Coming soon — autonomous food delivery on Uber Eats. Photo courtesy of Nuro and Uber

Houstonians will soon be able to get completely autonomous delivery of their dinners, groceries, and more thanks to a new 10-year partnership.

Uber Technologies, Inc. and Nuro have cut a deal that will provide autonomous, electric vehicles for food deliveries in Houston and Mountain View, California, beginning his fall, according to a news release. A Bay Area expansion will follow, but Houston's no stranger to Nuro-powered deliveries. California-based Nuro has launched five delivery pilot programs in Houston since 2019 with partners Kroger, Walmart, CVS, Domino's, and FedEx.

With this new partnership, users will have access to meals, groceries, and other goods available on the Uber Eats platform — as well as the opportunity to support local businesses.

“Nuro and Uber share a vision in which technology can make everyday life just a little bit easier,” says Noah Zych, global head of autonomous mobility and delivery at Uber, in the release. “Nuro’s distinctive autonomous vehicles are a great match for the Uber platform, and this partnership will bring a compelling combination of innovation alongside the convenience, affordability and reliability our customers and merchants have come to expect.”

Nuro, which recently closed a $600 million series D round just under a year ago, is reportedly the first company to operate fully autonomous vehicles in three states —Arizona, California, and Texas.

“Our partnership with Uber underscores Nuro’s track record of partnering with the world’s leading brands to make autonomous delivery a seamless experience,” says Cosimo Leipold, head of partnerships at Nuro, in the release. “With our unique autonomous delivery vehicles and Uber’s phenomenal scale and reach, we can expand food delivery options from your favorite local mom-and-pop restaurants all the way to nationwide chains.”

The company tapped Houston as its first full-scale operational city. Nuro previously told InnovationMap that was because the city offered a wide range of variation in the infrastructure across Houston's neighborhoods.

"Houston is our first full-scale operations city," Sola Lawal, product operations manager in Houston, told InnovationMap in January 2020. "All eyes at Nuro are focused on Houston."

Autonomous Uber Eats coming soon — thanks to Nuro. Photo courtesy of Nuro and Uber

Nuro, which has several pilot programs on Houston roads, has raised fresh funding — plus a few other short stories of Houston innovation. Photo courtesy of Kroger

Nuro scores $600M, Houston e-commerce startup launches ESG tool, and more local innovation news

short stories

The Houston innovation ecosystem has been bursting at the seams with news from innovative tech companies and disruptive Houston startups as we fly through the final quarter of 2021.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, a California tech company with a large presence in Houston has raised hundreds of millions in investment funding, a logistics startup has been ranked among the most innovative companies, the city of Houston has named its new sustainability leader, and more.

California tech company with huge presence in Houston raises $600M

Nuro has fresh funding to deploy its tech in Houston and beyond. Photo courtesy of Nuro

California-based Nuro, which has a large presence in Houston, announced the closing of its $600 million series D round led by Tiger Global Management with participation from Baillie Gifford, Fidelity Management & Research Company, LLC, Gaorong Capital, Google, Kroger, SoftBank Vision Fund 1, funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc., Woven Capital, and other existing investors, per a news release. The new funding will support the development and deployment of Nuro's autonomous delivery service in communities across the country.

"We're thrilled to have the backing of these prominent investors and world class companies, and honored that they support our vision of improving communities and revitalizing local commerce," says Dave Ferguson, Nuro co-founder and president, in the release. "We believe this investment will allow us to accelerate our commercialization strategy and better everyday life with Nuro's technology."

Nuro has launched a few delivery pilots in Houston over the past few years, including the first Nuro pilot program with Kroger in March 2019, grocery delivery from Walmart that was revealed in December 2019, pharmacy delivery that launched in 2020, and pizza delivery with Domino's that went live in Woodland Heights earlier this year. Most recently, Nuro partnered with FedEx for last-mile delivery.

"Kroger launched its partnership with Nuro in 2018 to explore grocery delivery through autonomous vehicles," said Yael Cosset, senior vice president and chief information officer for Kroger, in the release. "Since then, Kroger and Nuro completed thousands of deliveries to our customers -- driving innovation that supports our expanding seamless ecosystem by creating consistent and rewarding customer experiences with scalable, sustainable, and profitable solutions."

Nuro has also signed a five year strategic partnership with Google Cloud that support the tech needed to run self-driving simulation workloads, machine learning to improve model accuracy, and storage to manage important data from the vehicles, according to the release.

Houston-based digital supply chain company launches ESG tool

Houston industrial e-commerce startup expands into the construction industry

Houston-based GoExpedi has created a new tool. Photo by Colt Melrose for GoExpedi

GoExpedi, an innovative end-to-end digital supply chain and data analytics solutions company, the launch of ESG Command. The new tool is designed to drive environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives. Users on GoExpedi's platform can identify environmentally-friendly products and certified veteran, minority and women-owned businesses.

"Led by some of the world's largest industrial companies, our clients are driving for more sustainable business practices and more equitable workplaces," says Yang Tang, CTO at GoExpedi, in a news release. "In support of these lofty goals and a more prosperous and environmentally-friendly global community, we grew GoExpedi's digital ecosystem to benefit our clients and suppliers. Our goal is to use technical advances in the supply chain to build a brighter future for all."

Last fall, GoExpedi raised $25 million in its series C in order to grow and scale operations. The company is growing its warehouse presence, most recently in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Houston logistics company ranks among the most innovative companies

Sugar Land-based Commtrex Photo via commtrex.com

Commtrex, based in the Houston area, has been presented the FreightWaves 2022 FreightTech 100 award. The startup's platform connects professionals in the rail industry. The award also honored other innovative and disruptive companies in the freight industry, including Amazon Freight, DHL Supply Chain, FedEx, Flexport, Phillips Connect, Tesla, Uber Freight, Waymo, and Waze.

"Commtrex is honored and excited to be a part of the FreightWaves FreightTech 100," says Commtrex CEO Martin Lew in a news release. "Our mission at Commtrex is to simplify the movement of freight by rail. We are doing this by creating one centralized platform for shippers to efficiently connect with rail-served transloaders, storage providers, terminals, ports, warehouses, and many other resources that support the global supply chain ecosystem. As the largest rail platform in North America, we will continue to provide best-in-class service for all of our members."

Commtrex will also be eligible to be named to the FreightTech 25, which will be announced at the F3 Virtual Experience, November 9-11.

Houston fintech unicorn opens an office in Paris

HighRadius expands to Amsterdam

HighRadius has opened its newest European office. Photo via highradius.com

Continuing its expansion in Europe, HighRadius opened its new Paris office, which will have local staff for all customer facing operations including consulting, sales and marketing. The Houston-headquartered fintech unicorn also has offices in Germany, Amsterdam, the United Kingdom, India and the United States.

"The new Paris office is a sign of cementing our growing leadership in Europe and will bring the HighRadius Autonomous Software platform even closer to French companies," says Jon Keating, vice president and general manager of HighRadius in EMEA. "Our data-driven, AI software is helping global enterprises rethink and transform their finance and accounting processes. Our aim will be to deliver improvements in Days Sales Outstanding and working capital optimization, accelerate the financial close, and improve productivity in under six months for our new clients in France."

Over the past year, HighRadius has deployed over 300 transformation projects, across 37 out of 44 European countries.The HighRadius Autonomous Software platform has processed in excess of €475 billion in finance transactions in the European region alone, per a news release.

City of Houston names new sustainability leader

Priya Zachariah was named chief resilience and sustainability officer. Photo courtesy of the city of Houston

Mayor Sylvester Turner announced the appointment of Priya Zachariah as chief resilience and sustainability officer for the city of Houston. She will oversee the city's new Office of Resilience and Sustainability. The position is new and combines previously separate but similar roles, providing for more streamlined efforts to implement the Resilient Houston Plan and the Houston Climate Action Plan, according to a news release from the city.

"Sustainability and Resilience are intrinsically tied to each other. We created our resilience and climate plans to forge a path towards a stronger, more equitable city that not only faces and overcomes disaster scenarios, but builds forward to a better Houston tomorrow," says Mayor Turner in the release. "I am confident Priya will help us meet the goals we have established."

Zachariah was previously the senior program manager for Regional and Long-Range Planning at Houston METRO. While at METRO, Zachariah led the team that successfully delivered the METRONext 2040 transit plan for the Houston Region.

"This is a critical juncture for all of us. We now have the opportunity as a community to turn our focus from resilience and climate planning, to implementation and a realization of the benefits of those plans," says Zachariah in the release. "I am grateful for this opportunity and look forward to working with Mayor Turner and all stakeholders to move us toward a more resilient and equitable future."

FedEx and Nuro are bringing last-mile delivery to Houstonians. Photo courtesy of Nuro

Autonomous delivery company joins forces with FedEx for new pilot in Houston

self-driving mail

A tech company with self-driving robots deployed across Houston delivering pizza, groceries, and more has yet again launched a new pilot program — this time focused on parcel delivery.

Nuro and FedEx announced a new partnership to deploy Nuro's technology for last-mile delivery at a large scale with FedEx.

"FedEx was built on innovation, and it continues to be an integral part of our culture and business strategy," says Rebecca Yeung, vice president of advanced technology and innovation at FedEx, in a news release. "We are excited to collaborate with an industry leader like Nuro as we continue to explore the use of autonomous technologies within our operations."

The new pilot, which began in April, according to the release, is the latest in the FedEx portfolio of autonomous same-day and specialty delivery devices. The partnership allows for FedEx to be able to explore various use cases for autonomous vehicle logistics, like multi-stop and appointment-based deliveries. Meanwhile for Nuro, it's the company's first expansion into parcel logistics.

"Working with FedEx—the global leader in logistics—is an incredible opportunity to rethink every aspect of local delivery. This multi-year commitment will allow us to truly collaborate and bring Nuro's powerful technology to more people in new ways, and eventually reach large-scale deployment," says Cosimo Leipold, Nuro's head of partnerships, in the release. "Our collaboration will enable innovative, industry-first product offerings that will better everyday life and help make communities safer and greener."

California-based Nuro has launched a few delivery pilots in Houston over the past few years, including the first Nuro pilot program with Kroger in March 2019, grocery delivery from Walmart that was revealed in December 2019, and pharmacy delivery that launched last summer. The most recent pilot program — pizza delivery with Domino's — officially went live in Woodland Heights earlier this year.

Nuro's expansion in Houston has a lot to do with the legislation that's happening at the state level. Last year, Nuro was granted its exemption petition from the United States Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This move is a first for DOT, and it allowed Nuro to roll out its vehicles on public roads without the features of traditional, passenger-carrying vehicles — like side mirrors or windshields, for instance.

The city also just offers a lot of opportunities to try out various neighborhoods and environments.

"As a company, we tried to find a city that would allow us to test a number of different things to figure out what really works and who it works for," Nuro Product Operations Manager Sola Lawal says an episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It's hard to find cities that are better than Houston at enabling that level of testing."

Domino's and Nuro announced their partnership in 2019 — and now the robots are hitting the roads. Photo courtesy of Nuro

Self-driving pizza delivery goes live in Houston

innovation delivered

After announcing their partnership to work on pizza deliveries via self-driving robots in 2019, Dominos and Nuro have officially rolled out their technology to one part of town.

Beginning this week, if you place a prepaid order from Domino's in Woodland Heights (3209 Houston Ave.), you might have the option to have one of Nuro's R2 robot come to your door. This vehicle is the first do deliver completely autonomously without occupants with a regulatory approval by the U.S. Department of Transportation, according to a news release.

"We're excited to continue innovating the delivery experience for Domino's customers by testing autonomous delivery with Nuro in Houston," says Dennis Maloney, Domino's senior vice president and chief innovation officer, in the release. "There is still so much for our brand to learn about the autonomous delivery space. This program will allow us to better understand how customers respond to the deliveries, how they interact with the robot and how it affects store operations."

Orders placed at select dates and times will have the option to be delivered autonomously. Photo courtesy of Nuro

The Nuro deliveries will be available on select days and times, and users will be able to opt for the autonomous deliveries when they make their prepaid orders online. They will then receive a code via text message to use on the robot to open the hatch to retrieve their order.

"Nuro's mission is to better everyday life through robotics. Now, for the first time, we're launching real world, autonomous deliveries with R2 and Domino's," says Dave Ferguson, Nuro co-founder and president, in the release. "We're excited to introduce our autonomous delivery bots to a select set of Domino's customers in Houston. We can't wait to see what they think."

California-based Nuro has launched a few delivery pilots in Houston over the past few years, including the first Nuro pilot program with Kroger in March 2019, grocery delivery from Walmart that was revealed in December 2019, and pharmacy delivery that launched last summer.

From being located in a state open to rolling out new AV regulations to Houston's diversity — both in its inhabitants to its roadways, the Bayou City stood out to Nuro, says Sola Lawal, product operations manager at Nuro.

"As a company, we tried to find a city that would allow us to test a number of different things to figure out what really works and who it works for," Lawal says on an episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It's hard to find cities that are better than Houston at enabling that level of testing."

Steam the episode here.

This week's Houston innovators to know includes Sola Lawal of Nuro, Jose Diaz-Gomez of CHI St. Luke's Health, and Kimberly Baker of UT School of Public Health. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: A key attribute of innovators and inventors is the ability to look forward — to see the need for their innovation and the difference it will make. Each of this week's innovators to know have that skill, whether it's predicting the rise of autonomous vehicles or seeing the future of health care.

Sola Lawal, product operations manager at Nuro

Autonomous vehicle delivery service is driving access to food in Houston’s vulnerable communities

Native Houstonian Sola Lawal is looking into how AI and robotics can help increase access to fresh foods in local food deserts. Photo courtesy of Nuro

Sola Lawal has always found himself back in his hometown of Houston. Now working for artificial intelligence and robotics company, Nuro, he sees the potential Houston has to become a major market for autonomous vehicles.

"I think that autonomous vehicles are going to become an industry in the same way your standard vehicles are," Lawal says."One really strong way the Houston ecosystem and Nuro can partner is essentially building out the ancillary."

Lawal shared more on how Houston and Nuro can work together on this week's episode of the Houston innovators podcast. Read more and stream the episode.

Jose Diaz-Gomez, an anesthesiologist at CHI St. Luke's Health

CHI St. Luke's Health has invested in around 40 of the Butterfly iQ devices that can be used to provide accurate and portable ultrasonography on COVID-19 patients. Photo courtesy of CHI St. Luke's

A new, portable ultrasound device has equipped Jose Diaz-Gomez and his team with a reliable, easy-to-use tool for diagnostics and tracking progress of COVID-19 patients. And this tool will continue to help Diaz-Gomez lead his team of physicians.

"Whatever we will face after the pandemic, many physicians will be able to predict more objectively when a patient is deteriorating from acute respiratory failure," he says. "Without this innovation, we wouldn't have been able to be at higher standards with ultrasonography." Read more.

Kimberly A. Baker, assistant professor at UTHealth School of Public Health

UTHealth School of Public Health launched its Own Every Piece campaign to promote women's health access and education. Photo courtesy of Own Every Piece

It was unnerving to Kimberly Baker that proper sex education wasn't in the curriculum of Texas schools, and women were left without resources for contraceptives. So, along with UTHealth School of Public Health, she launched its Own Every Piece campaign as a way to empower women with information on birth control and ensure access to contraceptive care regardless of age, race, relationship status or socioeconomic status.

"You feel like the campaign is talking to you as a friend, not talking down to you as an authority or in any type of shaming way," says Kimberly A. Baker, assistant professor at UTHealth School of Public Health. One of her favorite areas of the website is the "Find a Clinic" page, connecting teens and adult women to nearby clinics, because "one of the biggest complaints from women is that they didn't know where to go," says Baker. Continue reading.

Native Houstonian Sola Lawal is looking into how AI and robotics can help increase access to fresh foods in local food deserts. Photo courtesy of Nuro

Autonomous vehicle delivery service is driving access to food in Houston’s vulnerable communities

Houston Innovators Podcast Episode 42

When Silicon Valley-based artificial intelligence and robotics company Nuro was looking for a city to roll out its autonomous vehicle delivery technology, Houston checked off all the boxes.

From being located in a state open to rolling out new AV regulations to Houston's diversity — both in its inhabitants to its roadways, the Bayou City stood out to Nuro, says Sola Lawal, product operations manager at Nuro.

"As a company, we tried to find a city that would allow us to test a number of different things to figure out what really works and who it works for," Lawal says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It's hard to find cities that are better than Houston at enabling that level of testing."

Since rolling out its first pilot program with Kroger in March 2019, launched three more across six of Houston's ZIP codes from Bellaire to the Heights, including pizza delivery from Domino's that was announced in June 2019, grocery delivery from Walmart that was revealed in December 2019, and pharmacy delivery that launched this summer.

Lately, Nuro's presence in Houston has expanded from these business development partnerships, and the tech company has started focusing on providing a service to the community.

"At the beginning of the pandemic, we started looking for ways we could contribute and help with the things we have — which includes a fleet of vehicles and product tools that allow that fleet to move around and do delivery."

This got Nuro in touch with the Houston Food Bank, and a partnership formed between the tech company and the nonprofit that has resulted in food deliveries across the city — including Third Ward and Acres Homes.

"That for us was eye opening as we went into those locations we started to understand and see that there really isn't any other grocery store that's in those areas," Lawal says. "It was a moment of reflection for us where we said, 'Hey, the AV works here. These are streets that are acceptable. What can we do?'"

In the future, Nuro, as Lawal explains, is moving forward these initiatives to use its AV technology to help increase access to fresh foods in Houston, as well as continuing developing the city as a leader in self-driving innovation.

"I think that autonomous vehicles are going to become an industry in the same way your standard vehicles are," Lawal says."One really strong way the Houston ecosystem and Nuro can partner is essentially building out the ancillary."

Lawal shares more about the future of AVs in Houston and the impact Nuro will continue to have on the city. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you get your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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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."

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.