who's who

3 Houston innovators to know this week

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Zain Shauk of Dream Harvest, Juliana Garaizar of Greentown Houston, and Jay Manouchehri of Fluence Analytics. 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 sustainability to chemical analytics — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Zain Shauk, CEO of Dream Harvest

Zain Shauk, co-founder and CEO of Dream Harvest, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast just ahead of Earth Day. Photo courtesy of Dream Harvest

Zain Shauk is focused on future of farming, and the industry's success depends on making more environmentally friendly changes to the supply chain, and new technologies are enabling vertical indoor farming to effect these changes in some part. Shauk's company Dream Harvest recently received a $50 million investment from Orion Energy Partners to open a 100,000-square-foot indoor farming facility in Houston to scale production.

Shauk says he's also using the funding to support research and development to expand into other types of produce, but he has a lot to consider — affordability of the produce, maintaining sustainability, and more.

"It's going to take a lot of work and a lot of research. What I do know is we've come a long way with leafy greens," Shauk says. "When we started, we weren't growing in a way that makes financial sense with the amount of money we have to spend growing the product — and now we do." Click here to read more.

Juliana Garaizar, head of the Houston incubator and vice president of innovation

Greentown Houston's first year was surprising for Juliana Garaizar. Photo courtesy

Greentown Houston opened a year ago and, in just those 365 days, grew to over 60 member companies – something that took the original Boston-area location years. Juliana Garaizar says in a recent Q&A that this is due to companies outside of Houston looking for an entry point into the city for access to businesses, employees, and more. Specifically, she calls out Austin companies and businesses from Latin America.

"There are plenty of companies from Latin America coming over and choosing Houston as a landing pad and choosing Greentown as the place to start settling," she says. "We help them with funding. We help them with hiring local people." Click here to read more.

Jay Manouchehri, CEO of Fluence Analytics

Jay Manouchehri is now CEO of Fluence Analytics, and co-founder Alex Reed has transitioned to president and chief commercial officer. Photo courtesy of Fluence Analytics

Fluence Analytics, which moved its headquarters to the Houston area from New Orleans last year, has named Jay Manouchehri as the company's CEO. Manouchehri has worked in leadership roles within digital transformation at ABB and Honeywell all around the world, as well as in consulting and private equity.

Manouchehri tells InnovationMap he is focused on leading industrial growth.

“The next step for Fluence is really that we are industrializing our product and getting it into the industrial market," Manouchehri says. "That's exactly why we moved to Houston — it's where a lot of our clients are. We're building up and structure the company in such a manner that it could scale, get the right partnerships, and hire a team to take us to the next level and deliver the technology." Click here to read more.

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Building Houston

 
 

Kerri Smith of the Rice Alliance joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss Rice's Clean Energy Accelerator. Photo courtesy of Rice

Kerri Smith knows accelerators. Through her over 18 years at Rice Alliance, she's been responsible for overseeing several and was on the founding leadership team of Houston's first energy tech startup accelerator, SURGE. After years of focusing you accelerating Rice University's student-focused program, Owl Spark, she's transitioned back into the energy tech space.

"I've worked with many types of founders. There's not one unique characteristic that everyone has," Smith says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Our goal is to help move them along and help them move the needle. At the end of the day, we want them to have a good experience and to meet their goals and objectives."

The Rice Alliance's Clean Energy Accelerator launched last summer with its inaugural cohort of 12 cleantech startups, which represented energy sectors from solar and wind innovations to hydrogen, geothermal, and more. Smith says the startups represented a wide range of stages and were from all over — only two companies were from Houston originally. The out-of-town companies were able to make critical partnerships in town and set up a presence and a home here.

"We were able to build a family-like culture among our group, and that was something that was wildly appreciative," Smith, who serves as executive director of the program, says.

Applications for Class 2 of CEA are open until May 31. While the program will offer the same access to mentorship and opportunities, the program will change slightly. CEA will focus on seed and series A-stage companies and will be a hybrid program. Throughout the 10 weeks, which begins in the fall instead of the summer this year, founders will visit Houston three times at the beginning, middle, and the end of the accelerator. Each startup will receive a grant to cover the expenses of the equity-free program.

CEA is just one part of a greater ecosystem of innovation under the umbrella of Rice University, which includes the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, The Ion Houston, Owl Spark, and more. All these entities also play into the greater Houston area's innovation ecosystem.

"Rice Alliance has a strong history of demonstrating collaboration with a number of organizations," Smith says. "I think one of the primary benefits that we have in these collaborative opportunities is to ensure that we are collectively building a capable and diverse pipeline of talent to solve for these problems and provide them with access to experiencing all of the benefits of our ecosystem."

With CEA specifically, some of these collaborations include working with Greentown Houston, which is just next door to the program's home at The Ion, and the Greater Houston Partnership's Houston Energy Transition Initiative.

"We're a cog in the wheel. We do really well with that. We play well with others – in ways that the founder has a good experience and can benefit," Smith says.

Smith shares more about what she's looking for in the second cohort of CEA on the podcast episode, as well as what she sees as Houston's role in the energy transition. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

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