This tech giant is extending access to the internet for those who need it. Photo courtesy of Comcast

Global Internet service provider, Comcast, is investing more than $1 million locally to help give families in the Houston region an opportunity to thrive in the digital age.

The funds are aimed to help students, adults and people with disabilities to ‘level up’ their computer, career development and tech education skills. The million-dollar investment will also support ongoing efforts to build awareness about low-cost or no-cost connectivity programs like Internet Essentials and the federal government’s Affordable Connectivity Program.

“The Internet is where life happens. It allows students to expand their educational aspirations and it empowers parents to explore better job openings so they can ultimately deliver a better quality of life for their families,” says Ralph Martinez, Comcast Houston’s regional senior vice president. “We are passionate about doing our part to close the digital divide and committed to helping establish a more equitable foundation for learning, working and succeeding.”

This effort is part of the company’s $1 billion, decade-long commitment to expand access to the internet across the world and open doors for the next generation of innovators, entrepreneurs, storytellers and creators.

In December 2021, Comcast donated funds to support local diversity-focused non-profit, SERJobs.

So far, Comcast has given grants to eight Houston area organizations. More announcements will be made later this year, according to the company’s press release.

  • United Way | Funding will be used to provide tech experts (Digital Navigators) to help people in need of digital skills training.
  • BakerRipley | Funding will support computer skills, software, email and internet safety training for low-income adults in the Houston area.
  • Comp-U-Dopt | Funding will support students participating in Early Adopters, STEAM Team and Learn2Earn, which brings technology education to area youth. Comp-U-Dopt will also use the funding to provide tech experts (Digital Navigators) to help people in need of digital skills training.
  • Easter Seals of Greater Houston | Funding will support the development of a curriculum for people with disabilities to help them successfully learn to use digital technology to gain and maintain employment
  • The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Houston | Funding will help high school students gain technical and leadership skills through the Workforce Readiness Program.
  • AAMA | Funding will be used to purchase technology and equipment to support students through the training program at the Work and Learn Center, with an emphasis on digital literacy and design.
  • Dress for Success | Funding will be used to provide Houston-area women with the resources needed to obtain long-term employment through access to job readiness training, digital skills workshops, computers and mobile labs.
  • AVANCE-Houston | Funding will support adult literacy program and continue to build pathways to economic mobility for families in the community.
Thousands of students across the state are getting free internet thanks to Comcast. Photo courtesy of Comcast

Comcast program helps Texas families log on to reliable internet

getting online

The COVID-19 pandemic shined a spotlight on the digital divide when it came to online learning, but one tech company is hoping the bridge the gap in Texas.

Comcast's Internet Essentials program and Region 4 Education Service Center have partnered with the Texas Education Agency's Connect Texas Program to make sure Texas students have access to internet services.

"Quality internet connectivity at home is critical for academic success, and we are proud to partner with Region 4 ESC to help reduce learning gaps and provide increased opportunities for students to have in-home access to the internet," says Ralph Martinez, regional senior vice president of Comcast Houston, in a news release.

Comcast's digital equity initiative provides internet access for as low as $9.95 a month, and over the past decade it has helped connect almost 1 million low-income Texans to broadband Internet at home — most for the very first time.

Houston-based Region 4 ESC is the agency leading the initiative. The TEA Connect Texas Program has a goal of connecting up to 60,000 students in kindergarten through twelfth grade through internet access and devices

"Providing stable high-quality internet to the students of Texas at home is a critical component of any long-term solution for closing the digital divide for our state," shared Gaby Rowe, Project Lead, Operation Connectivity. "The TEA Connect Texas program is designed to empower school districts and parents to do just that."

More information online on the TEA Connect Texas Program's website.

It's not the first time the tech company has supported Houston's low-income families. Last December, Comcast set up an internet voucher program with the City of Houston, and earlier this year, the company announced 50 Houston-area community centers will have free Wi-Fi connections for three years. Earlier this year, the company also dedicated $1 million to small businesses struggling due to the pandemic that are owned by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.

Comcast is looking out for the one-third of businesses in the Houston metro area that are minority-owned. Photo courtesy of comcast.

Tech company to grant funds to Houston-area BIPOC small business owners

comcast cares

Comcast, the telecom, media, and entertainment conglomerate, is awarding $1 million in grants to small businesses in Houston owned by entrepreneurs who are Black, indigenous or people of color (BIPOC).

In all, 100 grants of $10,000 each will be given to BIPOC-owned small businesses in Houston. Local businesses can apply for the grants March 1-14. Grant recipients will be announced in April and awarded in May.

"Unfortunately, many small businesses in Houston were not able to withstand the many months of suppressed revenues [amid the pandemic]. While we remain optimistic about our economic recovery, public-private partnerships will play a vital role in minimizing the disruptions that so many small businesses, specifically minority-owned businesses, are facing," says Vice Mayor Pro Tem Martha Castex-Tatum, who chairs the Houston City Council's Economic Development Committee.

The Houston grants are part of a $5 million investment fund sponsored by Comcast RISE, which launched last year to provide resources to BIPOC-owned small businesses around the country. Under this initiative, grants also will be awarded in Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, and Philadelphia.

Studies show BIPOC-owned small businesses have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, and recent research by JPMorgan Chase Institute found that Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Houston and Philadelphia were among the top markets for sharp declines in local spending. Additionally, the majority of applications for the marketing and technology services component of Comcast RISE are from these five cities.

To qualify for a Comcast RISE grant in Houston, a BIPOC-owned small business:

  • Must be located in either Harris County or Fort Bend County.
  • Must have been in business for at least three years.
  • Must employ no more than 25 people.

To drive outreach about the program and provide support, training, and mentorship, Comcast also has awarded more than $2 million to six Houston business groups: Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Greater Houston Black Chamber, Asian Chamber of Commerce, Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce, Houston East End Chamber, and Cámara de Empresarios Latinos de Houston.

"Small businesses have always played an integral role in Houston's growth and future," Ralph Martinez, senior vice president for Comcast's Houston region, says in a February 9 release. "In the midst of the pandemic, these entrepreneurs provided many of the services and resources that have kept our communities up and running."

About one-third of businesses in the Houston metro area are minority-owned. Among largest metros in the U.S., Houston ranks fifth for the percentage of minority-owned startups (30.45 percent).

Comcast RISE is part of a broader $100 million diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative that launched last summer. In June, Comcast NBCUniversal announced a multiyear plan to allocate $75 million in cash and $25 million worth of media over the next three years to fight injustice and inequality against any race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, or ability.

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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 selects research on future foods in space health to receive $1M in funding

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.