census Bureau's Vintage 2023 Population Estimates, released Thursday, May 16, Fulshear — which lies west of Katy in northwest Fort Bend County - ranked No. 2 on the list of fastest-growing cities with a population of 20,000 or more. It's no wonder iconic Houston restaurants like Molina's Cantina see opportunities there.

The South still dominates the nation's growth, even as America’s Northeast and Midwest cities are rebounding slightly from years of population drops. The census estimates showed 13 of the 15 fastest-growing cities in the U.S. were in the South — eight in Texas alone.

The Texas cities joining Fulshear on the fastest-growing-cities list are:

  • Celina (No. 1) with 26.6 percent growth (42,616 total population)
  • Princeton (No. 3) with 22.3 percent growth (28,027 total population)
  • Anna (No. 4) with 16.9 percent growth (27,501 total population)
  • Georgetown (No. 8) with 10.6 percent growth (96,312 total population)
  • Prosper (No. 9) with 10.5 percent growth (41,660 total population)
  • Forney (No. 10) with 10.4 percent growth (35,470 total population)
  • Kyle (No. 11) with 9 percent growth (62,548 total population)

Texas trends
San Antonio saw the biggest growth spurt in the United States last year, numbers-wise. The Alamo City added about 22,000 residents. San Antonio now has nearly 1.5 million people, making it the the seventh largest city in the U.S. and second largest in Texas.

Its population boom was followed by those of other Southern cities, including Fort Worth; Charlotte, North Carolina; Jacksonville, Florida; and Port St. Lucie, Florida.

Fast-growing Fort Worth (978,000) surpassed San Jose, California (970,000) to become the 12th most populous city in the country.

Meanwhile, population slowed in the Austin area. Jacksonville, Florida (986,000), outpaced Austin (980,000), pushing the Texas capital to 11th largest city in the U.S. (barely ahead of Fort Worth).

Population growth in Georgetown, outside Austin, slowed by more than one-fourth its population growth in 2022, the report says, from 14.4 percent to 10.6 percent. It's the same story in the Central Texas city of Kyle, whose population growth decreased by nearly 2 percent to 9 percent in 2023.

Most populated cities
New York City with nearly 8.3 million people remained the nation's largest city in population as of July 1, 2023. Los Angeles was second at close to 4 million residents, while Chicago was third at 2.7 million and Houston was fourth at 2.3 million residents.

The 15 populous U.S. cities in 2023 were:

  1. New York, New York (8.3 million)
  2. Los Angeles, California (4 million)
  3. Chicago, Illinois (2.7 million)
  4. Houston, Texas (2.3 million)
  5. Phoenix, Arizona (1.7 million)
  6. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1.6 million)
  7. San Antonio (1.5 million)
  8. San Diego, California (1.4 million)
  9. Dallas (1.3 million)
  10. Jacksonville, Florida (986,000)
  11. Austin (980,000)
  12. Fort Worth (978,000)
  13. San Jose (970,000)
  14. Columbus, Ohio (913,000)
  15. Charlotte, North Carolina (911,000)

Modest reversals of population declines were seen last year in large cities in the nation's Northeast and Midwest. Detroit, for example, which grew for the first time in decades, had seen an exodus of people since the 1950s. Yet the estimates released Thursday show the population of Michigan’s largest city rose by just 1,852 people from 631,366 in 2022 to 633,218 last year.

It's a milestone for Detroit, which had 1.8 million residents in the 1950s only to see its population dwindle and then plummet through suburban white flight, a 1967 race riot, the migration to the suburbs by many of the Black middle class and the national economic downturn that foreshadowed the city's 2013 bankruptcy filing.

Three of the largest cities in the U.S. that had been bleeding residents this decade staunched those departures somewhat. New York City, which has lost almost 550,000 residents this decade so far, saw a drop of only 77,000 residents last year, about three-fifths the numbers from the previous year.

Los Angeles lost only 1,800 people last year, following a decline in the 2020s of almost 78,000 residents. Chicago, which has lost almost 82,000 people this decade, only had a population drop of 8,200 residents last year.

And San Francisco, which has lost a greater share of residents this decade than any other big city — almost 7.5 percent — actually grew by more than 1,200 residents last year.

------

This article originally ran on CultureMap.

How this Houston clean energy entrepreneur is navigating geothermal's hype to 100x business growth

houston innovators podcast Episode 237

Geothermal energy has been growing in recognition as a major player in the clean energy mix, and while many might think of it as a new climatetech solution, Tim Latimer, co-founder and CEO of Fervo Energy, knows better.

"Every overnight success is a decade in the making, and I think Fervo, fortunately — and geothermal as a whole — has become much more high profile recently as people realize that it can be a tremendous solution to the challenges that our energy sector and climate are facing," he says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

In fact, Latimer has been bullish on geothermal as a clean energy source since he quit his job as a drilling engineer in oil and gas to pursue a dual degree program — MBA and master's in earth sciences — at Stanford University. He had decided that, with the reluctance of incumbent energy companies to try new technologies, he was going to figure out how to start his own company. Through the Stanford program and Activate, a nonprofit hardtech program that funded two years of Fervo's research and development, Latimer did just that.

And the bet has more than paid off. Since officially launching in 2017, Fervo Energy has raised over $430 million — most recently collecting a $244 million series D round. Even more impressive to Latimer — his idea for drilling horizontal wells works. The company celebrated a successful pilot program last summer by achieving continuous carbon-free geothermal energy production with Project Red, a northern Nevada site made possible through a 2021 partnership with Google.

Next up for Fervo is growing and scaling at around a 100x pace. While Project Red included three wells, Project Cape, a Southwest Utah site, will include around 100 wells with significantly reduced drilling cost and an estimated 2026 delivery. Latimer says there are a dozen other projects like Project Cape that are in the works.

"It's a huge ramp up in our drilling, construction, and powerplant programs from our pilot project, but we've already had tremendous success there," Latimer says of Project Cape. "We think our technology has a really bright future."

While Latimer looks ahead to the rapid growth of Fervo Energy, he says it's all due to the foundation he put in place for the company, which has a culture built on the motto, "Build things that last."

“You’re not going to get somewhere that really changes the world by cutting corners and taking short steps. And, if you want to move the needle on something as complicated as the global energy system that has been built up over hundreds of years with trillions of dollars of capital invested in it – you’re not going to do it overnight," he says on the show. "We’re all in this for the long haul together."