Houston innovators podcast episode 61

​Innovation hub exec wants to ensure Houston's diversity is well represented

Deanea LeFlore, director of partnerships at The Ion, joins this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of Station Houston

The Ion is in its home stretch. Expected to open in early 2021, the rising innovation hub is inches away from its exciting entrance into the Houston market. Yet despite the physical location's ongoing construction, Deanea LeFlore and her team have been hard at work for months establishing partners and programming for The Ion's goal of serving Houston.

"The primary objective of The Ion is economic resilience," LeFlore, who is director of partnerships at The Ion says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We want Houstonians to be better off economically as a result of this project and as a result of them participating in the tech and innovation economy."

Meeting this goal is LeFlore's job priority and bringing economic support can mean upskilling, creating more new business, access to capital, resources for growing businesses, and diversifying the workforce — something she's personally committed to.

Recently, The Ion received a grant to create the Minority Business Enterprise Aerospace Innovation Hub focused on supporting minority innovators within the space and adjacent industries with an accelerator program and business programming. The program is providing informative sessions on how to get involved, and the next one is on Dec. 16.

"We're hoping that at the end of this, as startups get coaching and tips from NASA and partners, that they'll learn what it takes to expand in the aerospace industry," LeFlore says. "That's a really exciting development and a new opportunity for minority businesses in Houston."

Personally, LeFlore, who worked for the city's international relations for about 17 years, is excited to have a hub focused on innovation that is representative of the city.

"I think that when people walk into The Ion, what's personally important to me, is that it looks like Houston so that you see yourself reflected in the people in the building as well as the programming," LeFlore says. "That's my biggest hope and aspiration, and I believe we are well on track to be able to deliver on exactly that."

LeFlore shares more on what she's been working on — from online programming to growing partnerships at The Ion. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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Building Houston

 
 

SurgeWise is giving surgical teams the right support for hiring. Photo via Getty Images

A surgeon spends over a decade in school and residency perfecting their medical skills, but that education doesn't usually include human resources training. Yet, when it comes to placing candidates into surgical programs, the hiring responsibilities fell on the shoulders of surgeons.

Aimee Gardner, who has her PhD in organized psychology, saw this inefficiency first hand.

"I worked in a large surgery department in Dallas right out of graduate school and quickly learned how folks are selected into residency and fellowship programs and all the time that goes into it — time spent by physicians reviewing piles and piles of like paper applications and spending lots and lots and of hours interviewing like hundreds of candidates," Gardner tells InnovationMap. "I was just really shocked by the inefficiencies from just a business and workforce perspective."

And things have only gotten worse. There are more applicants hitting the scene every year and they are applying to more hospitals and programs. Future surgeons used to apply for 20 or so programs — now it’s more like 65 on average. According to her research, Gardner says reviewing these applications cost lots of time and money, specifically $100,000 to fill five spots annually just up to the interviewing phase of the process.

Five years ago, Gardner came up with a solution to this “application fever,” as she describes, and all the inefficiencies, and founded SurgWise Consulting, where she serves as president and CEO.

"We help provide assessments to help screen competencies and attributes that people care about," Gardner says. "(Those) are really hard to assess, but really differentiate people who really thrive in training in their careers and people who don't."

Aimee Gardner is the CEO and president of Houston-based SurgeWise. Photo via surgwise.com

These are the non-technical skills, like the professionalism, interpersonal skills, and communication. While SurgeWise began as a service-oriented consulting company, the company is now ready to tap technology to expand upon its solution. The work started out of Houston Methodist, and SurgeWise is still working with surgery teams there. She says they've accumulated tons of data that can be leveraged and streamlined.

"We're now pivoting from a very intimate client approach to a more scalable offering. Every year we assess essentially around 80 percent of all the people applying to be future surgeons — those in pediatric surgery, vascular surgery, and more,” Gardner says. “We’ve used kind of the last five years of data and experiences to create a more scalable, easy-to-integrate, and off-the-shelf solution.”

Gardner says her solution is critical for providing more equity in the hiring process.

“One of our goals was to create more equitable opportunities and platforms to assess folks because many of the traditional tools and processes that most people use in this space have lots of opportunity for bias and a high potential for disadvantaging individuals from underrepresented groups," she says. "For example, letters of recommendation are often a very insider status. If you went to some Ivy League or your parents were in health care and they know someone, you have that step up from a networking and socioeconomic status standpoint."

Personal statements and test scores are also inequitable, because they tend to be better submissions if people have money for coaching.

SurgeWise hopes to lower the number of programs future surgeons apply to too to further streamline the process. She hopes to do this through an app and web tool that can matchmake people to the right program.

“Our ultimate goal is to create a platform for applicants to obtain a lot more information about the various places to which they apply to empower them to make more informed decisions, so that they don't have to apply to a hundred places," Gardner says. "We want to essentially create a match-style app that allows them to input some data and tell us 'here's what I'm looking for here are my career goals and any preferences I have.'”

While that tool is down the road, Gardner says SurgeWise is full speed ahead toward launching the data-driven hiring platform. The bootstrapped company hopes to raise early venture funding this summer in order to hire and grow its team.

“As we continue to consider this app that I talked about and some of the other opportunities to scale to other specialties we're gonna start looking for a series A funding later this summer.”

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