New to town

Two companies expand into the Houston market by way of UH's Technology Bridge

The University of Houston has transformed its Energy Research Park into the Technology Bridge to better connect research-based startups to the market. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

A few years ago, the University of Houston renamed its Energy Research Park to the Technology Bridge. They wanted to create a program and workspace for companies inside the university to enter into the Houston innovation ecosystem. Turns out, the program also created a bridge for innovative companies entering the Houston market.

Two companies announced that they will open operations in the Technology Bridge — the first Houston offices for both, according to a news release.

Chemicals company Oleon is a subsidiary of France-based Avril, a financial and industrial company. Before the UH location, Oleon's only United States operation was a sales office in South Carolina. The other company is California-based Saratech, an engineering, software, services, and 3D printer sales company. Saratech has offices across the country, including an Austin office. The Houston office will focus on 3D printing.

According to Tom Campbell, executive director of the UH Office of Technology Transfer and Innovation, choosing a university to open a new office in a new market makes a lot of sense. There's a ready-made network of professors and students ripe with talent for internships and new and developing research.

Saratech's senior vice president, Rick Murphy, agrees that the new office can be mutually beneficial to UH and his company. Saratech already has a relationship similar to this with the University of California-Irvine.

"We are looking at universities to help with that, so industry can start educating their engineers to take advantage of this technology," Murphy says in the release.

Oleon also has previous relationships with universities in Europe and Asia. The company, which specializes in natural chemistry — specifically using fats and oils in various applications from cosmetics to automotive, plans on sustaining a lot of growth in Houston. The move represents the first of many instances of growth in the market.

"It is baby steps here, but the U.S. is a huge market," Dave Jacobs, general manager of operations for Oleon Americas, says in the release. "About 50 percent of the oil and gas market is here."

The Technology Bridge houses 23 startups and has 30,000 square feet of incubator space and over 700,000 square feet of space suited for laboratories, pilot-scale facilities, and light manufacturing. The bridge sits on the former Schlumberger campus just south of UH.

To Campbell, the bridge adds its own niche of research and lab space to the Houston innovation ecosystem as a whole, and both these companies' new offices are on par with the greater goals of the bridge.

"It's about economic development," Campbell says in the release. "A strong innovation economy is a rising tide that floats all boats."

Ody De La Paz's company, Sensytec, started as a class project and turned into a growing startup. Courtesy of Sensytec

Ody De La Paz wasn't sure if his class project could be turned into a company, but he decided to test the waters through a series of pitch competitions. He and his cofounder, Anudeep Maddi, competed in eight across the world, and took hope first place prizes in five.

"That kind of gave us the hint that this should be a company, and we need to make it happen as quick as possible," De La Paz, CEO of Sensytec says on this week's Houston Innovators Podcast.

De La Paz shares on the podcast how he got the idea for Sensytec through the University of Houston's Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship within the C. T. Bauer College of Business. The program, which was just ranked No. 1 on the 2020 Princeton Review's top 15 programs for undergraduate entrepreneurship studies, allows students access to emerging technologies.

"You have the opportunity to work with intellectual property from the University of Houston," De La Paz says. "This technology came about and I had the opportunity to see if there was a market potential for this technology we're working on called Smart Cement."

De La Paz shares his experience with pitch competitions and accelerator programs, including the most recent in the Ion Smart Cities Accelerator, and discusses where Sensytec is headed in the podcast. Listen to the episode below and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.