These three startups are innovating flood damage mitigation tools so that Houstonians can have peace of mind this hurricane season. Getty Images

In light of Houston's frequent floods, a local organization has formed to encourage innovation in resiliency — especially as the city moves throughout the 2020 hurricane season.

The Gulf Coast & Southwest Resilience Innovation Hub was founded last month by the Insurance Information Institute and ResilientH20 Partners in The Cannon's downtown location. The organization is looking into the best innovations within resiliency — especially as it pertains to Houston, where nine of the 10 most expensive hurricanes in the United States have occurred in the past 16 years.

"There has been a widespread interest in, and demand for, best-in-class actionable, alternative disaster mitigation solutions since 2017's Hurricane Harvey and subsequent storms caused extensive insured losses to autos, homes, businesses, and governmental properties," says Richard Seline, managing partner of ResilientH2O Partners, in a news release.

The organization held a virtual panel and pitch session that featured three flood-focused startups. Here are the three companies and their innovative solutions to flood mitigation.

True Flood Risk

True Flood Risk uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to assess a home's flood risk. Image via truefloodrisk.com

Shelly Klose founded her company, True Flood Risk, after she observed Hurricane Sandy devastating New Jersey. But, she wondered, why some homes were hit harder than others. So, she created an artificial intelligence-driven property risk management platform that would easily indicate how susceptible to flood damage each home is. The company even has a way to measure the property's first-floor height based street view images.

"With this key data point for structural height coupled with ground elevation and flood zone data, you have a good indication if that property is at risk," Klose says.

The New York-based company allows users to run their address and learn about their flood damage risk for free — and that's something Klose says thats a tool she's seen used more frequently amid the pandemic.

"What we're finding is people have been so emotionally and financially hit so hard during this pandemic," Klose says. "The last thing you want to do is lose your house."

FloodFrame

Self-deploying flood protection for buildings

FloodFrame is a self-deploying flood protection for buildings. Photo via floodframe.com

Part of the challenge of mitigating flood damage is that it can happen in an instant with little to no warning. FloodFrame provides a solution to that in its self-inflating technology that can detect and prevent flood damage.

FloodFrame works by using buoyancy. A lightweight cloth is wrapped around a tube is installed underground outside the perimeter of your home or business. One end of that cloth is attached to a box that is also installed underground. As flooding begins, an automatic system will release the lids to deploy the inflation of the tube that will protect the structure. When the flood comes in, the system will float on top of the flood — kind of like a pool noodle — and protect the structure from the water. It's easier to install than raising a house, for instance, and can be reused as a long-term solution.

Tasha Nielsen launched the U.S. iteration of FloodFrame — which originated in Denmark — by becoming the company's first franchisee. Now, that process how the company plans to grow and expand and Nielsen is working with home builders and contractors to provide the invention in new homes and buildings. Nielsen also hopes to work with insurance companies, since the device helps prevent costly payouts.

Climaguard

A waterproof container for your car.

Houston-based ClimaGuard is looking to help drivers protect their vehicles from floods. Photo via ClimaGuard/Facebook

Hundreds of thousands of cars were damaged during Hurricane Harvey, and those car owners faced financial burdens from having to find temporary transportation to repairing or even buying a new vehicle. Rahel Abraham, who lost her car during the storm, founded Houston-based ClimaGuard to help enable people to help protect their cars or possessions from the elements.

"We're providing a resilient, practical, and real-time solution," says Abraham.

The tool is easy to use and affordable, considering the costs of potential damages, with a starting price of $399. The average insurance payout for vehicles was $12,000, Abraham says, so it's actually a great risk mitigation tool for auto insurers.

Airports, spaceports, and carports — these three Houston innovators represent the city's future. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

This week's Houston innovators to keep an eye on are working on technologies that are true testaments to the day and age we live in. From commercial space travel to a product that protects vehicles from floodwaters that are more and more frequent, these entrepreneurs are providing solutions to problems no one even dreamed of having a few decades ago.

Mark Bergsrud, co-founder and CEO of Grab

Courtesy of Grab

For over 20 years, Mark Bergsrud worked at the intersection of travel and technology — first at Continental Airlines, then at United Airlines following the merger, and now for himself as the co-founder of Grab, a Houston startup that's making grabbing a bite at the airport way easier.

Grab's technology digitizes and optimizes the airport dining experience — from ordering pickup remotely ahead of time to kiosks or table tablet ordering. The company, which has operations in 37 airports, just closed a multimillion-dollar Series A fundraising round to help continue its growth.

"We've called ourselves a startup for a long time, and now we think of ourselves as more of a scale-up company," Bergsrud says. "Now it's about having the money to scale faster."

Read more about the company by clicking here.

Rahel Abraham, founder of ClimaGuard

Courtesy of ClimaGuard

For inventors, you can usually pinpoint a particular "eureka" moment. For Rahel Abraham, it was seeing her 2008 Infiniti G35 completely totaled by the rain waters of Hurricane Harvey. She knew there had to be some way to protect cars and valuables from flooding, so she invented ClimaGuard's Temporary Protective Enclosure.

Abraham, who was selected for the 12-week DivInc accelerator program in Austin for her company, wants to make the product available to everyone.

"My goal is not to make it to where it's an exclusive product — available only to those who can afford it — but I want to be able to help those who it would make even more of an economic impact for," Abraham says.

Read more about the company by clicking here.

Arturo Machuca, general manager of Ellington Airport and the Houston Spaceport

Arturo Machuca

Courtesy of the Houston Airport System

Arturo Machuca is playing a waiting game. Various companies are developing commercial spaceflight and — whether that technology delivers in two years or 10 years, Machuca wants Houston to be ready. Ellington Airport and the Houston Spaceport are being developed throughout a multiphase, multimillion-dollar process, while also serving as an active airport.

"We use what we already have at Ellington Airport," Machuca tells InnovationMap. "We're serving aviation today until commercial spaceflight gets here."

Read the full interview by clicking here.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston business leaders make donation to rising innovation hub, establish economic inclusivity initiative

supporting students

Two University of Houston alumni have made a donation supporting a project that will create a central campus hub for innovation activity.

Ali and Emad Lakhany, along with their family, have reportedly donated to their alma mater to support the University’s planned Innovation Hub. The amount of the donation was not disclosed but also contributed to economic inclusivity research at the C. T. Bauer College of Business, according to a UH news release, by establishing the Musa and Khaleda Dakri Center for Economic Inclusion.

With the gift, UH will name the second floor of the building the Salma and Hashim Yousuf Lakhany Entrepreneurship Floor, in honor of the brothers' parents who emigrated from Pakistan in the 1960s.

"My brother Emad, sister Lina, and I are thrilled to make this generous gift to the Bauer College of Business and the University of Houston’s innovation and entrepreneurship initiatives,” says CSM Group CEO Ali Lakhany, a 2007 UH graduate, in the release.

The CSM Group is a Houston company that works in restaurant franchising, telecommunications, hospitality, and real estate development.

“Our parents, immigrants to this country, have always instilled in us a profound belief in the power of entrepreneurship and the importance of giving back. With this contribution towards the Innovation Hub, we are honored to have a floor named after our parents within this remarkable building,” he continues. “We are excited about the boundless opportunities this space will offer to students, entrepreneurs and innovators. Together, we look forward to a future of endless possibilities and positive impact."

Originally reported about by InnovationMap, the UH Innovation Hub is a 75,000 square-foot building to rise on the site of the current Technology Annex building and open in 2026. In it will reside the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, the Musa and Khaleda Dakri Center for Economic Inclusion, the Energy Transition Institute, a large makerspace, and more.

Ali Lakhany and Emad Lakhany are UH alumni. Photo via uh.edu

Houston energy tech startup incubator secures federal support to accelerate tech entrepreneurship

seeing green

Sixty organizations across the country have received a grant from the United States Department of Commerce — and one recipient is based in Houston.

Greentown Labs, dual located in Houston and Somerville, Massachusetts, has received a grant from the 10th cohort of the Economic Development Administration's “Build to Scale” program for its Houston location. The $53 million of funding was awarded to 60 organizations across 36 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. All of the programs support technology entrepreneurs across industries.

“The Biden-Harris Administration is Investing in America to help create entrepreneurial ecosystems across the country and put quality, 21st century job opportunities in people’s backyards,” Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo says in the press release. “The ‘Build to Scale’ program will unlock innovation potential in regions all over the nation, improving our economic competitiveness now, and for decades to come.”

According to the EDA, Greentown, located in a growing innovation district, will receive $400,000 with a $400,000 local match confirmed. The project, named Houston Ion District Investor Activation, is described as a way to create economic opportunity through equitable capital access.

"This project capitalizes on the need for jobs and economic development, especially in communities most vulnerable to the impacts of natural disasters," reads the project abstract. "EDA funding will enable the expansion of Greentown’s Investor Program into EDIJ, in partnership with the Ion, to further climate equity and resilience in Houston and empower underrepresented entrepreneurs as the city transitions from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy."

Greentown receives of of the 2023 Capital Challenge Grant Recipients. The other competition, the Venture Challenge, also awarded funding to another Houston organization. The Urban Partnerships Community Development Corporation received $741,925 to support the BioWell Start Accelerator Program, which is committed to scaling of bio-industrial startups.

“EDA is proud to partner with this year’s ‘Build to Scale’ grantees as they fuel regional innovation hubs and technology-based economic development strategies throughout the U.S.,” Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Alejandra Y. Castillo says in the release. “Investing in scalable startups and expanding access entrepreneurial capital will yield good-paying jobs, economic resiliency, and equitable growth in communities throughout America.”

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.