Featured Innovator

From nap research to diversity and inclusion, this entrepreneur is making Houston workers more productive

From opening Nap Bar and consulting corporations on diversity and inclusion to serving the city as an LGBT adviser, Khaliah Guillory is focused on productivity. Courtesy of Khaliah Guillory

Khaliah Guillory is an avid napper — and she's had to be. A multiple hat wearer and big proponent of side hustles, she's always piled responsibilities high on her plate.

Earlier this year left a corporate leadership position to open Nap Bar in Rice Village, but for years before that, she had her diversity and inclusion side hustle, KOG & Company. She works with companies — big and small — to integrate the best diversity and inclusion initiatives into the workplace.

"The intersection between KOG and Nap Bar and the common denominator is productivity and performance," Guillory says. "From a corporate standpoint — even when you think about diversity and inclusion — it all boils down to we want people who don't look like us or don't come from where we come from to be productive and perform well."

Guillory, who is this week's Pride Month Featured Innovator on InnovationMap, also serves on Mayor Sylvester Turner's LGBT Advisory Board.

InnovationMap: When did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

Khaliah Guillory: I was 8 or 9 years old, and my family drank a lot of soda. Where I grew up in Port Arthur, Texas, you could go and trade in cans for change. I would go outside, line up all the cans, and step on them to crush them. I saw an infomercial about a can crusher. It made my business more efficient. That's when my entrepreneurial journey started.

IM: How did The Nap Bar come about? 

KG: I have always been an avid napper. When I was in Kindergarten, and the teacher would say go grab your red or blue mat, I did it and I was out. I enjoyed naptime. In high school, I played basketball and I napped at the end of school. When I got into college, I played basketball at the University of Central Florida. My days would start at 5 am and wouldn't end until midnight. The only way I was able to graduate on time and maintain my grades for my scholarships was napping. It just continued throughout my professional career, and I started napping in my car.

One day, my wife and I commuted into the city — we live in the Sugar Land/Richmond area. We had about an hour and a half to spare. It was nap time, but it would be awkward with her in the car. She suggested Googling naps in Houston. She says, "We live in Houston, there's got to be a place where you could take a quick nap." There was no such place. She told me I should create it. That was April of last year.

IM: Then what did you do to get the ball rolling?

KG: The next day I surveyed all my friends and asked them if I was the only one out here napping. I quickly realized that I wasn't. Specifically, 52 percent of Americans, according to Amerisleep, admitted to napping at work. I committed to doing more research. I've committed 10,000 plus hours to researching the benefits to napping and the indicators of sleep exhaustion. Fast forward to November of last year, I transitioned away from my C-level position at a Fortune 500 company to really pursue Nap Bar.

IM: How’s business been?

KG: We just celebrated our 30th day of business a couple of weeks ago. We are already generating revenue. We are excited for what's to come. June is shaping up to be a real opportunity for us to be in the black, and July is shaping up to have a lot of events. We found that our biggest challenge is educating the masses on the benefits of taking a chill session in the middle of the day, and also educating on the indicators of what it's like to be sleep deprived.

IM: With KOG & Company, your other company, you’ve worked for years with large companies to help incorporate diversity and inclusion. How does that tie into your nap research?

KG: The intersection between KOG and Nap Bar and the common denominator is productivity and performance. From a corporate standpoint — even when you think about diversity and inclusion — it all boils down to we want people who don't look like us or don't come from where we come from to be productive and perform well. The best place for any corporation that has a philosophy or a vision of values and embraces corporate social responsibility is to acknowledge that people are going to be the heartbeat of their company.

IM: What do organizations — from startups to Fortune 500 companies — need to know about diversity and inclusion?

KG: The biggest thing is that from a culture standpoint, just simply hiring people to check a box isn't going to provide the desired ROI. It really, truly has to be embraced by the culture. If I am a business owner or corporation, and my goal is to have a diversity of talent, then I need to go where those people are. If I create and curate an environment with diversity and inclusivity, then going to recruit and then ask them what type of organization they want to work for and what it would look like — then go out and build that. And if they don't know where to start, they can hire me and I can hold their hand and give some real life experience. I've lived it as a banker, as a supervisor, and as a C-level executive.

IM: What’s surprised you about being on Mayor Sylvester Turner’s LGBT Advisory Board?

KG: I think what surprised me most about is that the city of Houston is really progressing and striving. It just makes sense. We're the most diverse city in the country, and I applaud Mayor Sylvester Turner for assembling the LGBT Advisory Board and for appointing me.

The city of Houston — and all the entities that fall under it from a government landscape — is desiring a journey to get more training and education. How do we educate on how to report a hate crime. How do we make sure that city employees are showing up to work and are 100 percent comfortable in their own skin. The biggest surprise I'd have to say is that the city has done an incredible job with the training. I walked away from the meeting learning things that I didn't even know about the LGBTQ community.

IM: What does Pride Month mean to you?

KG: Pride means to me being comfortable in my skin as I am, who I am. The month is a pleasant reminder to be "me" every day, all day. Pride month means my uniqueness is celebrated, not tolerated which should be the norm everyday; not just a month. Pride means being secure in the community — workplace, networking event, the gym, basically everywhere — and confidently say "my wife."

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Portions of this interview have been edited.

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Building Houston

 
 

From biomolecular research to oral cancer immunotherapy, here are three research projects to watch out for in Houston. Photo via Getty Images

Research, perhaps now more than ever, is crucial to expanding and growing innovation in Houston — and it's happening across the city right under our noses.

In InnovationMap's latest roundup of research news, a couple local scientists are honored by awards while another duo of specialists tackle a new project.

University of Houston professor recognized with award

Mehmet Orman of UH has been selected to receive an award for his research on persister cells. Photo via UH.edu

Mehmet Orman, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering has been honored with a Faculty Early Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation. The award comes with a $500,000 grant to study persister cells — cells that go dormant and then become tolerant to extraordinary levels of antibiotics.

"Nearly all bacterial cultures contain a small population of persister cells," says Orman in a news release. "Persisters are thought to be responsible for recurring chronic infections such as those of the urinary tract and for creating drug-resistant mutants."

Previously, Orman developed the first methods to directly measure the metabolism of persister cells. He also developed cell sorting strategies to segregate persisters from highly heterogeneous bacterial cell populations, and, according to the release, he will be using his methods in the NSF research project.

Houston researchers collaborate on oral cancer innovation

Dr. Simon Young of UTHealth and Jeffrey Hartgerink of Rice University are working on a new use for an innovative gel they developed. Photo via Rice.edu

Two Houston researchers — chemist and bioengineer Jeffrey Hartgerink at Rice University and Dr. Simon Young at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston — have again teamed up to advance their previous development of a sophisticated hydrogel called STINGel. This time, they are using it to destroy oral cancer tumors.

SynerGel combines a pair of antitumor agents into a gel that can be injected directly into tumors. Once there, the gel controls the release of its cargo to not only trigger cells' immune response but also to remove other suppressive immune cells from the tumor's microenvironment. The duo reported on the technology in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering.

SynerGel, combines a pair of antitumor agents into a gel that can be injected directly into tumors, where they not only control the release of the drugs but also remove suppressive immune cells from the tumor's microenvironment.

"We are really excited about this new material," Hartgerink says in a news release. "SynerGel is formulated from a specially synthesized peptide which itself acts as an enzyme inhibitor, but it also assembles into a nanofibrous gel that can entrap and release other drugs in a controlled fashion.

In 2018, the pair published research on the use of a multidomain peptide gel — the original STINGel — to deliver ADU-S100, an immunotherapy drug from a class of "stimulator of interferon gene (STING) agonists."

The research is supported by the Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Welch Foundation, the National Science Foundation and the Mexican National Council for Science and Technology.

Texas Heart Institute researcher honored by national organization

Dr. James Martin of Texas Heart Institute has been named a senior member of the National Academy of Inventors. Photo courtesy of THI

The National Academy of Inventors have named Houston-based Texas Heart Institute's Dr. James Martin, director of the Cardiomyocyte Renewal Lab, a senior member.

Martin is an internationally recognized developmental and regenerative biologist and his research is focused on understanding how signaling pathways are related to development and tissue regeneration.

"Dr. Martin has long been a steward of scientific advancement and has proven to be a tremendous asset to the Texas Heart Institute and to its Cardiomyocyte Renewal Lab through his efforts to translate fundamental biological discoveries in cardiac development and disease into novel treatment strategies for cardiac regeneration," says Dr. Darren Woodside, vice president for research at THI, in a news release. "Everyone at the Texas Heart Institute is thrilled for Dr. Martin, whose induction into the NAI as a Senior Member is well-deserved."

Martin has authored over 170 peer-reviewed papers in top journals he holds nine U.S. patents and applications, including one provisional application, all of which have been licensed to Yap Therapeutics, a company he co-founded.

The full list of incoming NAI Senior Members, which includes three professionals from the University of Houston, is available on the NAI website.

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