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 city of Houston and METRO announced a pilot program that's getting passengers online. Photo via ridemetro.org

METRO announces free Wi-Fi program for select Houston routes

Digital upgrade

METRO is test driving a new feature for its passengers. Select vehicles on a few routes will come with free Wi-Fi on board.

The transportation organization selected the 54 Scott and 204 Spring Park & Ride bus routes and the Green and Purple METRORail lines for the pilot program — in part because of their vicinity to universities and schools, according to a news release from METRO.

"I'm excited we can bring this service to some of our riders. Be it for work, entertainment or personal business, Wi-Fi allows them to stay connected while in transit and improves the overall customer experience," says METRO Board Chair Carrin Patman in the release.

The pilot program, which will run through mid-January, is being funded by $110,220 from the Microsoft Digital Alliance that includes installation and service for over 40 routers. The public-private partnership is also supported by Synnex Corporation, Sierra Wireless, Tracking for Less and AT&T.

"Bringing connectivity to Houston METRO riders is a step forward in the smart city journey, and Microsoft is proud to partner with the city to bring the pilot program to life," says Cameron Carr, director of internet of things strategy, scale and smart city, from Microsoft Corp, in the release.

The announcement is another piece of Mayor Sylvester Turner's Smart City initiative to bring innovation across the city.

"When we first sat down with Microsoft and METRO as part of the Smart City discussions, the first thing we discussed was how can we make the Smart City initiatives inclusive for all residents," says Mayor Turner in the release. "That is why connectivity for everyone, and more efficient public transit was our priority."

Photo via rideMETRO.org

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Houston biopharma company launches equity crowdfunding campaign

money moves

A clinical-stage company headquartered in Houston has opened an online funding campaign.

FibroBiologics, which is developing fibroblast cell-based therapeutics for chronic diseases, launched a campaign with equity crowdfunding platform StartEngine. The platform lets anyone — regardless of their net worth or income level — to invest in securities issued by startups.

The funding, according to a press release, will be used to support ongoing operations of Fibrobiologics and advance its clinical programs in multiple sclerosis, degenerative disc disease, wound care, extension of life, and cancer.

"We're excited to partner with StartEngine on this campaign. StartEngine has over 600,000 investors as part of their community and has raised over half a billion dollars for its clients," says FibroBiologics' Founder and CEO Pete O'Heeron, in the release.

"This is an exciting time at FibroBiologics as we continue progressing our clinical pipeline and developing innovative therapies to treat chronic diseases," he continues. "This new funding will fuel our growth in the lab and bring us one step closer to commercialization."

The campaign, launched this week, already has over 100 investors, at the time of publication, and has raised nearly $2 million, according to the page. The minimum investment is set at around $500, and the company's indicated valuation is $252.57 million.

In 2021, FibroBiologics announced its intention of going public. Last year, O'Heeron told InnovationMap on the Houston Innovators Podcast of the company's growth plans as well as the specifics of the technology.

Only two types of cells — stem cells and fibroblasts — can be used in cell therapy for a regenerative treatment, which is when specialists take healthy cells from a patient and inject them into a part of the body that needs it the most. As O'Heeron explains in the podcast, fibroblasts can do it more effectively and cheaper than stem cells.

"(Fibroblasts) can essentially do everything a stem cell can do, only they can do it better," says O'Heeron. "We've done tests in the lab and we've seen them outperform stem cells by a low of 50 percent to a high of about 220 percent on different disease paths."


Texas ranks as a top state for female entrepreneurs

women in business

Texas dropped three spots in Merchant Maverick’s annual ranking of the top 10 states for women-led startups.

The Lone Star State landed at No. 5 thanks in part to its robust venture capital environment for women entrepreneurs. Last year, Texas ranked second, up from its No. 6 showing in 2021.

Merchant Maverick, a product comparison site for small businesses, says Texas “boasts the strongest venture capital scene” for women entrepreneurs outside California and the Northeast. The state ranked fourth in that category, with $6.5 billion invested in the past five years.

Other factors favoring Texas include:

  • Women solely lead 22 percent of all employees working for a business in Texas (No. 4).
  • Texas lacks a state income tax (tied for No. 1).

However, Texas didn’t fare well in terms of the unemployment rate (No. 36) and the rate of business ownership by women (No. 29). Other Texas data includes:

  • Average income for women business owners, $52,059 (No. 19).
  • Early startup survival rate, 81.9 percent (No. 18).

Appearing ahead of Texas in the 2023 ranking are No. 1 Colorado, No. 2 Washington, No. 3 California, and No. 4 Arizona.

Another recent ranking, this one from NorthOne, an online bank catering to small businesses, puts Texas at No. 7 among the 10 best states for women entrepreneurs.

NorthOne says Texas provides “a ton of opportunities” for woman entrepreneurs. For instance, it notches one of the highest numbers of women-owned businesses in the country at 1.4 million, 2.1 percent of which have at least 500 employees.

In this study, Texas is preceded by Colorado at No. 1, Nevada at No. 2, Virginia at No. 3, Maryland at No. 4, Florida at No. 5, and New Mexico at No. 6. The rankings are based on eight metrics, including the percentage of woman-owned businesses and the percentage of women-owned businesses with at least 500 employees.