Houston's DEI Champions share obstacles they are overcoming promoting equitable innovation

EAVESDROPPING AT THE HOUSTON INNOVATION AWARDS GALA

These five individuals are up for the DEI Champion award this week. Here's what challenges they are facing promoting an equitable innovation ecosystem. Photos courtesy

As one of the most diverse cities in the world, Houston's business and innovation community has a unique opportunity to prioritize not just its diverse population, but also to make sure the city has equitable and inclusive opportunities.

Five Houstonians have been named finalists in the DEI Champion category for the Houston Innovation Awards Gala, which will be held on November 9. They shared some of the challenges they are facing as they fight to make sure Houston has an equitable innovation ecosystem.

"I have always been the only Black women in all of my engineering roles, and I worked so hard to get there and quite often feel so uncomfortable in this space. So, individuals who question my name don't always understand the important of someone expressing that I see you to an individual can mean. However, this is a challenge I am willing to face because I am changing people lives and these lives I am changing will impact the world."

Photo courtesy

— Kara Branch, founder and CEO of Black Girls Do Engineer Corp. "Although I believed in myself and that girls that look like me needed that representation and someone to mentor them and expose them to S.T.E.M., I had no one to do this for me, so I had to do this for girls in my community," she says. "I have faced some people who fight me about my name, but my name had to be my name because I needed to let Black girls know I was talking to them."

"You can’t expect to make an impact, big or small, if you’re not willing to meet people where they are. One challenge we’ve seen when it comes to talking about and implementing DEI programs within the organization is that not everyone has the same understanding of what diversity, equity, and inclusion is."

Photo courtesy

Arianne Dowdell, vice president and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer for Houston Methodist. "Another challenge we see is that sometimes people expect to see change immediately," she continues. "This is a journey not a race, and if done right, it’s something that will continue to evolve and grow."

"Nobody wants to be tagged as difficult or uncomfortable to be with. A lot of bystanders will also make a calculated risk when witnessing bias, what is in it for me? Many will turn a blind eye if there are other interests at play."

Photo courtesy

— Juliana Garaizar, head of Houston incubator for Greentown Labs and lead investor for Portfolia. Garaizar explains that she sees people afraid of facing the repercussions that come with speaking up or standing up to bias and harassment.

"Sustainable funding. We have the talent, the access to mentors and STEM education/activities and preparation workshops and certifications. But not having the capital to hire and effectively manage this growth has been very challenging to where we've had to say no to expansion (girls in need) and and increase in girls within our yearlong and skill-building programs."

Photo courtesy

— Loretta Williams Gurnell, founder of SUPERGirls SHINE Foundation. She continues, "However, because we are serious in creating a diverse and sustained pipeline for more underserved girls (women) in STEM, we heavily rely on organizations that are like-minded in practices and core values to partner with and provide our services and opportunities to their girls and vice versus. It builds community and sustainability for all who are involved."

"The problems we face are so daunting and overwhelming that it can be hard to know where to start. ... At some point I realized that you just have to start somewhere, and you have to go deep in one area." 

Photo courtesy

— Rob Schapiro, director of Microsoft's Energy Acceleration Program. "Only 27 percent of STEM workers are women. A mere 2 percent of venture capital money goes to women and far less to black women. The average wealth of the top 5 percent of White American households is seven times more than the average of the top 5 percent of Black households. These kinds of statistics can paralyze you into inaction," he explains. "It is great to be an ally to all, but you can have more impact if you focus your attention and efforts on a specific area. What is challenging still is that you will want to do more and spread your efforts, but you have to stay disciplined. One person cannot fix everything. But, using your privilege and your network you can influence many others and through them make a huge impact."

Don't miss these informative online events happening throughout the month of May. Photo by Getty Images

10+ can't-miss Houston business and innovation events online in May

Where to be online

This month, Houstonians have yet another good batch of online innovation events — from Zoom panels to virtual conferences — and you and your tech network need to know about them.

Here's a roundup of virtual events not to miss this month — like Houston Tech Rodeo, a virtual showcase from Rice University's data science students, and more.

Note: This post might be updated to add more events.

May 4 — Perfecting Your Pitch

Join The Ion for our series with DeckLaunch and Fresh Tech Solutionz as they discuss the importance and value of your pitch deck when reaching your target audience.

The event is on Tuesday, May 4, at 1 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

May 5 — D2K Virtual Showcase - Spring 2021

Join Rice University online for the interactive D2K Showcase. Student teams from the D2K Capstone and other data science programs will showcase their data science work and compete for prizes.

The event is on Wednesday, May 5, at 5 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

May 6 — Carbon to Value Initiative Kickoff

Kick off a new accelerator dedicated to carbontech. The Carbon to Value (C2V) Initiative is a multi-year collaboration between The Urban Future Lab, Greentown Labs, and the Fraunhofer USA TechBridge Program. Welcome the first cohort of startups to this exciting new program, which includes Houston-based Cemvita Factory.

The event is on Thursday, May 6, at 3 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

May 12 — Enventure "Inspire" Seminar Series - With Dr. Reece Norris

The "Inspire" Seminar Series was developed by Enventure to help students learn about the reality of working in the biotech and biomedical fields. This particular event will star Mr. Reece Norris, JD, co-founder and COO of WeInfuse. Reece began his career in corporate law and eventually entered the provider-based infusion center market, where he went on to create a first-of-its-kind infusion delivery business model.

The event is on Wednesday, May 12, at 6 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

MAy 13 — Changing the Colors of Investment

Maria Maso of the Business Angel Minority Association and Stephanie Tsuru of SheSpace are planning an inspiring conversation on diversity in investment.

The event is on Thursday, May 13, at 11:30 am. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

May 14 — Investor Speaker Series: Navigating Corporate Venture Capital

Greentown Labs is putting on a virtual event about Corporate Venture Capital. CVCs have played an important role in advancing climatetech in general, and supporting the Greentown ecosystem specifically. In this conversation, we will connect with CVCs within the Greentown network—and representing diverse industries—to discuss what they look for in startups, how they work with startups, how they like to participate in deals, and their perspective on key trends in climatetech investing. Panelists include:

The event is on Friday, May 14, at 11 am. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

May 17-23 — Houston Tech Rodeo

The Houston Tech Rodeo — a festival of events put on both online and in person — celebrates the convergence of popular culture and innovation in Houston and has transformed into an essential destination for founders and talented individuals to spur new connections and ideas while highlighting all that Houston has to offer.

The round-up of events takes place May 17 to 23. Check out all the events and register by clicking here.

May 18 — Accessibility in Tech presented by Microsoft

Attendees at this event presented by Capital Factory can look forward to a keynote chat from a serial entrepreneur or investor, insightful discussion sessions, a startup showcase pitch competition, multiple future of accessibility breakout sessions, and panels on accessibility in design and accessibility in hiring and human resource management.

The event is on Tuesday, May 18, at noon. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

May 20 — Future of Patient Experience

Healthcare centered around the patient's experience is becoming a bigger priority for systems around the world. Join experts from Houston, Texas Medical Center, the UK, and Denmark for a Biobridge event. Healthcare centered around the patient's experience is becoming a bigger priority for systems around the world.

The event is on Thursday, May 20, at 9 am. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

May 25 — Industrial XR Forum: Enterprise Projects & Tech Roundup

The Industrial XR Forum is hosting an industry-wide event focused specifically on industrial/energy and engineering large enterprise and rapidly scaling immersive tech program leaders to gain insights, use cases and technology needed for their large and often global VR/AR/XR, 3D, Digital Twin and Spatial Computing projects.


The event is on Tuesday, May 25, at 10 am. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

May 25 — HYP Referral Networking: Building Stronger Relationships

Join the Houston Young Professionals and General Assembly for a virtual networking event.

The event is on Tuesday, May 25, at 11:45 am. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

May 25 — HALO Presents: Ongoing Changes in Consumer Behavior as a Result of Covid-19

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a significant shift in consumer behavior as cities around the world saw shut downs and restrictions. Every aspect of life was affected. As the the country reopens and we enter our new normal what trends from the pandemic will stick around and what will change? Join the Texas HALO Fund and some of its portfolio companies operating in the consumer space to hear their experiences of the pandemic first hand.

The event is on Tuesday, May 25, at 5 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

May 26 — Houston Startup Showcase Semifinals

Four semifinalists will come together on the virtual stage and compete for a chance to move on to the The Ion's Startup Showcase Finals. Watch the four startups pitch their company and see who the judges will select to move on to the Final and have the opportunity to compete for a prize package. The presenting companies are:

The event is on Wednesday, May 26, at 6 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

Greentown Labs CEO Emily Reichert called on members of Houston's energy community to speak at Greentown Houston's grand opening. Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

Overheard: Houston's energy sector welcomes Greentown Labs

eavesdropping in Houston

Greentown Houston is officially open for business, and it's safe to say the energy innovation community is excited about it. The 40,000-square-foot space is expecting to move its inaugural 30 companies in throughout the summer.

The grand opening event, which was streamed online with an outdoor invite-only event, took place on Earth Day and featured speakers from across the energy sector. The speakers represented some of the almost 30 corporate partners Greentown Houston has announced.

Click here to read more about the grand opening and take a peek inside the facility.

Missed the discussion or just want a refresher on on the highlights? Here are some significant overheard moments from the Greentown Houston Grand Opening.

"Houston has all the necessary ingredients and it has momentum."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures. "Let's celebrate. And then let's get busy."

"Houston, as the energy capital of the world, has a moral obligation to reduce carbon emissions."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Mayor Sylvester Turner. "We need to invest in our innovation ecosystem and support the climatech and clean tech entrepreneurs who will be building Houston's new energy economy and creating the new jobs of tomorrow."

"Houston has the talent, know how, and can-do spirit to tackle the dual challenge of leading dual energy demand while aggressively lowering the carbon footprint."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership.

"Houston must remain the center of the future energy industry, and today is an important step in restoring that."

Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

— David Leebron, president of Rice University. "We look forward to our strong partnership."

"We can't solve climate change from the coasts. We need the whole United States to be engaged, and I'm bullish on Houston leading this transition for many reasons."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs. "Houston is home to world-leading energy organizations, incredible engineering strength, talent, and assets, that can, and frankly must, be redeployed to decarbonize resources."

"This is a city that does not stand still."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Ajay Mehta, General Manager of Shell. "At Shell, we have a mission to reach net zero emissions by 2050."

"For bp, partnering with Greentown Labs represents living our purpose to reimagine energy."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Jane Stricker, senior relationship manager, regions, cities and solutions at bp.

"Innovation is like oxygen, and it breathes life into hope and possibility. The work we are doing around the energy transition is hard and challenging, and frankly is going to take all of us."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Darryl Willis, corporate vice president, energy industry, at Microsoft. "We think that the future is all about partnerships and platforms, and our mission is to help from Microsoft's vantage point to accelerate the energy transition and to help the city of Houston around its aspirations around the energy transition as well."

"We appreciate being part of not only maintaining Houston's position as the energy capital of the world but also establishing it as the energy transition capital of the world."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Scott Burns, vice president of retail innovation, customer experience, and market intelligence at NRG.

"[Greentown Houston] will provide this center of gravity for the energy community to come together and work toward the transition plan."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Tim Ong, head of innovation at BHP Petroleum. "


Microsoft has announced it will be leasing space in The Ion. Courtesy of Rice University

Microsoft announces lease in rising Houston innovation hub

eyes on the ion

Microsoft and Rice Management Company — the owner and management of The Ion, a rising innovation hub in Houston — announced that the tech company will be leasing space on the 288,000 square-foot building's fifth floor.

"Over the last several years, Microsoft has made it clear it is committed to Houston," says Mayor Sylvester Turner in a press release. "With the work Microsoft is already doing with the City and The Ion to support entrepreneurs, workforce development and energy transition, it is only fitting its new home should be in our City's hub for innovation. This news is an exciting next step in our partnership with Microsoft as we continue to grow Houston's innovation ecosystem and become a leader in the global energy transition."

Microsoft has an existing partnership with The Ion and is a founding sponsor of its Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator. Earlier this year, the technology leader has also committed $1 million to skills programming.

"The Ion is fast becoming a hub for Houston's startup community and driving forward innovation in energy transition technologies," says Ravi Krishnaswamy, corporate vice president of Azure Global Industry at Microsoft, in the release. "My team and I are excited to get to work there, supporting Microsoft's vision of powering a sustainable future and accelerating energy transition with the expertise of partners, customers, and industry."

According to the press release, Microsoft will also be a programming partner for The Ion and will host advancement opportunities and events, including a monthly executive forum and virtual symposiums, and support future accelerators for advanced manufacturing, digital skilling, and smart and resilient city innovation.

"The Ion and Microsoft will provide the necessary tools and knowledge needed to become more resilient, strengthen our workforce and create new innovations to accelerate the energy transition," says Jan E. Odegard, interim executive director, in the release. "We were delighted this summer when we announced Microsoft's sponsorship of The Ion programming and are now even more ecstatic to welcome a division of Microsoft to its new home. My team and I look forward to showcasing our great programs that are enabled by corporate sponsors like Microsoft to the entrepreneurs, academics, corporations and community in Houston and around the world."

Microsoft's partnership with The Ion, which is set to open in just a few months, is due in part to the city's collaboration with Microsoft.

"Having Microsoft as a major tenant is a huge step forward in realizing the vision for The Ion as a dynamic hub bringing together key elements of innovation in Houston," Rice President David Leebron says in the release. "We are very grateful to Microsoft and Mayor Turner for advancing this vision."

A statewide initiative backed by Microsoft will bring new digital education to the University of Houston campus. Photo via UH.edu

University of Houston joins Microsoft-backed initiative for digital tech workforce development

teamwork

The University of Houston College of Technology has been selected for a new initiative to bring digital and technical skills to students and the workforce.

Microsoft's Accelerate program is a part of the tech giant's Global Skills Initiative, a multimillion-dollar investment seeking to increase digital skills to equip 25 million people worldwide by the end of 2020, according to the website.

"The University of Houston is proud to be part of an effort to prepare strong professionals and leaders in Texas who think innovatively and are equipped with next-generation skills to be successful," says Paula Myrick Short, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at UH, in a press release. "The College of Technology is well-positioned to strengthen this workforce pipeline and create a stronger Texas."

Along with Microsoft, UH is also working with the Texas Education Agency to develop courses that will teach a variety of tech skills, including STEM engagement for students in K-12, professional development, workforce development for high school and college students, and even parents and professionals seeking opportunities to enhance business and technical skills, according to the release.

"The College of Technology is working with Microsoft to provide Texas communities with resources to create meaningfully unique opportunities," says Dean Anthony Ambler in the release. "From high schools to professionals across the state, our programs transcend the classroom to support workforce creation and upskilling. These activities champion Texas communities with a focus on digital equity among underserved areas that solve problems and improve lives."

The college joins other Texas partners, including STEMuli, The Ion, NASA, the Dallas Independent School District, Bell, Big Thought, Stedman Graham and Associates, Tribute to Valor, National Math and Science Initiative, Dallas Regional Chamber, and the Irving Chamber of Commerce.

"Texans are some of the brightest, most productive people in the world. It is exciting to work to establish a statewide innovation ecosystem to support a sustainable culture of opportunity," says David Crawley, professor of practice with the College of Technology, in the release.

Mayor Sylvester Turner announced that Microsoft has expanded its partnership with the city. Photo courtesy of Mayor's Office

Microsoft doubles down on partnership with the city of Houston by committing $1M to programs

tech jobs

Microsoft and the city of Houston have introduced a new program aimed at addressing technology skills development across Houston.

Accelerate: Houston is part of Microsoft's larger global skills initiative. Mayor Sylvester Turner announced the program at a press conference on Monday, August 24.

"More than two years ago, I announced our first transformative alliance with Microsoft — the first of its kind in the United States," says Mayor Sylvester Turner, according to a press release. "Today, I am pleased to say we are taking another leap toward strengthening Houston's global standing as a center for innovation and technology."

The Houston partners on the initiative include The Ion, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Kino-Eye Center, Upskill Houston, University of Houston College of Technology, and Space Center Houston

"Microsoft launched the Accelerate program at a time when closing the digital divide has never been more important," says Kate Johnson, president of Microsoft U.S., in the release. "We're thrilled to be joining Mayor Turner and an impressive group of partners in this effort to expand access to in-demand digital skills—and close digital skills gaps widened by COVID-19—through Accelerate: Houston."

Through this expanded partnership, Microsoft has committed $1 million into programs for The Ion, an entrepreneurship hub being built by Rice Management Co. and currently under construction in Midtown.

"With this digital alliance, one of history's most important and innovative technology companies becomes a key pillar of The Ion," says David Leebron, president of Rice University, in the release. "Microsoft will help implement the vision to make Houston's new innovation district a focal point for the future of energy, artificial intelligence, data science and smart cities."

Microsoft has previously partnered with Houston in a few ways, including partnering on The Ion Smart Cities Accelerator.

Susan Davenport, chief economic development officer with the Greater Houston Partnership, says the announcement shows that the city is on the right track for upskilling its workforce.

"As we have continued to navigate the global COVID-19 crisis and are steering the changes in our energy sector, we feel Microsoft's commitment validates the strong direction into which Houston is now moving," she says in a statement.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

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."