Sam’s Club Goes Digital, BNSF’s Electric Locomotive, & More TX Tech

Let’s get caught up with the latest innovation news from Texas.

—The Texas Medical Center’s TMCx accelerator has been included in a list of best programs for the first time. With platinum status, AngelPad, StartX, and Y Combinator topped the list released by the Seed Accelerator Rankings Project. The rankings, which are in part compiled by Rice University’s Yael Hochberg, reflect metrics such as valuations of and total fundraising by participating startups. Other Texas accelerators in the list of 25 are Tech Wildcatters and Health Wildcatters, which are both based in Dallas and were rated silver, along with TMCx.

—Walmart is opening its “epicenter of innovation” for Sam’s Club in Dallas. Dubbed “Sam’s Club Now,” the retailer says it will test new technologies like electronic shelf labels that instantly update prices and use more than 700 cameras to help manage inventory and optimize store layout. The Dallas store will have no cashiers and shoppers will interact almost entirely with Walmart’s Scan & Go app. It’s “using all available technologies—including computer vision, AR, machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics, just to name a few—[to] redefine the retail experience,” Jamie Iannone, SamsClub.com CEO and executive vice president of membership and technology, said in a company blog post.

Impact Shares, a Dallas-based nonprofit exchange-traded fund (ETF), has been given a $1 million grant by the Rockefeller Foundation. The funding will be used by Impact Shares to “expand its partnerships with leading nonprofits and help translate their social values into investable products,” according to a press release. Impact Shares has partnered with advocacy groups such as the NAACP, with its Minority Empowerment ETF, and the United Nations, with its Sustainable Development Goals Global Equity ETF. “The rise of impact investing, coupled with the growth in ETFs, opens the doors for organizations and charitable groups to generate more awareness about their causes, while creating an additional revenue stream that helps fuel their social missions,” Ethan Powell, Impact Shares, said in the release.

Phynd Technologies, a Dallas-based health IT company, has raised $4 million, bringing its total investment to $7.3 million, according to Dallas Innovates. The five-year-old startup sells software that gathers, manages, and shares provider data. About 140 hospitals, with 500,000 patients, use the company’s software.

BNSF Railway is partnering with GE Transportation on a pilot project to develop an all-battery electric locomotive. The announcements follows the awarding of a $22.6 million grant to the Fort Worth-based railroad company and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District to deploy lower-emission technologies in and around rail yards, according to Dallas Innovates. The grant is expected to pay for roughly half of the cost of the locomotive, which is expected to cost about $45 million.

Dr. Evil would approve. The University of Texas System, home to the powerful Texas Petawatt Laser, will receive $1.2 million from the U.S. Department of Energy as part of a national network of institutions called LaserNetUS that operate high-intensity, ultrafast lasers. (Petawatt lasers generate light with at least a million billion watts of power, or nearly 100 times the output of all the world’s power plants—but only in the briefest of bursts, UT says.)  LaserNetUS, which is being funded over two years with $6.8 million from the Energy department’s Office of Fusion Energy Sciences, aims to help boost the country’s global competitiveness in high-intensity laser research. No word whether any sharks will be involved, though.

Angela Shah is the editor of Xconomy Texas. She can be reached at ashah@xconomy.com or (214) 793-5763. Follow @angelashah

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