Robert Kester joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss his entrepreneurial journey. Photo courtesy of Honeywell

There are several ways for a Houston startup to make an exit — it could IPO, receive massive private equity funding, or even get acquired. It wasn't always in the plan for Robert Kester to have his startup take the acquisition route, but he saw a huge opportunity to get the technology he had worked on for a decade into the field — and he took it.

Kester co-founded Rebellion Photonics in 2010. A doctoral candidate at Rice University at the time, Kester had an idea for scaling a sensor technology that can detect chemicals. The developed device could be used to automate the process and improve safety on oil and gas sites.

"When we first got going, it was an idea on a napkin. We had no idea if it could work or not," Kester says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "So getting those first pilots from companies like BP — some of these major companies believing in us and deploying the technology. We grew it to a point where we'd shown value, and we were scaling the solution."

Kester says he initially saw this application benefitting onsite safety, but it quickly evolved into being a key took to promoting sustainability in a world where climate change is increasingly on everyone's mind. The company started considering a way to get its technology to scale — and fast. In 2019, Rebellion exited in an acquisition by Honeywell.

"For us it just made sense that we could team up with Honeywell and figure out how we could scale this thing globally and quickly, so that we could help be a solution for climate change," Kester continues.

Now, as president and general manager at Honeywell Rebellion, Kester still oversees his technology and, with the support of Honeywell, is able to see it be deployed at a quick pace.

Amid the pandemic, he was even able to make a pivot with his technology. Recognizing the importance of temperature reading as an early indicator of COVID-19, Kester and his team worked to develop ThermoRebellion, a temperature scanning technology that was implemented in airports — like JFK and Boston's Logan Airport — to screen travelers.

"I think the latest statistic I heard is that we've scanned over a million passengers coming in and out of the country," Kester says. "For me, I get a lot of satisfaction out of the fact that we're working on important issues in trying to keep the country safe."

Kester shares more about what he's focused on at Honeywell Rebellion on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

A temperature checking technology originally created for oil and gas industry has pivoted amid the pandemic. Photo courtesy of Honeywell

Tech giant warms up to temperature monitoring system created by Houston startup

temp tech

A Houston startup's temperature monitoring system originally developed for oil and gas facilities is being used to help companies safely get their employees back into work.

The ThermoRebellion temperature software uses technology from Houston-based Rebellion Photonics, which Honeywell acquired in December of last year. The technology uses infrared imaging technology and artificial intelligence to quickly conduct non-invasive screenings of people before they enter offices, banks, airports, as businesses begin to reopen.

Robert Kester, Rebellion Photonics founder and Honeywell president and general manager, says the ongoing health crisis called for a reimagining of the AI-driven oil and gas technology, which is used to quickly detect leaks by using a real-time monitoring platform that provides automated notifications.

"The key component is our software powered by artificial intelligence," Kester tells InnovationMap. "Our imaging systems leverage a decade of experience in the most advanced imaging technologies for gas leak detection, fire detection, and intrusion monitoring applications. The system features uncooled high-resolution FPA infrared sensors allowing for each pixel to be assessed for temperature."

As states begin to lift stay-at-home orders, a return to a new normal is expected, as people begin to go back to the workplace and have to spend time in commercial buildings surrounded by others. In Houston's Memorial Hermann Hospital, temperature scanners by Austin-based Athena Security have already been installed, minimizing contact and reducing foot traffic congestion in entrances.

"Experts believe temperature checks can become more common in public spaces," says Kester. "Our system works allows for social distancing as people don't have to queue closely. Imagine an airport, for example, it wouldn't be feasible to have passengers wait in additional long lines for temperature screening."

The ThermoRebellion system can scan individuals in groups for effective screening at a wide range of sites and venues, instantly providing temperature results in an non-invasive manner, to keep employees and customers safe from introducing and spreading coronavirus.

"It's important for people to get back to work safely, whether that's an office building or a factory, or taking a flight to meet a customer," says Kester.

Honeywell is moving the technology to its piloting phase, racing against the clock to meet the demand as businesses open for business. The system, according to Kester, is intuitive and easy to use, implementing audible and visual alarms to alert if a person has elevated body temperature. Plus, it can also be easily deployed to different access points.

The fast-tracked product couldn't have been done without the team of designers and engineers who quickly pivoted from gas imaging to body temperature solutions. The team is already recruiting potential users who are interested in implementing the system in their facilities.

By Kester's and his team's estimates, the ThermoRebllion system will be ready to deploy as early as June.

"It's going to be difficult for people to go back to busy locations without knowing that companies are taking proactive steps to protect its patrons or employees," says Kester. "We're excited to be part of the set of solutions that can help improve safety."

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Impact-driven Houston fintech startup emerges to streamline international remittance

money transfer tech

Africans living abroad send over $40 billion back to their home country annually — yet the process continues to be expensive, fraud-ridden, and complicated. A new Houston-area startup has a solution.

AiDEMONEY, based in Katy, has launched a money transfer app for mobile devices. The app enables digital transfers from the United States to five African countries: Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria

"International remittance has always been about people living in diaspora wanting to share their success with people back home," says Uzoma Eze, AiDEMONEY co-founder and CEO, in a news release. "By replacing profit as the point of the spear, we're helping Africans fund Africa and, ultimately, rewriting our motherland's story."

Eze co-founded the company with Felix Akompi, a fellow member of Houston's African diaspora community and the company's COO

The app, which is already available on the App Store and Google Play, focuses on blockchain-powered security and instant transfers. The company also designed the platform with a "give back" model that builds a stronger Africa.

With every transaction fee, users are funding progress in Africa. A portion of customer transaction fees to nonprofits in education and literacy, women's empowerment, and healthcare. Currently, AiDEMONEY partners with the Lagos Food Bank Initiative, Shalom Sickle Cell Foundation, Sharing Smiles Initiative, and Jenny Uzo Foundation.

"We're creating a superhighway for tens of billions in USD to flow from one part of the world to another," Eze says. "When you have the right people with the right vision, that capital tills the ground—tilling out profit, social advancement and a stronger Africa."

Doing Money Remittance Better | AiDEMONEY, The African Diaspora's Money Transfer App www.youtube.com

New Pearland healthcare training center will raise the bar for nursing in Houston

Training for More

As if those in the healthcare field needed another reason to relocate to Pearland: the HCA Healthcare Center for Clinical Advancement opened its doors on July 27.

Located at the Pearland Town Center at 11200 Broadway St., building 200, the two-story, 48,400-square-foot training center houses hospital simulation labs, virtually-connected classrooms, and debriefing rooms.

The center provides ongoing education for HCA Houston Healthcare's 7,000 nurses and will help standardize training across the system's 13 Greater Houston-area hospitals, outpatient surgery centers, emergency centers, and imaging facilities.

The utilization of simulcast technology will also facilitate education and training opportunities for colleagues working in locations across the HCA Healthcare Gulf Coast Division, which includes facilities in Corpus Christi and South Texas.

"The HCA Healthcare Center for Clinical Advancement is a significant part of our strategic nursing plan to support and grow our nurses as the differentiator at our hospitals and other facilities," says Kelli Nations, chief nurse executive at HCA Houston Healthcare, one of the city's largest healthcare systems. "It certainly helps us raise the bar for nursing care in Houston."

The first floor is designated for nurse training, which can last up to 22 weeks, depending on their specialty. Additional classroom and conference room space on the second floor will serve as a hub for new-hire orientations and the system's leadership and organizational development training for up to 250 employees at a time.

"Bringing the latest teaching technologies under one roof in a new, advanced facility is a major step in preparing our nurses to provide the highest level of care," says Nations.

Additional facility features include a simulated hospital supply room, a large break room, a mother's room for employees who are nursing, and several lounge areas.

Upcoming energy conference adds innovation focus for Houston-based event

innovating energy

The World Petroleum Congress, which plans to return to in-person status in December, is adding a new wrinkle — a pitch competition — to this year's event.

On August 4, the World Petroleum Congress announced the launch this year of the Innovation Zone, which will enable energy pioneers to showcase their offerings. The 2021 World Petroleum Congress — hosted in Houston this time around — is set for December 5-9 at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

Houston-based energy giant ConocoPhillips is sponsoring the Innovation Zone.

"For more than a century, innovation has enabled our industry to keep pace with the growing demand for safe and reliable energy," Bill Bullock, executive vice president and chief financial officer of ConocoPhillips, says in a news release. He adds that the Innovation Zone will highlight "innovations that can propel our industry's purposeful journey through the energy transition and into the future."

In all, 32 startups and individuals will pitch their products or practices on the World Petroleum Congress stage. One winner will be honored with the inaugural Energy Innovator Award.

The Innovation Zone is open to energy companies, private entities, and individuals working as independent contractors. Proposals will be evaluated on seven criteria:

  • Innovation
  • Creativity
  • Potential or actual technical or business success
  • Environmental impact
  • Stakeholder impact
  • Scalability
  • Broad-based uses

Applications for the Innovation Zone are due Aug. 20. To obtain an application, visit the World Petroleum Congress website. Representatives of ConocoPhillips and the World Petroleum Congress will sift through the applications and pick 32 finalists, who will be notified in early September.

"Startups, with their innovative business models, will play a decisive role in shaping a sustainable energy future, and for participating companies, this is a good opportunity to present and forge new links with key stakeholders and investors," says Serafina Lalany, interim executive director of entrepreneurship and innovation nonprofit Houston Exponential.

Aside from ConocoPhillips, sponsors of this year's World Petroleum Congress include Chevron, Halliburton, Accenture, Hess, ExxonMobil, BP, Qatar Petroleum, Baker Hughes, and Saudi Aramco.

The 23rd World Petroleum Congress was supposed to happen last year in Houston but was shifted to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 10,000 people are expected to attend this year's event. It's been estimated that the World Petroleum Congress will pump $60 million to $80 million into the Houston economy.

Staged by the World Petroleum Council, the event hasn't been held in North America since 1987, when Houston hosted it. It's known as the "Olympics" of the oil and gas sector.

The 24th World Petroleum Congress will be held in 2023 in Calgary, Canada. The event traditionally takes place every three years.