These Houston-area entrepreneurs have something to celebrate this week. Photos courtesy of EY

Four entrepreneurs whose companies are in or near the Houston metro area have been named winners in Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur Of The Year regional competition and now will head to the national competition.

Local winners of the Entrepreneur Of The Year 2022 Central South Award are:

  • Elliott Bouillion, founder and executive chairman of Bellaire-based Resource Environmental Solutions. The company helps clients with environmental mitigation, stormwater management and water quality, and climate adaptation and flood resilience.
  • Blake Brannon, founder and president of Brenham-based Brannon Industrial Group. The company buys and recycles scrap metal, provides waste and recycling services, rents out portable toilets, and offers sustainable printing services.
  • Dr. Juliet Breeze, founder and CEO of Houston-based Next Level Medical, which operates membership-model urgent care clinics.
  • Jamie Welch, president, CEO, and chief financial officer of Houston-based Kinetic Holdings, a midstream oil and natural gas operator in the Delaware Basin of West Texas and northern New Mexico.

Among the criteria used to select the regional winners were purpose, growth, impact, and entrepreneurial spirit.

“Each of these entrepreneurs has exhibited curiosity, ingenuity, and courage, and we are proud to celebrate this outstanding group of leaders and welcome them as valuable members of our Entrepreneur Of The Year community,” says Anna Tallent, co-director of the awards’ Central South program.

As regional award winners, these entrepreneurs will be considered for the Entrepreneur Of The Year 2022 national awards, which will be presented in November. The overall Entrepreneur Of The Year winner at the national level then will move on to the EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year program, which will name its top winner in June 2023.

In a news release, Breeze says she’s honored to be given such a prestigious award.

“This award is further validation that at Next Level, we are really on to something. Healthcare needs to be available to patients when and where they need it,” Breeze says.

Aside from the Houston-area winners, here are the other recipients of this year’s Entrepreneur Of The Year Central South Award:

  • CEO Amanda Baldwin and founder and Chairwoman Holly Thaggard of San Antonio-based Supergoop! The company makes and sells sunscreen-based skincare products.
  • Cory Brymer, founder and CEO of Hutto-based BryComm, a provider of technology and security infrastructure services.
  • William Chan, co-founder and CEO of Austin-based Iodine Software, a provider of AI-powered software for the healthcare industry.
  • Todd Dipaola, founder and CEO of Austin-based InMarket, which operates a platform for localized advertising.
  • Dr. David Ferguson, co-founder, president, and CEO of San Antonio-based Celebrate Dental & Braces, which has offices in five states.
  • Mark Floreani, co-founder and CEO of Austin-based FloSports, a streaming service for sporting events.
  • James Garvey, founder and CEO of Austin-based Self Financial, which offers credit-building loans.
  • Tim Heyl, founder and CEO of Austin-based Homeward, whose loans help buyers make all-cash offers for homes.
  • Joel Kocher, co-founder and CEO of Austin- based HumanN, a provider of superfood products.
  • JeVon McCormick, president and CEO of Austin-based book publisher Scribe Media.
  • Thomas Thill, CEO of San Antonio-based AmeriVet Veterinary Partners, an owner and operator of veterinary practices.
This Texas train system is on track to keep operations green, thanks to a Houston-based company. Rendering courtesy of Texas Central

High-speed train hires Houston-based eco company to keep route green

Onboarding

Texas Central, developers of the high-speed train proposed to run between Houston and Dallas, has selected a Houston-based company to oversee the environmental side of the project: Resource Environmental Solutions will help protect and enhance natural ecosystems and the environment throughout construction and operations.

RES will oversee plans to comply with US Army Corps of Engineers' requirements that the project restore, enhance, and preserve wetlands, streams, and environmentally sensitive habitats along the train's route between Houston and North Texas.

According to a release, RES is the largest ecosystem restoration provider in the United States. In the past decade, it has restored more than 58,000 acres of wetlands, enhanced more than 290 miles of streams, and planted more than 14 million restorative trees.

Recent projects include Maurepas Swamp in Louisiana, the Brooks Creek Wetland Mitigation Bank in Bowie County, and the Robinson Fork Stream Mitigation Bank, the largest floodplain restoration project in the northeastern United States.

RES is also working on the Bois d'Arc Lake Mitigation Area, a 16,600-acre reservoir being built in Fannin County to provide water services to 80 communities in North Texas that's the largest permittee-responsible mitigation project in U.S. history. The restoration area encompasses more than 8,500 acres of wetlands, 70 miles of streams, 3,200 acres of native grasslands, and 2,600 acres of non-wetland forests.

RES will help Texas Central meet regulatory requirements for environmental mitigation, collaborating with community leaders to identify local and regional conservation opportunities. The plan includes rebuilding and restoring wetlands and streams in the impacted watersheds, enhancing the viability of sub-watersheds that are close to the route.

Brian Trusty, VP of the Audubon Society, gives a thumbs up, stating that "Audubon believes the project is a win-win opportunity for both Texans and the wildlife in our state."

"Providing large-scale transportation opportunities that work to reduce carbon emissions, while supporting further economic prosperity and connectivity between the Dallas and Houston metro areas, is progressive and forward-looking," Trusty says. "Partnering with RES ensures the project will be done right, and we are thankful to see Texas Central take this step."

The project's scale will allow RES to identify not only isolated pockets along the route that require restoration, but also entire complexes of streams and wetlands suitable for improvement and conservation.

RES will select mitigation sites and designs that collectively improve the ecological functions of broad areas, including some near the Trinity River, Navasota River, Spring Creek, and Cypress Creek.

This environmental work, combined with innovations of an all-electric high-speed train system, will provide the most environmentally friendly travel choice between Houston and North Texas. The train is estimated to remove more than 14,630 cars per day from I-45.

Other ecological benefits:

  • As compared to highway development, for every one mile of high-speed railroad tracks, about 450 acres of farmland will be preserved.
  • The all-electric system will utilize the latest in green technologies, such as regenerative braking systems.
  • Texas will use the newest generation of Shinkansen trains, the N700 Supreme, which consumes seven percent less energy and weighs seven tons less than the previous model. Lighter trains result in less noise, vibration, and impacts on materials and land.
  • The route largely follows existing rights-of-way corridors, resulting in the fewest possible impacts to socioeconomic, natural, physical and cultural environments.

Consistent with Texas Central's commitment to create opportunities for small, minority, women, rural, and veteran-owned businesses, RES has engaged several small businesses to support its work for the project.

RES CEO Elliott Bouillion says in a release that it's possible to achieve both "environmental sustainability and advanced infrastructure."

"Texas high-speed train is an excellent example of how a modern, green infrastructure approach can be harnessed for both ecological and economic benefits," he says.

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This story originally ran on CultureMap.

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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.