Who's who

3 Houston innovators to know this week

This week's innovators to know in Houston includes Tim Neal of GoExpedi, Shay Curran of UH, and Arun Gir of iEducate. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: In today's Monday roundup of Houston innovators, I'm introducing you to three gentlemen representing a diverse set of industries — from nanotech and higher education to industrial e-commerce and education.

Tim Neal, CEO of GoExpedi

Tim Neal, CEO of Houston-based GoExpedi, shares how his company plans to scale following its recent series C closing. Photo by Colt Melrose for GoExpedi

Timing is everything, and Tim Neal says it's been a key factor in his company's success. GoExpedi acts as an Amazon of industrial business, basically. Just as the e-commerce platform has made online ordering easy, trackable, and fast, so has GoExpedi for industrial parts. And, thanks to companies like Amazon and on-demand ordering in general, this type of fast and reliable service is what everyone expects now.

"The labor pool in the oil and gas space in particular — 50 percent of it turn it over. Now you're no longer having these tradesmen who are 60-plus years old and walking encyclopedias. You have a younger workforce that's used to buying on eCommerce and their daily life. So, it's helping them by technical parts in a not technical way," Neal says in a Q&A with InnovationMap. "We just had a pool of clients who were more tech native and who had more familiarity with transacting online." Click here to read more.

Seamus Curran, CEO and founder of Integricote

University of Houston professor and entrepreneur, Seamus Curran, has pivoted amid the pandemic to use his nanotechnology expertise to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Integricote

Seamus Curran's life went from juggling teaching, research, and running his startup from early morning to late at night every day to working and teaching from home when the pandemic hit. He started looking into the virus and realized his nanotechnology actually has a real application in protecting people. First, he started coating masks. Lately he's been working on a new line of protection.

"The big thing for me when we were shut down was that people couldn't go to work or school. The country can't live that way — but you can't send people back to work in a world that's not safe," Curran says in this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "How do you create a safer environment? That's the thing that really got me going in the beginning in the summer. We looked at filters." Click here to read more and stream the episode.

Arun Gir, CEO of iEducate

Houston-based iEducate is connecting local tutors and mentors to students. Photo courtesy of iEducate

Now more than ever, young students need hands-on instruction to keep up in their studies, which for so many still are being conducted virtually. iEducate engages student mentors from the nearby University of Houston education program and graduating Alief ISD high school students to work alongside teachers to ensure that every child has the academic support needed to achieve their full potential.

"We are building on our unique range of educational support services that we have provided over the past to help schools advance student learning in these uncertain times," says Arun Gir, CEO of iEducate.

Gir says the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent school closings have forced iEducate to adapt, just like many other teachers and educators. For the first time, they are offering a needs assessment to any school that is interested in working with them. Click here to read more.

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Building Houston

 
 

Ty Audronis founded Tempest Droneworx to put drone data to work. Photo courtesy of Tempest Droneworx

Ty Audronis quite literally grew up in Paradise. But the Northern California town was destroyed by wildfire in 2018, including Audronis’ childhood home.

“That’s why it’s called the Campfire Region,” says the founder, who explains that the flames were started by a spark off a 97-year-old transmission line.

But Audronis, who has literally written the book on designing purpose-built drones — actually, more than one — wasn’t going to sit back and let it happen again. Currently, wildfire prevention is limited to the “medieval technology” of using towers miles apart to check for smoke signals.

“By the time you see smoke signals, you’ve already got a big problem,” Audronis says.

His idea? To replace that system with real-time, three-dimensional, multi-spectral mapping, which exactly where his company, Tempest Droneworx, comes in.

When asked how he connected with co-founder Dana Abramowitz, Audronis admits that it was Match.com — the pair not only share duties at Tempest, they are engaged to be married. It was a 2021 pre-SXSW brainstorming session at their home that inspired the pair to start Tempest.

When Audronis mentioned his vision of drone battalions, where each is doing a specialized task, Abramowitz, a serial entrepreneur and founder who prefers to leave the spotlight to her partner, told him that he shouldn’t give the idea away at a conference, they should start a company. After all, Audronis is a pioneer in the drone industry.

“Since 1997, I’ve been building multicopters,” he says.

Besides publishing industry-standard tomes, he took his expertise to the film business. But despite its name, Tempest is a software company and does not make drones.

That software is called Harbinger. Audronis explains that the real-time management and visualization solution is viewable on practically any device, including mobile or augmented reality. The system uses a video game engine for viewing, but as Audronis puts it, “the magic happens” on the back end.

Harbinger is not just drone-agnostic, but can use crowd-sourced data as well as static sensors. With the example of wildfires in mind, battalions can swarm an affected area to inform officials, stopping a fire before it gets out of hand. But fires are far from Harbinger’s only intended use.

The civilian version of Harbinger will be available for sale at the end of 2023 or beginning of 2024. For military use, Navy vet Audronis says that the product just entered Technical Readiness Level (TRL) 5, which means that they are about 18 months away from a full demo. The latest news for Tempest is that earlier this month, it was awarded a “Direct to Phase II” SBIR (Government Small Business Innovation Research) contract with the United States Department of the Air Force.

Not bad for a company that was, until recently, fully bootstrapped. He credits his time with the Houston Founder Institute, from which he graduated last February, and for which he now mentors, with many of the connections he’s made, including SBIR Advisors, who helped handle the complex process of getting their SBIR contract.

And he and Abramowitz have no plans to end their collaborations now that they’re seeing growth.

“Our philosophy behind [our business] isn’t keeping our cards close to our vest,” says Audronis. “Any potential competitors, we want to become partners.”

The company was just the two founders until five weeks ago, when Tempest’s size doubled, including a full-time developer. Once Tempest receives its SIBR check, the team will grow again to include more developers. They are currently looking for offices in the city. As Audronis says, Tempest Droneworx is “100-percent made in Houston.” Paradise may have been lost, but with Harbinger soon to be available, such a disaster need never happen again.

Dana Abramowitz and Ty Audronis co-founded Tempest Droneworks. Photo courtesy of Tempest Droneworx

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