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Houston named a best place to work in tech, Capital Factory opens $100,000 contest, and more innovation news

Texas cities dominate list of best places to work in tech, a startup contest is accepting applications, Amazon invests in Houston community, and more local innovation news. Getty Images

Just like Houston's temperatures, the Bayou City's innovation news is heating up for the summer. From a new startup competition and a big donation from Amazon to Texas cities dominating a list of best places to work in technology, here's a roundup of innovation news happening in town.

Study finds greater Houston area ranks as best place to work in tech

Four Texas metros appear on the ranking. Chart via SmartAsset

A new study from SmartAsset identified the best places to work in technology, and Houston ranked at No. 15. The researchers looked into the country's top 50 populated areas across five metrics: percentage of workers employed in tech, average salary for tech workers, ratio of average tech salary to average salary across all fields, percentage of currently listed bachelor's jobs that are in tech and cost of living.

Texas was well represented on the list, and three Lone Star State metroplexes landed on the list ahead of Houston. Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington tied for the No. 3 position with Raleigh, North Carolina. Meanwhile, central Texas' Austin-Round Rock and San Antonio-New Braunfels tied for No. 7.

The study found that most of these top cities reside in the south, and the northeastern part of the country ranked poorly on these metrics.

Capital Factory launches $100,000 startup competition

Calling all cognitive tech startups. Photo via austinstartups.com

Austin-based Capital Factory, which has a presence across the state, has opened applications for a $100,000 contest for tech startups. The Human Performance Investment Challenge is looking for hardware and/or software solutions that enhance physical or cognitive capabilities, according to an article the organization posted.

The challenge will conclude at Fed Supernova, a virtual event on July 15. The event is in collaboration with the Army Futures Command's Innovation Combine and xTechSearch programs. Applications are open now and close June 28.

Amazon teams up with Houston Food Bank to feed at-risk seniors

The Houston Food Bank is working with Amazon to feed senior citizens. Photo courtesy of Houston Food Bank

Last month, Amazon made a strategic donation focused on providing food to senior citizens disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. The tech giant's Amazon Flex sent drivers around town to make contactless deliveries to residents' doors, and, in just two days after launching, Amazon has delivered over 3,000 pounds of food — representing more than 2,000 meals.

"For so many of our senior citizens, the pandemic is especially troubling as they have health concerns, limited mobility and need assistance for such regular tasks as grocery shopping," says Brian Greene, president and CEO of Houston Food Bank, in a news release. "Because this population needs help, we wanted to add direct food deliveries for them, and we are so thankful to Amazon for stepping up to make this happen for our beloved senior citizens."

Amazon's efforts within the Bayou City are just one part of its commitment to deliver millions of meals across the country. In addition to the donated delivery service, Amazon has gifted a $50,000 COVID-19 response grant to the local organization to go to operational needs and food supplies.

"Communities around the world are facing the COVID-19 pandemic together, and in Houston we're proud to be doing our part to support our local community," says Bri Tye, general manager at Amazon's Fulfillment Centre in Katy, in the release. "The donation of $50,000 to the Houston Food Bank, and Amazon's Flex deliveries will go directly to helping feed seniors and families who need it most."

Houston fintech startup launches new product

HighRadius has premiered a new software product. Photo via highradius.com

Houston-based fintech startup, HighRadius, which provides software solutions and automation technology, announced its new RadiusOne A/R Suite for mid-sized businesses.

"We launched the RadiusOne B2B Network to facilitate suppliers and A/R teams to digitally connect with their buyers and A/P teams for faster processing of receivables and payments. Currently, the network has millions of active businesses," says Sashi Narahari, founder and CEO of HighRadius, in a news release. "The RadiusOne A/R Suite will provide the essential apps for A/R teams at mid-sized businesses to instantly plug their ERPs and A/R processes into this network and digitally connect with their buyers across the globe."

The new product is especially key in today's work-from-home environment in order to prevent slowdowns in accounts receivable departments.

"COVID-19 is putting a lot of working capital strain on businesses globally," Narahari says. "We are hoping to help by automating clerical A/R processes for mid-sized businesses and by reducing the friction for supplier A/R teams to digitally collaborate with their buyers and A/P teams."

The Cannon partners with minority-focused angel investment group

The Business Angel Minority Association launched at a breakfast event in March. Photo by Nijalon Dunn

The Cannon — an entrepreneurial hub — has joined forces with The Business Angel Minority Association, or baMa, to prioritize diversity within angel investing in Houston.

"Diversity plays an important role in early-stage investment decisions. The existing Business Angel associations are not diverse enough and this translates to a lack of pre-seed and seed angel investment in Minority-led startups", says Maria Maso, founder and CEO of baMa, in a news release.

The organization launched earlier this year to connect angel investors to minority-led startups. This partnership is in line with The Cannon's commitment to diversity, says the Cannon's CEO, Jon Lambert.

"baMa's mission to fill the glaring need for an early-stage investment focus on minority-led startups and/or startups targeting minority-driven markets is fundamental to The Cannon's vision to deliver every entrepreneur access to the startup resources needed to thrive," Lamber says in the release.

"For us, community is diversity – our partnership with baMa will extend and enhance the support system we are passionately growing and will provide baMa with access to our expanding community of startups and partners. We're excited to see where this partnership takes us – there is so much alignment in our desire to help the entire entrepreneurial community, we are expecting to accomplish big things together."

UH program addresses need for technology teachers

UH's teachHOUSTON program is preparing the next generation of technology educators. Photo courtesy of Chris Watts/uh.edu

With the number of jobs within technology expected to grow, the University of Houston has geared up to train the future's tech educators. UH's teachHOUSTON program, which trains STEM teachers who work in economically disadvantaged high schools within Houston, recently received $1.2 million from the National Science Foundation to continue its mission.

The funding will go toward a new program called UH-ACCESS — short for Advancing Cultural and Computational Engagement in STEM Scholars. The program, which begins this fall, will train 30 UH students from varying disciplines to teach computer science, physics and technology at the high school level.

"Our goal is to prepare a diverse group of teachers who will inspire students to become the country's next technologically advanced, highly-skilled workforce," says Paige Evans, associate director of teachHOUSTON and principal investigator on the project, in a news release.

The selected UH-ACCESS scholars will receive a $12,000 scholarship per year for two years, and they will work in the field across Houston, Alvin, Pasadena, Spring Branch, and Cy-Fair Independent School Districts.

"We are trying to find potential teachers who already exhibit a sociocultural awareness," continues Evans. "Research has shown that students do better in science, technology, engineering and math if the content is connected to their community and culture."

HCC launches tech tool for job hunters

HCC is helping job hunters across the city. VioletaStoimenova/Getty Images

Houston Community College has launched a new tool for job hunters that identifies occupations and the accelerated certificate programs within the higher educational system. JobsNowHouston.org will help Houston's unemployed gain key skills and certifications to make them a more marketable employee.

"COVID-19 has challenged us all, forcing us to rethink every facet of education and community responsiveness," says Dr. Cesar Maldonado, chancellor of Houston Community College, in a news release. "JobsNowHouston.org will connect people with the resources they need to gain the skills and knowledge necessary to compete in our new workforce and is a great example of how everyone at Houston Community College is working even harder to provide training and education to fill in- demand jobs."

According to the release, COVID-19 pushed over 1.5 million Texas residents into unemployment but — at the same time — nearly 481,000 job openings have been posted recently. HCC hopes its JobsNowHouston.org initiative can connect the dots to more easily facilitate retainings and upskilling for these unemployed.

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Building Houston

 
 

Dream Harvest picked up funding to open a 100,000-square-foot indoor farming facility in Houston. Photo courtesy of Dream Harvest

Houston-based Dream Harvest Farming Co., which specializes in sustainably growing produce, has landed a $50 million investment from Orion Energy Partners to open a 100,000-square-foot indoor farming facility in Houston. The facility will enable the company to dramatically ramp up its operations.

The new facility, which will be built in Southwest Houston, is scheduled for completion in January 2023. Dream Harvest’s existing 7,500-square-foot facility in Southwest Houston supplies 45 Whole Foods stores in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas, as well as Sweetgreen restaurants in Texas.

The company currently employs 25 people. With the addition of the 100,000-square-foot facility, Dream Harvest’s headcount will rise to 65.

Dream Harvest relies on wind-powered, year-round indoor vertical farming to generate 400 times the yield of an outdoor farm while using 95 percent less water and no pesticides.

“Because the vast majority of America’s produce is grown in California and has to be shipped over long distances, most of the country receives produce that is old, has a poor flavor profile, and a short shelf life — a major contributing factor to the more than 30 percent of fresh vegetables being discarded in the U.S. each year,” Dream Harvest says in a December 7 news release.

Zain Shauk, co-founder and CEO of Dream Harvest, says his company’s method for growing lettuce, baby greens, kale, mustards, herbs, collards, and cabbage helps cut down on food waste.

“Demand for our produce has far outpaced supply, an encouraging validation of our approach as well as positive news for our planet, which is facing the rising problem of food and resource waste,” Shauk says. “While we have the yields today to support our business, we are pleased to partner with Orion on this financing, which will enable us to greatly expand our production and increase access to our produce for many more consumers.”

Dream Harvest expects to expand distribution to more than 250 retail locations in 2022.

“Orion’s focus on sustainable infrastructure and deep experience in building large industrial facilities will be complementary to Dream Harvest’s impressive track record of being a reliable supplier to high-caliber customers by achieving consistent yields, food safety, and operational efficiencies … ,” says Nazar Massouh, co-managing partner and CEO of Orion Energy Partners, which has offices in Houston and New York City.

Other companies in the Orion Energy Partners portfolio include Houston-based Caliche Development Partners, Tomball-based Python Holdings, The Woodlands-based Evolution Well Services, Houston-based Produced Water Transfer, and Houston-based Tiger Rentals.

Zain Shauk is the co-founder and CEO of Dream Harvest. Photo courtesy of Dream Harvest

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