Teamwork makes the dream work, and a Houston-based tech startup is one step closer to its dream team, according to the company’s leadership.
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 at ABB and Honeywell all around the world, as well as in consulting and private equity.
“As you (can see) from Jay’s background he is exactly the type of person we need to help take our company the next level,” says co-founder Alex Reed. “I think he’s gonna be critical as we did this Houston move and go to this next phase of growth and eventually drive to an exit.”
Reed has transitioned from CEO to chief commercial officer, but Manouchehri tells InnovationMap the two really lead the company together and balance each other out. Reed says he’s focused on commercial product strategy and Manouchehri is 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.”
Fluence’s technology is changing the game within the polymer space. The industrial and laboratory monitoring solutions — a combination of software and hardware — track and report key data in real time allowing industrial polymer producers to improve process control.
“When I saw what Alex is doing, it wasn’t like it’s a startup looking for a problem to solve. It’s a startup trying to crack a nut that a lot of people in this industry have be in trying for 20 or 30 years and haven’t been able to do so,” Manouchehri says.
The move to Houston has allowed the company access to new and existing customers within the industry, but also potential acquirers and the company says an exit could be possible over the next few years. Additionally, Houston provides an opportunity to expand into the biomedical space. Recently, Fluence hired a Houston employee to build out this vertical.
“MRNAs and DNAs are all polymers. So, we use the same IP and same technology and do analysis, sensing, and data analytics for the biopharma industry,” Manouchehri says. “We actually are pushing that quite strongly. Our client base is growing rapidly.”
Another avenue Fluence is excited about is chemical recycling or polymerization recycling. Reed says they are closely watching the traction within the circular economy.
“Imagine taking plastic bottles and being able to recycle them back to the original molecule and then reprocess them into a bottle again,” Reed says. “Mechanical cycling is more typical now and has a lot of disadvantages because of the additives and the properties that you get when you melt down all the different types of plastics. (Chemical recycling) would actually allow you to make new plastic from the old plastic, just by taking the original molecule out.”
Fluence Analytics, which raised a $7.5 million round led by Yokogawa Electric Corp. last summer, has its headquarters in Stafford, just southwest of Houston.
Houston innovators podcast episode 129
HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 130
Modern agriculture and produce farming is not sustainable — whether you’re using the environmental impact definition of that word or in terms of a lasting economy.
This concept has been made abundantly clear to Zain Shauk, co-founder and CEO of Houston-based Dream Harvest Farming Co., a vertical indoor farming company producing leafy greens and herbs and delivering them locally to grocery stores in Texas and nearby states.
“The inspiration for Dream Harvest is really the problem with our food system and agriculture today,” Shauk says on this week’s episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. “Thirty-five percent of the produce grown is thrown away before you even have a chance to eat it. Almost more astounding than that is that 80 percent of our water use as a nation is agricultural.”
Shauk brings up California as an example because the state’s constant water shortage is hindering outdoor farming. The country relies on California for leafy greens, and both due to the lack of water and the fact that it takes produce seven to 10 days to travel from the West Coast to Texas grocery aisles, it’s not an ideal process in any way. Dream Harvest can change that.
“The climate is changing now. We talk about Earth Day and the importance of realizing our impact on the planet, but we are already there,” Shauk says on the show. “The climate has already changed.”
The future of produce 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. 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.”
Some of the reasons for advances in vertical farming is new technology — which is coming out of a slightly different green industry.
“Cannabis has really driven a lot of the innovation — there’s been so much money poured into the marijuana industry to grow it for commercial sale, and that’s evolved a rapid development in technology for indoor growing,” Shauk says, adding that one example of this is indoor lighting. “There’s so much interest in making money on marijuana, that we’re benefiting off that from produce.”
Shauk shares more about the future of Dream Harvest and vertical farming, as well as what Houstonians can do to shrink their carbon footprint, on the podcast episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.
Houston innovators podcast episode 129