Cemvita Factory is working on a pilot plant with Oxy to scale its biotechnology. Photo via OxyLowCarbon.com

Occidental's venture arm — Oxy Low Carbon Ventures — has announced its plans to construct and operate a one metric ton per month bio-ethylene pilot plant featuring Houston-based Cemvita Factory's technology that biomimics photosynthesis to convert carbon dioxide into feedstocks.

The new plant will scale the process, which was jointly developed between Cemvita and OLCV, and is expected sometime next year, according to a press release from Oxy.

"Today bio-ethylene is made from bio-ethanol, which is made from sugarcane, which in turn was created by photosynthesizing CO2. Our bio-synthetic process simply requires CO2, water and light to produce bio-ethylene, and that's why it saves a lot of cost and carbon emissions," says Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita Factory, in the release. "This project is a great example of how Cemvita is applying industrial-strength synthetic biology to help our clients lower their carbon footprint while creating new revenue streams."

Oxy and Cemvita have been working together for a while, and in 2019, OLCV invested an undisclosed amount into the startup. The investment, according to the release, was made to jointly explore how these advances in synthetic biology can be used for sustainability efforts in the bio-manufacturing of OxyChem's products.

"This technology could provide an opportunity to offer a new, non-hydrocarbon-sourced ethylene product to the market, reducing carbon emissions, and in the future benefit our affiliate, OxyChem, which is a large producer and consumer of ethylene in its chlorovinyls business," says Robert Zeller, vice president of technology at OLCV, in a news release.

Moji Karimi founded the company with his sister and Cemvita CTO, Tara, in 2017. The idea was to biomimic photosynthesis to take CO2 and turn it into something else. The first iteration of the technology turned CO2 into sugar — the classic photosynthesis process. Karimi says the idea was to create this process for space, so that astronauts can turn the CO2 they breathe out into a calorie source.

"Nature provided the inspiration," noted Dr. Tara Karimi, co-founder and CTO of Cemvita Factory. "We took a gene from a banana and genetically engineered it into our CO2-utilizing host microorganism. We are now significantly increasing its productivity with the goal to achieve commercial metrics that we have defined alongside OLCV."

A couple weeks ago, Moji Karimi joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss growth and challenges Cemvita Factory faced.

"We're defining this new category for application of synthetic biology in heavy industries for decarbonization," he shares on the show. Stream the episode below.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Moji Karimi of Cemvita Factory, Shanna Jin of Rice University, and Trent Crow of Real Simple Energy. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In the week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — data science, consumer tech, and medical device innovation — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita Factory

Moji Karimi joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how his technology is offering energy execs an innovative way to meat their climate change pledge goals. Photo courtesy of Cemvita

A lot of startups are working on technology that makes existing practices more efficient, cheaper, or faster — or all of the above. But Cemvita Factory, founded by siblings Moji and Tara Karimi, is doing something that's never been done before: biomimicking photosynthesis to convert carbon emissions into useful chemicals.

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

With this uncharted territory comes unique challenges and opportunities. Click here to read more and stream the episode.

Shanna Jin, communications and marketing specialist of the Data to Knowledge Lab at Rice University

Startups and small businesses are accumulating data daily — here's how to use that to your advantage, according to this Houston expert. Photo via rice.edu

Ironically, the power of data management is almost incalculable. With the right practices and processes in place, businesses can make better decisions and grow more strategically. But, it's not something a lot of startups or small businesses look at regularly. That's where the Rice University Data To Knowledge group comes into play.

"Being able to interpret data and making data-driven decisions becomes the key to the success of a business," writes Shanna Jin in a guest column for InnovationMap. "It is not just a privilege for big companies anymore. Small businesses need it more than ever to make sustainable growth in the digital era." Click here to read more.

Trent Crow, founder and president of Real Simple Energy

Trent Crow, founder and president, and the Real Simple Energy team have moved over to Arcardia with the acquisition. Photo courtesy of Real Simple Energy

Earlier this month, a Houston startup exited to a larger tech company. Trent Crow, co-founder and CEO of Real Simply Energy, says all eight of the company's employees have moved over to Arcadia and more workers will be hired soon. The company has maintained a mix of office and remote workers. Arcadia will look for Houston office space later this year, Crow says.

"Expansion plans include doing more of what we're doing now and offering more features for customers," says Crow, who now is Arcadia's general manager of energy services in Texas. Click here to read more.

Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita Factory, is offering energy execs an innovative way to meat their climate change pledge goals. Photo courtesy of Cemvita

Growing Houston biotech startup is capturing a new way for oil and gas to get to carbon negative

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 76

As more and more energy companies are focusing on reducing their carbon footprint ahead of lofty clean energy goals, Moji Karimi, CEO and co-founder of Houston-based Cemvita Factory, is doing his oil and gas clients one better. In addition to reducing carbon emissions, Cemvita provides an additional revenue stream for its clients.

Karimi founded the company with his sister and Cemvita CTO, Tara, in 2017. The idea was to biomimic photosynthesis to take CO2 and turn it into something else. The first iteration of the technology turned CO2 into sugar — the classic photosynthesis process. Karimi says the idea was to create this process for space, so that astronauts can turn the CO2 they breathe out into a calorie source.

"While we were doing that, we realized the big picture is not just the space application. If we could apply the same technology for other chemicals made in energy-intensive way, then we could actually help with climate change," Karimi says on the podcast.

Now, Cemvita has 30 different molecules its technology can produce and works with the likes of BHP, Oxy, and more energy clients to take their carbon emissions and turn it into something useful.

"It's not just for sustainability reasons — it's part of the reinvention of the company to maintain its legacy for the next few decades to come," Karimi adds.

While 2020 was a chance for Cemvita to reset, by Q4 of last year the company was in growth mode and got back to the lab. The company's teams were divided between two spots — one being an R&D team in larger office at JLABS @ TMC — and Karimi says later this year that will change. Cemvita is moving into a larger, combined space in Upper Kirby in May.

But Karimi says one of the biggest challenges Cemvita is facing is that its doing something that's never been done before. There's a huge learning curve for clients and oil and gas stakeholders.

"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."

There are other companies in the carbon capture and neutralization fields, though they are taking slightly different approaches. Rather than being competitive, companies in this space are working together for a greater good.

"The more successful that some of these other companies are in opening up the market, that also helps us the same way we're doing for them," Karimi says. "It's an interesting and collaborative area, because at the end of the day, the outcome is good for the world."

Karimi shares more about what Cemvita's growth plans on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Seven Houston startups are beginning October with fresh funding. Photo by Tim Leviston/Getty Images

These 7 Houston startups closed millions in funding last month

Venture adventures

September was a busy month for several Houston startups. Seven companies closed rounds throughout the month and are now beginning the fourth quarter of 2019 with fresh funds.

InnovationMap has rounded up these seven deals based on previous stories as well as new information. Scroll through to see which Houston startups are catching the eyes — and cashing the checks — of investors.


Galen Data

Houston-based Galen Data is growing its clientbase and just formed two new partnerships with medical device companies. Photo via galendata.com

Texas Halo Fund led a Houston startup's seed round last month. Galen Data, which uses its cloud-based software to connect medical devices, closed a $1 million seed round thanks to the fund's $250,000 investment. Kevin King, one of Texas Halo Fund's managing director, has also been named to the startup's board of directors.

According to the release, the Texas Halo Fund based its decision for the investment "on the large and growing addressable market of connected medical devices, the company's impressive management team, and post revenue status."

Galen Data's emergence comes as the market for internet-connected mobile health apps keeps growing. One forecast envisions the global space for mobile health exceeding $94 billion by 2023.

"We want to be at the forefront of that technology curve," DuPont tells InnovationMap in a previous interview. "We might be six months early, we might be a year early, but it's starting to happen."

Earlier this year, Galen Data formed strategic partnerships with medical device companies. Click here to read more about those.

SurfEllent

Photo via surfellent.com

SurfEllent, an anti-icing coating technology startup founded out of the University of Houston has raised $470,000 in funding. The company won the second place award and a total of $45,000 at the Texas A&M New Ventures competition before receiving an anonymous investment of $350,000 in seed funding. SurfEllent also received two grants: a $50,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant and a $24,999 Small Business Technology Transfer grant.

"Ice is a problem that will exist as long as we live on the earth. It impacts a wide range of things, including aircraft wings and engines, automobiles, buildings and bridges, ships and vessels, and power transmission systems," says SurfEllent Co-Founder Hadi Ghasemi, a Bill D. Cook Associate professor of mechanical engineering at the UH Cullen College of Engineering, says in a news release.

SurfEllent's product can be used in the de-icing of cars and airplane engines.

"The end goal is to improve the quality of human life," Ghasemi says in the release. "This recognition is another proof of the critical need for advanced anti-icing coating technologies and opens opportunities for collaboration with various industries and business partners."

Cemvita Factory

Cemvita Factory

In August, Occidental Petroleum's Oxy Low Carbon Ventures LLC invested in Houston-based Cemvita Factory, and in September, BHP followed suit. While Cemvita Factory isn't able to disclose how much money its raised through these partnerships, the company confirms it has closed its round of funding.

Cemvita Factory is run by a brother-sister team. Moji and Tara Karimi built the company off of Tara's research into mimicking photosynthesis. The process is able to help reduce energy company's carbon emissions.

"We have an ambitious goal to take one gigaton of CO2 out of the carbon cycle in the next decade and are very excited about being a part of Occidental's journey to become a carbon-neutral company," says Tara, co-founder and chief scientist, in a news release.

The investments will help Cemvita Factory continue to develop its biomimicry technology for oil and gas applications to reduce the volume of greenhouse gas emissions.

Read more about Cemvita's technology by clicking here.

Sourcewater

oil and gas It might not be surprising to discover that the energy capital of the world is a hub for energy startups. Getty Images

Houston-based Sourcewater Inc., which specializes in oilfield water intelligence, closed its series A round at $7.2 million. Bison Technologies, Marubeni Corp., and major energy family offices in Houston, Midland, Dallas, and Oklahoma City contributed to the round. The funds will go toward further developing the company's technology.

"For every barrel of oil produced in the Permian Basin there are more than ten barrels of associated water that are sourced, recycled, transported, and disposed of," says Joshua Adler, founding chief executive of Sourcewater, in a news release. "When America became the world's leading energy producer last year, it also became the world's leading water producer, times ten. Water management is now the majority of upstream energy production cost, and water sourcing, recycling and disposal capacity is the primary constraint on America's energy future."

Read more about the raise here.

SEATz

sEATz

Houston startup sEATz has created a platform where fans can order just about anything their stadium has from an app. Much like any other ordering app, once the order is placed, a runner will pick up the food and deliver it to the customer for a small fee and a tip.

The startup is now preparing to scale up from seven venues to 10 before the year is over as well as launching a new version of the app thanks to an oversubscribed near $1.3 million seed round led by Houston-based Valedor Partners. Houston-based Starboard Star Venture Capital also contributed to the round. SEATz has plans to launch its Series A round before the new year.

"We're building enterprise-level, scalable in-seat ordering, delivery, and pick-up software. We'll have all the data and validation we need this fall to really start to push that out," says CEO and co-founder Aaron Knape.

Read more about sEATz's raise by clicking here.

Syzygy

Earlier this year, Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy Plasmonics, walked away from EarthX $100,000 richer. Now, he has an even bigger check to cash. Photo via LinkedIn

Using research that came out of Rice University, Syzygy Plasmonics has developed a hydrogen fuel cell technology that produces a cheaper source of energy that releases fewer carbon emissions.

The company just closed a $5.8 million Series A round led by MIT's The Engine and Houston-based The GOOSE Society of Texas. Evok Innovations, a previous investor in the company, and angel investors from the Creative Destruction Lab also contributed to the round.

"We're starting to solidify relationships and get customers ready," CEO Trevor Best tells InnovationMap.

Read more about Syzygy's technology by clicking here.

Topl

blockchain

Houston-based Topl can track almost anything using its blockchain technology. Getty Images

Houston-based Topl, a blockchain network with applications across industries, closed a 20 percent oversubscribed $700,000 seed round.

"Every investor that is invested now has focused on both the purpose and the profit, and I'm big on that," Kim Raath, president and co-founder of Topl, says.

The team has built six blockchain platforms that operate on the Topl network — two are live now, and four will go live later this year. The platforms are focused on four different areas: agriculture (tracking food products from the farm to the shelves), mining (diamonds, for instance), sustainability and impact (tracking a program to see how it succeeds), and carbon credits and renewables within the energy industry.

Click here to read more about the raise and what it means to Topl's technology.

Cemvita Factory has made a deal with Houston-based Oxy subsidiary. Courtesy of Cemvita Factory

Oxy backs Houston startup's carbon dioxide-transforming technology

Cha-ching

A Houston startup's carbon dioxide conversion technology has impressed Occidental Petroleum's low carbon subsidiary.

Oxy Low Carbon Ventures LLC has invested an undisclosed amount of funds into Cemvita Factory, the companies announced on August 15.

"One of OLCV's strategic priorities is to develop and commercialize CO2 utilization technologies that complement Occidental's core businesses and product lines, with the goal of helping Occidental find value in new markets and attain its aspiration of becoming carbon neutral," says Richard Jackson, OLCV president, in a news release. "Cemvita Factory's CO2 utilization platform has the potential to harness the power of nature and create new, sustainable pathways for the bio-manufacturing of our products."

Cemvita was founded by two siblings — Moji Karimi, who has a background in the oil and gas industry, and his sister, Tara, who has a background in biotech. Cemvita's biotechnology can replicate photosynthesis — absorbing CO2 and transforming it into glucose or other substances.

While the amount invested in Cemvita isn't disclosed, Moji previously told InnovationMap that he could run a custom pilot program for an energy company for less than $100,000.

"With the investment received from Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, we plan to demonstrate that our technology can economically scale from test tube to the field," Moji, who is the company's CEO, says in the release.

According to the release, Cemvita has a network of clients it is working with to reduce the industry's carbon footprint.

"We have an ambitious goal to take one gigaton of CO2 out of the carbon cycle in the next decade and are very excited about being a part of Occidental's journey to become a carbon-neutral company," says Tara, co-founder and chief scientist, in the release.

Houston celebrated 50 years since the Apollo moon landing on July 20. Here are some startups that are going to be a part of the next 50 years of space tech in Houston. Photo via NASA.gov

5 startups keeping Houston known as the Space City

space tech

This month, for the most part, has been looking back on the history Houston has as the Space City in honor of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing on July 20. While it's great to recognize the men and women who made this city the major player in space exploration that it is, there are still entrepreneurs today with space applications and experience that represent the future of the Space City.

From space tech to former NASA expert-founded companies, here are five companies keeping Houston's rep as the Space City.

Cemvita Factory

Cemvita Factory

Courtesy of Cemvita Factory

Carbon dioxide poses a problem for two major Houston-related industries: Oil and gas and Space. Cemvita Factory, which has a technology that can convert CO2 into other chemicals, has the potential to revolutionize both industries. The Houston startup is growing and Moji Karimi, who founded the company with his sister, Tara Karimi, says 2019 is all about execution.

"We're in Houston, and we have a technology that is from biotech and have applications in the space industry and the energy industry," Karimi says. "There would not have been any better place for us in the country than Houston."

Click here to read more about Cemvita Factory.

Re:3D

Courtesy of re:3D

Two NASA colleagues hung up their metaphorical space space suits to start a 3D-printing company. Six years later, re:3D had grown large enough to warrant a new, swankier space — just down the street from the Johnson Space Center.

The company makes an affordable and customizable 3D printer, called the Gigabot, and has clients across industries in over 50 countries. Recently, re:3D introduced sustainable options, including printing using plastic waste. The 7,000-square-foot space allows for anyone in the community to learn about the 3D printing process, tour the facility, attend social events or workshops, or even buy a printer or some of the company's merchandise.

Click here to read more about re:3D.

Cognitive Space

Pexels

Satellites are getting smaller and easier to launch, which has causing a significant growth in these devices entering earth's atmosphere. Former NASA specialist Guy de Carufel — through his company Cognitive Space — created a much-needed solution to managing satellites using cloud-based AI technology.

"By next year we will have major contracts, and growing our team to 15 to 20 people. We'll have a commercial product by then and servicing some commercial players," de Carufel says on his company's growth plan. "Five years from now, we'll probably be in many different verticals, spawning from what we have now to really expand and apply our systems to as many applications as possible."

Click here to learn more about Cognitive Space.

Zibrio

Pexels

Balance is extremely important for humans. Being off balanced can be an indicator of a bigger health issue or a warning sign not to attempt something dangerous. During her postdoctoral work, Katharine Forth and her colleagues at NASA developed a technology to help track balance for astronauts. They designed a compact tool that was a game changer.

"The machines typically used for balance measurement can be as large as a telephone booth, so we invented a new way to measure postural control using a much smaller mechanism that fit inside a moon boot," Forth says.

Forth evolved her technology to create a commercial product that allows for users to track their own balance for her Houston-based company, Zibrio. The startup has grown since its founding in 2015 and just this month worked with the 13,700 athletes at the National Senior Games. Zibrio measured the balance of the seniors aged 50 to 103 in order to make sure they were ready and healthy enough to compete without risking injury.

Click here to read more about Zibrio.

Blue Bear Capital

Courtesy of Tim Kopra

Tim Kopra spent over 244 days in space, and now he's using his tech background to invest in emerging energy companies with his Houston-based investment firm, Blue Bear Capital.

"On face value, it may sound like an odd match, taking someone with a tech and operational background and putting them in venture, but quite frankly it feels very familiar to me because my career has really been focused on working on complex technology and operations with very small teams," Kopra tells InnovationMap in a previous interview. "It's not just a theoretical understanding of the technology, but understanding how to use the technology and how it works."

Blue Bear Capital focuses on cutting-edge technology that has the potential to make waves in the oil and gas industry.

Click here to read more about Blue Bear Capital.

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ExxonMobil announces $100B carbon-capture hub for Houston area

greener thinking

In a move that would be a gamechanger for Houston, oil and gas giant ExxonMobil envisions creating a $100 billion carbon-capture hub along the Houston Ship Channel.

ExxonMobil foresees the Houston Ship Channel being the site of an "innovation zone" for carbon capture and storage. In a blog post on the ExxonMobil website, Joe Blommaert, the Houston-based president of ExxonMobil Low Carbon Solutions, says Houston would be "the perfect place" for the project because:

  • The ship channel is home to dozens of refineries and petrochemical plants.
  • The geological formations in the Gulf of Mexico could "safely, securely, and permanently" store tons of carbon emissions under the sea floor, according to the blog post. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates the storage capacity along the U.S. Gulf Coast could handle 500 million metric tons of CO2.

Irving-based ExxonMobil, which employs more than 12,000 people in the Houston area, says the project could capture and store about 50 million metric tons of CO2 annually by 2030. By 2040, that number could rise to 100 million metric tons.

"We could create an economy of scale where we can reduce the cost of the carbon dioxide mitigation, create jobs, and reduce the emissions," Blommaert tells the Reuters news service.

In a news release, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner applauds the ExxonMobil plan.

"This proposal by ExxonMobil is the type of bold ambition and investment we will need to meet our climate goals and protect our communities from climate change," Turner says. "ExxonMobil's proposal represents a significant step forward for the energy industry, and I hope it brings more companies to the table to help Houston lead a global energy transition."

Turner notes that the Houston area is home to some of the largest emitters of carbon in the U.S., adding that everyone has "a responsibility and role to play in decarbonization."

Blommaert says the project would require public and private funding, along with "enhanced regulatory and legal frameworks that enable investment and innovation." According to Politico, ExxonMobil wants the federal government to kick in tax breaks or to set carbon-pricing policies to help get the project off the ground.

Politico reports that the Biden administration isn't considering ExxonMobil's idea as it prepares a climate-change package.

"Meanwhile, environmental groups and many Democrats have slammed carbon-capture proposals as a climate strategy, saying the only way to permanently reduce greenhouse gas pollution is a wholesale switch away from fossil fuels," Politico says.

Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency maintains that carbon capture and storage "are critical for putting energy systems around the world on a sustainable path." Achieving net-zero goals "will be virtually impossible" without carbon capture and storage, the group says.

ExxonMobil announced creation of its Low Carbon Solutions business unit in February as part of its push to invest $3 billion in lower-emission energy initiatives through 2025. Low Carbon Solutions initially will focus on technology for carbon capture and storage. The business unit is exploring opportunities along the Gulf Coast, as well as in Wyoming, Belgium, the Netherlands, Qatar, Scotland, and Singapore.

Last year, ExxonMobil hit the pause button on a $260 million carbon-capture project in Wyoming due to fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Bloomberg news service.

In a December report, the Global CCS Institute, a think tank, said 65 commercial carbon-capture projects were in various stages of development around the world.

"Climate ambition, including efforts to decarbonize industry, has not been curtailed despite the adversities faced in 2020," Brad Page, CEO of the institute, says in a news release about the report. "We're continuing to see an upward trajectory in the amount of CO2 capture and storage infrastructure that is being developed. One of the largest factors driving this growth is recognition that achieving net-zero emissions is urgent yet unattainable without CO2 reductions from energy-intensive sectors."

Newly appointed innovation leader calls for more health care collaboration in Houston

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 80

Allison Post is a professional dot connector for the Texas Heart Institute. Located in the Texas Medical Center and founded in 1962, THI has long had a history of innovation — from Denton Cooley, THI's founder, performing the first artificial heart implementation in 1970.

Now, Post — who was appointed to a newly created position of manager of innovation partnerships — is focused on working with THI's latest generation of cardiac health innovators. She works internally to foster and support THI's brightest inventors as well as externally to make sure the institute is bringing in the best new technologies out there to its patients.

"The whole mission of the Texas Heart Institute is to help our patients. If that means that someone else has an incredible idea we want to jump onboard and bring it to people," Post says in this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Post, who has a bioengineering background and has worked on both sides of the table as an entrepreneur and a startup mentor, is looking to support breakthrough cardiac innovations within stem cells, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and more. And unfortunately, the cardiac health space has an increasing need to develop new health care solutions.

"Because of the growing burden of heart disease, heart failure, coronary artery disease, the unfortunately long list of things that can go wrong with someone's heart means the pressing need for therapies is just growing," she says on the show. "We're trying to keep up and break into things that people haven't done a lot of work on, such as women's heart health."

Another factor in Post's role, which she's had since last fall, is to bring THI further into both the TMC's innovation efforts as well as the greater Houston innovation ecosystem — as well as beyond. To her, Houston has a huge opportunity to lead health care innovation.

"It makes no sense that we aren't the health care leaders yet in med tech development. It should not be Boston, San Francisco, or Minneapolis. It should be Houston," Post says. "We have everything we need to do it. We just need to bring it all together."

The key to getting there, she says, is further collaboration. If there's one thing the world has learned about health care innovation from COVID-19, it's that when experts are rallying behind and collaborating on solutions, the speed of development is much faster.

"The more minds we have the better the solutions I going to be," she says.

Post says that she hopes her work at THI can inspire other institutions to collaborate ‚ since everyone has the same goal of helping patients.

"I only see just phenomenal things for Houston, and what I really want is for the Texas Medical Center to become even more interconnected. We've got to be able to transfer ideas and thoughts and intentions seamlessly between these institutions and right now there are a lot of barriers," Post says. "And I really think Texas Heart is hopefully going to serve as an example of how to take down those barriers."

Post shares more about what she's focused on and where THI is headed on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

New Houston accelerator supporting BIPOC in aerospace announces inaugural cohort

out of this world

A new accelerator program that is focused on aerospace innovation and supporting entrepreneurs who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color has announced its first cohort.

The Ion's Aerospace Innovation Accelerator for Minority Business Enterprises, or AIA for MBEs, has named the four companies that well be a part of its inaugural cohort. The 12-week program will guide the entrepreneurs through the development of their innovations, the growth of their businesses, and the development of relationships with mentors, corporate partners, and stakeholder networks.

"Aerospace contains a myriad of dimensions and by demystifying the industry in the form of the AIA for MBEs, we are able to build a more inclusive innovation ecosystem," says Christine Galib, senior director of programs at The Ion, in a news release. "It's our goal to not only support participants to be successful, but to open the playing field for other minority business enterprises hoping to enter the space."

The program's existence was possible through a partnership with NASA's Johnson Space Center, DivInc, and The Ion — as well as a $1.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Minority Business Development Agency.

Here are the four companies to take part in the cohort, according to the release:

  • Axialnics Systems Inc., led by Vincent Mbuvi, is an aerospace technology platform developing a Disc-wing Rotor Aircraft Concept, which takes-off as a helicopter, carries as much payload as an airplane and flies just as fast beyond the range of typical helicopters. The innovation solves runway inefficiencies and enhances military efficiency.
  • Boozed Beverages LLC, led by Damyanna Cooke and Jim Luu, specializes in intelligent vending in the liquor industry. The company provides a contactless, AI-driven cocktail making and dispensing vending machine, for locations such as weddings and events, sporting venues, festivals, restaurants, and nightclubs and lounges.
  • NANCo Aero, led by Shern Peters, provides urban air vehicles and drones to commercial, small business, government, and nonprofit organizations. It is working to develop the first Hybrid Personal Air Vehicle capable of transporting a family over the city of Houston.
  • Stratos Perception LLC, led by Rube Williams, develops artificial intelligence solutions for space systems to benefit human productivity, safety, and enterprise. It is also developing an intelligent transducer, a tool that can monitor and control multiphase flow, for use in space such as lunar water extraction and waste processing.

The hub and its associated accelerator will be housed at The Ion when it opens up later this year — along with the organizations other accelerators — but the program is being launched virtually on Wednesday, April 21, at noon.

"The Aerospace Innovation Hub came from the idea that the aerospace industry is well-known in Houston but for many people, particularly underrepresented communities, there have been barriers in entering the aerospace industry," says Jan E. Odegard, executive director of The Ion, in the release. "By offering mentorship, introduction to capital and training opportunities, with significant backing from Microsoft, The Ion is working to remove the barriers."