Gamified activities incentivize students to work harder to achieve goals and catch up in the subjects they were falling behind in. Photo via Getty Images

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented difficulty for teachers. Students adjusting from in-person to remote back to in-person learning have struggled immensely.

Research demonstrates that during the COVID-19 pandemic, high school students lost on average “the equivalent of 3.4 months of instruction in reading, 3.3 months in math, 3.1 months in science, and 2.3 months in English” — even through remote learning.

This learning gap, or COVID slide, as it is more commonly referred to, needs to be addressed. Already, we are seeing the consequences of this learning loss. According to data from the ACT, the standardized college entrance exam taken by high school juniors and seniors, the “average high school junior who took the college entrance exam in spring 2021 fell from the 50th to 46th percentile.”

Even as in-person instruction resumes again, test scores continue to stagnate and fall. The question remains: how do we recoup this learning loss caused by COVID-19?

What is ed tech?

Education technology, or edtech, refers to the practice of using educational hardware and software to enhance teaching in the classroom. Edtech can make learning more accessible and fun for students. With the rise in learning gaps in the classrooms, edtech can solve this growing issue.

While edtech has taken over the field of education quite rapidly due to the onset of COVID-19, there are certain aspects of educational technology that are still unexplored by many. Virtual reality, augmented reality, and machine learning have become more prominent in the field. Learning becomes much more exciting when the idea of games is added to it.

The concept that students end up learning more while having fun has been given a new name: gamification in education. Game-based elements are integrated with learning to enhance students’ knowledge and information. Technology has broken down various barriers to becoming an integral part of our day-to-day lives and changing how we live. However, despite becoming a part of education, there is limited research as to how gamification affects students.

Benefits of gamification in education

Do you remember that feeling back in school when you received a gold star on your worksheet? Or the time when your name went up on the classroom wall of fame? That feeling of being excited and even proud of our achievement is what we need to harness in order to make our students excited about their learning. By providing badging and credentialing in their day-to-day learning, we can provide gamification aspects of that classroom wall of fame!

Even though it is evident that students are significantly more enthusiastic when gamification in education is involved, there are certain behavioral changes caused by gamification that are also observed by various studies.

A study shows that gamification has a positive yet moderate effect on students. However, it tends to have a greater impact on school students than college students. Nonetheless, this cannot be generalized to all students since many character traits differ across students resulting in various outcomes.

According to Science Direct, students who experienced challenge-based gamification faced an increase in their performance levels by 89.45 percent as compared to those who only received lectures. This study once again proves that gamification piques the interest of students in their education and leads them to do better.

This point is further supported by Intuition which found that 67 percent of students found gamified learning to be more engaging and encouraging as compared to traditional learning courses.

The learning environment created with the availability of gamification seems promising to the extent that students are capable of achieving more and absorbing more as compared to traditional learning methods. E-learning has made different channels of education accessible to students who seem more eager to learn in a virtual social network. This behavior gives room to healthy competition among students who then wish to perform better than others.

​Incorporating gamification in education

There isn’t a set standard of gamified learning involved and depending on the lesson, different features of gamification can be used to make education fun and unique for all. Some useful ways of incorporating gamification within the classroom include:

  • Creating avatars. Allowing students to have personalized experiences and developing their skill sets in a competitive environment with their classmates prepares them for practical life.
  • Awarding badges. Rather than receiving grades, students can be awarded online badges that mark their progress in class.
  • Knowledge checks. Testing subject skills through quizzes and leaderboards increases the performance levels of students while strengthening their concepts within the class.

The addition of simple gamification in education makes the learning process unique to each teacher or classroom while enhancing the competitiveness of students to perform better and achieve more.

Considering that children have faced a detrimental setback in their education, we need to get their attention back on track. COVID-19 has made students heavily reliant on their tablets and smartphones which makes using gamification a good technique to get them to engage with their academics once again. These conceptual gamified activities incentivize students to work harder to achieve goals and catch up in the subjects they were lacking behind in. It is time that we try these engaging activities and unique methods to boost student engagement and provide an avenue for them to get excited about their education.

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Ghazal Qureshi is the founder and CEO of UpBrainery, a Houston-based immersive educational technology platform that taps into neuroscience research-based programs to provide adaptive learning and individualized pathways for students at home or in the classroom.

These are the Houston women named to this year's Women of Influence list by Entrepreneur Magazine. Photo via Getty Images

Houston founders recognized as influential women

who runs the world?

A handful of Houston women have been named to Entrepreneur Magazine's 2022 Women of Influence list, which recognizes women making an impact in their respective industries.

Ghazal Qureshi and Vernee Hines, co-founders of The Woodlands-based UpBrainery Technologies, and Houston-based Carolyn Rodz, along with her California-based co-founder, Elizabeth Gore, of Hello Alice, made the 2022 list. Additionally, representing the bar and restaurant world, Alba Huerta, founder of Julep, joins her fellow Houstonians for the honor.

UpBrainery is an AI-driven technology platform that helps middle and high school students align their interests with career development. The company has worked with Whataburger, Girl Scouts, The Houston Rockets, NASDAQ and others. It was also named by the Department of Defense Education Activity as the premiere provider of Career Technology Education for 52 military middle schools across the world this summer. The app uses its proprietary BrainLab platform that presents TikTok-style videos, gamified learning and augmented reality to relate to its young users.

"Our careful plan to launch a disruptive education technology in 2020, just as schools shut down, did not go well!," the duo told Entrepreneur. "But today we're engaging students through gamified content and immersive experiences. We've been hyperfocused on career development in middle and high school with new tools that allow students to better understand their interests and aptitudes. Technology is the only way to scale change. And although changing the status quo in education is daunting, it's doable."

Qureshi, Qureshi serves as the CEO of Upbrainery, and Hines were also named to Forbes' Next 1000 list in 2021, which featured inspiring entrepreneurs and small-business leaders “who are redefining what it means to build and run a business amid the new normal.” The company recently participated in the gBETA Houston accelerator in 2021.

Hello Alice is a data-driven platform that provides over 1 million small business owners with free advice, resources, and access to funding. Most recently, the Houston-based tech company announced a new founder-focused credit card.

"As a Latina- and women-founded company, we focus on New Majority small business owners facing persistent and glaring disparities in access to capital," the two founders told the magazine. "We have raised and distributed over $37 million in grants — mostly to women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, those with a military connection, and entrepreneurs with disabilities. And we've brought on partners like Mastercard and NAACP to help."

Edtech is expected to continue to make learning more interactive, fun, and inclusive for people around the world. Photo via Pexels

Here's what types of technology is going to disrupt the education sector, says this Houston founder

guest column

Technology has always maneuvered education in a certain direction but the COVID-19 pandemic has forced it to shift towards a new direction entirely.

What started off as a basic video lecture turned into a more hybrid and innovative form of education, enabling student engagement and interactivity like never before. Social media forums allow teachers to pay one-on-one attention to students boosting their learning process.

With an edtech boom on the rise, there is a question of what further expansion in educational technology is expected. Here are some technology breakthroughs currently underway in the education sector:

Biometric signals

A technology that picks up human behavior and traits to display individual needs and requirements has become an important part of the education system. Biometrics within the classroom can disclose every student’s disposition, physical and emotional, making it possible to tailor the course to their personal needs.

Augmented reality glasses

Thomas Edison once said “Books will soon be obsolete in schools. Scholars will soon be instructed through the eye.” AR glasses layer data on what students see naturally giving a real-life learning experience. A student using AR glasses in the class could sit on his desk and have a geographical map laid out in front of him in the geography lesson.

Multi-touch surfaces

Even though multi-touch surfaces are present in smartphones and tablets, enabling them in the education system will be a game changer. With multitouch desks, students can access the virtual world of learning and connect with other students globally.

According to FMI, the Edtech Market will reach a whopping $288.4 billion by 2031. Analysts suggest this growth is due to sway towards digital learning which has allowed users to view content anywhere, anytime. The Learning Management Software has gained global acceptance since innovative tools are launched to help users adapt to the upcoming technology.

Companies and institutions are using LMS to enhance learning capabilities to further an edtech boom.

Between 2021 and 2031 the academic institution segment in the Edtech market is expected to increase by 16.7 percent. McKinsey suggests that these technologies have filled the void left by conventional teaching methods. Technologies like Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality have made classroom interactions and in-person experiences effective in the education system.

At the same time, Edtech investment is growing as well. HolonIQ reported a $21 billion venture of capital investment in edtech startups globally, in 2021. This was a growth 3 times higher before the pandemic hit the world. During the global pandemic, the education sector was revolutionized and learning moved online. This opened up an avenue for edtech startups globally creating room for an edtech boom.

Growth opportunities created by educational institutes 

Moving on from the global pandemic, education institutes have moved on from traditional learning, encouraging students to use ebooks. This has created opportunities for companies to share their e-learning solutions in the market.

Microlearning has been introduced as a concept where learners are provided knowledge at the rate they can absorb the information efficiently. This is helpful for learners with a short attention span. Microlearning improves learning transfer by 71 percent, and engagement by 50 percent while reducing development cost by 50 percent and increasing the development speed.

The pandemic has left its impact on the education system with educators and learners being comfortable with adaptive edtech. According to research by Purdue University, technological advances have changed the perspectives of both educators and learners. Being more aware of the fact that there is no standard way of learning for all students, teachers prefer educational technology for interactive learning sessions.

Innovation in edtech continues to grow since there are no limits to growth, especially in technology. After receiving positive feedback from parents, teachers, and students, further advances in edtech are expected to make learning more interactive, fun, and inclusive for people around the world.

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Ghazal Qureshi is the founder and CEO of UpBrainery, a Houston-based immersive educational technology platform that taps into neuroscience research-based programs to provide adaptive learning and individualized pathways for students at home or in the classroom.

A Texas startup joins another Houston accelerator — and more Houston innovation news. Photo via Getty Images

Chevron taps startup for accelerator, nonprofit calls for diverse founders, and more Houston news

short stories

Houston's summer has been heating up in terms of innovation news, and there might be some headlines you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, a Houston accelerator program taps an Austin energy tech startup, a health tech company names a new C-level exec, and more.

Houston-founded startup raises $26M, names new CEO

Spruce has fresh funding and a new CEO. Photo via GetSpruce.com

Houston-founded multifamily service provider Spruce has raised a $26 million series B round of funding. Additionally, the company has named seasoned technology executive and board member Steven Pho as CEO. His previous experience includes Favor Delivery and RetailMeNot. Former CEO and founder, Ben Johnson, will transition to president.

“For the past two years, I’ve been able to guide Spruce as a board member and am honored to continue to do that as CEO,” says Pho in a news release. “Ben’s vision for Spruce ensured the company’s incredible growth to date, as well as the outsized positive impact on local economies and small businesses Spruce partners with across the country. I am excited to continue to partner with him as he transitions to President of the company. ”

The series B round was led by Sweat Equity Partners, with participation from SoftBank Corp., Mercury Fund, Fitz Gate Ventures, Seamless Capital, Raven One Ventures, and New Age Ventures. The funding will be used to grow the company's team to support expansion. Spruce reportedly plans to nearly double its headcount.

“We believe Spruce has established the right formula for working with local businesses, consumers, and rental properties alike,” says Manish Narula of SoftBank Corp. “We are looking forward to Spruce’s continued growth as it scales with this latest investment round.”

Spruce has raised $40 million to date, including its $8 million series A, which was led by Houston-based Mercury Fund in 2020. The company, which was founded as Apartment Butler, rebranded and relocated its HQ to Austin a couple years ago.

Texas tech startup joins Chevron Technology Ventures Catalyst Program

Houston startup aims to prepare the energy industry's future workforce From Rex Tillerson's thoughts on leadership and politics to Houston's role in the low-carbon energy movement, check out these powerful quotes from the 2020 KPMG Global Energy Conference. Getty Images

An innovative Austin company has doubled down on its acceleration and incubation activity in Houston.

Parasanti Inc. was selected to participate in the Houston-based Chevron Technology Ventures Catalyst Program. The company is a member of Greentown Houston and participated in Halliburton Labs. The company's edge computing technology provides secure solutions for remote work — such as off-the-grid oilfield operations.

Through CTV's Catalyst Program, which was founded in 2017 to help mature early-stage technology destined to impact the energy industry, Parasanti be tasked with further developing its software and expand into new projects.

“Parasanti is honored to receive support from a global energy technology leader like Chevron through this program,” says Carrie Horazeck, president of Parasanti’s commercial division, in a news release. “The CTV team has been incredibly helpful as we adapt our technology for the advanced energy solutions market. This program further demonstrates Chevron’s commitment to enabling the energy transition through technological advancement.”

Houston founders can apply for $100,000

Calling all diverse founders in Houston. Photo via Getty Images

Houston founders have until July 25 to apply for Founders First CDC's Job Creators Quest Grant, which will dole out $100,000 to support minority and underrepresented business owners throughout the state of Texas. The nonprofit is looking for Texas companies that:

  • are diverse-led (Black, indigenous, a person of color, LGBTQIA+, military veteran, a woman or located in a low to moderate income area)
  • employ two to 20 people
  • are located in the north, central east, or south Texas regions
  • have annual revenues between $100,000 to $3 million

The grant program was established to help business owners create premium wage jobs and reward diverse-led businesses throughout the state of Texas. Since its launch in early 2021, Founders First CDC has awarded more than $400,000 to minority and underserved business owners throughout the United States.

“With the rising cost of living, it can be challenging for families let alone business owners to stay afloat, particularly when it costs them more to provide goods and services for their consumers,” says Shaylon Scott, executive director of Founders First, in a news release. “We are happy to be able to invest money and resources in hard working business owners throughout Texas to help them thrive, even during uncertain economic times. Investing in diverse entrepreneurs is not only an impactful way to create jobs but is a pivotal way to close the general wealth gap in underserved communities.”

Qualified business owners, particularly those in the Dallas-Ft. Worth, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio markets can learn more and apply online.

Houston tech startup snags military award

This online learning platform just partnered up with a government entity. Photo via Getty Images

Houston-based UpBrainery Technologies, an online learning platform, received an award from the Department of Defense Education Activity as the premiere provider of Career Technology Education for 52 military middle Schools across the world. CTE provides middle school students with critical academic and technical skills, knowledge, and training.

"UpBrainery's skills-based training is delivered through the proprietary artificial intelligence-based technology, BrainLab," the company reports in a news release. "The blend of cutting-edge technology and skills training content provides an engaging experience for students delivered through TikTok-style videos, gamified learning, and augmented reality."

The agreement builds upon DODEA's vision of educating, engaging, and empowering military-connected student in order to ensure that "all school-aged children of military families are provided a world-class education that prepares them for post-secondary education and/or career success," the release continues.

Specific details on the partnership were not released.

Houston oncology company names new C-suite leader

Aravive Inc. has a new chief medical officer. Photo via Getty Images

A Houston-based late clinical-stage oncology company has a new C-level exec.

Aravive Inc. (Nasdaq: ARAV), which is developing targeted therapeutics to treat metastatic disease, announced its new chief medical officer, Dr. Robert B. Geller. A medical oncologist with over 30 years of drug development experience, Geller will lead all aspects of clinical and medical affairs, including commercialization preparedness and launch of novel therapeutics, according to a news release.

“I feel very fortunate and proud that I am able to join Aravive at this critical juncture, as the company nears key value inflection points,” says Geller in the release. “As a medical oncologist, I have devoted my career to caring for patients, and developing and commercializing new therapies for cancer patients. Based upon the clinical data to date on batiraxcept, I am convinced that batiraxcept has the potential to meet the high unmet medical needs of patients with advanced cancers, and potentially become a best-in-class medicine across a range of tumors, including ovarian, renal and pancreatic cancer, which require new treatment approaches.”

Geller was most recently senior vice president of medical affairs at California-based Coherus Biosciences. He's authored over 200 publications and abstracts and has served as reviewer for numerous medical journals.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Tammi Wallace of the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce, Adam Putterman of OURS, and Ghazal Qureshi of UpBrainery. Courtesy photos

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 mental health — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Tammi Wallace, co-founder of the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce

Tammi Wallace of the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce was a panelist on The Ion's Pride in Tech event. Photo via LinkedIn

There are a few days left in Pride Month, and Houston's tech community came together last week to celebrate — but also discuss some of the challenges within the ecosystem for LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs.

In a Q&A with InnovationMap, Tammi Wallace, co-founder of the Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce, shared her advice for LGBTQIA+ innovators and allies.

"Get involved with the Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce," she says. "Since 2016, the chamber has been working to build a strong community to support LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs and get them access to resources to help their businesses grow and thrive." Click here to read more.

Adam Putterman, co-founder of OURS

Adam Putterman, co-founder of OURS, shares how he jumped on the opportunity that is innovating the future of relationship health. Photo courtesy of OURS

More than ever before, people are warming up to the idea of seeking professional health care for more than just their bodies, Adam Putterman, co-founder of OURS says on the most recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"We've seen a massive shift in the perception of counseling and therapy — and, more importantly, all the aspects of health that are not just your body," he explains. "It's no longer just going to the gym, it's meditating, coaching for a professional field. We've found that people are taking that mindset and applying it to their relationship as well."

After launching its beta in 2020, OURS worked in stealth to develop its product, which officially launched in May. The platform costs $400 for a four-week program that includes six personalized interactive sessions with an OURS guide at the helm of the experience. These one-hour technology-powered sessions are based around an innovative new technology, called Loveware, and include dynamic and meaningful conversations between a couple that are built around the magic that comes from being in the room with an expert. Click here to listen to the full episode and read more.

Ghazal Qureshi, founder and CEO of UpBrainery

Innovations like artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and machine learning certainly have advantages in the edtech sector. Photo courtesy

The education community is facing big changes thanks to technology and new innovations. In a guest column for InnovationMap, Ghazal Qureshi — founder and CEO of UpBrainery, a Houston-based immersive educational technology platform — shares how things like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and more have the potential to impact the sector.

"AI has created benefits for educators as well, such as it has created a task automation system in which all kinds of daily mundane tasks including grading papers, admin work, replying to queries, etc. have been directly automated," she writes. "Although adopting cutting-edge technology in the educational industry for most institutions is certainly not a piece of cake as it is time-consuming and very costly." Click here to read more.

Innovations like artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and machine learning certainly have advantages in the edtech sector. Photo by Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

Houston founder: Innovating education in an evolving world

guest column

Once upon a time, gaining knowledge was relatively a simpler task. Going to school, being taught through books, the joy of taking notes on a neat blank page, and the use of bright, colorful stationery had another level of excitement.

Now, the overwhelming innovations in the educational sector has changed the entire landscape and left educators, students, and parents wondering whether they will be able to adapt to the changing times.

Innovations like artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and machine learning certainly have advantages in the edtech sector.

What are AI, AR, and machine learning?

It is common to see these acronyms flash around in product innovations, news, and the educational sector. Artificial intelligence is the capability of a robot that is managed or controlled by a computer to do tasks that are carried out by humans, such as analyzing and making decisions.

Whereas augmented reality is the experience of a real world where the objects belonging to the real world are enhanced by the computer. Machine learning is a part of artificial intelligence that allows computers to act without being explicitly programmed.

According to the report published in Statista, “the global artificial intelligence market is projected to grow rapidly in the future years, reaching around $126 billion by 2025."

The Business Research Company has stated in their article that “the global augmented reality in training and education market size is expected to grow from $6.27 billion in 2021 to $10.37 billion in 2022 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 65.4 percent.”

Will the education industry be able to survive in these rapidly evolving times?

One thing which the pandemic has proved is that e-learning and e-teaching became easily accessible, adaptable, and preferred by the majority of the working class. Not only that but post-pandemic, both students and educators preferred online education over traditional methods since over time we have recognized the upside of e-learning.

Some of these include studying at your own pace and convenience, you get to design your schedule, and improved time management because you get to skip on travel-time and it leads to enhanced learning through innovative educational tools such as AI, AR, and machine learning.

As explained by Communications of the Association for Information System (CAIS), a study was conducted regarding what were the factors of receiving distance education despite the normal circumstances. A model was developed based on social cognitive theory and social cognitive career theory. It was then tested by using data from 525 college students surveyed after enrolling in distance learning classes. Per the report, "results indicate that personal and environmental factors drive intentions to continue with distance learning through their impact on distance learning perceived performance, and satisfaction.“

Augmented Reality in the educational sector has enabled teachers to engage their students through virtual examples of various concepts, by utilizing gaming-like strategists to help students understand the textbook materials easily.

As a result, students have shown keen interest, high engagement, faster learning, and easy memorizing capabilities.

A recent example of augmented reality in the educational sector is Google Expedition, which enables students to see 3D objects in the classroom like volcanoes, the human brain, DNA, etc., which helps them to understand, visualize and experience the learning process. It goes beyond the traditional imaginative process of learning and experiencing.

According to Assembler Blog, “statistics have revealed that 80 percent of more students are likely to attend a class that incorporates augmented reality experiences.” Moreover, “70 percent of students also say that they could grasp the material faster and improve their learning experience” through AR technology used in teaching.

Similarly, machine learning and AI have also taken the educational industry by storm.

A blog written in The Journal has stated that: “According to the eLearning Industry, 47 percent of learning management tools will be enabled with AI capabilities in the next three years.”

Artificial intelligence has helped students in tutoring when students face problems and are not able to reach their teachers at that moment, making virtual tutors, artificially intelligent software, and chatbots perfect solutions in these situations.

Moreover, personalization is something that every student prefers to have in their education. Through machine learning, AI has enabled its students to choose their program based on their capability, pace, and desire. We must recognize that each person has learning preferences, most of us only memorize through visual means. Similarly, another person might be an auditory learner or a kinesthetic learner. Hence, it is imperative to identify these cognitive traits to deliver personalized and successful learning experiences to our students.

AI has created benefits for educators as well, such as it has created a task automation system in which all kinds of daily mundane tasks including grading papers, admin work, replying to queries, etc. have been directly automated.

Although adopting cutting-edge technology in the educational industry for most institutions is certainly not a piece of cake as it is time-consuming and very costly.

But by looking at all the facts and figures, the benefits and students teachers' high engagement evidence shows that indeed the educational sector will transform and cope with the speedy changes gradually.

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Ghazal Qureshi is the founder and CEO of UpBrainery, a Houston-based immersive educational technology platform that taps into neuroscience research-based programs to provide adaptive learning and individualized pathways for students at home or in the classroom.

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Amazon rolls out hundreds of new electric vans for Houston's holiday delivery season

Electric avenue

Amazon CEO/occasional space traveler Jeff Bezos is doing his best to supplant a certain jolly fellow from the North Pole as tops for holiday gift delivery.

His latest move: Amazon is rolling out more than 1,000 electric delivery vehicles, designed by electric vehicle manufacturer Rivian, ready to make deliveries in more than 100 cities across the U.S. On the Texas good list: Houston, Austin, and Dallas. Bezos' juggernaut began deliveries in Dallas in July, along with Baltimore, Chicago, Kansas City, Nashville, Phoenix, San Diego, Seattle, and St. Louis.

These zero-emissions vans have delivered more than 5 million packages to customers in the U.S., according to Amazon. The latest boost in vehicles now includes Houston and Austin; Boston; Denver; Indianapolis; Las Vegas; Madison, Wisconsin; Newark, New Jersey; New York, Oakland, California; Pittsburgh, Portland, Oregon; Provo, Utah; and Salt Lake City.

Plans for the Amazon and Rivian partnership call for thousands of vehicles on the road by the end of the year and 100,000 vehicles by 2030.

“We’re always excited for the holiday season, but making deliveries to customers across the country with our new zero-emission vehicles for the first time makes this year unique,” said Udit Madan, vice president of Amazon Transportation, in a statement. “We’ve already delivered over 5 million packages with our vehicles produced by Rivian, and this is still just the beginning—that figure will grow exponentially as we continue to make progress toward our 100,000-vehicle goal.”

This all comes as part of Amazon's commitment to reaching net-zero carbon by 2040, as a part of its The Climate Pledge; Amazon promises to eliminate millions of metric tons of carbon per year with it s commitment to 100,000 electric delivery vehicles by 2030, press materials note.

Additionally, Amazon announced plans to invest more than $1 billion over the next five years to further electrify and decarbonize its transportation network across Europe. This investment is meant to spark innovation and encourage more public charging infrastructure across the continent.

“Fleet electrification is essential to reaching the world’s zero-emissions goal,” said Jiten Behl, chief growth officer at Rivian, in a statement. “So, to see our ramp up in production supporting Amazon’s rollout in cities across the country is amazing. Not just for the environment, but also for our teams working hard to get tens of thousands of electric delivery vehicles on the road. They continue to be motivated by our combined mission and the great feedback about the vehicle’s performance and quality.”

A little about the vans: Drivers’ favorite features include a spacious cabin and cargo area, superior visibility with a large windshield and 360-degree cameras, and ventilated seats for fast heating and cooling — a must for Bayou City summers ... or winters, for that matter.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston low-carbon fuel company scores United investment, plans to IPO via spac

big moves

It’s been a momentous month for Houston-based NEXT Renewable Fuels Inc.

On November 15, United Airlines Ventures announced an investment of up to $37.5 million in the next-generation, low-carbon fuel producing company.

Just a week later, the company revealed it’s going public through a SPAC merger with Industrial Tech Acquisitions II Inc. The deal, expected to close in the second quarter of 2023, assigns a $666 million equity value to NEXT. The publicly traded company will be named NXTCLEAN Fuels Inc.

NEXT, founded in 2016, produces low-carbon fuels from organic feedstock. The company plans to open a biofuel refinery in Port Westward, Oregon, that’s set to start production in 2026. The refinery could produce up to 50,000 barrels per day of sustainable aviation fuel, renewable diesel, and other renewable fuels.

“West Coast states are demanding a clean fuels conversion of the transportation and aviation industries with aggressive targets necessitating rapid increases in clean fuel supplies,” Christopher Efird, executive chairman and CEO of NEXT, says in a news release. “[The company] is advancing toward becoming one of the largest U.S.-based suppliers of clean fuels for these markets, and is investigating and pursuing potential vertical expansion into other clean fuels.”

The proposed public listing of NEXT’s stock on the Nasdaq market and United’s investment are poised to help NEXT reach its goal of becoming a leader in the clean fuel sector. United’s investment appears to be the first equity funding for NEXT.

“Right now, one of the biggest barriers to increasing supply and lowering costs of sustainable fuel is that we don’t have the infrastructure in place to transport it efficiently, but NEXT’s strategic location and assets solve that problem and provide a blueprint for future facilities that need to be built,” Michael Leskinen, president of United Airline Ventures, says in a news release.

United’s investment arm, launched in 2021, targets ventures that will complement the airline’s goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.