From smart home technology to higher education institutions, these leaders are pushing forward innovation in Houston. Courtesy photos

Another week, another set of Houston innovators to keep your eye on. This week's edition crosses retail technology with higher education — both on this planet and beyond.

From tech that's orbiting the planet to tech that's in your very home, here are the Houston-based innovators to know.

Leah Barton, North American commercial director for Hive

Leah Barton oversees Hive's growing North American efforts from the Houston office. Courtesy of Hive

United Kingdom-based Hive, a smart product company, has bet on Houston as its battle ground for growth in the United States. The company recently tasked Leah Barton as North American Commercial Director to serve in the Houston office as of June 2019 and focus on this growth. Barton tells InnovationMap that she feels Houston is increasingly becoming an innovation hub.

"We know we've got the technical talent, we've got people who are interested in technology, whether it's from the medical angle, energy angle, aerospace angle," she says. Continue reading the story about Hive and Barton's plans for expansion by clicking here.

David Alexander, director of the Rice University Space Institute

David Alexander of the Rice University Space Institute says Houston's past accomplishments in space aren't all the Space City has to offer. Photo courtesy of Rice University

For David Alexander, director of the Rice University Space Institute, Houston's role in space exploration is far from over. In fact, even though it's been 50 years since Neil Armstrong phoned home to Houston from the moon, he argues that this moment is not all the Space City has to celebrate.

"In Houston, we tend to think of space as a destination, but it really is a resource," he says. "And we need to be thinking about it as a resource." Read the complete interview with Alexander by clicking here.

Paul Pavlou, dean of C. T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston

Paul Pavlou has been named as the dean of C. T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston. Courtesy of UH

Success is in the details for this new University of Houston C.T. Bauer College of Business dean, Paul Pavlou, who began his UH career earlier this month. Pavlou has a passion for higher education and the doors it has opened for him.

"My life was transformed by higher education," Pavlou says. "So, I feel the need to give back in terms of helping other students — especially of modest means like myself to do well in life and get a good job."

Pavlou has multidisciplinary efforts on his mind, as well as data and technology integration within the school's programs. To read more about Pavlou, click here.

United Kingdom-based smart technology company, Hive, chose Houston as the city to grow its United States presence. Photo courtesy of Hive

UK-based smart home products company focuses on Houston growth

Home sweet home tech

Hive, a smart product company with headquarters in the United Kingdom, has zoned in on Houston for growth in the United States. Drawn to the city's diverse population and tech growth, the company also has a preexisting connection to Direct Energy, which has a large footprint in Houston.

The two companies are connected under the umbrella of parent company Centrica, which is also based in the U.K. Most recently, the company appointed Leah Barton as North American Commercial Director to serve in the Houston office as of June 2019.

Barton tells InnovationMap that she feels Houston is increasingly becoming an innovation hub.

"We know we've got the technical talent, we've got people who are interested in technology, whether it's from the medical angle, energy angle, aerospace angle," she says.

Hive has been in Houston since 2017, but recently, especially with the appointment of Burton, the company has amped up its Houston presence.

"We're looking for solutions that engage the whole home, so in the 21st century a smart home is a key component of whole-home energy management and comfort management," says Barton.

In May 2019, the company launched security product packs into the Houston market. These packs combine a number of Hive products, including an indoor package, and outdoor package, and a combination pack. The packages include a camera, a light monitoring system, and sensors for doors and windows to capture any activity.

"Those very much had a home automation component to it, but also a peace of mind component," says Barton.

Hive plans to bring the smart products that have done well in its U.K market to its United States markets, including Houston. These products would be focused on ensuring air conditioners, heating units, boilers, are working correctly.

"We've been testing this air conditioning proposition with some of our home service providers within the broader Direct Energy network, that's what we're most excited to launch in the second half of the year," says Barton. "This air conditioning diagnostic product will give people advance warning if their air conditioning is going to run into trouble and will let them address it before it's too late and they are in a 'no cool' situation."

The Houston office is located in Greenway Plaza and the company currently has 25 employees in the United States, most who are based in Houston. Globally, Hive has a team of 500.

The companies most popular product is the smart thermostat, the product which the company was founded around and has remained a top seller. According to the website, the thermostat can be controlled from the user's smartphone. Through the Hive app, which launched in 2013, users can set daily schedules for the temperature as well as turn the unit on and off.

"Over time we've expanded that, we sell our own smart plugs, bulbs, sensors," says Peter Filcek, business development director for Hive. "Customers said they wanted more so we launched absolutely beautiful cameras about two years ago."

"Everything that we have brought to market, everything that we've built, is based on a real deep understanding of the problems and needs that our customers have," Filcek tells InnovationMap.

Hive products are available online anywhere in the United States or Canada.


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Innovative coastline project on Bolivar Peninsula receives federal funding

flood mitigation

The Galveston’s Coastal Barrier Project recently received federal funding to the tune of $500,000 to support construction on its flood mitigation plans for the area previously devastated by Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Known as Ike Dike, the proposed project includes implementing the Galveston Bay Storm Surge Barrier System, including eight Gulf and Bay defense projects. The Bolivar Roads Gate System, a two-mile-long closure structure situated between Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula, is included in the plans and would protect against storm surge volumes entering the bay.

The funding support comes from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and will go toward the preconstruction engineering and design phase of Ecosystem Restoration feature G-28, the first segment of the Bolivar Peninsula and West Bay Gulf Intracoastal Waterway Shoreline and Island Protection.

Coastal Barrier Project - Galveston Projects

The project also includes protection of critical fish and wildlife habitat against coastal storms and erosion.

“The Coastal Texas Project is one of the largest projects in the history of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” says Col. Rhett A. Blackmon, USACE Galveston District commander, in a statement. “This project is important to the nation for many reasons. Not only will it reduce risk to the vulnerable populations along the Texas coast, but it will also protect vital ecosystems and economically critical infrastructure vital to the U.S. supply chain and the many global industries located here.”

Hurricane Ike resulted in over $30 billion in storm-related damages to the Texas coast, reports the Coastal Barrier Project, and created a debris line 15 feet tall and 40 miles long in Chambers County. The estimated economic disruption due to Hurricane Ike exceeded $150 billion, FEMA reported.

The project is estimated to take two years to complete after construction starts and will cost between $4 billion and $6 billion, reports Texas A&M University at Galveston.

Houston organization selects research on future foods in space health to receive $1M in funding

research and development

What would we eat if we were forced to decamp to another planet? The most immediate challenges faced by the food industry and astronauts exploring outside Earth are being addressed by The Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) at Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Space Medicine’s newest project.

Earlier this month, TRISH announced the initial selection for its Space Health Ingress Program (SHIP) solicitation. Working with California Institute of Technology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Baylor-based program chose “Future Foods for Space: Mobilizing the Future Foods Community to Accelerate Advances in Space Health,” led by Dr. Denneal Jamison-McClung at the University of California, Davis.

“TRISH is bringing in new ideas and investigators to propel space health research,” says Catherine Domingo, TRISH operations lead and research administration associate at Baylor College of Medicine, in the release. “We have long believed that new researchers with fresh perspectives drive innovation and advance human space exploration and SHIP builds on TRISH’s existing efforts to recruit and support new investigators in the space health research field, potentially yielding and high-impact ideas to protect space explorers.”

The goal of the project is to develop sustainable food products and ingredients that could fuel future space travelers on long-term voyages, or even habitation beyond our home planet.

Jamison-McClung and her team’s goal is to enact food-related space health research and inspire the community thereof by mobilizing academic and food-industry researchers who have not previously engaged with the realm of space exploration. Besides growing and developing food products, the project will also address production, storage, and delivery of the nutrition created by the team.

To that end, Jamison-McClung and her recruits will receive $1 million over the course of two years. The goal of the SHIP solicitation is to work with first-time NASA investigators, bringing new minds to the forefront of the space health research world.

“As we look to enable safer space exploration and habitation for humans, it is clear that food and nutrition are foundational,” says Dr. Asha S. Collins, chair of the SHIP advisory board, in a press release. “We’re excited to see how accelerating innovation in food science for space health could also result in food-related innovations for people on Earth in remote areas and food deserts.”

Clean energy nonprofit CEO to step down, search for replacement to begin

moving on

Greentown Labs, which is co-located in the Boston and Houston areas, has announced its current CEO is stepping down after less than a year in the position.

The nonprofit's CEO and President Kevin Knobloch announced that he will be stepping down at the end of July 2024. Knobloch assumed his role last September, previously serving as chief of staff of the United States Department of Energy in President Barack Obama’s second term.

“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.”

The news of Knobloch's departure comes just over a month after the organization announced that it was eliminating 30 percent of its staff, which affected 12 roles in Boston and six in Houston.

According the Greentown, its board of directors is expected to launch a national search for its next CEO.

“On behalf of the entire Board of Directors, I want to thank Kevin for his efforts to strengthen the foundation of Greentown Labs and for charting the next chapter for the organization through a strategic refresh process,” says Dawn James, Greentown Labs Board Chair, in the release. “His thoughtful leadership will leave a lasting impact on the team and community for years to come.”

Knobloch reportedly shifted Greentown's sponsorship relationships with oil companies, sparking "friction within the organization," according to the Houston Chronicle, which also reported that Knobloch said he intends to return to his clean energy consulting firm.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.