On purpose

3 Houston entrepreneurs changing the world with their B2B startups

The Cannon hosted a B2B pitch night, and all three companies have a mission to change the world. Courtesy of The Cannon

I think it's safe to say that most B2B startups don't have sustainability or a mission-driven purpose at the core of their business model. In fact, it's probably safe to say that about any for-profit company of any size.

Three Houston entrepreneurs pitched their companies at The Cannon's recent B2B pitch night, and they all have something in common: They're not normal B2B startups. Each company has a mission to change the way we're doing something — from hiring to construction — in a way that's better for the world.

Natalie Goodman, founder and CEO IncentiFind

Courtesy of IncentiFind

Natalie Goodman realized there was a disconnect between builders and green incentives the government provides.

"The government is strapped — they have all this money that they want to give away, but not the (marketing) money to get the word out," Goodman told InnovationMap last month. "That's where IncentiFind stepped in."

IncentiFind is a portal for green incentives and works in three steps. First, you do a search for green incentives in your area — this part is completely free to the commercial developer or home owner. Next, the user might opt to pay IncentiFind to find the exact incentives for the project and submits the applications for the project. The final step is a promise of a 10 times return on investment.

A million green projects are completed in the United States each year, and IncentiFind is getting in front of that by forming partnerships with lenders, commercial developers, architects, etc., Goodman says to the crowd. Read more about IncentiFind here.

Jeff Miller, CEO of Potentia

Courtesy of The Cannon

The facts and figures are pretty startling. One-in-40 school-age children are on the autism spectrum and one-in-five college-educated autistic individuals don't have a job when they graduate, Jeff Miller says during his pitch at The Cannon. Miller, who has a long career in staffing around the world, founded his company Potentia to help correct this growing employment problem.

"We're seeking to help employers build their 21st century workforce at the intersection of technology, leadership, and, most specifically, the autism spectrum," he says.

Potentia is a technology-focused recruitment firm with resources and opportunities for applicants on the Autism spectrum. For Miller, it's personal. His 16-year-old son has autism, and Miller wants a world where his son can have access to employment opportunities around the world.

"I think we're in a position to improve this model here in Houston, and take it to other cities," Miller says. "The reality is this is a challenge that exists in every major city."

Kim Raath, co-founder of Topl

Courtesy of Topl

Sure, blockchain is a major buzzword nowadays, but for Topl co-founder Kim Raath it means having the ability to track the sustainability of a purchase. Topl's technology is able to tell you if your diamond ring came from a war-torn country or if your coffee's farmer was paid fairly.

Raath says she's seen an increased need for sustainable and transparent businesses that can prove their impact, but it's expensive to do that.

"These businesses are spending so much money on trying to prove this impact," Raath says in her pitch at The Cannon. "We have customers spending close to 15 percent in operational expenses just to be able to trace their growth."

The company, founded by three Rice University students, is growing. In May, Raath says they have four new ventures being developed, and by 2020, they want to have 24 live ventures with a monthly revenue of over $30,000.

"At Topl, we are really going to change the world," Raath tells the crowd. "But I can prove it to you." Read more about Topl here.

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Building Houston

 
 

A Houston founder shares an analysis of relationship banking, the pros and cons of digital banking competition, and an outlook of digital banking inroads to develop relationship banking. Photo courtesy

After our doctor and our child’s school, a bank is an institution with which we share the relationship that is most personal and vital to our well-being in this world. Some might put a good vet third, but other than that, no private entity is more responsible for escorting us to a healthier and happier outcome over the course of our lives.

The bank vault is a traditional symbol of security and prosperity, and not just for our pennies. We safeguard possessions in banks that are so important we don’t even trust keeping them in our own houses. Wills, birth certificates, and the precious family heirlooms of countless families are held in safety deposit boxes behind those giant vault doors, and banks have been the traditional guardians not only of our wealth but our identity and future as well.

The importance of relationship banking

Faith and confidence in our banks is so fundamental to the customer relationship that it has evolved into a unique and otherwise unthinkable arrangement for any good capitalist in a healthy marketplace: banks pay us to be their customers. Imagine a doctor offering you $20 for trusting them to give you a colonoscopy and you’re on the road to understanding the sacrosanct union between bank and customer.

In fact, this trust is so deeply anchored in the American psyche that a new generation of digital banking companies has sprung up on the idea that it doesn’t need to exist in physical reality. The fintech industry has exploded in the last decade, and today, over 75 percent of Americans are engaged in online banking in one form or another. Every single one of those 200 million customers are taking for granted that they will be well served, despite having no personal guidance through any of the financial products and services that these online entities provide.

Benefits of fostering relationships with banking customers

In the late 90s and early 2000s brick-and-mortar banks realized that greater personalized care for their customers was going to be a critical point of competition. The in-person experience is an opportunity to offer advice and incentives for a wide range of products and financial management assistance. It’s rooted in an incredibly simple axiom that is taking hold in every aspect of modern society: everyone benefits if we all get along better.

There’s a lot of statistical traction behind this theory. Customers who report they are “financially healthy” are down 20 percent over the last year, which means people are looking for guidance. 73 percent of customers who visit a local bank branch report having a personal relationship with their bank, while only 53 percent say the same of their digital institution. Most importantly, although many digital banks are offering similar products and services to their real-world counterparts, customer engagement remains very low.

It starts with your products

The truth is, today’s bank customers still want that same personal relationship their great-grandparents had before they engage with deeper financial products and services. They believe it makes them more financially successful, and confirm that human connections and economic prosperity go hand-in-hand.

Products that are Challenging for Digital Markets

Residential mortgages, for example, are an $18 trillion dollar industry that deals in durations longer than most digital banking services have even existed. The perception of continuity and stability is highly valued by clients in the mortgage relationship. Today, most customers feel that only comes with a handshake and a smile from an employee who has to fit in a meeting before they pick their kids up from school.

While digital firms have proven themselves capable of offering savings and checking services, most have fallen flat on the mortgage front because of the premium on personal relationships. Loyalty is the reward for time, service, and shared experience, and financial institutions that cannot provide that package for their customers are never going to access a deeper and more meaningful portfolio of services.

Finding Well-suited Products for Digital Finance

The message for the digital finance world is as clear as it is pressing. The future of the industry will revolve around more personalized experiences, interactions, and long-term products. At the same time, the American public has embraced digital banking, and we are looking at a new generation of bank users who may never walk through a branch door in their life.

In order to compete, the digital industry will need to identify and develop a range of long-term products and services that make sense for customers in today’s environment. Mortgages may be out of the question, but the safety deposit box holds great promise for industry in-roads. Optimal services for deeper, more personal customer engagement include things like:

  • Legacy and estate planning
  • Will preparation and safeguarding
  • Preservation of cherished photos and videos
  • Important personal data storage


Because these things are product-based, they are well suited to the digital ecosystem. The cryptocurrency industry and modern online banking have solidified consumer confidence in the digital bank vault, and there is a great deal of faith in the perpetuity of electronic documents and storage.

The IRS estimates that upwards of 90 percent of Americans are E-filing their taxes and that only comes with a widespread belief that our highly sensitive information can and will be preserved and protected by digital architecture.

Secure your future

Digital banking firms that want to thrive in the upcoming decades are going to need to innovate in long-term financial planning products that bring their customers into a closer, more personal relationship with them.

The finance world will continue to change and develop, but the hopes, fears, and dreams of people trying to build and secure a better future for themselves and their children will remain the same for tomorrow’s customers as they were for their parents and grandparents.

It is up to the digital finance industry to adapt and develop to provide the customers of today—and tomorrow— with these invaluable services and securities.

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Emily Cisek is the founder and CEO of The Postage, a tech-enabled, easy-to-use estate planning tool.

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