Fifteen startups — with clean energy solutions involving everything from solar energy to hydrogen — are joining Rice Alliance's Clean Energy Accelerator later this summer. Photo via Getty Images

A clean energy program has announced its third cohort and named the 15 startups that were accepted into to the accelerator.

The Rice Alliance's Clean Energy Accelerator revealed its 2023 cohort that will be in the 10-week program that kicks of July 25. CEA, a hybrid program based out of the Ion, will wrap up with a Demo Day alongside the 20th Annual Rice Alliance Energy Tech Venture Forum on September 21.

The accelerator, led by Kerri Smith and Matt Peña, provides the cohort with programming, networking, and mentorship from six executives in residence — Nathan Ball, Fatimah Bello, Michael Egan, Michael Evans, Stephen Sims, and Deanna Zhang.

Since the Clean Energy Accelerator launched in 2021, the program has supported 29 ventures that have gone on to raise over $75 million in funding, identified and launched pilots, and created jobs, According to Rice, many of these companies relocated to Houston.

Class 3, which has already raised $23.3 million in funding, hails from four countries and seven states and are addressing a range of energy solutions — from advanced materials, carbon management/capture, energy storage, hydrogen, solar energy, wind energy, and more. They were selected by a screening committee consisting of more than 50 industry experts, investors, energy leaders, and entrepreneurs.

The third class, as announced by Rice Alliance, is as follows:

  • Ayrton Energy, based in Alberta, Canada,provides hydrogen storage technology that improves hydrogen transport logistics for distributed energy applications.
  • Headquartered in Massachusetts,Carbix transforms atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions into building materials using proprietary reactor technology.
  • Houston-based CryoDesalination lowers the carbon footprint and cost of removing salts and heavy metals from water and industrial effluents.
  • Digital Carbon Bank,based in Alberta, Canada, provides a carbon solution tailored for the energy industry.
  • Chandler, Arizona-basedEarthEn provides compressed carbon dioxide-based energy storage and artificial intelligence solutions allowing grid owners/operators to be completely renewable.
  • H Quest Vanguard, from Pittsburgh, provides green hydrogen at a five to 10 times lower cost to users of natural gas to decarbonize industrial heat.
  • Calgary, Alberta-based Highwood Emissions Management'sSaaS platform allows oil and gas companies to understand their emissions and develop robust plans to reduce them.
  • Icarus RT,from San Diego, California, improves photovoltaic efficiency while enabling useful heat energy storage.
  • Los Altos, California-based Khepra has developed a chemical manufacturing platform for the low-cost, sustainable production of agrochemicals.
  • Binghamton, New York-based Natrion’s electrolyte is a drop-in solid-state battery component that can be rapidly implemented into existing batteries.
  • Oceanways, based in London, provides low-cost, flexible and scalable zero-emission underwater "virtual pipelines" to energy producers.
  • Relyion Energy, from Santa Clara, California, is developing battery usage and intelligence solutions with deeper data and insights for retired electric vehicle batteries.
  • Massachusetts-based Triton Anchor provides a more cost-effective anchoring solution for offshore clean energy with minimal environmental impact.
  • TROES, from Markham, Ontario, provides a 4-in-1 microgrid solution with integrated hardware and software for a streamlined energy storage experience.
  • Mexico City-basedTycho Solutionssupports clean energy project developers by saving time and money during the critical project-siting process.
A panel of Houston innovators explained how impact investment isn't charity. It provides both financial and societal returns. Photo courtesy of SWAN

Houston experts shine spotlight on impact investing following angel network expansion

calling for impact

Houston innovators called for existing and potential investors to focus on impact investing — for the improvement of both society and your bottom line.

SWAN Impact Network, which announced its expansion into Houston earlier last month, is an investment organization that prioritizes funding mission driven startups and educating angels on how to analyze impact investment companies. The organization hosted a launch event and panel at the Ion last week to discuss the process and goals of impact investing and highlighted their own success stories as angel investors. The panelists included Bob Bridge, Kerri Smith, and Emily Reiser, who were moderated by Grace Rodriguez, executive director of Impact Hub Houston.

Emily Reiser, associate director of the Texas Medical Center’s innovation team, said impact investing, though focused on improving people’s lives through innovations, should still rely on typical business models and return profiles.

“It’s not charity investment, it’s investing with an eye towards how that investment is going to also return to the greater society as well as back to your pockets,” Reiser says.

As there was a mix of prospective angel investors and entrepreneurs in attendance at the event, Reiser encouraged the founders to have formal business plans in place before meeting with investors, from setting up customer feedback systems to budgeting estimates.

“In the impact space you’ll get some great enthusiasm from people who want to join your mission to save lives, or change the world, or save the planet but make sure you do all the rest of the work behind that to build out the rest of your business model, figure out how you’re going to sell, get it optioned, and on the market,” Reiser says.

Bob Bridge, the founder and executive director of SWAN, stressed the importance of examining long term consequences of impact-driven startups. Bridge illustrated the importance of doing research into how these startups could unintentionally harm communities before investing in them by discussing the well known shoe manufacturer TOMS, whose business model revolved around matching each pair of purchased shoes by donating a pair to people in developing countries, putting local manufacturers out of business.

“These companies are often just now entering the market place so they can’t measure their actual impact results yet because they’re not delivering services or products yet,” Bridge says. “We look for them to have some sort of data to give us a clue if what they’re doing is going to work … convince us there is efficacy to what you are doing and that your impact solution is competitive.”

Bridge also adds there is no concrete definition of impact investing because every society has different needs to be met through creative solutions, from developing more robust technology to encouraging the hiring of underrepresented minority groups. When making decisions over which companies to invest in, Bridge says he also prioritizes startup teams that are collaborative and transparent.

“We don’t invest in Steve Jobs' kind of personalities … We want people who are always learning from their customers, competitors, and employees,” he explains.

Kerri Smith, executive director of the Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator program, says her team readies their emerging startups to tackle meetings with investors by asking them to quantify the impact of their technology on users.

“We’re seeing a lot of investors as well as boards of directors requiring companies to be more responsive to those kinds of things,” Smith says. “We try to prepare the startups in ways that will make them more ready to answer questions about the impact that they’re having societally as well as financially.”

Rice University is one of the founding partners of the science foundation’s Southwest I-Corps Node. Photo via Rice University/Twitter

Houston university granted $1.2M to expand STEM-focused initiative

science support

Rice University is receiving a five-year $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to expand a program that helps faculty members, researchers, and doctoral students commercialize STEM-oriented technology.

Rice is one of the founding partners of the science foundation’s Southwest I-Corps Node. Rice and the two other founding partners are sharing a $15 million grant to help add five universities to the program.

Rice, Texas A&M University, and the University of Texas established the Southwest node in 2014. The five schools forming a new hub within the node are the University of Texas at San Antonio, the University of Texas at El Paso, Oklahoma State University, New Mexico State University, and Louisiana State University.

The foundation’s I-Corp program not only boosts STEM-related technologies developed at universities, but it also provides $50,000 grants for STEM-based faculty members and doctoral students to participate in a six-week training program to help researchers bring technologies from the lab to the marketplace. Over 1,000 startups have been formed after completing the I-Corps program; they have raised more than $750 million in funding.

Kerri Smith, associate managing director of the Rice Alliance, leads the university’s I-Corps program, along with Kaz Karwowski, executive director of the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership, and Jessica Fleenor, a Rice Alliance I-Corps teaching assistant and I-Corps program manager.

“Thanks to the Rice Alliance’s more than two decades of leadership, Rice has built an entrepreneurial culture on campus, served as a founding member of the I-Corps program, and provided entrepreneurial education to hundreds of faculty and students,” says Reginald DesRoches, president of Rice.

Rice has received more than $3.1 million in National Science Foundation grants for the I-Corps program, plus about $1.3 million as part of the I-Corps node. Rice faculty members and researchers have received more than $600,000 in I-Corps grants.

Previous I-Corps participants at Rice include:

  • Volumetric Biotechnologies, a startup founded by Jordan Miller, an assistant professor of bioengineering assistant professor, and based on Miller’s 3D organ-printing technology. Volumetric was acquired last year by 3D Systems for up to $400 million.
  • SPLAY (formerly Arovia), which completed the I-Corps program in 2015. Through two Kickstarter campaigns, the company has successfully raised money for its high-definition, portable, large-scale computer display technology.
This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Kerri Smith of the Rice Alliance, Trevor Best of Syzygy Plasmonics, and Muriel Foster of gBETA Houston. 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 cleantech to startup acceleration — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.


Kerri Smith, managing director of the Rice Alliance's Clean Energy Accelerator

Kerri Smith of the Rice Alliance joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss Rice's Clean Energy Accelerator. Photo courtesy of Rice

As the managing director for the Rice Alliance for Entrepreneurship and Technology's Clean Energy Accelerator, Kerri Smith is focused not only on the program's cohorts but on supporting the Houston cleantech ecosystem as a whole. CEA works with Greentown Houston, which is just next door to the program's home at The Ion, and the Greater Houston Partnership's Houston Energy Transition Initiative.

"Rice Alliance has a strong history of demonstrating collaboration with a number of organizations," Smith says. "I think one of the primary benefits that we have in these collaborative opportunities is to ensure that we are collectively building a capable and diverse pipeline of talent to solve for these problems and provide them with access to experiencing all of the benefits of our ecosystem."

Smith shares more about what she's looking for in the second cohort of CEA on a recent Houston Innovators Podcast episode, as well as what she sees as Houston's role in the energy transition. Click here to read more and stream the episode.

Trevor Best, co-founder and CEO of Syzygy Plasmonics

Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy Plasmonics, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the growth of his cleantech startup. Photo courtesy of Syzygy

Trevor Best is gearing up to fundraise for and scale his cleantech startup, Syzygy Plasmonics. The company has also grown its team to 60 people and is preparing to move into a new 45,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Pearland this summer.

"What we're seeing is the market's appetite for our kind of technology — deep tech for decarbonization in energy and chemicals — is really high. If we want to meet global demand for our product, we need to get ready to scale," Best says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Best is keeping a close eye what the market will be looking for, and the interest seems to be in hydrogen as a clean energy solution, which has positioned Syzygy in a great place. Click here to read more and stream the episode.

Muriel Foster, director of gBETA Houston

Muriel Foster, a native Houstonian, is the new director of gBETA Houston. Image via LinkedIn

A national startup accelerator has announced its fifth local cohort, which includes five Houston companies participating in the spring 2022 class, and the new leader that will oversee the program. Muriel Foster is the newly named director of gBETA Houston, which is designed to help guide early-stage startups find early customer traction, connect with mentors, and more.

“The five companies selected for the Spring 2022 cohort tackle unique problems that have propelled them to create a business that solves the issues they once faced," Foster says in a news release. "From public speaking, apparel comfort, and food delivery from underrepresented restaurant owners, these founders have found their niche and are ready to continue to make an enormous impact on the Houston ecosystem."

A Houston native, she has her master’s in public administration from Texas Southern University and a bachelor’s in marketing from Oklahoma State University. Her background includes work in the nonprofit sector and international business consulting in Cape Town, South Africa, and she's worked within programming at organizations such as MassChallenge, BLCK VC, and now gener8tor. Click here to read more.

Kerri Smith of the Rice Alliance joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss Rice's Clean Energy Accelerator. Photo courtesy of Rice

Cleantech accelerator leader looks forward to new cohort and making an impact on Houston's energy transition

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 134

Kerri Smith knows accelerators. Through her over 18 years at Rice Alliance, she's been responsible for overseeing several and was on the founding leadership team of Houston's first energy tech startup accelerator, SURGE. After years of focusing you accelerating Rice University's student-focused program, Owl Spark, she's transitioned back into the energy tech space.

"I've worked with many types of founders. There's not one unique characteristic that everyone has," Smith says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Our goal is to help move them along and help them move the needle. At the end of the day, we want them to have a good experience and to meet their goals and objectives."

The Rice Alliance's Clean Energy Accelerator launched last summer with its inaugural cohort of 12 cleantech startups, which represented energy sectors from solar and wind innovations to hydrogen, geothermal, and more. Smith says the startups represented a wide range of stages and were from all over — only two companies were from Houston originally. The out-of-town companies were able to make critical partnerships in town and set up a presence and a home here.

"We were able to build a family-like culture among our group, and that was something that was wildly appreciative," Smith, who serves as executive director of the program, says.

Applications for Class 2 of CEA are open until May 31. While the program will offer the same access to mentorship and opportunities, the program will change slightly. CEA will focus on seed and series A-stage companies and will be a hybrid program. Throughout the 10 weeks, which begins in the fall instead of the summer this year, founders will visit Houston three times at the beginning, middle, and the end of the accelerator. Each startup will receive a grant to cover the expenses of the equity-free program.

CEA is just one part of a greater ecosystem of innovation under the umbrella of Rice University, which includes the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, The Ion Houston, Owl Spark, and more. All these entities also play into the greater Houston area's innovation ecosystem.

"Rice Alliance has a strong history of demonstrating collaboration with a number of organizations," Smith says. "I think one of the primary benefits that we have in these collaborative opportunities is to ensure that we are collectively building a capable and diverse pipeline of talent to solve for these problems and provide them with access to experiencing all of the benefits of our ecosystem."

With CEA specifically, some of these collaborations include working with Greentown Houston, which is just next door to the program's home at The Ion, and the Greater Houston Partnership's Houston Energy Transition Initiative.

"We're a cog in the wheel. We do really well with that. We play well with others – in ways that the founder has a good experience and can benefit," Smith says.

Smith shares more about what she's looking for in the second cohort of CEA on the podcast episode, as well as what she sees as Houston's role in the energy transition. 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 Juliana Garaizar of Greentown Houston, Misha Govshteyn of MacroFab, and Kerri Smith of the Rice Alliance. 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 two local innovators, as well as one honorary Houstonian, across industries — energy, manufacturing, and more — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Juliana Garaizar, head of Greentown Houston and vice president of Greentown Labs

Juliana Garaizar is transitioning her role at Greentown Houston. Courtesy photo

Juliana Garaizar has a new role within Greentown Labs. She's lead the local team as launch director, and now is taking a new role now that Greentown Houston has opened its doors. Garaizar recently discussed with InnovationMap why now is the perfect time for Greentown to premiere in Houston.

"I think that if Greentown had happened one year before or even one year later, it wouldn't be the right time. I really believe that our main partners are transitioning themselves — Shell, Chevron, and many others are announcing how they are transitioning," she says. "And now they look at Greentown as an execution partner more than anything. Before, it was a nice initiative for them to get involved in. Now, they are really thinking about us much more strategically." Click here to read more.

Misha Govshteyn, CEO of MacroFab

Misha Govshteyn joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the evolving electronics manufacturing industry. Photo courtesy of MacroFab

Electronics manufacturer and MacroFab, run by CEO Misha Govshteyn, much like the rest of the business world, was not immune to the effects of the pandemic. But as some business returned last summer, Govshteyn says MacroFab bounced back in a big way.

"In a lot of ways, the concepts we've been talking about actually crystalized during the pandemic. For a lot of people, it was theoretically that supply chain resiliency is important," Govshteyn says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Single sourcing from a country halfway around the world might not be the best solution. ... When you have all your eggs in one basket, sooner or later you're going to have a break in your supply chain. And we've seen nothing but breaks in supply chains for the last five years." Click here to read more.

Kerri Smith, interim executive director of the Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator

A new clean energy accelerator has announced its first cohort. Photo via rice.edu

The Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator, a 12-week program that will prepare startups to grow their business, connect them with strategic partners and mentors, launch pilots, and fundraise, has named its inaugural cohort.

"We were impressed with the quality, potential and range of clean energy solutions being commercialized by our applicant pool and took great care in assessing their potential as well as our ability to meet their identified needs," says Kerri Smith, the accelerator's interim executive director. "The selection process was very competitive. We had a difficult time paring down the applications but are looking forward to working with our first class of 12." Click here to read more.

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Health tech startup launches Houston study improve stroke patients recovery

now enrolling

A Houston-born company is enrolling patients in a study to test the efficacy of nerve stimulation to improve outcomes for stroke survivors.

Dr. Kirt Gill and Joe Upchurch founded NeuraStasis in 2021 as part of the TMC Biodesign fellowship program.

“The idea for the company manifested during that year because both Joe and I had experiences with stroke survivors in our own lives,” Gill tells InnovationMap. It began for Gill when his former college roommate had a stroke in his twenties.

“It’s a very unpredictable, sudden disease with ramifications not just for my best friend but for everyone in his life. I saw what it did to his family and caregivers and it's one of those things that doesn't have as many solutions for people to continue recovery and to prevent damage and that's an area that I wanted to focus myself on in my career,” Gill explains.

Gill and Upchurch arrived at the trigeminal and vagus nerves as a potential key to helping stroke patients. Gill says that there is a growing amount of academic literature that talks about the efficacy of stimulating those nerves. The co-founders met Dr. Sean Savitz, the director of the UTHealth Institute for Stroke and Cerebrovascular Diseases, during their fellowship. He is now their principal investigator for their clinical feasibility study, located at his facility.

The treatment is targeted for patients who have suffered an ischemic stroke, meaning that it’s caused by a blockage of blood flow to the brain.

“Rehabilitation after a stroke is intended to help the brain develop new networks to compensate for permanently damaged areas,” Gill says. “But the recovery process typically slows to essentially a standstill or plateau by three to six months after that stroke. The result is that the majority of stroke survivors, around 7.6 million in the US alone, live with a form of disability that prevents complete independence afterwards.”

NeuraStasis’ technology is intended to help patients who are past that window. They accomplish that with a non-invasive brain-stimulation device that targets the trigeminal and vagus nerves.

“Think of it kind of like a wearable headset that enables stimulation to be delivered, paired to survivors going through rehabilitation action. So the goal here is to help reinforce and rewire networks as they're performing specific tasks that they're looking to improve upon,” Gill explains.

The study, which hopes to enroll around 25 subjects, is intended to help people with residual arm and hand deficits six months or more after their ischemic stroke. The patients enrolled will receive nerve stimulation three times a week for six weeks. It’s in this window that Gill says he hopes to see meaningful improvement in patients’ upper extremity deficits.

Though NeuraStasis currently boasts just its two co-founders as full-time employees, the company is seeing healthy growth. It was selected for a $1.1 million award from the National Institutes of Health through its Blueprint MedTech program. The award was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The funding furthers NeuraStasis’ work for two years, and supports product development for work on acute stroke and for another product that will aid in emergency situations.

Gill says that he believes “Houston has been tailor-made for medical healthcare-focused innovation.”

NeuraStasis, he continues, has benefited greatly from its advisors and mentors from throughout the TMC, as well as the engineering talent from Rice, University of Houston and Texas A&M. And the entrepreneur says that he hopes that Houston will benefit as much from NeuraStasis’ technology as the company has from its hometown.

“I know that there are people within the community that could benefit from our device,” he says.

Texas Space Commission launches, Houston execs named to leadership

future of space

Governor Greg Abbott announced the Texas Space Commission, naming its inaugural board of directors and Texas Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium Executive Committee.

The announcement came at NASA's Johnson Space Center, and the governor was joined by Speaker Dade Phelan, Representative Greg Bonnen, Representative Dennis Paul, NASA's Johnson Space Center Director Vanessa Wyche, and various aerospace industry leaders.

According to a news release, the Texas Space Commission will aim to strengthen commercial, civil, and military aerospace activity by promoting innovation in space exploration and commercial aerospace opportunities, which will include the integration of space, aeronautics, and aviation industries as part of the Texas economy.

The Commission will be governed by a nine-member board of directors. The board will also administer the legislatively created Space Exploration and Aeronautics Research Fund to provide grants to eligible entities.

“Texas is home to trailblazers and innovators, and we have a rich history of traversing the final frontier: space,” Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick says in a news release. “Texas is and will continue to be the epicenter for the space industry across the globe, and I have total confidence that my appointees to the Texas Space Commission Board of Directors and the Texas Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium Executive Committee will ensure the Texas space industry remains an international powerhouse for cutting-edge space innovation.”

TARSEC will independently identify research opportunities that will assist the state’s position in aeronautics research and development, astronautics, space commercialization, and space flight infrastructure. It also plans to fuel the integration of space, aeronautics, astronautics, and aviation industries into the Texas economy. TARSEC will be governed by an executive committee and will be composed of representatives of each higher education institution in the state.

“Since its very inception, NASA’s Johnson Space Center has been home to manned spaceflight, propelling Texas as the national leader in the U.S. space program,” Abbott says during the announcement. “It was at Rice University where President John F. Kennedy announced that the U.S. would put a man on the moon—not because it was easy, but because it was hard.

"Now, with the Texas Space Commission, our great state will have a group that is responsible for dreaming and achieving the next generation of human exploration in space," he continues. "Texas is the launchpad for Mars, innovating the technology that will colonize humanity’s first new planet. As we look into the future of space, one thing is clear: those who reach for the stars do so from the great state of Texas. I look forward to working with the Texas Space Commission, and I thank the Texas Legislature for partnering with industry and higher education institutions to secure the future of Texas' robust space industry."

The Houston-area board of directors appointees included:

  • Gwen Griffin, chief executive officer of the Griffin Communications Group
  • John Shannon, vice president of Exploration Systems at the Boeing Company
  • Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby, co-founder and CEO of Venus Aerospace
  • Kirk Shireman, vice president of Lunar Exploration Campaigns at Lockheed Martin
  • Dr. Nancy Currie-Gregg, director of the Texas A&M Space Institute

Additionally, a few Houstonians were named to the TARSEC committee, including:

  • Stephanie Murphy, CEO and executive chairman of Aegis Aerospace
  • Matt Ondler, president and former chief technology officer at Axiom Space
  • Jack “2fish” Fischer, vice president of production and operations at Intuitive Machines
  • Brian Freedman, president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership and vice chairman of Wellby Financial
  • David Alexander, professor of physics and astronomy and director of the Rice Space Institute at Rice University

To see the full list of appointed board and committee members, along with their extended bios, click here.