Prabhdeep Singh Sekhon, CEO of Gold H2, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of Gold H2

Using microbes to sustainably unlock low-cost hydrogen sounds like the work of science fiction, but one Houston company is doing just that.

Gold H2, a spin-off company from Cemvita, has bioengineered subsurface microbes to use in wells to consume carbon and generate clean hydrogen. The technology was piloted two years ago by Cemvita, and now, as its own company with a new CEO, it's safe to say Gold H2's on its way.

"First of all, that was groundbreaking," Prabhdeep Singh Sekhon, CEO of Gold H2, says of the 2022 pilot in the Permian Basin, "to be able to use bugs to produce hydrogen within a couple of days."

"2024 is supposed to be the year where Gold H2 takes off," Sekhon, who joined the company in April, tells the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It was one of those opportunities that I couldn't turn down. I had been following the company. I thought, 'here is this innovative tech that's on the verge of providing a ground-breaking solution to the energy transition — what better time to join the team.'"

Sekhon shares on the show how his previous roles at NextEra Energy Resources and Hess have prepared him for Gold H2. Specifically, as a leader on NextEra’s strategy and business development team, he says he was tasked with figuring out what the energy industry looks like in the next five, 10, and 20 years.

"Green hydrogen was a huge buzz, but one of the things I realized when I started looking at green hydrogen was that it's very expensive," Sekhon says. "I wanted to look at alternatives."

This journey led him to what Cemvita was doing with gold hydrogen, Sekhon says, explaining that the ability to use biotechnology to provide a new revenue stream from the mostly used up wells struck him as something with major potential.

"The idea of repurposing existing oil and gas assets to become hydrogen assets, leveraging current infrastructure to drive down overall deliver costs — to me I thought, 'wow, if they can make this works, that's brilliant,'" he says.

Now, as CEO, Sekhon gets to lead the company toward these goals, which include expanding internationally. He explains on the show that Gold H2 is interested in expanding to any part of the world where there's interest in implementing their biotech. In order to support the growth, Sekhon says they are looking to raise funding this year with plans for an additional round, if needed, in 2025.

"When we compare our tech to the rest of the stack, I think we blow the competition out of the water," Sekhon says, explaining that Gold H2's approach to gold hydrogen development is novel when you look at emerging technology in the space. "We're using a biological process — cheap bugs that eat oil for a living."

Dream Harvest picked up funding to open a 100,000-square-foot indoor farming facility in Houston. Photo courtesy of Dream Harvest

Houston sustainability-focused company raises $50 million to plant new indoor farming facility

seeing green

Houston-based Dream Harvest Farming Co., which specializes in sustainably growing produce, has landed a $50 million investment from Orion Energy Partners to open a 100,000-square-foot indoor farming facility in Houston. The facility will enable the company to dramatically ramp up its operations.

The new facility, which will be built in Southwest Houston, is scheduled for completion in January 2023. Dream Harvest’s existing 7,500-square-foot facility in Southwest Houston supplies 45 Whole Foods stores in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas, as well as Sweetgreen restaurants in Texas.

The company currently employs 25 people. With the addition of the 100,000-square-foot facility, Dream Harvest’s headcount will rise to 65.

Dream Harvest relies on wind-powered, year-round indoor vertical farming to generate 400 times the yield of an outdoor farm while using 95 percent less water and no pesticides.

“Because the vast majority of America’s produce is grown in California and has to be shipped over long distances, most of the country receives produce that is old, has a poor flavor profile, and a short shelf life — a major contributing factor to the more than 30 percent of fresh vegetables being discarded in the U.S. each year,” Dream Harvest says in a December 7 news release.

Zain Shauk, co-founder and CEO of Dream Harvest, says his company’s method for growing lettuce, baby greens, kale, mustards, herbs, collards, and cabbage helps cut down on food waste.

“Demand for our produce has far outpaced supply, an encouraging validation of our approach as well as positive news for our planet, which is facing the rising problem of food and resource waste,” Shauk says. “While we have the yields today to support our business, we are pleased to partner with Orion on this financing, which will enable us to greatly expand our production and increase access to our produce for many more consumers.”

Dream Harvest expects to expand distribution to more than 250 retail locations in 2022.

“Orion’s focus on sustainable infrastructure and deep experience in building large industrial facilities will be complementary to Dream Harvest’s impressive track record of being a reliable supplier to high-caliber customers by achieving consistent yields, food safety, and operational efficiencies … ,” says Nazar Massouh, co-managing partner and CEO of Orion Energy Partners, which has offices in Houston and New York City.

Other companies in the Orion Energy Partners portfolio include Houston-based Caliche Development Partners, Tomball-based Python Holdings, The Woodlands-based Evolution Well Services, Houston-based Produced Water Transfer, and Houston-based Tiger Rentals.

Zain Shauk is the co-founder and CEO of Dream Harvest. Photo courtesy of Dream Harvest

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10+ can't-miss Houston business and innovation events for June

WHERE TO BE

From networking meetups to expert speaker summits, June is filled with opportunities for Houston innovators.

Here's a roundup of events you won't want to miss out on so mark your calendars and register accordingly.

Note: This post may be updated to add more events.


June 6 — Ion Block Party and Chef Showcase

On the first Thursday of each month, Block Party brings together startups, tech enthusiasts, and business visionaries in a dynamic and festive environment.

June’s special edition of Block Party will be a Chef Showcase! The District’s robust food and drink offerings showcase hyper-local concepts that reflect Houston’s reputation for having a culturally diverse restaurant industry.

This event is Thursday, June 6, from 4 to 7 pm at the Ion. Click here to register.

June 6 — Houston Blockchain Alliance Monthly Meetup

This in-person event is a great opportunity to connect with fellow blockchain enthusiasts in the Houston area. Whether you're a beginner or an expert, come and engage in lively discussions, share insights, and network with like-minded individuals. Discover the latest trends and advancements in blockchain technology while enjoying a friendly and casual atmosphere.

June's guest speaker, Alex Guerra of SYS Labs, will talk about DeFi today v. DeFi tomorrow. Alex is a business developer at SYS Labs and co-founder of Pachira Finance.

This event is Thursday, June 6, from 5:30 to 7:30 pm at The Cannon. Click here to register.

June 8 — Celebration of Entrepreneurship

Head to IAG Technology for an exciting evening dedicated to all things entrepreneurship. Whether you're a seasoned business owner or just starting out, this event has networking, learning, and celebrating the entrepreneurial spirit.

Come celebrate entrepreneurship and the launch of Earn On Purpose, a business mentoring and coaching company. At Earn on Purpose, entrepreneurship is simplified through solid fundamentals and practical strategies for success.

This event is Saturday, June 8, from 5 to 10 pm at IAG Technology. Click here to register.

June 10 — 2024 Energy Drone & Robotics Summit

Connect with 1500+ global energy & industrial robotics, drone & data leaders at a time of rapid growth in the robotics sector. Hear from expert speakers on the latest ideas, use cases, best practices, tech, and trends as innovators, regulators, the most energy asset owners & service firms and more break these topics down.

This event begins Monday, June 10, from 4 to 6:30 pm at The Woodlands Waterway Marriott. Click here to register.

June 11 — Software Day at the Ion: From Seed to Success

Software Day at the Ion is a program series hosted by the Ion and Mercury, where software founders can connect with mentorship at Houston’s HQ for innovation.

This monthly series provides support, inspiration, and connections needed to help startups on their path to rapid, sustainable growth. Each month, Software Day will include office hours (by application), a keynote session, and networking.

This event is Tuesday, June 11, from 3:30 to 7 pm at the Ion. Click here to register.

June 13 — 2024 Speaker Series: Dynamic Innovations in Energy Efficiency

Co-hosted by the TEPRI, in partnership with the Bullard Center for Environmental and Climate Justice, this event will spotlight just and effective strategies to boost energy efficiency, ensuring equitable access to sustainable energy solutions for all Texans. Keynote addresses by Dr. Robert D. Bullard, renowned environmental justice advocate and recipient of the 2024 Time Magazine Earth Award, and Donnel Baird, founder of BlocPower and inaugural recipient of TIME’s 2022 “Dreamer of the Year.”

The event is Thursday, June 13, from 2 to 4 pm at Melcher Hall. Click here to register.

June 13 — Out In Tech Monthly Mixer

Out in Tech Houston is the local chapter for Out in Tech, the world’s largest non-profit community of LGBTQ+ tech leaders. Check out their relaxed social-mixer event, hosted on the second Thursday of every month.

This event is Thursday, June 13, from 7 to 8:30 pm at Second Draught. Click here to register.

June 18 — Juneteenth Journey: Bridging Past and Present Through Technology

This special presentation will offer insights into the historical significance of Juneteenth, and illuminate the evolution of technology from the 1860s through World War II to modern Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the technology of today. Experts from the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum and Emancipation Park Conservancy will illustrate how technology has evolved as well as the parallels between the innovative spirit of the Buffalo Soldiers and today’s technological advancements, emphasizing the role of diversity and inclusion in driving innovation.

This event is Tuesday, June 18, from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm a the Ion. Click here to register.

June 20 — Visionary Voices: Leading Authentically with Woodside CEO Meg O’Neill

Celebrate Pride Month with a special edition of Ion’s “Visionary Voices” speaker series, featuring a powerful conversation between two leaders who’ve paved the way for LGBTQ+ representation in their respective fields – Woodside Energy CEO Meg O’Neill and former Houston Mayor Annise Parker. Attendees will gain insights into the unique experiences and milestones that have shaped both Meg and Annise’s careers, as well as the importance of visibility and representation in corporate leadership and public service.

This event is Thursday, June 20, from 3:30 to 6 pm at the Ion. Click here to register.

June 25 — State of AI: Generating Real Business Value with AI

This comprehensive one-day free event organized by the Houston-based CODE Group is designed to equip decision-makers, C-level executives, and software developers with strategies to harness AI effectively. The event kicks off with a keynote from Markus Egger, Microsoft Regional Director, on “Harnessing AI for Tangible Business Outcomes,” setting the stage by demonstrating how AI can integrate seamlessly into business applications to enhance productivity and innovation.

This event is Tuesday, June 25, from 9 am to 5 pm at the Ion. Click here to register.

June 28 — Young Professional Climate & Career Mixer

Climate Connect is a community resilience education and engagement program launching in Houston, Texas and powered by the Coalition of Community Organizations and Verizon. This meetup is for those interested in networking, learning, and exploring career opportunities in the field of climate change. The event will take place at 6500 Rookin Street, Houston, TX 77074 (Building E), where you can connect with like-minded individuals, meet industry professionals, and discover new, green career paths.

This event is Friday, June 28, from 5:30 to 7 pm at 6500 Rookin St. Click here to register.

Houston innovator raises pre-seed funding for health care staffing platform

just closed

A Houston health care innovator is celebrating an oversubscribed round of pre-seed funding to improve on her startup's unique staffing platform.

Ayoade Joy Ademuyewo founded Lokum last year to create a solution to better connecting medical specialists with health care facilities nationwide. The new platform, which cuts out the middleman and lowers staffing costs, raised $700,000 in pre-seed funding that will go toward further development of the technology.

"Healthcare organizations spend $26 billion annually to support a crippling dependence on third-party agencies for connecting with clinical staff," Ademuyewo says in a news release. "Technological solutions that are pointed precisely to streamline and strengthen the relationships between highly specialized clinicians and their future employers are vital to alleviating this detrimental dependance, and central to our mission.

"I'm incredibly proud to have earned the trust of my colleagues, investors, team, and mentors in solving this complex problem."

Ademuyewo raised the round with support from local investors, including Aileen Allen, an adviser and investor associated with the Houston Angel Network, Mercury, and The Artemis Fund; and Matt Miller, former Liongard product executive, as well as from Houston-based VC firm South Loop Ventures. Techstars and JP Morgan also contributed to the round.

"Lokum has found a way to disrupt an organically inefficient and expensive market with an elegant solution that doesn't just save hospitals time and money, but also increases the pool of specialty providers in a market that is consistently strapped for such expertise," Jerry Varnado, venture partner at South Loop Ventures, adds. "This is what disruption in healthcare looks like — scalable commercial solutions that contribute towards better patient care, and we're happy to be part of Lokum's journey."

Ademuyewo has the idea to start Lokum after her experience as an independent contract nurse anesthetist amid the height of the pandemic as she witnessed third-party recruitment agencies take advantage of medical professionals like herself.

Now, the platform's early pilot, which focuses on clinicians in anesthesiology, has served clients across nearly 200 hospitals and surgery centers in 20 states. Ademuyewo also participated in 2024’s cohort for the Google for Startups Accelerator Program-North America, where she spent 10 weeks developing and building her company and platform.

How to best implement company volunteer programs, according to this Houston expert

guest column

Businesses continue to find new and innovative ways to promote volunteerism in alignment with efforts around corporate social responsibility. While larger corporations may have the resources to implement extensive volunteer programs, smaller corporations seek resourceful and cost-effective ways to give back to the community.

In addition to giving back to the communities' businesses serve, volunteerism is a great opportunity to support organizations that align with a company’s goals and further support or positively impact their industry. Similarly, prioritizing opportunities that are relevant to employee’s passions and interests can help boost participation from the organization.

Expanding one’s social responsibility doesn’t have to break the bank. Smaller companies trying to make an impact should start by establishing initiatives that lay the foundation for a successful volunteer program. To further build out a volunteer program, leaders should look to their employees to define what organizations or causes they are passionate about. In addition to surveying employees, identifying social concerns and personal cases such as a family member who is battling an illness within the organization, is another opportunity to build upon altruistic efforts.

While the demands of managing a philanthropic project may be a lot for one person to carry, establishing an internal council or team to help coordinate volunteer opportunities can help streamline efforts. Beyond a hands-on approach to volunteerism, companies can help multiply efforts by providing paid volunteer hours, matching gift programs and designating community service days.

Paid bolunteer hours

One cost-effective way for companies to give back through volunteerism is investing in paid volunteer hours for employees. Paid volunteer hours allow employees to commit a set number of hours each month or quarter to take paid time out of their workday to volunteer. Establishing a couple of hours of paid volunteer time can reap positive benefits for companies, their employees and the non-profit organizations they serve.

For many non-profits and charities, donating time to volunteer can be just as valuable as donating funds. Establishing a system where the team identifies a new volunteer opportunity every quarter can motivate employees to give back and continuously contribute to the volunteer program. In addition, providing paid volunteer hours is often seen as an employee perk and can be a great way to attract and retain top talent. Finally, coordinating volunteer opportunities does not have to be a burden, companies should lean on volunteer coordinators from organizations they are interested in partnering with to set up shifts and learn about how they can continue to give back.

Matching gift programs

In parallel to donating time, donating funds is another effective way to support non-profits and charities. Companies who are looking to make a bigger impact through financial support can organize matching gift programs. Matching gift programs are a philanthropic approach where companies financially match donations their employees make to non-profit organizations.

Deciding how much money to set aside annually for social investment is the first step to budgeting appropriately for matching gift programs. After setting aside a budget, determine what portion of funds will be allocated for monetary versus goods and services such as meals, gifts, etc. Following prioritization of the budget and how funds will be allocated, determine how much money the company is able to match employees. Most importantly, establishing ground rules for gift matching ensures the company supports its employees' philanthropic efforts while aligning with its own realistic expectations. Matching gift programs are considered a great opportunity to make a positive impact and help employees maximize their donations.

Community service days

Donating time and or money on a consistent basis may not be an ideal option for every company, especially those who are beginning their corporate volunteer efforts from the ground up. Community service days are a practical alternative to paid volunteer time and matching gift programs.

Community service days offer more flexibility as they can be sporadic and align with times when an organization is most available. Community service days are established days to choose projects or offer services free of charge which in return give back to the community. These services could include planting trees at a local park, working with the local animal shelter, hosting blood drives or delivering food to homebound residents. Companies should look for opportunities to support the community especially in times of crisis or natural disasters. Identifying how a business can support a community in need after major events like hurricanes, floods and other catastrophes can have a huge impact on a business’s corporate social responsibility.

Ultimately, volunteer programs provide a platform for employees to make a positive impact in the community. The effects of volunteer efforts through financial or in-kind donations expand beyond employee engagement. These opportunities further build relationships within the communities they serve and position participating businesses as a supportive partner.

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Jill Chapman is a director of early talent programs with Insperity, a leading provider of human resources and business performance solutions.