broadcasting innovation

Houston podcasters aim to showcase promising local energy tech startups

EnergyTech Startups, a podcast co-hosted by two Houston clean energy experts, exists to shine a spotlight on innovative companies and Houston as a hub for energy transition businesses. Photo via Unsplash

Houston has a bit of a perception problem, according to Jason Ethier, a long-time energy tech innovator and new podcast host.

"Houston isn't viewed as a cool place to build a company if you don't know how good it is to be here," he says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Ethier, who serves as senior director of membership at Greentown Labs, set out to fix that when he launched the EnergyTech Startups podcast last fall with co-host Lara Cottingham, the vice president of strategy, policy, and climate impact at Greentown Labs. To date, the show has introduced listeners to over 20 energy founders and is continuing to do so on a biweekly basis.

"As an entrepreneur, sometimes you feel a gap in the market in your bones and you just have to do something about it," Ethier explains on the origin of the show.

Jason Ethier and Lara Cottingham co-host the EnergyTech Startups podcast. Photos courtesy

With his background in the Northeast, Ethier has seen first hand how Houstonians are just different — they tackle tough challenges and are heads-down focused on these innovations.

"Houston has a lot going for it as a place to build a business, and we're not going to do it the Silicon Valley. We do things the Houston way — we build new technologies, we build big projects," Ethier says. "The funny thing about Houstonians I find is that they are very understated with what they achieve and accomplish like it's no big deal. But it is a big deal."

That's where Ethier and the podcast can help shine a spotlight on the unique innovation these startup founders are in the process of commercializing.

"The premise of EnergyTech Startups is that we're building an energy ecosystem here, and energy and climate are two sides of the same coin," he says. "People working on these energy technologies made the choice to come to Houston — they made the choice not to go to Silicon Valley or Boston."

The goal is twofold — give these startups the platform to tell their story and showcase Houston as the hub for energy innovation.

"How do we tell this Houston story so that whenever folks look at the map and say, 'where do I want to build my business?' they look at Houston and see it as a place they should end up," he says.

Listen to the full episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast with Jason Ethier.

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A View From HETI

HEXASpec was founded by Rice Ph.D. candidates Tianshu Zhai and Chen-Yang Lin, who are a part of Lilie’s 2024 Innovation Fellows program. Photo courtesy of Rice

A group of Rice University student-founded companies shared $100,000 of cash prizes at an annual startup competition — and three of those winning companies are focused on sustainable solutions.

Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship's H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge, hosted by Rice earlier this month, named its winners for 2024. HEXASpec, a company that's created a new material to improve heat management for the semiconductor industry, won the top prize and $50,000 cash.

Founded by Rice Ph.D. candidates Tianshu Zhai and Chen-Yang Lin, who are a part of Lilie’s 2024 Innovation Fellows program, HEXASpec is improving efficiency and sustainability within the semiconductor industry, which usually consumes millions of gallons of water used to cool data centers. According to Rice's news release, HEXASpec's "next-generation chip packaging offer 20 times higher thermal conductivity and improved protection performance, cooling the chips faster and reducing the operational surface temperature."

A few other sustainability-focused startups won prizes, too. CoFlux Purification, a company that has a technology that breaks down PFAS using a novel absorbent for chemical-free water, won second place and $25,000, as well as the Audience Choice Award, which came with an additional $2,000.

Solidec, a company that's working on a platform to produce chemicals from captured carbon, and HEXASpec won Outstanding Achievement in Climate Solutions Prizes, which came with $1,000.

The NRLC, open to Rice students, is Lilie's hallmark event. Last year's winner was fashion tech startup, Goldie.

“We are the home of everything entrepreneurship, innovation and research commercialization for the entire Rice student, faculty and alumni communities,” Kyle Judah, executive director at Lilie, says in a news release. “We’re a place for you to immerse yourself in a problem you care about, to experiment, to try and fail and keep trying and trying and trying again amongst a community of fellow rebels, coloring outside the lines of convention."

This year, the competition started with 100 student venture teams before being whittled down to the final five at the championship. The program is supported by Lilie’s mentor team, Frank Liu and the Liu Family Foundation, Rice Business, Rice’s Office of Innovation, and other donors

“The heart and soul of what we’re doing to really take it to the next level with entrepreneurship here at Rice is this fantastic team,” Peter Rodriguez, dean of Rice Business, adds. “And they’re doing an outstanding job every year, reaching further, bringing in more students. My understanding is we had more than 100 teams submit applications. It’s an extraordinarily high number. It tells you a lot about what we have at Rice and what this team has been cooking and making happen here at Rice for a long, long time.”

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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