3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Barbar Burger of Chevron, David Aaronson of REVs, and Andrea Young of DonateStock. Courtesy photos

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from energy to fintech — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures

The InnovationMap Awards will celebrate Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures, as this year's Trailblazer Award honoree. Photo courtesy of CTV

The inaugural Trailblazer Award at the 2021 InnovationMap Awards event was established to honor a Houston innovation leader and advocate who's making a lasting impact on the Houston innovation community. Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures, was selected to receive award.

"I am deeply honored to be recognized for my contributions to the Houston Innovation Ecosystem. I moved to Houston in 2013 and in short order was included and saw ways I could contribute. That is a great welcome! While I am proud of my contributions and our progress, we are just getting started," Burger says.

Burger leads Chevron's corporate venture arm, Chevron Technology Ventures, which has invested millions in the future of energy technology. This type of corporate venture activity — especially in a city with so many Fortune 500 companies — plays a key role in an innovation community. Click here to read more.

David Aaronson, founder of REVS

David Aaronson of REVS shares his EV entrepreneurial journey on the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of REVS

It might not be today, and it might not be tomorrow, but electric vehicles are coming into Texas at an increasing rate. EVolve Houston, founded in part by the city, predicts that EV sales locally will make up 30 percent of annual new car sales by 2030. Aaronson says they reported that Houston has around 15,000 EVs on the road today, but by 2030, that's going to be 600,000.

"If it's not 2030 it's going to be 2032, because it's all the manufacturers are making," David Aaronson, founder of REVS, says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It's just a matter of time."

Aaronson, a Houston real estate veteran, founded Refuel Electric Vehicle Solutions, or REVS, last year to become the go-between for multifamily property owners and managers and the charging technology providers. Click here to read more and stream the episode.

Andrea Young, co-founder and CEO of DonateStock

DonateStock, a Houston fintech company that simplifies the stock donation process, has officially launched. Image courtesy of DonateStock

A few years back, Andrea Young donated some of her stock, and the process, while having its perks, wasn't worth the trouble.

"I valued the immense benefits stock donations provided me as an investor while simultaneously helping a nonprofit," Young says of her early experience with donating stock. "I enjoyed the significant tax advantages that allowed me to avoid capital gains taxes while deducting the full market value of my gifted stock. However, I found the entire process time consuming and cumbersome, which led to the end of my stock donation journey."

When the pandemic hit and nonprofits were greatly impacted, Young and her co-founder saw an opportunity to found DonateStock to help drive donations and guide nonprofits and donors alike through the process. During its beta testing phase, the company partnered with almost 100 nonprofits. Click here to read more.

David Aaronson of REVS shares his EV entrepreneurial journey on the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of REVS

How this entrepreneur is preparing Houston for the future of electric vehicles

Houston innovators podcast episode 97

If you live in Texas and you drive an electric vehicle, you probably own a home — mostly because homeowners have a place to safely charge their vehicle. Apartment dwellers don't have that option in most residences. But David Aaronson is trying to change that.

Aaronson, a Houston real estate veteran, founded Refuel Electric Vehicle Solutions, or REVS, last year to become the go-between for multifamily property owners and managers and the charging technology providers. Basically, Aaronson, a reseller for EV charging ports, is targeting multifamily companies and brokering the deal to install one or two charging ports now — as well as supporting scalability for when even more EVs hit the Texas roads.

"It's a new industry," Aaronson says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "You have the manufacturers who are all so busy — they really don't have the time to find new business."

So REVS picks up the slack to provide a service that's only going to grow in demand. On his plate right now is educating his clients and potential clients.

"We find that with everyone we run into, there's an education process," he explains.

From what types of technology is available to whether or not the property is even equipped with enough electricity to support a charging station, Aaronson says he has to go through this process with everyone. Another challenge he faces is his potential clients not seeing the benefits at the moment. He says some of the property managers want to kick the can down the road, so to speak, but that road is getting shorter and shorter.

EVolve Houston, founded in part by the city, predicts that EV sales locally will make up 30 percent of annual new car sales by 2030. Aaronson says they reported that Houston has around 15,000 EVs on the road today, but by 2030, that's going to be 600,000.

"If it's not 2030 it's going to be 2032, because it's all the manufacturers are making," Aaronson says. "It's just a matter of time."

By installing the equipment, Aaronson says he's offering multifamily property owners a new revenue stream because tenants will pay to use the charging station. Plus, it's a perk that can be a dealbreaker for future residents.

"If you just have one person driving an electric vehicle that doesn't lease at your apartment because you don't have a station, you've lost money," he says on the show.

Aaronson explains he got into this new business that he now has such a passion for, as well as how how he's excited to grow his company alongside the growth of EVs and their necessary infrastructure on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Kristen Phillips of Golden Section Studios, David Aaronson of REVS, and Carolyn Rodz of Hello Alice. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from startup and small business support to electric vehicles — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Kristen Phillips, director of Golden Sections Studios

Kristen Phillips joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss a new B2B volunteer platform. Photo courtesy of GSS

For years, Golden Section Technology — and its accompanying venture arm — has worked to develop SaaS technology and has created a large network of experts and mentors. Now, the group has created a venture studio to support SaaS startups with this vast network, says Kristen Phillips, director of Golden Section Studios.

Additionally, Phillips says her team has a lot of lessons learned to share with the companies they will support.

"When you're dealing with early-stage companies, a lot of it just boils down to product-market fit and making sure you're able to develop a technology that's scalable that works with your customers as you scale," Phillips says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It sounds simple, but it's not easily mastered." Click here to read more.

David Aaronson, CEO and co-founder of REVS

In the coming weeks, REVS plans to set up EV charging stations at properties in Texas and California. Photo courtesy of REVS

Electric Vehicles are growing in popularity, and it's time for the infrastructure to catch up. Houston-based Refuel Electric Vehicle Solutions (REVS), has plans to roll out its offering — consulting, installation, and management services for electric vehicle (EV) charging stations — to multifamily and commercial real estate properties across the U.S. Those properties include apartment complexes, office buildings, hotels, and shopping centers.

As EVs "become more prevalent, it is imperative that commercial real estate and multifamily owners and operators realize that their assets will provide the future infrastructure for charging these vehicles," CEO and Co-founder David Aaronson says.

In the coming weeks, REVS — which Aaronson co-founded with his son, Mike — plans to set up EV charging stations at properties in Texas and California. Click here to read more.

Carolyn Rodz, CEO of Hello Alice

Carolyn Rodz, and her California-based co-founder Elizabeth Gore, recently raised funds to continue to grow Hello Alice, which supports startups and small businesses. Photos via helloalice.com

Machine learning-enabled small business support company Hello Alice, founded in Houston with a presence in California, has closed its $21 million series B raise. The funds come at a pivotal time for the company, which worked hard during the pandemic to support struggling business and now aims to support entrepreneurs of all backgrounds as the world re-emerges out of the COVID-19 era.

"We are thrilled to have a cap table as diverse as the business owners we serve," says Carolyn Rodz, co-founder and CEO of Hello Alice, in the release. "Our investors are leaders from the Black, Hispanic, LGBTQ+, Women, and US Veteran communities. As a Latina founder and fellow small business owner, I want to ensure that as our company grows, we are fueling future diversity in capital and breaking through ceilings for the benefit of our community."

The round, according to a press release, will be used to refine the predictive capabilities on its platform, launch a mobile application, and more. Click here to read more.

In the coming weeks, REVS plans to set up EV charging stations at properties in Texas and California. Photo courtesy of REVS

Houston EV charging station startup gets ready to roll out services across the country

revving up for growth

A Houston startup is revving up the region's — and the country's — supply of charging stations for electric vehicles.

The company, Refuel Electric Vehicle Solutions (REVS), recently installed its first two charging stations. They're at two properties in Houston: the Briar Forest Lofts apartment complex, located in the Energy Corridor, and Lakeview RV Resort, located at North Holmes and Hiram Clarke roads.

REVS plans to roll out its offering — consulting, installation, and management services for electric vehicle (EV) charging stations — to multifamily and commercial real estate properties across the U.S. Those properties include apartment complexes, office buildings, hotels, and shopping centers.

In the coming weeks, REVS plans to set up EV charging stations at properties in Texas and California.

Customers of REVS can take advantage of revenue-sharing and marketing arrangements, as well as green or carbon credits.

Commercial real estate veteran David Aaronson, president and CEO of REVS, and son Mike Aaronson, head of operations, founded the company to address what they say is a growing need for EV charging stations in the commercial real estate and sustainability sectors.

Miami Beach, Florida-based Blink Charging Co. makes the EV charging stations installed by REVS. Blink, which is publicly traded, recently raised $232 million in equity to fuel its growth.

As EVs "become more prevalent, it is imperative that commercial real estate and multifamily owners and operators realize that their assets will provide the future infrastructure for charging these vehicles," David Aaronson says in a news release.

One forecast predicts the global market for EV charging stations will surpass $248.2 billion by 2030. Another report anticipates the number of EV charging stations around the world will grow from more than 2.1 million in 2020 to nearly 30.8 million by 2027.

In the U.S., the number of EVs is poised to take off. A study by The Brattle Group, a consulting firm in Boston, forecasts the number of EVs in this country will jump from 1.5 million in 2020 to between 10 million and 35 million by 2030.

The study goes on to say that an infrastructure investment of $75 billion to $125 billion would be required to accommodate 20 million EVs on U.S. roads by 2030. Those dollar figures include the addition of 1 million to 2 million EV charging stations.

In North America, an estimated 80 percent of EV charging happens at home, but experts expect the share of charging done at office buildings and other places to increase.

"When it comes to electric vehicles, commercial real estate owners and operators face one fundamental question: Do they wait for a tidal wave of EVs on the road to add charging stations to new and existing buildings, or get ahead of that tsunami?" Commercial Real Estate Executive observed last year. "The answer increasingly is if they dawdle, they run the risk of finding themselves behind the times."

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Looking back: Top 5 most-read Houston research-focused stories of 2021

2022 in review

Editor's note: As 2022 comes to a close, InnovationMap is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston innovation. In many cases, innovative startups originate from meticulous research deep within institutions. This past year, InnovationMap featured stories on these research institutions — from their breakthrough innovations to funding fueling it all. Here are five Houston research-focused articles that stood out to readers this year — be sure to click through to read the full story.


Texas nonprofit cancer research funder doles out millions to health professionals moving to Houston

These cancer research professionals just got fresh funding from a statewide organization. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Thanks in part to multimillion-dollar grants from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, two top-flight cancer researchers are taking key positions at Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine.

Dr. Pavan Reddy and Dr. Michael Taylor each recently received a grant of $6 million from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

Reddy is leaving his position as chief of hematology-oncology and deputy director at the University of Michigan’s Rogel Cancer Center to become director of the Baylor College of Medicine’s Dan L. Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. C. Kent Osborne stepped down as the center’s director in 2020; Dr. Helen Heslop has been the interim director. Continue reading.

Rice University deploys grant funding to 9 innovative Houston research projects

Nine research projects at Rice University have been granted $25,000 to advance their innovative solutions. Photo courtesy of Rice

Over a dozen Houston researchers wrapped up 2021 with the news of fresh funding thanks to an initiative and investment fund from Rice University.

The Technology Development Fund is a part of the university’s Creative Ventures initiative, which has awarded more than $4 million in grants since its inception in 2016. Rice's Office of Technology Transfer orchestrated the $25,000 grants across nine projects. Submissions were accepted through October and the winners were announced a few weeks ago. Continue reading.

Houston researchers create unprecedented solar energy technology that improves on efficiency

Two researchers out of the University of Houston have ideated a way to efficiently harvest carbon-free energy 24 hours a day. Photo via Getty Images

Two Houstonians have developed a new system of harvesting solar energy more efficiently.

Bo Zhao, the Kalsi Assistant Professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Houston, along with his doctoral student Sina Jafari Ghalekohneh, have created a technology that theoretically allows solar energy to be harvested to the thermodynamic limit, which is the absolute maximum rate sunlight can be converted into electricity, as reported in a September article for Physical Review Applied.

Traditional solar thermophotovoltaics (STPVs), or the engines used to extract electrical power from thermal radiation, run at an efficiency limit of 85.4 percent, according to a statement from UH. Zhao and Ghalekohneh's system was able to reach a rate of 93.3 percent, also known as the Landsberg Limit. Continue reading.

Texas A&M receives $10M to create cybersecurity research program

Texas A&M University has announced a new cybersecurity-focused initiative. Photo via tamu.edu

Texas A&M University has launched an institute for research and education regarding cybersecurity.

The Texas A&M Global Cyber Research Institute is a collaboration between the university and a Texas A&M University System engineering research agency, the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station. The research agency and Texas A&M are also home to the Texas A&M Cybersecurity Center.

The institute is funded by $10 million in gifts from former Texas A&M student Ray Rothrock, a venture capitalist and cybersecurity expert, and other donors. Continue reading.

Houston research organization doles out $28M in grants to innovators across Texas

Houston-based Welch Foundation has awarded almost $28 million in chemical research grants throughout Texas this year. Photo via Getty Images

Chemical researchers at seven institutions in the Houston area are receiving nearly $12.9 million grants from the Houston-based Welch Foundation.

In the Houston area, 43 grants are going to seven institutions:

  • Baylor College of Medicine
  • Rice University
  • Texas A&M University
  • Texas A&M University Health Science Center
  • University of Houston
  • University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
  • University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston

The Welch Foundation is awarding almost $28 million in chemical research grants throughout Texas this year. The money will be allocated over a three-year period. Continue reading.

University of Houston powers up first robot food server in a U.S. restaurant

order up

The University of Houston is taking a bold step — or, in this case, roll — in foodservice delivery. UH's Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership is now deploying a robot server in Eric’s Restaurant at its Hilton College.

Booting up this new service is major bragging rights for the Coogs, as UH is now the only college in the country — and the only restaurant facility in Houston — to utilize a robotic food delivery.

These rolling delivery bots come from the state-of-the-art food service robot called Servi. The bots, created by Bear Robotics, are armed with LiDar sensors, cameras, and trays, and automatically return to their posts when internal weight sensors detect a delivery has been completed.

Not surprisingly, these futuristic food staffers are booting up plenty of buzz at UH.

“People are excited about it,” says Dennis Reynolds, who is dean of the Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership and oversees the only hospitality program in the world where students work and take classes in an internationally branded, full-service hotel. Launching robot waitstaff at UH as a test market makes sense, he notes, for practical use and larger implications.

The Servi robots deliver food from the kitchen to the table. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

“Robotics and the general fear of technology we see today are really untested in the restaurant industry,” he says in an announcement. “At Hilton College, it’s not just about using tomorrow’s technology today. We always want to be the leader in learning how that technology impacts the industry.”

Bear Robotics, a tech company founded by restaurant experts and tech entrepreneurs, hosted a Servi showcase at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago earlier this year. After seeing the demo, Reynolds was hooked. UH's Servi robot arrived at Eric’s Restaurant in October.

Before sending the bot to diners' tables, the bot was prepped by Tanner Lucas, the executive chef and foodservice director at Eric’s. That meant weeks of mapping, programming, and — not surprisingly — “test driving” around the restaurant.

Tanner even created a digital map of the restaurant to teach the Servi its pathways and designated service points, such as table numbers. “Then, we sent it back and forth to all of those points from the kitchen with food to make sure it wouldn’t run into anything," he adds.

But does having a robot deliver food create friction between human and automated staff? Not at Eric's. “The robot helps my workflow,” Joel Tatum, a server at Eric’s says. “It lets me spend more time with my customers instead of just chasing and running food.”

Once loaded, the kitchen staff can tell the Servi robots where to take the dishes. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

Reynolds believes robots will complement their human counterparts and actually enhance the customer experience, even in unlikely settings.

“Studies have been conducted in senior living facilities where you might think a robot wouldn’t be well received, but it’s been just the opposite,” Reynolds says. “Those residents saw the change in their lives and loved it.”

To that end, he plans to use Servi bots in other UH venues. “The ballroom would be a fantastic place to showcase Servi – not as a labor-saving device, but as an excitement generator,” Reynolds notes. “To have it rotating through a big event delivering appetizers would be really fun.”

Critics who denounce robot servers and suggest they will soon displace humans are missing the point, Reynolds adds. “This isn’t about cutting our labor costs. It’s about building our top-line revenues and expanding our brand as a global hospitality innovator,” Reynolds says. “People will come to expect more robotics, more artificial intelligence in all segments of hospitality, and our students will be right there at the forefront.”

Servi bots come at a time of dynamic growth for Hilton College. A recent rebrand to “Global Hospitality Leadership” comes as the college hotel is undergoing a $30 million expansion and renovation, which includes a new five-story, 70-room guest tower. The student-run Cougar Grounds coffeehouse reopened this semester in a larger space with plenty of updates. The neighboring Eric’s Club Center for Student Success helps with recruitment and enrollment, undergraduate academic services, and career development.

“To be the first university in the country to introduce robotics in the dining room is remarkable,” Reynolds adds. “There are a lot of unique things we’re doing at Hilton College.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston innovator on seeing a greener future on built environment

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 162

An architect by trade, Anas Al Kassas says he was used to solving problems in his line of work. Each project architects take on requires building designers to be innovative and creative. A few years ago, Kassas took his problem-solving background into the entrepreneurship world to scale a process that allows for retrofitting window facades for energy efficiency.

“If you look at buildings today, they are the largest energy-consuming sector — more than industrial and more than transportation,” Kassas, founder and CEO of INOVUES, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. “They account for up to 40 percent of energy consumption and carbon emissions.”

To meet their climate goals, companies within the built environment are making moves to transition to electric systems. This has to be done with energy efficiency in mind, otherwise it will result in grid instability.

"Energy efficiency goes hand in hand with energy transition," he explains.

Kassas says that he first had the idea for his company when he was living in Boston. He chose to start the business in Houston, attracted to the city by its central location, affordable labor market, and manufacturing opportunities here.

Last year, INOVUES raised its first round of funding — a $2.75 million seed round — to scale up the team and identify the best markets to target customers. Kassas says he was looking for regions with rising energy rates and sizable incentives for companies making energy efficient changes.

"We were able to now implement our technology in over 4 million square feet of building space — from Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York City, Portland, and very soon in Canada," he says.

Notably missing from that list is any Texas cities. Kassas says that he believes Houston is a great city for startups and he has his operations and manufacturing is based here, but he's not yet seen the right opportunity and adaption

"Unfortunately most of our customers are not in Texas," "A lot of work can be done here to incentivize building owners. There are a lot of existing buildings and construction happening here, but there has to be more incentives."

Kassas shares more about his growth over the past year, as well as what he has planned for 2023 on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.