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5 most popular innovation stories in Houston this week

Startup pitch winners from CERAWeek made this week's top stories in Houston innovation. Photo via CERAWeek.com

Editor's note:Another week has come and gone, and it's time to round up the top headlines from the past few days. Trending Houston tech and startup news on InnovationMap included startup pitch winners from CERAWeek, a diversity-focused panel recap from SXSW, and more.

Houston showcases 12 energy transition startups at annual CERAWeek conference

Twelve startups pitched at this annual Houston energy conference — and one went home with a golden ticket into Chevron Technology Ventures' catalyst program. Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

CERAWeek by S&P Global wrapped up last week after five days of energy transition panels, leadership talks, emerging tech showcases, endless networking and so much more.

While dozens of Houston energy innovators and investors bopped around the Agora innovation section of the conference in George R. Brown Convention Center, the highest concentration of startups had to be at the Energy Transition Ventures Day pitch competition hosted by the Greater Houston Partnership's Houston Energy Transition Initiative and in collaboration with Halliburton Labs, Greentown Houston, The Ion, and more.

Twelve startups across four categories — carbon capture, use and storage, hydrogen solutions, energy storage, and circular economy — pitched to a panel of investors who then selected one winner per category. Additionally, Chevron Technology Ventures selected one lucky startup from the pitches to be a part of its catalyst program. Click here to continue reading.

March Madness: 4 tips for Houston businesses to embrace 'The Big Dance'

This major sporting event doesn't just have to disrupt your team. Photo via Getty Images

For sports enthusiasts, one of the most popular competitions that attracts tens of millions of viewers is here – March Madness, the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament. As fans gear up for three weeks of action, employers are also excited, but for very different reasons.

March Madness can be a distraction in the workplace that hinders productivity. According to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., lost productivity during the tournament can cost employers over $13 billion, with nearly 50 percent of workers spending more than six hours of work time on March Madness activities. With an increase in hybrid/remote workers, the stage is set for more employees to view games during the workday, leading to higher levels of productivity losses.

Although these numbers are staggering, savvy employers can leverage March Madness to promote team building and boost employee engagement, which can have a positive impact on long-term success. Click here to continue reading.

SXSW panel: What Houston needs to do to develop as an equitable tech ecosystem

Three Houston innovators discussed the strides the city is making in terms of equitable funding opportunities. Photos courtesy

Houston has consistently been recognized as one of the most diverse cities in the country — but is that translating into equitable funding opportunities for diverse founders? A panel at SXSW this year discussed whether or not Houston's playing field is level for people of color within the innovation ecosystem.

"People do business with who they know — and who they like," says Felix Chevalier, co-founder of Urban Capital Network, when the panel was asked where the disconnect is with funding diverse founders. "I think it boils down to a lack of exposure and a lack of relationships."

Chevalier was joined by Jesse Martinez of Resolved Ventures and VamosVentures and Denise Hamilton of WatchHerWork, who moderated the discussion, which was hosted in the Greater Houston Partnership's Houston House on Sunday, March 13, at SXSW in Austin. Click here to continue reading.

These Houston startups and companies clock in as the top employers in the U.S.

MD Anderson Cancer Center is a top place to work in the U.S. and Texas. Photo by F. Carter Smith/courtesy of MD Anderson

Whose boss is doing something right in Houston? Forbes set out to find out.

New rankings from Forbes identified the top employers in Houston and beyond, and that included both bigger companies and the country’s best startup employers.

When it comes to more traditional businesses, Dr. Pete Pisters, CEO of MD Anderson Cancer Center, continues his reign. He was named a top boss in 2021. Now, the cancer treatment facility/research center he leads has been named one of the best employers in a new report. Click here to continue reading.

2 Houston universities team up to premiere small business accelerators

Rice University and the University of Houston have opened applications for its inaugural cohort for a new small business accelerators. Photo by Hero Images

After years of supporting university-affiliated tech startups, two Houston colleges are launching a new program to support small businesses.

University of Houston and Rice University have announced two new programs — RED Launch and BlueLaunch, respectively — to run alongside its tech startup programs. While RED Labs and OwlSpark are geared toward technology startups, RED Launch and BlueLaunch focus on small businesses. The programs are open to University of Houston and Rice University affiliates who are interested in starting or growing a small business.

"Since inception, RED Labs programming focused mostly on tech entrepreneurship," says Kelly McCormick, managing director of RED Labs. "A few years ago, we began to build out course offerings at the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship for students interested in small businesses. Click here to continue reading.


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Building Houston

 
 

Activate is planting its roots in Houston with a plan to have its first set of fellows next year. Photo via Getty Images

An organization that directs support to scientists developing impactful technology has decided on Houston for its fifth program.

Activate was founded in Berkeley, California, in 2015 to bridge the gap between the federal and public sectors to deploy capital and resources into the innovators creating transformative products. The nonprofit expanded its programs to Boston and New York before launching a virtual fellowship program — Activate Anywhere, which is for scientists 50 or more miles outside one of the three hubs.

"Our mission is to empower scientists to reinvent the world by bringing their research to market," Aimee Rose, executive managing director of Activate, tells InnovationMap. "There's so much technical talent that we educate in this country every year and so many amazing inventions that happen, that combining the two, which is the sort of inventor/entrepreneur, and giving them the support mechanisms they need to get on their feet and be successful, has the potential to unlock an incredible amount of value for the country, for the environment, and to address other social problems."

This year, Activate is planting seeds in Houston to grow a presence locally and have its first set of fellows in 2024. While Activate is industry agnostic, Rose says a big draw from Houston is the ability to impact the future of energy.

"We're super excited about Houston as an emerging ecosystem for the clean energy transition as being the energy capital of the world, as well as all the other emerging players there are across the landscape in Houston," Rose says. "I think we can move the needle in Houston because of our national footprint."

The first order of business, Rose says, is hiring a managing director for Activate Houston. The job, which is posted online, is suited for an individual who has already developed a hardtech business and has experience and connections within Houston's innovation ecosystem.

"We want to customize the program so that it makes the most sense for the community," Rose says about the position. "So, somebody that has the relationships and the knowledge of the ecosystem to be able to do that and somebody that's kind of a mentor at heart."

The program is for early-stage founders — who have raised less than $2 million in funding — working on high-impact technology. Rose explains that Activate has seen a number of microelectronics and new materials companies go through the program, and, while medical innovation is impactful, Activate doesn't focus on pharmaceutical or therapeutic industries since there are existing pathways for those products.

Ultimately, Activate is seeking innovators whose technologies fall through the cracks of existing innovation infrastructure.

"Not every business fits into the venture capital model in terms of what investors would expect to be eventual outcomes, but these these types of businesses can still have significant impact and make the world a better place," Rose says, explaining how Activate is different from an incubator or accelerator. "As opposed as compared to a traditional incubator, this is a very high touch program. You get a living stipend so you can take a big business technical risk without a personal risk. We give you a lot of hands on support and mentoring."

Each of the programs selects 10 fellows that join the program for two years. The fellows receive a living stipend, connections from Activate's robust network of mentors, and access to a curriculum specific to the program.

Since its inception, Activate has supported 104 companies and around 146 entrepreneurs associated with those companies. With the addition of Houston, Activate will be able to back 50 individuals a year.

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