This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Grant Watkins and Keely McEnery of Earn Your Freedom, Richard Seline of the Resilience Manufacturing Hub, and Tim Latimer of Fervo Energy. Photos courtesy

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

Grant Watkins and Keely McEnery, co-founders of Earn Your Freedom

Grant Watkins and Keely McEnery, co-founders of Earn Your Freedom, join the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photos courtesy of EYF

Houston-based Earn Your Freedom combines edtech, fintech, and gaming, as the co-founders, Grant Watkins and Keely McEnery explain on last week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Both Watkins and McEnery have overcome personal finance obstacles, as they share on the show, and they aren't alone. Sixty-seven percent of Americans are considered financially illiterate, McEnery says, and 60 percent lives paycheck to paycheck.

"It's becoming more and more apparent how financially illiterate our country is," she continues. "It's a different mindset. People could be making $100,000 a year but if they don't know how to manage their money, they're still going to be in a cycle of not being financially free."

EYF's solution is a comprehensive, entertaining way for high school students to learn. And the timing is great, since Texas recently passed a bill about providing financial literacy education in high schools. Read more.

Richard Seline, co-founder and managing director of the Resilience Innovation Hub

A 130,000-square-foot Resilience Manufacturing Hub is coming to the Second Ward. Photo courtesy

Houston will soon have a 130,000-square-foot Resilience Manufacturing Hub that will house functions such as R&D, manufacturing, and assembly for products aimed at improving the resilience of homes, office buildings, warehouses, and other components of the “built environment.”

“We are looking for any product or technology solution that can reduce the impact from the next generation of disasters … by helping people thrive, not just survive, in their own community,” says Richard Seline, co-founder and managing director of the Houston-based Resilience Innovation Hub. The innovation hub is a partner in the manufacturing hub.

Seline says the manufacturing hub, with an estimated price tag of $32 million, will directly employ about 60 people. He expects the facility to either generate or “upskill” about 240 off-site jobs. Read more.

Tim Latimer, CEO and co-founder of Fervo Energy

Houston-based Fervo Energy shared the results of its commercial pilot project with Google. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston-based Fervo Energy announced this week that its commercial pilot project has resulted in continuous carbon-free geothermal energy production. The full-scale commercial pilot, Project Red, is in northern Nevada and made possible through a 2021 partnership with Google.

“By applying drilling technology from the oil and gas industry, we have proven that we can produce 24/7 carbon-free energy resources in new geographies across the world," Tim Latimer, Fervo Energy CEO and co-founder, says in a news release. "The incredible results we share today are the product of many years of dedicated work and commitment from Fervo employees and industry partners, especially Google." Read more.

The 130,000-square-foot Resilience Manufacturing Hub is coming to the Second Ward. Photo houston.org

$32M resilience-focused hub to rise in Houston's East End

coming soon

A first-of-its-kind manufacturing hub designed to “future proof” residential, commercial, industrial, and public sector infrastructure is coming to Houston.

The 130,000-square-foot Resilience Manufacturing Hub will house functions such as R&D, manufacturing, and assembly for products aimed at improving the resilience of homes, office buildings, warehouses, and other components of the “built environment.”

“We are looking for any product or technology solution that can reduce the impact from the next generation of disasters … by helping people thrive, not just survive, in their own community,” says Richard Seline, co-founder and managing director of the Houston-based Resilience Innovation Hub. The innovation hub is a partner in the manufacturing hub.

Seline says the manufacturing hub, with an estimated price tag of $32 million, will directly employ about 60 people. He expects the facility to either generate or “upskill” about 240 off-site jobs.

The manufacturing hub will be built adjacent to the 300,000-square-foot East End Maker Hub, which is opened in Houston’s Second Ward neighborhood two years ago. Seline says five companies already have expressed interest in being tenants at the manufacturing hub, which is set to open by next summer.

The East End Maker Hub, a public-private endeavor, opened in the summer of 2021. Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

“We know that the supply chains keep failing over and over again in regard to responding to and rebuilding after disasters. This is a way to address that,” Seline says of the manufacturing hub.

Aside from the innovation hub and East End Maker Hub, partners in the manufacturing venture are the nonprofit Urban Partnerships Community Development Corp. (UPC) and modular construction company VEMAS. UPC is based in Houston, and VEMAS has a Houston office.

“The Resilience Manufacturing Hub is one of four pillars in UPC’s vision for an Invest Houston strategy to grow our economy from within by directly impacting middle-income employment — vital for the 1 million jobs projected as a gap in greater Houston’s long-term competitiveness,” says Patrick Ezzell, president and chairman of UPC and founder of the East End Maker Hub.

The manufacturing hub will work hand in hand with the innovation hub. The innovation hub assesses and addresses risks triggered by climate-produced, manmade, pandemic-related and cybersecurity threats. Hub participants work on innovations aimed at alleviating these risks.

In 2012, the National Academy of Sciences defined resilience as “the ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from, and more successfully adapt to adverse events.” Those events include hurricanes and floods.

The resilience movement got a substantial boost last year thanks to passage of the federal Community Disaster Resilience Zones Act. The law allows for designation of resilience zones in communities that are at high risk of natural disasters and have limited resources. These zones will qualify for federal funding earmarked for resilience efforts.

Harris County scores nearly 98 out of 100 on the National Risk Index, generated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), putting it into the “very high” risk category for natural hazards.

Yet Harris County ekes out a score of 12.73 out of 100 for community resilience, landing it in the “very low” category. This means the county has a poor ability to prepare for natural hazards, adapt to changing conditions, and withstand and recover from disruptions.

Richard Seline is the co-founder and managing director of the Houston-based Resilience Innovation Hub. Photo courtesy

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Richard Seline of the Resilience Innovation Hub, Joy Jones of Code Wiz, and Joseph Powell of the University of Houston. Photos courtesy

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 energy transition to resiliency — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Richard Seline, co-founder of the Resilience Innovation Hub

Richard Seline joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to explain what all Houston has accomplished within resilience innovation — as well as what's next for the city. Photo courtesy of Richard Seline

For Richard Seline, a major advocate for resilience innovation across Houston and beyond, 2022 was a year of recognizing new technologies and processes — as well as threats — to resiliency.

However, 2023 is the year to implement, he says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"What really happened in 2022 is the recognition that there are enough technologies, equipment, and data science tools that if you were to deploy all of that more efficiently and effectively, you're going to get a one-to-six better cost benefit. It's kind of a no-brainer," says Seline, co-founder of the Resilience Innovation Hub, a national organization headquartered in Houston. Read more.

Joy Jones, owner of Code Wiz Oak Forest

Joy Jones is opening her Oak Forest location of Code Wiz later this month. Screenshot via Code Wiz

A Houstonian has switched up her career to focus on inspiring and equipping children STEM-focused skills.

Joy Jones, who has worked for a decade in the corporate world, is starting the new year with a new career — this one focused on her passion of providing more STEM programming access to students. In 2021, she came across Code Wiz, a coding school franchise based in Massachusetts with 19 locations across the country, and met with Ruth Agbaji, CEO and "nerd-in-chief" of the company.

“Talking with Ruth and hearing the story of her mission to touch 1 million kids through Code Wiz, I found exactly what I’ve been looking for, a mission that aligned with mine,” says Jones, in a news release. Read more.

Joseph Powell, director of the University of Houston Energy Transition Institute

Former Shell Chief Scientist Joseph Powell has joined UH to lead its new Energy Transition Institute. Photo via uh.edu

The University of Houston has announced the first leader of its Shell-backed Energy Transition Institute.

Joseph Powell has been named the founding director of the institute, which was founded following a $10 million donation from Shell in spring of last year. Powell is the former chief scientist for Shell and member of the National Academy of Engineering, according to a news release from UH.

“What excites me about my new role is the opportunity to work with students, faculty and industry to make a difference on problems that truly matter," Powell says in the release. "Who could pass that up? Imagine the difficulties that arise when you don’t have access to energy. Read more.

Richard Seline joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to explain what all Houston has accomplished within resilience innovation — as well as what's next for the city. Photo courtesy of Richard Seline

Why this Houston innovator believes 2023 will be a year for resiliency innovation implementation

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 168

For Richard Seline, a major advocate for resilience innovation across Houston and beyond, 2022 was a year of recognizing new technologies and processes — as well as threats — to resiliency.

However, 2023 is the year to implement, he says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"What really happened in 2022 is the recognition that there are enough technologies, equipment, and data science tools that if you were to deploy all of that more efficiently and effectively, you're going to get a one-to-six better cost benefit. It's kind of a no-brainer," says Seline, co-founder of the Resilience Innovation Hub, a national organization headquartered in Houston.

One big win of 2022 was Houston Community College announcing its Resilience Center of Excellence program, including a 65,000-square-foot, $30 million Resiliency Operations Center, which will be built on a five-acre site HCC’s Northeast campus. The complex is scheduled to open in 2024. The programming, which is supported by JP Morgan Chase, will be dedicated to preparing a resilient workforce.

A prepared workforce is one part of the equation. The other is elevating and supporting new companies and technologies that can have an impact within resiliency, which touches a myriad of industries — sustainability, construction, smart city, communication, and more.

Seline and his collaborators have plans to roll out a program to connect these resiliency innovators with the right funding, network connections, and more. Seline says he doesn't want to create a whole new accelerator program. Rather, he wants to create an organization that connects alumni from existing accelerator and incubators — like MassChallenge, Greentown Labs, gener8tor, and others — to act as an additional network and resource for resiliency.

"The Resilience Venture Lab would be the finishing school, so to speak," he explains, adding that the program can help startup founders find funding, mentors, early customers, and more in an industry vertical the founder might not have considered expanding into before.

After years of resilience innovation rising in need and awareness, Seline says the stars have aligned for execution this year.

"We think that 2023 is the year of implementation," Seline says on the show. "It's all aligning within the resources, the insurance, the incentives, new codes and regulations."

Seline shares more about what all he expects to see in 2023 in terms of resilience innovation in the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


HCC is working on a new center focused on resiliency on its Northeast Campus. Image via HCC

Houston college system plans to open $30M resiliency-focused center

to the rescue

Houston’s initiative to protect the city from catastrophes is getting a big boost from Houston Community College.

The college is developing the Resilience Center of Excellence to aid the city’s resilience campaign. At the heart of this project is the 65,000-square-foot, $30 million Resiliency Operations Center, which will be built on a five-acre site HCC’s Northeast campus. The complex is scheduled to open in 2024.

HCC estimates the operations center will train about 3,000 to 4,000 local first responders, including police officers and firefighters, during the first three years of operation. They’ll be instructed to prepare for, manage, and respond to weather, health and manmade hazards such as hurricanes, floods, fires, chemical spills, and winter freezes.

According to The Texas Tribune, the operations center will include flood-simulation features like a 39-foot-wide swift water rescue channel, a 15-foot-deep dive area, and a 100-foot-long “rocky gorge” of boulders.

The college says the first-in-the-nation Resilience Center of Excellence will enable residents, employers, civic organizations, neighborhoods, and small businesses to obtain education and certification aimed at improving resilience efforts.

“Our objective is to protect the well-being of our citizens and our communities and increase economic stability,” Cesar Maldonado, chancellor of HCC, said when the project was announced.

Among the programs under the Resiliency Center of Excellence umbrella will be non-credit courses focusing on public safety and rescue, disaster management, medical triage, and debris removal.

Meanwhile, the basic Resilience 101 program will be available to businesses and community organizations, and the emergency response program is geared toward individuals, families, and neighborhoods.

HCC’s initiative meshes with the City of Houston’s Resilient Houston, a strategy launched in 2020 that’s designed to protect Houston against disasters. As part of this strategy, the city has hired a chief resilience and sustainability officer, Priya Zachariah.

“Every action we take and investment we make should continue to improve our collective ability to withstand the unexpected shocks and disruptions when they arrive — from hurricanes to global pandemics, to extreme heat or extreme cold,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said last year. “The time is now to stop doing things the way we’ve always done them because the threats are too unpredictable.”

In an InnovationMap guest column published in February 2021, Richard Seline, co-founder of the Houston-based Resilience Innovation Hub, wrote that the focus of resilience initiatives should be pre-disaster risk mitigation.

“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,” Seline wrote.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Richard Seline of the Resilience Innovation Hub, Deanna Zhang of Tudor, Pickering, and Holt, and Brad Hauser of Soliton. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

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

Richard Seline, co-founder at the Houston-based Resilience Innovation Hub Collaboratory

Richard Seline of Houston-based Resilience Innovation Hub joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how it's time for the world to see Houston as the resilient city it is. Photo courtesy of ResilientH20

Richard Seline says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, that people are exhausted and these feelings are festering into frustration and anger — and calling for change. The things that need to change, Seline says, includes growing investment and innovation in resilience solutions.

"As a fourth generation Houstonian, it's just so hard to see my hometown get hit persistently with a lot of these weather and other type of disasters," Seline says.

These unprecedented disasters — which are of course occurring beyond Houston and Texas — have also sparked a growing interest in change for insurance companies that have lost a trillion dollars on the United States Gulf Coast over the past seven years, Seline says. Something has got to change regarding preparation and damage mitigation. Read more and stream the podcast.

Deanna Zhang, director of energy technology at Houston-based Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co.

Deanna Zhang of Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. writes a response to the energy crisis that occured in Texas in February. Photo courtesy of TPH

Deanna Zhang specializes in energy tech, and what she witnessed from February's winter weather was basically an epic fail caused by a myriad of issues.

"But it's oversimplifying to say that the only solution to preventing another situation like this is continued or increased reliance on the oil and gas industry," she writes in a guest article for InnovationMap. "What last week ultimately demonstrated was the multitude of technology solutions that needs to scale up to provide us with the best energy reliability and availability." Read more.

Brad Hauser, CEO of Soliton

Houston-based Soliton can use its audio pulse technology to erase scars, cellulite, and tattoos. Photo courtesy of Soliton

A Houston company has created a technology that uses sound to make changes in human skin tissue. Soliton, led by Brad Hauser, is using audio pulses to make waves in the med-aesthetic industry. The company, which is licensed from the University of Texas on behalf of MD Anderson, announced that it had received FDA approval earlier this month for its novel and proprietary technology that can reduce the appearance of cellulite.

"The original indication was tattoo removal," Hauser says. "The sound wave can increase in speed whenever it hits a stiffer or denser material. And tattoo ink is denser, stiffer than the surrounding dermis. That allows a shearing effect of the sound wave to disrupt that tattoo ink and help clear tattoos."

According to Hauser, the team then turned to a second application for the technology in the short-term improvement in the appearance of cellulite. With the use of the technology, patients can undergo a relatively pain-free, 40- to 60-minute non-invasive session with no recovery time. Read more.

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Houston investors back new platform for retail traders looking to follow financial influencers

making a splash

As anyone who witnessed the impact Gamestop's meme stock had on the country already realizes, influential investors can drive momentum within the financial sector. And one company with fresh funding from a Houston firm is betting on that exactly.

CashPool is a new mobile platform that gives everyday investors the opportunity to derive influence from the investment strategies and trades made by trusted and influential stock traders who have built substantial followings on social media platforms. By allowing retail traders the chance to join social media influencers’ various “pools” on its platform, CashPool is primed to change the way the masses acquire wealth.

This is the kind of algorithmic trading aimed at a new generation of investors that gets the attention of early-stage venture capital funds like Houston-based Ten X Labs, a pre-seed angel fund that recently invested in CashPool to help the trading platform continue its mission of transforming the investment landscape.

"We are thrilled to receive funding from Ten X Labs, as it validates our innovative approach to trading and investing," CashPool Founder and CEO Averett Barksdale says in a news release. "This investment will enable us to further enhance our platform, expand our user base and continue to revolutionize the industry. We believe that everyone should have transparent, governed access to profitable trading and investment opportunities, and through CashPool we are making that vision a reality."

Connecting the dots

CashPool is broker agnostic connector, allowing its users to keep their current brokers like Robinhood, Coinbase, Charles Schwab, Acorns, Fidelity, ETRADE, Stash, Sofi and Betterment and creates a seamless investment experience.

“We are that middle piece,” says Barksdale. “So your money stays on whatever brokerage you’ve connected to the platform, and we just execute the trades on your brokerage for you.”

Considering that users’ money remains with their original brokerage, how does CashPool monetize its platform?

“We don’t charge users to execute trades,” says Barksdale. “We charge per pool you join. So, on our platform, strategies are called pools and a user can join as many strategies as they want.”

Financial influencers set the strategies. These are profitable traders who have become influencers on various social media platforms and built-up followings comprised of people who are or are desiring to be retail traders themselves.

“There are a ton of people out there who actually are profitable traders,” says Barksdale. “Same as what we saw happen with GameStop and the whole Reddit situation. That was a financial influencer, right? It just so happens that he had a strategy that he thought would work and it turned out for a while it did work, right?

“We want to not only empower the retail trader, but empower these financial influencers who are profitable as well. Just because it's a whole marketplace out there for it. But a lot of times the retail trader doesn't quite understand who to go with. On our platform, you could see the results of these financial influencers right before your eyes on our platform. So you can see if they're profitable or not, or if someone's just on Instagram or whatever, social media platform posting screenshots but aren’t actually executing those trades.”

Increasing transparency

With trading, past success can be an arbiter for future performance, so with CashPool, users can choose to join the pools of influencers who have documented success as a trader on the platform.

“On our platform you can't hide,” says Barksdale. “We're connected to their brokerage account, so we see what trades they're making in real time. We also see their performance in real time, and we display that on the platform. That's something that you really can't get around. So if someone on Instagram says they traded this stock, then I made X amount of dollars and had this percentage of return, then you go to the platform and look at your pool and see they didn't do that and were lying the whole time, it’s literally just putting everything out there in the open. We have the kind of transparency that doesn't exist currently right now in the space.”

Broadcasting one’s successes is easy, but what about the losses?

“I thought it was going to be a lot more difficult just thinking, do people really want to show what they're doing?” says Barksdale. “But the thing that I've seen is a lot of these traders are a whole lot more competitive. And the traders who are doing it, they're constantly talking out against people who aren't actually doing it in real life.

“A lot of the traders who are actually profitable, they do live trades every day. But how do users if they should pay to get into a specific trader’s live trading session? Like, how do they know they're profitable already?

“On CashPool, users can see an actual influencer's win rate and say, 'Okay, 86 percent of the time they are profitable, and I could see how many trades they've made in total.' From that standpoint, users can make an educated decision on what pools to join and pay for.”

CashPool users can join as many pools as they see fit, but the cost of each pool’s membership may vary due to the popularity or success percentage rate of the financial influencer.

“You can join as many pools as you want, but what we suggest is you start by joining the pools of influencers that you already follow and trust, that you're already following like on Twitter or YouTube or Instagram or whatever it may be,” says Barksdale. “We are suggesting that you follow them first and you join their pools first. What we do is on the monetization side is we allow the creators on our platform who are the influencers to set their own price for their pool.”

Building a secure network

Outside of who or what to follow, information security is likely a concern for potential users. Financial influencers’ trade information is readily available (win percentages and number of trades, not dollar amounts), but users’ won’t be able to see other users’ information on the platform.

“Currently, we have a list of 10 brokerages who are on board, and then we're working to onboard more as we keep going on,” says Barksdale. “So, we have like your Interactive brokerages, and we also have a few other ones that are UK specific and Canada specific. We would love to have every single brokerage on the platform, but unfortunately, there are a couple that are still kind of playing hard to get, so to speak.”

The first rollout of CashPool is set, but version two will likely include content creation from the financial influencers.

Barksdale, who has a background in product development and experience working at companies like Charles Schwab and Fidelity, is mostly excited about the prospect of CashPool unlocking expert financial strategies for everyone, not just the financial advisors behind the closed doors of Wall Street.

“Yes, my philosophy is that financial health and financial growth should be accessible for all,” says Barksdale. “The thing that gets me is it needs to be responsible. So, for example, RobinHood is a platform that doesn't necessarily care if you are making responsible decisions, they just care that you're trading on that platform.

“Our platform is strictly focused on actually being the place where these retail traders can make responsible decisions centered around investing and trading.”

Tech companies contribute to recovery fund for those affected by Houston storm

helping hands

The past month in Houston has been marked by severe flooding and a sudden storm that left nearly a million residents without power. The Houston Disaster Alliance has established the Severe Weather and Derecho Recovery Fund to help those impacted by the weather.

“The Greater Houston Disaster Alliance was formed so that in times of crisis, there is a swift and efficient response to help those severely impacted begin the process of recovery,” said Stephen Maislin, president and CEO, Greater Houston Community Foundation. “When disaster strikes, it requires a collaborative and coordinated response from the nonprofit, for-profit, public sector, and philanthropic community to ensure the most vulnerable in our region get the help they need to start the recovery and rebuilding process.”

At least a million dollars has been donated to the fund, courtesy of $500,000 from the CenterPoint Energy Foundation and another $500,000 from Comcast. With Houston now a federally declared disaster area by President Joe Biden, impacted residents are able to apply for various grants and aid.

Those still struggling from the weather events should call the 211 Texas/United Way HELPLINE. Assistance is available for housing, utilities, food, elder assistance, and other areas. Crisis counseling is also available.

“Outside of times of disaster, we know that 14 percent of households in our region are struggling on income below the federal poverty line and 31 percent of households in our region are working hard but struggling to make ends meet. It’s these neighbors who are disproportionately impacted when disaster strikes,” said Amanda McMillian, president and CEO, United Way of Greater Houston. “This fund allows us to lift up the most vulnerable who have been impacted by recent weather events to ensure they can not only recover from the immediate crisis, but also prepare themselves for future disasters.”

The derecho storm that hit Houston on Thursday, May 16 had wind gusts up to 100mph. Nearly a million people in the Houston area were left without power, and as of Wednesday CenterPoint was still working to restore electricity to more than 60,000 people. Photos showed that the storm toppled massive power pylons, took down trees, and even ripped the sides off buildings. Miniature tornadoes touched down in parts of the city, adding to the devastation.

The Houston Disaster Alliance was launched in 2023 as a joint effort between the Greater Houston Community Foundation and United Way of Greater Houston to help mitigate the damage of weather crises year-round. This has become increasingly necessary as Houston's weather has become more unpredictable than ever.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.