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5 most popular innovation stories in Houston this week

From a hyperloop update to new hires across town, here's what you're reading this week. Pexels

Editor's note: This week's trending stories were pretty people centric with the innovators to know from Monday and two new hires at major innovation institutions. Plus, we got an update about the potential hyperloop system and The Cannon scored a fund partnership.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

These three innovators to know are responsible for solving problems here in Houston. Courtesy photos

A good innovator sees a need and fills it. Whether it's a bigger budget for new hospital technology, a network for female software developers in Houston, or access to creatives for nonprofits, these three Houston innovators are responsible for filling the needs of Houston's innovation ecosystem. Click here to read the full story.

TMC names former JLABS leader as the director of the Innovation Institute

Tom Luby will run the Texas Medical Center's Innovation Institute. Courtesy of TMC

The Texas Medical Center didn't have to go very far to find its new Innovation Institute director. Tom Luby, who most recently served as the site head for Johnson & Johnson Innovation's JLABS @ TMC, has been hired for the position. Luby replaces Erik Halvorsen, who left abruptly in December. Click here to read the full story.

Station Houston hires new director to grow partnerships and community engagement

Deanea LeFlore is Station Houston's new director of community engagement, partnerships, and education. Courtesy of Station Houston

A downtown Houston startup acceleration hub has created a new position focused on expanding the nonprofit's partnerships, engagement, and opportunities. Station Houston hired Deanea LeFlore as director of community engagement, partnerships, and education. Previously, LeFlore served as chief of protocol for the city of Houston and a vice president of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau. Click here to read the full story.

Rice University's angel network to be powered by Cannon Ventures

The Rice Angel Network will now be powered by Cannon Ventures. Photo courtesy of Rice University

In an effort to better connect Houston entrepreneurs with angel funds, the Rice Angel Network and Cannon Ventures have formed a new partnership. RAN will now be powered by Cannon Ventures, the investment arm of The Cannon, a West Houston coworking space. Click here to read the full story.

30-minute hyperloop from Houston to Dallas on fast track with push from federal government

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao used SXSW to make the announcement. Photo courtesy of Hyperloop One

Creation of a transportation-in-a-tube system that promises to whisk passengers from Houston to Dallas in 30 minutes got a big boost March 12 from the federal government. During an appearance at SXSW, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said she has established a transportation technology council that will aim to clear regulatory and legal roadblocks for the traffic-busting Virgin Hyperloop One concept and similar transit innovations. Click here to read the full story.


Wyzerr, a member of Station Houston's Ion Smart Cities Accelerator, has a way to better collect information from citizens. Photo courtesy of Wyzerr

In a 2019 report card handed out by Cincinnati-based startup Wyzerr, Houston didn't do too well — It got a C, a 2.5 out of 4. Houston is passing, but just barely.

Wyzerr didn't give the city a bad rating; Houstonians did. In July, Wyzerr sent two researchers downtown to hang out near public places — bus stops, street corners, etc. Overall, respondents said they are satisfied with dining options, shopping, and the airports but were really struggling to embrace long commutes, poor local transit, and even public services: the police department, local government, schools and parking all got grades of C minus.

Wyzerr, which has ventured to Houston to partake in the ongoing Ion Smart Cities Accelerator out of Station Houston, is focused on creating surveys that make it easier for companies — and, increasingly, cities and airports — to collect useful information to improve their offerings.

"You can't build perfect cities," says Natasia Malaihollo, founder of Wyzerr. "But if you make small, incremental improvements, you can start to see a difference in communities (through Wyzerr's smart surveys)."

Wyzerr began in June 2014 and focused on designing smart survey for retailers. Now, the company works with more than 2,100 small and large businesses, including Kroger, Walmart, Facebook, Unilever — a lot of consumer packaged goods, Malaihollo says.

Wyzerr is focused on creating engaging surveys to better collect information. Photo courtesy of Wyzerr

Consumers interact with many of these brands on a near-daily basis, and Malaihollo estimates a person might get his with 7 surveys in a day — some of which require dialing in, or going online, or filling out responses on a sheet of receipt paper.

But Wyzerr makes surveys fun — they're interactive and game-like. Most importantly, though, they're short. Nearly every survey is designed to wind a customer through 25 questions about their experience with a certain retailer, product or service in 30 to 60 seconds. There's a science to it — shorter word counts on survey questions, for example, and making the final questions as engaging as possible, because people usually start answering more quickly, and maybe less thoughtfully, toward the end of a survey form.

Malaihollo calls this a design-focused approach to market research, and it has gotten results. In some surveys, Wyzerr was able to gather data on up to 20 percent of total consumers. Unlike most survey engagement, which usually falls lower, Wyzerr's data meets the threshold for statistical analysis — a valid sample size, in mathematics, is 10 percent of the population.

Two years ago, the Cincinnati Airport approached them. Amid a stream of reports that airports would develop into great hubs for the future of retail, the Cincinnati Airport team wanted a way to track shoppers' satisfaction as they trafficked through the terminals. Wyzerr created a survey that connected to the airport's Wi-Fi system — if users wanted to log on, they had to take a brief survey first.

"That ended up being our most successful campaign," Malaihollo says.

Wyzer, which has a team of 12, has raised $2 million and is getting ready to raise more. Upon completion of the accelerator program, the company will work with a Houston neighborhood for a pilot program, and the team hopes to get their survey system on the Wi-Fi system in Houston airports early next year.

Now, Wyzerr focuses on gathering data for smart cities — urban spaces that offer higher-tech solutions to regular city activities, like parking, and use electronic sensors to collect data that helps monitor the public. For example, cities across the U.S. have adapted free Wi-Fi on public transit, parking lot trackers, smart traffic lights to reduce congestion, automated bike-sharing programs and pedestrian detectors at intersections.