Hyperloop Finalists, Wooing Amazon, MassChallenge & More Texas News

Imagine being able to go from Dallas to Austin—around 200 miles—in 19 minutes instead of the three hours it takes to travel between the cities by car today? That’s the promise of the Hyperloop, a still-to-be developed mode of travel that entails people riding in pods or containers that travel through an above-ground vacuum tube at high speeds.

The big news for the Texas innovation community is that Hyperloop One, the Los Angeles-based company developing the space-agey transportation system, announced on Thursday that the “Texas Triangle” route is one of 10 teams chosen among hundreds of applicants. There are three other U.S. routes, along with ones in Great Britain, India, Mexico, and Canada.

—Next month, former Vice President Al Gore is coming to the Austin area, where he will be one of the featured speakers at a renewable energies conference. Gore, well known for his work calling attention to and advocating policy to combat climate change, will be the luncheon keynote at the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Alliance’s GridNEXT conference in the Austin suburb of Georgetown on Oct. 23.

—Speaking of global warming, while discussions continue on how that might be affecting the number and intensity of hurricanes, tech communities in both Houston (who then passed on their tools to colleagues in Florida) are still using their skills to help in recovery and rebuilding efforts in both states in the aftermaths of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The idea is to build a tech-based toolkit that would aid emergency management and civic officials better address needs of residents in harm’s way.

MassChallenge, the Boston-based startup accelerator program, has launched a new program in Central Texas. MassChallenge, which has programs in Boston, Israel, Mexico, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, says it could work with as many as 100 startups in the program. The companies will compete for up to $500,000 in cash awards; MassChallenge does not take equity in its companies.

Though the program is physically based in Austin, MassChallenge says it intends to support the entire Texas innovation ecosystem, including startups in energy, biotech, connected hardware, and other sectors. Dallas-based Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV) and USAA, based in San Antonio, are among the program’s corporate partners.

—Continuing along the vein of regional cooperation, StemBioSys, a San Antonio life sciences company with a system for growing stem cells, is opening a second office in Houston at Johnson & Johnson Innovation’s JLabs at the Texas Medical Center, the company announced Monday. The location won’t have any dedicated staff or daily operations, and will instead serve primarily as a work and meeting space for StemBioSys when its employees are in Houston. The JLabs perch gives StemBioSys access to the biotech community in Houston, CEO Bob Hutchens says. The company is keeping its headquarters and full operations in San Antonio, he adds.

—Austin-based Liveoak Technologies, which develops digital tools for its financial services customers, has raised $2.5 million in a funding round led by Broadhaven Capital Partners and Wild Basin Investments. Additional partner and investors in the fintech startup include: Canada-based Manulife, which owns John Hancock Financial Services in the U.S.; Northwestern Mutual Future Ventures; Prudential’s Gibraltar Ventures; Techstars Venture Capital Fund; MATH Venture Partners; Zelkova Ventures; and Glenn Shimkus, founder of Cartavi.

—After a three-week hiatus due to the hurricanes, we resumed our regular Friday feature “Five Questions For.” This week we featured Denise Hamilton, founder and CEO of WatchHerWork, who speaks about being inspired by her mother (as well as Oprah Winfrey), her interest in the Continental Congress, and what it was like to sing with Stevie Wonder.

—The news that Amazon is looking for candidates for a second headquarters away from Seattle, known as “HQ2,” has sprung many cities’ economic development departments into action. We asked some members of the Texas innovation community to make their case for their cities. Trey Bowles, founder of the Dallas Entrepreneur Center, touts Dallas while Chai One founder Gaurav Khandelwal makes a plug for Houston.

Xconomy National Correspondent David Holley contributed to this report.

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