The fresh $3.3 billion for Texas will complement the $1.5 billion in state money that Texas lawmakers recently earmarked to improve broadband access. Photo via Getty Images

Texas is receiving over $3.3 billion in federal funding — more than any other state — to expand broadband internet access the state.

Much of that money undoubtedly will be pumped into the Houston metro area, where a little over 180,000 (about 7 percent) of the more than 2.6 million households have no internet access.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced June 26 that the 50 states plus the District of Columbia and U.S. territories will share nearly $42.5 billion in broadband internet funding allocated under the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The law went on the books in 2021.

“This is a watershed moment for millions of people across America who lack access to a high-speed Internet connection. Access to Internet service is necessary for work, education, healthcare, and more,” Alan Davidson, assistant secretary of commerce for communication and information, says in a news release.

Previously, the federal government had announced more than $20 billion in separate broadband funding.

The fresh $3.3 billion for Texas will complement the $1.5 billion in state money that Texas lawmakers recently earmarked to improve broadband access. This November, Texans will vote on a constitutional amendment that would set up a state-run fund for the $1.5 billion.

All of the money will be geared toward bringing Texas’ internet infrastructure up to date. State data shows 7 million Texans in 2.8 million households lack broadband internet access.

The Federal Communications Commission says broadband internet access delivers a minimum download speed of 25 Mbps and minimum upload speed of 3 Mbps. Those are considered adequate speeds for a family of three or a business with five to 10 employees.

“Although that’s enough speed for basic internet use, it’s actually a bit slow by today’s standards, since many internet service providers offer 100Mbps speeds as basic-level plans,” HighSpeedInternet.com points out.

The Texas Broadband Development Office, which oversees the state’s broadband internet program, says high-speed internet access “is increasingly seen as a requirement for modern life.” State Comptroller Glenn Hegar, whose agency oversees the office, has said it will take $10 billion to deliver full broadband internet access in Texas.

The Broadband Development Office will oversee distribution of the broadband funding in Texas. It plans to start accepting grant applications in 2024.

Hegar says Texas received more broadband funding than any other state “because the challenge facing our state is unique.”

“Texas has a large population with a significant share of unserved areas spread over a vast and geographically diverse landscape. The bipartisan legislation that appropriated these funds recognized the importance of giving states the flexibility to meet the needs of their unique populations,” Hegar says in a news release.

U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, a Houston Democrat, has proposed legislation (the Broadband Incentives for Communities Act) that would help state and local governments take advantage of the infusion of broadband cash. She says these governments need money — in the form of federal grants — to hire and train employees, install software, and make other improvements so they can handle an expected flood of requests for broadband funding.

“Many of the communities that need broadband access the most have the fewest resources to implement these projects. We must ensure that they are not left behind while we make this monumental investment in the country’s broadband infrastructure,” Fletcher wrote in a June 14 letter to U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

The White House aims to connect every American to affordable high-speed internet service by 2030. Today, an estimated 24 million Americans lack access to high-speed internet. Millions more deal with limited or unreliable service.

“High-speed Internet isn’t a luxury anymore; it’s become an absolute necessity,” President Joe Biden said at a White House event announcing the $42.5 billion in federal broadband funding.

“I’ve gotten letters and emails from across the country from people who are thrilled that after so many years of waiting, they’re finally going to get high-speed Internet,” Biden added.

The Department of Energy has doled out funding to four Houston companies. Photo via Getty Images

4 Houston companies snag DOE funding for carbon advancement

freshly granted

Four Houston companies have captured more than $45 million in federal funding to promote the capture, transportation, use, and storage of tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

The U.S. Department of Energy on May 17 announced funding for these four Houston companies:

  • BP Corporation North America Inc. — $33,411,193. The money will be earmarked for two commercial-scale storage sites along the Texas Gulf Coast. The sites will be able to ultimately store up to 15 million metric tons of CO2 per year.
  • Timberlands Sequestration LLC — $23,779,020. The funding will go toward a biomass carbon removal and storage project for the Alabama River Cellulose pulp and paper mill in Monroe County, Alabama. Atlanta-based Georgia-Pacific LLC owns the mill.
  • Magnolia Sequestration Hub LLC — $21,570,784. The money will help finance the Magnolia Sequestration Hub in Allen Parish, Louisiana, with an estimated 300 million metric tons of total CO2 storage capacity. Magnolia is a subsidiary of Houston-based Occidental Petroleum Corp.
  • Bluebonnet Sequestration Hub LLC — $16,480,117. The funding will be spent on development of the Bluebonnet Sequestration Hub along the Texas Gulf Coast, with the potential for more than 350 million metric tons of CO2 storage capacity. Bluebonnet is a subsidiary of Occidental.

Another Texas company received $3 million in Department of Energy (DOE) funding. Howard Midstream Energy Partners LLC of San Antonio will perform a study for a system capable of moving up to 250 million metric tons of CO2 per year from numerous sources to storage sites on the Gulf Coast — from the Port of Corpus Christi to the Mississippi River.

In all, the Department of Energy announced $251 million in funding for 12 projects in seven states aimed at bolstering the U.S. carbon management capabilities. The money comes from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was enacted in 2021.

“Thanks to historic clean energy investments, DOE is building out the infrastructure needed to slash harmful carbon pollution from industry and the power sector, revitalize local economies, and unlock enormous public health benefits,” U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm says in a news release.

DOE says carbon dioxide emissions are fueling global warming, which has heightened the threat of droughts, severe fires, rising sea levels, floods, catastrophic storms, and declining biodiversity.

Precedence Research estimates the value of the global market for carbon capture and storage was $4.91 billion in 2022, and it expects the market value to reach $35.7 billion by 2032.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

10+ can't-miss Houston business and innovation events for March

WHERE TO BE

From networking meetups to speaker expert speaker summits, March is filled with opportunities for Houston innovators.

Here's a roundup of events you won't want to miss out on so mark your calendars and register accordingly.

Note: This post may be updated to add more events.

 March 6 — Women's History Month Mixer

Bag Talk and Jem are collaborating to produce a dynamic Rooftop Mixer, designed to bring together entrepreneurs, startups, founders, tech professionals, health experts, and investors.

In honor of Women's History Month, the speaker panel will feature trailblazing women entrepreneurs who have redefined success in their respective fields. Gain invaluable insights, strategies, and inspiration as they share their journeys in business, innovation, and leadership.

This event is Wednesday, March 6, from 6 to 9 pm at Reset. Click here to register.

 March 7 — Energy Workforce of the Future Career Fair & Summit

A variety of Gen-Z speakers will be unpacking the future of working in the energy industry. Take advantage of this unique occasion to showcase your skills, exchange ideas, and build valuable connections. Denise Hamilton will be the keynote speaker followed by a host of other energy innovators.

This event is Thursday, March 7, from 7:30 am to 4 pm at the Briar Club. Click here to register.

 March 7 — GB Spring Mixer 2024

Meet community members, network, and develop relationships with local businesses at this event for Pearland's small business community. This mixer is sponsored by Pearland Innovation Hub, a home for innovation, entrepreneurship and small business growth, custom built for Pearland's business community.

This event is March 7, from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at The Cannon. Click here to register.

 March 14 — Pi Day With Portal Innovations

TMC Helix Park will host a Pi Day celebration at TMC3. All scientists, researchers, math experts, and innovators are invited to come and recognize the significant impact Pi (3.14) has had in shaping our world today and continuously in the future. Enjoy networking opportunities with Pi bites, games, and prizes.

This event is Thursday, March 14, from 12 to 1:30 pm at TMC Helix Park. Click here to register.

 March 14 — FanTechstic Mixer

This event is a mixer for tech professionals and tech enthusiasts. Connect with potential employers, collaborators, and mentors who can shape the trajectory of your career.

This event is Thursday, March 14, from 5:30 to 9:30 at Luxtrium Event Venue. Click here to register.

March 16 — Generative AI: Understanding and Fine Tuning LLM

This webinar dives deep into Generative AI, the game-changer that creates images from text, crafts personalized campaigns, and writes reports in seconds. Attendees will learn the innerworkings of Large Language Models (LLMs), the engines behind this revolution. Learn practical skills, explore real-world use cases, and future-proof your career.

This event is Saturday, March 16, from 10 am to 12 pm at Houston Translations. Click here to register.

March 18-22 — CERAWeek by S&P Global

For the 42nd time, CERAWeek is convening energy leaders from around the world for a conference, this year with its theme of "Multidimensional Energy Transition: Markets, climate, technology and geopolitics" that will zero in on the world's journey to zero-carbon.

The event is Monday, March 18, to Friday, March 22, in Downtown Houston. Click here to register.

March 21 — Global Energy: Qatar's LNG Expansion

At this event, expert panelists will delve into issues of investment partnerships, destination markets for gas supply, and the practicalities of expanding fossil fuel exports amid global decarbonization goals. Qatar is in the midst of expanding its LNG export capacity, increasing from 77 million tons per annum to 126 million by 2027.

This event is Thursday, March 21, from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy. Click here to register.

March 21 — Energy Underground - Early Design Partnerships

Meet up with renewable energy product developers, service providers, energy transition thought leaders, and more at this networking event. Make industry contacts, secure financing, share deals, or recommend talent looking to enter the energy workforce. This month meeting is open to everyone, but focused on connecting energy software founders with VP's of Operations and Projects at energy companies.

This event is Thursday, March 21, from 11:30 am to 2 pm at The Cannon. Click here to register.

March 26 — Bots & Brews

This is the spring meetup of the Energy Drone / Robotics / Data crowd, with over 200 leaders attending. Enjoy beer, bites and bots. Check out the latest robotics and data / AI tech, while hearing new case studies and connecting with some of the biggest leaders in energy and autonomous systems.

This event is Tuesday, March 26, from 5:30 to 7:45 pm at the Ion. Click here to register.

March 27 — Energy Industry Young Professionals Gumbo Cook-Off & Technology Showcase

Explore cutting-edge products, network with industry professionals, and savor delicious creations in the Gumbo Cook-Off. Make it a night to remember with live music, a beverage garden, and fundraising efforts to support the energy industry and first responders.

This event is Wednesday, March 27, from 5 to 9 pm at Bad Astronaut Brewing Co. Click here to register.

March 27 — 2024 CultureMap Houston Tastemaker Awards

The CultureMap Tastemaker Awards is an annual celebration of Houston's top restaurant and bar talent, as selected by their peers. Check out this signature in-person tasting event and awards ceremony. Celebrate all of the nominees and the winners, while sampling bites and sipping specialty drinks along the way.

This event is Wednesday, March 27, from 7 to 10 pm at Silver Street Studios. Click here to register.



Houston AI femtech startup raises $2M round to expand platform to B2B opportunities

fresh funding

A Houston-based startup that's improving health and wellness for women with its artificial intelligence-backed platform has raised a bridge round of funding.

Ema closed its latest bridge round, bringing its total funding to nearly $2 million. The company received investment from Kubera's Venture Capital and Victorum Capital, which joined existing investors Hearst Labs, Wormhole Capital, Acumen America, and Techstars.

Ema strives to deliver "personalized, empathetic, and evidence-based support" to its users through its generative AI technology. The platform has more than 100,000 users, and has expanded into the B2B sector with $100,000 in contracts within just 30 days after pivoting to this model, according to the company.

"Ema was born from a deep-seated belief in the transformative power of AI to make women's health care more accessible and effective," Amanda Ducach, CEO of Ema, says in a news release. "Our recent funding and rapid B2B growth validate our approach and enable us to further our mission."

The company, originally founded as SocialMama looking to connect mothers digitally to each other and, later, physicians and experts, rebranded a year ago. The platform aims to be comprehensive and holistic to positively affect women's health and wellness journeys across life stages and categories.

"Our vision extends beyond immediate health concerns; we see Ema as a companion that can support women throughout their lives, offering guidance, support, and understanding whenever they need it," Ducach explains. "This latest round of funding will help us expand into new areas, including employee benefits, where we believe we can make a substantial difference."

Amanda Ducach founded the company in 2019. Photo via Twitter

Why founders need to be prioritizing problem-solution fit, according to this Houston innovator

guest column

Over the past 10 years I have been so incredibly fortunate to work for and with dozens of startup ecosystems, startup development organizations, competitions and accelerators.

Through these interactions I have mentored, advised and coached over 500 startups and as I've reflected back on these interactions and relationships I have observed some crucial insights that I am humbled to be able to share here with you — starting with the importance of problem-solution fit.

My top observation is that the success of founders often hinges on their focus on a specific problem, from the perspective of the problem holder (which is not always their customer) and particularly a problem set they care deeply about. This focus is far more impactful than merely having a great idea. Founders with a laser focus on a problem, showed remarkable advantages. These founders were:

  • Quicker in Validating Assumptions: Their problem-centric approach allowed them to more rapidly test and validate their hypotheses about market needs and solutions.
  • Focused on Data-Driven Decision Making: They were more receptive to letting data guide their strategic decisions, leading to more grounded and effective strategies.
  • Agile in Pivoting: When confronted with challenges or new information, these founders could pivot more efficiently, as their commitment was to solving the problem, not just to their solution.

This problem-focused mindset proved to be a significant differentiator in their journey from ideation to success.

For these reasons, the philosophy that problem-solution fit leads development, has become a cornerstone in my approach to fostering innovation. It underscores the need for startups and organizations alike to delve deeper into understanding the real challenges they face, the first order problems, which in turn opens doors to more impactful and sustainable solutions.

Most recently, In my time at MassChallenge, my approach to problem identification diverged significantly from industry norms. The crux of my strategy was to shift the founders' focus from their innate bias towards their innovation or the allure of monetary gain to a deeper connection with the underlying problem — transforming the innovator's bias into the innovator's gift.

In my interactions, I often met two predominant types of founders:

  • Technical Founders: These individuals were deeply enamored with the technology or product they created. Often coming from the research world or a technical / engineering background within one industry. Their passion was more about the innovation itself rather than its impact or the problem it aimed to solve.
  • Profit-Oriented Founders: These founders were driven primarily by the potential for financial success. Often coming out of Business school, consulting firms or investment / banking background. Their focus was often on the market opportunity, timing, size and scale rather than the problem needing a solution.

I am not a believer that anyone fits into a box but these were broad commonalities I observed over time. While neither mindset is inherently flawed, it became evident that a third type of founder, those who developed a passion for solving a specific problem — often tied to a personal or emotional connection — tended to achieve greater success.

The challenge lay in transforming the mindset of founders who initially did not have this problem-centric focus. To do this, I employed a series of exercises and mental experiments that anyone can do aimed at uncovering the true purpose behind their ventures. Two pivotal tools in this process was Simon Sinek's Golden Circle, which helped delve into the why behind their companies and Ash Maurya’s Problem Discovery process that he details in Lean Mastery.

These exercises were transformative. Founders typically developed a stronger attachment to these newly framed problem statements than to their initial motivations. It aligned their endeavors with a purpose that was emotionally significant to them, thereby enhancing their commitment and effectiveness in addressing the problem.

This approach to problem identification was not just about finding a market fit; it was about aligning the founders' core values and motivations with the problems they aimed to solve, thereby unleashing the true potential of their innovations.

One of the most significant challenges was persuading founders to shift their mindset from their initial focus to a problem-oriented approach. This transition was often difficult, as change is inherently challenging, especially when founders have invested months or years in developing something they feel deeply connected to. The key was to reframe and redirect their passion towards understanding and solving the core problem for the problem holders that were most affected. This shift in focus wasn't always successful, but when it did take effect, it markedly increased the founders' likelihood of success.

Part of the difficulty in effecting this founder mindset shift stemmed from the overwhelming amount of content directed at startup founders, emphasizing the immediate need for customer feedback and early creation of MVP’s. While these aspects are crucial (at the right time), there is a noticeable gap in guiding founders towards the critical step of identifying problem-solution fit earlier in the process. As a result, many founders fell into the trap of building upon untested assumptions, believing that once they've created a product or identified a revenue model, the journey was set on the right path.

This challenge wasn't confined to startup founders alone, it is prolific across the innovation economy. Corporates, governments, and universities also displayed resistance in identifying their core, underlying problems. They often focused on surface-level issues or immediate technological needs without recognizing the structural problems causing these more visible issues.

As a founder, an innovator, or anyone passionate about bringing new solutions to the masses, this shift in perspective is crucial. It allows founders and organizations to understand their challenges more deeply, leading to more effective and sustainable solutions. It isn’t just about solving the problems they could articulate, but about uncovering the first principles issues that needed addressing.

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Jon Nordby is managing partner at Anthropy Partners, a Houston-based investment firm, and professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Houston.