An innovative, Houston-created tool instantly chills wine and spirits. Photo via thecoldcork.com

Great inventions reveal their value within due course, but there are those creations that tell their worth almost immediately, with a first look, image, or mere mention.

The Cold Cork, a malleable pouring device that instantly chills wine and spirits, falls into that category.

It seems like such a simple idea, but that’s the thing about inventions, isn’t it? Anyone can come up with an idea, but it’s the ones that can execute that idea that make it to the finish line and etch their names in the annals of creative glory.

“I had come home from the grocery store, right at the onset of COVID, and I wanted to have a glass of wine that I bought, but it was already room temperature, and I didn't want to put ice in it,” says wine-lover and former healthcare worker Michelle Kurkiewicz. “So, we started doing some research and came up with the idea for Cold Cork.”

Timing is everything, and because the nationwide pause caused by the COVID-19 pandemic offered Michelle, 33, and her husband Tyler, 30, plenty of free time, the dutiful duo was able to flesh out their labor of love.

Tyler and Michelle Kurkiewicz came up with the idea of the Cold Cork. Photo via thecoldcork.com

As it turns out, Tyler, a mechanical engineer by trade, had recently purchased a 3D printer back in January 2020, so he was able to use it to build hundreds of prototypes in-house to eventually arrive at a final design, which is based on the couple’s wedding champagne flutes.

So how does the Cold Cork work? Picture this: the wine-lover takes the Cold Cork out of the freezer (after a recommended 24 hours to thoroughly freeze), places it on top of the open bottle of wine and begins to pour.

As the liquid funnels through the stainless-steel coil, which is surrounded by a proprietary, food-grade cooling medium, the wine or spirits is chilled by 20 degrees in just 20 seconds.

To achieve the best results for red wine, pour the entire bottle through the Cold Cork into a decanter and enjoy.

And the best part? Not one part of the Cold Cork’s signature process alters the taste or composition of the drink in any way.

The device, priced at $64.95, chills liquids 20 degrees in 20 seconds. Photo via thecoldcork.com

“At first, we thought about whether the product should be inside the bottle or outside the bottle,” remembers Tyler. “But we quickly realized that there’s simply not enough room to do that amount of chilling inside a bottle. And we didn't want to have to pour any wine out. But we needed to make space to put some sort of chiller in the bottle. And so, we immediately started looking outside the bottle, and just with all the other wine gadgets, being bottle-topped and plugging in with a rubber stopper, that's immediately the direction we sort of drifted to.”

According to Tyler, the first couple of prototypes were made of a 3D filament. Initially, the idea was to focus on creating a cooling gel to compliment the coil, but that got a bit messy and, of course, there were too many wine taste-testing sessions to count.

“We definitely went through a lot of bottles of wine,” says Michelle. “But one of the first people that used our product was a sommelier and she loved it. We also gave one of our first production-level prototypes to a friend who is a manager at a restaurant. She used it on several occasions and said it was perfect for what she needed and seeing our product be used at a place that we frequented was extremely validating.”

Armed with the validation they needed to go to production, the wine-loving public could now have the product they needed to keep from having to throw all their wine in the refrigerator.

“The Cold Cork is really good for the people that maybe don't have those multi-zone fridges,” says Michelle. “We found a good niche with entry-level wine drinkers that don't have a wine fridge, but they want to drink their white wines still without being over-drank with ice cubes.

“That's really who we've been going after, and who we've seen has found a lot of value in the product. It's really the people that maybe aren't so prepared or maybe looking just for some more accessible solutions, whether it's because of the space in their apartment or financially, you know, it might be cheaper than a wine fridge. That's why we came up with the Cold Cork ourselves, because that was us, and so we kind of made a product that worked for us and found that there are a lot of people like that.”

The Cold Cork is available now and can be purchased directly from the company’s website for $64.95. In the future, more cork sizes and different colors will be offered, and more brick-and-mortar stores will carry the product. The couple pitched the idea and received investment from Trend Ventures at the 2022 Build Up Buttercup, an initiative that featured small business pitches for a select group of investors.

“We’ve gotten a lot of feedback directly from customers saying they use it a lot more than they thought,” says Michelle. “But then there are those people that are skeptical about how it works. That’s why I love to demo the Cold Cork in person.”

For a couple that met at a bar one night in downtown Houston, the Cold Cork is almost a poetic destination as a business endeavor and one that they both really relish.

“We both have our strengths, and we give each other a lot of support,” says Michelle.

“I’m very mechanically inclined, so I develop and invent, and Michelle is great with the marketing aspect and working with people to purchase the product,” adds Tyler. “In addition to the Cold Cork, we do have a couple of early projects that we are working on. I think there is a lot of opportunity with our technology to take what we have learned and fit that into different product lineups moving forward.”

Cold Cork Thermometer Test

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Houston college lands $5M NASA grant to launch new aerospace research center

to infinity and beyond

The University of Houston was one of seven minority-serving institutions to receive a nearly $5 million grant this month to support aerospace research focused on extending human presence on the moon and Mars.

The $4,996,136 grant over five years is funded by the NASA Office of STEM Engagement Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP) Institutional Research Opportunity (MIRO) program. It will go toward creating the NASA MIRO Inflatable Deployable Environments and Adaptive Space Systems (IDEAS2) Center at UH, according to a statement from the university.

“The vision of the IDEAS2 Center is to become a premier national innovation hub that propels NASA-centric, state-of-the-art research and promotes 21st-century aerospace education,” Karolos Grigoriadis, Moores Professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of aerospace engineering at UH, said in a statement.

Another goal of the grant is to develop the next generation of aerospace professionals.

Graduate, undergraduate and even middle and high school students will conduct research out of IDEAS2 and work closely with the Johnson Space Center, located in the Houston area.

The center will collaborate with Texas A&M University, Houston Community College, San Jacinto College and Stanford University.

Grigoriadis will lead the center. Dimitris Lagoudas, from Texas A&M University, and Olga Bannova, UH's research professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Space Architecture graduate program, will serve as associate directors.

"Our mission is to establish a sustainable nexus of excellence in aerospace engineering research and education supported by targeted multi-institutional collaborations, strategic partnerships and diverse educational initiatives,” Grigoriadis said.

Industrial partners include Boeing, Axiom Space, Bastion Technologies and Lockheed Martin, according to UH.

UH is part of 21 higher-education institutions to receive about $45 million through NASA MUREP grants.

According to NASA, the six other universities to received about $5 million MIRO grants over five years and their projects includes:

  • Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage: Alaska Pacific University Microplastics Research and Education Center
  • California State University in Fullerton: SpaceIgnite Center for Advanced Research-Education in Combustion
  • City University of New York, Hunter College in New York: NASA-Hunter College Center for Advanced Energy Storage for Space
  • Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee: Integrative Space Additive Manufacturing: Opportunities for Workforce-Development in NASA Related Materials Research and Education
  • New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark:AI Powered Solar Eruption Center of Excellence in Research and Education
  • University of Illinois in Chicago: Center for In-Space Manufacturing: Recycling and Regolith Processing

Fourteen other institutions will receive up to $750,000 each over the course of a three-year period. Those include:

  • University of Mississippi
  • University of Alabama in Huntsville
  • Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge
  • West Virginia University in Morgantown
  • University of Puerto Rico in San Juan
  • Desert Research Institute, Reno, Nevada
  • Oklahoma State University in Stillwater
  • Iowa State University in Ames
  • University of Alaska Fairbanks in Fairbanks
  • University of the Virgin Islands in Charlotte Amalie
  • University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu
  • University of Idaho in Moscow
  • University of Arkansas in Little Rock
  • South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City
  • Satellite Datastreams

NASA's MUREP hosted its annual "Space Tank" pitch event at Space Center Houston last month. Teams from across the country — including three Texas teams — pitched business plans based on NASA-originated technology. Click here to learn more about the seven finalists.

Booming Houston suburb, other Texas towns among the fastest-growing U.S. cities in 2023

by the numbers

One Houston suburb experienced one of the most rapid growth spurts in the country last year: Fulshear, whose population grew by 25.6 percent, more than 51 times that of the nation’s growth rate of 0.5 percent. The city's population was 42,616 as of July 1, 2023.

According to U.S. Census Bureau's Vintage 2023 Population Estimates, released Thursday, May 16, Fulshear — which lies west of Katy in northwest Fort Bend County - ranked No. 2 on the list of fastest-growing cities with a population of 20,000 or more. It's no wonder iconic Houston restaurants like Molina's Cantina see opportunities there.

The South still dominates the nation's growth, even as America’s Northeast and Midwest cities are rebounding slightly from years of population drops. The census estimates showed 13 of the 15 fastest-growing cities in the U.S. were in the South — eight in Texas alone.

The Texas cities joining Fulshear on the fastest-growing-cities list are:

  • Celina (No. 1) with 26.6 percent growth (42,616 total population)
  • Princeton (No. 3) with 22.3 percent growth (28,027 total population)
  • Anna (No. 4) with 16.9 percent growth (27,501 total population)
  • Georgetown (No. 8) with 10.6 percent growth (96,312 total population)
  • Prosper (No. 9) with 10.5 percent growth (41,660 total population)
  • Forney (No. 10) with 10.4 percent growth (35,470 total population)
  • Kyle (No. 11) with 9 percent growth (62,548 total population)

Texas trends
San Antonio saw the biggest growth spurt in the United States last year, numbers-wise. The Alamo City added about 22,000 residents. San Antonio now has nearly 1.5 million people, making it the the seventh largest city in the U.S. and second largest in Texas.

Its population boom was followed by those of other Southern cities, including Fort Worth; Charlotte, North Carolina; Jacksonville, Florida; and Port St. Lucie, Florida.

Fast-growing Fort Worth (978,000) surpassed San Jose, California (970,000) to become the 12th most populous city in the country.

Meanwhile, population slowed in the Austin area. Jacksonville, Florida (986,000), outpaced Austin (980,000), pushing the Texas capital to 11th largest city in the U.S. (barely ahead of Fort Worth).

Population growth in Georgetown, outside Austin, slowed by more than one-fourth its population growth in 2022, the report says, from 14.4 percent to 10.6 percent. It's the same story in the Central Texas city of Kyle, whose population growth decreased by nearly 2 percent to 9 percent in 2023.

Most populated cities
New York City with nearly 8.3 million people remained the nation's largest city in population as of July 1, 2023. Los Angeles was second at close to 4 million residents, while Chicago was third at 2.7 million and Houston was fourth at 2.3 million residents.

The 15 populous U.S. cities in 2023 were:

  1. New York, New York (8.3 million)
  2. Los Angeles, California (4 million)
  3. Chicago, Illinois (2.7 million)
  4. Houston, Texas (2.3 million)
  5. Phoenix, Arizona (1.7 million)
  6. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1.6 million)
  7. San Antonio (1.5 million)
  8. San Diego, California (1.4 million)
  9. Dallas (1.3 million)
  10. Jacksonville, Florida (986,000)
  11. Austin (980,000)
  12. Fort Worth (978,000)
  13. San Jose (970,000)
  14. Columbus, Ohio (913,000)
  15. Charlotte, North Carolina (911,000)

Modest reversals of population declines were seen last year in large cities in the nation's Northeast and Midwest. Detroit, for example, which grew for the first time in decades, had seen an exodus of people since the 1950s. Yet the estimates released Thursday show the population of Michigan’s largest city rose by just 1,852 people from 631,366 in 2022 to 633,218 last year.

It's a milestone for Detroit, which had 1.8 million residents in the 1950s only to see its population dwindle and then plummet through suburban white flight, a 1967 race riot, the migration to the suburbs by many of the Black middle class and the national economic downturn that foreshadowed the city's 2013 bankruptcy filing.

Three of the largest cities in the U.S. that had been bleeding residents this decade staunched those departures somewhat. New York City, which has lost almost 550,000 residents this decade so far, saw a drop of only 77,000 residents last year, about three-fifths the numbers from the previous year.

Los Angeles lost only 1,800 people last year, following a decline in the 2020s of almost 78,000 residents. Chicago, which has lost almost 82,000 people this decade, only had a population drop of 8,200 residents last year.

And San Francisco, which has lost a greater share of residents this decade than any other big city — almost 7.5 percent — actually grew by more than 1,200 residents last year.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

How this Houston clean energy entrepreneur is navigating geothermal's hype to 100x business growth

houston innovators podcast Episode 237

Geothermal energy has been growing in recognition as a major player in the clean energy mix, and while many might think of it as a new climatetech solution, Tim Latimer, co-founder and CEO of Fervo Energy, knows better.

"Every overnight success is a decade in the making, and I think Fervo, fortunately — and geothermal as a whole — has become much more high profile recently as people realize that it can be a tremendous solution to the challenges that our energy sector and climate are facing," he says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

In fact, Latimer has been bullish on geothermal as a clean energy source since he quit his job as a drilling engineer in oil and gas to pursue a dual degree program — MBA and master's in earth sciences — at Stanford University. He had decided that, with the reluctance of incumbent energy companies to try new technologies, he was going to figure out how to start his own company. Through the Stanford program and Activate, a nonprofit hardtech program that funded two years of Fervo's research and development, Latimer did just that.

And the bet has more than paid off. Since officially launching in 2017, Fervo Energy has raised over $430 million — most recently collecting a $244 million series D round. Even more impressive to Latimer — his idea for drilling horizontal wells works. The company celebrated a successful pilot program last summer by achieving continuous carbon-free geothermal energy production with Project Red, a northern Nevada site made possible through a 2021 partnership with Google.

Next up for Fervo is growing and scaling at around a 100x pace. While Project Red included three wells, Project Cape, a Southwest Utah site, will include around 100 wells with significantly reduced drilling cost and an estimated 2026 delivery. Latimer says there are a dozen other projects like Project Cape that are in the works.

"It's a huge ramp up in our drilling, construction, and powerplant programs from our pilot project, but we've already had tremendous success there," Latimer says of Project Cape. "We think our technology has a really bright future."

While Latimer looks ahead to the rapid growth of Fervo Energy, he says it's all due to the foundation he put in place for the company, which has a culture built on the motto, "Build things that last."

“You’re not going to get somewhere that really changes the world by cutting corners and taking short steps. And, if you want to move the needle on something as complicated as the global energy system that has been built up over hundreds of years with trillions of dollars of capital invested in it – you’re not going to do it overnight," he says on the show. "We’re all in this for the long haul together."