This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Tim Latimer of Fervo Energy, Karen Leal of Insperity, and Kevin Knobloch of Greentown Labs. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a fast-growing geothermal company, a human resources expert, and an outgoing climatetech CEO.

Tim Latimer, co-founder and CEO of Fervo Energy

Tim Latimer, CEO and co-founder of Fervo Energy, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of Fervo Energy

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

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

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

Karen Leal, performance specialist at Insperity

Karen Leal, performance specialist at InsperityTime to think ahead, business owners. Here's what this expert thinks you need to prioritize. Photo courtesy

Not only is upskilling your workforce on a regular basis good for performance purposes, it also contributes to a positive company culture, writes Karen Leal, performance specialist with Houston-based Insperity, in a guest column.

"Learning and development (L&D) programs give employees the resources to grow within their current role and ready them for their possible advancement into new positions and/or another role or function," she writes. "This development should be a collaborative effort with the employee to support the employee’s growth goals. L&D programs build and strengthen your organization’s learning culture, which encourages employees to lean into the overall corporate culture and promotes employee engagement."

She goes on to outline the major benefits when developing L&D programs that impact business success. Read more.

Kevin Knobloch, CEO of Greentown Labs

Kevin Knobloch is stepping down as Greentown Labs CEO, effective on July 31. Photo via LinkedIn

While not based full time in Houston, Kevin Knobloch has led Greentown Labs, which is co-located in the Boston and Houston areas, as president and CEO for the past several months. Last week, he announced he's stepping down.

Knobloch will continue in his role until the end of July 2024.

“It has been an honor to lead this incredible team and organization, and a true privilege to get to know many of our brilliant startup founders," Knobloch says in the news release. “Greentown is a proven leader in supporting early-stage climatetech companies and I can’t wait to see all that it will accomplish in the coming years.” Read more.

Building a strong learning culture and refining your strategies now will strengthen your current employees’ engagement and attract top-notch talent in the future. Photo via Getty Images

Learning culture fosters business success, per this Houston expert

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Employee training is often seen as synonymous with learning and development, but there are significant differences. Understanding the differences can help elevate your organization’s programs and foster a learning culture.

Training teaches employees to perform the core duties of their role, typically competency and task/skills-based learning. Training is usually leveraged when the goal is to elevate an employee’s performance in their current role.

Learning and development (L&D) programs give employees the resources to grow within their current role and ready them for their possible advancement into new positions and/or another role or function. This development should be a collaborative effort with the employee to support the employee’s growth goals. L&D programs build and strengthen your organization’s learning culture, which encourages employees to lean into the overall corporate culture and promotes employee engagement.

There are major benefits when developing L&D programs that impact business success, including:

Employee retention

Employee turnover occurs in every organization, regardless of the work culture. As we continue to maneuver a tight labor market, it is important to consider how each business initiative impacts employee retention. Leadership should not focus on L&D potentially preparing employees for their next position outside the organization. According to LinkedIn’s 2024 Workplace Learning Report, organizations with a strong learning culture saw a 57 percent boost in employee retention. It is much better to invest in and retain your current employees today to drive business success, rather than be forced to invest in constant hiring and onboarding initiatives. Investing in L&D shows your workforce that you value them and care about their future within the company. L&D is a sound investment in your most valuable resource, your people.

Upskilling and reskilling

Today’s labor market has brought increased attention to the value of upskilling and reskilling, with upskilling reducing the skill gaps and preparing employees to advance within your organization, while reskilling teaches employees how to perform an entirely new set of skills. Insperity’s 2024 Business Outlook Report surveyed small- and medium-sized businesses, finding that almost 75 percent either had or planned to introduce an upskilling strategy.

A learning culture is the foundation for upskilling and reskilling within your organization and creates agility in the talent within your business. Upskilling and reskilling opportunities can be individually customized to meet your employees’ career goals, skill sets and the needs of the organization. When members of your workforce experience upskilling and reskilling, others within the organization may be motivated to grow within the organization as well.

Employer branding

Information travels about your organization, whether good or bad. When there are ample L&D opportunities, it improves your employer brand and helps attract top talent who are looking for growth opportunities. A learning culture is a competitive advantage when competing for talent. When the competition does not invest in L&D, your business will stand out more to their employees and prospective candidates as an opportunity for growth and development.

Leveraging your L&D programs and knowing the opportunities available are important for recruiting success. Highlighting upskilling and advancement opportunities are especially important as many employees who choose to work with startups and small businesses want to have a hand in the company’s growth and success. It is also important to discuss how your organizational culture supports learning on the job.

Building a strong learning culture and refining your strategies now will strengthen your current employees’ engagement and attract top-notch talent in the future. Success in business always begins with a focus on your people.

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Karen Leal is performance specialist with Houston-based Insperity, a provider of human resources offering a suite of scalable HR solutions available in the marketplace.

There are three topics in particular that business owners should refresh and/or make sure they include in their HR policies and employee handbook. Photo via Getty Images

3 things Houston companies need to freshen up when it comes to their HR practices

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Just as we typically look to freshen up our homes this time of year, the same needs to be done for employee handbooks. Employee handbooks streamline HR operations, mitigate risks and set expectations to protect a business from negative workplace behavior by outlining employee policies and procedures.

There are three topics in particular that business owners should refresh and/or make sure they include in their HR policies and employee handbook: in-office attendance, social media and artificial intelligence (AI).

In-office attendance

When taking a closer look at hybrid workplace policies, the in-office attendance policies should align with your organizational goals. Whether you decide to implement hybrid work permanently or eventually return to being in the office completely, the return-to-office (RTO) policies should reflect those goals.

Clear expectations are especially important when defining office attendance rules. When attendance policies are set, employees respond best when they are fair, accessible and easily understood. Detailed policies outlining the nuances and consequences can help reduce noncompliance while supporting accountability.

Policies need consistent enforcement for them to be effective. Hybrid policies set prior to or during the pandemic may now be loosely enforced. The policies may state for employees to be in the office three days a week, but there may be no accountability for not meeting the mandate. Not enforcing attendance policies can give the impression that it is okay to violate other policies, too. Reviewing your policies allows you to course correct and write a policy reflecting your corporate culture and goals. You’ll then be able to reintroduce the attendance policy and enforce it across the board as intended.

Social media

You are hard pressed to find an employee without a social media account, whether it is TikTok or LinkedIn. If your business does not have a social media policy with guidelines surrounding employees’ online behaviors, now is the time to put one in place. If you do have a policy, social media changes quickly enough to warrant an annual review.

Social media policies should set boundaries between personal and professional use of social media. Employee activity on social media outside of work can influence business, as employees are often seen as reflecting the company. It is also important to note that social media policies should be based on input from senior management, HR, legal and IT, not just marketing.

The social media policy should delineate between an employee’s personal and professional use, establish a code of conduct and outline its use as part of crisis communications. Social media can just as easily elevate your brand, and you can potentially ask employees to share positive work experiences online.

Cybersecurity should also be addressed in social media policies. As it has become more common for hackers to infiltrate personal emails and social media accounts, policies can prohibit employees from storing company documents in their personal social media and email accounts for security purposes.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

AI seems to be changing the way we do business daily. However, the policies surrounding company use of AI are lacking at many organizations. Research from McKinsey states only one in five employers have established policies governing their employees use of AI.

AI technology has already streamlined many business practices, but it can also present major risks. Inaccuracy can threaten your business if employees use generative AI for assistance in completing writing tasks, for instance, and the system may not generate accurate or original information.

As we learn the evolving and complex nuances of AI, creating a policy needs careful attention. You may consider developing an AI team to write a comprehensive, well-researched AI policy tailored to your organization. This working group should gather insights from leaders within the organization, including frontline managers, to fully understand how employees use, or might use, AI. This team should be charged with considering the ethical aspects of AI’s use and ensuring the policy aligns with company values.

One of the most critical elements of the policy is an accountability process or system. The policy should clearly outline any corrective action or disciplinary steps associated with using AI in a manner that harms the business and/or its clients. Just as important, the policy should outline how to use and how to avoid misusing AI. Since AI continues to evolve month to month, this is a policy that will require more attention and revisioning throughout the year.

Keeping a critical eye on HR policies is an important part of business success. Setting aside time to review, update and even create new policies now – before being faced with an issue – can potentially mitigate costly challenges down the road.

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Karen Leal is performance specialist with Houston-based Insperity, a provider of human resources offering a suite of scalable HR solutions available in the marketplace.

Despite the inevitability of bad hires, recruiters equipped with proper tools and training can identify red flags and take preventive measures. Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

How to avoid bad hiring decisions when it matters most, according to this Houston expert

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Hiring the right people for the right roles is ideal and can make an organization reach new heights. The reality is every business has made a bad hire.

Finding the wrong fit for a team or organization is not uncommon, but it is important to know what it costs the organization, which can be detrimental to company finances and its workplace culture, especially small businesses and startups where the impact is magnified.

The U.S. Department of Labor reports a bad hire can cost up to 30 percent of the employee’s wage, which would be approximately $18,000 since the average American wage is $60,000. In addition, there are soft costs of managers and leadership time during the hiring and training process, which adds up quickly.

Bad hires explained

A bad hire can simply be someone who is not the best fit for the position or the company. The quality of work may not meet expectations; however, there are behaviors that can point to a bad hiring decision. New hires who were recruited due to specific knowledge or a skillset, but they do not deliver, have a negative attitude, or are disengaged, are all signs of a bad hire.

Even though hiring the best people for the job should be every recruiter’s goal, they are sometimes pressured to quickly fill the role. Once a new hire starts, it does not take long to find out if they are a bad hire. Recruitment is vital to a company’s success, so it is important to know how to identify a bad hire before they join the organization, the red flags, and the lasting impacts to the workplace culture.

Right turns, wrong fit

Business leaders most certainly think they are bringing in the right person for the job, but the wrong fit can significantly impact the organization.

Suffering morale and reduced teamwork: Incompetent employees force team members to cover their work, negatively impacting morale. If these issues persist, it signals to existing employees that suboptimal work is acceptable, which adds stress, distraction and reduced engagement.

Unmet expectations: When a new employee exaggerates their qualifications, they may struggle to meet expectations, resulting in slow or inadequate work product, which can be especially detrimental in a small business setting. This not only impacts the company financially but also demands managers’ time for oversight and performance issue resolution.

Weakened employer reputation: Startups and small businesses depend heavily on their hard-earned reputation and brand. Employees represent a company’s values, and when they fail to embody them, it can negatively influence sales, vendor relationships and recruitment efforts. Actions of employees, both in-person and online, significantly shape public perception.

Client attrition: Poor performance or unprofessional behavior can damage client relationships, leading to business losses. These client experiences may lead to lasting consequences for the company’s reputation, affecting potential clients and key partnerships, and its bottom line.

Recruiting and training challenges: The recruiting process usually spans four to six weeks, involving tasks such as drafting the job description, obtaining approvals, posting ads, resume screening, candidate communication, interviews and offer negotiations. After accepting an offer, new employees, regardless of experience, require time to familiarize themselves with the organization, its processes and job responsibilities. If a poor hiring decision is made, the recruitment process may persist, leading to extended periods of onboarding.

Preventing bad hires

Experienced recruiters can still make bad hires, but certain measures can help mitigate risks:

  • Fine-tune job descriptions. Clear and concise job descriptions aid in identifying suitable candidates and provide a better understanding of position expectations.
  • Take sufficient time. Resist the pressure to fill the role; prioritize finding the right candidate to avoid subsequent costs.
  • Standardize the interview process. Employ set questions for consistency and involve team members in behavioral and peer-to-peer interviews to assess cultural fit.
  • Check references. Verify candidates’ honesty, skills, attitude toward work, and work ethic through thorough reference checks.

Despite the inevitability of bad hires, recruiters equipped with proper tools and training can identify red flags and take preventive measures. This proactive approach ensures better preparation for attracting top talent and minimizes the impact of suboptimal hiring decisions on the company.

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Karen Leal is performance specialist with Houston-based Insperity, a provider of human resources offering a suite of scalable HR solutions available in the marketplace.

In honor of National Entrepreneurship Month, let's look at the impact of small businesses and tips on recruiting. Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash

Houston expert: How to celebrate National Entrepreneurship Month by recruiting, retaining talent

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As November marks National Entrepreneurship Month and Small Business Saturday awaits Nov. 25, it is the perfect time to acknowledge and celebrate the contributions of small businesses to the U.S. economy.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, small businesses with 500 or fewer employees have accounted for two thirds of employment growth in the past quarter century. Further research from the Small Business Administration shows Texas alone is home to 3.1 million small businesses, making up 99.8 percent of Texas businesses overall and 44.5 percent of Texas employees.

The numbers are particularly impressive considering the unique business challenges entrepreneurs and small businesses have faced. In a tight labor market, competition for talent remains fierce, and small businesses and startups especially must rely on recruiting strong candidates to generate results. Yet entrepreneurs are often passionately focused on their product or service, which can obscure the finer details of their people management strategy.

Fortunately, there is a way for entrepreneurs to succeed both as business and people leaders. By providing learning and development opportunities, competitive compensation plans and an exceptional workplace culture, they can create an engaged workforce that shares their vision that can be competitive and even win the fight for top talent.

Learning and development opportunities

Especially for a small business, ongoing professional learning and development (L&D) is essential for teams to stay competitive. A robust L&D program also expands the talent pool by creating the possibility of hiring promising candidates who need to acquire additional skills for the role. L&D opportunities can also improve retention. According to 2022 research from McKinsey, lack of career development and advancement opportunities is one of the biggest factors driving employee attrition.

Leaders should assess the needs of their teams to determine the most important areas for L&D. These areas should help employees to develop core competencies necessary for business success, such as teamwork, problem solving and leadership. Offering a variety of options is best practice so employees can develop a wide range of skills, as is leveraging learning opportunities that exist through the normal course of work, like job shadowing and cross training. Tapping into existing experience and knowledge via in-house talent is another resource that can help promote learning and development through mentoring and collaboration.

Compensation and benefits

Working at a small business or startup offers many benefits to professionals in search of a fast-paced environment. However, compensation remains a critical piece of the puzzle for entrepreneurs who want to recruit and retain top talent. A 2022 survey from LinkedIn revealed 89 percent of employees said salary range was the most helpful element in a job description when deciding whether to apply.

While businesses need not disclose their salary bands in a job application, except as required by law, competitive compensation is an important factor for successful recruitment. Small businesses should research the market rate for each position in their organization and conduct a pay audit to understand whether current employees are being compensated fairly. Organizations with positive results should consider mentioning “competitive compensation and benefits package” in job ads or on their website.

For leaders who discover their pay is noncompetitive in their industry, it may be time to reevaluate budgets and create a plan to align salaries with the market averages. Salary growth does not need to happen overnight but can be a part of the bigger picture of recruiting and retaining talent. Leaders can also communicate the total compensation when factoring in the overall value of employer contributions provided in addition to salary, including things like bonuses, paid benefits and 401k contributions, wellness perks, etc.

Organizational culture

Company culture is a foundational element to recruiting and retaining top-tier talent. Research from Gallup found employees who feel connected to their organization's culture are 55 percent less likely to watch for job openings or actively seek out a new role.

As many founders know well, tight-knit teams can work with greater agility than larger organizations. However, on a cultural level, small business and startups face unique culture challenges due to their size. Small organizations’ culture is heavily influenced by the behaviors of leaders, who are highly visible to their employees. When conflicts arise between two employees, the entire team may be drawn in. Employees can also feel under scrutiny if micromanagement is experienced in their workplace.

To build a strong culture, leaders need to have open conversations and gather feedback, including through anonymous survey data. On a small team, the anonymity of company culture surveys becomes even more critical. Employees may feel concerned that management will easily recognize their voice, so survey results should be handled with the utmost discretion and accessible only to essential personnel. When sharing results publicly, leaders should withhold any specific comments or responses in favor of broader statistics about the entire group or identified patterns in the feedback. It is important for leaders to focus on the learnings and awareness the feedback can offer, as opposed to spending time wondering or trying to identify who said what. Even well intended interest around the source of feedback can lead to feelings of breached trust or, in extreme cases, instances of retaliation.

Trust is an essential component, and these steps will help employees in a small business feel comfortable sharing their honest thoughts. Provided management provides open communication and acts on employee survey feedback, employees will also feel heard and that their employer truly cares for their wellbeing.

This month, entrepreneurs across the country should take a moment from their busy schedules to celebrate their successes. National Entrepreneurship Month is an opportunity to recognize the importance of small businesses to the economy. It is also a chance to strengthen small businesses and bolster their ability to compete for talent through building a robust culture and supporting employees.

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Karen Leal is performance specialist with Houston-based Insperity, a provider of human resources offering a suite of scalable HR solutions available in the marketplace.

How to navigate your hiring process with transparency amid the flexible workforce trend. Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert: Cultivate transparency when recruiting flexible workplace positions

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How the workplace operates, especially flexible work arrangements, captivate job seekers, prompting many job listings to spotlight remote or hybrid work options. Interestingly, a significant portion of hybrid and remote workers say they would explore new job opportunities should their current employer opt out of offering remote work possibilities. These insights from Gallup underscore the paramount importance of flexible work options.

Regrettably, not every role that promotes flexible work arrangements delivers. While the labor market is fiercely competitive, especially for startups and small businesses wishing to attract top talent, some organizations are enticing potential candidates with the prospect of flexible schedules, only for these newly hired individuals to realize the actual job flexibility falls short of the initial representation.

As remote work and flexible schedules have evolved, many organizations have established sensible guidelines concerning office presence and work frequency. However, the degree of flexibility varies, and not all recruiters are forthright about these nuances during job interviews.

Candidates who find recruiters and hiring managers omitting specific details about flexible work policies often feel misled. Maintaining honesty in job descriptions – and throughout the recruitment process – is imperative to ensure a good match is found for the organization. Employers should cultivate transparency, prioritize organizational culture, and exercise thoughtful consideration of their policies.

Clarity is Key

Many prospective candidates yearn for flexible work opportunities, recognizing that some constraints may apply. A recent McKinsey survey revealed that 58 percent of Americans engage in remote work at least once a week, with 35 percent enjoying the possibility of remote work for the entire workweek. Given the wide spectrum of policies, astute job seekers acknowledge that their next employer's stance on remote work might differ from their current one.

As startups compete with larger employers for the same talent, they may be apprehensive about outlining their remote or hybrid work policies, especially if their flexibility is less generous than that of competitors. Yet, this strategy ultimately squanders time and resources, as candidates who place high value on flexibility are unlikely to take an offer that falls short of their expectations, and these perceived deceptions could tarnish the employer’s brand.

The optimal approach is to communicate policies unequivocally in the job description and address them during interviews. While excessive detail isn't necessary, job postings can concisely indicate the number of mandatory office days.

Cultivating a Cohesive Culture

Skill set and experience might align perfectly with a role, but without a compatible cultural fit, candidates might struggle. When businesses withhold key information about their flexible work policies, they undermine the trust pivotal to fostering a strong organizational culture. This approach also misrepresents the culture, which is intricately shaped by the "how" and "when" of employee work arrangements.

While it's true that candidly sharing flexible work policies could lead some candidates to self-select out of the application process due to their desire for more flexibility, the converse is equally valid. Certain candidates might prefer spending more time in a collaborative office environment and might not pursue a job that seems excessively remote-focused.

Incorporating explicit communication about flexible work policies during recruitment not only fosters understanding of these policies but also provides insight into how these policies contribute to the organizational culture. This approach aids in identifying candidates who align well with the culture, which is paramount in all stages of a company’s growth.

Evaluating the Approach

There is likely a reason why businesses withhold information about their flexible work policies. Recruiters may feel that adhering to their employer's policies could hinder their ability to attract top-tier candidates, especially if the industry standard embraces extensive flexibility. However, misrepresenting the extent of flexible work arrangements is not a viable solution. Instead, businesses should reevaluate their standards.

Each business has unique requirements, some of which necessitate a greater in-office presence. Collaborative teams or departments might benefit from face-to-face brainstorming sessions more than teams operating more independently. However, if research indicates that competing organizations offer more flexibility, businesses need to be prepared to articulate their rationale – if they have one. If they do not have a sound business reason for their position, it might be worth reevaluating their stance on it.

The crux of reevaluating flexible work policies lies in comprehending the underlying reasons for these policies and effectively communicating them to new hires and existing employees. Candidates are more likely to accept limitations on flexible work arrangements when they perceive a sound justification from their potential employer.

Embracing transparency, nurturing a strong corporate culture, and critically assessing existing policies will help organizations manage expectations surrounding flexible work arrangements, thereby attracting the right candidates for the business.

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Karen Leal is performance specialist with Houston-based Insperity, a provider of human resources offering a suite of scalable HR solutions available in the marketplace.

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Houston cardiac health startup raises $43 million series B to grow AI-backed platform

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A Houston-based tech company that has a product line of software solutions for cardiac health has raised funding.

Octagos Health, the parent company of Atlas AI — a software platform for cardiac devices like pacemakers, defibrillators, ambulatory monitors and consumer wearables — has announced a $43 million series B raise that will bring their technology to many more hearts.

Morgan Stanley Investment Capital led the investment, which also included funds from Mucker Capital and other continuing strategic investors. The goal of the raise is to supply funds to accelerate Atlas AI’s growth across the United States and to expand into other areas of care, including ambulatory monitors, consumer wearables, and sleep.

"This investment will enable us to accelerate enhancements to our platform, in addition to scaling our commercial team and operations. We are currently the only company that helps cardiology practices migrate their historical data from legacy software providers and fully integrates with any EHR (exertion heart rate) system. We do this while enabling customized reporting supported by patient and practice decision-support analytics," says Eric Olsen, COO of Octagos Health, in a press release.

Octagos Health was founded by a team of healthcare pros including CEO Shanti Bansal, a cardiologist and founder of Houston Heart Rhythm, an atrial fibrillation center. The goal was to find a new way to deal with the massive amount of data that clinicians encounter each day in a way that combines software and the work of human doctors.

According to the Octagos Health website, “Our solution allows clinicians to focus on other ways of delivering meaningful healthcare and more efficiently manage their remotely monitored patients.”

It works thanks to customizable reporting features that allow patients’ healthcare teams to get help while monitoring them, but to do it precisely as they would if they were crunching numbers themselves.

"We are excited to partner with Octagos Health and support their vision of transforming cardiac care," says Melissa Daniels, managing director of Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital. "Octagos Health has demonstrated exceptional growth and innovation in a critical area of healthcare. We believe their platform and vertically integrated software and services significantly improve patient care and streamline cardiac monitoring processes for healthcare providers."

Will Hsu, co-founder and partner of Mucker Capital, agrees. “Octagos Health is poised for scale – industry leading gross margins, a very sticky product that doctors and clinical staff love, and a market ready for disruption with artificial intelligence. This is the new wave for diagnostic care,” he says. And with this raise, it will be available to even more clinicians and patients across the country.

Houston biotech company expands leadership as it commercializes sustainable products

joining the team

Houston-based biotech company Cemvita recently tapped two executives to help commercialize its sustainable fuel made from carbon waste.

Nádia Skorupa Parachin came aboard as vice president of industrial biotechnology, and Phil Garcia was promoted to vice president of commercialization.

Parachin most recently oversaw several projects at Boston-based biotech company Ginkjo Bioworks. She previously co-founded Brazilian biotech startup Integra Bioprocessos.

Parachin will lead the Cemvita team that’s developing technology for production of bio-manufactured oil.

“It’s a fantastic moment, as we’re poised to take our prototyping to the next level, and all under the innovative direction of our co-founder Tara Karimi,” Parachin says in a news release. “We will be bringing something truly remarkable to market and ensuring it’s cost-effective.”

Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita, says the hiring of Parachin represents “the natural next step” toward commercializing the startup’s carbon-to-oil process.

“Her background prepared her to bring the best out of the scientists at the inflection point of commercialization — really bringing things to life,” says Moji Karimi, Tara’s brother.

Parachin joins Garcia on Cemvita’s executive team.

Before being promoted to vice president of commercialization, Garcia was the startup’s commercial director and business development manager. He has a background in engineering and business development.

Founded in 2017, Cemvita recently announced a breakthrough that enables production of large quantities of oil derived from carbon waste.

In 2023, United Airlines agreed to buy up to one billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel from Cemvita’s first full-scale plant over the course of 20 years.

Cemvita’s investors include the UAV Sustainable Flight Fund, an investment arm of Chicago-based United; Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based energy company Occidental Petroleum; and Japanese equipment and machinery manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a logistics startup founder, a marketing expert, and a solar energy innovator.

Matthew Costello, CEO and co-founder of Voyager Portal

Houston logistics SaaS innovator is making waves with its expanded maritime shipping platform. Photo courtesy of Voyager

For several years now, Matthew Costello has been navigating the maritime shipping industry looking for problems to solve for customers with his company, Voyager Portal.

Initially, that meant designing a software platform to enhance communications and organization of the many massive and intricate global shipments happening every day. Founded in 2018 by Costello and COO Bret Smart, Voyager Portal became a integral tool for the industry that helps users manage the full lifecycle of their voyages — from planning to delivery.

"The software landscape has changed tremendously in the maritime space. Back in 2018, we were one of a small handful of technology startups in this space," Costello, who serves as CEO of Voyager, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Now that's changed. ... There's really a huge wave of innovation happening in maritime right now." Read more.

Arielle Rogg, principal and founder of Rogg Enterprises

Arielle Rogg writes in a guest column for InnovationMap about AI in the workforce. Photo via LinkedIn

Arielle Rogg isn't worried about artificial intelligence coming for her job. In fact, she has three reasons why, and she outlines them in a guest column for InnovationMap.

"The advent of AI pushes us humans to acquire new skills and hone our existing abilities so we can work alongside these evolving technologies in a collaborative fashion. AI augments human capabilities rather than replacing us. I believe it will help our society embrace lifelong learning, creating new industries and jobs that have never existed before," she writes in the piece. Read more.

Nathan Childress, founder of Solar Slice

Solar Slice Founder Nathan Childress says his new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet. Photo via LinkedIn

Nuclear engineer and entrepreneur Nathan Childress wants consumers to capture their own ray of sunlight to brighten the prospect of making clean energy a bigger part of the power grid. That's why he founded Solar Slice. The new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet.

Although trained in nuclear power plant design, solar power drew his interest as a cheaper and more accessible alternative, and Childress tells InnovationMap that he thinks that the transition to cleaner energy, in Texas especially, needs to step up.

Recent studies show that 80 to 90 percent of the money invested into fighting climate change “aren’t going to things that people actually consider helpful,” Childress says, adding that “they’re more just projects that sound good, that are not actually taking any action." Read more.