3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

This week's Houston innovators to know includes Lenny Saizan of Urban Capital Network, Katie Eick of Rollin' Vets, and Tony Loyd of AECOM. Courtesy photos

Editor's note: This year has made for some pivotal moments for various Houston companies across industries. For some, the pandemic has meant reevaluating their business plans or increased a need for their product or service. For others, social unrest has called for systemic change. Technology emerges for these needs. This week's Houston innovators are addressing these needs with their innovative efforts.

Lenny Saizan, co-founder and managing partner

Lenny Saizan — along with three other Houston innovation leaders — founded Urban Capital Network to increase diversity and inclusion within the venture capital space. Photo via urbancapitalnetwork.com

While venture capital firms usually operate in a similar structure, Lenny Saizan and his co-founders wanted to set up Urban Capital Network differently in order to "democratize access to premium VC-backed investments," Saizan says. UCN invests into VCs that meet their diversity and inclusion requirements as a limited partner, but then also invests directly into startups as a sort of hybrid investor.

"We take a portion of our proceeds and invest in entrepreneurs of color, and we also donate to nonprofits that provide support resources for those entrepreneurs," Saizan says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We're completing the cycle. We find that it's easier to go to a VC and offer to give them money and also help them diversify their investor portfolio."

Saizan shares more about the group in the podcast episode and discusses what they've already accomplished in just a few months. Read more.

Katie Eick, founder of Rollin' Vets

Katie Eick always wanted to be able to offer mobile services. Photo courtesy of Rollin' Vets

Katie Eick founded her mobile vet company in 2016 after years of wanting to be able to provide the type and level of service she has now at Rollin' Vets. While convenience technologies like delivery apps buoyed her company's steady growth, the pandemic really established market need for her business model.

"We were continuously growing slowly — then COVID hit. It really cemented that … all the convenience services are in the forefront of people's minds." Eick tells InnovationMap. "COVID made it clear that this was a necessary service."

Now, she plans to adopt a franchising model and is planning an expansion into San Antonio and Dallas before going national. Read more.

Tony Loyd, vice president at AECOM

Just like Hurricane Harvey, COVID-19 is causing Houstonians to rethink how they operate — and that tech and innovation inversion is opening the door to new opportunities. Courtesy Photo

COVID-19 is affecting the evolution of technology — it's as simple as that, according to Tony Loyd. And it's not the first time — nor the last — that consumer needs affect tech innovation.

"Could COVID-19 be triggering an inversion paradigm? An inversion paradigm puts needs first rather than product first," writes Loyd in a guest column for InnovationMap. "We have experienced many historic technology inversions. Remember when our televisions were air-wave dependent and telephones were tethered to the wall? Because the need evolved for a phone that was mobile, today our TV's are wired, and our telephones are untethered." Read more.

Lenny Saizan — along with three other Houston innovation leaders — founded Urban Capital Network to increase diversity and inclusion within the venture capital space. Photo via urbancapitalnetwork.com

This investor is democratizing access to venture capital deals in Houston while promoting inclusion

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 47

The Urban Capital Network, which launched in Houston earlier this year, gets the best of both worlds. Not only is the group working with venture capital firms as a limited partner, but, operating as a hybrid investor, UCN also is funding startups directly — using both avenues to promote diversity and inclusion.

"We can be described as a hybrid between an angel investment group and a small VC firm," says Lenny Saizan, co-founder and managing partner of Urban Capital Network. "Our mission is to democratize access to premium VC-backed investments."

By forming relationships with VC funds — specifically ones that value UCN's diversity and inclusion platform — the group's network of investors can form syndicates, or group investments, to work with these funds on deals they otherwise couldn't afford to invest into. The VCs benefit in that they have access to new limited partners.

Saizan says UCN has raised $3 million in six months, and all that's been invested.

"We take a portion of our proceeds and invest in entrepreneurs of color, and we also donate to nonprofits that provide support resources for those entrepreneurs," Saizan says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We're completing the cycle. We find that it's easier to go to a VC and offer to give them money and also help them diversify their investor portfolio."

Saizan has three business partners, who each provides their own expertise to UCN: Heath Butler, network partner at Houston-based Mercury Fund; Felix Chevalier, founder of The Chevalier Law Firm; and Dr. Eric S. Tait president of Vernonville Asset Management.

Saizan discusses some of the challenges and opportunities the pandemic has provided UCN and where he and his co-founders are planning to take the investment group in the episode of the podcast. You can listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

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Houston energy startups claim big wins, space health fellows named, and more innovation news

Short stories

What's the latest in news for the Houston innovation ecosystem? So glad you asked. Here's some local startup and tech news you might have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, an energy transition startup snagged $100,000 in a recent competition, four space health researchers were named to a Houston program, a Houston tech startup was tapped by Google for its recent cohort, and more.

Cemvita Factory wins $100,000 in clean energy competition

Cemvita Factory has secured wins in two recent startup competitions. Photo courtesy of Cemvita

A Houston company has been named the the $100,000 cash winner of an inaugural competition.

The GS Beyond Energy Innovation Challenge from Cleantech.org named Cemvita Factory as the big winner — out of six finalists. Another Houston company, Amperon Inc. , came in second place, followed by Skycool Systems in third place. The third Houston startup named to the finals, Veloce Energy, was named the crowd's favorite. The three Houston finalists were announced in June.

"Our top three startups face many challenges on the path to accelerating the energy transition, and we are honored to be a part of their journey. Startuplandia is a rough and tumble world, and it was a very close competition. Congrats to Moji Karimi and the Cemvita Factory team. Can't wait to see what you do next," says Neal Dikeman, chairman of Cleantech.org and a partner at one of the prize sponsors, Energy Transition Ventures, in a news release. "And a huge thanks to our accelerator and incubator partners. We look forward to working with everyone again in the future."

Cemvita Factory was also named the winner of The Ion's Houston Startup Showcase a few weeks ago.

Google taps Houston startup for latest cohort

Google has named DOSS to its Black Founders Accelerator. Photo via Pexels

A Houston startup has made it into the Google for Startups Accelerator: Black Founders cohort. DOSS, a digital, voice-activated real estate tool, was selected for the second cohort of the accelerator.

Bobby Bryant leads the company as founder and CEO. DOSS is joined by 10 other startups — including two other Texas companies, Dallas-based Zirtue and Fêtefully.

"Being a digital real estate search and transactional marketplace, this is a perfect opportunity for DOSS to have direct access to Google Engineers and Developers. This is a startup founder's dream to work with Google," Bryant writes in a LinkedIn post.

The program concludes with a showcase on Thursday, October 21 from 11:30 am to 1:00 pm.

Space health organization selects four fellows

These four fellows will continue their space health research with the support of TRISH. Photo via Pexels

Houston-based Translational Research Institute for Space Health, known as TRISH, at Baylor College of Medicine has named four scientists to receive postdoctoral fellowship awards to further their career in space health. Each fellow will work on a two-year project that "addresses challenges to astronaut health during deep space exploration missions," according to a news release. The fellows also become part of the TRISH Academy of Bioastronautics, a forum for postdoctoral researchers working on TRISH research projects.

"The space industry needs a strong pool of highly-trained scientists focused on human health to return us to the moon," says Zélia Worman, TRISH scientific program manager and lead for postdoctoral career development, in the release. "TRISH has selected four postdoctoral fellows who are ready for the challenge. We are proud to welcome these outstanding scientists to our Academy of Bioastronautics and work with them to launch their career in space health and reach for the Moon and Mars safely."

The postdoctoral fellows are:

  • Kaylin Didier of the University of Wisconsin, Madison — focused on ionizing radiation and immune responses: exploring sex differences
  • James Jahng of Stanford University, California — focused on countermeasure development against myocardial mitochondrial stress by space radiation exposure
  • Heather McGregor of the University of Florida, Gainesville — focused on investigating planta somatosensory noise as a countermeasure for balance and locomotion impairments in simulated lunar and Martian gravity
  • Mallika Sarma of Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland — focused on stress response and neurovestibular compensation and the potential ameliorative effects of team support

Houston energy consortium names winners in startup competition

Energy tech founders pitched at the Society of Petroleum Engineers' summit. Photo via Getty Images

The Innovation and Entrepreneurship Summit from the Society of Petroleum Engineers-Gulf Coast Section concluded with a startup pitch event earlier this month. Three startups were recognized at the Shark Tank-style competition.

  • The judges selected Houston-based SaaS startup InerG as the winner.
  • The People's Choice winner was New Jersey-based Anax Power.
  • North Carolina-based Revolution Turbine was the runner-up, according to the judges, as well as received honorable mention from the People's Choice portion of the competition.
The judges of the event — or the "sharks" — included Plug and Play Director Payal Patel, Montrose Lane Managing Partner Ryan Gurney, CSL Ventures Vice President Abhinav Jain, and SCF Ventures Managing Director Hossam Eldadawy.

Capital Factory is calling for all female founders

Attention female founders — Capital Factory has a competition you need to know about. Photo via Getty Images

Austin-based Capital Factory's Texas Fund, in partnership with Beam Angel Network, Seven Seven Six Fund, and Golden Seeds (Houston), has announced a $100,000 Investment Challenge for its 4th Annual Women In Tech Summit on October 4. Capital Factory is looking for five technology startup finalists to pitch to a panel of advisors and judges made up of successful investors, entrepreneurs, and industry leaders. The prize on the line? A $100,000 investment and membership into Capital Factory.

Any software, hardware, or CPG startup in Texas with a female founder or co-founder can apply to participate. The finalists will all be fast tracked into the Capital Factory portfolio, access to the Capital Factory Mentor network and coworking space, and up to $250,000 in potential total hosting credits from AWS, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure and other major hosting providers. Capital Factory will receive: 1 percent common stock grant as advisor equity (separate from the investment) and the right to invest up to $250,000 in the next round of funding.

One winner will receive a $100,000 cash investment on a SAFE or Convertible Note using Capital Factory's term sheet and your most recent funding valuation, or a qualified term sheet provided by the company. The deadline is September 12. Submit your application

Deloitte IDs 3 tech trends that deserve a closer look in 2021

2021 Outlook

While cloud computing and artificial intelligence continue to dominate the technology industry, edge computing is also making headlines.

Deloitte's vice chairman and US technology sector leader, Paul Silverglate, shares his perspectives on the advantages of processing data locally and how partnerships will play a key role in accelerating growth in the technology industry in 2021.

Right now, technology organizations should consider three key strategic opportunities, both to recover from the COVID-19 crisis and boldly position themselves to thrive in the future:

  1. Redoubling digital transformation efforts, with an emphasis on improving cloud infrastructure, data and analytics capabilities, cybersecurity, and business model transformation
  2. Reorienting and reskilling the workforce to optimize remote work capabilities and take full advantage of advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI)
  3. Reexamining where and how manufacturing happens, with a focus on improving transparency, flexibility, and resiliency

Continue reading the full report on Deloitte's website to learn more about the tech industry trends, key actions to take, and critical questions to ask.

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This publication contains general information only and Deloitte is not, by means of this publication, rendering accounting, business, financial, investment, legal, tax, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such professional advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified professional advisor. Deloitte shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person who relies on this publication.

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Deloitte refers to one or more of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, a UK private company limited by guarantee ("DTTL"), its network of member firms, and their related entities. DTTL and each of its member firms are legally separate and independent entities. DTTL (also referred to as "Deloitte Global") does not provide services to clients. In the United States, Deloitte refers to one or more of the US member firms of DTTL, their related entities that operate using the "Deloitte" name in the United States and their respective affiliates. Certain services may not be available to attest clients under the rules and regulations of public accounting. Please see www.deloitte.com/about to learn more about our global network of member firms. Copyright ©2020 Deloitte Development LLC. All rights reserved.

Expert: Solar energy is a necessary solution to summer power grid insecurity in Texas

guest column

You know the old adage: "If you don't like the weather here, wait five minutes." Texas weather is not just unpredictable; it can be downright bipolar. I don't need to remind you of the knockout punch Old Man Winter delivered last February, even to parts of the state where hard freezes are few and a "snow event" usually amounts to a dusting. It will be a long time before Texans forget spending a week without power in single-digit temperatures — huddled together in their homes under mountains of blankets — with no heat, no way to bathe or cook, and no escape.

The massive power outages of Valentine's Day week spurred public outrage and a full-throated demand that state leaders take decisive steps to make Texas' electric grid sustainable. The legislature was only a month into its 140-day regular session at the time, but still failed to do anything substantial to fix the grid before adjourning May 31.

Now — well ahead of the hottest days of summer — Texans are wondering why the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is already asking them to set their thermostats at 78 degrees, turn off lights, avoid using their ovens or doing laundry in the evenings, and otherwise conserve energy. It was ERCOT's second such call since April. Some local energy companies have recommended setting thermostats even higher, and local rolling blackouts have continued in Dallas, Houston, and elsewhere in the state throughout the months of June and July. That may be fine for some people during Texas' scorching summer heat, but for others, it is untenable. For the elderly or infirmed, it could be deadly.

Experts have warned the grid is unreliable, the system is strained, and homeowners and businesses hover at near-constant risk for blackouts, unless the state does more to weatherize the grid, bring more generators back online, and provide more emergency backup power. Meanwhile, when temperatures hit triple digits and stay there for days, the blackout risks will skyrocket.

But there is one obvious solution to grid instability that will enable Texans to keep their homes and businesses comfortably cool during the hot summer months ahead, without setting their thermostats higher or timing their activities to government guidelines. Widespread distributed generation of solar energy, instead of the current emphasis on remotely located utility-scale solar, would provide a highly effective, long-term solution to decreasing strain on the ERCOT power grid.

That means dramatically increasing the number of solar installations on residential and commercial properties statewide. Consider the distance and infrastructure required to bring power from a West Texas solar farm to the state's big cities. That's not only a costly undertaking, it exposes the system to many vulnerabilities along the way. It makes more sense to install solar panels on-site, behind the meter, and pair them with storage for backup power.

The logic is simple: Increasing the number of homes and businesses with on-site solar power would decrease the burden on the grid and help insulate it against failure. Further, by installing home batteries such as the Tesla Powerwall for backup power, residents can control their own power supply and ensure its reliability, even during extreme weather events—summer or winter.

These technologies are cost-efficient and readily available today. A few months ago, Congress extended the 26 percent federal solar investment tax credit (ITC) — which also applies to batteries paired with solar — through 2021 (dropping to 22 percent in 2022), making the move to solar and backup power even more sensible.

State leaders have tried to lay the blame for last winter's power outages on renewable energy. But failures of natural gas power plants, not renewable generators, caused the grid failures that led to those deadly blackouts.

On July 6, months after declaring "everything that needed to be done was done to fix the power grid in Texas," Governor Abbott ordered the PUC to take steps to overhaul the state's electric system. But the solutions he's offering—like constructing new coal, gas, and nuclear power plants and building their transmission lines faster—are giveaways to the fossil fuel industry and will take a long time to complete. Texas needs reliable power NOW.

Meanwhile, state officials are increasingly emphasizing conserving power during extreme temperatures, which suggests they don't even believe their assurances that no more blackouts lie ahead. On-site solar power is the obvious solution, both today and for the long-term health of our rapidly growing state and rapidly warming planet.

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Bret Biggart is CEO of Austin-based Freedom Solar, the leading turnkey solar energy installer in Texas, providing high-quality, cost-effective, reliable solar solutions for the residential and commercial markets.