Fervo Energy and Syzygy Plasmonics were recognized for their energy innovation. Photo via Getty Images

A pair of Houston energy startups have been named among the 10 most innovative energy companies for 2024.

Fast Company magazine just placed Fervo Energy and Syzygy Plasmonics on its energy innovation list. In all, 606 companies and organizations across a variety of industries were recognized for “reshaping industries and culture.”

Fervo produces carbon-free geothermal energy. Its existing geothermal project is in Nevada, and it’s building a geothermal project in Utah. The company recently raised $244 million.

“Solar and wind are cheap, but they don’t provide the kind of always-on dispatchable electricity that hydropower, hydrogen, and nuclear do; even at current high prices, enhanced geothermal is still cheaper than those other sources,” Fast Company notes.

The Fast Company accolade comes shortly after Time and Statista named Fervo one of the top greentech companies for 2024.

By relying on light rather than combustion to generate chemical reactions, Syzygy is taking on the use of fossil fuels in the chemical industry, Fast Company points out. Fossil fuels account for about 18 percent of the world’s industrial CO2 emissions.

Fast Company outlines some of Syzygy’s accomplishments in 2023:

  • Gained an undisclosed amount of funding from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
  • Completed its Pearland manufacturing facility.
  • Wrapped up 1,000 cumulative hours of testing on its ammonia-splitting reactor cell, capable of producing 200 kilograms of hydrogen per day.
Houston House at SXSW 2024 featured conversations about startup scaling, tips from CEOs, and more. Photo via Allie Danziger/LinkedIn

Overheard: Innovators sound off on future of work, converging industries at Houston House at SXSW 2024

Eavesdropping in Austin

Houston innovators talked big topics at SXSW 2024 — from the startup scaling and converging industries to the future of work.

Houston House, which was put on by the Greater Houston Partnership on March 11, hosted four panels full of experts from Houston. If you missed the day-long activation, here are some highlights from the experts who each commented on the future of the Bayou City when it comes to startups, technology, innovation, and the next generation's workforce.

"When we think about Houston, we think about access to at-scale infrastructure, amenities, and workforce and talent pools."

— Remington Tonar, co-founder and chief growth officer at Cart.com, says about why the company chose to return its headquarters back to Houston last year. One of these amenities, Tonar explained, is Houston's global airports.

"If New York and Austin had a baby, it would be Houston, because you have friendly people with a big-city culture."

— Mitra Miller, vice president and board member of Houston Angel Network, says, adding that Houston has a cost efficiency to it, which should be at the forefront of founders' minds when considering where to locate.

"We are not only attracting global talents, we are also attracting global wealth and foreign investments because we are the rising city of the future. We are the global launch pad where you can scale internationally very quickly."

— Sunny Zhang, founder of TrueLeap, says adding how there's a redistribution of global workforce happening when you consider ongoing global affairs.

"We overwhelmingly as a company, and my co-founder would agree, knew we had to go the Houston path. And we started funneling a lot more resources here."

— Carolyn Rodz, co-founder and CEO of Hello Alice, says, explaining that the pandemic helped equalize the talent across the country, and this has been to the benefit of cities like Houston.

"Houston is here with arms open, welcoming people and actively recruiting."

— Sean Kelly, co-founder and CEO of Amperon, says, emphasizing how Texas has made moves to being business friendly. Amperon was founded in New York, before moving to Houston a couple years ago.

"There is a revolution starting to happen in Houston right now."

— Trevor Best, co-founder and CEO of Syzygy Plasmonics, says, first commenting on the momentum from Rice University, where his company's technology originates from. But, as he adds, when you compare the ecosystem when the startup was founded in 2019 to where it's at now, "there is so much more happening."

"Houston has a critical mass in terms of aerospace."

— Stephanie Munez Murphy of Aegus Aerospace says, saying specifically that NASA's Johnson Space Center holds some responsibility for that. "JSC is the home of opening up space commercialization."

"There's diversity in industries people are coming from, but also in terms of experience and expertise that (Houstonians) have."

— Robyn Cardwell of Omniscience says, adding that Houston's diversity goes further than just where people originate from. "Houston has all these pieces put together ... for growing and scaling organizations," she adds.

"I've worked with thousands of students in Houston who are actively looking to better themselves and grow their career post college or post high school and go into the workforce."

— Allie Danziger of Ascent Funding says, adding that Gen Z, which is already entering the workforce, is entrepreneurial and ready to change the world. "Seeing the energy of Houstonians is just thrilling," she adds.

"We're working together in the Houston community. ... There are so many opportunities to collaborate but we need conveners." 

— Stacy Putman of INEOS says, adding that within industry there has been a lack of discussion and collaboration because of competition. But, as she's observing, that's changing thanks to conveners at colleges or at the Greater Houston Partnership.

"The opportunity for Houston is that everybody has to step up to be in some way, shape, or form helping us with this."

— Raj Salhotra of Momentum Education says about supporting the future workforce of Houston, including low-income household students.

Syzygy has completed more than 1,500 hours of testing of the cell to generate hydrogen from ammonia. Photo via Syzygy

Houston company opens orders for groundbreaking tech following successful testing

industrial tech

Houston-based Syzygy Plasmonics is charging ahead with the world’s first light-powered reactor cell for industrial chemical reactions.

Syzygy says its Rigel reactor cell has met initial performance targets and is now available to order. The cell enables a customer to produce up to five tons of low-carbon hydrogen per day.

Syzygy has completed more than 1,500 hours of testing of the cell to generate hydrogen from ammonia. Testing of the ammonia e-cracking cell began in late 2023 and is still taking place.

The company hopes to capitalize on market demand in places like Asia and Europe. Syzygy says importers of liquified natural gas (LNG) in these places are being required to seek low-carbon alternatives, such as low-carbon ammonia. Some of this ammonia will be cracked to produce hydrogen for sectors like power generation and steel production.

Syzygy’s technology harnesses energy from high-efficiency artificial lighting to e-crack ammonia, eliminating the need for combustion. When powered by renewable electricity, Rigel cell stacks can deliver hydrogen from low-carbon ammonia.

“The testing at our Houston facility is going exceptionally well,” Syzygy CEO Trevor Best says in a news release.

The company is now ready to deliver projects capable of producing five tons of hydrogen per day. By 2025, Best says, 10-ton installations should come online. A year later, Syzygy expects to graduate to 100-ton projects.

Last year, Syzygy received a major boost when Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America invested in the company. The amount of the investment wasn’t disclosed.

In 2022, Syzygy raised $76 million in series C funding in a round led by Carbon Direct Capital.

The 2023 Houston Innovation Awards celebrated Houston's tech and entrepreneurship community. Photo by Emily Jaschke/InnovationMap

Photos: Houston innovation ecosystem celebrates wins at annual event

Houston Innovation Awards

That's a wrap on the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards — and boy did the event deliver on networking, award wins, and plenty of celebrating Houston's tech and entrepreneurship community.

With a crowd of around 600 attendees, the Houston Innovation Awards, which took place on November 8 at Silver Street Studios in partnership with Houston Exponential, celebrated over 50 finalists and a dozen winners across categories. Click here to see who won an award.

Learn more about this year's honorees in InnovationMap's the editorial series:

See below for photos from the event.

The 2023 Houston Innovation Awards took place on Nov. 8.

Photo by Emily Jaschke/InnovationMap

The 2023 Houston Innovation Awards revealed its big winners across 13 categories. Photos courtesy

Houston Innovation Awards winners revealed at 2023 event

drum roll, please...

Who are the top innovators and startups in Houston? We just found out for you.

The Houston Innovation Awards honored over 50 finalists categories, naming the 12 winners at the event. The 2023 Trailblazer Award recipient, Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, was also honored at the event by inaugural winner, Barbara Burger.

The 2023 judges — who represent various industries and verticals in Houston — scored over 200 submissions. The event, hosted November 8 in partnership with Houston Exponential and emceed by Scott Gale, executive director of Halliburton Labs, revealed the winners.

The event's sponsors included Halliburton Labs, Microsoft, The Ion, Houston Community College, Houston Energy Transition Initiative, NOV, Tito's Handmade Vodka, Uncle Nearest Premium Whisky, 8th Wonder Brewery, and 8th Wonder Cannabis.

Without further adieu, here the winners from the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards.

BIPOC-Owned Business: Milkify

The winner of the BIPOC-Owned Business category, honoring an innovative company founded or co-founded by BIPOC representation, is Milkify, a service that turns breast milk into a shelf-stable powder.

Female-Owned Business: The Postage

The winner of the Female-Owned Business category, honoring an innovative company founded or co-founded by a woman, is The Postage, a comprehensive life planning and succession software platform for families and small businesses.

Hardtech Business: Syzygy Plasmonics

The winner of the Hardtech Business category, honoring an innovative company developing and commercializing a physical technology, is Syzygy Plasmonics, a deep decarbonization company that builds chemical reactors designed to use light instead of combustion to produce valuable chemicals like hydrogen and sustainable fuels.

Digital Solutions Business: RepeatMD

The winner of the Digital Solutions Business category, honoring an innovative company developing and programming a digital solution to a problem in an industry, is RepeatMD, software platform for customer loyalty, eCommerce, and fintech solutions to enhance the patient experience and provide a new source of revenue for the aesthetics and wellness space.

Social Impact Business: ALLY Energy

The winner of the Social Impact Business category, honoring an innovative company providing a solution that would enhance humanity or society in a significant way, is ALLY Energy, helping energy companies and climate startups find, develop, and retain great talent.

Sustainability Business: Fervo Energy

The winner of the Sustainability Business category, honoring an innovative company providing a solution within renewables, climatetech, clean energy, alternative materials, circular economy, and beyond, is Fervo Energy, leveraging proven oil and gas drilling technology to deliver 24/7 carbon-free geothermal energy.

Life Science Business: CellChorus

The winner of the Life Science Business category, honoring an innovative company within the health and medical industries designing a treatment or technology, is CellChorus, using AI to evaluate immune cell function and performance to improve the development and delivery of therapeutics.

Corporate of the Year: Houston Methodist

The winner of the Corporate of the Year category, honoring a corporation that supports startups and/or the Houston innovation community, Houston Methodist, a hospital system and health care innovation leader.

DEI Champion: Calicia Johnson

The winner of the DEI Champion, honoring an individual who is leading impactful diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and progress within Houston and their organization, is Calicia Johnson, chair of Blacks at Microsoft Houston.

Ecosystem Builder: Joey Sanchez

The winner of the Ecosystem Builder category, honoring an individual who has acted as a leader in developing Houston’s startup ecosystem, is Joey Sanchez, founder of Cup of Joey and senior director of ecosystems at the Ion.

Mentor of the Year: Wade Pinder

The winner of the Mentor of the Year category, honoring an individual who dedicates their time and expertise to guide and support to budding entrepreneurs, is Wade Pinder, founder of Product Houston.

People's Choice: 

The winner of the People's Choice: Startup of the Year category, selected via an interactive voting portal during the event, is Blue People, helping bring ideas to life through software development expertise.

Want to work for one of the top startups in Houston? Some of the best in Houston are hiring. Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

Looking for a job? These 2023 Houston Innovation Awards finalists are hiring

calling all applicants

More than half of this year's startup finalists in the Houston Innovation Awards are hiring — who's looking for a job at one of the best startups in Houston?

When submitting their applications for the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards, which is taking place November 8 at Silver Street Studios, every startup was asked if it's hiring. Twenty-seven of the 35 startup honorees said yes, ranging from over 20 to just one positions open at each company.

Click here to secure your tickets to see which of these growing startups win.

Here's a look at which of the top startups in Houston are seeking new team members.

Double-digit growth

When it comes to the awards finalists looking to scale their team by 10 or more new hires, five finalists are growing rapidly.

Medical practice software platform RepeatMD, fresh off a $40 million raise — which included participation from Houston-based Mercury — is reportedly growing its team. The company, which has 115 employees already, is looking for over 20 new hires.

Female-owned business Feelit Technologies, which is using nanotechnology for preventive maintenance to eliminate leaks, fires and explosions, increase safety and reduce downtime, has 50 employees, and only three of which are in Houston – for now. The company hopes to grow its team by 12 to 15 employees in Houston alone.

Square Robot, an energy industry-focused robotics company that recently grew its presence in Houston, is hiring 10 to 30 new team members. It has 24 employees already in Houston.

Solugen, an alternative chemicals business, has around 140 of its 200 employees in Houston. The company, which has raised over $600 million to date, is hiring an additional 10 to 15 new hires.

Additionally, Blue People, also a finalist in last year's awards, is hiring 25 new employees. The company was founded in 2015 in Mexico and relocated its primary operations to Houston in 2020. Blue People, which develops software innovation for its clients, has over 150 employees — 10 of whom, including C-level executives, are based in Houston. Some of the company's new hires will be based in town.

Steady growth

Four Houston startups are hiring within the six to 10 team member range — all with fairly significant employee counts already.

A finalist in last year's awards too, Venus Aerospace, a hypersonics company on track to fly reusable hypersonic flight platforms by 2024, is again growing its team. With 48 on-site employees and 23 working remotely, Venus's team will add another five to 10 employees.

Syzygy Plasmonics, a deep decarbonization company that builds chemical reactors designed to use light instead of combustion to produce valuable chemicals like hydrogen and sustainable fuels, has 112 employees in Houston and plans to hire another eight to its team.

Lastly, Fervo Energy, which recently raised $10 million, has 63 full-time employees (34 in Houston, 29 outside of Houston) and looking to hire seven more.

Seeking selectively

The following awards finalists are looking to grow their teams by just a handful or so — between one and five — of new hires:

  • ALLY Energy, helping energy companies and climate startups find, develop, and retain great talent.
  • CaseCTRL, an AI-powered surgery scheduling and coordination software for optimized procedures.
  • CellChorus, using AI to evaluate immune cell function and performance to improve the development and delivery of therapeutics.
  • FluxWorks, making frictionless gearboxes for missions in any environment.
  • Helix Earth Technologies, decarbonizing the built environment and heavy industry.
  • Hope Biosciences, a clinical stage biotechnology company focused on the development and delivery of adult stem cell based therapeutics.
  • Innovapptive, empowering the deskless workers in operations, maintenance and warehouses by unlocking the power of SAP through mobility.
  • INOVUES, re-energizing building facades through its non-invasive window retrofit innovations, making building smarter, greener, and healthier for a better and sustainable future.
  • Koda Health, , a tech-enabled care coordination service to improve serious illness care planning and drive savings for value-based care at scale.
  • Molecule, an energy/commodity trading risk management software that provides users with an efficient, reliable, responsive platform for managing trade risk.
  • Rhythm Energy, 100 percent renewable electricity service for residential customers in Texas.
  • Starling Medical, bringing the future of a proactive and predictive home-based healthcare system to patients today through passive AI powered at home urine screening.
  • Taurus Vascular, pioneering a new era of aortic aneurysm treatment by developing minimally invasive catheter solutions to drive better long-term patient outcomes.
  • Tierra Climate, decarbonizing the power grid faster by helping grid-scale batteries monetize their environmental benefits and change their operational behavior to abate more carbon.
  • UpBrainery Technologies, an innovative educational technology company that provides personalized and adaptive learning experiences to learners
  • Utility Global, a technology company converting a range of waste gases into sustainable hydrogen and syngas.
  • Voyager Portal, helping commodity shippers identify root causes of demurrage, reduce risk and streamline the entire fixture process.

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Texas' Whole Foods Market chain introduces new innovative concept for urban areas

smart shopping

Texas-based Whole Foods Market is unrolling a new kind of store for urban neighborhoods that'll be smaller and quicker than its current mega-model.

Called Whole Food Market Daily Shop, it'll be designed as a quick, convenient shopping experience, targeted to urban neighborhoods. According to a release, the new format will debut in Manhattan's Upper East Side at 1175 Third Ave. in 2024, with additional locations in New York to follow.

Following the New York city launch, the chain will bring the format to other cities across the U.S.

The stores will range from 7,000-14,000 square feet — about a quarter to half the size of the average 40,000-square-foot Whole Foods Market — making it easier to open in dense, metropolitan areas.

Whole Foods Market Daily Shop will feature grab-and-go meals and snacks, weekly essentials, and a quick, easy destination to pick up ingredients to complete a meal.

Though smaller, the stores will still offer produce, meat, and seafood; prepared foods like sandwiches and pre-packed meals; bread, alcohol, and supplements; plus products under the 365 by Whole Foods Market private label.

The first location only will also feature a venue called Juice & Java, with coffee, tea, juices, smoothies, sandwiches, soups, and desserts.

Whole Foods VP Christina Minardi says in a statement that the store's design reflects the unique needs of urban neighborhoods.

“At our new store formats, we’re tailoring every square foot to the unique, fast-paced needs of urban lifestyles," Minardi says. "We’re excited to introduce a new way for our customers to quickly pick up their Whole Foods Market favorites — from grab-and-go meals to that last-minute dinner ingredient — making the early morning or after work grocery trips more efficient and enjoyable."

This is not WFM's first effort to expand beyond the traditional supermarket footprint. In 2016, the chain introduced 365 by Whole Foods Market, a lower-price concept designed to appeal to younger shoppers. It went on to open nine locations, but scrapped the concept in 2019, following its acquisition in 2017 by Amazon.

The new format stores will not replace traditional or existing store locations. New York currently has 17 regular stores, including the most recent added at One Wall Street in 2023. The chain, which was founded in Austin in 1980, currently has more than 530 stores in the U.S., U.K., and Canada with another 75-plus stores in the pipeline, and is part of Amazon’s Worldwide Grocery Stores.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston clean tech startup pitch competition names winners at annual CERAWeek event

pitch perfect

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.