This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Lacey Tezino of REACH, Prabhdeep Singh Sekhon of Gold H2, Jill Chapman of Insperity. 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 new CEO of a gold hydrogen biotech company, the leader of a health tech program, and an HR expert.


Lacey Tezino, program manager at the Gulf Coast Consortium's Research Evaluation and Commercialization Hub

According to program manager Lacey Tezino, REACH received 31 applications over the course of a month last fall. Photo courtesy

A group of seven groundbreaking scientists has been chosen as the first cohort of a top-flight new program for medical innovators.

Last year, the National Institute of Health (NIH) awarded theGulf Coast Consortium with a $4 million grant. Its use? The Research Evaluation and Commercialization Hub, known as REACH. REACH combines the powers of one of the world’s largest inter-institutional cooperatives — including eight Houston-area medical research organizations— to help accelerate fledgling innovations.

According to program manager Lacey Tezino, REACH received 31 applications over the course of a month last fall.

“They were really solid applications. I was just like, ‘Can we take all of them?’” Tezino tells InnovationMap. Continue reading.

Prabhdeep Singh Sekhon, CEO of Gold H2

Prabhdeep Singh Sekhon joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of Gold H2

Using microbes to sustainably unlock low-cost hydrogen sounds like the work of science fiction, but one Houston company is doing just that.

Gold H2, a spin-off company from Cemvita, has bioengineered subsurface microbes to use in wells to consume carbon and generate clean hydrogen. The technology was piloted two years ago by Cemvita, and now, as its own company with a new CEO, it's safe to say Gold H2's on its way.

"First of all, that was groundbreaking," Prabhdeep Singh Sekhon, CEO of Gold H2, says of the 2022 pilot in the Permian Basin, "to be able to use bugs to produce hydrogen within a couple of days."

"2024 is supposed to be the year where Gold H2 takes off," Sekhon, who joined the company in April, tells the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It was one of those opportunities that I couldn't turn down. I had been following the company. I thought, 'here is this innovative tech that's on the verge of providing a ground-breaking solution to the energy transition — what better time to join the team.'" Continue reading.

Jill Chapman, director of early talent programs at Insperity

Ultimately, volunteer programs provide a platform for employees to make a positive impact in the community. Photo courtesy of Insperity

Companies of all sizes and stages can implement community-focused initiatives for volunteering, as Jill Chapman of Insperity explains in a guest column.

"Expanding one’s social responsibility doesn’t have to break the bank," she writes. "Smaller companies trying to make an impact should start by establishing initiatives that lay the foundation for a successful volunteer program. To further build out a volunteer program, leaders should look to their employees to define what organizations or causes they are passionate about."

Chapman provides more details on how to introduce volunteering to your workforce. Continue reading.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Emily Keeton of Loeb.nyc, Steve Kean of GHP, and Lacey Tezino of Passport Journeys. Photos courtesy

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 investing to mental health — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Emily Keeton, operating partner and investor of Loeb.nyc

Emily Keeton has worn a lot of hats in Houston's innovation ecosystem and beyond. She shares on the Houston Innovators Podcast how she's engaging with companies these days, what the future holds for Houston, and more. Photo courtesy

Emily Keeton has had a front-row seat as the Houston innovation ecosystem developed — first hands on as a co-founder of Station Houston, and later from outside looking in from New York. As she shared on the Houston Innovators Podcast, she's hopeful about the future of the community.

"I am very optimistic about the future of Houston. It's a long game, and I think people need to keep showing up," she says on the show.

Now based in Houston, her latest endeavor is working with Michael Loeb on Loeb.nyc, a New York-based investment firm with shared services — marketing, design, etc. — with his portfolio. Read more.

Steve Kean, incoming president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership

Steve Kean will transition from leading Kinder Morgan to assuming the role of president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership later this year. Photo courtesy of the GHP

Steve Kean, who currently serves as the CEO of Kinder Morgan Inc., has been announced as the next president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership. He's expected to transition from CEO to board of directors member at Kinder Morgan on August 1. Kean will then assume his new position at GHP no later than Dec. 1.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve our region in this role," he says. "I look forward to building on what Bob, the Board, members, and staff of the Partnership have accomplished. I know first-hand the opportunities that a vibrant business sector can create for people and communities. I look forward to expanding those opportunities further.”

The GHP's outgoing president and CEO, Bob Harvey, announced his retirement earlier this year, and will remain in his position until Kean is onboarded. Read more.

A Houston-founded company is targeting mothers and daughters with their teletherapy app. Photo courtesy of Passport Journeys

When Lacey Tezino’s mother died of cancer she vowed to help other mothers and daughters find their own ways to bond in beautiful, nurturing ways. She turned that vow into a mission that is now available for others to embark on with an online therapy app tailored specifically for the mother-daughter dynamic Passport Journeys.

The app, which launched aptly on Mother's Day, can be downloaded via Apple or Google Play, and includes video therapy sessions, journal opportunities, interactive worksheets, and help those who need access to this form of mental health help with ease.

“Outside of our target audience being mother-daughter, we are also the first teletherapy app to find prescribed activities,“ Tezino tells InnovationMap. “We are the first ones that are actually having the therapist in between their video sessions assign the mother-daughter pair intentional bonding activities. It is meant for them to spend quality time on where they are at in their relationship…there aren’t any other apps that are doing that.” Read more.

A Houston-founded company is targeting mothers and daughters with their teletherapy app. Photo courtesy of Passport Journeys

Houston startup addresses mother-daughter dynamic with first app of its kind

When Lacey Tezino’s mother died of cancer she vowed to help other mothers and daughters find their own ways to bond in beautiful, nurturing ways.

Tezino turned that vow into a mission that is now available for others to embark on with an online therapy app tailored specifically for the mother-daughter dynamic Passport Journeys.

The Houston-based company is billed as the first mother-daughter teletherapy application that stands out in a crowded market place on online therapy like Better Help. Tezino, the founder and CEO, partnered with seven Houston-based licensed behavioral health clinics to make the dream a reality.

The app, which launched aptly on Mother's Day, can be downloaded via Apple or Google Play, and includes video therapy sessions, journal opportunities, interactive worksheets, and help those who need access to this form of mental health help with ease.

“Outside of our target audience being mother-daughter, we are also the first teletherapy app to find prescribed activities,“ Tezino tells InnovationMap. “We are the first ones that are actually having the therapist in between their video sessions assign the mother-daughter pair intentional bonding activities. It is meant for them to spend quality time on where they are at in their relationship…there aren’t any other apps that are doing that.”

According to research from Passport Journeys, there are 85 million mothers in the United States, and the company hopes to help connect mothers and daughters in a flexible, and affordable way that differs from traditional therapy settings in a time where mental health is a priority for many.

“For your mental health in general, having these resources — there are thousands of these apps out there, but having something that is targeted therapy for your relationship is different, and the importance is your relationships ripple through your mental health,” Tezino says. “Fostering and growing this (mother-daughter) relationship is a part of mental health.”

Lacey Tezino founded Passport Journeys to provide a teletherapy platform for mothers and daughters. Photo courtesy

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Education equity-focused nonprofit taps into robotics, AI to better serve Houston children

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Generally, when children are under the age of five, educators believe that they are best suited for and interested in learning, because those are the years in which there is the strongest opportunity to build a broad and solid foundation for lifelong literacy and well-being.

That sentiment is deeply held by Collaborative for Children, the Houston-based nonprofit organization with the mission to meaningfully improve the quality of early childhood education and provide access to cutting-edge technology through its Centers of Excellence to all children, especially those in low-income and marginalized communities.

“The reason the organization was started about 40 years ago is that a group of philanthropists in the greater Houston area suggested that this was so important because 90 percent of the brain develops or grows in the time frame between ages zero to five years of age,” Melanie Johnson, president and CEO of Collaborative for Children, tells InnovationMap.

“And if we were losing children and not preparing them by third grade to be literate, and then subsequently losing them after that for high dropout rates and achievement gaps between poor and affluent children, that this would be the perfect place to start," she continues. "And so, they put the collaborative, the emphasis, and finances collaborative of every, most every early education effort around this region.”

Collaborative for Children’s work in the community is centered around making sure that there is educational equity for all children, regardless of financial status, and providing access to technologies in meaningful ways.

“Ultimately, we want to bridge the digital divide early on so that when children start off their academic journey, they're starting off equipped with the skills to be successful there on,” says Johnson.

Most recently, the institution has focused on utilizing social-emotional learning robots and coding tech toys like the Pepper — the world’s first social humanoid robot able to recognize faces and basic human emotions — and NAO, which resembles human being and stimulates, robots to enhance learning in the classrooms of its Centers of Excellence.

“Technology enhances the learning experience in the Centers of Excellence in ways that a teacher might not be able to,” says Johnson. “Artificial intelligence is used in gamification to allow a child to play and learn while playing.”

For Collaborative for Children, gamification involves transforming typical academic components into gaming themes.

“While playing, the AI gauges the level of skills that they’ve been able to enter into that system and respond with even more challenging tasks or tasks that are still lateral so that they can continue to repeat that skill,” says Johnson.

The socio-emotional learning robots are indeed fascinating, but how does the nonprofit reach these children, and their parents, who might be skeptical of technology?

Ultimately, through the teachers. They draw them in via the technology. If teachers are excited, they act as a conductor of that energy to their students, making their innovative lessons well, electric.

That resonates with most all children, but especially with those diagnosed with autism.

“Robotics like NAO are great for children on the autism spectrum because they are emotionally sensitive and emotionally intelligent,” says Johnson. “They are low sensory, so as NAO runs around the classroom, it can literally have individual and unique conversations with each child based on facial recognition. But most importantly for me, is that this particular robot is able to evaluate children without statistical bias that a teacher might have.

“A teacher might think that because a child confuses the letter D and B, which are basically shaped the same in opposite directions, that they're not learning," she continues. "And the robot will have no prior knowledge in terms of, is this child the better child, or have they been learning throughout the year? The answers are accurate or inaccurate. So, they remove statistical bias when assessing children in the classroom.”

The misconception about teaching technologies is that it’s about screen time. According to Johnson, it’s not. It’s more about interacting with technology.

“We’ve added, you know, all kinds of modern-day technology so that this world that we're preparing these children for 80 percent of the jobs we don't even know will exist when they are adults,” says Johnson. “So, we're just trying to make sure that there is no divide in terms of 21st century skills and 21st century preparation.”

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Collaborative for Children has so many facets to assist children with their early development, but there are inherent challenges when attempting to reach their target audience in low-income and marginalized communities that the organization counters with programs like the Collab Lab, which is a mobile classroom that brings critical, future-focused early childhood education directly to the community at no cost.

Designed to be convenient for families, Collab Lab connects parents and their youngest children with experts, educators, resources, and proven programs whose goal is to make sure that kids have the skills essential to learning from the moment they walk into kindergarten for the first time.

“There are a myriad of challenges in these communities that we serve, specifically with technology,” says Johnson. “When children enter first grade, and especially second grade, they're given notepads, basically, digital notepads, because it's no good in pre-K oftentimes, but it is very helpful for children who will never have access or have limited access to iPads and things of that nature.

“So while we don't want them to be babysat by screen time and have social media impacting their self-image and self-worth, we definitely want them to have appropriate doses and appropriate uses of technology in the early education, so that those barriers that their parents face with limited means, that these children can go to first grade and into the robotics class and be able to be evaluated and assessed on the digital notepads that are required nowadays,” she continues.

While technology is very important, Collaborative for Children also focuses on the critical social and emotional skills children need as they develop and the all too important relationship between children and their parents and teachers.

“Theory leads our work,” says Johnson. “It's all focused on fine motor skills, gross motor skills, social emotional, can a child build rapport with their teacher and with the students around them. Those things are paramount and will never change.

“What we use technology to do is enhance and remove biases from teacher-pupil interaction, but also to bridge any kind of divide in terms of 21st century skills. And in addition to that, we engage the families. So families who might not know about hydro-fueled cars in those communities that we serve will be able to be exposed to those concepts, as well through our group connections or parent partnerships.”

Ultimately, the last thing Collaborative for Children wants is to send children from early learning and childcare environments into the K-12 system unprepared to be successful for the real world.

“At Collaborative for Children,” adds Johnson. “We are continuously pushing the envelope at our Centers for Excellence so that the children that we serve will always be on the cutting edge.

The last thing Collaborative for Children wants is to send children from early learning and childcare environments into the K-12 system unprepared to be successful for the real world. Photo courtesy of Collaborative for Children

Houston med school develops revolutionary mRNA vaccine for elephants

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An innovative team from Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital has worked with the Houston Zoo to develop a first-of-its-kind treatment for elephants, which has been administered to its first patient.

Tess, the beloved, 40-year-old matriarch of the Houston Zoo’s elephant herd, is recovering well after receiving the first-ever mRNA vaccine against elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV) 1A on Tuesday, June 18. The veterinary staff at the Houston Zoo will monitor Tess in the coming weeks to check her reaction and the efficacy of the vaccine.

EEHV 1A is a deadly infection for Asian Elephants. While generally benign in African Elephants, Asian Elephants can develop fatal hemorrhages. The fatality rate is a whopping 80 percent, making it one of the most serous threats to elephant populations outside of humans.

Anti-viral drugs have some effect on the disease, but two-thirds show no improvement. This has led to a search for a vaccine. For 15 years, the Houston Zoo and Dr. Paul Ling at Baylor College of Medicine’s Department of Virology and Microbiology have partnered to develop the drug. They have been helped by worldwide research from zoos and animal specialists, as well as graduate student Jessica Watts and Dr. Jeroen Pollet at Houston's Texas Children’s Hospital. The research has been funded by private donations, research partnerships, and grants.

Before being inoculated, the mRNA vaccine was exhaustively tested, with the dosage being extrapolated from data involving horses.

Houston Zoo veterinarians will periodically test Tess to see if she is developing the appropriate antibodies. If she is and there are no adverse reactions, the next step will be to administer the vaccine to the rest of the Houston herd. Many of these are Tess’s own children (Tucker, Tupelo, Tilly, and Teddy) and grandchildren (Winnie).

Should the vaccine prove effective, the doses will be made available worldwide to zoos and private elephant sanctuaries. It is likely to have a significant benefit on protecting and preserving the Asian Elephant population. As of January, there are fewer than 50,000 of the animas left in the wild. They are currently listed as endangered, and breeding programs and research done through the Houston Zoo are essential to keeping the animals from going extinct.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

New study says Houston is best city to grow business

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The Bayou City has again received recognition as a top hub for business.

According to a new study by business revenue experts The RevOps Team, Houston is one of the cities in the US with 10 or more companies listed in the S&P 500, and has been named as the number one city with the fastest growing businesses in the U.S. Houston scored the highest Average Business Growth (ABG) at 26.7 percent. The business experts divided the data from the S&P 500 Index to see what businesses had the highest share-price growth in the last year.

Out of the 28 states and the cities with 10 or more businesses listed in the S&P 500, Houston was No. 1t for growing businesses with Atlanta, in second place with 15 companies listed and reaching an ABG of 24.2 percent. Two cities in Texas ranked in the top five with Dallas taking third place at 14.9 percent.

Texas ranked fifth place overall in the top five states for business growth with high-performing businesses like Vistra. Vistra was the company with the highest growth in Texas at 277.68 percent, followed by NRG Energy (NRG) with 170.43 percent and Caterpillar Inc. (CAT) at 69.13 percent.

“You need to be ready to both leverage opportunity and adapt to challenges,” Kerri Linsenbigler of RevOps Team said in a news release. “Growing a business wherever you are in the U.S. is not for the faint-hearted, and business owners in Texas will be proud that they have ranked highly in the top five.”

Earlier this month, over a dozen Houston-based companies madeU.S. News and World Report's collection of the "Best Companies to Work For" in 2024-2025.

In December, the city was ranked among the 25 best metropolitan areas to start a small business in a report by personal finance website The Credit Review placed Houston in the No. 22 spot.