Rice's Baker Institute could change the fortunes of rural Texans. Photo via rice.edu

Rice University is once again in the spotlight for innovation, this time for its work in potentially assisting rural communities across the Lone Star State. And this idea could score the university a $10 million prize.

A new project proposed by the Rice's Baker Institute for Public Policy is among five finalists for the coveted Lone Star Prize, the school announced. The Baker Institute project proposal, titled "Texas Dirt: The Key to Environment, Economy and Resilience," aims to transform the state's environment "through implementation of a soil carbon storage market while growing new economic opportunities for rural Texans" according to a press release.

Atmospheric accumulation of carbon dioxide (CO2) contributes to climate change, which disproportionately affects poor and marginalized populations, according to the Baker Institute team.

"Rural communities have long been disadvantaged relative to the urban and industrial centers that are focal points for economic activity and CO2 emissions," the team wrote in a project description. "A soil carbon market is a Texan approach that addresses both of these issues as part of a long-term solution." The team aims to "implement a Texas soil carbon storage market that utilizes photosynthesis to abate atmospheric CO2 by storing it as organic matter in soils of prairies, farms, ranches and grasslands of Texas."

Beyond an economic boost, say the team, benefits the Texas water supply, regional flood resilience, and the restoration of local ecosystems.

As for the prestigious prize, the Texas-based, statewide competition was launched in early 2020 by Lyda Hill Philanthropies and Lever for Change to improve the lives of Texans and their communities, per a statement.

Project members include attorney Jim Blackburn, a professor in the practice of environmental law at Rice and co-director of the university's Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters Center (SSPEED); Caroline Masiello, a professor of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences at Rice; and Kenneth Medlock, the James A. Baker III and Susan G. Baker Fellow in Energy and Resource Economics and senior director of the Baker Institute's Center for Energy Studies.

Other statewide finalists include Austin's JUST Community, which invests in low-income, female entrepreneurs to create more resilient communities in the U.S.; Dallas-based Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, which will will improve quality of life and mental health access; the Dallas location of Merit America, which will will build new pathways to upwardly mobile careers for low-wage Texans without bachelor's degrees; and Austin's Texas Water Trade, which aims to deliver clean water to households most in need.

More than 172 proposals were submitted for the Lone Star Prize. A final grant recipient will be announced in late spring 2021.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Texas named a top state for women-led startups

this one's for the ladies

Who runs the world? According to Merchant Maverick's inaugural Best States for "Women-Led Startups'' study, Texas is a great place for women to be in charge.

The Lone Star state cracked the top 10 on the list, earning a No. 6 spot according to the small business reviews and financial services company, which based the study on eight key statistics about this growing segment of the economy. Colorado (at No. 1), Washington, Virginia, Florida, and Montana were the only states to beat out Texas on the rankings—leading the Merchant Maverick team to conclude that "the part of the country that lies west of the Mississippi is great for startups led by women entrepreneurs."

Women-led startups in Texas received $365 billion in VC funding in the last five years, the report found. This is the seventh largest total among U.S. states. Too, about 20 percent of Texans are employed at woman-led firms, which is the fifth highest percentage among states. Roughly 35 percent of employers in Texas are led by women.

A few other key findings that work in female founders' favor: The startup survival rate in Texas is nearly 80 percent. And a lack of state income tax "doesn't hurt either," the report says.

Still there are shortcomings. On a per capita basis, only 1.27 percent of Texas women run their own business. The average income for self-employed women is also relatively low ranking among states, coming in around $55,907 and landing at 31st among others.

This is not the first time Texas has been lauded as a land of opportunity for women entrepreneurs. A 2019 study named it the best state for business opportunities for women. Houston too has proven to support success for the demographic. The Bayou City was named in separate studies a best city for female entrepreneurs to start a business and to see it grow.

Still, as many findings have concluded, the realities of the pandemic loom for all startups and small business owners. The Merchant Maverick study was careful to add: "The pandemic has changed the economic landscape over the past year, and often for the worse.

"This means that not every metric may be able to accurately gauge how a state might fare amidst the pandemic," the report continues. "To help factor in COVID's impact, we included some metrics that take 2020 into account, but it will be a while until we get a full picture of the pandemic's devastation.""

New downtown office tower will rise in bustling Discovery Green

new to hou

A new office tower will soon loom over the popular Discovery Green as the anchor of a new downtown district. Global development and construction firm, Skanksa, announced the new building at 1550 Lamar St. and its anchor tenant on January 13. The new 28-story, 375,000-square-foot Class-A office structure is dubbed 1550 on the Green, per a Skanska statement.

Global law firm Norton Rose Fulbright will relocate its Houston office in 2024 and acquire naming rights upon occupancy, according to a press release.

Bound by La Branch, Lamar, Crawford, and Dallas Streets, 1550 on The Green will feature extra-wide pedestrian zones with a canopy of trees, two tenant outdoor roof terraces, and wide views of the surrounding greenery.

International design firm BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group led the building's design; it is the company's first foray into Texas. BIG's design promises sustainability, energy efficiency, and an "airy" office environment for tenants, a release describes.

Some 7,000 square feet of retail space will greet first-floor guests. Michael Hsu Office of Architecture has been tapped to design the interior amenity spaces; those include a fitness center, rooftop event space and terrace, and community spaces.

The new 1550 on the Green tower is part of a new envisioned district that will be branded as Discovery West. The district will consist of 3.5 acres of mixed-use development boasting restaurants, retail, green space, and "world-class architecture," per a release.

Working with Central Houston Inc., Discovery Green, Bike Houston, the Kinder Foundation, as well as several brokers, Skanska and design firm of record, BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group, completed the master plan for Discovery West in early 2020.

Skanska has been noticeably active in the Houston office market, specifically with the development of Bank of America Tower, West Memorial Place I and II, and the future Discovery West. The company is behind the acquisition of a buzzy strip center in Montrose. Skanska also plans to multifamily to its Houston portfolio, the firm notes.

"As an organization that prides itself on building what matters to our communities, our team, made up of Houstonians, has been working alongside local stakeholders to develop a plan and a building that will transform this side of downtown Houston while still meeting the needs of the city," said Matt Damborsky, executive vice president for Skanska USA commercial development's Houston market, in a statement.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.