3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's Who

From oil and gas deals to finance-focused initiatives, this week's innovators are ones to watch. Courtesy photos

As Houstonians head back to work or school following a fun summer break, we know two things for sure.

The first is that traffic will get back to its headache inducing craziness and that Houston startup news will only get more frequent. This week's innovators to know include oil and gas entrepreneurs with big deals on the line plus a finance-savvy woman who wants to encourage others to take control of their personal finance.

Tara Karimi, co-founder and chief scientist at Cemvita Factory

Cemvita Factory

Courtesy of Cemvita Factory

A brother-sister team has taken a huge step forward with their biotech startup, Cemvita Factory. Moji Karimi, who has a background in the oil and gas industry, and his sister, Tara, who has a background in biotech, teamed up a few years ago to create a technology that can mimic photosynthesis, turning carbon dioxide into glucose. It was Tara who figured out the technique and then the two worked backward to identify the industries — oil and gas and space — to work within.

Now, Cemvita is celebrating an investment from an Occidental Petroleum subsidiary — Oxy Low Carbon Ventures LLC.

"We have an ambitious goal to take one gigaton of CO2 out of the carbon cycle in the next decade and are very excited about being a part of Occidental's journey to become a carbon-neutral company," says Tara, co-founder and chief scientist, in a release.

Read more about Cemvita Factory here.

Travis Parigi, founder and CEO of LiquidFrameworks

Courtesy of LiquidFrameworks

Travis Parigi has built his software company from the ground up. Now, for the first time, he's thinking strategically about growth, thanks to a new financial partner.

Parigi's company, LiquidFrameworks, is an enterprise software company with applications in the upstream and downstream services industry. While the software focuses on automation and AI applications, Parigi tells InnovationMap that he has his eyes on emerging technology all the time. I keep a keen watch on a lot of the different technologies that are emerging out there.

"Blockchain is certainly one of them that we're looking at," Parigi says. "I think there's some interesting things that we might be able to do with that as it relates to price book management, which is complex and varied. It could be that blockchain could end up providing a nice mechanism for both parties to independently have pricing data verified."

Read more about Parigi and LiquidFrameworks here.

Eryn Schultz, co-founder of pHERsonal Finance Day

Courtesy of pHERsonal Finance Day.

Eryn Schultz wanted to encourage women to take control of their finances. So she created her own holiday for it called pHERsonal Finance Day. She hosted Houston panels and talks on the day — Friday, August 23 — and motivated women everywhere to take a moment and make a smart financial plan.

"In a world of women's marches and the 'Future is Female' t-shirts, women should be stepping up to shape their financial futures," Schultz writes in a guest column for InnovationMap. "For that reason, women should take a financial health day."

Schultz had a great turnout and reception for the Houston event, and she's already planning for next year.

Read more about pHERsonal Finance Day here.

Cemvita Factory has made a deal with Houston-based Oxy subsidiary. Courtesy of Cemvita Factory

Oxy backs Houston startup's carbon dioxide-transforming technology

Cha-ching

A Houston startup's carbon dioxide conversion technology has impressed Occidental Petroleum's low carbon subsidiary.

Oxy Low Carbon Ventures LLC has invested an undisclosed amount of funds into Cemvita Factory, the companies announced on August 15.

"One of OLCV's strategic priorities is to develop and commercialize CO2 utilization technologies that complement Occidental's core businesses and product lines, with the goal of helping Occidental find value in new markets and attain its aspiration of becoming carbon neutral," says Richard Jackson, OLCV president, in a news release. "Cemvita Factory's CO2 utilization platform has the potential to harness the power of nature and create new, sustainable pathways for the bio-manufacturing of our products."

Cemvita was founded by two siblings — Moji Karimi, who has a background in the oil and gas industry, and his sister, Tara, who has a background in biotech. Cemvita's biotechnology can replicate photosynthesis — absorbing CO2 and transforming it into glucose or other substances.

While the amount invested in Cemvita isn't disclosed, Moji previously told InnovationMap that he could run a custom pilot program for an energy company for less than $100,000.

"With the investment received from Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, we plan to demonstrate that our technology can economically scale from test tube to the field," Moji, who is the company's CEO, says in the release.

According to the release, Cemvita has a network of clients it is working with to reduce the industry's carbon footprint.

"We have an ambitious goal to take one gigaton of CO2 out of the carbon cycle in the next decade and are very excited about being a part of Occidental's journey to become a carbon-neutral company," says Tara, co-founder and chief scientist, in the release.

The Karimi siblings have created a way to synthetically convert CO2 into glucose, and they are targeting the energy and aerospace industries for their technology. Courtesy of Cemvita Factory

Houston company is solving the energy and space industries' carbon dioxide problems with synthetic photosynthesis

See ya, CO2

Houston-based Cemvita Factory is unlike most startups. Before even knowing what industry they were going to affect, Moji Karimi and his sister, Tara, established their company, which uses synthetic photosynthesis — the process of turning carbon dioxide into glucose for plants.

"In some ways, this company started with the solution, rather than the problem," Moji Karimi, co-founder of Cemvita, says. "Then we said, 'if we could replicate photosynthesis, what problems can we solve?'"

Once the technology was set in place, Karimi, who has a background in oil and gas drilling, says he identified the energy industry in need of something like this. He says he saw an increased pressure on large energy companies to adapt sustainable ways to get rid of the CO2 that is produced as a result of drilling.

More and more companies are investing in a process called carbon dioxide capturing — but it's expensive and not yet cost efficient for energy companies to commit to. But that's changing. Karimi says the process that once cost $600 per ton of CO2 now can be found as cheap as $30.

With his sister's technology, Karimi says they can take that captured carbon dioxide and turn it into other chemicals too. Each oil and gas company client can specify what they want to turn it into and, for less than $100,000, Cemvita will run a pilot program for them. Cemvita sells the exclusive rights to the technology, but still maintains its IP.

"We go to these companies and say, 'What do you want to convert CO2 into?,'" Karimi says. "Then, we do a quick pilot in six months in our lab, and we show them the metrics. They decide if they want to scale it up."

What seemed like another obvious industry for this process was aerospace. Many companies involved in aerospace exploration have Mars on the mind, and the planet's atmosphere is over 95 percent carbon dioxide. Plus, Cemvita can provide a more sustainable way to dispose of CO2 onboard spacecrafts. The current practice is essentially just discarding it by filtering it off the spaceship.

Putting a system in place
Cemvita was founded in August of 2017 and used 2018 to really establish itself. The company took second place at Dubai's Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre Innovation Challenge and completed the accelerator program at Capital Factory.

Realizing the process is new and without the backing of an educational institution, Karimi says he and his sister needed a way to answer any questions and concerns, so Tara wrote a book. "Molecular Mechanisms of Autonomy in Biological Systems" is published by Springer.

Karimi also lead a talk at Tudor Pickering Holt's Energy Disruptor conference. His discussion, "From Mars to Midland," garnered a lot of interest from energy professionals.

The future is now
Karimi says 2019 is all about execution. He never thought he and his sister would overlap their industries, but now there's more of a need of interdisciplinary collaboration than ever before.

"There are a lot of opportunities bringing a proven science or technology from one industry into another to solve problems," he says.

The company has growth plans this year. The team has bootstrapped everything financially so far, but is looking for its first funding round in the middle of 2019. And, as far as the Karimi siblings are concerned, they are in the exact right place to grow.

"We're in Houston, and we have a technology that is from biotech and have applications in the space industry and the energy industry," Karimi says. "There would not have been any better place for us in the country than Houston."

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NASA taps Houston startup to create commercial habitat to attach to the International Space Station

out of this world

A Houston-based space startup has been named the winner of a NASA competition — and the prize is getting to create the first commercial habitat in space.

Axiom Space has won NASA's NextSTEP-2 Appendix I solicitation, a call for a commercial habitat to be attached to the International Space Station's Harmony module, or Node 2. Axiom is working to create a commercial space station that would eventually serve as a replacement for ISS.

"We appreciate the bold decision on the part of NASA to open up a commercial future in low Earth orbit," Co-founder Michael Suffredini says in a news release. "This selection is a recognition of the uniquely qualified nature of the Axiom team and our commercial plan to create and support a thriving, sustainable, and American-led LEO ecosystem."

Axiom was founded by Suffredini, former NASA ISS program manager, and space entrepreneur Kam Ghaffarian in 2016. The company has plans to launch a node module, research facility, manufacturing operations, crew habitat, and large-windowed Earth observatory all to be attached to the ISS. The targeted launch date is set for late 2024.

Part of Axiom's long-term plans include an Earth observatory. Photo via axiomspace.com

"Axiom exists to provide the infrastructure in space for a variety of users to conduct research, discover new technologies, test systems for exploration of the Moon and Mars, manufacture superior products for use in orbit and on the ground, and ultimately improve life back on Earth," continues Suffredini.

"As we build on the legacy and foundation established by the ISS Program, we look forward to working with NASA and the ecosystem of current and future international partners on this seminal effort."

Ghaffarian has decades of space expertise and founded Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies, which went on to be a NASA engineering services provider before being acquired by KBR in 2018. Now, KBR — along with Boeing, Thales Alenia Space Italy, Intuitive Machines, and Maxar Technologies — serves as a partner to Axiom.

"A commercial platform in Earth orbit is an opportunity to mark a shift in our society similar to that which astronauts undergo when they see the planet from above," Ghaffarian, who serves as Axiom's executive chairman, says in the release.

"Our goal is to advance the state of humanity and human knowledge. I am glad to see the Axiom team, with its advanced human spaceflight, engineering, and operations expertise, recognized for its potential to do just that and build off of ISS."

The Axiom Segment will be attached to the ISS until the station is phased out. Then, Axiom will launch a power source into space to serve Axiom's operations before detaching from the decommissioned ISS all together. Eventually, the Axiom Segment will be a free-flying commercial space station.

"There is a fantastically steep learning curve to human spaceflight," Suffredini says in the release. "The collective experience at Axiom is quite far along it. Because we know firsthand what works and what doesn't in [low Earth orbit], we are innovating in terms of design, engineering, and process while maintaining safety and dramatically lowering costs."

Entrepreneur feels called to demystify cryptocurrency with his Houston startup

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 16

Spencer Randall, an engineer by trade, developed a fascination with cryptocurrency, and he wasn't able to shake it.

"Once I understood the technology, it wasn't really a choice. I felt compelled and driven to learn as much as I possibly could," he says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "I'd say it was more of a calling."

His interest lead him to frequent cryptocurrency and blockchain meetups, and, when those started to feel all over the place, he started to host his own meetups, focused on key issues within the technology.

It was through these meetups that Randall met who would meet Brooks Vaughan, Norman Hamilton, Michael Thoma, and Joseph Romero, who would then become the co-founders of CryptoEQ.

"There really wasn't a go-to resource (for cryptocurrency," Randall says. "What we wanted to do and what our mission today is to be the most trusted and intuitive analysis for cryptocurrencies."

So, the group of entrepreneurs created CryptoEQ, which gives cryptocurrency investors a community to interact with and learn from. The company, which works out of The Cannon, launched its version 2 for the site this month and saw a 500 percent growth among users. CryptoEQ is also planning to grow its site and resources and is hiring a new full-time employee this year.

Randall discusses trends he's seen in the industry, plans for 2020, and more in the podcast episode. Listen to the full episode below — or wherever you get your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Station Houston merges with statewide startup investor and accelerator

joining forces

Station Houston and Austin-based Capital Factory announced that they will be combining forces through a merger effective immediately.

Capital Factory will power all of Station Houston's membership and mentorship, including startup-focused services, as well as add its own statewide resources, which include investors, mentors, and more.

"The more high quality startups we have across a diverse range of industries, the more investors, big companies, and big government want to get involved," Gordon Daugherty, co-founder and president, says in a news release, relating the collaboration to Metcalfe's Law. "Uniting with Station Houston will see benefits run both ways."

The combined entity, referred to as "Station Houston, powered by Capital Factory," will operate out of 1301 Fannin St., where Station currently resides, before moving into the Ion when it's completed, which is slated to be early next year.

"As we continue to develop our innovation economy in Houston and prepare for the opening of the Ion in January 2021, there is no better partner than Capital Factory to serve the needs of our entrepreneurs," says Gabriella Rowe, executive director of The Ion. "For years, they have demonstrated their commitment to startups across Texas, helping them build their ideas through mentorship and introducing them to venture capital from around the country."

Capital Factory was founded in Austin in 2009, and entered into the Houston market last year. Currently, The Cannon has a dedicated space for Capital Factory and its portfolio clients and employs two people in Houston. Capital Factory also has a presence in Dallas.

Station Houston was founded in 2016 and has over 200 startups, 400 members, and 130 mentors, according to the release.

"Capital Factory is one of the top startup development organizations in the country. By partnering with Station Houston and expanding their footprint into the Ion, their commitment to Houston's entrepreneurs is clear," says Harvin Moore, president of Houston Exponential, in the news release.

"It's a win for Houston's startups and for our booming ecosystem," Moore continues. "Increasing bridges between Texas' major tech ecosystems has enormous synergistic value, and I am thrilled to see Houston and the Ion play a significant role in building such competitive strength."