funding moves

University of Houston receives $6.5M to go toward supporting equity, social justice, and more

The gift sets up a scholarship, an endowed chair, and a lecture series. Photo via UH.edu

A recent gift to the University of Houston will provide support to a couple colleges on campus, including an endowed chair, a scholarship, and a lecture series.

Thomas Michael Panos Family Estate donated $4.5 million — and was matched with an additional $2 million by the University's new "$100 Million Challenge" Aspire Fund. It's the first matched gift of the new fund. The gift includes $2 million to create the Panos Family Endowed Chair in Mechanical Engineering, $2 million to establish a scholarship endowment beginning in 2022 to support need- and merit-based scholarships for full-time undergraduate or graduate students across UH, and $500,000 to support "The Panos Family Endowed Lecture in Equity and Social Justice" in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences.

"We are incredibly grateful for the generosity of the Thomas Michael Panos Family Estate. This significant gift will not only help fuel academic success through innovation and discovery, but will support our ability to recruit renowned faculty and expand thought leadership," says Paula Myrick Short, UH senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, in the release. "The additional support for an equity and social justice lecture series is an especially timely and important part of our efforts to increase visibility around these issues."

Thomas Michael Panos emigrated to Houston from Greece and only had a sixth-grade education. His sons — Mike and Gus Panos — both earned college degrees in engineering.

"They were the kind of people who would help anybody," says Scott Harbers, who lived next door to the Panos family decades ago in what is now Midtown Houston, in the release. "As a family of immigrants, I know they would appreciate the diversity of the student body at the University of Houston. They had a tremendous interest in education and equal rights. I'm hopeful that this gift will help advance the lives of students who need help to complete their studies."

The $100 Million Challenge initiative was established in fall of 2019 thanks to an anonymous $50 million donation to the school, and the campaign is set on inspiring another $50 million in support of four areas that will address issues with major societal impact: sustainable energy and energy security, resilient infrastructure and smart cities, population health, and global engagement. Donors who commit $2 million to go toward an endowed chair will have their gifts matched through the program.

"The '$100 Million Challenge' is a transformational initiative to propel our academic enterprise to unprecedented levels of distinction, and this first matching gift launches us," says Eloise Brice, vice president for university advancement, in the release. "The work and research being done at UH, and accelerated through the Challenge, will have a tremendous impact on the quality of life for all Houstonians."

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Building Houston

 
 

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Thomas Vassiliades of BiVACOR, Katie Mehnert of ALLY Energy, and Don Whaley of OhmConnect Texas. Courtesy photos

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know — the first of this new year — I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from health care innovation to energy — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.


Thomas Vassiliades, CEO of BiVACOR

BiVACOR named Thomas Vassiliades as CEO effective immediately. Photo courtesy of BiVACOR

Thomas Vassiliades has been named CEO of BiVACOR, and he replaces the company's founder, Daniel Timms, in the position. BiVACOR is on track to head toward human clinical trials and commercialization, and Vassiliades is tasked with leading the way.

Vassiliades has over 30 years of experience within the medical device industry as well as cardiothoracic surgery. He was most recently the general manager of the surgery and heart failure business at Abiomed and held several leadership roles at Medtronic. Dr. Vassiliades received his MD from the University of North Carolina, and his MBA was achieved with distinction at Emory University.

“I am excited and honored to join the BiVACOR team, working closely with Daniel and the entire team as we look forward to bringing this life-changing technology to the market,” says Dr. Vassiliades in the release. “Throughout my career, I’ve been guided by the goal of bringing innovative cardiovascular therapies to the market to improve patient care and outcomes – providing solutions for those that don’t have one. BiVACOR is uniquely well-positioned to provide long-term therapy for patients with severe biventricular heart failure.” Click here to read more.

Katie Mehnert, CEO and founder of ALLY Energy

Katie Mehnert joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the future of energy amid a pandemic, climate change, the Great Resignation, and more. Photo via Katie Mehnert

Katie Mehnert started ALLY Energy — originally founded as Pink Petro — to move forward DEI initiatives, and she says she started with building an audience first and foremost, but now the technology part of the platform has fallen into place too. Last summer, ALLY Energy acquired Clean Energy Social, which meant doubling its community while also onboarding new technology. On the episode, Mehnert reveals that this new website and platform is now up and running.

"We launched the integrated product a few weeks back," Mehnert says. "The whole goal was to move away from technology that wasn't serving us."

Now, moving into the new year, Mehnert is building the team the company needs. She says she hopes to grow ALLY from two employees to 10 by the end of the year and is looking for personnel within customer support, product developers, and sales and service. While ALLY is revenue generating, she also hopes to fundraise to further support scaling. Click here to read more.

Don Whaley, president at OhmConnect Texas

Texas is about a month away from the anniversary of Winter Storm Uri — would the state fair better if it saw a repeat in 2022? Photo courtesy

The state of Texas is about a month away from the one year anniversary of Winter Storm Uri — but is the state better prepared this winter season? Don Whaley, president at OhmConnect Texas, looked at where the state is now versus then in a guest column for InnovationMap.

"Governor Abbott has gone on record guaranteeing that the lights will stay on this winter, and I am inclined to agree. With the reinforcement of our fuel systems being mandated by the Railroad Commission, 2023 to 2025 should receive the same guarantee," he writes. "Beyond that, as the demand for electricity in Texas continues to grow, we will need to rely on the initiatives under consideration by the PUCT to attract investment and innovation in new, dispatchable generation and flexible demand solutions to ensure long-term stability in the ERCOT market.

Whaley has worked for over 40 years in the natural gas, electricity, and renewables industries, with specific experience in deregulated markets across the U.S. and Canada. He founded Direct Energy Texas and served as its president during the early years of deregulation. Click here to read more.

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