This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Dr. Joseph Rogers of the Texas Heart Institute, Allie Danziger of Ampersand, Jeff Carlson of RioRaiz. Photos courtesy

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

Dr. Joseph Rogers, president and CEO of the Texas Heart Institute

Dr. Joseph Rogers has been at the helm of the Texas Heart Institute for around two years. He shares on the Houston Innovators Podcast about the innovative past, present, and future of THI. Photo via texasheart.org

Dr. Joseph Rogers, the president and CEO of the Texas Heart Institute, is passionate about preventative health care for THI and its patients, as he shares on the Houston Innovators Podcast. What's required is a comprehensive culture shift away from just using a pill to accomplish this goal.

Rogers says health care organizations are going to need to partner with other players — nonprofits, universities, local government — in ways never been done before. And THI is dedicated to this mission.

"Houston is the place to do this," he says. "The reason I think this is such an important community to address this problem is it's the most diverse city in the United States. And I've never lived anywhere or heard of another city that I was so convinced believed they could do anything they set their minds to. It's about making the community aware of the problem and a potential solution — and then working on trying to solve it."Read more.

Allie Danziger, senior vice president and general manager of student success at Ascent

Ampersand has been acquired by a college loan and student services provider based in San Diego. Photo ampersandpro.com

San Diego, California-based Ascent, a collegiate student loan company that also provides student support services, announced it has acquired Houston-based Ampersand, a software platform that provides skills training to young professionals.

With the acquisition, Allie Danziger, co-founder and CEO of Ampersand, joins Ascent as senior vice president and general manager of student success. She will lead the company's educational program that focuses on equipping students with skills from education to employment.

“Since launching Ampersand in 2020, we’ve received constant praise from employers, students, and universities on the real education-to-employment skills gap we are filling,” says Danziger in a news release. “I take immense pride in the fact that we’ve helped thousands of students enter the workforce with confidence, earn higher salaries, and get set on the right career path. I know joining the Ascent team will unlock even more opportunities for our combined companies, expanding our collective impact to millions of students and job seekers.” Read more.

Jeff Carlson, president and CEO of RioRaiz

With its blend of biotechnology, conservation, and education, RioRaiz seeks to inspire a new generation of conservationists. Photo via RioRaiz.org

Not only is Houston-based nonprofit RioRaiz looking to preserve biodiversity through biotechnology, the innovative organization also wants to offer transformative learning experiences to contribute to a healthier planet.

Led by Jeff Carlson, the president and CEO, RioRaiz's mission is driven by three core pillars: conservation, scientific discovery, and education.

"We have a list of priorities that is cataloged from input from our scientific collaborators, as well as our ability to deliver on our promises to our donors and supporters,” Carlson tells InnovationMap. Read more.

With its blend of biotechnology, conservation, and education, RioRaiz seeks to inspire a new generation of conservationists. Photo via RioRaiz/Instagram

Innovative Houston nonprofit taps into biotech to preserve ecological biodiversity

conservation tech

For centuries, humans have been negatively impacting the natural world around them. A Houston organization is looking to leave an impact on the environment — but this time for the better.

Based in Houston, RioRaiz is a 501c3 nonprofit organization charting a unique course in the world of conservation and education. Founded in March of 2021, RioRaiz – meaning "root of the river" in Spanish, a nod to its deep-rooted connection with South American culture – seeks to preserve biodiversity through biotechnology and offer transformative learning experiences to contribute to a healthier planet.

Led by Jeff Carlson, the president and CEO, RioRaiz's mission is driven by three core pillars: conservation, scientific discovery, and education.

Currently, the nonprofit's efforts are focused on regions on the edge of ecological disruption, specifically the East Texas area and the Tropical Andes. In Texas, the organization aims to expand the biome of the Big Thicket National Preserve in Kountze as well as engaging locals by hosting clean-up drives. In the Andes, RioRaiz aspires to establish biological corridors between national parks and natural reserves, diminishing potential disruptions to animal migration patterns.

The timeline for these critical initiatives, Carlson said, hinges on donations.

"We have a list of priorities that is cataloged from input from our scientific collaborators, as well as our ability to deliver on our promises to our donors and supporters,” Carlson said.

Partnerships form a critical role in RioRaiz's work, notably those with academic institutions in the United States and Colombia. One of these collaborations saw Carlson spend three months in Colombia, working with the local Páez tribe, also known as the Nasa, to explore the potential of their traditional medicines for modern treatments.

"We're really excited to learn and to share our techniques and our knowledge," Carlson said, underlining the organization's commitment to partnering with traditional and indigenous knowledge sources.

With its blend of biotechnology, conservation, and education, RioRaiz seeks to inspire a new generation of conservationists. By offering an intimate virtual glimpse into the world's biomes, the nonprofit aims to instill a deep-rooted respect for nature and encourage sustainable action.

"If you expose students to these different kinds of environments at an early age, that might inspire somebody to go into conservation," Carlson said.

With a progressive effort, RioRaiz is harnessing the power of virtual reality to redefine education. The organization uses specialized filming equipment during its expeditions, capturing moments like the discovery of new species or conducting bio surveys. RioRaiz's visually compelling stories will surpass language barriers, transporting students virtually to different biomes. In time, Carlson hopes to distribute pre-loaded systems to communities with limited internet access, taking the classroom to every corner of the world. These virtual reality experiences are expected to launch within the next year.

"We want to bring the rainforest into the classroom," Carlson said.

Through its work, RioRaiz aims to demonstrate that the route to a sustainable future lies not just in face-to-face interactions, but in a global, interconnected approach to education and conservation. Its vision is clear — to grow far beyond traditional reaches, preserving biodiversity and fostering a healthier world.

By emphasizing community involvement and engagement organizations can stimulate creativity, attain common objectives, and make social impact, benefiting private, public, nonprofit, for profit, and government agencies alike. Photo via Getty Images

Why building bridges in Houston's nonprofit, innovation communities should be a priority

guest column

I have witnessed numerous Houston-based nonprofits utilize the enormous advantages of community involvement in catalyzing creativity and creating real, sustainable change, but nonprofits can't accomplish everything on our own. For-profit organizations, private academic institutions, and government entities have a substantial role to play in growing community projects, embracing connections, and bolstering nonprofit efforts. Let’s explore some of the advantages of for-profit businesses partnering with nonprofits in order to grow all-around community innovation development.

Connecting with local communities

A vital first step in promoting community participation for innovation is connecting with local communities. For-profit companies can participate in regional projects, pay attention to local residents, and comprehend the opportunities and issues facing their areas. This can assist them in creating strategies that are adapted to local requirements and have a significant impact.

Collaborating with organizations

To spur innovation and realize common objectives, collaboration is essential. For-profit businesses can cooperate with nonprofit groups that share their goals and ideals. This may result in a situation where everyone gains from the collaboration. Non-profit groups can provide their local experience, passion, and connections to the community, while for-profit businesses can contribute their resources, networks, and specializations.

Offering volunteer incentive programs and opportunities

For-profit businesses can engage their staff members and encourage them to participate in community projects by providing volunteer incentive programs and opportunities. This can improve job satisfaction, boost staff morale, and foster a supportive business culture. Additionally, volunteering can benefit workers by allowing them to grow their networks, learn new things, and obtain new experiences.

Engaging in educational initiatives

Another successful strategy for for-profit businesses to encourage community participation for innovation is to participate in educational projects. For instance, they can collaborate with educational institutions to support STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) initiatives. A pipeline of smart young professionals who are enthusiastic about innovation and social impact may result from this.

Being willing and open to put themselves out there

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, for-profit businesses must be open and take the potential risks in order to engage with communities and create the seeds of innovation. Businesses open to new concepts and methods, listening to criticism, and conducting transparency can produce happier employees by incorporating the same practices they use to build community engagement. For-profit businesses can truly benefit their own profitability by being willing to cultivate long-lasting relationships and meaningful projects with nonprofits: all while having a significant impact on their communities.

Ultimately, by emphasizing community involvement and engagement organizations can stimulate creativity, attain common objectives, and make social impact, benefiting private, public, nonprofit, for profit, and government agencies alike.

Building bridges, cooperating with nonprofit groups, and supporting community initiatives are all important roles for for-profit businesses to play. For-profit businesses can encourage general community engagement for innovation and change the world by interacting with local communities, working with nonprofits, providing volunteer incentive programs and opportunities, taking part in educational initiatives, and being open and willing to put themselves out there.

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Jeff Carlson is the president and CEO of RioRaiz.

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17 Houston entrepreneurs named finalists in annual regional competition

on to the next round

Entrepreneurs from the Houston area have been named finalists for one of the region’s most prestigious business awards.

The 17 finalists are competing for Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur Of The Year 2024 Gulf South Award. The Gulf South region includes parts of Texas, along with Louisiana and Mississippi.

An independent panel of judges selected the 48 finalists. Contenders were evaluated based on their demonstration of building long-term value through factors such as entrepreneurial spirit, purpose, growth, and impact.

The Houston-area finalists are:

  • Shannon Payne, Allied Fire Protection, Pearland
  • Jay McEntire IV, Arva Intelligence, Houston
  • Andrew Levy, Avelo Airlines, Houston
  • Derek Maetzold, Castle Biosciences, Friendswood
  • Scott Aronstein, Connectivity Source, Houston
  • Joshua Weisman, Construction Concepts, Houston
  • Feras Moussa and Ben Suttles, Disrupt Equity, Houston
  • John Poindexter, J.B. Poindexter, Houston
  • James Ross, LJA Engineering, Houston
  • Asher Kazmann, Locke Solutions, Houston
  • Chad Millis, Millis, Missouri City
  • Mike Francis, NanoTech Materials, Houston
  • Stuart Hinchen and Peter Jenkins, Quva Pharma, Sugar Land
  • Trevor Best and Suman Khatiwada, Syzygy Plasmonics, Houston
  • Hal Brumfield, Tachus Fiber Internet, The Woodlands
  • Jared Boudreaux, Vector Controls and Automation Group, Pearland
  • Ting Qiao, Wan Bridge, Houston

“The finalists of this year are audacious entrepreneurs who are making a significant impact in their respective industries and communities,” says Anna Horndahl, an EY partner and co-director of the EOY Gulf South Program.

“These pioneers, chosen by an independent panel of judges, showcase relentless commitment to their businesses, customers and communities. We are thrilled to acknowledge their accomplishments,” adds Travis Garms, an EY partner and co-director of the EOY Gulf South Program.

Houston makes top 10 list of metros with most millionaires

living large

Anew population analysis has unveiled an exclusive view into how the elite live in the U.S., including a surprising discovery that Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land has the No. 9 highest concentration of millionaire households in the country.

The study by online real estate marketplace Point2Homes compared household data among millionaires in the 30 biggest U.S. metropolitan areas, including four Texas metros, between 2017 and 2022.

The report found that the number of U.S. households that earned at least $1 million a year more than quadruped within the five-year period, with the highest concentration of millionaire households located in the New York-Newark-Jersey City area across New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

There are just under 2,900 millionaire homeowners living across the Houston metro, making up 0.11 percent of all households in the area. The report revealed a majority (32.9 percent) of millionaires in Houston are actually Gen Xers, with the second highest share going to baby boomers (28.9 percent).

Most interestingly, the youngest generation, Gen Z, make up 15.4 percent of all millionaire households in Houston, with millennials making up 21.5 percent, according to the report. But the Gen Z percentage is misleading; as the report clarifies, there aren't actually that many Gen Z millionaires walking among us in H-Town.

"Instead, this high share is most likely almost entirely due to the people aged 15 to 24 who are still living with their (millionaire) owner parents," the report explained. "Unfortunately, living in a millionaire owner household does not a millionaire owner make — but it does come with some serious perks."

Physicians make up Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land millionaires' main occupations across all age groups, the study also found.

This is how Houston's millionaires live
The saying goes, "Go big or go home," and Houston's millionaire homeowners are taking that to heart when it comes to their own lavish households.

The report discovered the typical home owned by a millionaire in Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land is a five bedroom, nine total-room house, with an average assessed value of $1,466,682. As for wheels, a Houston-based millionaire is likely to have less than three vehicles (2.8) on average.

By comparison, the average value for a millionaire homeowner's abode in San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley, California is $2,816,196, the highest amount out of all 30 U.S. metros in the report.

Big, expensive homes don't come without big costs to maintain them, the report reminds. And when it comes to managing finances for wealthy earners, making more money doesn't necessarily mean they'll be saving that income.

"Rather, it just means bigger homes with bigger mortgages and maintenance expenses; more cars; much costlier schools; and more over-the-top lifestyles, which simply bite bigger chunks out of the family's big budget," the report said. "However, despite the 'risks,' most of us would probably choose to have rich people problems. Or, as the saying goes, crying in a Ferrari might just feel better than crying in a Toyota when all is said and done."

Millionaire lifestyles across Texas
In a comparison of all Texas metro areas, Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land claimed the highest share of millionaire homeowners statewide. Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington took the No. 2 spot, while Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown rounded out the top three. San Antonio-New Braunfels took No. 4 in the statewide analysis.

Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington was right behind Houston in the national standings, ranking No. 10, with nearly 2,650 millionaire households situated in the Metroplex. DFW's millionaires are mainly chief executives and legislators, or physicians. Gen Xers (44.1 percent) make up the highest share of the metro's millionaires, with baby boomers (24.7 percent) not too far behind.

Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown, however, fell to No. 24 in the national ranking with only 749 millionaire households calling the Texas Capital home. Austin's millionaires are mainly chief executives and legislators, or other types of high-level mangers. Gen Xers (34.9 percent) make up the highest share of the metro's millionaires, with millennials (30.8 percent) not too far behind.

San Antonio-New Braunfels ranked at the bottom of the study at No. 29, above Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There were only 414 millionaire households in the metro area between 2017-2022, and a majority of them (38.4 percent) were Gen X physicians.

The top 10 metros with the highest share of millionaires in the U.S. are:

  • No. 1 – New York-Newark-New Jersey City, New York-New Jersey-Pennsylvania
  • No. 2 – Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, California
  • No. 3 – San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley, California
  • No. 4 – Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Massachusetts-New Hampshire
  • No. 5 – Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, D.C.-Virginia-Marland-West Virginia
  • No. 6 – Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, Illinois-Indiana-Wisconsin
  • No. 7 – Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, Florida
  • No. 8 – Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Washington
  • No. 9 – Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, Texas
  • No. 10 – Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, Texas

The full report and its methodology can be found on point2homes.com.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.