3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Eric Rubenstein of New Climate Ventures, Susan Davenport of Greater Houston Partnership, and Zimri T. Hinshaw of Bucha Bio. Courtesy photos

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


Eric Rubenstein, founding managing partner of New Climate Ventures

Eric Rubenstein of New Climate Ventures joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the future of Houston as a clean energy hub. Photo courtesy of NCV

Houston has a big role to play in the energy transition, says Eric Rubenstein, a climatetech investor, on last week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"Houston's role (within the energy transition) is multifaceted," he explains. "We have a talent pool here that fits pretty well in climate tech, alternative materials, and other spaces. ...We have a customer base here that is going to adopt these new technologies."

Rubenstein founded New Climate Ventures to fund startups within the sustainability and climate tech space — which includes technologies that address circular economy, sustainably made materials, clean energy, and more. Click here to read more and stream the episode.

Susan Davenport, chief economic development officer for the Greater Houston Partnership

The Greater Houston Partnership's Susan Davenport shares details on Houston House at SXSW. Photo via houston.org

Last year, the Greater Houston Partnership created virtual content to shine a spotlight on Houston tech and innovation at SXSW. This year, the GHP is taking that same initiative in-person and in Austin. Susan Davenport, chief economic development officer at GHP, shared in a Q&A what people can expect fro Houston House at SXSW.

"Anyone who is interested in technology, commercial aerospace, life sciences, and how DEI traverses with these industries will find value in our rockstar lineup of industry leaders, investors, and startup founders," she says. "We hope to see young professionals, entrepreneurs, investors, and executives."

The activation runs Sunday, March 13, and Monday, March 14. Click here to read more.

Zimri T. Hinshaw, CEO of Bucha Bio

Bucha Bio has arrived to make an impact on the city of Houston. Image via LinkedIn

A sustainable fashion company has relocated to Houston. Bucha Bio, founded in 2019, creates in textiles and composite materials made from bacterial nanocellulose, a much more sustainable materials production, that can be used instead of animal leather, polyurethane, latex, vinyl, epoxy, and more. The company announced in a press release today that it's moving from New York City and opening a next-gen materials headquarters at the East End Maker Hub. Bucha Bio has also been accepted as a member company at Greentown Labs.

According to the release, over 20 locations were considered, and Houston stood out for its hiring potential, local universities, Texas's business-friendly regulation, and more.

“We’ve signed on senior scientists and their experiences from the oil and plastic industry are perfectly suited to biomaterials,” says Zimri T. Hinshaw, CEO of Bucha Bio, in the release. Click here to read more.

Bucha Bio has arrived to make an impact on the city of Houston. Image courtesy of Bucha Bio

Sustainable biomaterials startup expands to Houston

new to hou

A New York-founded biomaterials company has announced the opening of operations in Houston after research found the region's workforce “perfectly suited to biomaterials.”

Bucha Bio, founded in 2019, creates in textiles and composite materials made from bacterial nanocellulose, a much more sustainable materials production, that can be used instead of animal leather, polyurethane, latex, vinyl, epoxy, and more. The company announced in a press release today that it's moving from New York City and opening a next-gen materials headquarters at the East End Maker Hub. Bucha Bio has also been accepted as a member company at Greentown Labs.

According to the release, over 20 locations were considered, and Houston stood out for its hiring potential, local universities, Texas's business-friendly regulation, and more.

“We’ve signed on senior scientists and their experiences from the oil and plastic industry are perfectly suited to biomaterials,” says Zimri T. Hinshaw, CEO of Bucha Bio, in the release.

One of these new local hires was Alex Kalin, who joined the company as senior materials scientist from Halliburton.

“It’s a great time to be involved in developing sustainable materials technologies," Kalin says in the release. "Having the opportunity to make a positive impact on the environment was a key factor for me joining Bucha Bio.”

Houston's chemical plant carbon footprint includes 56 gigatons tons of carbon that will be produced from now until 2050 — this number could be shrunk with sustainable alternatives like the one Bucha Bio provides. This potential has been recognized by Greentown Labs.

“Bringing world class energy transition companies like Bucha Bio to Houston is a win-win; not only is Bucha positioned to tap into a diverse talent pool from Universities such as Rice, University of Houston, and Texas A&M, but a wealth of extant talent which is looking to transition their careers; Zimri and his team bring more than technology to Houston, they bring the knowhow, vigor, and network it takes to build meaningful disruptive technology company," says Jason Ethier, senior director of memberships at Greentown Houston.

Last fall, Bucha Bio raised $550,000 in funding led by Houston-based New Climate Ventures with support from SOSV’s IndieBio.

“Bucha Bio’s move to Houston marks a milestone for their ability to keep up with the growing demand for their products and for our shared vision of a clean environment for generations to come," Eric Rubenstein of NCV says.

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Houston SaaS startup raises $10M to keep up with customer growth

money moves

A Houston software company has announced its latest funding.

Liongard, an IT software provider, has raised an additional $10 million led by Updata Partners with contribution from TDF Ventures — both existing investors in the company. The funding, according to a news release, will go toward providing the best customer service for Liongard's growing customer base.

The technology is providing managed service providers, or MSPs, improved visibility across the IT stack and an optimized user experience.

“Since working with our first MSP partners, we’ve seen time and again the power of visibility into IT data, reducing the time they spend researching customer issues and allowing them to respond faster than their peers,” says Joe Alapat, CEO and co-founder of Liongard, in the release. “This investment enables us to continue to achieve our vision of delivering visibility into each element of the IT stack.”

The company has about 2,000 partners in support of more than 60,000 end customers. And has been recognized as a top employer by Forbes and Inc. magazine earlier this year.

“We are excited to deepen our commitment with Liongard,“ says Carter Griffin, general partner at Updata, in the release. “With its leading data platform for MSPs we expect continued fast-paced growth.”

Liongard's last funding round was in May of 2020 and was a $17 million series B round. Both Updata Partners and TDF ventures were involved in that round. The company's total funding now sits at over $30 million.

Rice University rises to No. 1 spot in new ranking of best college investments

money moves

By one measure, earning a degree at Rice University is the smartest move in the Lone Star State.

In its eighth annual ranking of colleges and university that give students the best return on their educational investment, personal finance website SmartAsset places Rice at No. 1 in Texas and No. 10 in the U.S. It’s the only Texas school to break into the national top 10.

To determine the best-value colleges and universities in each state, SmartAsset crunched data in these categories: scholarships and grants, starting salary for new graduates, tuition, living costs, and retention rate.

While the tuition ($47,350) and student living costs ($17,800) at Rice are the highest among the top 10 Texas schools on the list, the average amount of scholarships and grants ($43,615), average starting salary ($77,900), and retention rate (97 percent) also are among the highest.

According to Rice, tuition, fees, on-campus room and board, books, and personal expenses for the 2022-23 academic year add up to $74,110. That figure, which excludes financial aid, applies to a full-time, degree-seeking student living on campus.

“Rice University is consistently ranked as a best value in higher education and is one of America’s leading teaching and research universities,” the school’s Office of Financial Aid says. “By attending Rice, you will not only receive a superior education at a reasonable cost, you also will benefit from having a Rice degree long after graduation.”

Three other schools in or near the Houston metro area appear on SmartAsset’s list of the biggest-bang-for-your-buck schools in Texas:

  • Prairie View A&M University, No. 4. The university posted the lowest retention rate (74 percent) among the 10 schools. The remaining figures sit roughly in the middle of the pack.
  • University of Houston, No. 5. The university’s tuition ($8,913) was the lowest in the top 10, as was the average amount of scholarships and grants ($6,544).
  • Texas A&M University-College Station, No. 6. The university’s living costs are the second highest among the top 10 ($17,636), while its average starting salary for new grads lands at No. 3 ($64,400).

Other schools in the state’s top 10 are:

  • University of Texas at Austin, No. 2.
  • University of Texas at Dallas (Richardson), No. 3.
  • Texas Tech University in Lubbock, No. 7.
  • LeTourneau University in Longview, No. 8.
  • University of North Texas in Denton, No. 9.
  • Texas State University in San Marcos, No. 10.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston expert addresses the growing labor shortage within health care

guest column

Long before COVID-19 became a part of our new normal, the concerns around shortages in health care staffing were present.

To put this in real terms, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the latest projection of employment through the end of this decade is an increase of nearly 12 million jobs. A fourth of those — 3.3 million to be exact — are expected to go towards health care and social assistance roles.

Before the pandemic, the concerns centered around managing a growing retired population and a slowing in higher education nurse enrollment. Then amid the growing shortage concerns surrounding the support for aging baby boomers, we were all thrusted into a pandemic.

The stressors on health care professional staffing have doubled down and what the increased shortage has shown us is the need to intervene and change the traditional hiring practices. Speed to place a nurse on assignment doesn’t just ensure productivity — it is a matter of life or death.

Over the past several years, the evolution of technology has drastically changed how health care facilities operate and interact with their employees as well as patients. There was a point in time where the structure in health care staffing was rigid without flexibility or varieties of employment type. Conversations around travel positions, per diem, and permanent are all now commonplace as the recent shortages caused us to normalize the discussion around role type and use of technology to influence speed to hire.

This whole evolution was put to test when April 2020 came, and the initial brunt of the pandemic was in full swing. The entire world was in panic mode. During these quarantine times, we were in a state of a health care emergency with thousands of patients seeking health care. Unfortunately, hospitals could not keep up with this demand with their existing nurse professionals, and became severely overloaded and dangerous. Due to this the United States saw unprecedented labor shortages, impacting a large number of nurses and health care workers as it pertains to both their physical and mental health.

What we are seeing now is a period classified as the “The Great Rethinking,” where nurses and health care workers alike are speaking up for what they believe in and deserve. Salary transparency and flexibility are just the tip of the iceberg for this movement.

SkillGigs is unique in that we are giving the power back to registered nurses and health care professionals, while meeting the demand created by the pandemic. Our team has been fortunate to be a catalyst to direct the change in the future of work, and we look forward to continuing to innovate.

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Bryan Groom is the division president of health care at Houston-based SkillGigs.