A recap of all the innovation happening at the Texas Medical Center, innovators to know, and Houston startup news trended this week. Courtesy of TMC

Editor's note: This week was full of innovation events — and there's many more coming up this month. Event coverage, innovators to know, and more startup news trended on InnovationMap this week.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

Meet this week's Houston innovators to know. Courtesy photos

This week, some key Houston innovators to know include the CEO of a tech company that's demystifying Google's SEO, a local entrepreneur who just raised millions in funding, and the newest addition to the Houston innovation ecosystem. Continue reading.

From robots to immunotherapy, TMC talks innovation at its annual address

The Texas Medical Center's CEO, Bill McKeon, ran down a list of exciting updates and innovations from the organization's member institutions at the annual State of the TMC. Photo via tmc.edu

In the Greater Houston Partnership's annual State of the Texas Medical Center address, TMC CEO Bill McKeon shared a status update of sorts for all the goings on at the largest medical center in the world.

McKeon ran down the list of member institutions to briefly touch base on each organization's innovations and growth. In the address, which took place at the Marriott Marquis on October 31, McKeon discussed exciting construction projects, new accelerator programs, and more. Continue reading.

Exclusive: The Cannon Houston restructures, brings on new executive to lead operations

Just after celebrating its new 200,000-square-foot flagship location, The Cannon Houston has named a new CEO to further grow the coworking space and startup hub. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

After celebrating the opening its flagship coworking space the same week it announced another location in downtown, startup hub and coworking company, The Cannon Houston, has another big announcement: a new CEO.

A former global consultant for KPMG, Jon Lambert has been named The Cannon's CEO. He will also support day-to-day operations at The Cannon's three locations. Meanwhile, Lawson Gow, founder of the company and former CEO, will move to president of The Cannon. Gow, who is the son of InnovationMap's parent company's CEO, will focus on partnerships and business development, as well as continuing to be the face of the company. Continue reading.

Houston biomedical startup granted $1.5M, Chevron taps into Plug and Play, and more innovation news

Money moves, big deals, and more lead this roundup of innovation news. Pexels

Hitting headlines this month are innovation news stories from battling the opioid crisis and funding to TMCx companies and Houston as a whole earning recognition. In this innovation news roundup, two Houston startups pocket some cash, Chevron links up with Plug and Play, and more. Continue reading.

10+ can't-miss Houston business and innovation events for November

From enlightening talks and conventions to networking opportunities, here's where you need to be in November. Getty Images

Looking for some help navigating an innovation-filled month in Houston? Look no further.

November is jam packed with Houston business and innovation events — from huge conventions like SpaceCom and Global Corporate Venture taking over downtown on the same days to the Digital Fight Club battling it out in Houston for the first time and The Houston Innovation Summit planning a week of programming. Continue reading.

A new robotics facility is headed for the TMC Innovation Institute. Courtesy of TMC

TMC plans to open one-of-its-kind robotics facility later this year

The robots are coming

The Texas Medical Center has announced its plans to open a new robotics-equipped laboratory in October of this year. The automation capabilities will allow for more efficient lab tests and services.

The new facility is being made possible by a partnership between the medical center, TMC Innovation Institute, and ABB, a leading robotics company. This would be Zürich-based ABB's first dedicated health care center, but the company has over 400,000 robotics products across industries in over 53 countries.

"The next-generation laboratory processes developed in Houston will speed manual medical laboratory processes, reducing and eliminating bottlenecks in laboratory work and enhancing safety and consistency," says Sami Atiya, president of ABB's Robotics and Discrete Automation business, in a news release. "This is especially applicable for new high-tech treatments, such as the cancer therapies pioneered at the Texas Medical Center, which today require manual and time-consuming test processes."

A team of 20 will work out of the 5,300-square-foot facility, which will be located in TMC Innovation Institute. The space will have an automation laboratory with robot training facilities, and meeting spaces for the human innovation partners.

Currently, ABB's robots specialize in food and beverage laboratories worldwide, but able to adapt to medical facilities for specific tasks, including "dosing, mixing, and pipetting tasks, as well as sterile instrument kitting and centrifuge loading and unloading," according to the release.

"We are proud to co-develop collaborative robotics systems for the hospital of the future with one of the world's most advanced partners and to test them in real-world laboratories to ensure they add value to healthcare professionals, driving innovation, and transforming how medical laboratories operate worldwide," says Atiya in the release.

According to the release, TMC's connection to innovation, startups, and researchers were key factors in bringing the facility to Houston. ABB Robotics has a long-term plan to invest and innovate in robotics, says Atiya in the release.

"The Texas Medical Center continues to push the boundaries of innovation with cutting-edge industry partners by establishing TMC as the epicenter for ABB Robotics' entry into the healthcare space," says Bill McKeon, president and CEO of Texas Medical Center, in the release. "We continually strive for opportunities to accelerate research and enhance clinical care through key strategic partnerships. ABB's move into the heart of the Texas Medical Center campus with this first-of-its-kind R&D facility for creating robotics solutions in healthcare will set a new course for advancements in medicine."

Automation nation

Courtesy of TMC

A team of 20 will work out of the 5,300-square-foot facility, which will be located in TMC Innovation Institute.

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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.