UH has named a new C-level exec to its Energy Transition Institute and entered into a new offshore partnership. Photo via UH.edu

The University of Houston has made two big moves in growing its role in supporting the Houston energy transition.

UH to explore repurposing offshore tech for clean energy with new partnership

The two companies will work closely with UH's Repurposing Offshore Infrastructure for Clean Energy Project Collaborative, or the ROICE project. Photo via UH.edu

The University of Houston has signed a memorandum of understanding with two Houston-based companies that aims to repurpose offshore infrastructure for the energy transition.

The partnership with Promethean Energy and Endeavor Management ensures that the two companies will work closely with UH's Repurposing Offshore Infrastructure for Clean Energy Project Collaborative, or the ROICE project. The collaborative is supported by about 40 institutions to address the economic and technical challenges behind repurposing offshore wells, according to a statement from UH. It's funded in part by the Department of the Treasury through the State of Texas.

“These MOUs formalize our mutual commitment to advance the industry's implementation of energy transition strategies,” Ram Seetharam, Energy Center officer and ROICE program lead, said in the statement. “Together, we aim to create impactful solutions that will benefit both the energy sector and society as a whole.” Continue reading this story on EnergyCapital.

University of Houston names new energy transition-focused executive

Debalina Sengupta has been named as the chief operating officer of UH's Energy Transition Institute. Photo via UH.edu

The University of Houston has named a new C-level executive to its energy transition-focused initiative.

Debalina Sengupta has been named as the chief operating officer of UH's Energy Transition Institute, which was established in 2022 by a $10 million commitment from Shell USA Inc. and Shell Global Solutions (US) Inc. The institute focuses on hydrogen, carbon management and circular plastics and works closely with UH’s Hewlett Packard Enterprise Data Science Institute and researchers across the university.

Sengupta, who was previously a chemical engineer with over 18 years of experience with sustainability and resilience issues, was called to ETI’s mission and its focus on Houston, which is home to more than 4,500 energy companies and a pivotal international oil and gas hub.

“UH Energy Transition Institute is the first of its kind Institute setup in Texas that focuses solely on the transition of energy,” she says in a news release. “A two-way communication between the academic community and various stakeholders is necessary to implement the transition and I saw the UH ETI role enabling me to achieve this critical goal.” Continue reading this story on EnergyCapital.

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These articles originally ran on EnergyCapital.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Sean Kelly of Amperon, Amanda Burkhardt of Phiogen, and Mielad Ziaee of UH. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Welcome to another Monday edition of Innovators to Know. Today I'm introducing you to three Houstonians to read up about — three individuals behind recent innovation and startup news stories in Houston as reported by InnovationMap. Learn more about them and their recent news below by clicking on each article.

Sean Kelly, CEO and co-founder of Amperon

Amperon CEO Sean Kelly joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share his company's growth and expansion plans. Photo via LinkedIn

The technology that Amperon provides its customers — a comprehensive, AI-backed data analytics platform — is majorly key to the energy industry and the transition of the sector. But CEO Sean Kelly says he doesn't run his business like an energy company.

Kelly explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that he chooses to run Amperon as a tech company when it comes to hiring and scaling.

"There are a lot of energy companies that do tech — they'll hire a large IT department, they'll outsource a bunch of things, and they'll try to undergo a product themselves because they think it should be IP," he says on the show. "A tech company means that at your core, you're trying to build the best and brightest technology." Continue reading.

Amanda Burkhardt, CEO of Phiogen

Spun out of Baylor College of Medicine, Phiogen was selected out of 670 companies to pitch at SXSW earlier this month. Photo via LinkedIn

A new Houston biotech company won a special award at the 16th Annual SXSW Pitch Award Ceremony earlier this month.

Phiogen, one of 45 companies that competed in nine categories, was the winner for best inclusivity, much to the surprise of the company’s CEO, Amanda Burkhardt.

Burkhardt tells InnovationMap that while she wanted to represent the heavily female patient population that Phiogen seeks to treat, really she just hires the most skilled scientists.

“The best talent was the folks that we have and it ends up being we have three green card holders on our team. As far as ethnicities, we have on our team we have Indian, African-American, Korean, Chinese Pakistani, Moroccan and Hispanic people and that just kind of just makes up the people who helped us on a day-to-day basis,” she explains. Continue reading.

Mielad Ziaee, 2023-2024 All of Us Research Scholar

Mielad Ziaee, a 20-year-old student at the University of Houston, was tapped for a unique National Institutes of Health program. Photo via UH.edu

A Houston-area undergraduate student has been tapped for a prestigious national program that pairs early-career investigators with health research professionals.

Mielad Ziaee was selected for the National Institutes of Health’s 2023-2024 All of Us Research Scholar Program, which connects young innovators with experts "working to advance the field of precision medicine," according to a statement from UH. Ziaee – a 20-year-old majoring in psychology and minoring in biology, medicine and society who plans to graduate in 2025 — plans to research how genomics, or the studying of a person's DNA, can be used to impact health.

“I’ll be one of the ones that define what this field of personalized, precision medicine will look like in the future,” Ziaee said in a statement. “It’s exciting and it’s a big responsibility that will involve engaging diverse populations and stakeholders from different systems – from researchers to health care providers to policymakers.” Continue reading.

A team from the University of Houston received a grant to continue its work on using AI and digital twin technology to better evaluate bridges in Texas. Photo via uh.edu

Houston professor earned $500,000 grant to tap into digital twin tech for bridge safety

transportation innovation

A University of Houston professor has received a grant from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of how bridges are inspected in the state.

The $505,286 grant will support the project of Vedhus Hoskere, assistant professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, over three years. The project, “Development of Digital Twins for Texas Bridges,” will look at how to use drones, cameras, sensors and AI to support Texas' bridge maintenance programs.

“To put this data in context, we create a 3D digital representation of these bridges, called digital twins,” Hoskere said in a statement. “Then, we use artificial intelligence methods to help us find and quantify problems to be concerned about. We’re particularly interested in any structural problems that we can identify - these digital twins help us monitor changes over time and keep a close eye on the bridge. The digital twins can be tremendously useful for the planning and management of our aging bridge infrastructure so that limited taxpayer resources are properly utilized.”

The project began in September and will continue through August 2026. Hoskere is joined on the project by Craig Glennie, the Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished Chair at Cullen College and director of the National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping, as the project’s co-principal investigator.

According to Hoskere, the project will have implications for Texas's 55,000 bridges (more than twice as many as any other state in the country), which need to be inspected every two years.

Outside of Texas, Hoskere says the project will have international impact on digital twin research. Hoskere chairs a sub-task group of the International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering (IABSE).

“Our international efforts align closely with this project’s goals and the insights gained globally will enhance our work in Texas while our research at UH contributes to advancing bridge digitization worldwide,” he said. “We have been researching developing digital twins for inspections and management of various infrastructure assets over the past 8 years. This project provides us an opportunity to leverage our expertise to help TxDOT achieve their goals while also advancing the science and practice of better developing these digital twins.”

Last year another UH team earned a $750,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for a practical, Texas-focused project that uses AI. The team was backed by the NSF's Convergence Accelerator for its project to help food-insecure Texans and eliminate inefficiencies within the food charity system.

UH Professor Vedhus Hoskere received a three-year, $505,286 grant from TxDOT for a bridge digitization project. Photo via uh.edu

Elaine Finger's donation will go toward an endowed chair to advance education, research and innovation in business and health care at the University of Houston. Photo via uh.edu

University of Houston establishes new health care business innovation chair thanks to $2M gift

donation station

A Houston philanthropist made a $2 million gift to the University of Houston to advance health care business innovation

Elaine Finger's donation will go toward an endowed chair to advance education, research and innovation in business and health care at the University of Houston. The Elaine W. Finger Endowed Chair in Health Care Business Innovation is a joint appointment in the C.T. Bauer College of Business and the Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine. The project will aim to catalyze innovative advancements to help the university into a leading hub for innovative solutions.

The endowment was made through the Bauer Foundation, and will be matched dollar-for-dollar via UH’s Aspire Fund. The Aspire Fund is a grant program created by the gift of an anonymous donor that matches all eligible gifts up to $50 million — for a total of $100 million — and is aimed to assist in education, health care innovation research, and industry outreach.

“An investment in health care business innovation is far more than a gift, it is a visionary commitment to the future of healthcare in Houston and beyond,” Diane Z. Chase, UH senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, says in a news release. “The establishment of this Chair is a testament to our shared dedication to developing solutions that will shape the health care landscape for generations to come.”

Bauer College launched the Healthcare Business Institute, or HBI, this summer to address research and innovative solutions for quality, cost and access concerns. HBI also works to connect students, faculty and researchers from Bauer, the Fertitta Family College of Medicine and the highly ranked health law program at the UH Law Center, and other UH programs.

UH will search for a new chair that according to the university, “will be considered a thought leader in health care innovation" and who is of high national prominence and able to elevate the stature of the University of Houston by bringing a record of achievements recognized by membership in the National Academy of Science, National Academy of Medicine or another national academy related to the field of study.

Ravi Aron, research director and professor of health care strategy, currently leads HBI.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Nicolaus Radford of Nauticus Robotics, Josh Teekell of SmartAC.com, and Zhifeng Ren of the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH. 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 robotics to superconductivity — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Nicolaus Radford, founder and CEO of Nauticus Robotics

Houston-based Nauticus Robotics founder, Nicolaus Radford, shares the latest from his company and why we're primed for a hardtech movement. Image via LinkedIn

It's been a busy past year or so for Nicolaus Radford, founder and CEO of Nauticus Robotics. He's taken his company public at a difficult time for the market, launched new partnerships with the United States Marine Corps, and even welcomed a new family member.

Originally founded in 2014 as Houston Mechatronics, Nauticus Robotics has designed a fleet of underwater robots and a software platform for autonomous operations. Radford caught up with InnovationMap about these recent milestones for him and the company in an interview.

"I look back on it and it's, you know, ringing the Nasdaq bell when we listed, and giving that speech at the podium — it was a surreal moment," he tells InnovationMap. "I was excited but cautious at the same time. I mean, the life of a CEO of a public company at large, it's all about the process following a process, the regulations, the administration of the public company, the filings, the reportings — it can feel daunting. I have to rise to the occasion to tackle that in this the next stage of the company." Read more.

​Josh Teekell, founder and CEO of SmartAC.com

Josh Teekell joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the latest from his company, which just closed its series B. Photo courtesy

A Houston startup that combines unique sensor technology with software analysis has raised its next round of funding to — according to Founder and CEO Josh Teekell — turbocharge its sales.

SmartAC.com's sensors can monitor all aspects of air conditioning units and report back any issues, meaning homeowners have quicker and less costly repairs. Teekell says he's focused on sales, and he's going to do that with the $22 million raised in the series B round that closed this month. He says the company will also grow its team that goes out to deploy the technology and train the contractors on the platform.

"This funding really buys us a couple years of runway through the end of next year and allows us to focus on getting to cash flow breakeven, which is right around our wheelhouse of our abilities here in the next 12 months," Teekell says. "In general, we've accomplished everything we'd be able to accomplish on the hardware side, and now it's just about deployment." Read more.

Zhifeng Ren, director of the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH

A team of researchers out of the Texas Center for Superconductivity at the University of Houston has discovered a faster way of transportation. Photo via UH.edu

Researchers at the University of Houston and in Germany released a proof-of-concept paper this month that uncovers a new, fuel efficient means of transportation that they say could one day make air travel and traditional freight transport obsolete.

"I call it a world-changing technology,” Zhifeng Ren, director of the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH and author of the paper, said in a statement.

Published in the journal APL Energy, the paper demonstrates a new way of using superconductors to move vehicles along existing highways while transporting liquified hydrogen at the same time. Until now, the costs of using superconductivity for transportation has held back innovation in the field. This model also reduces the need for a separate specialized pipeline system to transport liquified hydrogen that's able to keep the fuel source at minus 424 degrees Fahrenheit. Read more.

A new program at UH is providing Houston students with access to research tools and mentorship. Photo via UH.edu

Houston high school students step into STEM thanks to UH program

science friction

A group of Houston high schoolers aren't taking a break this summer. Instead, they are researching the human body thanks to a new program from the University of Houston.

The STEM Research Inquiry Summer Experience was launched to encourage future STEM leaders and combat the underrepresentation of people of color working in science, technology, engineering and math. Students from Jack Yates High School in Houston's Third Ward are researching hypertension, breast cancer, the spleen, and more during the summer program, according to a news release.

“STEM RISE was inspired by the goal to broaden participation in STEM teaching and learning, and to inspire students from our neighborhood community of Third Ward to envision themselves with futures at UH and ultimately in promising STEM careers,” says Mariam Manuel, director of STEM RISE student success, in the release.

UH students from across STEM fields and departments — science, math, medical, etc. — serve as mentors for the program, which received funding from the National Science Foundation.

“This unique opportunity also gives the young visitors a glimpse into college life,” says Jacqueline Ekeoba, director of STEM RISE instruction, in the release.

In collaboration with UH’s College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, teachHOUSTON, the Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine, and Jack Yates High School, the program provides the students with hands-on experience and access to research equipment and lab space.

“Creating safe and supportive learning experiences for the next generation of scientists and doctors is crucial for ensuring diversity in science and medicine," says Thomas Thesen, director of STEM RISE research experience and associate professor of neuroscience at the Fertitta Family College of Medicine. "Not only is this a valuable experience for our high school participants, but our UH students receive training in culturally responsive pedagogy by acting as near-peer mentors."

From left to right, the UH STEM RISE team includes Jacqueline Ekeoba, Mariam Manuel, and Thomas Thesen. Photo via UH.edu

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3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a logistics startup founder, a marketing expert, and a solar energy innovator.

Matthew Costello, CEO and co-founder of Voyager Portal

Houston logistics SaaS innovator is making waves with its expanded maritime shipping platform. Photo courtesy of Voyager

For several years now, Matthew Costello has been navigating the maritime shipping industry looking for problems to solve for customers with his company, Voyager Portal.

Initially, that meant designing a software platform to enhance communications and organization of the many massive and intricate global shipments happening every day. Founded in 2018 by Costello and COO Bret Smart, Voyager Portal became a integral tool for the industry that helps users manage the full lifecycle of their voyages — from planning to delivery.

"The software landscape has changed tremendously in the maritime space. Back in 2018, we were one of a small handful of technology startups in this space," Costello, who serves as CEO of Voyager, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Now that's changed. ... There's really a huge wave of innovation happening in maritime right now." Read more.

Arielle Rogg, principal and founder of Rogg Enterprises

Arielle Rogg writes in a guest column for InnovationMap about AI in the workforce. Photo via LinkedIn

Arielle Rogg isn't worried about artificial intelligence coming for her job. In fact, she has three reasons why, and she outlines them in a guest column for InnovationMap.

"The advent of AI pushes us humans to acquire new skills and hone our existing abilities so we can work alongside these evolving technologies in a collaborative fashion. AI augments human capabilities rather than replacing us. I believe it will help our society embrace lifelong learning, creating new industries and jobs that have never existed before," she writes in the piece. Read more.

Nathan Childress, founder of Solar Slice

Solar Slice Founder Nathan Childress says his new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet. Photo via LinkedIn

Nuclear engineer and entrepreneur Nathan Childress wants consumers to capture their own ray of sunlight to brighten the prospect of making clean energy a bigger part of the power grid. That's why he founded Solar Slice. The new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet.

Although trained in nuclear power plant design, solar power drew his interest as a cheaper and more accessible alternative, and Childress tells InnovationMap that he thinks that the transition to cleaner energy, in Texas especially, needs to step up.

Recent studies show that 80 to 90 percent of the money invested into fighting climate change “aren’t going to things that people actually consider helpful,” Childress says, adding that “they’re more just projects that sound good, that are not actually taking any action." Read more.

Report: Amid difficult market, Houston sees uptick in VC funding

seeing green

Houston-area startups saw a healthy increase in venture capital funding during the first half of 2024 compared with the same period last year, new data shows.

In the first six months of this year, Houston-area startups attracted $760.55 million in VC funding, according to the latest PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor. That’s up 17.7 percent from the $645.99 million collected in the first six months of 2023.

Keep in mind that these figures might not match previously reported numbers. That’s because PitchBook regularly adjusts data as new information becomes available.

In light of various factors, such as the ongoing hype over artificial intelligence, fundraising will likely continue to be challenging for U.S. startups as a whole, according to Nizar Tarhuni, vice president of institutional research and editorial at PitchBook, a provider of VC data.

Nonetheless, Bobby Franklin, president and CEO of the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA), points out that American venture capital “is finding its footing in 2024.”

Across the country, VC funding for startups in the first half of 2024 totaled $93.4 billion, up 6.5 percent from the $87.7 billion raised during the same period last year, according to the PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor.

“With steadily increasing deal values, especially across early-stage investments, more first-time financings, and increased crossover investor participation, [the second quarter of 2024] was a good one for VC,” says Franklin. “Now it’s up to founders, investors, and regulators to support, rather than stifle, these green shoots as the market heads toward a recovery.”

In the second quarter alone, VC funding in the U.S. jumped from $35.4 billion in 2023 to $55.6 billion in 2024. That’s an increase of 57 percent.

By contrast, the Houston area’s VC funding went in the opposite direction. Startups in the region scored $231.79 million in VC during the second quarter of 2024 vs. $333.17 million during the same period a year earlier. That’s a drop of 30 percent.

So far in 2024, Houston-based Fervo Energy dominates VC hauls for startups in the metro area. In March, the provider of geothermal power announced it had secured $244 million in funding, with Oklahoma City-based oil and gas company Devon Energy leading the round.

Fervo’s latest pot of VC represents more than 30 percent of all Houston-area VC funding during the first six months of 2024.

Tim Latimer, co-founder and CEO of Fervo, says the $244 million investment enables his company “to continue to position geothermal at the heart of 24/7 carbon-free energy production.”

Fervo says the latest VC round will support development of its 400-megawatt geothermal project in Beaver County, Utah. The Cape Station facility is expected to start generating power for the grid in 2026.

High-tech Formula 1 cars rev engines toward Houston for unique event

lights out and away we go

Houstonians with a passion for Formula 1 racing have to drive to Austin — and spend a lot of money — to get up close to the innovative cars that reach speeds over 200 miles per hour. That’s all going to change in September.

The Bayou City will be the next host of a Red Bull Showrun. Held on Saturday, September 7 at Discovery Green in downtown Houston, the free event will feature one of Red Bull’s championship-winning RB7 car flying down the streets around the park.

Best of all, it’s completely free to attend. Of course, those who want a great view of the action may purchase $50 grandstand tickets that went on sale this morning.

Held previously in other cities without F1 races such as New York, Dallas, and Washington, D.C., Red Bull uses the Showrun to bring the sport to new fans. Although the sport traces its history to the ‘50s, it has seen a boost in popularity thanks to Formula 1: Drive to Survive, a Netflix show that offers a behind-the-scenes look at key people on each of the 10 teams.

Red Bull’s Formula 1 team is riding particularly high at the moment, having won the Constructors Championship in both 2022 and 2023 on the strength of its car and driver Max Verstappen, who has won three consecutive Drivers’ Championship titles and currently leads the championship this year, too.

"The best part about any Red Bull Showrun is being able to bring Formula One to some fans that have already seen it, but more importantly to some who have never seen Formula One before," David Coulthard, a former Red Bull Racing Grand Prix driver who won 13 races during his 15-year career, said in a statement.

Held from noon to 2 pm, the RB7 car will make a number of trips on the streets, doing doughnuts and burnouts and generally being very fast and loud. In between those runs, the Showrun will feature appearances by other Red Bull athletes and a DJ battle between local legends DJ Mr. Rogers and Chase B, who is the longtime DJ for hip hop star Travis Scott. A complete lineup of appearances will be released at a later date, according to a release.

Fans will also have access to a fan zone with food vendors, F1 racing simulators, Oracle Red Bull Racing merchandise, and other free activities.

For more information, including how to purchase grandstand tickets, visit the event’s website.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.