tech for good

University of Houston-led team earns NSF funding to bring AI to food charities

Through the project, the UH-led team will use AI can to address issues relating to the "procurement, distribution, access, and utilization of food resources in underserved communities." Photo via

The University of Houston announced this month that it will use funds from the National Science Foundation to develop an artificial intelligence program that aims to help food-insecure Texans and eliminate inefficiencies within the food charity system.

The program is backed by a $750,000 grant from the NSF's Convergence Accelerator, which focuses on challenges related to food , nutrition and agriculture. UH's project was among 16 others in the country that received a total of $11 million from the accelerator, which were announced late last year.

The research team from UH includes Norma Olvera, professor of education and a USDA E. Kika de la Garza Fellow; Elizabeth Anderson-Fletcher, associate professor of supply chain management in the C. T. Bauer College of Business and Hobby School of Public Affairs; and Susie Gronseth, professor of education. From the University of Texas is Junfeng Jiao, associate professor and director of the Urban Information Lab in the School of Architecture.

Alison Reese, executive director of digital fundraising nonprofit Souper Bowl of Caring, is also partnering with the team on the project.

Through the project, the UH-led team will use AI can to address issues relating to the "procurement, distribution, access, and utilization of food resources in underserved communities," according to the project's abstract.

In addition to meeting nutritional needs in the community, the team also is focused on finding better ways to address cultural preferences among food-insecure individuals. It will also look to streamline efforts and improve supply chain issues among food charities.

The program will also look to use food delivery services, like DoorDash, and award food donors with NFTs.

"The commitment of our team is to help our fellow neighbors," Ioannis Kakadiaris, principal investigator and Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished University Professor of Computer Science at UH's College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, said in a statement. "This is evident in everything we do and permeates all our work."

Currently the team has been funded through Phase 1, which allows them to develop proofs of concept and early-stage prototyping, identify new partners and participate in curriculum from NSF.

Teams that have been awarded funds from the Convergence Accelerator will have an opportunity to submit proposals for up to $5 million in funding for Phase 2.

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Building Houston


This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Ramanan Krishnamoorti of UH, Valerie Tompson of SWAN Impact Network, Evan Erickson of TexPower Technologies. Photos courtesy

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

Ramanan Krishnamoorti,  as vice president of energy and innovation at University of Houston

Natalie Harms

Ramanan Krishnamoorti has had a varied career in academia, from an engineering professor to nanotech research. While he never made the transition from researcher to entrepreneur, he managed to snag a CEO title at the university about a decade ago: Chief energy officer.

Since then his role has expanded to include advancing UH's innovation of all kinds — from health tech to the arts — as vice president of energy and innovation at UH. In his role, he oversees the UH Technology Bridge, a lab and coworking space for tenants just a short drive away from UH's main campus, as well as future plans, like a new central campus hub for innovation that's in its early stages of development.

"What we really need at the university today is to bring innovation — which tech transfer is a piece of — and connect that to real-world challenges to deliver what the world needs, which is talented folks delivering new innovative, entrepreneurial, or intrapreneurial programs," Krishnamoorti says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Read more.

Valerie Tompson, Houston chapter lead for SWAN Impact Network

Austin-founded SWAN Impact Network has entered the Houston innovation ecosystem. Photo courtesy of SWAN

SWAN Impact Network, which focuses on funding early-stage, impact-driven startups, announced that Houston will be its next market expansion. Founded in 2016 as the Southwest Angel Network, the organization has grown from several investors to over 80 across Texas. The investors, who meet virtually, range from former entrepreneurs, seasoned investors, and first time angels.

Valerie Tompson, who's serving as the Houston market lead, is an example of someone who was drawn to SWAN's mission, even though she had never invested in startups before.

"I was intrigued by the idea of being able to invest in companies that are making a difference in the world — and it's not a charitable donation," she says, explaining that joining a network allowed for her to learn the ropes and understand the process. Read more.

Evan Erickson, co-founder and CEO of TexPower

A Houston startup founded off research out of a Texas university has cut the ribbon on its new lab space. Photo courtesy of TexPower

TexPower EV Technologies Inc. celebrated the opening of its 6,000-square-foot laboratory and three-ton-per-year pilot production line at a ribbon-cutting event last week. The Northwest Houston site is located at 6935 Brittmoore Rd.

TexPower spun out of the University of Texas at Austin in 2019. The company was co-founded by Erickson with CTO Wangda Li and Board Chairman Arumugam Manthiram, a professor at UT whose lithium-ion battery research fuels the foundation of the company.

“We want to point out how lucky we are — as a company and as scientists," Erickson says at the ribbon cutting event. "It’s not common that you see something you work on in academia turn into something that can become commercially successful.” Read more.

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