ALLY Energy's sixth annual GRIT Awards, which will honor leaders in the energy industry, will take place on October 26. Photo via ALLY Energy

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and three energy executives have been named first-time winners of lifetime achievement awards as part of ALLY Energy’s sixth annual GRIT Awards and Best Energy Workplaces program.

ALLY Energy says the honorees have demonstrated “a distinguished career championing change in energy and climate in the private or public sector in the areas of technology, policy, and workforce.”

As mayor of Houston, Turner has led efforts to use renewable energy throughout the city.

The other winners of lifetime achievement awards are:

  • Elizabeth Gerbel, founder and CEO of Houston-based EAG Services and EAG 1Source, which provide consulting services for the energy industry.
  • Lorenzo Simonelli, CEO of Houston-based oilfield services company Baker Hughes.
  • Kevin Sagara, executive vice president and group president of San Diego-based utility company Sempra. He is chairman of Sempra-owned San Diego Gas & Electric Co. and Southern California Gas Co.

The lifetime achievement honorees will be recognized October 26 during an event at The Bell Tower in Houston. So will the winners in the GRIT Awards and Best Energy Workplaces program. The keynote speaker will be U.S. Department of Energy official Shalanda Baker.

“This year’s GRIT Awards and Best Energy Workplaces finalists are a diverse cohort of game-changing entrepreneurs, gritty leaders, collaborative teams, and companies committed to combating climate change. The energy workforce is doing great things to transform our energy ecosystem, and we’re excited to spotlight exceptional talent and culture,” says Katie Mehnert, founder and CEO of Houston-based ALLY Energy, which provides a workforce development platform for the energy industry.

Among the dozens of award finalists are energy-related organizations or their representatives. These organizations include Baker Hughes, ExxonMobil, Halliburton, Marathon Oil, Rice University, Saudi Aramco, Shell, the University of Houston, Syzygy Plasmonics, and Wood Mackenzie.

A complete list of the finalists is available on the ALLY Energy website.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Thomas Vassiliades of BiVACOR, Katie Mehnert of ALLY Energy, and Don Whaley of OhmConnect Texas. 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 health care innovation to energy — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.


Thomas Vassiliades, CEO of BiVACOR

BiVACOR named Thomas Vassiliades as CEO effective immediately. Photo courtesy of BiVACOR

Thomas Vassiliades has been named CEO of BiVACOR, and he replaces the company's founder, Daniel Timms, in the position. BiVACOR is on track to head toward human clinical trials and commercialization, and Vassiliades is tasked with leading the way.

Vassiliades has over 30 years of experience within the medical device industry as well as cardiothoracic surgery. He was most recently the general manager of the surgery and heart failure business at Abiomed and held several leadership roles at Medtronic. Dr. Vassiliades received his MD from the University of North Carolina, and his MBA was achieved with distinction at Emory University.

“I am excited and honored to join the BiVACOR team, working closely with Daniel and the entire team as we look forward to bringing this life-changing technology to the market,” says Dr. Vassiliades in the release. “Throughout my career, I’ve been guided by the goal of bringing innovative cardiovascular therapies to the market to improve patient care and outcomes – providing solutions for those that don’t have one. BiVACOR is uniquely well-positioned to provide long-term therapy for patients with severe biventricular heart failure.” Click here to read more.

Katie Mehnert, CEO and founder of ALLY Energy

Katie Mehnert joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the future of energy amid a pandemic, climate change, the Great Resignation, and more. Photo via Katie Mehnert

Katie Mehnert started ALLY Energy — originally founded as Pink Petro — to move forward DEI initiatives, and she says she started with building an audience first and foremost, but now the technology part of the platform has fallen into place too. Last summer, ALLY Energy acquired Clean Energy Social, which meant doubling its community while also onboarding new technology. On the episode, Mehnert reveals that this new website and platform is now up and running.

"We launched the integrated product a few weeks back," Mehnert says. "The whole goal was to move away from technology that wasn't serving us."

Now, moving into the new year, Mehnert is building the team the company needs. She says she hopes to grow ALLY from two employees to 10 by the end of the year and is looking for personnel within customer support, product developers, and sales and service. While ALLY is revenue generating, she also hopes to fundraise to further support scaling. Click here to read more.

Don Whaley, president at OhmConnect Texas

Texas is about a month away from the anniversary of Winter Storm Uri — would the state fair better if it saw a repeat in 2022? Photo courtesy

The state of Texas is about a month away from the one year anniversary of Winter Storm Uri — but is the state better prepared this winter season? Don Whaley, president at OhmConnect Texas, looked at where the state is now versus then in a guest column for InnovationMap.

"Governor Abbott has gone on record guaranteeing that the lights will stay on this winter, and I am inclined to agree. With the reinforcement of our fuel systems being mandated by the Railroad Commission, 2023 to 2025 should receive the same guarantee," he writes. "Beyond that, as the demand for electricity in Texas continues to grow, we will need to rely on the initiatives under consideration by the PUCT to attract investment and innovation in new, dispatchable generation and flexible demand solutions to ensure long-term stability in the ERCOT market.

Whaley has worked for over 40 years in the natural gas, electricity, and renewables industries, with specific experience in deregulated markets across the U.S. and Canada. He founded Direct Energy Texas and served as its president during the early years of deregulation. Click here to read more.

Katie Mehnert joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the future of energy amid a pandemic, climate change, the Great Resignation, and more. Photo via Katie Mehnert

Houston DEI-focused startup plans to scale amid rapidly changing energy sector

Houston innovators podcast episode 116

The energy industry — like the rest of the workforce — is facing an unprecedented combo of challenges. First, there's a persistent pandemic that has spurred what's now known as The Great Resignation. Additionally, the sector is addressing climate change and all the challenges that comes with transitioning the entire industry.

As daunting as this plethora of obstacles can seem, Katie Mehnert is confident her business is equip to help energy companies large and small to prepare their workforce. She founded ALLY Energy to be a platform to support diversity, equity, and inclusion within energy companies as they move forward within the sector's transition.

"We need to start working together as allies to drag this new future forward around the energy transition and energy economy," Mehnert says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It is absolutely imperative that the business community, the academic community, and grassroots organizations on the ground are connecting people to these new economic opportunities. The green economy represents a huge shift for Houston.

Mehnert explains how she started ALLY Energy — originally founded as Pink Petro — to move forward DEI initiatives, and she says she started with building an audience first and foremost, but now the technology part of the platform has fallen into place too. Last summer, ALLY Energy acquired Clean Energy Social, which meant doubling its community while also onboarding new technology. On the episode, Mehnert reveals that this new website and platform is now up and running.

"We launched the integrated product a few weeks back," Mehnert says. "The whole goal was to move away from technology that wasn't serving us."

Now, moving into the new year, Mehnert is building the team the company needs. She says she hopes to grow ALLY from two employees to 10 by the end of the year and is looking for personnel within customer support, product developers, and sales and service. While ALLY is revenue generating, she also hopes to fundraise to further support scaling.

Mehnert discusses her plans for 2022 as well as how she's seen the energy industry and innovation ecosystem evolve in Houston and beyond on the podcast. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Will Womble of Umbrage, Katie Mehnert of ALLY Energy, and James Reinstein of Saranas. 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 energy to health care — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Will Womble, CEO of Umbrage

Startup founder on how Houston has evolved as a software hub — and why there's no better place to be

Will Womble joins this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy

Will Womble describes his company, Umbrage, as fiercely loyal to Houston. The business, which publicly launched earlier this year, supports companies large and small with their software design, development, and more. Womble says he saw a void in Houston for this type of company, and he's attempting to fill it.

"What makes us different is speed to market — we're all onshore. We're all Houston-based, with the exception of five of our 40 employees," Womble says. "Houston was our focus and mission."

Womble has seen Houston evolve as an innovation ecosystem over the years, and now the game has changed. Click here to read more.

Katie Mehnert, founder and CEO of ALLY Energy

Katie Mehnert's company, ALLY Energy, has made an acquisition. Photo via Katie Mehnert

ALLY Energy announced it has acquired Clean Energy Social, a jobs and networking community for the clean energy industry. The deal expands ALLY's platform into the solar, wind, power, oil and gas, power and utilities, biofuels, hydrogen, geothermal, carbon capture, and other sectors that make up the energy transition.

"It's time to tackle the enormous challenge of the energy transition by connecting companies and candidates to resources so we can reduce the time and capital it takes to recruit and reskill," says Katie Mehnert, founder and CEO of ALLY Energy, in a news release. "We can speed up decarbonization by centralizing resources into one digital experience. This acquisition is a much-needed human capital investment to advance net-zero goals." Click here to read more.

James Reinstein, president and CEO of Saranas

Saranas closed its series B round this week. Photo via Saranas.com

Saranas Inc. announced that it closed a $12.8 million series B investment led by Wisconsin-based Baird Capital, the venture capital and global private equity arm of Baird, a global company with a location in Houston. Austin-based S3 Ventures also supported the round. The company will use the funds to continue its clinical trials, per a news release.

"We are pleased to announce this round of funding led by Baird Capital," says Saranas President and CEO James Reinstein in the release. "It underscores the importance of real-time monitoring of bleeding complications and our opportunity to accelerate the commercialization of Early Bird. We look forward to expanding our clinical evidence through prospective clinical trials and launching next generation products, including Bird on a Wire, to address a much broader range of endovascular procedures." Click here to read more.

Katie Mehnert's company, ALLY Energy, has made an acquisition. Photo via Katie Mehnert

Houston energy startup makes strategic acquisition, doubles community size

M&A

A Houston startup that's created a diversity, equity, and inclusion platform for the energy industry has announced an acquisition.

ALLY Energy announced it has acquired Clean Energy Social, a jobs and networking community for the clean energy industry. The deal expands ALLY's platform into the solar, wind, power, oil and gas, power and utilities, biofuels, hydrogen, geothermal, carbon capture, and other sectors that make up the energy transition.

"It's time to tackle the enormous challenge of the energy transition by connecting companies and candidates to resources so we can reduce the time and capital it takes to recruit and reskill," says Katie Mehnert, founder and CEO of ALLY Energy, in a news release. "We can speed up decarbonization by centralizing resources into one digital experience. This acquisition is a much-needed human capital investment to advance net-zero goals."

According to the release, ALLY is now the largest integrated energy site for driving inclusion through career resources, content, training, events, networking, and sharing across the entire energy space.

"We are very excited that our efforts will help support ALLY's continued exponential growth," says Jesse Truax of Clean Energy Social in the release. "ALLY's unique position as an energy integrator and source for diverse talent to advance decarbonization, combined with our careers platform and clean energy audience, amplifies the value that we can provide to our customers across the energy industry."

ALLY has recently moved into its new space in Greentown Houston. The startup also named Shanta Eaden, former director of the project management at Weatherford International with a 20-year career in the industry, as COO for the company.

"This acquisition doubles the size of our community and marks the opportunity to build human insights into our product to ensure candidates are well-matched with a company," Eaden says in the statement. "We're excited about the future of our roadmap and look forward to continued growth."

The city's top power players within Houston's energy innovation ecosystem joined virtual SXSW to weigh in on hot topics — from ESG to the future of the industry's workforce. Photos courtesy

Overheard: Houston innovators discuss ESG, energy transition, cleantech and more at SXSW

Eavesdropping online

The first day of SXSW 2021 — a virtual edition of the Austin-based conference — is on the books, and Houston innovators were no strangers to attendees' screens thanks to Houston House put on by the Greater Houston Partnership.

Day one of the two days of programming focused on all things energy — power storage, corporate venture, ESG, the future of the workforce, and so much more — with interviews hosted by me, Natalie Harms, editor of InnovationMap. Missed out on the fun? Catch up with a few overheard moments from Houston House or stream the full interviews below.

“Successful entrepreneurs are critical for re-investing in the community, and we’re trying to nurture that base now.” — Kirk Coburn, investment director at Shell Ventures

Video courtesy of the Greater Houston Partnership

What are the roles of energy corporations when it comes to innovation development? And what else does a successful innovation ecosystem need? At a virtual SXSW Houston House panel, panelists Kirk Coburn, investment director of Shell Ventures, and Bill Collins, founder and CEO of LO3 Energy, discuss the role of corporate innovation and venture support and the future of energy security. Click here to watch the full interview.

“If we’re going to improve performance in the energy industry, we are going to have to work better together and collaborate together.” — Al Carnrite, president and CEO of Carnrite Group

Video courtesy of the Greater Houston Partnership

Environmental, social, and governance, aka ESG, has the power to disrupt the energy transition and has already made a huge impact on energy company's short- and long-term goals. At a virtual SXSW Houston House panel, Andrew Bruce, founder and CEO, of Data Gumbo, and Al Carnrite, president and CEO of Carnrite Group discuss the emergence of ESG and how it's affecting the global energy transition. Click here to watch the full interview.

“While Houston remains the energy capital of the world, Houston is much, much more than oil and gas. Innovators in Houston are leading the charge towards creating a lower carbon future.” — Mayor Sylvester Turner

Video courtesy of the Greater Houston Partnership

How's business in Houston? At a virtual SXSW Houston House HOU Talk, Mayor Sylvester Turner gives an update on how the innovation ecosystem has developed over his tenure. Click here to watch the full interview.

"Houston is a renewable energy capital that no one knows about — in addition to being the energy capital.” — Emily Reichert, CEO at Greentown Labs

Video courtesy of the Greater Houston Partnership

In order to maintain its role as the energy capital of the world, Houston needs to advance its role in clean energy innovation. Greentown Labs, which is opening its new Houston facility in just a matter of months, will help move that needle locally. At a virtual SXSW Houston House HOU Talk, Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs, shares how Greentown Houston will act as a convener and a place to spark cleantech innovation. Click here to watch the full interview.

“We think material science is the new tech boom. And Houston is the place to be for it.” — Mike Francis, CEO and co-founder of NanoTech

Video courtesy of the Greater Houston Partnership

Houston's no stranger to engineering and physical science. Over the past several decades, the city has accumulated major hard tech businesses and talent within oil and gas. Now, it's time to lean on that infrastructure to allow for a hard tech and material science revolution. At a virtual SXSW Houston House panel, Dale Winger, managing director at Halliburton Labs, and Mike Francis, CEO and co-founder of Nanotech, discuss how materials science plays a major role in advancing the energy transition. Click here to watch the full interview.

“This isn’t your daddy’s oil patch. This is an opportunity where we can really leverage the people we have in the city to drive us forward.” — Katie Mehnert, founder and CEO of Ally

Video courtesy of the Greater Houston Partnership

What does the future of the energy workforce look like? For one, it looks way different from decades past. At a virtual SXSW Houston House HOU Talk, Katie Mehnert, founder and CEO of ALLY, weighs in on how diversity — racial, gendered, and even generational — is extremely key moving the industry forward. Click here to watch the full interview.

“We are seeing now this inflection point where there is this next build out of utility. Texas in particular is a great proving ground.” — Doug Moorehead, managing partner and CTO of Broad Reach Power

Video courtesy of the Greater Houston Partnership

On the heels of the state's worst winter storm power outage, the energy and power industries are rethinking weatherization and power storage for the future. At a virtual SXSW Houston House HOU Talk, Doug Moorehead, managing partner and CTO of Broad Reach Power, discusses the future of energy storage and how profoundly important it is toward preventing another winter storm power outage like Texas experienced in February. Click here to watch the full interview.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston-based creator economy platform goes live nationally

so clutch

An app that originally launched on Houston college campuses has announced it's now live nationwide.

Clutch founders Madison Long and Simone May set out to make it easier for the younger generation to earn money with their skill sets. After launching a beta at local universities last fall, Clutch's digital marketplace is now live for others to join in.

The platform connects brands to its network of creators for reliable and authentic work — everything from social media management, video creation, video editing, content creation, graphic design projects, and more. With weekly payments to creators and an inclusive platform for users on both sides of the equation, Clutch aims to make digital collaboration easier and more reliable for everyone.

“We’re thrilled to bring our product to market to make sustainable, authentic lifestyles available to everyone through the creator economy," says May, CTO and co-founder of Clutch. "We’re honored to be part of the thriving innovation community here in Houston and get to bring more on-your-own-terms work opportunities to all creators and businesses through our platform.”

In its beta, Clutch facilitated collaborations for over 200 student creators and 50 brands — such as DIGITS and nama. The company is founded with a mission of "democratizing access to information and technology and elevating the next generation for all people," according to a news release from Clutch. In the beta, 75 percent of the creators were people of color and around half of the businesses were owned by women and people of color.

“As a Clutch Creator, I set my own pricing, schedule and services when collaborating on projects for brands,” says Cathy Syfert, a creator through Clutch. “Clutch Creators embrace the benefits of being a brand ambassador as we create content about the products we love, but do it on behalf of the brands to help the brands grow authentically."

The newly launched product has the following features:

  • Creator profile, where users can share their services, pricing, and skills and review inquiries from brands.
  • Curated matching from the Clutch admin team.
  • Collab initiation, where users can accept or reject incoming collab requests with brands.
  • Collab management — communication, timing, review cycles — all within the platform.
  • In-app payments with a weekly amount selected by the creators themselves.
  • Seamless cancellation for both brands and creators.
Clutch raised $1.2 million in seed funding from Precursor Ventures, Capital Factory, HearstLab, and more. Clutch was originally founded as Campus Concierge in 2021 and has gone through the DivInc Houston program at the Ion.

Madison Long, left, and Simone May co-founded Clutch. Photo courtesy of Clutch

2 Houston suburbs roll onto top-15 spots on U-Haul’s list of growing cities

on the move

More movers hauled their belongings to Texas than any other state last year. And those headed to the Greater Houston area were mostly pointed toward Missouri City and Conroe, according to a new study.

In its recently released annual growth report, U-Haul ranks Missouri City and Conroe at No. 13 and No. 19, respectively among U.S. cities with the most inbound moves via U-Haul trucks in 2022. Richardson was the only other Texas cities to make the list coming in at No. 15.

Texas ranks No. 1 overall as the state with the most in-bound moves using U-Haul trucks. This is the second year in a row and the fifth year since 2016 that Texas has earned the distinction.

“The 2022 trends in migration followed very similar patterns to 2021 with Texas, Florida, the Carolinas and the Southwest continuing to see solid growth,” U-Haul international president John Taylor says in a news release. “We still have areas with strong demand for one-way rentals. While overall migration in 2021 was record-breaking, we continue to experience significant customer demand to move out of some geographic areas to destinations at the top of our growth list.”

U-Haul determines the top 25 cities by analyzing more than 2 million one-way U-Haul transactions over the calendar year. Then the company calculated the net gain of one-way U-Haul trucks entering a specific area versus departing from that area. The top U-Haul growth states are determined the same way.

The studies note that U-Haul migration trends do not directly correlate to population or economic growth — but they are an “effective gauge” of how well cities and states are attracting and maintaining residents.

Missouri City is known for its convenient location only minutes from downtown Houston. The city’s proximity to major freeways, rail lines, the Port of Houston, and Bush and Hobby Airports links its businesses with customers “around the nation and the world,” per its website.

The No. 19-ranked city of Conroe is “the perfect blend of starry nights and city lights,” according to the Visit Conroe website. Conroe offers plenty of outdoor activities, as it is bordered by Lake Conroe, Sam Houston National Forest and W. Goodrich Jones State Forest. But it also has a busy downtown area with breweries, theaters, shopping and live music.

To view U-Haul’s full growth cities report, click here.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston expert: Space tourism is the future — do we have the workforce to run it?

guest column

Throughout history, humans have always been fascinated in exploring and traveling around the world, taking them to many exotic places far and away. On the same token, ever since the dimension of space travel has been inaugurated with multiple private companies launching rockets into space, it has become an agenda to make space travel public and accessible to all. We believe that space travel is the next frontier for tourism just like for our forefathers world travel to faraway places was the next frontier, for recreational and adventure purposes.

In a world racing on technology, we can picture flying cars, invisible doors, and international cuisine in space. With this rapid expansion of the land, the idea of space tourism has stirred the space industry to think about running businesses, start trade, and set up universalization beyond the ring of the earth. It is no longer science fiction but our immediate future. However, the true question remains. Who will be responsible for all of it? Are we training the right workforce that is needed to build and run all of this?

Space tourism is an exciting idea in theory, traveling to extra-terrestrial destinations, exploring new planets, all by being in an anti-gravitational environment. Through these diminishing borders and rapid advancements soon we'll be living the space life, all the virtual, metaverse gigs coming to reality. But before that let's explore space tourism and how the solar system will welcome humans.

What is Space tourism?

Ever since 1967, Apollo opened the getaway of space travel and the technological intervention spun to rise. Just like nomad tourism, space tourism is human space travel for commercializing interstellar for leisure or pleasurable adventures of the unknown. Space has different levels of horizons, according to research, orbital space has high speeds of 17,400 mph to allow the rocket to orbit around the Earth without falling onto the land. While lunar space tourism goes into subcortical flights and brings people back at a slower speed.

Studies have shown that in the upcoming years, commercial space exploration will hike up the economical database, by generating more than expected revenue. On these grounds, space tourism won't be limited to suborbital flights but rather take onto orbital flights, this revolutionary expenditure will change the future.

Everything aligns when the right team works together endlessly to reach the stars. The space exploration will only take place with enthusiastic and empowered individuals catering towards their roles.

Astronomers, space scientists, meteorologists, plasma physicists, aerospace engineers, avionics technicians, technical writers, space producers, and more will work in the field to make this space dream come true.

The attraction of Space exploration

Curiosity is the gateway to the seven wonders of the world. Humans are born with novelty-seeking, the drive to explore the unknown and push boundaries. This exploration has benefited society in a million ways, from making bulbs to jets.

The attraction towards exploring the space stems from the same desire for novelty seeking. We want to answer the most difficult questions about the universe, is there only darkness beyond that sky? Can we live on another planet if ours die? To address the challenges of space and the world, we have created new technologies, industries, and a union worldwide. This shows how vital space exploration is to humans. Many astronauts dwell on the idea of seeing the iconic thin blue outline of our planet, the quintessential experience makes the astronaut go back and back. However, are we entering this dimension with the right skills? Is our future workforce ready to take need the best

Who will lead the path?

The main question that still goes unanswered is who will run space tourism. When it comes to the future, there are infinite options. One decision and you will fly into an endless sky.

This expenditure has opened multiple career opportunities for the future workforce to take on for diversification and exploration of space. Currently, we cannot predict how people will find meaning and improve their lives through space tourism, but it will be a soul-awakening experience. According to experts, travelers would prefer a livelihood in space for which companies are working day and night to figure out accommodation and properties. The ideas include having space hotels, offices, research labs, and tents for operations.

Lastly, space tourism is just a start, we are moving into a dimensional field of physics and astronomy to create new opportunities and ground-breaking inventions to explore the untouchable. The new era of more refined and thoroughly accessed careers are on the rise, let's see how the world evolves in the next 10 years.

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Ghazal Qureshi is the founder and CEO of UpBrainery, a Houston-based immersive educational technology platform that taps into neuroscience research-based programs to provide adaptive learning and individualized pathways for students at home or in the classroom.