The future of resilience innovation will require all hands on deck. Photo via Getty Images

As Houstonians know more than most, a natural disaster can set a thriving city back millions. And, as it seems, these natural disasters aren't going anywhere. The question innovators, governments, insurance companies, and affected citizens keep asking is "what can be done?"

"Over the past decade we've been in and out of several disasters in the billions of dollars of impact," says Richard Seline, managing partner at ResilientH2O Partners. "But it's not without response."

Governments are deploying billions into fixing infrastructure, and Seline gathered risk mitigation experts for a conversation and startup pitch session as a part of Houston Tech Rodeo to discuss the future of this field. The experts weighed in on how risk mitigation and disaster prevention is going to need to be supported by both local and national governments.

Pamela Williams, executive director at BuildStrong Coalition, says she's been in the industry for decades now and has observed new financial support opportunities coming in at a federal level. These entities are looking for cost effective, risk reducing technologies. Innovators can think of these resources as seed funds — with a very high return on investment.

"Investments pre-disaster to draw down risk will save us … up to $11 for every $1 invested," she says on the panel. "Pre-disaster mitigation is where it's at."

And the solutions can't just come from one office within the national government — it needs to be a collaborative effort, she adds.

"We have got to provide flexibility, consistency — and truly be able to leverage all of these resources together so that we can do these transformational unthought of projects," Williams says.

Local governments are also tasked with increasing focus and funding on disaster prevention — maybe even more so than federal agencies, says Ron Prater, executive director at Big City Offices of Emergency Management.

"All disasters are local," he explains. "Locals have to be ready. ...Feds have money and resources but they aren't going to come in and save the day."

Governmental support is going to be needed to advance risk mitigation technology and innovation, but entrepreneurs might also have to seek aid elsewhere.

"While there are funds available for entrepreneurs and innovators, the fact is it will not always come from the government," Seline says. "There are billions of dollars of insurance, reinsurance, and non-traditional financing beginning to emerge — most of it centered around insuratech."

Williams says companies have a unique role to play in the continued conversation of driving these types of inventions.

"Our private sector partners have the ability to convene people," she says, "and bring perspectives to the table that have never before been there to come up with creative solutions."

Cultivating diverse thought leadership is crucial to the equation, says panel moderator Landi Spearman, generational and change management consultant at Organized Shift, who explains that Houston is an especially strategic place for this innovation to occur, since it's the most diverse big city in the country.

"When we think about resilience and people, we get to leverage our diversity of perspective. You get to bring yourself to the solution and you get to include others," she says.

There are a few types of exciting technologies emerging in resilience innovation — from finding ways to optimize and assist brokers and carriers as well as the equipment, technology, and data that's coming out of the public-private sector. One that interests Prater in particular is the opportunity to collect data.

"AI and machine learning are going to improve how (emergency managers) get situation awareness — how accurate it is and how timely it is," he says. "One of their main goals is to share as much information as possible."

The panel concluded with three startup pitches from NanoTech, a fireproofing and insulation product; IVPAir, a device that kills COVID-19 germs right from the air; and Climaguard, a weatherproofing invention to protect cars.

Register for some of these informative online events happening throughout the month of December. Getty Images

10+ can't-miss Houston business and innovation events online in December ​

where to be

It's the last monthly events roundup for 2020 — and this month, understandably, is a bit slow due to the holidays, but we have a roundup of the must-attend events for December.

From workshops and panels to summits and pitch parties, here are over 10 Houston innovation events you can attend virtually via online meetings. Note: This post will be updated to add more events.

December 1 — National Resilience Town Hall: Year in Review, Year Ahead

The Insurance Information Institute and ResilientH2O Partners, in partnership with the Resilience Accelerator, will hold the final session for 2020 in an ongoing series of thought-leadership among insurance, non-insurance, public sector, and technology senior executives. December's National Townhall will bring five unique perspectives together to discuss lessons-learned from 2020 and predictions for 2021's resilience and risk mitigation "agenda" across residential, commercial, industrial, government operations, infrastructure, facilities, and communities.

The event is on Tuesday, December 1, at 10 am. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

December 1 — Angel Investing 101

Learn about how to make effective angel investment decisions and find out more about the newly launched Chicago Booth Angels Network of Texas. The event's keynote speaker is Ashok Rao, serial entrepreneur and board member of Houston-based GOOSE Capital.

The event is on Tuesday, December 1, from 5 to 6 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

December 1 — The Ion's Industry Day

The goal of the inaugural Industry Day is to introduce and connect minority and women owned businesses (MWBE) with The Ion's Transwestern team. The hour long event is designed to facilitate networking and connect interested businesses with Transwestern, who will run operations for The Ion and catalyze local economic growth. Following the event, interested businesses can set up a walk through of The Ion in mid-December to finalize their bid.

The event is on Tuesday, December 1, from 6 to 7 pm. It's free and can be accessed through Zoom. Click here to register.

December 2 — NASA and Your Small Business: Understanding the NASA Procurement Process

Join The Ion to learn about NASA's commitment to providing access for all categories of small businesses to participate in the procurement process.

The event is on Wednesday, December 2, at noon. It's free and can be accessed through Zoom. Click here to register.

December 3 — Capital Factory's Venture Summit

Capital Factory is calling all investors, accelerator leaders, limited partners, and more to its annual venture summit, which is taking place virtually this year.

The event is on Thursday, December 3, from 9:45 to 2 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

December 3 — Evening of Pediatric Device Innovation

JLABS @ TMC and Southwest National Pediatric Device Innovation Consortium are teaming up for the sixth Annual Evening of Pediatric Device Innovation. The evening of innovation will host top experts from Houston and across the country will discuss their views on the latest in pediatric medical device innovation and updates on bringing a pediatric medical device to market.

The event is on Thursday, December 3, from 3:40 to 5 pm. It's free and can be accessed through Zoom. Click here to register.

December 3 — An Evening With Women in Corporate Innovation

Join General Assembly Houston to hear from inspiring female leaders in corporate innovation who have blazed the path to stand up and stand out. From learnings to failings and their secrets of success, this event is an opportunity to learn from the best — serious wisdom, from seriously cool women, all designed to supercharge you and your organization's success.

The event is on Thursday, December 3, from 5 to 6:30 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

December 7 — Pumps and Pipes 20/20 Vision

The annual Pumps & Pipes event is focused on convergence innovation in the fields of aerospace, energy and medicine: a truly uniquely Houston approach. The day-long summit features an expo and various panels and speakers.

The event is on Monday, December 7, from 8 am to 3 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

December 8 — The Cannon Q4 Pitch Party: Presented by Dell Technologies

Join The Cannon and Dell Technologies in hearing from new companies working in Digital Transformation Tech.

The event is on Tuesday, December 8, at 5:30 pm. It's free and can be accessed via Zoom. Click here to register.

December 8 — How to Start a Startup with Heath Butler of Mercury Fund

The Ion is hosting a startup 101 workshop with Heath Butler from Mercury Fund. You have an idea...now what? Before you start looking for funding, it's important to make sure that your idea is both viable and valuable — if it doesn't have a sound model and a market willing to pay for it, investors won't be interested anyway.

    The event is on Tuesday, December 8, at 5:30 pm. It's free and can be accessed via Zoom. Click here to register.

    December 10 — Greentown Lab's Energy Bar: Wrapping Up an Unprecedented Year

    Join Greentown Labs virtually for the final edition of the EnergyBar networking event for 2020. Greentown Labs is ready to put a wrap on 2020, an unprecedent year for us all. Between the opening of the new community in Houston and a renewed national policy focus on climate action, the organization is looking ahead to 2021. Entrepreneurs, investors, students, and friends of climatetech are invited to attend, meet colleagues, and engage in a community that is focused on climate action at work.

    The event is on Thursday, December 10, from 3:30 to 6:30 pm. It's free and can be access through Remo. Click here to register.

    December 15 — The State of Space

    The Greater Houston Partnership is hosting its first State of Space event featuring NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine as the keynote speaker. Since his appointment as Administrator in April of 2018, Bridenstine has led NASA in advancing American aeronautic, science, and space exploration objectives.

    The event is on Tuesday, December 15, at noon. It's $35 for GHP members and $60 for nonmembers. Click here to register.

    This week's innovators to know include Richard Seline of ResilientH20, Adrianne Stone of Capital Factory, and Ethan Saadia of Wayt. Courtesy photos

    3 Houston innovators to know this week

    who's who

    Editor'snote: All three of this week's Houston innovators to know started something new amid a global pandemic — a new job at a Texas-wide accelerator, a new app to help shops and businesses safely serve customers, and a new resilience-focused hub that launched just in time for hurricane season.

    Richard Seline, managing director of ResilientH20

    Richard Seline of ResilientH2O Partners explains how he's helping foster new hurricane and flood prevention technologies in the Bayou City. Photo courtesy of ResilientH20

    Following Hurricane Harvey, Richard Seline saw several emerging startups focusing on flood tech. Meanwhile, he saw insurance companies very interested in finding new technologies in the same space. But, these two entities were not talking.

    "It's two different languages," Seline says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "There's a whole language and a whole mindset within the insurance industry that is not real well known."

    Seline, managing director of ResilientH20, along with the Insurance Information Institute and The Cannon, has launched the Gulf Coast & Southwest Resilience Innovation Hub to foster this type of technology and bring insuratech startups and the big insurance players to the table. Stream the podcast and read more.

    Adrianne Stone, venture associate for Capital Factory

    Adrianne Stone has joined Capital Factory's Houston operations as the company prioritizes digital startup interaction. Photo courtesy of Capital Factory

    After spending a year and a half in Silicon Valley on the products team for 23andme, Adrianne Stone is back in Houston, filling the venture associate role for Capital Factory. Stone got her Ph.D from Baylor College of Medicine and replaces Brittany Barreto, another BCM Ph.D who left the position to pursue a new venture.

    "The mindset in Silicon Valley is different from how it is here in Texas — in good ways and bad ways. It was interesting to be exposed to a very potent startup vibe," Stone tells InnovationMap. "I'm looking forward to being able to meet all the cool companies, founders, and investors we have here in the Houston area." Read more.

    Ethan Saadia, app developer and creator of Wayt

    Ethan Saadia, a 17-year-old high school student, created an app to improve the user experience of shopping during a pandemic. Photo courtesy of Wayt

    Like most of the world, Ethan Saadia has seen small, local businesses suffer from the social distancing mandates amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Saadia, a rising high school senior, wanted to do something to help.

    He created Wayt, a smartphone app that provides businesses and their customers with a platform to communicate making curbside pickup, booking appointments, and even join a virtual line. Ultimately, Wayt has a great opportunity to help businesses — even outside of a pandemic

    "From my perspective and experiences from my friends and family," says Saadia, "curbside pickup and virtual lines are definitely here to stay because even before the pandemic, popular places used to have long lines and that presented many new challenges. The pandemic is just accelerating technological change that will make our lives easier." Read more.

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

    Flood-focused startups pitch at virtual event held by Houston's new resiliency innovation hub

    innovating for disasters

    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.

    The Cannon Tower in downtown Houston now houses a new innovation hub that is geared at promoting resiliency. Image courtesy of The Cannon

    New innovation hub focused on resilience rises in downtown Houston

    new to hou

    It's hurricane season in Houston, and, after months of reacting to a pandemic, resiliency and storm preparedness on the top of the businesses and local government's minds.

    Insurance Information Institute and ResilientH20 Partners have teamed up with The Cannon to create the Gulf Coast & Southwest Resilience Innovation Hub, which is now open in downtown Houston's Cannon Tower (1801 Main Street, Suite 1300).

    "The Cannon Tower will provide a seamless onboarding for the Resilience Innovation Hub's activities. Houston is already home to networks which focus on issues like sustainability, green infrastructure, and smart cities," says Remington Tonar, chief revenue officer of The Cannon Accelerator and Fund in a news release.

    The hub will act as a space for private and public sector entities — from academic partners and tech companies to investors and government agencies — to work together on pre-disaster mitigation innovations.

    "As households and businesses learn from past natural disasters, especially those which struck the U.S.'s Gulf Coast, the Resilience Innovation Hub can accelerate the deployment of products, services, and projects aimed at reducing disaster-caused losses in consultation with insurance carriers and brokers," says Michel Léonard, vice president and senior economist for the Insurance Information Institute.

    The Cannon Tower also serves as the headquarters for ResilientH20 Partners, and the space will eventually house in-person events for resilience-focused programming and events. On July 16 at 8:30 a.m., the hub will host its inaugural "Lightning Round" session for technology companies and investors.

    "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.

    According to the release, nine of the 10 most expensive hurricanes in the United States have occurred in the past 16 years.

    "Society saves six dollars for every dollar spent through mitigation grants funded through federal agencies and even more progress can be made on this front through further investment in pre-disaster risk mitigation," Seline continues.

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    Houston researchers create AI model to tap into how brain activity relates to illness

    brainiac

    Houston researchers are part of a team that has created an AI model intended to understand how brain activity relates to behavior and illness.

    Scientists from Baylor College of Medicine worked with peers from Yale University, University of Southern California and Idaho State University to make Brain Language Model, or BrainLM. Their research was published as a conference paper at ICLR 2024, a meeting of some of deep learning’s greatest minds.

    “For a long time we’ve known that brain activity is related to a person’s behavior and to a lot of illnesses like seizures or Parkinson’s,” Dr. Chadi Abdallah, associate professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor and co-corresponding author of the paper, says in a press release. “Functional brain imaging or functional MRIs allow us to look at brain activity throughout the brain, but we previously couldn’t fully capture the dynamic of these activities in time and space using traditional data analytical tools.

    "More recently, people started using machine learning to capture the brain complexity and how it relates it to specific illnesses, but that turned out to require enrolling and fully examining thousands of patients with a particular behavior or illness, a very expensive process,” Abdallah continues.

    Using 80,000 brain scans, the team was able to train their model to figure out how brain activities related to one another. Over time, this created the BrainLM brain activity foundational model. BrainLM is now well-trained enough to use to fine-tune a specific task and to ask questions in other studies.

    Abdallah said that using BrainLM will cut costs significantly for scientists developing treatments for brain disorders. In clinical trials, it can cost “hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said, to enroll numerous patients and treat them over a significant time period. By using BrainLM, researchers can enroll half the subjects because the AI can select the individuals most likely to benefit.

    The team found that BrainLM performed successfully in many different samples. That included predicting depression, anxiety and PTSD severity better than other machine learning tools that do not use generative AI.

    “We found that BrainLM is performing very well. It is predicting brain activity in a new sample that was hidden from it during the training as well as doing well with data from new scanners and new population,” Abdallah says. “These impressive results were achieved with scans from 40,000 subjects. We are now working on considerably increasing the training dataset. The stronger the model we can build, the more we can do to assist with patient care, such as developing new treatment for mental illnesses or guiding neurosurgery for seizures or DBS.”

    For those suffering from neurological and mental health disorders, BrainLM could be a key to unlocking treatments that will make a life-changing difference.

    Houston-based cleantech unicorn named among annual top disruptors

    on the rise

    Houston-based biotech startup Solugen is making waves among innovative companies.

    Solugen appears at No. 36 on CNBC’s annual Disruptor 50 list, which highlights private companies that are “upending the classic definition of disruption.” Privately owned startups founded after January 1, 2009, were eligible for the Disruptor 50 list.

    Founded in 2016, Solugen replaces petroleum-based products with plant-derived substitutes through its Bioforge manufacturing platform. For example, it uses engineered enzymes and metal catalysts to convert feedstocks like sugar into chemicals that have traditionally been made from fossil fuels, such as petroleum and natural gas.

    Solugen has raised $643 million in funding and now boasts a valuation of $2.2 billion.

    “Sparked by a chance medical school poker game conversation in 2016, Solugen evolved from prototype to physical asset in five years, and production hit commercial scale shortly thereafter,” says CNBC.

    Solugen co-founders Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt received the Entrepreneur of The Year 2023 National Award, presented by professional services giant EY.

    “Solugen is a textbook startup launched by two partners with $10,000 in seed money that is revolutionizing the chemical refining industry. The innovation-driven company is tackling impactful, life-changing issues important to the planet,” Entrepreneur of The Year judges wrote.

    In April 2024, Solugen broke ground on a Bioforge biomanufacturing plant in Marshall, Minnesota. The 500,000-square-foot, 34-acre facility arose through a Solugen partnership with ADM. Chicago-based ADM produces agricultural products, commodities, and ingredients. The plant is expected to open in the fall of 2025.

    “Solugen’s … technology is a transformative force in sustainable chemical manufacturing,” says Hunt. “The new facility will significantly increase our existing capabilities, enabling us to expand the market share of low-carbon chemistries.”

    Houston cleantech company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

    RESULTS ARE IN

    Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

    Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

    Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

    “This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

    “At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

    At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

    “The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

    In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

    Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

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    This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.