Houston's DEI Champions share obstacles they are overcoming promoting equitable innovation

EAVESDROPPING AT THE HOUSTON INNOVATION AWARDS GALA

These five individuals are up for the DEI Champion award this week. Here's what challenges they are facing promoting an equitable innovation ecosystem. Photos courtesy

As one of the most diverse cities in the world, Houston's business and innovation community has a unique opportunity to prioritize not just its diverse population, but also to make sure the city has equitable and inclusive opportunities.

Five Houstonians have been named finalists in the DEI Champion category for the Houston Innovation Awards Gala, which will be held on November 9. They shared some of the challenges they are facing as they fight to make sure Houston has an equitable innovation ecosystem.

"I have always been the only Black women in all of my engineering roles, and I worked so hard to get there and quite often feel so uncomfortable in this space. So, individuals who question my name don't always understand the important of someone expressing that I see you to an individual can mean. However, this is a challenge I am willing to face because I am changing people lives and these lives I am changing will impact the world."

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— Kara Branch, founder and CEO of Black Girls Do Engineer Corp. "Although I believed in myself and that girls that look like me needed that representation and someone to mentor them and expose them to S.T.E.M., I had no one to do this for me, so I had to do this for girls in my community," she says. "I have faced some people who fight me about my name, but my name had to be my name because I needed to let Black girls know I was talking to them."

"You can’t expect to make an impact, big or small, if you’re not willing to meet people where they are. One challenge we’ve seen when it comes to talking about and implementing DEI programs within the organization is that not everyone has the same understanding of what diversity, equity, and inclusion is."

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Arianne Dowdell, vice president and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer for Houston Methodist. "Another challenge we see is that sometimes people expect to see change immediately," she continues. "This is a journey not a race, and if done right, it’s something that will continue to evolve and grow."

"Nobody wants to be tagged as difficult or uncomfortable to be with. A lot of bystanders will also make a calculated risk when witnessing bias, what is in it for me? Many will turn a blind eye if there are other interests at play."

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— Juliana Garaizar, head of Houston incubator for Greentown Labs and lead investor for Portfolia. Garaizar explains that she sees people afraid of facing the repercussions that come with speaking up or standing up to bias and harassment.

"Sustainable funding. We have the talent, the access to mentors and STEM education/activities and preparation workshops and certifications. But not having the capital to hire and effectively manage this growth has been very challenging to where we've had to say know to expansion (girls in need) and and increase in girls within our yearlong and skill-building programs."

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— Loretta Williams Gurnell, founder of SUPERGirls SHINE Foundation. She continues, "However, because we are serious in creating a diverse and sustained pipeline for more underserved girls (women) in STEM, we heavily rely on organizations that are like-minded in practices and core values to partner with and provide our services and opportunities to their girls and vice versus. It builds community and sustainability for all who are involved."

"The problems we face are so daunting and overwhelming that it can be hard to know where to start. ... At some point I realized that you just have to start somewhere, and you have to go deep in one area." 

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— Rob Schapiro, director of Microsoft's Energy Acceleration Program. "Only 27 percent of STEM workers are women. A mere 2 percent of venture capital money goes to women and far less to black women. The average wealth of the top 5 percent of White American households is seven times more than the average of the top 5 percent of Black households. These kinds of statistics can paralyze you into inaction," he explains. "It is great to be an ally to all, but you can have more impact if you focus your attention and efforts on a specific area. What is challenging still is that you will want to do more and spread your efforts, but you have to stay disciplined. One person cannot fix everything. But, using your privilege and your network you can influence many others and through them make a huge impact."

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Juliana Garaizar of Greentown Labs, Trevor Best of Syzygy Plasmonics, and Nathan Ough of VoltaGrid. Photos courtesy

3 Houston energy 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 the energy industry recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Juliana Garaizar, head of the Houston incubator and vice president of innovation at Greentown Labs

Juliana Garaizar joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the incubator's upcoming Climatetech Summit. Photo courtesy of Juliana Garaizar

This week, Greentown Labs is hosting a two-day summit focused on elevating the conversation around clean energy and the energy transition in Houston and beyond, as well as serving as a showcase for emerging technologies coming out of Greentown's member companies.

"The main theme for this Climatetech Summit is commercialization, and we're trying to explore it in different ways," Juliana Garaizar, head of the Houston incubator and vice president of innovation for Greentown, says on this week's Houston Innovators Podcast. "We're going to have some great panels on rapid commercialization and Houston and the energy transition."

Last year, Houston played a role in Greentown's annual Climatetech Summit. The two-day streamed event in 2021 attracted over 2,500 viewers from 38 different countries. This year's event will return to in-person but keep the streaming element to maintain this opportunity to reach people all over the world. The summit kicks off on November 2 in Houston and continues on November 3 in Boston. (InnovationMap is a partner for the Houston portion of the summit.) Click here to read more.

Trevor Best, co-founder and CEO of Syzygy Plasmonics

Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy Plasmonics, announced a new tool for clean energy. Photo courtesy of Syzygy

Houston-area energy tech startup Syzygy Plasmonics just released a free online tool at CarbonModel.com that enables users to calculate the greenhouse gas emissions and emission-reduction costs in as little as 60 seconds. It’s a more straightforward way of making those calculations than is offered by Argonne National Laboratory’s Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy use in Technologies (GREET) model, the startup says.

Syzygy co-founder and CEO Trevor Best calls the Inflation Reduction Act “a major tailwind” for energy transition and hydrogen adoption.

“Existing hydrogen producers now have the fiscal support needed to sanction new projects. And companies that had been mulling hydrogen as a new business are incentivized to move more quickly,” Best says. “Both existing and new entrants in the hydrogen market want to know if their hydrogen is clean enough to qualify for [Inflation Reduction Act] tax credits.” Click here to read more.

Nathan Ough, president and CEO of VoltaGrid

Houston-based VoltaGrid provides small-scale, self-contained microgrids that can operate independently of major power grids or in tandem with other microgrids. Photo via LinkedIn

Bellaire-based VoltaGrid, which provides small-scale, self-contained microgrids that can operate independently of major power grids or in tandem with other microgrids, has hauled in $150 million in equity funding. VoltaGrid’s product consists of natural gas engines, portable energy storage, natural gas processing and grid power connectivity.

VoltaGrid says it will spend the fresh cash to grow its power generation portfolio, along with its low-carbon fuel program in partnership with Pilot. The low-carbon platform features hydrogen and compressed natural gas.

“VoltaGrid continues to set new milestones across multiple sectors and business lines as we execute on our proven strategy with key partners,” Nathan Ough, president and CEO of VoltaGrid, says. Click here to read more.

Juliana Garaizar joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the incubator's upcoming Climatetech Summit. Photo courtesy of Juliana Garaizar

How this innovator is bridging the gap for international energy companies expanding into Houston

Houston innovators podcast Episode 157

A year and a half after opening in Houston, Greentown Labs has continued to evolve to meet the unique needs of the energy tech companies based out of its local incubator. The company, based originally in the Boston area, always knew it wasn't going to be as simple as copying and pasting its Somerville, Massachusetts, location in Texas.

Lately, as Juliana Garaizar, head of thee Houston incubator and vice president of innovation for Greentown, says on this week's Houston Innovators Podcast, the surprising element emerging in Houston is the need for an entry point into the United States from foreign companies — mostly emerging from Latin America.

"We're realizing that we're becoming the landing pad for many international companies or companies coming from other ecosystems," she says on the show. "We are glad to be that landing pad for many companies looking to enter the United States through Texas."

Last year, Houston played a role in Greentown's annual Climatetech Summit. The two-day streamed event in 2021 attracted over 2,500 viewers from 38 different countries. This year's event will return to in-person but keep the streaming element to maintain this opportunity to reach people all over the world.

The summit kicks off on November 2 in Houston and continues on November 3 in Boston. (InnovationMap is a partner for the Houston portion of the summit.) The program is focused on elevating the conversation around clean energy and the energy transition in Houston and beyond, as well as serving as a showcase for emerging technologies coming out of Greentown's member companies.

"The main theme for this Climatetech Summit is commercialization, and we're trying to explore it in different ways," Garaizar says. "We're going to have some great panels on rapid commercialization and Houston and the energy transition."

Garaizar explains that the program is a must-attend event for innovators within energy innovation, and she hints that, at the conclusion of the day, Greentown may have some news to share with attendees.

"We're also going to be announcing a few things at the end of the program, so you'll have to stay tuned," she says.

Garaizar shares more about the event on the podcast, as well as some of the challenges Houston energy startups are facing. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Zain Shauk of Dream Harvest, Juliana Garaizar of Greentown Houston, and Jay Manouchehri of Fluence Analytics. 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 sustainability to chemical analytics — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Zain Shauk, CEO of Dream Harvest

Zain Shauk, co-founder and CEO of Dream Harvest, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast just ahead of Earth Day. Photo courtesy of Dream Harvest

Zain Shauk is focused on future of farming, and the industry's success depends on making more environmentally friendly changes to the supply chain, and new technologies are enabling vertical indoor farming to effect these changes in some part. Shauk's company Dream Harvest recently received a $50 million investment from Orion Energy Partners to open a 100,000-square-foot indoor farming facility in Houston to scale production.

Shauk says he's also using the funding to support research and development to expand into other types of produce, but he has a lot to consider — affordability of the produce, maintaining sustainability, and more.

"It's going to take a lot of work and a lot of research. What I do know is we've come a long way with leafy greens," Shauk says. "When we started, we weren't growing in a way that makes financial sense with the amount of money we have to spend growing the product — and now we do." Click here to read more.

Juliana Garaizar, head of the Houston incubator and vice president of innovation

Greentown Houston's first year was surprising for Juliana Garaizar. Photo courtesy

Greentown Houston opened a year ago and, in just those 365 days, grew to over 60 member companies – something that took the original Boston-area location years. Juliana Garaizar says in a recent Q&A that this is due to companies outside of Houston looking for an entry point into the city for access to businesses, employees, and more. Specifically, she calls out Austin companies and businesses from Latin America.

"There are plenty of companies from Latin America coming over and choosing Houston as a landing pad and choosing Greentown as the place to start settling," she says. "We help them with funding. We help them with hiring local people." Click here to read more.

Jay Manouchehri, CEO of Fluence Analytics

Jay Manouchehri is now CEO of Fluence Analytics, and co-founder Alex Reed has transitioned to president and chief commercial officer. Photo courtesy of Fluence Analytics

Fluence Analytics, which moved its headquarters to the Houston area from New Orleans last year, has named Jay Manouchehri as the company's CEO. Manouchehri has worked in leadership roles within digital transformation at ABB and Honeywell all around the world, as well as in consulting and private equity.

Manouchehri tells InnovationMap he is focused on leading industrial growth.

“The next step for Fluence is really that we are industrializing our product and getting it into the industrial market," Manouchehri says. "That's exactly why we moved to Houston — it's where a lot of our clients are. We're building up and structure the company in such a manner that it could scale, get the right partnerships, and hire a team to take us to the next level and deliver the technology." Click here to read more.

Greentown Houston's Juliana Garaizar and Emily Reichert look back on the climatetech incubator's first year. Photos via greentownlabs.com

How Greentown Houston accelerated the local energy transition in its inaugural year

q&a

This Thursday, Greentown Houston officially celebrates the completion of its first year in town, as well as the impact its made in just the 365 days since its grand opening.

Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs, officially cut the ribbon on the organization's first location outside of the Boston area last Earth Day. Reichert, along with Juliana Garaizar, head of the Houston incubator and vice president of innovation, joined InnovationMap for a Q&A looking back on this past year — including what surprised them most and where members are moving in from.

Greentown Houston's anniversary event is Thursday, April 21, from 1 to 7 pm, at Greentown Houston (4200 San Jacinto St.) or livestreaming online. Click here to learn more.

InnovationMap: Looking back on the first year of Greentown Houston, what was the thing that most surprised you about the process and the community you created here?

Juliana Garaizar: What really surprised me the most was the eagerness to be a part of Greentown. We were very surprised by the pandemic — it caught us in, in the middle of fundraising and we thought things were gonna slow down and actually it became sort of a of a blessing in disguise for the community here in Houston. The Boston community had to go virtual, and then when they did, we realized that we were much more connected to the Boston team, but also why can't we offer the same services to the Houston community since we didn't have a building yet anyway. That created a huge opportunity to convene a community even before our building. We had these early access members and when we finally opened our building, they all converted to in-person members because they had already felt what the community could bring. In Boston, they took a little longer to fill in the space at opening, but we came in at grand opening with our inaugural member list in Houston — all of them super eager to join us. That conversion happened so fast happened because of the virtual aspect of COVID.

Emily Reichert: For me, there were really three things that were surprising. Throughout the whole process of building the momentum towards Greentown Houston and from the very first meetings I had with the GHP and potential supporters of a future Greentown Labs, there was this warmth of welcome. I can't compare it to anything else. Houston just really embraced this opportunity, embraced Greentown labs, and embraced our team — as well as really embracing having a climate tech incubator located in what has traditionally been called the oil and gas capital of the world. I just wanna note that that is very meaningful and it just shows that when Houston gets behind something, Houstonians go all the way they are committed and they take action. And we just felt that from the very beginning,

Second, I think that the momentum of the energy transition itself surprised us, but also felt it felt to us like we were riding a wave that wasn't just about Greentown Houston. It was about all of these different businesses, business leaders civic leaders, and just general citizenry in Houston understanding that the future of energy is different than the past of energy. And that, that was something that was going to need to happen more quickly than folks had anticipated. And again, I feel like Houstonians are leaning into it and thinking about, "well, if we've been the energy capital of the world, can we now be the energy transition capital of the world and how do we do that?" The speed with which this transition is happening is just incredible. And, increasingly in the circles that I move in outside of Houston, people know about it. It's changing the outside perspective as well. That's been really exciting to see.

Finally, the amount of talent that exists in the energy industry and in general in Houston and in the local universities that can be deployed and is interested in being deployed in climate tech and addressing climate change and the energy transition — it's really remarkable. Whenever we have a job posting out there for Greentown Houston, we are getting a lot of applicants. And now when we're going to universities to engage with students around — whether they're interested in building a startup that could address a challenge in the energy transition — it's just overwhelming the interest, the excitement, and the level of talent that I think is going to be available to apply to this energy transition that Houston can absolutely lead.

IM: Greentown Houston has not only attracted Houston-based companies, but also companies outside of Houston that want to be able to take advantage of Greentown Labs and the support there. You have both virtual and in-person membership options. Tell me a little bit about how that came to be.

JG: This was something also that the pandemic exacerbatedAgain, if you compare Boston to Houston — Boston is much more difficult to find prototyping lab space and wet labs. I would say that the cost of space is much higher there than in Houston. You there's plenty of space available for coworking, for prototyping, but the connection services to the whole ecosystem, to investors, to corporate partners, to universities to mentors — all that is key for our startups. And that means that space takes a second place. That's what we've seen. Member companies from Austin join Greentown Houston because they are connecting to a community that is more like hard tech driven and less software driven than in Austin. They wanna connect to the customers and the pilots, right? Even some of our Boston companies have moved or at least established a presence in Houston. There's also the diversity aspect that Houston is the most diverse city in the U,S. There are plenty of companies from Latin America coming over and choosing Houston as a landing pad and choosing Greentown as the place to start settling. We help them with funding. We help them with hiring local people.

IM: As you mentioned, Greentown Houston's membership grew really fast — how did you grow your team to support that?

JG: Our Houston team has quadrupled since last year and, and that's a lot — we were three and now we are 12, but we also had the whole Boston team behind us. The way we did it was through this matrix model where our team members report to someone in Boston. And although it creates an extra layer of complexity I think it was perfect for such a rapid growth because we were able to download the DNA of Greentown Boston to Houston at a much faster pace. We thought it was very important for us to distill that DNA but without forgetting about also having local people in Houston. It was the best of both worlds.

ER: We really needed to have the Houston local knowledge embedded, just like we needed to have the way that things have been done in Boston embedded. But I think as we look forward from now, you're going to increasingly see that we have embedded a lot of the practices and ways of doing things that we've done in Boston, but we're doing them with a Houston flavor, and we are doing them in a way that meets the local needs. And I think that you will see as we grow and continue to evolve, that we're gonna take our learnings from being in Houston and continue to evolve what we doin Houston. Our mission is to create an inclusive community and to convene connect, and inspire entrepreneurs and ecosystems to address climate solutions — and that's going to be the same in both locations. But how we do those specific pieces, I think will be a bit different. Now, Houston is a young ecosystem in terms of climate tech, so that convening piece is a little bit different from how we have done it in Boston.

IM: What's next for Greentown Houston — and what's next for the energy transition in Houston?

JG: For Greentown Houston we've figured out that our members need different things, and we wanna make sure that we listen and we adapt to them. It seems that a wet lab might be a need that we need to incorporate. So we're trying to figure out how, how to do that. We're growing at a much faster pace than Greentown Boston did, of course, because of the timing of the energy transition. That means that we need to think about, about expansion. We've become the convener place for climate tech.

In general in Houston for the energy transition, there's gonna be three pillars that I think are very important and that Greentown has to be apart of. One of them is the workforce development and the transition of the workforce. We're working with key partners like the Greater Houston Partnership and the Houston Energy Transition Initiative, and we're putting together a program with universities to make sure that we also extract the, the entrepreneurs of tomorrow to Greentown and to the energy transition capital.

The second aspect os access to capital there's a lot of capital of available in Houston and a lot of capital in general being poured into climate tech, but we need to make sure it comes earlier. We are very early on, and there's still a gap there for early stage investing. I think one of the key elements to be able to unlock that capital early is to make sure that our companies have pilots and demonstration at corporations.

I think the third part for the energy transition in Houston is unlocking the potential capabilities we already have, like in hydrogen by trying to become a hydrogen hub. And that will only happen if we all work together. So I think Greentown also has to play a role there of convening.

ER: Continuing to support entrepreneurs in Houston to really bring talent in, to not only help our entrepreneurs build their companies, but in general into the energy transition and climate that's something that will be leaning into the deployments of the technology at scale. That's something that Houston can uniquely do.

IM: What can people expect from both the livestream and the in-person event on Thursday?

ER: We're gonna have some great voices on that from across industry, and we are going to be showcasing our startups, both through pitches and then through a startup showcase where folks will be able to see and touch or at least talk to our entrepreneurs and learn about their companies and the opportunities to support them. I believe there will be a few other surprises, which I won't reveal.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Greentown Labs hosted its Climatetech Summit from both its Houston location and its Boston-area office. Photo via greentownlabs.com

Overheard: Energy transition experts weigh in at Houston climatetech conference

eavesdropping in houston

This week, world leaders are discussing climate change and the future of our planet at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, but local leaders were also discussing much closer to home.

Greentown Labs hosted its Climatetech Summit on Thursday, November 4, at both its offices in Houston and Sommerville, Massachusetts. The hybrid event featured a full day of networking, panels, and thought leadership.

Missed the conversation? Here are five key moments from the event.

​"Houston cannot transition without transitioning its workforce, and we need to help with that and make sure that people understand that. Demystifying the jobs of the future is key."

— says Juliana Garaizar, Greentown Labs' head of Houston incubator and vice president of innovation, in her welcome address.

"The energy transition in Houston needs to happen in an equitable way," she says. "Houston is the most diverse city in the US. It is up to us now to make it the most inclusive."

"The world will continue to need a lot of hydrocarbons for quite a long period of time, and Houston can and should remain a leader there. But it will not be an engine for growth."

— says Bobby Tudor, former chair of the Greater Houston Partnership and chairman of Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co, in his keynote.

"If we are not going to have that business, which accounts for approximately 40 percent of all jobs in Greater Houston, be an engine of growth, we sure as heck better find businesses that are, or we will not have the same kind of prosperity that we've had in our region," Tudor says.

"The Energy Capital of the World will be the leader in the global energy transition."

— says Mayor Sylvester Turner in his address.

"As a lifelong Houston, I am proud of our history and proud of the innovation, growth, and prosperity the energy industry brings to our community," he continues. "But, as leaders of the energy industry, I believe it is our responsibility to continue this legacy and develop the innovative technologies and practices needed to decarbonize the entire energy sector worldwide."

"Texas has more potential to produce clean energy — wind, solar, storage — and efficiency than any other state."

says HARC President + CEO John Hall in his address.

"And we're fortunate that today — even though we continue to lead the country in producing oil and gas — 40 percent of the electricity being used in this state is zero emitting."

"You don't get change by wishing and hoping. You need to plan and to act."

says Quantum New Energy CEO Patricia Vega on the panel about transitioning the workforce.

"We live in a world where we can track steps, calories, and likes on social media, but if I ask each one of you what is your carbon footprint or carbon efficiency, many of us don't know how to answer those questions and don't have the tools," she adds.

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Houston company premieres new platform for gig economy workforce

tech support

As the independent workforce continues to grow, a Houston-based company is aiming to connect these workers with companies that match their specific needs with a new digital platform.

FlexTek, a 14-year old recruiting and staffing company, launched a first gig site tailored to the needs of the individual worker. The platform, Workz360, is built to be able to manage projects, maintain quality control, and manage billing and year-end financial reporting.The company is also working to expanding the platform to provide infrastructure to assist independent workers with education, access to savings programs, tax compliance through vetted third-party CPA firms, and hopes in the future to assist with access to liability and medical insurance.

With a younger workforce and a shifting economy, the “gig economy,” which is another way to describe how people can earn a living as a 1099 worker, offers an alternative option to the corporate grind in a post-pandemic workscape. Chief Marketing Officer Bill Penczak of Workz360 calls this era “Gig 2.0,” and attributes the success of this type of workforce to how during the COVID-19 pandemic people learned how to work, and thrive in non-traditional work environments. The site also boasts the fact it won’t take a bite out of the worker’s pay, which could be an attractive sell for many since other sites can take up to 65 percent of profit.

“In the past few years, with the advent of gig job platforms, the Independent workers have been squeezed by gig work platforms taking a disproportionate amount of the workers’ income,” said FlexTek CEO and founder Stephen Morel in a news release. “As a result, there has been what we refer to as ‘pay padding,’ a phenomenon in which workers are raising their hourly or project rates to compensate for the bite taken by other platforms.

"Workz360 is designed to promote greater transparency, and we believe the net result will be for workers to thrive and companies to save money by using the platform,” he continues.

As the workforce has continued to change over the years, a third of the current U.S. workforce are independent workers according to FlexTek, workers have gained the ability to have more freedom where and how they work. Workz360 aims to cater to this workforce by believing in a simple mantra of treating your workers well.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations about this, but we like the Southwest Airlines model,” Penczak tells InnovationMap. “Southwest Airlines treats their people very well, and as a result those employees treat the passengers really well. We believe the same thing holds true. If we can provide resources, and transparency, and not take a bite out of what the gig worker is charging, then we will get the best and the brightest people since they feel like they won’t be taken advantage of. We think there is an opportunity to be a little different and put the people first.”

NASA launches new research projects toward astronauts on ISS

ready to research

For the 26th time, SpaceX has sent up supplies to the International Space Station, facilitating several new research projects that will bring valuable information to the future of space.

On Saturday at 1:20 pm, the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft launched on the Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida — bringing with it more than 7,700 pounds of science experiments, crew supplies, and other cargo. The anticipated docking time is Sunday morning, and the cargo spacecraft will remain aboard the ISS for 45 days, according to a news release from NASA.

Among the supplies delivered to the seven international astronauts residing on the ISS are six research experiments — from health tech to vegetation. Here's a glimpse of the new projects sent up to the scientists in orbit:

Moon Microscope

Image via NASA.gov

Seeing as astronauts are 254 miles away from a hospital on Earth — and astronauts on the moon would be almost 1,000 times further — the need for health technology in space is top of mind for researchers. One new device, the Moon Microscope, has just been sent up to provide in-flight medical diagnosis. The device includes a portable hand-held microscope and a small self-contained blood sample staining tool, which can communicate information to Earth for diagnosis.

"The kit could provide diagnostic capabilities for crew members in space or on the surface of the Moon or Mars," reads a news release. "The hardware also may provide a variety of other capabilities, such as testing water, food, and surfaces for contamination and imaging lunar surface samples."

Fresh produce production

Salads simply aren't on the ISS menu, but fresh technology might be changing that. Researchers have been testing a plant growth unit on station known as Veggie, which has successfully grown a variety of leafy greens, and the latest addition is Veg-05 — focused on growing dwarf tomatoes.

Expanded solar panels

Thanks to SpaceX's 22nd commercial resupply mission in 2021, the ISS installed Roll-Out Solar Arrays. Headed to the ISS is the second of three packages to complete the panels that will increase power for the station by 20 to 30 percent. This technology was first tested in space in 2017 and is a key ingredient in future ISS and lunar development.

Construction innovation

Image via NASA.gov

Due to the difference of gravity — and lack thereof — astronauts have had to rethink constructing structures in space. Through a process called extrusion, liquid resin is used to create shapes and forms that cannot be created on Earth. Photocurable resin, which uses light to harden the material into its final form, is injected into pre-made flexible forms and a camera captures footage of the process, per the news release.

"The capability for using these forms could enable in-space construction of structures such as space stations, solar arrays, and equipment," reads the release. "The experiment is packed inside a Nanoracks Black Box with several other experiments from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab and is sponsored by the ISS National Lab."

Transition goggles

It's a bizarre transition to go from one gravity field to another — and one that can affect spatial orientation, head-eye and hand-eye coordination, balance, and locomotion, and cause some crew members to experience space motion sickness, according to the release.

"The Falcon Goggles hardware captures high-speed video of a subject’s eyes, providing precise data on ocular alignment and balance," reads the release.

On-demand nutrients

Image via NASA.gov

NASA is already thinking about long-term space missions, and vitamins, nutrients, and pharmaceuticals have limited shelf-life. The latest installment in the five-year BioNutrients program is BioNutrients-2 , which tests a system for producing key nutrients from yogurt, a fermented milk product known as kefir, and a yeast-based beverage, per the release.

"The researchers also are working to find efficient ways to use local resources to make bulk products such as plastics, construction binders, and feedstock chemicals. Such technologies are designed to reduce launch costs and increase self-sufficiency, extending the horizons of human exploration," reads the release.

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 esports to biomaterials — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Zimri Hinshaw, CEO of BUCHA BIO

Zimri T. Hinshaw, CEO of BUCHA BIO, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how he's planning to scale his biomaterials startup to reduce plastic waste. Photo courtesy of BUCHA BIO

After raising a seed round of funding, BUCHA BIO is gearing up to move into its new facility. The biomaterials company was founded in New York City in 2020, but CEO Zimri T. Hinshaw shares how he started looking for a new headquarters for the company — one that was more affordable, had a solid talent pool, and offered a better quality of life for employees. He narrowed it down from over 20 cities to two — San Diego and Houston — before ultimately deciding on the Bayou City.

Since officially relocating, Hinshaw says he's fully committed to the city's innovation ecosystem. BUCHA BIO has a presence at the University of Houston, Greentown Labs, and the East End Maker Hub — where the startup is building out a new space to fit the growing team.

"By the end of this month, our laboratories will be up and running, we'll have office space adjacent, as well as chemical storage," Hinshaw says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. Listen to the episode and read more.

Kelly Klein, development director of Easter Seals Greater Houston

A nonprofit organization has rolled out an esports platform and event to raise awareness and funding for those with disabilities. Photo via Easter Seals

For many video games is getaway from reality, but for those with disabilities — thanks to a nonprofit organization —gaming can mean a lot more. On Saturday Dec. 3 — International Day of Persons with Disabilities — from 1 to 9 pm, Easter Seals Greater Houston will be joining forces with ES Gaming for the inaugural Game4Access Streamathon.

Gaming helps enhance cognitive skills, motor skills, improve mental well-being, and can help reduce feelings of social isolation due to the interactive nature of playing with others.

“This is really a unique way for (people) to form a community without having to leave their house, and being part of an inclusive environment,” says Kelly Klein, development director of Easter Seals Greater Houston. ”The adaptive equipment and specialized technology just does so many miraculous things for people with disabilities on so many levels — not just gaming. With gaming, it is an entrance into a whole new world.” Read more.

John Mooz, senior managing director at Hines

Levit Green has announced its latest to-be tenant. Photo courtesy

Levit Green, a 53-acre mixed-use life science district next to the Texas Medical Center and expected to deliver this year, has leased approximately 10,000 square feet of commercial lab and office space to Sino Biological Inc. The Bejing-based company is an international reagent supplier and service provider. Houston-based real estate investor, development, and property manager Hines announced the new lease in partnership with 2ML Real Estate Interests and Harrison Street.

“Levit Green was meticulously designed to provide best-in-class life science space that can accommodate a multitude of uses. Welcoming Sino Biological is a testament to the market need for sophisticated, flexible space that allows diversified firms to perform a variety of research,” says John Mooz, senior managing director at Hines, in a press release. “Sino is an excellent addition to the district’s growing life science ecosystem, and we look forward to supporting their continued growth and success.” Read more.Read more.