UH President Renu Khator (right) and Principal, Vice-Chancellor and Professor of HWU Richard A. Williams signed the memorandum earlier this month. Photo via UH.edu

The University of Houston and Heriot-Watt University in Scotland signed a memorandum of understanding earlier this month that celebrates an official partnership between the schools in education, research, and innovation for the energy transition.

The universities will particularly focus on hydrogen energy solutions, according to a statement from UH.

"I am thrilled to witness the official celebration of our shared commitment to advancing transformative energy solutions,” Ramanan Krishnamoorti, vice president for energy and innovation at UH, says in a statement. “Through this partnership, we aim to harness our collective expertise to address pressing energy challenges and drive sustainable innovation on a global scale."

UH President Renu Khator and Principal, Vice-Chancellor and Professor of HWU Richard A. Williams signed the memorandum on April 11. Faculty members from UH and HWU then held a two-day technology workshop in Houston where the teams discussed areas of collaboration and future projects.

Through the partnership, the schools aim to offer more opportunities for students and faculty via interdisciplinary research, student exchange programs, joint degree offerings and industry partnerships around the world. HWU, for instance, has five campuses throughout Scotland, the UAE and Malaysia.

“This agreement represents a pivotal milestone in the international development of our global research institutes, forging a new partnership to address the most pressing societal challenges that lie ahead,” Gillian Murray, deputy principal of business and enterprise at HWU who attended the signing, adds in the statement.

Houston has been a hub for notable partnerships focused on the energy transition in recent months.

The Greater Houston Partnership and the Houston Energy Transition Initiative announced last month during CERAWeek that they had signed a memorandum of understanding with Argonne National Laboratory, a federally-funded research and development facility in Illinois owned by the United States Department of Energy and run by UChicago Argonne LLC of the University of Chicago.

The partnership aims to spur the development of commercial-scale energy transition solutions.

------

This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

The 75,000-square-foot building is slated to feature wet and dry labs, classrooms, computer labs, conference spaces, lounge areas and student advising spaces. Photo courtesy of UH

University of Houston doubles down on Sugar Land tech campus with $65M building

coming soon

The University of Houston broke ground earlier this month on a new $65 million instructional building that will allow the college to move its entire Technology Division to Sugar Land.

The 75,000-square-foot building, known as Technology Building-Sugar Land Academic Building 2, is slated to feature wet and dry labs, classrooms, computer labs, conference spaces, lounge areas and student advising spaces, according to an announcement from UH. It will be situated next door to the current Technology Building on UH at Sugar Land's campus, which opened in 2019.

The new building, nicknamed SAB2, was designed by SmithGroup and built by Vaughn Construction.

"We are grateful for the collaboration of supporters in the region and state whose investment in UH will result in a new generation of engineering and technology professionals," Renu Khator, president UH, said in a statement. "The growth of our Technology Division and our Sugar Land instructional site supports our vision of building a top 50 public university that provides a top tier educational experience and creates impactful research.”

Photo courtesy of UH

According to UH, the college will move its Technology Division to UH Sugar Land by 2025. The transition of the division has been ongoing since 2022.

“We are excited to usher in this next chapter of growth and impact for the University and for our Fort Bend County region,” Jay Neal, associate vice president of academic affairs and chief operating officer for UH at Sugar Land, said in a statement. “The addition of this new building will allow us to accommodate all Technology Division classes and programs that have been transitioning from the main campus to Sugar Land for the last several months.”

UH at Sugar Land is already home to two innovative labs.

The first, dubbed the Artificial Intelligence Industry Incubator and Digital Oilfield Lab, launched in 2020. It aims to help faculty, students, and energy professionals to develop technologies and solutions to increase efficiency and boost oil field safety through machine learning.

About a year later, the campus also welcomed its new AI Retail Innovation Lab. The cloud-based lab allows students, faculty, and industry professionals from across the U.S. to sift through in-store and online shopper data and then come up with new technology for the retail sector.

In other UH news, the

university announced last week that a new $5 million grant will expand opportunities for entrepreneurship for all students.

Photo courtesy of UH

The $63.5 million contract aims to support UH in developing analytical modeling and simulation platforms that help the U.S. Army make timely and effective decisions. Photo via uhsystem.edu

University of Houston lands $63.5M contract with DOD to develop tech for the 'future battlefield'

ready to innovate

The University of Houston was recently awarded its largest grant in history—this time, from the U.S. Department of Defense.

The $63.5 million contract aims to support UH in developing analytical modeling and simulation platforms that help the U.S. Army make timely and effective decisions, according to a release from UH.

Craig Glennie, professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of engineering defense research initiatives at the UH Cullen College of Engineering, who is leading the project, says the team's work will focus on creating tools for the time period before conflict begins.

“We are not looking at what happens once bullets start flying. We are looking at what happens during the competition and crisis phases, the buildup and the posturing and the projection of forces before you actually get to the point of armed conflict,” he says in a statement. “The Army needs tools to understand how they can effectively position themselves and project their force towards the adversary in such a manner that they can avoid armed conflict, or if that is not possible, be prepared for the onset of armed conflict.”

The team, which also includes members from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, New Mexico State University and other organizations, will work closely with the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Analysis Center, known as DAC. They've been commissioned to help build realistic modeling, analysis and simulation tools that the Army can use in the "future battlefield."

DAC has named several high priority issues for the team including quantum technology, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.

“For example, we will look at the electromagnetic spectrum, at owning the airspace, and projecting that we have the radio frequency technology that is capable of jamming a neighbor’s signals," Glennie adds.

UH president Renu Khator says the university is honored to revive the contract.

“We understand the significance of this project in enhancing the Army’s decision-making capabilities, and we are proud to contribute to our nation’s security and strategic competitiveness," she said in a statement. "We look forward to the remarkable contributions that will emerge from this collaboration, strengthening the University of Houston’s commitment to driving innovation that matters.”

UH has inked a number of grants and contracts in recent months that are pushing innovative initiatives forward at the university.

Last month, UH received a $100,000 grant from the Baker Hughes Foundation to go toward workforce development programs, and environmental justice research at its Energy Transition Institute. The ETI was launched last year through a $10 million grant from Shell USA Inc. and Shell Global Solutions (US) Inc.

And earlier this month, Houston-based The Welch Foundation awarded its inaugural $5 million Catalyst for Discovery Program Grant to a new initiative led by Jeffrey Rimer, UH's Abraham E. Dukler Professor of Chemical Engineering. The grant launched the Welch Center for Advanced Bioactive Materials Crystallization, which will build upon Rimer's work relating to the use of crystals to help treat malaria and kidney stones.

Craig Glennie, professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of engineering defense research initiatives at the UH Cullen College of Engineering, is leading the project. Photo via uh.edu

Coogs' house is getting ready for a remodel. Rendering courtesy of UH

University of Houston reveals $35M campus transformation ahead of centennial

go coogs

As the University of Houston gets ready for its centennial in 2027, the school is launching a major transformation to its urban campus. The $35 million project aims to transform several prominent areas of the university grounds and create a stronger first impression of the school — and stir up pride for students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

To achieve this transformation of the Coogs’ lair, the university hired Houston-based urban design firm OJB, which will develop a new multi-purpose gathering space — dubbed Centennial Plaza —at the heart of the campus. Harking to great university and collegiate gathering spaces, Centennial Plaza will be constructed in the original — and familiar — campus quad. Plans call for an “awe-inspiring” public destination for game day and students events and official ceremonies,

Meanwhile, UH's’ main entrance on University Drive will be reimagined and redefined, meant to create a memorable arrival experience. A new gateway monument will be installed at Spur 5, according to press materials. In a push to assist with campus walkability, a new, continuous line of trees will form a shaded central pathway from the gateway to Cullen Performance Hall.

Rendering courtesy of UH

Other aspects of the project include the addition of monument gateways at several university entrances. Sustainable landscaping and storm water management will be also be added across campus.

The design process is currently underway with construction expected to commence next summer.

“Our centennial plan is a transformative project,” University of Houston President Renu Khator says in a press release announcing the initiative. “The University of Houston is a crucial part of the fourth largest city in the country, and having a welcoming campus that everyone can be proud of is paramount. This reimagination will create a sense of place, community and learning, while also promoting health and well-being not only for our students, but for all Houstonians.”

Additional areas targeted for landscaping improvements are Lynn Eusan Park, Cougar Woods, Butler Plaza, and the campus woodland from the Science and Research 1 building to the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design.

The campus enhancements are scheduled to be completed by the end of 2026 to help kick off the school's centennial celebrations.

Current and past Coogs should take heart in OJB’s design resume — especially with institutes of higher learning. Locally and in Texas, the award-winning, prolific firm has designed Aggie Park at Texas A&M University and the popular Klyde Warren Park in Dallas. Statewide it has overseen campus improvements for Rice, Baylor, and Texas Tech universities. Nationally, OBJ has spearheaded improvements at prestigious institutions such as Harvard and Stanford.

“So much of the student and campus experience is found in the spaces in between buildings: its landscape and open spaces,” Chip Trageser, partner in charge for OJB, notes in a press statement. “We know that spending time outdoors is beneficial for social connection, as well as improved mental and physical health. Creating inclusive spaces for people to come together is at the core of innovation. The Centennial Plan strengthens these experiences, not only from a physical point of view, but also as an expression of the University of Houston’s values and mission.”

Earlier this year, UH also revealed details on its central hub for innovation on campus. The building, which is slated to open in 2025 next to the M.D. Anderson Library on UH's main campus, will be around 70,000 square feet and will house a makerspace, the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, the Energy Transition Institute, innovation programs, and Presidential Frontier Faculty labs and offices.

In short, big changes and updates are coming to the Coogs House.

Rendering courtesy of UH

------

Steven Devadanam contributed to this article, which originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston is in the running to receive millions from a program from the National Science Foundation. Photo via Getty Images

Houston named semifinalist for major energy transition funding opportunity

making moves

The National Science Foundation announced 34 semifinalists for a regional innovation program that will deploy up to $160 million in federal funding over the next 10 years. Among the list of potential regions to receive this influx of capital is Houston.

The Greater Houston Partnership and the Houston Energy Transition Initiative developed the application for the NSF Regional Innovation Engine competition in collaboration with economic, civic, and educational leaders from across the city and five regional universities, including the University of Houston, The University of Texas at Austin, Texas Southern University, Rice University, and Texas A&M University.

The proposed project for Houston — called the Accelerating Carbon-Neutral Technologies and Policies for Energy Transition, or ACT, Engine — emphasizes developing sustainable and equitable opportunities for innovators and entrepreneurs while also pursuing sustainable and equitable energy access for all.

“The ACT Engine will leverage our diverse energy innovation ecosystem and talent, creating a true competitive advantage for existing and new energy companies across our region," says Jane Stricker, senior vice president of energy transition and executive director for HETI, in a statement. "Texas is leading the way in nearly every energy and energy transition solution, and this Engine can catalyze our region’s continued growth in low-carbon technology development and deployment."

If Houston's proposal is selected as a finalist, it could receive up to $160 million over 10 years. The final list of NSF Engines awards is expected this fall, and, according to a release, each awardee will initially receiving about $15 million for the first two years.

"Each of these NSF Engines semifinalists represents an emerging hub of innovation and lends their talents and resources to form the fabric of NSF's vision to create opportunities everywhere and enable innovation anywhere," NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan says in a news release. "These teams will spring ideas, talent, pathways and resources to create vibrant innovation ecosystems all across our nation."

The NSF selected its 34 semifinalists from 188 original applicants, and the next step for Houston is a virtual site visit that will assess competitive advantages, budget and resource plans for R&D and workforce development, and the proposed leadership’s ability to mobilize plans into action over the first two years.

"Houston is poised, like no other city, to lead the energy transition. The ACT Engine presents a remarkable opportunity to not only leverage the region's unparalleled energy resources and expertise but also harness our can-do spirit. Houston has a proven track record of embracing challenges and finding innovative solutions,” says Renu Khator, president of the University of Houston, in the statement. “Through the collaborative efforts facilitated by the ACT Engine, I am confident that we can make significant strides towards creating a sustainable future that harmonizes economic growth, environmental protection and social equity."

NSF Engines will announce awards this fall after a round of in-person interviews of finalists named in July. With Houston's track record for building thriving industry hubs in energy, health care, aerospace, and the culinary arts, the region is eager to establish the next generation of leaders and dreamers responding to some of the greatest economic and societal challenges ever seen in America.

“Our energy innovation ecosystem is inclusive, dynamic, and fast growing," says Barbara Burger, energy transition adviser and former Chevron executive, in the release. "The ACT Engine has the potential to increase the amount of innovation coming into the ecosystem and the capabilities available to scale technologies needed in the energy transition. I am confident that the members of the ecosystem — incubators, accelerators, investors, universities, and corporates — are ready for the challenge that the ACT Engine will provide."

------

This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

The UH Tech Bridge just received fresh federal funding to expand its space for innovation. Photo via UH.edu

University of Houston receives nearly $3M grant for Tech Bridge upgrades

funds granted

The University of Houston's Technology Bridge, which focuses on providing research and development space to UH-affiliated startups and entrepreneurs, has received funding to work on some upgrades.

UH received $2.875 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development through a Community Project Funding award was included in an appropriations bill by U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia, who represents the region where the Tech Bridge resides.

“Congresswoman Garcia was instrumental in making this funding a reality and we are incredibly grateful for her support and for promoting the innovation ecosystem in the Houston region,” says University of Houston President Renu Khator in a news release. “The Technology Bridge is a growing community of innovators that supports the overall economic health of Houston while creating new opportunities in academia and industry."

Most of the grant will be put toward the UH Industry & International Innovation Hub, or UHI3, a rising center that will provide space for industry partner engagement, an investor and mentoring studio, startup space, training rooms, and innovation event space. The center will also have satellite office for UH’s Small Business Development Center.

The rest of the funding — $475,000 of the grant — will establish The Deck Innovation & Coworking Center, which will include eight new private offices and mail lockers for startups. According to UH, the project is expected to increase capacity by more than 20 companies.

“I am proud to have secured these funds for the University of Houston Technology Bridge. Through this investment, our community will grow stronger, and our economy will be bolstered,” says Rep. Garcia in the release. “Engagement between universities and industry is a priority as we prepare our students to be the workforce of tomorrow in a rapidly evolving world.

"The University of Houston is a world-class institution deserving of our full support, and these federal dollars are proof of that," she continues. "I am proud to represent so many UH students and faculty in Congress and will always fight to get them the resources they need to be on the cutting edge of innovation.”

Currently, the 15-building Tech Bridge and its 31,000 square feet of incubator space houses more than 20 small companies and startups that provide internship and learning opportunities for UH students, along with several federally funded research centers and institutes. The new funding will allow for the Tech Bridge to expand its impact.

“This funding will result in stronger academic and external partnerships, promote key, nationally relevant research and strengthen industry connections for our students,” says Ramanan Krishnamoorti, vice president of energy and innovation at UH. “But most importantly, it will provide an economic catalyst for startups and small businesses in the underserved communities located near the University of Houston.”

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.