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6 energy transition innovators named to inaugural Houston hardtech fellowship cohort

The inaugural Activate Houston cohort has 11 fellows across energy, materials, life sciences, space, and other sectors. Photo via activate.org

A national hardtech-focused organization has named its 2024 batch of innovators, which includes the inaugural Houston-based cohort.

Activate named 62 fellows and 50 companies for is latest class, which spans Berkley, California — where the organization is based, Boston, New York, and Houston. Additionally, Activate Anywhere, the program's virtual and remote cohort, was named. According to Activate, it received over 1,000 applicants.

“People, not ideas alone, move the world forward. It is through the drive and determination of brilliant scientists and engineers that we are witnessing true progress,” says Activate CEO Cyrus Wadia in a news release. “Our current Activate Fellows and alumni are already pioneering innovative solutions that make a measurable difference. We’re thrilled to support the next 62 visionaries who will lead the charge in addressing our most urgent issues through groundbreaking science and technology.”

It's the first year Activate has hosted a Houston-based cohort. The organization initially announced its expansion early last year. The inaugural cohort has 11 fellows across energy, materials, life sciences, space, and other sectors.

The named Houston fellows who are working on energy transition solutions include:

  • Krish Mehta, founder and CEO of Phoenix Materials, a company that decarbonizes concrete using industrial waste.
  • Gabriel Cossio, founder and CEO of Nanoscale Labs, which is developing a high-throughput and low-cost nanomanufacturing system.
  • Matthew McDermott, founder and CEO of Refound Materials, a materials technology company developing more efficient synthesis recipes for accelerated materials discovery.
  • Alec Ajnsztajn, founder and CEO of Coflux Purification, a company that's creating a product that allows industries and water providers to cheaply remove forever chemicals to provide safe drinking water at a fraction of current energy use.
  • Ryan DuChanois and Yang Xia , co-founders of Solidec, a Houston-based startup redefining chemical manufacturing.

The rest of the cohort includes:

  • Meagan Pitcher, co-founder and CEO of Bairitone Health, which brings advanced imaging diagnostics into the home environment.
  • Wei Meng, co-founder and CEO of LumiStrain, a startup offering novel technology for mechanical strain mapping.
  • Sonia Dagan of Atolla Tech, which is developing a lidar and machine-learning algorithm for identifying and quantifying airborne insects.
  • Rodrigo Alvarez-Icaza, founder and CEO of Elysium Robotics, a company that's replacing electric motors with muscle-like actuators to enable massive deployment of highly capable and low-cost robotic systems.
  • Blake Herren, CEO and Co-founder of Raven Space Systems, which is modernizing composite manufacturing with 3D printing and Industry 4.0 solutions to build the factories of the future.

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A View From HETI

Governor Abbott said he was sending a letter to the Public Utility Commission of Texas requiring it to investigate why restoration has taken so long and what must be done to fix it. Photo via X/Governor Abbott

With around 270,000 homes and businesses still without power in the Houston area almost a week after Hurricane Beryl hit Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott on Sunday said he's demanding an investigation into the response of the utility that serves the area as well as answers about its preparations for upcoming storms.

“Power companies along the Gulf Coast must be prepared to deal with hurricanes, to state the obvious,” Abbott said at his first news conference about Beryl since returning to the state from an economic development trip to Asia.

While CenterPoint Energy has restored power to about 2 million customers since the storm hit on July 8, the slow pace of recovery has put the utility, which provides electricity to the nation’s fourth-largest city, under mounting scrutiny over whether it was sufficiently prepared for the storm that left people without air conditioning in the searing summer heat.

Abbott said he was sending a letter to the Public Utility Commission of Texas requiring it to investigate why restoration has taken so long and what must be done to fix it. In the Houston area, Beryl toppled transmission lines, uprooted trees and snapped branches that crashed into power lines.

With months of hurricane season left, Abbott said he's giving CenterPoint until the end of the month to specify what it'll be doing to reduce or eliminate power outages in the event of another storm. He said that will include the company providing detailed plans to remove vegetation that still threatens power lines.

Abbott also said that CenterPoint didn't have “an adequate number of workers pre-staged" before the storm hit.

Following Abbott's news conference, CenterPoint said its top priority was “power to the remaining impacted customers as safely and quickly as possible,” adding that on Monday, the utility expects to have restored power to 90% of its customers. CenterPoint said it was committed to working with state and local leaders and to doing a “thorough review of our response.”

CenterPoint also said Sunday that it’s been “investing for years” to strengthen the area’s resilience to such storms.

The utility has defended its preparation for the storm and said that it has brought in about 12,000 additional workers from outside Houston. It has said it would have been unsafe to preposition those workers inside the predicted storm impact area before Beryl made landfall.

Brad Tutunjian, vice president for regulatory policy for CenterPoint Energy, said last week that the extensive damage to trees and power poles hampered the ability to restore power quickly.

A post Sunday on CenterPoint's website from its president and CEO, Jason Wells, said that over 2,100 utility poles were damaged during the storm and over 18,600 trees had to be removed from power lines, which impacted over 75% of the utility's distribution circuits.

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