The ultimate who's who of 2023 — these are our favorite Houston Innovators Podcast guests of last year. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: In 2023, I recorded 50 episodes of the Houston Innovators Podcast — a weekly discussion with a Houston innovator, startup founder, investor, and more. I've rounded up seven podcast episodes that stood out for me looking back at the year of recordings. Scroll through to see whom I selected and stream their individual episodes, and tune into the last episode of the year where I explain why I enjoyed each conversation.



Episode 174 - Rolling out nationwide - Mike Francis and Carrie Horazeck of NanoTech

NanoTech's Chief Commercial Officer Carrie Horazeck and Co-Founder and CEO Mike Francis join the Houston Innovators Podcast to celebrate the nationwide launch of their roof coating product. Photo via LinkedIn

A Houston startup is celebrating its nationwide launch of its flagship product that coats roofs to reduce energy waste.

NanoTech's Nano Shield Cool Roof Coat is a unique product that can be added onto roofs to reduce energy waste on buildings. Co-founder and CEO Mike Francis and Chief Commercial Officer Carrie Horazeck joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to share more details about the product.

"It's just a coating that can go on top of existing structure — any type of commercial roof," Horazeck says on the show. "We have a pretty good amount of data from 2022 showcasing that we can reduce HVAC consumption within the building by about 30 to 40 percent.

"Our clients really see a immediate benefit in their energy bill, and, of course, if you reduce the HVAC consumption, that automatically translates to a decrease in your scope one emissions," she continues. Continue reading.


Episode 181 - Gearing up for high-speed global travel - Sassie Duggleby of Venus Aerospace

Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby of Venus Aerospace joins the Houston Innovators Podcast this week. Photo courtesy of Venus

Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby is on a mission to get people home in time for dinner — whether they are traveling around the world or working for her business. That's why she founded Venus Aerospace, which is developing hypersonic space planes. It's also why she relocated the company from the West Coast to Houston.

"We knew we had to find a location where we could test our engine and still be home for dinner," Duggleby says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Our company vision is 'home for dinner.' We want to fly you across the globe and have you home for dinner. And, if you work for us, we want you home for dinner."

Venus's technology enables this revolutionary travel through its supersonic combustion engine — more akin to a rocket's engine than an airplane's — that allows for travel at a higher elevation, she explains on the show. Jet engines rely on air outside of the aircraft to combust, and rocket engines work with a system that supplies air internally. And, as Duggleby explains, the engine can go further with the same amount of fuel, so it's a more sustainable way of traveling too. Continue reading.


Episode 182 - Stopping neurodegenerative diseases in their tracks - Howard Berman of Coya Therapeutics

For Howard Berman, CEO and co-founder of Coya Therapeutics, commercializing his company is personal. Photo courtesy of Coya

When Howard Berman sought out renowned Houston Methodist researcher and neurologist Dr. Stanley Appel, he was looking for treatment for his father, who was suffering from dementia. He wasn't looking for a job, but Dr. Appel had other ideas and asked Berman to meet with him.

"I was interested in what I could do for my dad," Berman says on the Houston Innovators Podcast, explaining how he took the meeting with Dr. Appel, who then presented him with some of his research. "By slide five my jaw had hit the ground.

"He had shown that he could stop the progression in one of his early trials of ALS," Berman says.

Not too long after that meeting, Berman, who founded digital health platform imaware, joined Dr. Appel to lead commercialization of Coya Therapeutics, a biotech startup that raised over $20 million in venture funding before going public a few months ago. Continue reading.


Episode 187 - Bridging the gap to innovation - Ramanan Krishnamoorti of University of Houston

Ramanan Krishnamoorti, vice president of energy and innovation at the University of Houston, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to talk about the university's dedication to helping the city become an innovative force. Photo via UH.edu

Ramanan Krishnamoorti has had a varied career in academia, from an engineering professor to nanotech research. While he never made the transition from researcher to entrepreneur, he managed to snag a CEO title at the university about a decade ago: Chief energy officer.

Since then his role has expanded to include advancing UH's innovation of all kinds — from health tech to the arts — as vice president of energy and innovation at UH. In his role, he oversees the UH Technology Bridge, a lab and coworking space for tenants just a short drive away from UH's main campus, as well as future plans, like a new central campus hub for innovation that's in its early stages of development.

"What we really need at the university today is to bring innovation — which tech transfer is a piece of — and connect that to real-world challenges to deliver what the world needs, which is talented folks delivering new innovative, entrepreneurial, or intrapreneurial programs," Krishnamoorti says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Continue reading.

Episode 193 - Innovating in the East End - Erik Ibarra of Magnolia Fund and ORDRS

Erik Ibarra's latest venture is to give agency to residents in the neighborhood he grew up in. Photo courtesy

Innovation isn't always tinkering with tech or programming software, although serial entrepreneur Erik Ibarra knows that world well. Sometimes it's about rethinking how a community improves and develops without doing the residents a disservice.

That's why Ibarra started Magnolia Fund, a mission-driven investment fund dedicated to enriching the East End community and preserving the neighborhood's culture and history. Ibarra, who has lived in the area the majority of his life, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast, that he's looking to turn residents into investors.

"Our investors from the neighborhood, today they walk around and look at their house and say, 'I own that,' and that's great," Ibarra says. "In the future, our investors should be able to say that, and then point to a building and say, 'I own a portion of that building too. And I helped that small business over there.'" Continue reading.


Episode 198 - The undeniable impact of AI - Anshumali Shrivastava of ThirdAI CorpEpisode 198 - The undeniable impact of AI - Anshumali Shrivastava of ThirdAI Corp

Anshumali Shrivastava joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share the revolutionary work ThirdAI is doing for artificial intelligence. Photo via rice.edu

Anshumali Shrivastava's career has evolved alongside the rise of artificial intelligence. Now, he believes his company represents the future of the industry's widespread implementation.

Shrivastava, who's also a professor at Rice University, founded ThirdAI, pronounced "third eye," in 2021 to democratize artificial intelligence through software innovations. As Shrivastava explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast, AI processes have historically been run on larger, less accessible computing hardware. ThirdAI's tools are able to run on a regular central processing unit, or CPU, rather than the more powerful graphics processing unit, or GPU.

"We focus on the problems that people are facing in the current AI ecosystem," Shrivastava says on the podcast. "Right now, if you are to build some of the large-language models and (linear programming) models, you need a lot of computing power, dedicated engineers to move it, and, even if you are using fully managed services, it's costly and there are a lot of privacy implications because you have to move data around." Continue reading.


Episode 212 - The 'frivolous' lawsuit over DEI funding - Carolyn Rodz and Elizabeth Gore of Hello Alice

Hello Alice Co-Founders Carolyn Rodz and Elizabeth Gore join the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the lawsuit they're facing. Photo courtesy Cayce Clifford/Hello Alice

For years, Hello Alice has been helping small businesses across the country get equitable access to funding and support. Now, the Houston tech company is facing its own obstacle: An affirmative action lawsuit.

"I don't think in a million years that we ever expected anything like this," Elizabeth Gore, co-founder and president of Hello Alice, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "There's surprise, then there's fear, and then there's anger. But now on the other side of it, we're emboldened, confident, and more passionate than ever."

America First Legal's lawsuit against Hello Alice and its partner, Progressive Insurance, alleges that their program to award10 $25,000 grants to Black-owned small businesses constitutes racial discrimination. AFL was founded by former Trump Administration adviser Stephen Miller and features a handful of other former White House officials on its board. Continue reading.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Erik Ibarra of Magnolia Fund, Matthew Kuhn of Taurus Vascular, and Libby Covington of The Craig Group. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from investment to biodesign — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Erik Ibarra, founder of Magnolia Fund

Erik Ibarra's latest venture is to give agency to residents in the neighborhood he grew up in. Photo courtesy

For years, Erik Ibarra has watched Houston's East End — La Segunda Barrio — evolve. Now, with tons of construction in the works, he's got a plan for a business that will tap into existing residents to give them ownership of their community.

Ibarra started Magnolia Fund, a mission-driven investment fund dedicated to enriching the East End community and preserving the neighborhood's culture and history. Ibarra, who has lived in the area the majority of his life, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast, that he's looking to turn residents into investors.

"Over the years, I've felt like there's so much development going on. But, the people from the neighborhood are very often just passive — they don't get a chance to benefit from or think about how they could participate in these new developments," Ibarra says. "The neighborhood is very close to my heart, and, about a year ago, I realized I wanted to do something about this." Read more.

Matthew Kuhn, co-founder of Taurus Vascular

A new innovation out of the Texas Medical Center's Biodesign Program is enhancing efficacy of a life-saving aortic aneurysm rupture procedure. Photo courtesy

As part of the current class of the TMC Innovation Biodesign Program, fellows Matthew Kuhn and his co-founder Melanie Lowther were tasked with creating a biomedical company in a year. The founders came up with Taurus Vascular, a medical device company that improves efficacy of abdominal aortic aneurysms treatment.

“It used to be if you had a AAA, you had a gnarly procedure,” Kuhn tells InnovationMap, which included a large incision across the abdomen. The standard treatment, endovascular aneurysm repair, or EVAR, eliminated that, but its problem is that it often results in endoleaks. As many as 20 percent of patients need another EVAR within five years.

Taurus Vascular’s technology improves on EVAR by placing a self-deploying stent to create a drainage pathway between the high-pressure aneurysm sac and a low-pressure nearby vein — mitigating the adverse impact of endoleaks that would otherwise cause the aneurysm to continue to grow. The simple solution will allow patients to live longer, healthier lives after their procedure. Read more.

Libby Covington, partner at The Craig Group

Houston expert shares how to use your data to improve your marketing efforts. Photo courtesy

Data can be hard to tap into when you're working within B2B sales, writes Libby Covington in a guest column for InnovationMap.

"When focusing on revenue growth in business to business companies, analyzing data to develop and optimize strategies is one of the biggest factors in sales and marketing success," she writes. "However, the process of evaluating B2B data differs significantly from that of B2C, or business to consumer. B2C analysis is often straightforward, focusing on consumer behavior and e-commerce transactions."

In her column, Covington shares her advice on navigating this process. Read more.

Erik Ibarra's latest venture is to give agency to residents in the neighborhood he grew up in. Photo courtesy

Serial entrepreneur launches new fund to support Houston's East End community development

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 193

Innovation isn't always tinkering with tech or programming software, although serial entrepreneur Erik Ibarra knows that world well. Sometimes it's about rethinking how a community improves and develops without doing the residents a disservice.

That's why Ibarra started Magnolia Fund, a mission-driven investment fund dedicated to enriching the East End community and preserving the neighborhood's culture and history. Ibarra, who has lived in the area the majority of his life, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast, that he's looking to turn residents into investors.

"Our investors from the neighborhood, today they walk around and look at their house and say, 'I own that,' and that's great," Ibarra says. "In the future, our investors should be able to say that, and then point to a building and say, 'I own a portion of that building too. And I helped that small business over there.'"

Ibarra explains that he's seen the East End area evolve a lot, and he wants to create a way to make sure residents are a part of that evolution and aren't being left behind in that process.

"Over the years, I've felt like there's so much development going on. But, the people from the neighborhood are very often just passive — they don't get a chance to benefit from or think about how they could participate in these new developments," Ibarra says. "The neighborhood is very close to my heart, and, about a year ago, I realized I wanted to do something about this."

The limited partners of the Magnolia Fund will contribute as investors, and then Ibarra and his team will identify a worthy development to take control of. As he explains, the vision for the property is "La Sala," a living room for the community, with an open area for communing, a kitchen incubator for food entrepreneurs, and an outdoor patio and stage for music and events.

While this is his first foray into the investor side of the equation, Ibarra has been an entrepreneur in Houston since the early 2000s. He's been an active mentor to startup founders, and has seen the ecosystem develop as he's started and grown his businesses.

He's currently the founder and CEO of ORDRS, a digital health platform for optimized lab testing founded in 2018. The company's B2B platform enables health care providers to better manage lab testing, and Ibarra says ORDRS saw a lot of growth during the pandemic. Something he's passionate about with this venture is the ability to provide better access and information about lab testing to patients.

"As a company we strive for transparency in health care," Ibarra says. "If we could provide instant access to a menu of tests for our customers, ... then hopefully our customers can pass those savings on to those customers. Access to testing is important. Access to the transparency in pricing is equally important."

Ibarra shares more about ORDRS, his role as a mentor, and his vision for the fund on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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Innovative coastline project on Bolivar Peninsula receives federal funding

flood mitigation

The Galveston’s Coastal Barrier Project recently received federal funding to the tune of $500,000 to support construction on its flood mitigation plans for the area previously devastated by Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Known as Ike Dike, the proposed project includes implementing the Galveston Bay Storm Surge Barrier System, including eight Gulf and Bay defense projects. The Bolivar Roads Gate System, a two-mile-long closure structure situated between Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula, is included in the plans and would protect against storm surge volumes entering the bay.

The funding support comes from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and will go toward the preconstruction engineering and design phase of Ecosystem Restoration feature G-28, the first segment of the Bolivar Peninsula and West Bay Gulf Intracoastal Waterway Shoreline and Island Protection.

Coastal Barrier Project - Galveston Projects

The project also includes protection of critical fish and wildlife habitat against coastal storms and erosion.

“The Coastal Texas Project is one of the largest projects in the history of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” says Col. Rhett A. Blackmon, USACE Galveston District commander, in a statement. “This project is important to the nation for many reasons. Not only will it reduce risk to the vulnerable populations along the Texas coast, but it will also protect vital ecosystems and economically critical infrastructure vital to the U.S. supply chain and the many global industries located here.”

Hurricane Ike resulted in over $30 billion in storm-related damages to the Texas coast, reports the Coastal Barrier Project, and created a debris line 15 feet tall and 40 miles long in Chambers County. The estimated economic disruption due to Hurricane Ike exceeded $150 billion, FEMA reported.

The project is estimated to take two years to complete after construction starts and will cost between $4 billion and $6 billion, reports Texas A&M University at Galveston.

Houston organization selected for program to explore future foods in space health

research and development

What would we eat if we were forced to decamp to another planet? The most immediate challenges faced by the food industry and astronauts exploring outside Earth are being addressed by The Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) at Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Space Medicine’s newest project.

Earlier this month, TRISH announced the initial selection for its Space Health Ingress Program (SHIP) solicitation. Working with California Institute of Technology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Baylor-based program chose “Future Foods for Space: Mobilizing the Future Foods Community to Accelerate Advances in Space Health,” led by Dr. Denneal Jamison-McClung at the University of California, Davis.

“TRISH is bringing in new ideas and investigators to propel space health research,” says Catherine Domingo, TRISH operations lead and research administration associate at Baylor College of Medicine, in the release. “We have long believed that new researchers with fresh perspectives drive innovation and advance human space exploration and SHIP builds on TRISH’s existing efforts to recruit and support new investigators in the space health research field, potentially yielding and high-impact ideas to protect space explorers.”

The goal of the project is to develop sustainable food products and ingredients that could fuel future space travelers on long-term voyages, or even habitation beyond our home planet.

Jamison-McClung and her team’s goal is to enact food-related space health research and inspire the community thereof by mobilizing academic and food-industry researchers who have not previously engaged with the realm of space exploration. Besides growing and developing food products, the project will also address production, storage, and delivery of the nutrition created by the team.

To that end, Jamison-McClung and her recruits will receive $1 million over the course of two years. The goal of the SHIP solicitation is to work with first-time NASA investigators, bringing new minds to the forefront of the space health research world.

“As we look to enable safer space exploration and habitation for humans, it is clear that food and nutrition are foundational,” says Dr. Asha S. Collins, chair of the SHIP advisory board, in a press release. “We’re excited to see how accelerating innovation in food science for space health could also result in food-related innovations for people on Earth in remote areas and food deserts.”

Clean energy nonprofit CEO to step down, search for replacement to begin

moving on

Greentown Labs, which is co-located in the Boston and Houston areas, has announced its current CEO is stepping down after less than a year in the position.

The nonprofit's CEO and President Kevin Knobloch announced that he will be stepping down at the end of July 2024. Knobloch assumed his role last September, previously serving as chief of staff of the United States Department of Energy in President Barack Obama’s second term.

“It has been an honor to lead this incredible team and organization, and a true privilege to get to know many of our brilliant startup founders," Knobloch says in the news release. “Greentown is a proven leader in supporting early-stage climatetech companies and I can’t wait to see all that it will accomplish in the coming years.”

The news of Knobloch's departure comes just over a month after the organization announced that it was eliminating 30 percent of its staff, which affected 12 roles in Boston and six in Houston.

According the Greentown, its board of directors is expected to launch a national search for its next CEO.

“On behalf of the entire Board of Directors, I want to thank Kevin for his efforts to strengthen the foundation of Greentown Labs and for charting the next chapter for the organization through a strategic refresh process,” says Dawn James, Greentown Labs Board Chair, in the release. “His thoughtful leadership will leave a lasting impact on the team and community for years to come.”

Knobloch reportedly shifted Greentown's sponsorship relationships with oil companies, sparking "friction within the organization," according to the Houston Chronicle, which also reported that Knobloch said he intends to return to his clean energy consulting firm.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.