3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

This week's innovators to know are focused on using artificial intelligence in data management, banking for startups, and 5G awareness in Houston. Courtesy photos

This year, Houston's innovation ecosystem is set to change tenfold — from the rise of 5G to burgeoning startup and entrepreneurial hubs emerging across town.

Today's featured innovators know a bit about these movements — from an entrepreneur using artificial intelligence in data management for his clients to a banking exec who went all-in on startups.

Tony Nash, founder and CEO of Complete Intelligence

tony nash

Courtesy of Complete Intelligence

Every company wishes they have a crystal ball when it comes to making business decisions, and while a physical iteration of that wish isn't possible, Tony Nash has developed the next best thing for his clients at his startup, Complete Intelligence.

Founded in 2015, Complete Intelligence is an AI platform that forecasts assets and allows evaluation of currencies, commodities, equity indices and economics. The Woodlands-based company also does advanced procurement and revenue for corporate clients.

"We've spent a couple years building this," says Nash in a recent InnovationMap interview. "We have a platform that is helping clients with planning, finance, procurement and sales and a host of other things. ... We built a model of the global economy and transactions across the global economy, so it's a very large, very detailed artificial intelligence platform." Read more.

Brian Richards, Houston innovation hub director at Accenture and board member at Houston Exponential

brian richards

Courtesy of Accenture

The rise of 5G in Houston feels familiar to Brian Richards. He writes in a recent guest column that the development of the technology is similar to the moment in Houston's history when NASA landed a man on the moon.

There are a few similarities Richards expresses in his article, as well as providing more information about 5G itself, but the undeniable fact is 5G will create a lasting impact in Houston.

"Above all, as Houston continues to race toward building a world-class innovation ecosystem and a sustainable, thriving economy, we simply can't take our foot off the gas in the 5G race — much like the moon race," he writes. "It's an imperative that the region continue to lead in 5G network adoption and that our local industries and businesses envision, plan and develop new ways of working." Read more.

Jimmy Allen, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Texas Citizens Bank

jimmy allen

Courtesy of Texas Citizens Bank

It's become a bit of a trend to see banks taking a bet on startups — Capital One, for instance, has even entered the coworking industry itself. And one Houston-area bank has become an early adopter of this trend locally.

Jimmy Allen, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Texas Citizens Bank, says the bank's new 3,900-square-foot location — its seventh branch in the Houston area — fits perfectly within The Cannon's 120,000-square-foot building in West Houston, which Texas Citizens helped build. The branch opened in December 2019; the grand opening is planned for January 2020.

"Owner-operated businesses are both the genesis of our business model and [a] key customer segment served," says Allen, who was named to his position in November. "A subset of that group certainly includes young, relatively new companies, which favor the current trend in coworking or live-work-play communities." Read more.

Matthew Costello, Kristina Haag, and Greg Wright are this week's Houston innovators to know. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

It's the penultimate Monday of 2019, which means it's also the penultimate roundup of Houston innovators to know this week.

Today's featured innovators include an entrepreneur revolutionizing the maritime shipping industry, a fashion designer striving for comfort in Houston's long summers, and a startup advocate shining a spotlight on cybersecurity.

Matthew Costello, co-founder and CEO of Voyager

Matthew Costello Voyager

Houston-based Voyager, co-founded by Matthew Costello, has created a software solution for inefficient communication practices of the maritime shipping industry. Photo courtesy of Voyager

While in business school, Matthew Costello could not kick the thought of all the inefficiencies within the maritime shipping industry. He asked a friend, Bret Smart, to help him look into some of the logistical communications issues within the industry. The two co-founders of Houston-based Voyager started asking some questions for all the different parties involved in shipping across seas.

"The data we got back was pretty alarming," Costello says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It basically showed that whoever you speak to in the maritime industry, people are spending about 40 percent of their day on what we would consider low-value, low-complexity tasks." Read more and stream the podcast here.

Kristina Haag, founder of Cotidíe

Kristina Haag worked a corporate job that required her to run around Houston. She thought of her new fashion line out of wanting stylish clothes conducive to Houston's climate. Lauren Marek/Cotidié

Houston is a humid subtropical climate — the majority of the year brings hot and sticky weather. Local entrepreneur Kristina Haag found herself struggling to find traditional clothing that is comfortable in the Texas heat, so she created it herself.

"With Cotidié, it is all about the functionality of the clothing," says Haag, founder of the clothing line Cotidié. "It is more traditional items, but the use of technical fabrics is our differentiating factor."

The online retailer, which launched in June 2019, offers pieces specifically tailored for women who are up against Houston's hot and muggy climate. Read more here.

Greg Wright, founder of Hatch Pitch

Houston-based Hatch Pitch will host two competitions in spring of 2020 — one marks the return of the competition to the Bayou City. Photo courtesy of Hatch Pitch

For eight years, Greg Wright has been organizing a SXSW pitch competition in Austin for startups from around the world that are using technology to improve life. In 2020, Wright is bringing Houston-based Hatch Pitch back into the Bayou City — a goal he's had for a while — for a new cybersecurity-focused event.

"Many people know us as being associated with Austin and SXSW, but not many people know us as being based in Houston," Wright tells InnovationMap. "There's been a big push to bring Hatch back to Houston, and what we've been struggling with is finding the right vehicle."

After Hatch Pitch Summit returns to Austin for its ninth year on March 16, Cyber Hatch will be hosted by the annual Houston Cyber Summit on April 28. Read more here.

This week's innovators to know are all female innovation leaders with big news. Courtesy photos

3 female Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Three female innovators announced big news last week within the Houston innovation community. Two women joined the board of a local startup and one entrepreneur got into a national program with a big-name mentor.

Sandy Wallis and Gina Luna, board of directors members of Truss

Gina Luna and Sandy Wallis will both be key in moving forward Truss as new board members. Courtesy photos

Sandy Wallis and Gina Luna have been named members of the board of directors for Truss. Both women have been involved with Houston Exponential.

Wallis is the co-founder and managing director of Weathergage Capital and the managing director of the HX Venture Fund, and Luna is CEO of Luna Strategies and active member of several boards of directors. Luna also was the founding chairman for HX.

"Our new board members are leaders in the Houston technology and innovation community, and their joining the Truss team is a testament to our compelling mission and broader market potential," says Patrick Schneidau, CEO of Truss, in a news release. Schneidau is a member if InnovationMap's board of directors. Read more.

Megan Eddings, founder and CEO of Accel Lifestyle

Megan Eddings Accel Lifestyle

Megan Eddings wants her ethical and bacteria-resistant activewear line to be as big as Lululemon — heard of it? Courtesy of Accel Lifestyle

Houston entrepreneur Megan Eddings, who invented a bacteria-resistant, stink-free material, is one of 40 selected entrepreneurs across the United States to participate in Inc. Magazine's Founders Project. In honor of Inc.'s 40th anniversary, it launched the year-long initiative.

Designed to assist entrepreneurs to grow their business, the initiative will match 40 established entrepreneurs, including Houston's billionaire Tilman Fertitta, MailChimp's Ben Chestnut, and Drybar's Ali Webb to provide advice, access to capital, marketing guidance, and other valuable assets.

Eddings says she was blown away and couldn't wait to learn about the new mentor-mentee relationship. "I was super excited to be paired with Tilman Fertitta," she says. Read more.

Samantha Lewis, Tilman Fertitta, and Tiffany Masterson are this week's innovators to know in Houston. Courtesy images

3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

Houston entrepreneurs never cease to impress, leaving a mark on the city for their business minds, creativity, and overall gumption. This week's three innovators to know are no exception.

From a startup venture capitalist and Houston's most recognizable billionaire to a local mom that created — and now sold — a skincare line with a cult following, these are this week's innovative Houstonians to keep an eye on.

Samantha Lewis, director at The GOOSE Society of Texas

Courtesy of Samantha Lewis

Houston has a big fan in Samantha Lewis. The New Mexico native found her way to Texas by way of Texas A&M University before joining the Houston innovation ecosystem and getting her MBA at Rice University.

On the second episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, Lewis, who's the director at The GOOSE Society of Texas, shares her story of wanting to work in venture capital, but being afraid Houston's venture activity would be too slim. She stuck it out and now the ecosystem is in good place for growth.

"We have to think about getting more capital available for companies that add strategic value to Houston," Lewis says on the podcast. Click here to read more and to listen.

Tilman Fertitta, owner of Fertitta Entertainment

Photo by J. Thomas Ford

Likely, Tilman Fertitta is already a name known and in need of no reminder, but the Houston billionaire is again in the headlines. Fertitta, who just recently acquired Del Frisco's steakhouse chain, has released a new business book, Shut Up and Listen! The book contains the entrepreneur's business advice and "Tilmanisms."

"I thought that I would always write a life story book, but Harper Collins approached me and said they wanted a business management book," Fertitta tells CultureMap. I can't tell you how many times we sat around with my close group and edited this book at the end and went through it five times and read it. If we found a paragraph that was boring, we got rid of it or rewrote it."

CultureMap sat down with Fertitta during a rare break to talk books, business, and his beloved Bayou City. Click here to read the interview.

Tiffany Masterson, chief creative officer and founder of Drunk Elephant

Photo via Business Wire

It was a good week for Houstonian Tiffany Masterson. She sold her skincare line, Drunk Elephant, for a reported $845 million to international makeup giant, Shiseido Company Ltd.

"I started this business as an industry outsider, and from the beginning I did things a little differently," Masterson says in a news release. "To join with a powerhouse beauty company such as Shiseido that leads the industry in innovation and global excellence is a dream come true for me and for Drunk Elephant. We share similar values, most importantly an unwavering commitment to the consumer. I chose a partner who will let the brand continue to be itself, with the same formulations and the same team."

Masterson will stay on with the company as the acquisition allows her products to reach a wider, worldwide audience. Click here to read more.

NASA technology is up for grabs and InnovationMap has a new podcast — here are some innovators to know this week. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Another Monday means another weekly roundup of who's who in Houston innovation.

This week, we have our first Houston Innovators Podcast guest to feature, as well as a NASA expert who wants to loan you space technology.

Jon Nordby, managing director at MassChallenge Texas

Courtesy of MassChallenge

On our first episode of the new Houston Innovators Podcast, we discuss Houston accelerators with Jon Nordby, managing director for MassChallenge Texas. The first Houston program launched this year, and, as the organization looks toward its next cohort, the Houston innovation ecosystem is evolving in front of our eyes.

To read more about Nordby and MassChallenge, click here to read the story and listen to the podcast.

Sara Kelly, founder of Rigby

Courtesy of Rigby

Sara Kelly thinks you shouldn't have to get married or buy a house to have a nice dish set. She created Rigby, a Houston-based direct-to-consumer tableware company that is flipping the script on dishes.

"The reaction to the brand and the product has been great," says Kelly. "It's been so exciting for me to see that. At this point, we're focused on organic growth since we're so new."

Click here to read more about Rigby.

Steven Gonzalez, technology transfer strategist at NASA

Courtesy of NASA

Steven Gonzalez's job is to move NASA technology out into the world. The Johnson Space Center has hundreds of technology applications and IPs, and so much more can be done with those ideas here on earth. In a guest column for InnovationMap, Gonzalez writes of the NASA Johnson Space Center Technology Transfer and Commercialization Office, which will loan technology licenses to startups for free for three years.

"New technologies have been researched, developed, and proven on the ground — as well as above the earth on the International Space Station — in fields including medical, communications, agriculture, manufacturing, materials, structures, and much more," he writes. "At NASA's JSC, we are proud of the exceptional innovators who continue to develop technologies that advance the space program and technology for society on our home planet, and we love to share our knowledge."

Click here to read more about the program.

Accenture and Plug and Play Tech Center made strategic hires in Houston. Plus, a local expert shares how important electronics recycling is. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

The movers and shakers of the Houston innovation world did a lot of extra moving and shaking last week. This week's Houston innovators to know include two new hires within the ecosystem.

Thomas Rubenak, senior principal at Accenture Ventures

Thomas Rubenak is senior principal of Accenture Ventures. Courtesy of Accenture

Thomas Rubenak has watched Houston's startup scene blossom over his career. Now, as senior principal at Accenture Ventures, he gets to help startups connect with Accenture and its clients.

"It's a win-win-win," Rubenak tells InnovationMap. "The client gets the benefit of having the best of the best and the startups get amazing exposure to companies they might not have been able to get in front of. And, Accenture is happy because it gets to serve the client." Read more about Rubenak and his new gig at Accenture.

Payal Patel, director of corporate relations at Plug and Play

Payal Patel, former director of business development at Station Houston, has joined Plug and Play as director of corporate partnerships. Courtesy of Payal Patel

Plug and Play Tech Center has made its first Houston hire. Payal Patel, who was preciously the director of business development at Station Houston, is now the director of corporate partnerships at Plug and Play.

"As I've gotten to know Plug and Play, what I've been most impressed with is the resources and capabilities they have," Patel says. "They've got great Fortune 500 corporate partners, they work and know the best tech startups all over the world, and they have a strong investment capability. I'm excited that those resources and capabilities are coming to Houston." Read more about the new hire and Plug and Play's plans for Houston.

Ed Wooten, director of ITAD at Smith

Wooten oversees IT asset disposition for Smith. Courtesy of Smith

Ed Wooten is in the business of safe, efficient, and responsible electronics disposal. In a world with cybersecurity threats around every corner, making sure your devices are responsibly disposed of is so important. Wooten wrote a guest article for InnovationMap about some of the lesser-known aspects regarding IT asset disposition.

"I've worked in the technology industry for over 20 years, helping customers across all industries ensure the proper and secure disposal of their equipment," writes Wooten. "I specifically want Houston businesses to be aware of some of the less-obvious facts when it comes to electronics recycling and disposal — and for them to know that trusted, locally based IT asset disposition (ITAD) services are available." Read more of Wooten's piece here.

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Houston flight-tracking software company grows its local and international presence

taking flight

FlightAware LLC's business success has, for the most part, flown under the radar in Houston.

Many travelers know about the B2C flight-tracking functionality of FlightAware. "That's a very, very competitive space. We play in that space, but it's not our core business," founder and CEO Daniel Baker says.

These days, the privately held Houston company earns most its revenue from the B2B data it provides to airlines and other aviation clients, according to Baker. He declines to reveal revenue figures, but notes that the company — which bills itself as the world's largest flight-tracking and flight data platform — hasn't taken a penny of outside funding since it started in 2005.

Today, FlightAware employs about 110 people, with the majority of them located in Houston, Baker says. The company also maintains offices in Austin, New York City, London, and Singapore.

By the end of 2020, the companywide workforce should exceed 135, as FlightAware aims to add three new hires per month this year in areas such as Internet of Things, data science, sales, and administration, Baker says. Most of the new employees will work in Houston.

Baker says FlightAware takes an aggressive approach to hiring, with the goal of bringing aboard "really awesome people" who share levels of talent, collaboration, and "culture fit" similar to those of current employees.

By the end of 2021, FlightAware likely will run out of room in its 24,000-square-foot office at 11 Greenway Plaza in the Greenway/Upper Kirby area, Baker says. That means FlightAware will need to take about 15,000 additional square feet at 11 Greenway Plaza or relocate to a different building, he says. The company moved into its current home in 2017 from a 14,000-square-foot office at 8 Greenway Plaza.

Baker, who's a private pilot and a board member of the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum, launched the company 15 years ago as a way to combine two passions: software development and aviation.

"It was originally a hobby, and it became a business," Baker says. "It's an unlikely story. We're really, really fortunate that the timing was right."

Although FlightAware started off tracking flights in the general aviation space, it has since expanded to supply aviation data to both travelers and businesses. Each month, about 15 million passengers use the FlightAware app, which earns praise from a slew of travel critics.

Among flight-tracking apps, FlightAware "is a bit of a Swiss army knife," Condé Nast Traveler magazine observes. The FlightAware app lets you follow flights in real time, including where an incoming plane is coming from, how close it is to arriving, and what kind of weather it's encountering en route, the magazine notes. In addition, the app can send push notifications about arrivals, departures, gate changes, flight delays, and flight cancellations.

Now, FlightAware relies on the consumer-facing technology "as a stepping stone to have a bigger impact," Baker says. "Every project that we undertake is larger than the last one."

That "bigger impact" involves cranking out data that enables commercial airlines, cargo carriers, business aviation companies, and air traffic controllers to be proactive instead of reactive regarding flight activity, he says.

FlightAware's corporate customers include United Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, business-jet operator NetJets and GPS technology provider Garmin. Baker says a North American airline that he declines to name will soon roll out FlightAware technology to its airport gate agents.

For airlines, FlightAware's software delivers accurate data to help cut down, among other issues, on problems with flight delays, gate assignments, and flight connections, Baker says. FlightAware pulls data from more than 25,000 aircraft surveillance websites covering nearly 200 countries as well as air traffic control systems in more than 45 countries.

While the consumer-oriented features of FlightAware's technology face competition from the likes of FlightStats, FlightView, and The Flight Tracker, the B2B landscape is less populated. Over the years, corporate giants like Airbus, Boeing, and IBM have tackled aviation data on their own but have wound up forging data partnerships with FlightAware, according to Baker.

California self-driving vehicle startup has all eyes on Houston — here's why

On a roll

Houston — with its sprawl and winding roads broken up across various neighborhoods — is particularly challenging when it comes to self-driving car navigation. And that's exactly why Nuro, a California-based tech startup that's raised over $1 billion in funding, decided to focus on the Bayou City for its autonomous vehicle delivery pilot programs.

"Houston is our first full-scale operations city," Sola Lawal, product operations manager in Houston, tells InnovationMap. "All eyes at Nuro are focused on Houston."

Last year alone, Nuro launched three pilots in six of Houston's ZIP codes from Bellaire to the Heights. The first of which was a partnership with Kroger in March, followed by the announcement of autonomous pizza delivery from Domino's in June. Last month, Nuro announced its latest delivery partner was Walmart.

Lawal explains Houston's appeal to Nuro in a few ways, but the challenging landscape is key. Nuro cars are learning from the narrow, tree-laden streets of West University or the pedestrian-heavy, ditch-lined paths in the Heights.

"There's a ton for us to learn, but it's a great microcosm of the United States in a number of different ways," he says.

In addition to its diversity within its street types, Houston, named the most diverse city in the country, represents an ideal customer base, says Lawal, a Houston native himself. Houstonians are open minded about new experiences.

"If you think and look across Houston, the average commute is over 60 minutes for people to get back and forth," Lawal tells InnovationMap. "As we surveyed across major cities we were interested in, Houston stood out as a place where customers said they don't want go to the grocery store if they don't have to or get in their cars again to pick up their pizza."

The third reason Houston was a great market for Nuro is the amount of regulatory support the state of Texas has — Gov. Greg Abbott announced the launch of the Texas Connected and Autonomous Vehicle task force a year ago — as well as the support at the city level.

"It's been a welcoming environment from the mayor's office down for us to be here," Lawal says.

Since entering the Houston market, Nuro's local operations have grown to over 100 employees. The company still has software operations out of California, and some work being done in Arizona, but the Houston is the largest — and growing as the company seeks new partnerships with more stores with a goal of eliminating errands once and for all.

"The way that we think about this is that this new technology and our mission of accelerating robotics for everyday life, is we will bring the people what they want," Lawal says when asked about what types of stores Nuro is looking to partner with.

Eventually, Lawal says, the plan would be to have every errand be delivery optimized with Nuro technology — from big-box stores like Walmart to your local florist.

"Our goal is to have a platform that retailers can connect to in order to provide easy and inexpensive delivery," he says.

Currently, Nuro's technology is still in learning mode. Nuro's fleet of Prius cars with staff onboard are driving up and down Houston streets mapping and taking notes on a daily basis. The company also has bots, called the R2 fleet, that are designed to be unmanned.

These bots are smaller than normal cars and are completely electric. Rather than being designed to protect passengers inside like traditional automobiles, the R2s are designed to be safe for people outside the vehicle.

"It's a new way of thinking about transportation and what our vehicles can and should do," Lawal says.

2020 is the year of these R2 bots, and some areas can expect to see them in action — specifically focused on Domino's pizza delivery — in just a matter of weeks.

Preparing Houston's tech workforce starts in school, says expert

Guest column

Recent studies have shown that nearly half of students enter college with an undecided major and as many as 70 percent of students change their major at least once during their four-year program, and it is predicted that by 2030, there will be a deficit of 7.9 million tech workers alone.

In order to better prepare the future workforce, schools are encouraging career exploration through hands-on experience. The Village School has created educational partnerships throughout Houston to offer students options to find their interests and better prepare them for postsecondary success.

Educational partnerships

Students are prone to changing their majors because often they will go into a field with an impractical idea of what a specific career actually entails. With partnerships between education and industry, Houston is able to better equip students to enter college with a realistic view of what to expect in their major.

While career-focused partnerships are beneficial for students, they also play a huge role in recruiting valuable skilled talent for years to come. A good impression, good mentors and great experience goes a long way when students start job searching.

Tuning into Houston's workforce

High school is the time for students to explore different career options. When students are placed in an internship program as early as the high school level, they are able to see exactly what the day to day looks like while building a foundation of professional development as they start to think about their future. It's important for students to have a realistic vision of what a career looks like.

There are numerous businesses in Houston that are working with high school students to help them gain experience.

For example, a few of the businesses that have partnerships with The Village School include Houston Methodist Hospital, Pimcore, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, and Cisco. Students are able to gain experience in a variety of ways including:

  • Working alongside surgical technicians and experience open-heart surgery and quarantined situations
  • Learning from cancer researchers who study nicotine addiction in children and the effects on brain development
  • Leveraging data analytics to develop software helping internal team members organize calendars at a leading SAP company

All students finished their internship with a better understanding of the workforce and the skills necessary to perform in a professional environment.

Finding opportunities for everyone

If students don't attend a high school that offers internships there are still opportunities to gain experience. Many businesses are open to job shadowing or having students volunteer a few hours a week to gain experience over the summer months. The opportunity for experience is out there and available and these opportunities will continue to grow and become more accessible for all students. Houston families and businesses must work together to ensure students know their options before entering college.

Educational partnerships benefit both students and the community. It's crucial for Houston to prepare the next generation's workforce to succeed and fill jobs with capable talent. Students are able to see that while they may not think they are interested in a specific field there are opportunities within the field that match their strengths and interests.

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TeKedra Pierre is the internship coordinator at The Village School.