Kevin Knobloch will lead Greentown Labs as CEO. Photo via LinkedIn

The largest climatetech incubator in North America has named an Obama Administration appointee as its next CEO.

Kevin Knobloch, who served as chief of staff of the United States Department of Energy in President Barack Obama’s second term, will be CEO of Greentown Labs, effective September 5. In his role, Knobloch will oversee both Greentown locations in Houston and Somerville, Massachusetts, outside of Boston.

“Kevin has a proven and impressive track record of growing, operationalizing, and leading a dynamic mix of organizations at different stages and in various industries, all of which have aligned with his unwavering commitment to addressing the climate crisis,” Greentown Labs Board Chair Dawn James says in a news release. “On behalf of the entire Board of Directors, I am thrilled to welcome Kevin as our next CEO. We are excited for what is to come under Kevin’s leadership and look forward to the positive impact he will undoubtedly have on our team, our startup community, and the ecosystem at large.”

With 30 years of experience across sectors, Knobloch most recently served as president of Knobloch Energy, an independent advisory and consulting firm. He also served as acting executive director of the National Offshore Wind Research & Development Consortium from June through December 2022. From 2018 to 2020, Knobloch was president of New York OceanGrid LLC, where he led Anbaric’s efforts to develop offshore wind transmission in New York.

“I’m honored and thrilled to have the opportunity to once again pass the leadership baton,” Greentown Co-Founder Jason Hanna says, who has been serving as interim CEO. “Especially so given Kevin’s incredible record of climate leadership. I’m excited for the future of this organization and the impact he can make as Greentown enters the second decade of its climate mission.”

The appointment follows an executive search that began after Greentown's previous CEO Emily Reichert announced she was stepping down in December.

“I’m delighted to be asked by Greentown Labs’ Board of Directors to be the next leader of this highly effective organization—and very excited to get to work,” Knobloch says in a statement. “I’ve long admired the critical role Greentown plays in supporting the growth and impact of early-stage climate and energy transition technology companies, as well as the impressive efforts by former longtime CEO Emily Reichert and the talented Board and staff to build Greentown into a national powerhouse and model for other incubators around the world. The climate crisis demands that we accelerate our collective pace of deployment and I look forward to collaborating with our startups, staff, and partners to support that acceleration.”

The announcement comes on the heels of Greentown naming its inaugural Houston general manager. Timmeko Moore Love was named to that new position last week.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Timmeko Moore Love of Greentown Houston, Anshumali Shrivastava of ThirdAI, and Ghazal Qureshi of UpBrainery. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from edtech to climatetech — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Timmeko Moore Love, general manager of Greentown Houston

Timmeko Moore Love has been named Greentown Houston's inaugural general manager. Photo courtesy of Greentown

Greentown Houston has named Timmeko Moore Love as Houston general manager and senior vice president of Greentown Labs. She'll lead Greentown Houston’s team and business operations, while growing the location's membership.

Love has 20 years of experience in innovation management, per the news release, and was the first Black woman at a Fortune 500 to lead a venture capital program. In that role, which was at The Woodlands-based Entergy Corp., she was named to the 2020 Global Corporate Venturing Powerlist. Love also oversaw corporate ventures at Mayo Clinic and Best Buy Capital.

“Greentown Labs is committed to ensuring founders’ success and is an agent of action in the fight against climate change,” says Love in the release. “I am excited to continue my service to the Greater Houston climate innovation ecosystem through this esteemed platform, and partner internally and externally to evolve and expand our services and programs.” Read more.

Anshumali Shrivastava, co-founder and CEO of ThirdAI

Anshumali Shrivastava also serves as an associate professor of computer science at Rice University. Photo via rice.edu

Anshumali Shrivastava's career has evolved alongside the rise of artificial intelligence. Now, he believes his company represents the future of the industry's widespread implementation.

Shrivastava, who's also a professor at Rice University, founded ThirdAI, pronounced "third eye," in 2021 to democratize artificial intelligence through software innovations. As Shrivastava explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast, AI processes have historically been run on larger, less accessible computing hardware. ThirdAI's tools are able to run on a regular central processing unit, or CPU, rather than the more powerful graphics processing unit, or GPU.

"We focus on the problems that people are facing in the current AI ecosystem," Shrivastava says on the podcast. "Right now, if you are to build some of the large-language models and (linear programming) models, you need a lot of computing power, dedicated engineers to move it, and, even if you are using fully managed services, it's costly and there are a lot of privacy implications because you have to move data around." Read more and stream the episode.

Ghazal Qureshi, CEO of UpBrainery

Ghazal Qureshi's Houston-based startup has advanced to the semifinal round of a prestigious national competition. Photo courtesy of Idea Lab Kids

UpBrainery, an immersive educational technology platform that customizes lessons for students, received $20,000 in seed funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Visionary Interdisciplinary Teams Advancing Learning (VITAL) prize challenge. The $6 million prize challenge is cosponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Schmidt Futures, and the Walton Family Foundation.

“This incredible achievement reflects our commitment to pushing the boundaries of knowledge and technology,” UpBrainery states in a LinkedIn announcement.

In addition to the seed money, UpBrainery will be partnered with a mentor to help them improve the logistics of their exploratory learning and AI aided platform, with a focus on developing their minimum viable prototype. Read more.

Greentown Houston names Timmeko Moore Love as inaugural general manager. Photo courtesy of Greentown

Houston climatetech hub names new leader

taking charge

Greentown Houston has a new leader at its helm.

The climatetech incubator, dual located in Houston and Somerville, Massachusetts, has named Timmeko Moore Love as Houston general manager and senior vice president of Greentown Labs. She'll lead Greentown Houston’s team and business operations, while growing the location's membership.

“We are thrilled to have Timmeko joining our leadership team,” says Jason Hanna, co-founder and interim CEO of Greentown Labs, in a news release. “Her wealth of experience will be instrumental in helping Greentown Houston maximize its impact through operational excellence, while inspiring and accelerating climate entrepreneurship from the energy capital of the world.”

Love has 20 years of experience in innovation management, per the news release, and was the first Black woman at a Fortune 500 to lead a venture capital program. In that role, which was at The Woodlands-based Entergy Corp., she was named to the 2020 Global Corporate Venturing Powerlist. Love also oversaw corporate ventures at Mayo Clinic and Best Buy Capital.

“Greentown Labs is committed to ensuring founders’ success and is an agent of action in the fight against climate change,” says Love in the release. “I am excited to continue my service to the Greater Houston climate innovation ecosystem through this esteemed platform, and partner internally and externally to evolve and expand our services and programs.”

Juliana Garaizar, who originally joined Greentown as launch director ahead of the Houston opening in 2021, previously oversaw the day-to-day operations of Greentown Houston. In January, she was promoted from vice president of innovation to chief development and investment officer. She shared with InnovationMap that Greentown was looking to hire its first Houston manager.

"Now that we are more than 80 members, we need more internal coordination," she told InnovationMap at the time. "Considering that the goal for Greentown is to grow to more locations, there's going to be more coordination and, I'd say, more autonomy for the Houston campus."

Greentown Labs is currently undergoing a search for its next CEO to succeed Emily Reichert, who stepped down in December.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

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Education equity-focused nonprofit taps into robotics, AI to better serve Houston children

the future is bright

Generally, when children are under the age of five, educators believe that they are best suited for and interested in learning, because those are the years in which there is the strongest opportunity to build a broad and solid foundation for lifelong literacy and well-being.

That sentiment is deeply held by Collaborative for Children, the Houston-based nonprofit organization with the mission to meaningfully improve the quality of early childhood education and provide access to cutting-edge technology through its Centers of Excellence to all children, especially those in low-income and marginalized communities.

“The reason the organization was started about 40 years ago is that a group of philanthropists in the greater Houston area suggested that this was so important because 90 percent of the brain develops or grows in the time frame between ages zero to five years of age,” Melanie Johnson, president and CEO of Collaborative for Children, tells InnovationMap.

“And if we were losing children and not preparing them by third grade to be literate, and then subsequently losing them after that for high dropout rates and achievement gaps between poor and affluent children, that this would be the perfect place to start," she continues. "And so, they put the collaborative, the emphasis, and finances collaborative of every, most every early education effort around this region.”

Collaborative for Children’s work in the community is centered around making sure that there is educational equity for all children, regardless of financial status, and providing access to technologies in meaningful ways.

“Ultimately, we want to bridge the digital divide early on so that when children start off their academic journey, they're starting off equipped with the skills to be successful there on,” says Johnson.

Most recently, the institution has focused on utilizing social-emotional learning robots and coding tech toys like the Pepper — the world’s first social humanoid robot able to recognize faces and basic human emotions — and NAO, which resembles human being and stimulates, robots to enhance learning in the classrooms of its Centers of Excellence.

“Technology enhances the learning experience in the Centers of Excellence in ways that a teacher might not be able to,” says Johnson. “Artificial intelligence is used in gamification to allow a child to play and learn while playing.”

For Collaborative for Children, gamification involves transforming typical academic components into gaming themes.

“While playing, the AI gauges the level of skills that they’ve been able to enter into that system and respond with even more challenging tasks or tasks that are still lateral so that they can continue to repeat that skill,” says Johnson.

The socio-emotional learning robots are indeed fascinating, but how does the nonprofit reach these children, and their parents, who might be skeptical of technology?

Ultimately, through the teachers. They draw them in via the technology. If teachers are excited, they act as a conductor of that energy to their students, making their innovative lessons well, electric.

That resonates with most all children, but especially with those diagnosed with autism.

“Robotics like NAO are great for children on the autism spectrum because they are emotionally sensitive and emotionally intelligent,” says Johnson. “They are low sensory, so as NAO runs around the classroom, it can literally have individual and unique conversations with each child based on facial recognition. But most importantly for me, is that this particular robot is able to evaluate children without statistical bias that a teacher might have.

“A teacher might think that because a child confuses the letter D and B, which are basically shaped the same in opposite directions, that they're not learning," she continues. "And the robot will have no prior knowledge in terms of, is this child the better child, or have they been learning throughout the year? The answers are accurate or inaccurate. So, they remove statistical bias when assessing children in the classroom.”

The misconception about teaching technologies is that it’s about screen time. According to Johnson, it’s not. It’s more about interacting with technology.

“We’ve added, you know, all kinds of modern-day technology so that this world that we're preparing these children for 80 percent of the jobs we don't even know will exist when they are adults,” says Johnson. “So, we're just trying to make sure that there is no divide in terms of 21st century skills and 21st century preparation.”

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Collaborative for Children has so many facets to assist children with their early development, but there are inherent challenges when attempting to reach their target audience in low-income and marginalized communities that the organization counters with programs like the Collab Lab, which is a mobile classroom that brings critical, future-focused early childhood education directly to the community at no cost.

Designed to be convenient for families, Collab Lab connects parents and their youngest children with experts, educators, resources, and proven programs whose goal is to make sure that kids have the skills essential to learning from the moment they walk into kindergarten for the first time.

“There are a myriad of challenges in these communities that we serve, specifically with technology,” says Johnson. “When children enter first grade, and especially second grade, they're given notepads, basically, digital notepads, because it's no good in pre-K oftentimes, but it is very helpful for children who will never have access or have limited access to iPads and things of that nature.

“So while we don't want them to be babysat by screen time and have social media impacting their self-image and self-worth, we definitely want them to have appropriate doses and appropriate uses of technology in the early education, so that those barriers that their parents face with limited means, that these children can go to first grade and into the robotics class and be able to be evaluated and assessed on the digital notepads that are required nowadays,” she continues.

While technology is very important, Collaborative for Children also focuses on the critical social and emotional skills children need as they develop and the all too important relationship between children and their parents and teachers.

“Theory leads our work,” says Johnson. “It's all focused on fine motor skills, gross motor skills, social emotional, can a child build rapport with their teacher and with the students around them. Those things are paramount and will never change.

“What we use technology to do is enhance and remove biases from teacher-pupil interaction, but also to bridge any kind of divide in terms of 21st century skills. And in addition to that, we engage the families. So families who might not know about hydro-fueled cars in those communities that we serve will be able to be exposed to those concepts, as well through our group connections or parent partnerships.”

Ultimately, the last thing Collaborative for Children wants is to send children from early learning and childcare environments into the K-12 system unprepared to be successful for the real world.

“At Collaborative for Children,” adds Johnson. “We are continuously pushing the envelope at our Centers for Excellence so that the children that we serve will always be on the cutting edge.

The last thing Collaborative for Children wants is to send children from early learning and childcare environments into the K-12 system unprepared to be successful for the real world. Photo courtesy of Collaborative for Children

Houston med school develops revolutionary mRNA vaccine for elephants

zoology biology

An innovative team from Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital has worked with the Houston Zoo to develop a first-of-its-kind treatment for elephants, which has been administered to its first patient.

Tess, the beloved, 40-year-old matriarch of the Houston Zoo’s elephant herd, is recovering well after receiving the first-ever mRNA vaccine against elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV) 1A on Tuesday, June 18. The veterinary staff at the Houston Zoo will monitor Tess in the coming weeks to check her reaction and the efficacy of the vaccine.

EEHV 1A is a deadly infection for Asian Elephants. While generally benign in African Elephants, Asian Elephants can develop fatal hemorrhages. The fatality rate is a whopping 80 percent, making it one of the most serous threats to elephant populations outside of humans.

Anti-viral drugs have some effect on the disease, but two-thirds show no improvement. This has led to a search for a vaccine. For 15 years, the Houston Zoo and Dr. Paul Ling at Baylor College of Medicine’s Department of Virology and Microbiology have partnered to develop the drug. They have been helped by worldwide research from zoos and animal specialists, as well as graduate student Jessica Watts and Dr. Jeroen Pollet at Houston's Texas Children’s Hospital. The research has been funded by private donations, research partnerships, and grants.

Before being inoculated, the mRNA vaccine was exhaustively tested, with the dosage being extrapolated from data involving horses.

Houston Zoo veterinarians will periodically test Tess to see if she is developing the appropriate antibodies. If she is and there are no adverse reactions, the next step will be to administer the vaccine to the rest of the Houston herd. Many of these are Tess’s own children (Tucker, Tupelo, Tilly, and Teddy) and grandchildren (Winnie).

Should the vaccine prove effective, the doses will be made available worldwide to zoos and private elephant sanctuaries. It is likely to have a significant benefit on protecting and preserving the Asian Elephant population. As of January, there are fewer than 50,000 of the animas left in the wild. They are currently listed as endangered, and breeding programs and research done through the Houston Zoo are essential to keeping the animals from going extinct.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

New study says Houston is best city to grow business

Report

The Bayou City has again received recognition as a top hub for business.

According to a new study by business revenue experts The RevOps Team, Houston is one of the cities in the US with 10 or more companies listed in the S&P 500, and has been named as the number one city with the fastest growing businesses in the U.S. Houston scored the highest Average Business Growth (ABG) at 26.7 percent. The business experts divided the data from the S&P 500 Index to see what businesses had the highest share-price growth in the last year.

Out of the 28 states and the cities with 10 or more businesses listed in the S&P 500, Houston was No. 1t for growing businesses with Atlanta, in second place with 15 companies listed and reaching an ABG of 24.2 percent. Two cities in Texas ranked in the top five with Dallas taking third place at 14.9 percent.

Texas ranked fifth place overall in the top five states for business growth with high-performing businesses like Vistra. Vistra was the company with the highest growth in Texas at 277.68 percent, followed by NRG Energy (NRG) with 170.43 percent and Caterpillar Inc. (CAT) at 69.13 percent.

“You need to be ready to both leverage opportunity and adapt to challenges,” Kerri Linsenbigler of RevOps Team said in a news release. “Growing a business wherever you are in the U.S. is not for the faint-hearted, and business owners in Texas will be proud that they have ranked highly in the top five.”

Earlier this month, over a dozen Houston-based companies madeU.S. News and World Report's collection of the "Best Companies to Work For" in 2024-2025.

In December, the city was ranked among the 25 best metropolitan areas to start a small business in a report by personal finance website The Credit Review placed Houston in the No. 22 spot.