who's who

3 Houston innovators to know this week

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Winston Wright of Alto, Serafina Lalany of Houston Exponential, and Zeev Braude of SiteAware. Courtesy photos

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from startup development to construction technology — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Winston Wright, Houston general manager at Alto

Winston Wright leads Houston operations for Dallas-based Alto, which is taking on the likes of Uber and Lyft. Photo courtesy of Alto

As any Houstonian knows, the city is quite large. While Dallas-based Alto, a luxury rideshare service, rolled out in Houston a while ago, Winston Wright has plans to make sure the company is covering the entire greater Houston area.

Wright, who's the Houston general manager for Alto, joined last week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. He shares more on Alto's future in Texas and beyond, as well as what's challenging him most as he grows the team locally.

"The vision I have for this market is that, as we move forward and continue to expand, that we're covering all of Houston," he says. Click here to read more and to listen to the episode.

Serafina Lalany, executive director of Houston Exponential

Houston Exponential appoints new executive director and restructures its boardHX has its new permanent leader. Photo courtesy of Serafina Lalany

It's a new era for Houston Exponential, and Serafina Lalany, named the organization's executive director last September, is leading HX into its new phase.

"The interesting thing of being an organization of ex-startup operators is that we operate as a startup ourselves," she tells InnovationMap. "Along the journey of supporting and building infrastructure for a startup community, we have also been seeking our own product market fit. I think we're at the place now where we have a profound realization of what that is and who we serve. We have crystal clear vision around that."

Lalany discusses more of her plans for HX for 2022 and shares how the organization is evolving to be what Houston's innovation ecosystem needs in an interview. Click here to read more.

Zeev Braude, CEO of SiteAware

Houston-based SiteAware has raised $15 million in its latest round of funding. Photo courtesy of SiteAware

SiteAware, a Houston construction software startup, raised $15 million in its series B round, which was led by Singapore-based Vertex Ventures Israel. Existing investors Robert Bosch Venture Capital GmbH, Axon Ventures, Oryzn Capital, The Flying Object, and lool Ventures also contributed to the round.

The company's digital construction verification, or DCV, platform uses AI and digital twin technology to provide real-time verification of construction fieldwork. According to a press release from SiteAware, the construction industry represents a $1.3 trillion market share of the United States economy.

"SiteAware's DCV error prevention technology is disrupting the construction industry by dramatically accelerating schedules and streamlining work processes for all parties. In the next few years, everyone from contractors to developers will be using DCV to build without rework," says Zeev Braude, CEO of SiteAware, in a news release. "DCV gives the construction ecosystem access to data they've never had before, data that holds the key to the next jump in productivity for the industry." Click here to read more.

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Houston-based Cemvita Factory has a new collaboration with a lithium-mining company. Photo via Getty Images

Houston-based cleantech startup Cemvita Factory is embarking on a potentially game-changing pilot project in Arizona.

Cemvita has sealed a deal with Australia-based Arizona Lithium, a lithium mining company, to test the startup’s technology for extraction of lithium from clay and sedimentary materials. The project is being carried out at Arizona Lithium’s new Lithium Research Center in Tempe, Arizona, which is set to start operating early next year.

“We are excited to see the results of the partnership start to show in the next three to six months, at which time we will assess further partnership potential,” says Paul Lloyd, managing director of Arizona Lithium.

Cemvita, whose technology aims to reduce carbon emissions, says the new partnership will help develop more environmentally friendly ways of mining lithium for products such as electric car batteries.

As the startup explains, lithium is an important metal in the energy transition movement, but most commercial lithium extraction is done at salt-flat brines through a process of evaporation and chemical recovery or from lithium-bearing ores through a process that involves crushing, roasting, and acid leaching. However, these processes consume a lot of energy and damage the environment.

“This pilot work in Arizona is a great step forward in our drive to both reduce the footprint of mining and unlock the mineral resources that are crucial for our planet’s renewable energy future,” Marny Reakes, Cemvita’s vice president of mining biotech, says in a news release.

Cemvita says its team will rely on biomining from sedimentary resources, reducing carbon emissions and decreasing the generation of mining waste.

“Our goal,” says Charles Nelson, chief business officer of Cemvita, in the release, “is to enable the most environmentally friendly end to end process of mining lithium through the application of our technology. This includes utilizing cleaner methods of extraction with the option of layering Cemvita’s other beneficial technologies such as CO2 based fuels and decarbonizing processing in the mining space.”

Brother-and-sister team Moji and Tara Karimi founded the startup in 2017. Investors include Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based Occidental Petroleum, as well as BHP Group, Mitsubishi, and United Airlines Ventures.

Cemvita’s technology enables the sustainable extraction of natural resources, carbon-negative production of chemicals and fuels, and regeneration of waste as feedstock.

Marny Reakes, Cemvita’s vice president of mining biotech, and Charles Nelson, chief business officer of Cemvita. Photos courtesy

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