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

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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3 Houston innovators make Forbes list of up-and-coming entrepreneurs

next big things

Three Houston entrepreneurs are basking in the national spotlight.

The trio — Vernee Hines, Carolyn Rodz, and Siddhartha Sachdeva — were just named to Forbes' Next 1000 list of the country's up-and-coming entrepreneurs. They're among the 250 standouts who make up the second installment of this year's Next 1000 class.

Forbes says the year-round Next 1000 initiative "showcases the ambitious sole proprietors, self-funded shops, and pre-revenue startups in every region of the country — all with under $10 million in revenue or funding and infinite drive and hustle."

Forbes accepts nominees for Next 1000, and then "top business minds and entrepreneurial superstars" pick those who make the final cut. Among those minds are LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman; baseball legend Alex Rodriguez; Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook; and Carla Harris, managing director of Morgan Stanley.

"Americans are launching new companies at a historic rate, aided by the accelerated shift in the way we live and work and an influx of technological tools that made it easier for anyone to start their own business from anywhere," Maneet Ahuja, senior editor of Forbes, says in a news release. "The latest class of Next 1000 entrepreneurial heroes offer hope for the future as we emerge from the pandemic on the path towards economic recovery."

Hines, Rodz, and Sachdeva are the initiative's three Houston representatives in the summer 2021 group.

Hines co-founded UpBrainery Technologies with Ghazal Qureshi in 2020. UpBrainery operates a tech ecosystem aimed at disrupting educational and classroom norms through the use of proprietary technology, according to Forbes.

UpBrainery's marketplace provides an AI-driven software platform and research-based, results-driven curriculum to students, parents, teachers, and organizations. So far, UpBrainery has helped more than 5,000 students. Clients include Whataburger, Nasdaq, the Houston Rockets, the Girl Scouts of America, and Girls Inc.

"Because I deeply understand curriculum and the theory of education, I understand the biases marginalized students face every day, and I co-founded UpBrainery with the goal of eliminating historical education biases, leveling the playing field for underrepresented students, and providing a technology solution that reaches even the most disconnected student," Hines says on her company's website.

Rodz co-founded Hello Alice with Elizabeth Gore in 2017 as an accelerator for women-owned businesses. Today, the Hello Alice online platform serves as a one-stop shop for all aspiring entrepreneurs, connecting them with funders, services, and professional networks, Forbes explains. To date, it has raised $8.5 million in funding.

"Hello Alice is what I wish I had when I started my first business 15 years ago," Rodz told the Golden Seeds website in 2020. "After a career in investment banking, I made a long, hard, expensive transition into entrepreneurship. It wasn't until I sold that company that I realized how much I learned."

"When I started a second business, I discovered networks and opportunities I didn't know about the first time, and doors opened up," she added. "With Hello Alice, our goal was to put all entrepreneurs on an equal footing, giving them the knowledge, opportunities, and connections they need to thrive from day one."

Sachdeva founded Innowatts in 2014. The company offers an AI-powered SaaS platform that helps electricity providers operate more efficiently and transition toward sustainable energy, Forbes says. Innowatts has raised nearly $27 million in funding.

"The COVID-19 crisis has brought challenges for the energy sector, but there will always be a need for accurate forecasting and real-time intelligence," Sachdeva says in a recent news release. "Innowatts has flourished by using its groundbreaking AI technologies to help customers build resilience and cope with the unprecedented shifts in power consumption caused by the pandemic."

Houston expert: Finding your tech talent through analytics

Houston Voices

You know the work that needs to get done, and you know the environment that you want to build. How do you find the people who will build it with you? Historically, we relied on relationships, intuition, and track record when we evaluate potential team members. This is the same approach we use to find our mates, and well, the divorce rate speaks for itself.

Perhaps you know your potential partner from a previous job when you both worked for a public company, and they were a high performer. Even when we have worked with someone before and they had a great track record, things can go awry. Humans are messy beings. When factors that affect motivation (such as equity percentages, the potential for exit, working 80-plus hours a week) change, performance can be affected. The people who do really well as a cog in the wheel do not necessarily have the same drive to BUILD the wheel. So how do we pick the team members who will best suit the work and environment?

Did you know that 95 percent of people think they're self-aware, yet only 10 to 15 percent actually are (Tasha Eurich)? If people don't know themselves, how can you possibly know your potential partner's fit?

Behavioral assessments aren't new. If you've ever worked for a large company, you've likely taken one. What is different now is that The Predictive Index is harnessing the power of behavioral analytics to predict success and help us visualize teams in a whole new way. We can now look at people's work style in under 6 minutes and quickly give you data on how people will perform in their role and with your team to drive alignment in your organization.

As a founding board member and active investor in Valhalla Investment Group, we recently implemented the practice of using behavioral analytics in our due diligence. We then look at individual and team results to identify any gaps between strategy and the team's ability to execute the strategy. We specifically look at a team's appetite for risk, approach to change, and response to pressure.

The results for one startup we were evaluating came back with a potential red flag. Five of the six in the executive team were exploring leaders in the "Innovation and Agility" quadrant. These leaders are independent and comfortable with risk. We had one who was a very strong stabilizing leader in the "Process and Precision" quadrant. This person is very precise and cautious with risk. We immediately reached out to the CEO to schedule a Zoom to ask how the team works with what could be seen as an "outlier" and how they deal with the friction. The CEO understood the strengths and cautions of his team and explained that while this person is different, they are very much needed. They provide balance and contribute to areas that are blind spots for the rest of the team. The way the CEO handled the question showed us that he was self-aware enough to manage such differences and gave us the confidence to invest in this startup.

HOW IS THIS RELEVANT FOR YOUR STARTUP?

Founders

Wouldn't it be great to know potential partners' appetite for risk, how they deal with deadlines, their proactivity or reactivity to issues before you meet them? Or how they respond to pressure? Founding partners can be evaluated to ensure their behavioral drives align with the startup strategy.

For example, if the strategy is to fail fast to obtain product-market fit and grow market share quickly, founders would need to be innovative, risk-tolerant, comfortable with ambiguity, and they'd need to thrive under pressure. Conversely, if your startup serves a highly regulated environment, your founding team needs to be well-organized, careful with rules, and cautious with risk.

Team dynamics and inclusivity 

Without insight into team dynamics, results are left to chance. Behavioral analytics can provide insights that allow each person to easily understand how their new team members are wired. This can drastically reduce the time it takes to build cohesion among the group and make for more efficient and effective collaboration as project teams are regularly assembled and reassembled. Put simply, instead of using our energy to try to figure each other out, we cut through that noise so we can run faster.

Lastly, by creating a job profile and looking for candidates who fit the profile, we can cut out the biases that relationship-based recruiting can introduce to an organization.

"The alignment of business strategies and talent strategies is known as talent optimization."

Talent optimization goes beyond human resources practices, management consulting, and productivity tooling to describe a model that empirically aligns strategy and people practices. It weaves talent improvement practices into the everyday workings of a company to nurture and employ a workforce that is specifically calibrated to the company's strategic objectives. The sooner we utilize people data to look at our organization, the sooner we can spot potential blind spots. Leaders can then address the issues and focus on what's most important for their startup.

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This article was written by Wendy Fong, founder and principal of Chief Gigs, and originally appeared on Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship's blog.

3 Houston companies named to semifinals of clean energy competition

game on

Three Houston energy startups are in the running for the $100,000 cash prize in Cleantech.org's GS Beyond Energy Innovation Challenge.

Amperon Holdings, Cemvita Factory, and Veloce Energy are among the competition's 24 semifinalists, which were announced June 17. Five semifinalists will be chosen to pitch their concepts during a virtual event July 21, and then the winner of the $100,000 prize will be named.

"This is not like the cleantech sector was 10 years ago. Getting down to 24 [semifinalists] was hard. Getting down to five finalists will be extremely challenging," Neal Dikeman, chairman and founder of Cleantech.org and a partner at one of the prize sponsors, Houston-based Energy Transition Ventures, says in a news release.

Amperon, with an office in Houston and headquarters in New York City, is a semifinalist in the "digitization of energy" category. The company, founded in 2017, builds real-time electricity demand tools for utilities, energy retailers, grid operators, and institutional traders. So far, Amperon has raised $4.3 million in funding, according to Crunchbase.

Houston-based Cemvita, founded in 2017 by siblings Tara and Moji Karimi, is a semifinalist in the "new fuels" category. Its biotechnology transforms carbon dioxide emissions into sustainable chemicals and polymers. In a recent interview for the Houston Innovators Podcast, Moji Karimi explained how unprecedented his work is — and how ready for collaboration his team is.

"There weren't biotech companies working with oil and gas companies for this use case that we have now," Karimi says. "We're defining this new category for application of synthetic biology in heavy industries for decarbonization."

Veloce, with an office in Houston and headquarters in Los Angeles, is a semifinalist in the "e-mobility in cities" category. The company, founded in 2020, aims to make installation of electric vehicle charging stations cheaper and faster. Veloce is an inaugural member of Greentown Houston, an incubator for climate technology startups.