January 14, 2023 - Fort Worth Report

What will innovation look like in Fort Worth this year? Companies and officials provide insight

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Electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles. Artificial intelligence. Breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s treatment. These are a few trends Fort Worth residents might see in 2023, according to city and company officials focused on innovation. 

The Fort Worth Report spoke with innovators and new technology advocates to reflect on the previous year, and what new innovations might be on the horizon in 2023.

Carlo Capua, director of innovation at the City of Fort Worth 

Last year, the City of Fort Worth adopted two Bitcoin mining machines into City Hall as a display of being open to technology. But for Carlo Capua, the biggest leap for the city is creating his position: chief of strategy and innovation at the City of Fort Worth. To him, it symbolizes the change from a city that was living in the past to one that is looking to the future.

“You’re really setting the framework and building the foundation to make innovation, to weave innovation and that kind of forward thinking into the DNA and the culture of the city,” he said. 

This year, Capua said he sees opportunities to think about out-of-the-box partnerships and technology for transportation as development on Panther Island unfolds and the World Cup in Arlington approaches in 2026. 

“We can kind of take a step back and think we can do something, experiment and try some different things working with Trinity Metro,” he said. “Think about it. When the World Cup soccer game comes, we’re going to need to figure out how to get 30,000 from Fort Worth to Arlington. How do we do that?”

After attending the Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, last November, Capua said the city will partner with the North Texas Innovation Alliance. He is also trying to bring more conferences and summits focused on technology to Fort Worth.

It’s too soon to say what the city’s next pilot test will be after last year’s Bitcoin mining project, he said. But Capua is exploring the idea of testing automated lawn mowers at an airport in Fort Worth. 

Cameron Cushman, assistant vice president of innovation at the University of North Texas Health Science Center 

Last year, the UNT Health Science Center received $2 million to kickstart the Small Business Innovation Research Phase 0 Program. The initiative is designed to help startups navigate the government grant program that helps businesses research and develop their products, with the possibility of commercializing their products down the line. 

“People have not heard about this, no one in the city knows what an SBIR is, if they’re eligible, how it works, what it’s used for,” Cameron Cushman, assistant vice president of innovation at UNTHSC, said. “And so much of this is just educating people on this potential opportunity.”

The first cohort in that program will start in February and will be announced soon, Cushman said.

Last year, Cushman also helped launch the Techstars Physical Health accelerator, which recruits 10 companies from around the world to develop their businesses. Next year’s program will improve upon lessons learned in 2022 and will be a big priority for the Health Science Center, he said.

Cushman said he’s excited to see the commercialization of Dr. Sid O’Bryant’s studies on Alzheimer’s disease. In October, O’Bryant received a $150 million grant to study how Alzheimer’s disease differs among racial and ethnic groups. 

The company that is commercializing O’Bryant’s research, CX Precision Medicine, may soon have the world’s first primary care test for the disease on the market, Cushman added. 

“There’s been very many attempts and lots of dollars thrown at Alzheimer’s research and in treatment,” he said. “Very few of them have worked out over the last 20 years. So this is a huge step forward in so many different ways. And it’s all being developed right here in Fort Worth.” 

Ian Bell, president of global business and innovation at Alcon 

Alcon has been developing eye care products in Fort Worth for more than 75 years. The company has worked to research and develop treatments for conditions such as glaucoma, retinal diseases, myopia and cataracts. In January, the company also officially opened its Children’s Vision Center for Fort Worth ISD students.

Going into 2023, Alcon’s president of global business and innovation Ian Bell said that the company launched the first reusable contact lens for astigmatic contact lens users, called TOTAL30 for Astigmatism. 

The company has more than 100 projects in the research and development pipeline and more than $680 million in R&D investment in 2021. 

“We are also bringing new innovations this year in other areas, including digital offerings to help drive efficiencies for eye care professionals and their patients, new advancements in surgical equipment and offering our latest ophthalmic pharmaceuticals to even more patients around the world,” Bell wrote in a statement. 

Michael Sherrod, entrepreneur in residence at Texas Christian University’s Neeley School of Business 

Michael Sherrod, who teaches classes on entrepreneurship at TCU, says artificial intelligence is going to have a larger role for small and large businesses in 2023.  He said the pace of advancement of technology like ChatGPT is shockingly fast. 

“I think it’s going to penetrate the market at a very, very fast rate,” Sherrod said. “There’s at least 250 companies that are being funded by various investors that are working on making AI more accessible for every business in the country.”

The technology doesn’t come without ethical concerns, Sherrod said, like copyright infringement with AI-powered chatbots.

“Companies are going to have to be very careful about what they put into the learning modules that they feed to AI, or in the data they feed,” he said. “I think that could potentially become something that slows it down a little bit.”

Ian Kinne, director of logistics innovation at Hillwood 

Ian Kinne, who works with companies at Alliance’s Mobility Innovation Zone at Hillwood, said he saw companies that have tested at Alliance fully launch in 2022. That included Google’s drone delivery service, Wing, which is operating in Frisco. He expects businesses will continue to launch and relocate to North Texas this year, too. 

“I think we’ll see more and more companies look at North Texas as a great place to do business and a place that they want to really grow and launch technology,” Kinne said. “So I think we’ll see that more in 2023.” 

While attending the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada this month, he noticed a heavy emphasis on sustainable vehicles. 

“I don’t think I saw a single vehicle there that wasn’t either electric or (hydrogen-powered),” he said. 

He said there’s more announcements to come from Hillwood throughout the year.

“I think we’ll continue to be right there alongside our customers as they start to develop and deploy a lot of these technologies,” Kinne said. “We want to be helpful. And we’re working with some of them very closely on kind of how that ultimately works. You know, a lot of those we can’t talk about until the right time.” 

Jason Hurst, executive vice president of engineering at Bell Textron, Inc. 

Bell Textron scored a contract from the U.S. Army last December that could generate billions for the company to come to manufacture an attack helicopter that would replace the Black Hawk. That is, if the protest of the award Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky doesn’t open up a new competition.

Bell is also working on other projects — like being one of two suppliers of Virgin Galactic’s spaceships.

“In 2023, Bell is looking forward to growing its teams to drive ongoing innovation, supporting Virgin Galactic’s Delta Class Spaceship with our composites design and manufacturing expertise,” Jason Hurst, executive vice president of engineering, said in a statement. “Bell will also continue exploring new rotorcraft technology for safety, performance and sustainability including: advanced sensors, autonomy, electrification and taking the next steps on high-speed vertical take-off and landing.”