Electric buses are on track to roll into Houston

driving green

METRO is moving toward the purchase of only zero-emission buses by 2030. Image courtesy of NovaBus

Within the next year or so, you’ll see electric-powered buses buzzing around Bayou City.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (METRO) recently awarded a $22 million contract to Saint-Eustache, Canada-based Nova Bus for the production of 20 battery-powered electric buses. The contract includes an option for another 20 buses.

The first 20 buses, to be manufactured at the Nova Bus factory in Plattsburgh, New York, are expected to be on local roads sometime in in late 2022 or early 2023. They’ll run on the 402 Bellaire Express (Quickline) and 28 OST-Wayside routes.

METRO also plans to test three to five electric buses powered by hydrogen fuel cells. Furthermore, METRO is a member of the Automated Bus Consortium, a national organization of transportation agencies working toward development of a full-size, electric-powered automated bus.

METRO is moving toward the purchase of only zero-emission buses by 2030. It eventually wants to operate more than 1,200 electric buses throughout its system. All types of buses account for 1 percent of transportation-caused greenhouse gases in Houston, according to METRO.

Nova Bus, owned by Swedish automaker Volvo, says its electric vehicles reduce greenhouse gas emissions while also cutting maintenance costs.

“METRO is paying close attention to the climate assessments showing Houston will grapple with rising temperatures and more frequent weather events. It is more critical than ever that METRO map out a plan to not only prepare for these events but to mitigate the impact they have on our community as much as we can,” Carrin Patman, chairwoman of the METRO board, says in a recent presentation.

President Biden has tapped Patman, a Houston attorney, to be the U.S. ambassador to Iceland.

Patman has appointed METRO board members Chris Hollins, former Harris County clerk, and Terry Morales, an executive at Amegy Bank, to shepherd the agency’s efforts to combat climate change.

“The impact of climate change is a significant threat to the health and safety of our community,” Hollins says in the METRO presentation. “METRO can and will be a leader in helping the region respond to this challenge.”

“Beginning with the deployment of clean fleet technology,” he adds, “METRO will lead the way in green transit. METRO is taking a holistic approach — transforming not just our buses, but all our business practices — to increase sustainability, resiliency, and carbon emissions reduction.”

The electric buses are expected to debut in about a year. Photo via ridemetro.org

Houston METRO partnership receives $1.5M federal grant to bring electric buses to the Third Ward

hop on

Get ready to ride a new fleet of zero emission shuttles from Houston METRO. Global consulting firm AECOM and METRO partnered on new electric bus initiative and have recently been granted $1.5 million from the Federal Transit Administration to bring the service to Texas Southern University, University of Houston, and Houston's Third Ward neighborhood.

The grant was awarded through the FTA's Accelerating Innovative Mobility, or AIM, initiative and was one of only 25 initiatives across the U.S. to receive FTA funding. The new buses are expected to be fully operational in spring of next year.

"The shuttle will connect to METRO buses and light rail and be studied for potential use in urban, suburban, and rural environments," says Kim Williams, METRO's chief innovation officer, in a news release. "Our industry continues to evolve with new technology that prioritizes clean air quality."

AECOM will manage, plan, and provide engineering support services for the project for METRO, which is a founding member of AECOM's Automated Bus Consortium.

"We're thrilled to work with our longtime partner, METRO, on this exciting AIM initiative and to further progress mobility and innovation in the transit industry while helping our clients achieve their sustainability goals," says Andrew Bui, AECOM's vice president of global transportation electrification, in the release.

"This project will strengthen our ongoing efforts through our Automated Bus Consortium and contribute to Houston's already expansive work in deploying emerging technologies," Bui adds.

The vehicle will be provided by the project's partner Phoenix Motorcars, which makes zero emission, all-electric vehicles via software from EasyMile, a leader in cutting-edge autonomous technology.

Graduates are tossing their hats into an uncertain world right now. Photo by skynesher/Getty Images

Houston earns mediocre grade in ranking of best metros for college grads

WELCOME TO THE UNREAL WORLD

This year's college graduates are entering a real world that's more unreal than any we've seen in our lifetimes. And they're facing a world with uncertain prospects.

Against that jarring backdrop, the Apartment List website developed a ranking of the top U.S. metro areas for college graduates, and Houston sits in the middle of the pack. The Bayou City ranks 26th among the country's 50 largest metro areas.

The ranking, published May 13, takes into account six data points:

  • Average wages among recent college graduates
  • March 2020 unemployment rate
  • Rental costs for recent college graduates
  • Share of adult population with a college degree
  • Share of recent college graduates working in remote-friendly occupations
  • Share of workforce in high-risk industries

Houston fares well in terms of average wages among recent college graduates ($46,681) and college graduates working in remote-friendly occupations (73 percent), but doesn't fare as well for the share of adults with a college degree (31 percent) and the share of full-time workers in high-risk industries (13 percent).

Austin appears at No. 6 on the list, with Dallas-Fort Worth at 21 and San Antonio at No. 43. Apartment List says Austin's economic scores "are well-rounded across the board," but the metro area stands out for its high share of college-educated adults (43 percent) and high share of college graduates working in remote-friendly occupations (77 percent).

"Each of the nation's five largest metropolitan areas — New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, and Houston — failed to break the Top 10," Apartment List notes. "The Class of 2020 is better off looking into smaller regions that strike a healthier balance between affordability and economic opportunity."

San Jose, California, the epicenter of Silicon Valley, tops the ranking, followed by San Francisco; Washington, D.C.; Boston; and Milwaukee.

Ranked last is Las Vegas, preceded by Riverside-San Bernardino, California; New Orleans; Miami; and Orlando, Florida.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

An innovative post office renovation, self-driving cars, and July business events were all among the trending stories for this week. Photo courtesy of Lovett Commercial

5 most popular innovation stories in Houston this week

What's Trending

Closing up on a holiday week, laptops are probably closed and phones put away to enjoy a long weekend. However, before you check out from the world, scroll through the trending innovation news highlights from the past week.

New technology gives this Houston hospital a competitive edge

A new prostate cancer treatment at Houston Methodist is enhancing the system's patient care. Getty Images

As the top ranking hospital in Texas and one of the biggest employers in Houston, Houston Methodist Hospital is poised to treat the thousands of Texan men who will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year.

Building on its legacy of delivering advanced cancer treatment, the healthcare giant is one of the first hospitals in the United States to offer men a benign approach to treating localized prostate cancer, using high intensity focused ultrasound, or HIFU. HIFU is a minimally invasive procedure that allows patients to maintain their quality of life with potentially fewer side effects. Read more.

METRO launches self-driving shuttle, Data Gumbo hires new exec, and more Houston innovation news

METRO launches a driver-less route, Houston biotech company raises millions, and more quick innovation news. Courtesy of METRO

So much Houston innovation news — so little time. In order to help keep in touch with all the news happening among startups and technology in Houston, we're hitting the highlights in this innovation news roundup. Read more.

10+ can't-miss Houston business and innovation events for July

From enlightening talks to networking opportunities, here's where you need to be in July. Getty Images

If you were hoping that business events would slow down for the summer, keep hoping. While you're probably getting plenty of OOO emails during your daily communications, there's no shortage of face-to-face opportunities within Houston business and innovation. Read more.

Houston to be home to one of the world's largest rooftop gardens after downtown post office's renovations

Post Houston will be site of one of the world's largest rooftop gardens. Photo courtesy of Lovett Commercial

Downtown Houston will soon have one of the largest rooftop gardens and farms in the world, thanks to the innovative reimagining of a forgotten structure. The Barbara Jordan Post Office, the massive government building nestled in the Theater District, will be transformed into a bustling, dynamic, mixed-use complex that's meant to become the city's new urban ecosystem.

At an official groundbreaking, Lovett Commercial revealed the plans for the more than 550,000-square-foot building, which was formerly the epicenter of the city's mail system from 1936 to 2014. The post office will fittingly become Post Houston and will house a concert venue, retail and office concepts, restaurants, bars, an international market hall, and a flexible co-working space.

Hospitality startup adds a new luxe approach to Houston's apartment rental market

Lodgeur provides its guests with hotel luxury with room to breathe. Courtesy of Lodgeur

In 2018, Houston set a new tourism record with 22.3 million visitors to the city. That same year, Sébastien Long was finishing his Cambridge thesis on home-sharing companies like Airbnb and falling in love with a classmate. When the couple moved to Houston after graduation, Long brought his ideas with him, and that's how Lodgeur was born.

Lodgeur works as an upscale home-sharing startup that offers luxury apartments in midtown and downtown Houston for nightly rent. It doesn't replace Airbnb; customers can browse through and book the properties through the familiar website. Read more.

METRO launches a driver-less route, Houston biotech company raises millions, and more quick innovation news. Courtesy of METRO

METRO launches self-driving shuttle, Data Gumbo hires new exec, and more Houston innovation news

Short stories

So much Houston innovation news — so little time. In order to help keep in touch with all the news happening among startups and technology in Houston, we're hitting the highlights in this innovation news roundup.

If you know of innovation-focused news happening, email me at natalie@innovationmap.com with the details and subscribe to our daily newsletter that sends fresh stories straight to your inboxes every morning.


METRO launches a self-driving shuttle on Texas Southern University's campus

Courtesy of Metro

The first autonomous shuttle in Houston recently had its maiden voyage on Texas Southern University's campus. The route is a one-mile stretch that is called the "Tiger Walk.' The EasyMile shuttle can transport 12 passengers and is operated by First Transit. The project is a pilot program for METRO to see if it has successful applications in other public transportation efforts.

"When passengers board this all electric vehicle they will be riding into the future and experiencing a mode of transportation that in just a few years may become commonplace," says METRO Chair Carrin Patman in a release.

The first phase of the pilot kicked off June 5, as reported in a previous InnovationMap article.

After being deemed a hot tech company by Crunchbase, Data Gumbo grows its C-suite

Courtesy of Data Gumbo

In June, Data Gumbo was named among Crunchbase's top 50 hottest tech companies. The list looked for growing tech startups that have raised between $5 million and $20 million, with a recent round closing in the past six months. The Houston-based company closed its most recent round of $6 million in the spring.

Following the round completion, Data Gumbo's CEO, Andrew Bruce, noted the funds were intended to further develop the company's technology and grow the team. As of last week, Bruce made good on the promise and announced the company's new chief commercial officer, Sergio A. Tuberquia.

"As our new capital is being used to expand our commercial blockchain network, we are also expanding our internal teams to support our rapid global growth," says Bruce in a news release. "With Sergio joining to lead revenue efforts, this will further our company's mission to help oil and gas companies — and ultimately all industries -—realize greater efficiencies and cost savings in the supply chain. Sergio's mix of startup technology and oil and gas industry experience will greatly benefit Data Gumbo and its customers as the industry moves into digital oilfield solutions like blockchain."

Biotech company extends its Series D round to $43 million

Getty Images

Following a $20 million commitment from Sanford Health, Houston-based InGeneron Inc. has extended its Series D round to $43 million. The funds will go toward further developing the company's regenerative medicine and cell therapy. InGeneron currently has a clinical study for rotator cuff recovery.

The investment by South Dakota-based Sanford Health was announced in March, and last month, InGeneron made the call to expand the series.

"Sanford Health's continued support helps advance InGeneron's regenerative cell therapy into the expansive pivotal trial phase, a significant step toward bringing our therapy into the clinic," says Angelo Moesslang, CEO of InGeneron, in a release. "This is an exciting time for the company, as one of the largest health systems in the United States further affirms the potential of adipose-derived regenerative cell therapy, while we diligently work to make it available to patients."

Rice Business Plan winner to ring the Nasdaq bell

Courtesy of Rice University

The company that won the top prize at the Rice Business Plan Competition and walked away with almost $700,000 is claiming another one of its prizes. Vita Inclinata Technologies will ring the opening bell at Nasdaq on July 3.

The company, which created a technology to advance helicopter safety, will be represented by its CEO, Caleb Carr, and Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, and Will Roper, the U.S. Air Force's assistant secretary for acquisition, will also attend. The livestream footage is available online, beginning at 8:30 am central.

Mercury Fund raising money

Texas Money

Getty Images

Crunchbase broke the news that Houston-based Mercury Fund has secured $82 million of its fourth fund, Mercury Fund Ventures IV, that will total $125 million, per a regulatory filing that PE Hub reported on. Mercury Fund refused to comment on the ongoing raise, but intends to release more information following the close, a representative confirmed to InnovationMap.

According to Crunchbase's proprietary data, it's the largest fund to date for the firm. The most recent fund closed in 2014 at $105 million. Mercury Fund specializes in SaaS, cloud, and data science technology, according to its website.

Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine researcher recognized

Courtesy of Rice University

Olga Dudchenko, a genomics researcher at Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine, been named to MIT Technology Review magazine's 2019 list of 35 Innovators Under 35.

Dudchenko, who is completing her postdoctoral fellowship at Rice's Center for Theoretical Biological Physics, has developed a method to sequence and assemble the genome of any organism for less than $1,000. Her process is comparable the that of the Human Genome Project, which cost $3 billion.

METRO is launching a self-driving car pilot program. What does that mean for all our parking garages? Photo by Tim Leviston/Getty Images

Self-driving cars are en route to Houston — here's what that means for the city's parking garages

Put it in park

As the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County gets ready to rev up its test of autonomous vehicles at Texas Southern University, a question looms over the commercial real estate sector in Houston: How much change will be driven by the no-driver trend, particularly as it relates to parking?

In an interview and a recent blog post, Rand Stephens, managing director of the Houston office of commercial real estate services company Avison Young, says it's difficult to envision that self-driving vehicles will make parking garages and lots in Houston obsolete.

Rather, Stephens says, some parking garages and lots will become "staging areas" for autonomous vehicles where they can wait for their next trip, be recharged, and be maintained.

Stephens adds that street parking is poised to transform into zones for dropping off and picking up people, and for deliveries of groceries and other goods. "Instead of vehicles sitting all day in one spot," he says, "they will be on the move from spot to spot."

Other parking structures, however, will simply be razed to make way for office or residential high-rises, Stephens says. Adaptive reuse of parking garages isn't feasible, he says, as that could prohibitively cost as much as $90 to $100 per square foot.

One bump in the road for commercial real estate developers will figuring out how to put up buildings that can accommodate traditional parking but that later might need to adapt to self-driving vehicles, according to Stephens. He notes that suburban office buildings typically offer a ratio of four parking spots for every 1,000 square feet of space.

"I think forward-thinking tenants, developers, brokers, architects, and engineers will design interim solutions with lower ratios," Stephens tells InnovationMap. "They'll really take the time to understand the occupants' commuting patterns and steer away from one parking space for one person."

On the horizon, though, are even more dramatic changes for parking in Houston and elsewhere.

A 2017 report from the Urban Land Institute and Green Street Advisors LLC, a commercial real estate research and advisory firm based in Newport Beach, California, predicted driverless vehicles and ride-sharing services could eliminate the need for half of U.S. parking spaces — as much as 75 billion square feet. Under that scenario, Houston would lose nearly half (close to 5.1 million square feet) of the roughly 100,000 parking spaces at garages in the Central Business District.

While we likely won't see parking garages and lots in Houston vanish anytime soon, we already are witnessing the rise of driverless vehicles.

In March, grocery chain Kroger revealed self-driving delivery vehicles would hit the streets this spring in four Houston ZIP codes. Kroger's Houston market is the second stop in Kroger's pilot program for autonomous delivery vehicles.

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (METRO) is gearing up to test a self-driving vehicle at the Texas Southern University campus. The first phase of the pilot project will kick off June 5.

During the summer session at Texas Southern, an EasyMile EZ10 Gen-1 bus will run along the campus' one-mile "Tiger Walk" — closed to public traffic — at up to 12 mph. The battery-powered vehicle can accommodate six seated passengers and six standing passengers.

Although the shuttle will drive itself, a trained operator will be on board at all times to monitor it, METRO says. Rides will be provided at no cost, but Texas Southern students, professors, employees, and visitors will be required to swipe their METRO Q-card and sign a liability waiver before hopping aboard.

"This pilot puts us on the path of testing the technology in a mixed-use traffic environment," Kimberly Williams, chief innovation officer at METRO, says in a news release.

If the $250,000 first phase succeeds, the second phase — on tap for this year's fall semester — will extend the route to a nearby rail station and possibly offer a connection to the Texas Medical Center's TMC3 research campus. METRO says the second phase would require third-party funding.

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Houston innovator on seeing a greener future on built environment

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 162

An architect by trade, Anas Al Kassas says he was used to solving problems in his line of work. Each project architects take on requires building designers to be innovative and creative. A few years ago, Kassas took his problem-solving background into the entrepreneurship world to scale a process that allows for retrofitting window facades for energy efficiency.

“If you look at buildings today, they are the largest energy-consuming sector — more than industrial and more than transportation,” Kassas, founder and CEO of INOVUES, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. “They account for up to 40 percent of energy consumption and carbon emissions.”

To meet their climate goals, companies within the built environment are making moves to transition to electric systems. This has to be done with energy efficiency in mind, otherwise it will result in grid instability.

"Energy efficiency goes hand in hand with energy transition," he explains.

Kassas says that he first had the idea for his company when he was living in Boston. He chose to start the business in Houston, attracted to the city by its central location, affordable labor market, and manufacturing opportunities here.

Last year, INOVUES raised its first round of funding — a $2.75 million seed round — to scale up the team and identify the best markets to target customers. Kassas says he was looking for regions with rising energy rates and sizable incentives for companies making energy efficient changes.

"We were able to now implement our technology in over 4 million square feet of building space — from Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York City, Portland, and very soon in Canada," he says.

Notably missing from that list is any Texas cities. Kassas says that he believes Houston is a great city for startups and he has his operations and manufacturing is based here, but he's not yet seen the right opportunity and adaption

"Unfortunately most of our customers are not in Texas," "A lot of work can be done here to incentivize building owners. There are a lot of existing buildings and construction happening here, but there has to be more incentives."

Kassas shares more about his growth over the past year, as well as what he has planned for 2023 on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

Houston SPAC announces merger with Beaumont-based tech company in deal valued at $100M

speaking of spacs

A Houston SPAC, or special purpose acquisition company, has announced the company it plans to merge with in the new year.

Beaumont-based Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc., a provider of thermal imaging platforms, and Houston-based SportsMap Tech Acquisition Corp. (NASDAQ: SMAP), a publicly-traded SPAC with $117 million held in trust, announced their agreement for ICI to IPO via SPAC.

Originally announced in the fall of last year, the blank-check company is led by David Gow, CEO and chairman. Gow is also chairman and CEO of Gow Media, which owns digital media outlets SportsMap, CultureMap, and InnovationMap, as well as the SportsMap Radio Network, ESPN 97.5 and 92.5.

The deal will close in the first half of 2023, according to a news release, and the combined company will be renamed Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc. and will be listed on NASDAQ under a new ticker symbol.

“ICI is extremely excited to partner with David Gow and SportsMap as we continue to deliver our innovative software and hardware solutions," says Gary Strahan, founder and CEO of ICI, in the release. "We believe our software and sensor technology can change the way companies across industries perform predictive maintenance to ensure reliability, environmental integrity, and safety through AI and machine learning.”

Strahan will continue to serve as CEO of the combined company, and Gow will become chairman of the board. The transaction values the combined company at a pre-money equity valuation of $100 million, according to the release, and existing ICI shareholders will roll 100 percent of their equity into the combined company as part of the transaction.

“We believe ICI is poised for strong growth," Gow says in the release. "The company has a strong value proposition, detecting the overheating of equipment in industrial settings. ICI also has assembled a strong management team to execute on the opportunity. We are delighted to combine our SPAC with ICI.”

Founded in 1995, ICI provides infrared and imaging technology — as well as service, training, and equipment repairs — to various businesses and individuals across industries.

Report: Federal funding, increased life science space drive industry growth in Houston

by the numbers

Federal funding, not venture capital, continues to be the main driver of growth in Houston’s life sciences sector, a new report suggests.

The new Houston Life Science Insight report from commercial real estate services company JLL shows Houston accounted for more than half (52.7 percent) of total funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) across major Texas markets through the third quarter of this year. NIH funding in the Houston area totaled $769.6 million for the first nine months of 2022, exceeding the five-year average by 19.3 percent.

VC funding for Houston’s life sciences sector pales in comparison.

For the first nine months of this year, companies in life sciences raised $147.3 million in VC, according to the report. Based on that figure, Houston is on pace in 2022 to meet or surpass recent life sciences VC totals for most other years except 2021. JLL describes 2021 as an “outlier” when it comes to annual VC hauls for the region’s life sciences companies.

JLL notes that “limited venture capital interest in private industry has remained a challenge for the city’s life sciences sector. Furthermore, it may persist as venture capital strategies are reevaluated and investment strategies shift toward near-term profits.”

While life sciences VC funding has a lot of ground to cover to catch up with NIH funding, there are other bright spots for the sector.

One of those bright spots is the region’s rising amount of life sciences space.

The Houston area boasts more than 2.4 million square feet of space for life sciences operations, with another 1.1 million under construction and an additional 1.5 million square feet on the drawing board, the report says. This includes a soon-to-open lab spanning 25,000 square feet in the first phase of Levit Green.

A second bright spot is the migration of life sciences companies to the region. Two Southern California-based life sciences companies, Cellipoint Bioservices and Obagi Cosmeceuticals, plan to move their headquarters and relocate more than half of their employees to The Woodlands by the first half of 2023, according to the report.

“Houston’s low tax rate and cost of living were primary drivers for the decisions, supported by a strong labor pool that creates advantages for companies’ expansion and relocation considerations,” JLL says.