This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Zach Ellis of South Loop Ventures, Toby Hamilton of Hamilton Health Box, and Ellen Ochoa of NASA. Photos courtesy

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 podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

New VC firm aims to be the bridge between promising startups and Houston's innovation ecosystem

Houston innovators podcast Episode 236

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently."


With his background that spans from the United States Military to academia and corporate venture, Ellis has had seats on nearly every side of the innovation table. But he says he was called to invest in founders of color after the murder of George Floyd. He says he also realized how much money was being left on the table by overlooking these innovators.

As one of the most diverse cities and the fourth largest city in the country, Houston is the place for Ellis's mission.

"The mission of South Loop is to become the preeminent source of venture capital dollars for underrepresented, diverse teams nationally to serve as a beacon for the best underrepresented talent and to enable them to be successful through leveraging the unique resources and talent of Houston," Ellis says. "A big part of our mission is also to help catalyze Houston as an ecosystem for tech entrepreneurship."

South Loop has six portfolio companies, including Houston-based Milkify, a breast milk freeze-drying service that went on to pitch and receive an investment on Shark Tank. Ellis says the firm expects to announce a handful of new investments over the next year or so. On the show, he explains more on what types of investment opportunities he's looking for and how founders can get in touch.

"The innovation is in the insight," he says. "We look to activate this community because we strongly believe in the power of founder insight."

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Houston-based clean energy site developer raises $300M to decarbonize big tech projects

fresh funding

Houston energy executives have started a new company dedicated to developing clean-powered infrastructure for the large electric loads.

Cloverleaf Infrastructure, dually headquartered in Houston and Seattle, Washington, announced its launch and $300 million raised from NGP and Sandbrook Capital, two private equity firms. The company's management team also invested in the company.

As emerging technology continues to grow electricity load demand, Cloverleaf has identified an opportunity to develop large-scale digital infrastructure sites powered by low-carbon electricity.

"The rapid growth in demand for electricity to power cloud computing and artificial intelligence poses a major climate risk if fueled by high-emission fossil fuels," David Berry, Cloverleaf's CEO, says in a news release. "However, it's also a major opportunity to catalyze the modernization of the US grid and the transition to a smarter and more sustainable electricity system through a novel approach to development.

"Cloverleaf is committed to making this vision a reality with the support of leading climate investors like Sandbrook and NGP."

Berry, who's based in Houston, previously co-founded and served as CFO at ConnectGen and Clean Line Energy Partners, clean energy and transmission developers. Last year, he co-founded Cloverleaf with Seattle-based Brian Janous and CTO Jonathan Abebe, who most recently held a senior role at the United States Department of Energy. Nur Bernhardt, director of Energy Strategy at Microsoft who's also based in Seattle, rounds out the executive team as vice president.

"The large tech companies have become dominant players in the electricity sector, and they are genuinely determined to power their growth with the lowest possible emissions," Janous, who serves as chief commercial officer, says in the release. "Achieving this objective doesn't depend on disruptive new technologies as much as it does on dedicated teams working hand in hand with utility partners to maximize the use of the clean generation, storage, and other technologies we already have."

Cloverleaf will work with regional U.S. utilities and data center operators to provide clean electricity at scale through strategic investments in transmission, grid interconnection, land, onsite power generation, and electricity storage, per the release.

"The sustainable development of digital infrastructure at scale is fundamentally a technical power problem," Alfredo Marti, partner at Sandbrook, adds. "We have witnessed members of the Cloverleaf team effectively address this challenge for many years through a blend of creativity, specialized engineering, a partnership mindset, and astute capital deployment."

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Houston resilience tech innovator proves out platform amid Hurricane Beryl

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 245

Earlier this month, Ali Mostafavi got an unexpected chance to pilot his company's data-backed and artificial intelligence-powered platform — all while weathering one of Houston's most impactful storms.

Mostafavi, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Texas A&M University, founded Resilitix.AI two years ago, and with the help of his lab at A&M, has created a platform that brings publicly available data into AI algorithms to provide its partners near-real time information in storm settings.

As Hurricane Beryl came ashore with Houston on its path, Mostafavi says he had the opportunity to both test his technology and provide valuable information to his community during the storm.

"We were in the process of fine tuning some of our methods and algorithms behind our technology," Mostafavi says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "When disasters happen, you go to activation mode. We put our technology development and R&D efforts on hold and try to test our technology in an operational setting."

The platform provides its partners — right now, those include local and state organizations and emergency response teams — information on evacuation reports, street flooding, and even damage sustained based on satellite imagery. Mostafavi says that during Beryl, users were wondering how citizens were faring amid rising temperatures and power outages. The Resilitix team quickly pivoted to apply algorithms to hospital data to see which neighborhoods were experiencing high volumes of patients.

"We had the ability to innovate on the spot," Mostafavi says, adding that his own lack of power and internet was an additional challenge for the company. "When an event happens, we start receiving requests and questions. ... We had to be agile and adapt our methods to be responsive. Then at the same time, because we haven't tested it, we have to verify that we are confident (in the information we provide)."

On the episode, Mostafavi shares how Hurricane Harvey — which occurred shortly after Mostafavi moved to Houston — inspired the foundation of Resilitix and how Houston is the ideal spot to grow the company.

"We are very excited that our company is Houston based," he says. "We should not be just ground zero of disasters. We have to also be ground zero for solutions as well. I believe Houston should be the hub for resilience tech innovation as it is for energy transition.

"I think energy transition, climatetech, energy tech, and disaster tech go hand in hand," Mostafavi continues. "I feel that we are in the right place."

Houston-based equitable entrepreneurship tech platform expands programs

coming soon

Fresh off of celebrating the dismissal of a lawsuit from former Trump Administration officials, Hello Alice is expanding some of its offerings for entrepreneurs.

In partnership with top organizations — like Progressive, Antares Capital, Wells Fargo, and FedEx — Hello Alice has added new offerings for its 2024 Boost Camp programs, a mix of skill-building support and grant opportunities.

“We are fortunate to continue working with great enterprise partners who share our commitment to supporting Main Street through crucial grants and mentorship programs,” Carolyn Rodz, CEO and co-founder of Hello Alice, says in a news release. “Small businesses drive our economy, yet often lack the necessary financing and resources. By partnering with major companies, Hello Alice is ensuring that small businesses have access to the tools and opportunities they need to thrive and create jobs in their local communities. Together, we are building a robust support system that fosters innovation and growth for small businesses across the country.”

This year's programs, according to Hello Alice, are as follows:

  • Antares Capital REACH Cohort: The Antares REACH Grant Program provides $20,000 grants to small businesses. Grant recipients will also take part in Antares’ Growth Track Boost Camp program, a digital community which will be home to monthly business coaching workshops, mentorship, networking, and more. Applications are open until June 28, and the program begins August 8.
  • Progressive Driving Small Business Forward Grant & Booster Camp Program: Progressive is dedicating $1 million to award 20 deserving businesses with a $50,000 grant each. Grant recipients will be invited to attend an exclusive 12-week virtual Boost Camp coaching program. Applications have closed for the program beginning September 10.
  • Wells Fargo: Wells Fargo is supporting four virtual accelerator programs over the next 18 months, designed to support up to 500 participants for each program, with a focus on business health and credit-building practices. Applications will be announced this summer for the program, which will begin in early fall.
  • FedEx: The FedEx Entrepreneur Fund supports entrepreneurs in the United States by providing them with the necessary funding, resources, and networks to enhance the success of their businesses, including the Boost Camp coaching program.
  • Applications will be announced this fall for the program, which will begin in the winter.

More information and application access is available online.

Last year's Boost programs benefitted 100 small businesses, according to Hello Alice, which reported that the 2023 Antares REACH Cohort resulted in 60 percent of participants seeing an increase in their Business Health Score and 93 percent felt better equipped to confront challenges and capitalize on opportunities. In the end, 85 percent of participants feeling more optimistic about their business growth prospects.

"Hello Alice is proud to partner with high-level enterprise companies to empower small businesses and foster their success," Natalie Diamond, vice president of business development at Hello Alice, adds. "Together, we are creating unparalleled opportunities for entrepreneurs to achieve brand success, drive financial fitness, and thrive in today's competitive market. Our joint endeavors not only offer access to capital and resources but also provide tailored guidance and mentorship, arming small business owners with the insights and support necessary to navigate challenges and seize growth opportunities.”