HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 133

Houston cleantech company prepares to move into new facility, scale to meet global demand

Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy Plasmonics, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of Syzygy

When it comes to hardtech, not a lot of startups get the chance to say they're doing things cheaper than they're expected to, but Trevor Best and his clean tech startup, Syzygy Plasmonics, are in the minority there.

"One of the good things about our technology, because we use light instead of heat, we're able to build our reactors out of very low-cost materials — like aluminum and glass. So, we are continually under budget," he says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We actually only recently started spending the $23 million we raised over a year ago."

Syzygy, founded in Houston based off research from Rice University, is a chemical company that's developed a photocatalyst-powered hydrogen fuel cell technology that produces a cheaper source of energy that releases fewer carbon emissions. The company has scaled its reactor up in size and hopes the product hits the market next year. The device allows operators of plans power their facilities with a much smaller carbon footprint — at a competitive price, too.

Despite the benefits of being under budget, Best says it's not keeping him from running a full court press on fundraising and scaling for the future. Syzygy has grown its team to 60 people and is preparing to move into a new 45,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Pearland this summer.

"We're about to go out and fundraise more though," Best says on the show. "What we're seeing is the market's appetite for our kind of technology — deep tech for decarbonization in energy and chemicals — is really high. If we want to meet global demand for our product, we need to get ready to scale."

Best says he's keeping a close eye what the market will be looking for, and the interest seems to be in hydrogen as a clean energy solution, which has positioned Syzygy in a great place.

"The reason hydrogen is having a moment is because it is like a swiss army knife for fighting climate change," Best says. "There are a lot of applications for using hydrogen — to the point where I would say that I don't think planet Earth can truly decarbonize without it. That has resulted in a lot of interest in Syzygy's technology."

Best shares more about what else he's watching closely in clean tech — including carbon accounting and inconsistency in green energy solutions — as well as how the Houston innovation ecosystem has evolved over the years on the podcast episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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Building Houston

 
 

After working with thousands of interns, Allie Danziger of Ampersand Professionals says she's now got a product to upskill and train new hires for employers. Photo courtesy of Ampersand

After seeing success with her internship training and matchmaking platform, Allie Danziger, founder and CEO of Ampersand Professionals, has expanded the concept to include a new hire training service that allows employers to better optimize the onboarding process and have a well-trained new staff member from day one.

In just over a year, Ampersand has worked with over 7,000 professionals through its original concept of upskilling and matching young professionals to internship programs. A few months ago, Danziger and her team expanded to include career development training for students first entering the workforce with the City of Houston's Hire Houston Youth program. Danziger says it was developing out the platform for this program that proved there was a need for this type of training.

"While we have focused on matching professionals with businesses for paid internships, we recognized a further gap with employers that have their own recruiting/talent acquisition teams, or just their own preferred way of bringing on entry-level talent, and didn’t have a need for our matching platform," Danziger tells InnovationMap. "But, they recognized the benefit of our proven training platform that pre-vets and de-risks their hires, and still wanted access to the training for their own hires."

The new program has evolved from training interns to new hires, so parts of the program that focuses on interviewing or applying for a job have been removed. Instead, the 8.5 hours of training focuses on networking, best practices for working with a manager and team, performance reviews, common software training, and more.

Danziger says usually new hires need the most experienced mentor or manager, but they don't usually get that support — especially when it comes to businesses that don't have their own built-out mentorship or training program.

"Ampersand’s new training product fills that gap — it gives employers of any size any easy solution to provide basic job readiness training to employees, access to our team of dedicated coaches, and a detailed report at the end of their training summarizing how their new hire did in the training and any trends recognized and tips for managing this employee based on what the platform uncovered," she says. "Businesses can also sign up for additional coaching sessions and customize training materials, as an add-on if interested."

The program costs the employer $110 per new employee, and checkout online takes less than a minute. Through both this program and the original internship program, Ampersand is constantly evolving its training content.

"These professionals are going through the same training experience that we have proven out over the last year, and we are constantly adding to based on data we see in the user experience," Danziger says.

Danziger recently joined the Houston Innovators Podcast discuss some of the benchmarks she's met with Ampersand, as well as the importance of investing in Gen Z hires. Listen to that episode below.


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