3 Houston innovators to know this week

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This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Jim Sledzik of Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures, Arti Bhosale of Sieve Health, and Paul Cherukuri of Rice University. 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 corporate venture capital to digital health — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Jim Sledzik, North American managing director of Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures

Jim Sledzik joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss corporate venture, Houston's role in the energy transition, and more. Photo courtesy of Aramco

When it comes to venture capital, the corporate model can be considered a little less risky, Jim Sledzik, North American managing director of Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures, says on last week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Over the past decade, Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures has invested $320 million into 33 portfolio companies in the United States. Sledzik, who's worked in various energy services roles around the world before entering in to investment, explains that the corporate venture model is ideal for scaling big technology — and fast.

“When you’re using the venture model in a corporate setting, you have the company and the balance sheet behind you, which brings different benefits to companies you’re investing in,” he says. “These entrepreneurs who are looking to figure out how to deploy technology at scale becomes the real interesting item. All entrepreneurs want to grow — and they want to grow fast."

Scaling fast is risky, but big corporates — like Aramco — can help address the risks by providing a foothold in the market, a place to roll out the technology, and more. Click here to stream the episode and read more.

Arti Bhosale, co-founder and CEO of Sieve Health

Sieve Health is an AI cloud-based SaaS platform designed to automate and accelerate matching patients with clinical trials. Photo

Throughout her career, Arti Bhosale has seen the inefficiency and the ineffectiveness of selecting patients for clinical trials.

“Across the globe, more than 30 percent of clinical trials shut down as a result of not enrolling enough patients,” says Bhosale. “The remaining 80 percent never end up reaching their target enrollment and are shut down by the FDA.”

So, in 2020, Bhosale and her team developed Sieve Health, an AI cloud-based SaaS platform designed to automate and accelerate matching patients with clinical trials and increase access to clinical trials. Click here to read more.

Paul Cherukuri, the inaugural vice president for innovation at Rice University

Meet Paul Cherukuri — the new face of innovation at Rice University. Photo via Rice.edu

Rice University has stood up a new office of innovation — and named its new leader. Paul Cherukuri, the executive director of the Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering, the inaugural vice president for innovation. In his role, Cherukuri will "lead Rice’s technology and commercialization infrastructure to translate breakthrough discoveries into inventions for the benefit of society," per a news release from Rice.

“I am thrilled and honored to serve in this new role at this inflection point in our university’s history,” Cherukuri says in the release. “Rice has some of the finest minds in the world and I look forward to working with President DesRoches and the leadership team he has assembled to chart a bold new path for world-changing innovation from Rice by engaging the remarkable innovation ecosystem including the Ion District, the Texas Medical Center, industry and other unique assets in Houston.” Click here to read more.

Jim Sledzik joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss corporate venture, Houston's role in the energy transition, and more. Photo courtesy of Aramco

Houston corporate investor on why Houston is poised to lead the energy transition

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 145

When it comes to Houston's potential to lead the energy transition, Jim Sledzik, North American managing director of Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures, says it's a no-brainer.

"We understand the energy business — we understand size and scale. And the size and scale of the challenges in front of us to get to net zero is enormous,” he says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators podcast. “The basics are here. We just need to tap into the talent and experience."

Over the past decade, Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures has invested $320 million into 33 portfolio companies in the United States. Sledzik, who's worked in various energy services roles around the world before entering in to investment, explains that the corporate venture model is ideal for scaling big technology — and fast.

“When you’re using the venture model in a corporate setting, you have the company and the balance sheet behind you, which brings different benefits to companies you’re investing in,” he says. “These entrepreneurs who are looking to figure out how to deploy technology at scale becomes the real interesting item. All entrepreneurs want to grow — and they want to grow fast."

Scaling fast is risky, but big corporates — like Aramco — can help address the risks by providing a foothold in the market, a place to roll out the technology, and more.

“With corporate venture, you can bring the assets and the application of those technologies, and you can work to scale it in a manner that’s somewhat derisked,” Sledzik says on the show. “In corporate venture capital, you have other levers in which to pull to add value to the entrepreneurs you’re investing in. The private side brings different values.”

Earlier this year, Aramco announced a partnership with the Ion, representing its dedication to the Houston innovation ecosystem. Sledzik says Aramco being named a founding partner at the Ion opens the door to more collisions with Houston entrepreneurs. Starting later this month, Sledzik and his team will host office hours every other Friday.

"Ion is the place where you can find those collisions,” he says. “You just never know when serendipity is going to be created.”

He shares more about the types of technology Aramco is looking for and his advice to energy tech entrepreneurs on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Aramco Americas has been named a founding partner at The Ion. Courtesy of Rice University

Energy company joins Ion Houston as founding partner

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A leading energy company has announced a new partnership with an innovation hub in the heart of Houston.

Aramco Americas, the U.S. subsidiary of Aramco, has joined as a founding partner of The Ion. Through the partnership, the two organizations will create educational programming, events, workforce development opportunities, energy transition leadership, and more. The partnership will take place over the next three years.

“The addition of Aramco as a founding partner of The Ion is another step forward in the realization of our vision of The Ion as a globally connected innovation hub that brings new possibilities to the people of Houston,” says Rice University President David Leebron in a news release. “We know the aspiring innovators and entrepreneurs of Houston will benefit from Aramco’s engagement, for which we are grateful.”

Aramco has named Jim Sledzik, managing director of Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures North America, to The Ion Leadership Advisory Roundtable to lead the partnership and help shape programming and offer insights on strategic direction. Aramco will also participate in The Ion Prototyping Lab, which opened earlier this year, and The Ion Investor Studio.

“Aramco’s commitment to innovation is reflected throughout our business operations,” says Nabeel I. AlAfaleg, president and CEO of Aramco Americas, in the release. “Partnerships like The Ion accelerate innovation, champion new ideas, and build a culture to address global energy challenges.”

Aramco joins the Ion’s other founding partners: Baker Botts, Microsoft, and Chevron Technology Ventures.

“I am excited to welcome Aramco as a Founding Partner to expand Houston’s technology and innovation ecosystem,” says Jan E. Odegard, executive director of The Ion, in the release. “Aramco’s involvement not only enables us to continue expanding our support toward inclusive and sustainable economic growth, but expand our reach globally, amplifying Houston as a high-growth technology ecosystem for energy, health, manufacturing, space, and transportation.”

The Ion is a 266,000-square-foot building developed and managed by Rice Management Company and anchors the 16-acre Innovation District in Midtown.

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Photos: Houston coworking company expands with new location

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Calling all coworkers north of Houston — there's a new spot in town to set up shop.

The Cannon, a coworking company with locations in Houston and Galveston, has expanded north of Houston for the first time. A new Cannon workspace opened at The Park at Fish Creek retail center (618 Fish Creek Thoroughfare) in Montgomery last month. On February 1 at 4 pm, the new community is holding an open house to tour the space.

“The Cannon is a Houston innovation institution, and we meet demand where innovators and entrepreneurs live—in this case, Montgomery County,” says Jon Lambert, CEO of The Cannon, in a news release. “The goal is to grow The Cannon community – and entrepreneurship overall – regionally, via the Fish Creek brick-and mortar space, and to also expand utilization of our digital community platform, Cannon Connect.”

With 8,100 square feet of space, the facility has 19 private offices, three conference rooms, and several gathering and working areas. Memberships — from assigned desks and private space to day passes — are now available. All Fish Creek members receive access to Cannon Connect, a global, digital community platform that provides resources, networking and building blocks for business growth.

Photo courtesy of The Cannon

This Houston entrepreneur is enabling fashion upcycling for more sustainable style

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When shopping online one day, Hannah Le saw a need for a platform that allowed transactions between upcycling fashion designers and shoppers looking for unique, sustainable pieces.

Le created RE.STATEMENT, an online shopping marketplace for upcycled clothing. Before RE.STATEMENT, designers were limited to Etsy, which is focused on handmade pieces, or Poshmark and Depop, which are dedicated to thrift finds. Upcycle fashion designers didn't have their own, unique platform to sell on — and, likewise, shoppers were scattered across sites too.

"These marketplaces are really good for what they do," Le says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, "but, whenever I think of someone looking for something unique and sustainable, it's hard for me to imagine finding that on these marketplaces."

The platform soft launched in December with 25 upcycling designers and over 1,200 buyers that had been on the company's waitlist for almost nine months. Now that the site is live, Le hopes to give both buyers and sellers quick access to transactions.

"Most designers give up if they haven't sold an item within three months," Le explains. "That's something RE.STATEMENT has dedicated its business model to — making sure that items sell faster and at a higher value than any other marketplace."

Le says that she started with buyers to see what exactly they were looking for, then she searched and found the designers looking to sell their pieces, and the current platform is dynamic and flexible to the needs of users within her community.

"Even today, it changes every single day depending on how users are interacting with the website and what sellers are saying that they need — really communicating with buyers and sellers is how the marketplace is evolving," she says.

RE.STATEMENT's ability to quickly evolve has been due to its early stage, Le explains on the show. She's not yet taken on institutional funding or hired anyone else other than tech support. She says this allows her to quickly make changes or try out new things for users.

"For me, there are still so many things I want to prove to myself before I bring others involved," she says. "To start, it's coming up with new opportunities for buyers to interact with the website so that we can keep learning from them."

Le has already proven some success to herself. Last year, she took home one of three prizes offered at the city's Liftoff Houston competition. The contest, which gives Houston entrepreneurs pitch practice and mentorship, awarded RE.STATEMENT $10,000 for winning in the product category.

"I wanted to see how far I could go," Le says of the competition where she got to introduce her business to Mayor Sylvester Turner and a whole new audience of people. "I had pitched before, but this was the first time that I was onstage and I just felt like I belonged there."

Le shares more about her vision for RE.STATEMENT and the integral role Houston plays in her success on the show.


Houston startup teams up with nonprofit research for decarbonization pilot

seeing green

A Houston tech company has joined forces with a nonprofit to test a new sustainable fuel production process.

The project is a joint effort from Houston-based Syzygy Plasmonics and nonprofit research institute RTI International and sponsored by Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corporation of Americas. Based in the RTI facility in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, the six-month pilot is testing a way to convert two potent greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) — into low-carbon-intensity fuels, which have the potential to replace petroleum-based jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

"This demonstration will be the first of its kind and represents a disruptive step in carbon utilization. The sustainable fuels produced are expected to quickly achieve cost parity with today's fossil fuels," says Syzygy CEO Trevor Best in a news release. "Integrating our technology with RTI's Fischer-Tropsch synthesis system has the potential to significantly reduce the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation without requiring major fleet modifications."

According to Syzygy, the pilot is a step toward being able to scale the process to a commercial-ready Syzygy e-fuels plant.

"By making minor adjustments in the process, we also expect to produce sustainable methanol using the same technology," Best continues.

An independent research institute, RTI International's focus is on improving the human condition. The multidisciplinary nonprofit seeks to support science-based solutions like Syzygy's technology, which has already proven its scale-up capabilities in earlier testing.

Through the partnership, RTI will assist Syzygy with process design and systems integration for the pilot-scale demonstration. Once it reaches commercial scale, the technology is expected to turn millions of tons of CO2 per year to produce sustainable fuels.

"We are excited about the opportunity to collaborate with Syzygy to test and assist in the scale-up of this promising technology," says Sameer Parvathikar, Ph.D., the director of the Renewable Energy and Energy Storage program in RTI's Technology Advancement and Commercialization business unit. "This work aligns with our capabilities, our goals of helping de-risk and commercialize novel technologies, and our vision to address the world's most critical problems with science-based solutions."