Leaders across the spectrum are coming together this week to shine a spotlight on the future of tech jobs in Houston. Photo via Getty Images

This week, leaders in government, business, and academia are convening to work within the community to explore how we can leverage partnerships and new federal programs to drive investment into Houston’s burgeoning innovation ecosystem.

At AI Across America: Houston, we’ll begin forming plans and partnerships capable of sparking an innovation ecosystem, fueling AI education, training, research, development, and job creation. We’ll also examine how students, workers, businesses, and academics in the community can prepare for upcoming opportunities and challenges.

Why Houston

Besides being near Texas’ 10th District, choosing Houston was easy in its own right. According to a study by Axios and LinkedIn, between 2020 and 2021, while the traditional tech hubs bled top talent, Houston gained 10.6 percent new tech workers. Those workers arrived to a solid foundation; in 2022 the Houston metro area had net tech employment of 134,436 people. The growth is steady too. From 2010 to 2019, the Houston area tech workforce grew 12.3 percent.

Recently, Houstonians are leveraging federal programs and public-private partnerships to build innovative, collaborative environments. These include places like The Ion, East End Maker Hub, and Houston Community College.

Defining the project

The AI Across America project is a collaboration between SeedAI, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, and the Congressional AI Caucus. Working in conjunction, the organizations support efforts in the public and private sectors to expand access to AI education, training, development, testing, and job creation for communities across the country.

The AI Caucus is a group of U.S. Representatives working together to better understand their constituent's interests and those of all Americans as it pertains to AI. The organization works to explain the underlying technology and the ecosystem.

SeedAI does the groundwork to build collaboration across the private sector, government, academia, and civil society to support community-driven AI investments. The work of SeedAI focuses specifically on people who have been historically-marginalized and overlooked.

This is a critical moment for AI in America and beyond

AI is the battleground of the next great global competition. We have to be the first to build and master AI technology. Yet, because AI is a reflection of the people creating it and historical data, pursuing technology through the perspective of only a small group of people opens us to disproportionate harm and unknown risks.

Worse still, if the barrier to entry for AI is allowed to continue growing, we risk losing our most precious resource – the ingenuity waiting to be unleashed across the country. How, in those circumstances, can we succeed when faced with a nation like China with a population dwarfing the U.S. alongside an ability to spend far more agilely and extensively?

How can we succeed, and what is Houston’s role?

Fortunately, through recently-passed legislation called the Chips and Science Act, we have an opportunity to reclaim international leadership in a quintessentially American way: by leveraging the diverse strengths of communities across the country.

Houston already has a head start and an expanding tech economy – with planning and collaboration, Houstonians can be first in line to build new resources for AI education and development. When every state and community begins to realize their potential in the AI-powered future, Houston can play a leading role in guiding others to success and enabling their transformation.

If we succeed, we’ll uncover ingenuity and inventions we would’ve never anticipated. And as AI becomes easier to apply, we’ll have a real chance to build an AI-first generation of workers and builders from coast to coast.

Once we become competitive internally, we will be unbeatable internationally. If we succeed, we’ll lead the world in economic competitiveness and national security for decades to come.

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Austin Carson is the founder of SeedAI, a nonprofit established to work with a diverse group of policymakers, academics, and private sector experts to help communities across the United States access the resources they need to engage with AI. Congressman Michael T. McCaul, Republican Leader for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Vice Chair of the Congressional AI Caucus, is currently serving his ninth term representing Texas' 10th Congressional District which stretches from the city of Austin to the Houston suburbs.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

New Houston venture studio emerges to target early-stage hardtech, energy transition startups

funding the future

The way Doug Lee looks at it, there are two areas within the energy transition attracting capital. With his new venture studio, he hopes to target an often overlooked area that's critical for driving forward net-zero goals.

Lee describes investment activity taking place in the digital and software world — early stage technology that's looking to make the industry smarter. But, on the other end of the spectrum, investment activity can be found on massive infrastructure projects.

While both areas need funding, Lee has started his new venture studio, Flathead Forge, to target early-stage hardtech technologies.

“We are really getting at the early stage companies that are trying to develop technologies at the intersection of legacy industries that we believe can become more sustainable and the energy transition — where we are going. It’s not an ‘if’ or ‘or’ — we believe these things intersect,” he tells EnergyCapital.

Specifically, Lee's expertise is within the water and industrial gas space. For around 15 years, he's made investments in this area, which he describes as crucial to the energy transition.

“Almost every energy transition technology that you can point to has some critical dependency on water or gas,” he says. “We believe that if we don’t solve for those things, the other projects won’t survive.”

Lee, and his brother, Dave, are evolving their family office to adopt a venture studio model. They also sold off Azoto Energy, a Canadian oilfield nitrogen cryogenic services business, in December.

“We ourselves are going through a transition like our energy is going through a transition,” he says. “We are transitioning into a single family office into a venture studio. By doing so, we want to focus all of our access and resources into this focus.”

At this point, Flathead Forge has seven portfolio companies and around 15 corporations they are working with to identify their needs and potential opportunities. Lee says he's gearing up to secure a $100 million fund.

Flathead also has 40 advisers and mentors, which Lee calls sherpas — a nod to the Flathead Valley region in Montana, which inspired the firm's name.

“We’re going to help you carry up, we’re going to tie ourselves to the same rope as you, and if you fall off the mountain, we’re falling off with you,” Lee says of his hands-on approach, which he says sets Flathead apart from other studios.

Another thing that's differentiating Flathead Forge from its competition — it's dedication to giving back.

“We’ve set aside a quarter of our carried interest for scholarships and grants,” Lee says.

The funds will go to scholarships for future engineers interested in the energy transition, as well as grants for researchers studying high-potential technologies.

“We’re putting our own money where our mouth is,” Lee says of his thesis for Flathead Forge.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Houston-based lunar mission's rocky landing and what it means for America's return to the moon

houston, we have a problem

A private U.S. lunar lander tipped over at touchdown and ended up on its side near the moon’s south pole, hampering communications, company officials said Friday.

Intuitive Machines initially believed its six-footed lander, Odysseus, was upright after Thursday's touchdown. But CEO Steve Altemus said Friday the craft “caught a foot in the surface," falling onto its side and, quite possibly, leaning against a rock. He said it was coming in too fast and may have snapped a leg.

“So far, we have quite a bit of operational capability even though we’re tipped over," he told reporters.

But some antennas were pointed toward the surface, limiting flight controllers' ability to get data down, Altemus said. The antennas were stationed high on the 14-foot (4.3-meter) lander to facilitate communications at the hilly, cratered and shadowed south polar region.

Odysseus — the first U.S. lander in more than 50 years — is thought to be within a few miles (kilometers) of its intended landing site near the Malapert A crater, less than 200 miles (300 kilometers) from the south pole. NASA, the main customer, wanted to get as close as possible to the pole to scout out the area before astronauts show up later this decade.

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will attempt to pinpoint the lander's location, as it flies overhead this weekend.

With Thursday’s touchdown, Intuitive Machines became the first private business to pull off a moon landing, a feat previously achieved by only five countries. Japan was the latest country to score a landing, but its lander also ended up on its side last month.

Odysseus' mission was sponsored in large part by NASA, whose experiments were on board. NASA paid $118 million for the delivery under a program meant to jump-start the lunar economy.

One of the NASA experiments was pressed into service when the lander's navigation system did not kick in. Intuitive Machines caught the problem in advance when it tried to use its lasers to improve the lander's orbit. Otherwise, flight controllers would not have discovered the failure until it was too late, just five minutes before touchdown.

“Serendipity is absolutely the right word,” mission director Tim Crain said.

It turns out that a switch was not flipped before flight, preventing the system's activation in space.

Launched last week from Florida, Odysseus took an extra lap around the moon Thursday to allow time for the last-minute switch to NASA's laser system, which saved the day, officials noted.

Another experiment, a cube with four cameras, was supposed to pop off 30 seconds before touchdown to capture pictures of Odysseus’ landing. But Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s EagleCam was deliberately powered off during the final descent because of the navigation switch and stayed attached to the lander.

Embry-Riddle's Troy Henderson said his team will try to release EagleCam in the coming days, so it can photograph the lander from roughly 26 feet (8 meters) away.

"Getting that final picture of the lander on the surface is still an incredibly important task for us,” Henderson told The Associated Press.

Intuitive Machines anticipates just another week of operations on the moon for the solar-powered lander — nine or 10 days at most — before lunar nightfall hits.

The company was the second business to aim for the moon under NASA's commercial lunar services program. Last month, Pittsburgh's Astrobotic Technology gave it a shot, but a fuel leak on the lander cut the mission short and the craft ended up crashing back to Earth.

Until Thursday, the U.S. had not landed on the moon since Apollo 17's Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt closed out NASA's famed moon-landing program in December 1972. NASA's new effort to return astronauts to the moon is named Artemis after Apollo's mythological twin sister. The first Artemis crew landing is planned for 2026 at the earliest.

3 female Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Welcome to another Monday edition of Innovators to Know. Today I'm introducing you to three Houstonians to read up about — three individuals behind recent innovation and startup news stories in Houston as reported by InnovationMap. Learn more about them and their recent news below by clicking on each article.

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

If the energy transition is going to be successful, the energy storage space needs to be equipped to support both the increased volume of energy needed and new energies. And Emma Konet and her software company, Tierra Climate, are targeting one part of the equation: the market.

"To me, it's very clear that we need to build a lot of energy storage in order to transition the grid," Konet says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The problems that I saw were really on the market side of things." Read more.

Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. Photo courtesy of Sage

A Houston geothermal startup has announced the close of its series A round of funding.

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. The proceeds aim to fund its first commercial geopressured geothermal system facility, which will be built in Texas in Q4 of 2024. According to the company, the facility will be the first of its kind.

“The first close of our Series A funding and our commercial facility are significant milestones in our mission to make geopressured geothermal system technologies a reality,” Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems, says. Read more.

Clemmie Martin, chief of staff at The Cannon

With seven locations across the Houston area, The Cannon's digital technology allows its members a streamlined connection. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

After collaborating over the years, The Cannon has acquired a Houston startup's digital platform technology to become a "physical-digital hybrid" community.

Village Insights, a Houston startup, worked with The Cannon to create and launch its digital community platform Cannon Connect. Now, The Cannon has officially acquired the business. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“The integration of a world-class onsite member experience and Cannon Connect’s superior virtual resource network creates a seamless, streamlined environment for member organizations,” Clemmie Martin, The Cannon’s newly appointed chief of staff, says in the release. “Cannon Connect and this acquisition have paved new pathways to access and success for all.” Read more.