3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Zimri Hinshaw of BUCHA BIO, Kelly Klein of Easter Seals of Greater Houston, ad John Mooz of Hines. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from esports to biomaterials — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Zimri Hinshaw, CEO of BUCHA BIO

Zimri T. Hinshaw, CEO of BUCHA BIO, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how he's planning to scale his biomaterials startup to reduce plastic waste. Photo courtesy of BUCHA BIO

After raising a seed round of funding, BUCHA BIO is gearing up to move into its new facility. The biomaterials company was founded in New York City in 2020, but CEO Zimri T. Hinshaw shares how he started looking for a new headquarters for the company — one that was more affordable, had a solid talent pool, and offered a better quality of life for employees. He narrowed it down from over 20 cities to two — San Diego and Houston — before ultimately deciding on the Bayou City.

Since officially relocating, Hinshaw says he's fully committed to the city's innovation ecosystem. BUCHA BIO has a presence at the University of Houston, Greentown Labs, and the East End Maker Hub — where the startup is building out a new space to fit the growing team.

"By the end of this month, our laboratories will be up and running, we'll have office space adjacent, as well as chemical storage," Hinshaw says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. Listen to the episode and read more.

Kelly Klein, development director of Easter Seals Greater Houston

A nonprofit organization has rolled out an esports platform and event to raise awareness and funding for those with disabilities. Photo via Easter Seals

For many video games is getaway from reality, but for those with disabilities — thanks to a nonprofit organization —gaming can mean a lot more. On Saturday Dec. 3 — International Day of Persons with Disabilities — from 1 to 9 pm, Easter Seals Greater Houston will be joining forces with ES Gaming for the inaugural Game4Access Streamathon.

Gaming helps enhance cognitive skills, motor skills, improve mental well-being, and can help reduce feelings of social isolation due to the interactive nature of playing with others.

“This is really a unique way for (people) to form a community without having to leave their house, and being part of an inclusive environment,” says Kelly Klein, development director of Easter Seals Greater Houston. ”The adaptive equipment and specialized technology just does so many miraculous things for people with disabilities on so many levels — not just gaming. With gaming, it is an entrance into a whole new world.” Read more.

John Mooz, senior managing director at Hines

Levit Green has announced its latest to-be tenant. Photo courtesy

Levit Green, a 53-acre mixed-use life science district next to the Texas Medical Center and expected to deliver this year, has leased approximately 10,000 square feet of commercial lab and office space to Sino Biological Inc. The Bejing-based company is an international reagent supplier and service provider. Houston-based real estate investor, development, and property manager Hines announced the new lease in partnership with 2ML Real Estate Interests and Harrison Street.

“Levit Green was meticulously designed to provide best-in-class life science space that can accommodate a multitude of uses. Welcoming Sino Biological is a testament to the market need for sophisticated, flexible space that allows diversified firms to perform a variety of research,” says John Mooz, senior managing director at Hines, in a press release. “Sino is an excellent addition to the district’s growing life science ecosystem, and we look forward to supporting their continued growth and success.” Read more.Read more.

Levit Green has announced its latest to-be tenant. Rendering courtesy

Rising Houston life science district signs health tech tenant​

growing on the green

A rising life science hub has signed its latest tenant.

Levit Green, a 53-acre mixed-use life science district next to the Texas Medical Center and expected to deliver this year, has leased approximately 10,000 square feet of commercial lab and office space to Sino Biological Inc. The Bejing-based company is an international reagent supplier and service provider. Houston-based real estate investor, development, and property manager Hines announced the new lease in partnership with 2ML Real Estate Interests and Harrison Street.

“Levit Green was meticulously designed to provide best-in-class life science space that can accommodate a multitude of uses. Welcoming Sino Biological is a testament to the market need for sophisticated, flexible space that allows diversified firms to perform a variety of research,” says John Mooz, senior managing director at Hines, in a press release. “Sino is an excellent addition to the district’s growing life science ecosystem, and we look forward to supporting their continued growth and success.”

With a global presence, Sino Biological is a leading provider of mammalian cell-based recombinant proteins, antibodies, and related contract research services, per the release, and the recently announced location represents the company’s first US-based manufacturing facility.

“We are extremely excited about our new partnership with the Hines team and our forthcoming laboratories and production facilities at Levit Green. Hines is at the forefront of next-generation laboratory space design and development, and our new site at the Levit Green master-planned district in the heart of Houston’s Texas Medical Center will enable Sino Biological to considerably expand its research services and bioreagent manufacture capabilities into the United States,” says Dr. Rob Burgess, chief business officer for Sino Biological, in the release.

Sino's space will be in Building I at Levit Green — a 290,000-square-foot, five-story building with wet lab and incubator space — and is expected to be ready for move-in by the third quarter of 2023. The facility is the first to deliver in the nine-building Levit Green masterplan, which includes office and research space, as well as retail, residential, and more. According to the release, the building will also feature amenities — a 5,800-square-foot fitness center and outdoor garden, a 7,000-square-foot conference center, 3,500 square feet of café and restaurant space, and on-site parking.

Levit Green was first announced in the summer of 2020.

Hines is doubling down on life science real estate development, the firm recently reported. Image courtesy of Hines

Houston-based real estate giant bets on growing life science sector

shifting focus

An international real estate firm announced recently that it would prioritizing investing in life science industry opportunities when it comes to commercial real estate development.

Houston-based Hines reported that the pandemic has heightened the demand for life science real estate, and the firm explained in a news release that it will be delivering purpose-built life science facilities in growing markets that feature state-of-the-art, operator-driven design and amenities.

“The life sciences sector is experiencing an era of unprecedented growth driven by a rise in both public and private funding combined with a post-pandemic sense of urgency and market opportunity,” says David Steinbach, global CIO at Hines, in the release. “As this industry surges, it is pivotal that developers keep pace by delivering spaces that are as innovative as the tenants occupying them. Hines is dedicated to delivering purpose-built facilities that meet the physical, functional and technological needs of the occupiers.”

When it comes to design, Hines will focus on structural specification and the balance of lab and office space, providing tenants — who are all looking or different types of spaces and amenities — with flexibility and modular design.

ESG is something Hines is reportedly considering top of mind for developers, investors and occupiers, with plans to build efficient assets, source from sustainable energy, and provide low-carbon emission options.

Hines has already announced this type of facility currently in construction in Houston. Levit Green is a five-story, 270,000-square-foot Phase I lab building that has flexible Class AA quality labs key features required by top life science tenants. According to Hines, Levit Green's building features will include emergency power sources, 33-foot structural bay depths, allowing for an ideal 11-foot lab module, and floorplates more than 55,000 square feet will also enable research and office teams to create efficient configurations that enable teamwork and collaboration.

“Our carefully built team of national life science leasing, design and capital experts has put a tremendous amount of thought and effort into Levit Green’s planning and design. We are confident that our team will deliver one of the highest-quality commercial laboratory assets in the world once complete,” says John Mooz, senior managing director at Hines, in the release. “We are excited to bring top-tier projects like Levit Green to other highly anticipated, growing markets.”

Boston and San Francisco have become major life science industry hubs, but there are several global cities on the rise that Hines will be targeting, including London, Boulder, Austin, Shanghai Salt Lake City, and Pittsburgh.

Hines’ investment thesis is based on a confluence of factors that are driving the demand within the global landscape for life sciences real estate that are outlined in the new Hines Perspective: “The Potential of Purpose-Built Properties” white paper.

Levit Green is a 270,000-square-foot Phase I lab building adjacent to the Texas Medical Center. Rendering courtesy of Hines

The new building features a waterfront, wharf environment. Rendering courtesy of Hines

Pivotal new waterfront science lab set to cast off in The Medical Center

LEVIT GREEN BLOOMS

The first step of a pivotal new Medical Center district has been revealed. International real estate firm Hines and partner 2ML Real Estate Interests have unveiled the first look at the initial building at Levit Green.

This new, 53-acre life science complex will sit adjacent to the Texas Medical Center. The five-story, 270,000-square-foot Phase I building is designated for life sciences; JLL has been selected as leasing representative for the project, per a press release.

Sitting on the first of several lakes that create Levit Green's oasis, Phase I boasts a sprawling boardwalk environment. Tenants will enjoy waterfront amenities including a 5,800-square foot fitness center and outdoor garden, 7,000-square-foot conference center, 3,500 square feet of café and restaurant space, and on-site parking.

Ground-floor plans include more than 25,000 square feet of lab incubator space, which will provide entrepreneurs and early-stage life science companies top-tier, strategically located laboratory and office space as well as networking opportunities, per a release.

As for the building itself, amenities include: 100-percent-redundant emergency power, enhanced structural vibration attenuation, and augmented mechanical systems. Work on Phase I is slated to begin in the second quarter of this year, with occupancy beginning in Q4.

The 53-acre Levit Green proposed site. Rendering courtesy of Hines

According to data, Houston produces more medical doctorates than any other MSA and generates more research doctorates in the key life science subject areas of biology and physical sciences (chemistry, physics, etc.) than San Francisco, San Diego, and Seattle. Thus, Levit Green promises to solve the real estate demands of arguably the nation's life science capital.

"Houston is quickly emerging as a top life science cluster city and has been able to do so without the purpose-built product established in other locations," said John Mooz, senior managing director at Hines, in a statement. "The Phase I project at Levit Green has been thoughtfully designed from the inside out to include features that are required of a top-tier research environment. We are excited to deliver the highest quality of building that will enable industry leaders to better conduct their critical research."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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How this Houston innovator's tech is gearing up to impact EV charging, energy transition

houston innovators podcast episode 172

With more and more electric vehicles on the road, existing electrical grid infrastructure needs to be able to keep up. Houston-based Revterra has the technology to help.

"One of the challenges with electric vehicle adoption is we're going to need a lot of charging stations to quickly charge electric cars," Ben Jawdat, CEO and founder of Revterra, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "People are familiar with filling their gas tank in a few minutes, so an experience similar to that is what people are looking for."

To charge an EV in ten minutes is about 350 kilowatts of power, and, as Jawdat explains, if several of these charges are happening at the same time, it puts a tremendous strain on the electric grid. Building the infrastructure needed to support this type of charging would be a huge project, but Jawdat says he thought of a more turnkey solution.

Revterra created a kinetic energy storage system that enables rapid EV charging. The technology pulls from the grid, but at a slower, more manageable pace. Revterra's battery acts as an intermediary to store that energy until the consumer is ready to charge.

"It's an energy accumulator and a high-power energy discharger," Jawdat says, explaining that compared to an electrical chemical battery, which could be used to store energy for EVs, kinetic energy can be used more frequently and for faster charging.

Jawdat, who is a trained physicist with a PhD from the University of Houston and worked as a researcher at Rice University, says some of his challenges were receiving early funding and identifying customers willing to deploy his technology.

Last year, Revterra raised $6 million in a series A funding round. Norway’s Equinor Ventures led the round, with participation from Houston-based SCF Ventures. Previously, Revterra raised nearly $500,000 through a combination of angel investments and a National Science Foundation grant.

The funding has gone toward growing Revterra's team, including onboarding three new engineers with some jobs still open, Jawdat says. Additionally, Revterra is building out its new lab space and launching new pilot programs.

Ultimately, Revterra, an inaugural member of Greentown Houston, hopes to be a major player within the energy transition.

"We really want to be an enabling technology in the renewable energy transition," Jawdat says. "One part of that is facilitating the development of large-scale, high-power, fast-charging networks. But, beyond that, we see this technology as a potential solution in other areas related to the clean energy transition."

He shares more about what's next for Revterra on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Report: Houston's hot medical office market might be on track to cool

by the numbers

Houston’s medical office market is on a roll.

A report from commercial real estate services company JLL shows net absorption and transaction volume saw healthy gains in 2022:

  • The annual absorption total of 289,215 square feet was 50.5 percent higher than the five-year average.
  • Transaction volume notched a 31.7 percent year-over-year increase.

Meanwhile, net rents held steady at $26.92 per square foot, up 1.3 percent from the previous year. The fourth-quarter 2022 vacancy rate stood at 15.9 percent.

Despite those numbers, the report suggests a slowdown in medical office rentals may be underway.

“Tenants who may have previously considered building out or expanding their lease agreements are now in a holding pattern due to increased construction costs and higher interest rates,” the report says. “These factors are having a direct impact on financial decisions when it comes to lease renewals, making it more likely that tenants will remain in their existing location for the foreseeable future.”

Still, the report notes “a number of bright spots for the future of healthcare in Houston.” Aside from last year’s record-high jump in sales volume, the report indicates an aging population coupled with a growing preference for community-based treatment “will lift demand even higher in coming years.”

The report shows that in last year’s fourth quarter, 527,083 square of medical office space was under construction in the Houston area, including:

  • 152,871 square feet in the Clear Lake area.
  • 104,665 square feet in the South submarket.
  • 103,647 square feet in Sugar Land.
Last fall, JLL recognized Houston as a top city for life sciences. According to that report, the Bayou City lands at No. 13 in JLL’s 2022 ranking of the country’s top 15 metro areas for life sciences. JLL says Houston “is poised for further growth” in life sciences.

Houston financial services firm announces acquisition, plans to grow

M&A radar

A Houston-based financial services company has made a recent strategic acquisition that gives it a new banking status.

LevelField Financial, which is creating a platform that combines traditional banking and digital asset products and services, announced this week that it is acquiring Burling Bank, an FDIC-insured, Illinois state-chartered bank. According to the company, once it receives regulatory approval, "LevelField will be the first full-service bank to offer fully compliant traditional banking and digital asset services."

The financial terms of the deal's transaction, which is expected to close later this year, were not disclosed.

The combined company will be able to provide traditional banking services, as well as LevelField's digital asset management. Burling Bank's senior management team will join LevelField's leadership, per a press release. They will focus on serving the bank's existing clients and growing the banking business nationwide.

"We conducted a broad review of banks in the U.S. to find the ideal institution with both an existing business and a management team who are aligned with our vision; we exceeded our expectations with Burling Bank. With this acquisition, LevelField will become a traditional bank, albeit one serving customers interested in the digital asset class," says Gene A. Grant II, CEO of LevelField Financial, in the release.

"We are thrilled to have the Burling executives join our leadership team, and together we intend to deliver fantastic customer service and well-designed products to customers who have an interest in accessing the digital asset class through a traditional bank," he continues.

Founded in 2018 by former banking executives, LevelField's leadership believes "the future of money is digital and that banks will continue to be a trusted provider of financial services," according to the website. This acquisition comes ahead of the company's plans to expand nationally.

"LevelField's strategic approach presented a tremendous opportunity for the bank to expand beyond our local footprint and serve customers with shared interests across the nation," says Michael J. Busch, Burling Bank president and CEO. "Together, we will continue to provide superior service and demonstrate that we truly understand the expanding and unique needs of our customers. Additionally, through the carefully developed suite of products we can address our customers' interests in digital assets and introduce them to LevelField's safe, simple, and secure platform."