Here's what student-founded startups are leaving CERAWeek with fresh funding. Photo courtesy of HETI

For the third year, the Greater Houston Partnership's Houston Energy Transition Institute hosted its startup pitch competition at CERAWeek by S&P Global. A dozen startups walked away with recognition — and three some with cash prizes.

HETI joined partners Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship and TEX-E for the 2024 Energy Venture Day and Pitch Competition at CERAWeek on Wednesday, March 20. Forty-two companies, which have collectively raised over $265 million in investment funding already, pitched to judges. Nine startups won awards across three tracks.

TEX-E, a Texas nonprofit that supports student-founded upstarts, had five of its companies pitch and three winners walked away with monetary prizes. Teams that competed in the TEX-E Prize track, many of which come from Houston universities, include:

  • AirMax, University of Texas at Austin
  • BeadBlocker, University of Houston
  • Carvis Energy Solutions, Texas A&M University
  • Coflux Purification, Rice University
  • Solidec, Rice University

Solidec, which is working on a platform to produce chemicals from captured carbon, won first place and $25,000. The company also recently scored a $100,000 grant from Rice's One Small Step Grant program, as well as a voucher from the DOE. Coflux Purification, which has a technology that destroys PFAS in filtration, won second place and$15,000. The company also secured a One Small Step Grant to the tune of $80,000. AirMax, which focuses on optimizing sustainability for air conditioning equipment, won third place and $10,000.

Last year, Houston-based Helix Earth Technologies took home the top TEX-E price and $25,000 cash awards. The venture, founded by Rawand Rasheed and Brad Husick from Rice University, developed high-speed, high-efficiency filter systems derived from technology originating at NASA.

The rest of the companies that pitched competed for non-monetary awards. Here's what companies won:

  • Group A (CCUS, oilfield solutions, analytics and minerals):
    • First place: Ardent
    • Second place: Vaulted Deep
    • Third place: Mitico
  • Group B (batteries, renewables, water, and grid technology):
    • First place: SungreenH2
    • Second place: FeX Energy
    • Third place: Mercurius Biorefining
  • Group C (Mobility, Materials, and hydrogen solutions)
    • First place: Thiozen
    • Second place: Power2Hydrogen
    • Third place: Arolytics
HETI, Rice Alliance, and TEX-E celebrated the winners at a private reception on Wednesday evening.
Capital Factory is calling for Houston startup pitch competition applications. Photo via Getty Images

Statewide investor and accelerator announces $50,000 Houston startup competition

apply now

It's game on for Houston startups looking to win some investment dollars. Texas-based Capital Factory has announced a pitch competition specifically for Houston founders.

Capital Factory is accepting applications now through April 26 for the competition that will take place on May 21 as a part of Houston Exponential's second annual Houston Tech Rodeo, which is is being held May 17 to 23 this year. The week-long collection of events will be held in a hybrid capacity with both in-person and online events.

Five Houston startup finalists will be selected to pitch for the $50,000 SAFE or Convertible Note investment prize, access to the Capital Factory Mentor network, entry into Capital Factory's portfolio, and more.

Any tech or consumer packaged goods startup is eligible to apply, according to a blog post from Capital Factory, and applications are available online.

Capital Factory was recently identified as the most active Houston startup investor, according to a recent report by the Greater Houston Partnership. Between 2017 and 2020, the organization invested in 29 deals at Houston-based companies.

In January of 2020, Capital Factory merged with Station Houston, effecting an increased presence in Houston. In an interview early last year, Capital Factory Founder and CEO Josh Baer says he has 40 Houston companies in the organization's portfolio and he had plans to double that by the end of 2020.

Ahead of the pitch competition and of Tech Rodeo, Houston Exponential is calling for event submissions to be a part of the week of programing. To submit an idea, click here to fill out the form by the March 31st deadline.

Check out this a video from last year's Tech Rodeo. Note: InnovationMap is a media partner for Tech Rodeo.

Houston Tech Rodeo 2020 - Official Videoyoutu.be

SXSW is back for 2021 — and applications are open for the startup pitch competition. Photo by Marie Ketring via sxsw.org

SXSW releases details on 2021 digital festival with special discount passes

see you next year

On March 6, just days before the 2020 SXSW festival was scheduled to begin, local officials issued an emergency order, effectively banning large-scale events in Austin as the novel coronavirus began spreading across the U.S. As a result, SXSW canceled its flagship 10-day festival for the first time ever.

In retrospect, the decision likely saved lives and helped curb the spread of COVID-19, but SXSW's corporate fallout was fast and brutal. Within days, SXSW laid off 30 percent of its Austin-based workforce, and many were left wondering if the festival would ever return.

Finally, a bright spot of news in a dark time: SXSW is back. Yes, it will look different than years past, but beginning Tuesday, November 10, registration is open for SXSW Online, taking place March 16-20, 2021.

"This year has been one like none of us have faced. At SXSW, the impact has been profound and has involved substantial changes in how we work, so it means a lot for us to have the chance to plan a 2021 digital event where we can share experiences and exchange ideas at this crucial time," says SXSW co-founder and CEO Roland Swenson in a release.

Since its founding in 1987, SXSW has grown from a little Texas music festival to an internationally renowned festival that attracts the brightest minds in technology, film, music, and comedy. The 2021 digital version will capture much of that spirit, with signature keynote addresses, conference sessions, music showcases, comedy sets, film screenings, and other "unexpected discoveries."

Badges are on sale beginning today, and are priced at $149 for a limited time. By March 2021, that rate will go up to $399. Student and group discounts are also available. Digital passes grant access to the following:

  • SXSW Keynotes and Featured Speakers
  • Mentor sessions and workshops
  • SXSW Film Festival screenings, events, and exclusive premieres
  • SXSW Music Festival showcases and events
  • SXSW Comedy Festival content
  • Online exhibitions
  • Networking opportunities
SXSW's startup pitch competition will return in 2021 too. Applications are open online — early bird applications for $29 will be accepted until November 24, and regularly priced submissions are accepted up to January 8 for $59.

A lineup isn't yet available — SXSW usually announces details in the two months leading up to the festival — but community voting on SXSW session proposals is currently underway through November 20. Peruse the more than 1,500 panels here, and vote for the ones you want to attend next year.

"It's a new day for America and for the world," Swenson adds. "We have the opportunity to face challenges that affect us all, and we're honored to bring you the conversations that will renew your hope in tomorrow."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Booming Houston suburb, other Texas towns among the fastest-growing U.S. cities in 2023

by the numbers

One Houston suburb experienced one of the most rapid growth spurts in the country last year: Fulshear, whose population grew by 25.6 percent, more than 51 times that of the nation’s growth rate of 0.5 percent. The city's population was 42,616 as of July 1, 2023.

According to U.S. Census Bureau's Vintage 2023 Population Estimates, released Thursday, May 16, Fulshear — which lies west of Katy in northwest Fort Bend County - ranked No. 2 on the list of fastest-growing cities with a population of 20,000 or more. It's no wonder iconic Houston restaurants like Molina's Cantina see opportunities there.

The South still dominates the nation's growth, even as America’s Northeast and Midwest cities are rebounding slightly from years of population drops. The census estimates showed 13 of the 15 fastest-growing cities in the U.S. were in the South — eight in Texas alone.

The Texas cities joining Fulshear on the fastest-growing-cities list are:

  • Celina (No. 1) with 26.6 percent growth (42,616 total population)
  • Princeton (No. 3) with 22.3 percent growth (28,027 total population)
  • Anna (No. 4) with 16.9 percent growth (27,501 total population)
  • Georgetown (No. 8) with 10.6 percent growth (96,312 total population)
  • Prosper (No. 9) with 10.5 percent growth (41,660 total population)
  • Forney (No. 10) with 10.4 percent growth (35,470 total population)
  • Kyle (No. 11) with 9 percent growth (62,548 total population)

Texas trends
San Antonio saw the biggest growth spurt in the United States last year, numbers-wise. The Alamo City added about 22,000 residents. San Antonio now has nearly 1.5 million people, making it the the seventh largest city in the U.S. and second largest in Texas.

Its population boom was followed by those of other Southern cities, including Fort Worth; Charlotte, North Carolina; Jacksonville, Florida; and Port St. Lucie, Florida.

Fast-growing Fort Worth (978,000) surpassed San Jose, California (970,000) to become the 12th most populous city in the country.

Meanwhile, population slowed in the Austin area. Jacksonville, Florida (986,000), outpaced Austin (980,000), pushing the Texas capital to 11th largest city in the U.S. (barely ahead of Fort Worth).

Population growth in Georgetown, outside Austin, slowed by more than one-fourth its population growth in 2022, the report says, from 14.4 percent to 10.6 percent. It's the same story in the Central Texas city of Kyle, whose population growth decreased by nearly 2 percent to 9 percent in 2023.

Most populated cities
New York City with nearly 8.3 million people remained the nation's largest city in population as of July 1, 2023. Los Angeles was second at close to 4 million residents, while Chicago was third at 2.7 million and Houston was fourth at 2.3 million residents.

The 15 populous U.S. cities in 2023 were:

  1. New York, New York (8.3 million)
  2. Los Angeles, California (4 million)
  3. Chicago, Illinois (2.7 million)
  4. Houston, Texas (2.3 million)
  5. Phoenix, Arizona (1.7 million)
  6. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1.6 million)
  7. San Antonio (1.5 million)
  8. San Diego, California (1.4 million)
  9. Dallas (1.3 million)
  10. Jacksonville, Florida (986,000)
  11. Austin (980,000)
  12. Fort Worth (978,000)
  13. San Jose (970,000)
  14. Columbus, Ohio (913,000)
  15. Charlotte, North Carolina (911,000)

Modest reversals of population declines were seen last year in large cities in the nation's Northeast and Midwest. Detroit, for example, which grew for the first time in decades, had seen an exodus of people since the 1950s. Yet the estimates released Thursday show the population of Michigan’s largest city rose by just 1,852 people from 631,366 in 2022 to 633,218 last year.

It's a milestone for Detroit, which had 1.8 million residents in the 1950s only to see its population dwindle and then plummet through suburban white flight, a 1967 race riot, the migration to the suburbs by many of the Black middle class and the national economic downturn that foreshadowed the city's 2013 bankruptcy filing.

Three of the largest cities in the U.S. that had been bleeding residents this decade staunched those departures somewhat. New York City, which has lost almost 550,000 residents this decade so far, saw a drop of only 77,000 residents last year, about three-fifths the numbers from the previous year.

Los Angeles lost only 1,800 people last year, following a decline in the 2020s of almost 78,000 residents. Chicago, which has lost almost 82,000 people this decade, only had a population drop of 8,200 residents last year.

And San Francisco, which has lost a greater share of residents this decade than any other big city — almost 7.5 percent — actually grew by more than 1,200 residents last year.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

How this Houston clean energy entrepreneur is navigating geothermal's hype to 100x business growth

houston innovators podcast Episode 237

Geothermal energy has been growing in recognition as a major player in the clean energy mix, and while many might think of it as a new climatetech solution, Tim Latimer, co-founder and CEO of Fervo Energy, knows better.

"Every overnight success is a decade in the making, and I think Fervo, fortunately — and geothermal as a whole — has become much more high profile recently as people realize that it can be a tremendous solution to the challenges that our energy sector and climate are facing," he says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

In fact, Latimer has been bullish on geothermal as a clean energy source since he quit his job as a drilling engineer in oil and gas to pursue a dual degree program — MBA and master's in earth sciences — at Stanford University. He had decided that, with the reluctance of incumbent energy companies to try new technologies, he was going to figure out how to start his own company. Through the Stanford program and Activate, a nonprofit hardtech program that funded two years of Fervo's research and development, Latimer did just that.

And the bet has more than paid off. Since officially launching in 2017, Fervo Energy has raised over $430 million — most recently collecting a $244 million series D round. Even more impressive to Latimer — his idea for drilling horizontal wells works. The company celebrated a successful pilot program last summer by achieving continuous carbon-free geothermal energy production with Project Red, a northern Nevada site made possible through a 2021 partnership with Google.

Next up for Fervo is growing and scaling at around a 100x pace. While Project Red included three wells, Project Cape, a Southwest Utah site, will include around 100 wells with significantly reduced drilling cost and an estimated 2026 delivery. Latimer says there are a dozen other projects like Project Cape that are in the works.

"It's a huge ramp up in our drilling, construction, and powerplant programs from our pilot project, but we've already had tremendous success there," Latimer says of Project Cape. "We think our technology has a really bright future."

While Latimer looks ahead to the rapid growth of Fervo Energy, he says it's all due to the foundation he put in place for the company, which has a culture built on the motto, "Build things that last."

“You’re not going to get somewhere that really changes the world by cutting corners and taking short steps. And, if you want to move the needle on something as complicated as the global energy system that has been built up over hundreds of years with trillions of dollars of capital invested in it – you’re not going to do it overnight," he says on the show. "We’re all in this for the long haul together."

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.