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5 most popular innovation stories in Houston this week

A story about creative nonprofit collaboration called Good Measure is one of the top stories this week. Alan Nguyen/Good Measure

Editor's note: The theme of the week here at InnovationMap was creative collaborations and rapid growth. Check out this week's top stories in Houston innovation.

10 most promising Texas startups revealed at inaugural Houston summit

Station Houston CEO Gabriella Rowe and Rice Alliance Managing Partner Brad Burke named 10 startups to watch. Photo by Natalie Harms

Texas is booming with digital startups, and Station Houston and the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship hosted a meeting of the minds to discuss the digital revolution at the inaugural Texas Digital Summit at Rice University on December 6.

Thirty-nine companies presented throughout the day; among the group were 26 from the Houston area. At the conclusion of the day, Gabriella Rowe, CEO of Station Houston, and Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance, announced 10 "most promising companies" that stood out to a group of investors who attended the event.

All 10 selected were Texas-based, with eight from the Houston area. Here's who the venture capitalists and investors picked for the prize. Read the full story here.

Houston creatives relaunch nonprofit's brand through a 3-day collaboration

Allison Williams, who has been working with the Transformational Prison Project for two years, attended Good Measure to consult on the brand development. Alan Nguyen/Good Measure

What if you could harness the power of a city's top creative professionals to create a brand identity for a nonprofit that otherwise couldn't afford it? Alex Anderson posed that question to some of his colleagues, and Good Measure was born.

"Good Measure exists to broaden the conversation about good in the world and what that means and how people can contribute to good no matter their skill set," says Anderson, who is a senior brand strategist and account manager at Houston-based NUU Group.

Good Measure is a Houston-based nonprofit that hosts three-day creative collaborations with local designers, writers, brand strategists, and more. The goal is simple: Equip a nonprofit with new storytelling tools — like a website, social media, and video communicating the organization's message. Read the full story here.

Growing Houston company makes pipeline data more accessible for natural gas trading

Jay Bhatty looked at how pipeline data reached traders and thought of a better way. Getty Images

In the energy capital of the world, Houston entrepreneur Jay Bhatty has established a rapidly growing technology hub for the natural gas industry.

Bhatty, a veteran of the natural-gas-trading business, founded Houston-based NatGasHub.com in October 2016 to streamline the traditionally complicated processes of moving natural gas from one point to another, and of unearthing data about natural gas pipelines. After only a little over two years in business, NatGasHub.com already is profitable — a rare feat in the startup world. Read the full story here.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

These three entrepreneurs didn't see their careers coming. Courtesy photos

The career paths of startup or innovation leaders isn't usually a direct path. All three of this week's innovators to know took a roundabout way to their current gigs, which included a leap of faith or two for each of them. If their winding careers are any indication, they've got more exciting leadership ahead. Read the full story here.

Houston electronics manufacturing company gears up for growth

Houston-based MacroFab has created the Uber or Airbnb of electronics manufacturing. Getty Images

It takes an unnecessarily long time for electronic devices to get from idea to reality — and much of that is due to inefficiency in manufacturing. Just getting a prototype together takes weeks of back and forth between the engineer and the manufacturer.

"The business model for contract manufacturing hadn't changed in 30 years," Chris Church says. "It was phone calls, emails, going out and playing golf, going to lunch, and negotiating everything endlessly."

Houston-based MacroFab is addressing these antiquated and outdated ways of manufacturing and changing the way electronics manufacturing is done. For its revolutionary work, the company has consistently seen its revenue at least double — sometimes tripling or quadrupling — every year, and projects to at least triple in 2019. Read the full story here.


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Building Houston

 
 

Here's what you should consider if you need to make some sort of cuts to your business this year. Photo via Getty Images

Preparing for a potential economic downturn can be unsettling for employers and employees. As payroll is typically one of the largest expenditures for a business, no matter its size, layoffs seem like the quickest fix. While this may offer short-term relief, they can severely impact operations and workplace culture.

When staff is reduced, culture can suffer. Employee morale can decrease and distrust may build, especially if layoffs are not communicated properly. This can lead to the remaining employees feeling anxious about their own future with the organization and spur them to look for employment elsewhere, which can affect an organization’s overall productivity and day-to-day operations.

Business owners should get creative and consider the impact and the many alternatives before resorting to workforce reductions.

Analyze salaries

If the organization’s downturn is short-term, senior leadership and upper management could accept temporary salary reductions until business improves. However, if the situation is more dire, leaders might consider an option such as cutting overhead with job sharing. Employee numbers then remain the same, but two positions become one and it is filled by two part-time employees to support a function or role. Furloughs for non-essential employees give employers time to consider if permanent layoffs are necessary. Of course, this requires an understanding of each performers contribution within the organization to determine overall impact and level of “necessity.”

Look at schedules

Permanent remote work could save on operating costs, such as leases and travel expenses, which gives more budgetary leeway to avoid layoffs. Another approach is implementing a four-day workweek to reduce hours and salaries by 20 percent. The added benefit to a shortened workweek is better employee work-life balance.

Scale Back Benefits

When finances are in a critical state, and leadership is looking to avoid layoffs, employers can scale benefits and perks for all employees. Temporarily pausing the 401(k) match, relying more on virtual business meetings instead of incurring travel expenses, and cutting employee bonuses can help ease the economic burden without letting people go. As with salary reductions, scaling back on benefits should begin with leadership before expanding to others.

Streamline Systems

When auditing the company, employers should also evaluate company processes and workflows for efficiency. It’s possible an employee could be more productive in a different role or a process may be found to be more laborious than necessary. Digital software is another alternative to help streamline systems. Employee feedback is another great resource to help identify gaps and streamline processes. A good practice is to have performers look for ways to make tasks within their role more efficient and productive.

Every decision has its costs. The most important thing employers can do is to be open and honest with employees, including transparency about the state of business. This communication style can increase employee buy-in during economic uncertainty and encourage employees to rally and be part of the resiliency of the organization.

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Karen Leal is a performance specialist with Houston-based Insperity, a provider of human resources offering a suite of scalable HR solutions available in the marketplace.

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