Looking back on the past few days of low temperatures, ice, snow, power and water outages, and more, it's time to focus on innovation for resilience. Photo courtesy of ABC13

Greater Houston and all of Texas have faced enough persistent challenges over the past seven years that communities and businesses are at a breaking point. Not just financially and economically, but at societal and emotional levels expected from repeated natural and man-made disasters.

Increasingly, the focus on "resilience" as a call to action has become a buzzword rather than measure of performance by public and private sector decision-makers. Simply, our version of resilience is defined as pre-disaster risk mitigation and investment, not recovery and rebuilding after the fact, which is precisely what is being debated across traditional and social media.

As families, small businesses, larger corporations, neighborhoods, and communities require stability, predictability, and frankly reliability, there is now disappointment and disillusion across party lines for our public agencies, programs, officials. When the last major freeze and snowfall hit Texas, the state's power grid ERCOT and the legislature were warned that unless immediate steps were taken to invest in our electrical grid, an expected collapse of the entire system would leave entire cities and potentially the state in darkness with life-threatening consequences. Review any of the published recommendations from previous disasters and each conclusion identifies necessary and urgent investment, re-engineering, and technological innovation. And yet many of those findings are but another can kicked down the road.

While finger-pointing, investigations, hearings, reports, studies can be the actions of our elected and appointed officials, we turn to entrepreneurs, inventors, innovators, and investors as the path forward. Want to add to your blood pressure? Read all the After-Action Reports and Lessons-Learned Analyses — from as far back as Hurricane Andrew to the most recent disasters, including snowstorms, derechos, wildfires, and now COVID-19. Very little changes in these documents regarding the failures of government and/or the significant gaps between alerts, warnings, preparation, response, recovery, rebuilding. More recently, analysis and assessments provided by Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania and the Insurance Information Institute suggest a 1:4+ return on investment for pre-disaster resilience.

Communities often are asked to rely upon hydrological engineering and science as the holy grails in response to our floods, storms, hurricanes. And yet, there is a new "class" of data scientists, analytic tools, curated information, and significant user interfaces that have changed how government, industry, civic, academia and philanthropy can allocate their resources in more efficient and effective ways to unleash innovative resilience. Emerging enterprises and organizations to watch that are driving the "new resilience data science" for entrepreneurs and innovators alike to develop the next generation of insight include Jupiter Intelligence, HazardHub, ResilientGrid, and EcoMetrics.

What is rarely captured in the post-incident studies and gatherings is the powerful impact of the "GSD" networks — "The Get Shit Done" relationships, partnerships, tools and resources mobilized by unleashing innovation! And the good news is that Greater Houston as well as across the nation, a number of companies, products, integrated data-equipment, digital platforms, and best practices have emerged from several innovation ecosystems that should be brought to the forefront of any next steps for community and civic leaders seeking to address a 21st century resilience agenda.

There are the data and platform folks — Umanity, FoodBot, GotSpot, Crowd Source Rescue (all based in Houston) along with Harbor, R3Water, and a host of other national firms — for example that have addressed the speed by which needs, resources, information and actionable intelligence can align to assist volunteers, neighborhoods, philanthropy, and small businesses. As previous senior leadership of FEMA have admitted, the public sector can no longer be the go-to resource during every disaster, incident, and threat.If we are to democratize resilience because no one entity can afford continued losses — such as the insurance and reinsurance sector — nor is there enough taxpayer dollars to fix our critical infrastructure, then we must spark private-philanthropic-public partnerships through innovation.

If COVID -19 taught us anything, it's that we continue to face inventory management supply-chain, and resilient inventory problems that have been identified during and after previous disasters. With blockchain, advanced sensors and monitors, robotics and remote screening, reopening Greater Houston and the US can be done with innovative health technologies such as San Antonio-based Xenex.

In regards to the challenge before us, we must recall that the demand and intersection for an energy, water and data "nexus" began to take off in response to the Texas and California droughts, rose again to the forefront during multiple hurricanes in the US, and are a now the latest critical infrastructure focus in the post snowstorms of 2021.

Why is having Elon Musk's GigaFactory in Texas so vital to resilience innovation? Because the research and product development of batteries to retain solar and wind produced power can directly impact the load-demands in advance of an oncoming weather or worse a cybersecurity threat to the grid. Sunnova — another Houston brand — has been proving the benefit of storage capacity from its work in Puerto Rico and now exhibits the unique performance for future off-grid resilience of homes, medical offices, and vital services.

Until and unless the public sector opens the doors for these and other innovators through immediate and permanent changes in procurement and contracting, strategic partnerships, incentives and credits — while frankly sharing the leadership function with entrepreneurs, inventors, and investors — we will all pay the price for the failure to act.

There is still work to be done from a legislative and governmental perspective, but more and more innovators — especially in Houston — are proving to be essential in creating a better future for the next historic disaster we will face. The Insurance Information Institute's National Resilience Accelerator Initiative and Resilience Innovation Hub Collaboratory (with its flagship in Houston) is working to unleash the best of Texas', the Nation's and the World's best ideas, resources, information and investments.

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Richard Seline is the co-founder of the Houston-based Resilience Innovation Hub.

The innovations and Houston startups that came out of Hurricane Harvey are no coincidence. 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

New Houston hub calls for collaboration for flood and hurricane prevention innovation

Houston innovators podcast episode 43

When it comes to insurance, most people's interaction is pretty limited buying a plan, filing claims when need be, and paying the monthly bill. However, unbeknownst to most of their insured clients, insurance companies are investing in insuratech and new innovations within the natural disaster space.

Richard Seline, managing director of ResilientH20, along with the Insurance Information Institute and The Cannon, to launch 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 — something that's not often done.

"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."

The hub, which is based in downtown Houston's Cannon Tower, has been hard at work hosting virtual pitch events and networking opportunities since it launched in June just as the 2020 hurricane season commenced. Seline explains the mission is threefold: allow for reverse pitching where insurance companies tell innovators what their challenges are in hopes of inspiring new technology, introducing insuratech companies to potential investors or clients, and fostering innovation for new natural disaster prevention innovations.

On the podcast, Seline discusses new endeavors he's working on within his organization and explains the role his feels the new hub has in Houston's innovation ecosystem. To him, the city must work collaboratively to move the needle on growth of its innovation ecosystem.

"The good news is there is a lot of great activity underway in Houston right now — no questions asked," Seline says. "What we are doing can be seen as complimentary and not competitive with anyone else."

From game-changing startups to watch out for to upcoming events and partnerships for the Gulf Coast & Southwest Resilience Innovation Hub, check out the podcast. You can listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.



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Houston Innovation Awards opens ticket sales as nomination deadline looms

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You can now buy tickets to the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards on November 8 — but the deadline to nominate deserving individuals and companies for the prestigious awards is just a few days away.

Tickets are available online for the awards event taking place at Silver Street Studios, and InnovationMap has a few options to choose from. Individual tickets are on sale for $80, with a special founder price of $40 available. This year, individual tickets will have seating at a first come, first served basis, but attendees are also able to opt into a reserved table of 10 for $1,000. Sponsors, judges, and finalists and their guests will receive complimentary tickets.

The nomination period for the annual awards is coming to a close next week on Tuesday, September 19. Click here to read about this year's awards categories.The process includes submitting nominations on behalf of yourself or others, and next week, nominees will be sent an application that will be due October 4. A panel of judges will review the applications and finalists will be announced and notified ahead of the event.

If you are interested in joining our partners, which include The Ion, Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, and more, in sponsoring this event, please reach out to misti@gowmedia.com.

Secure your Houston Innovation Awards tickets now.

Submit a nomination before it's too late!

Cultivating an office culture can prevent loneliness, create connections, says Houston expert

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There’s been a lot of chatter about returning to the office and remote work. No matter which side of the argument you’re on, there are valid points to be made for both views. The pandemic forced organizations to rethink operations, with many employees working remote for the first time. And now, we’re in that habit and many don’t want to change.

But here’s the thing. Isolation creates loneliness and we’re in the middle of a loneliness epidemic. A report released by The U.S. Surgeon General titled “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation,” found that even before COVID changed the world, about half of the U.S. adults reported experiencing measurable levels of loneliness. While technology has allowed for work to continue outside of traditional office walls by dialing in to video conferences from home, there is still a missing link. It’s much harder to build community virtually. We haven’t cracked that code yet.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D – Conn, recently introduced legislation to create a national policy to promote social connection and address the soaring rates of loneliness.

“Loneliness is one of the most serious, misunderstood problems facing America today,” Murphy said in a press statement. “This crisis transcends traditional political boundaries, presenting a chance to bring together right and left around a project to help people find connectedness.”

Whether people realize it or not, we all need to feel seen and understood, and when that happens it creates meaningful connection. That connection in turn leads to strong company Whether people realize it or not, we all need to feel seen and understood, and when that happens it creates meaningful connection. That connection in turn leads to strong company culture and more productive, energizing workdays.

Happiness begins with healthy human relationships and companies are being challenged to balance employee flexibility and workplace interactions. While there is no clear-cut right answer, Birkman International is moving to a four-day, in-office workweek. Employees will cut back from 40 to 32 hours-per-week and those hours will be spent at Birkman’s offices.

With employees once again working under the same roof, there will be opportunities for organic spot meetings, team brainstorms and water cooler chatter. While some might see these as “soft” skills, they are essential for a well-performing workplace.

It’s important to remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to balancing employee flexibility with returning to the office. Just like every person has unique needs, every company must figure the best solution for its culture, its productivity and most importantly, its people.

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Amy Shepley serves as president at Birkman International, an industry-leading organizational performance company.

Houston startup with sustainable biotech solutions lands offtake arrangement with United Airlines

ready for takeoff

An innovative Houston company is celebrating a new deal with a global airline.

Cemvita Corp. announced a new offtake arrangement with United Airlines. Cemvita's first full-scale sustainable aviation fuel plant will provide up to 1 billion gallons of SAF to United Airlines. The 20-year contract specifies that Cemvita will supply up to 50 million gallons annually to United.

It's not the first collaboration Cemvita has had with the airline. Last year, United invested in the biotech company, which used the funding to open its Houston pilot plant.

“Since our initial investment last year, Cemvita has made outstanding progress, including opening their new pilot plant – an important step towards producing sustainable aviation fuel,” United Airlines Ventures President Michael Leskinen says in a news release. “United is the global aviation leader in SAF production investment, but we face a real shortage of available fuel and producers. Cemvita’s technology represents a path forward for a potentially significant supply of SAF and it’s our hope that this offtake agreement for up to one billion gallons is just the beginning of our collaboration.”

Founded in Houston in 2017 by brother-sister team Moji and Tara Karimi, Cemvita's biotechnology can mimic the photosynthesis process, turning carbon dioxide into feedstock. The company's SAF plan hopes to increase reliability of existing SAFs and lower impact of fuel creation.

“Biology is capable of truly amazing things,” Moji Karimi, CEO of Cemvita, says in the release. “Our team of passionate, pioneering, and persistent scientists and engineers are on a mission to create sustainable BioSolutions that redefine possibilities.”

“We are thrilled to partner with United Airlines in working towards transforming the aviation industry and accelerating the energy transition,” he continues. “This agreement featuring our unique SAF platform is a major milestone towards demonstrating our journey to full commercialization.”

Earlier this year, United, which was reportedly the first airline to announce its goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, launched its UAV Sustainable Flight FundSM. The fund, which named Cemvita to its inaugural group of portfolio companies, has raised over $200 million, as of this summer.

Moji and Tara Karimi co-founded Cemvita in 2017. Photo courtesy of Cemvita

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.