From a former astronaut to growing software company leaders, here are three innovators to know. Courtesy photos

This week's set of innovators to know are familiar with pivoting careers. All three had successful careers — from energy finance to space exploration — before jumping into a new field. And each set of prior experience prepared them for what they are doing today.

Alex Colosivschi, founder and CEO of Currux

Courtesy of Currux

Alex Colosivschi had a successful career in energy finance before he started his company, Currux. He was walking in his Rice Village neighborhood when the idea came to him. He realized that despite the green surroundings, he was choked by the smell of engine exhaust.

"I started with thinking about the future of energy and how the industry will adapt to a world of electric, autonomous and shared mobility, and the need to reduce CO2 emissions," he says.

Tim Kopra, partner at Blue Bear Capital

Courtesy of Blue Bear Capital

It might not be easy to connect the dots between Tim Kopra's NASA career and his current role at Blue Bear Capital, but for Kopra, it makes perfect sense.

"On face value, it may sound like an odd match, taking someone with a tech and operational background and putting them in venture, but quite frankly it feels very familiar to me because my career has really been focused on working on complex technology and operations with very small teams," Kopra says. "It's not just a theoretical understanding of the technology, but understanding how to use the technology and how it works."

Stuart Morstead, co-founder and COO of Arundo Analytics

Courtesy of Arundo Analytics

Stuart Morstead spent the bulk of his career in consulting, so he knows the importance of understanding the needs an industry has. He co-founded Arundo Analytics to address the analytical needs energy companies have on a regular basis.

Morstead says that most industrial companies that encounter issues with operations such as equipment maintenance "lack the data science and software capabilities to drive value from insights into their daily operations."

Arundo is growing — both from a funding standpoint as well as through its staff. The Houston company has big plans for its 2019.

This entrepreneur says the future of driving is using smart tech on a subscription-based business model. Pexels

This company’s machine learning programs are making driving in Houston safer — and cheaper

Vroom, Vroom

Two thousand years ago, in ancient Rome, the primary mode of transportation was an intelligent one: the horse. The Latin word "currus" was the inspiration for Alex Colosivschi when it came to naming his business, Currux.

"We chose this name because we believe in a future where cars and actually most modes of transportation will be intelligent, like horses," he explains. "And so it's a great name considering our focus on the future of mobility and machine learning."

The change from "s" to "x" at the end of the word allowed Colosivschi to trademark the name.

The entrepreneur, whose career was focused on energy finance until starting the new company in 2017, came up with the idea for Currux while walking in his Rice Village neighborhood. He realized that despite the green surroundings, he was choked by the smell of engine exhaust.

"I started with thinking about the future of energy and how the industry will adapt to a world of electric, autonomous and shared mobility, and the need to reduce CO2 emissions," he says.

His goal is an ambitious one: With Currux, Colosivschi hopes to not only reduce the cost and carbon footprint of owning a car, but also the accident rates. How? Currux itself is a long-term automobile subscription service. Colosivschi says to think of it as a long-term rental or a more flexible version of a lease. The car is delivered through an app and there is no commitment at the end of the subscription. Regular maintenance is included and the company is on the way to providing insurance, too.

It's also possible to share a car or fleet of cars with friends, assuring that your vehicle is only touched by people you know. This will be even more true when autonomous driving technology allows the car to go from subscriber to subscriber without a human in between.

"With the advent of digital shopping, we believe subscriptions will become the primary way that people get a car," Colosivschi predicts.

This will save clients money, but the ultimate goal is much bigger. Colosivschi wants to reduce air pollution. This will happen naturally with having fewer, mostly electric, cars on the road thanks to vehicle sharing, but another technology will also aid in the fight.

Currux Vision, which closely followed Currux in development, is a smartphone-based driver assistance program. It will help lower fuel consumption and reduce accident rates by "proactively coaching the driver on best driving practices," says Colosivschi.

"Just by slowing down and driving in a less aggressive manner, we can significantly reduce fuel consumption and more importantly prevent accidents from happening."

If you've driven or ridden in a Tesla, you've seen similar technology in action. Computer vision creates accident warnings and tracks how you handle your vehicle on the road. Yep, it's AI for your phone, which also incorporates GPS tracking, navigation and driver profile scoring.

"This set of functionalities normally require three or four different types of hardware and software systems and many thousands of dollars in expense per each car," explains Colosivschi.

But Currux Vision only requires that the user install the app, have a car-mounted phone holder with an unobstructed view of the road, and pay $4.99 each month for the technology.

Both these apps were created by Currux's own technical team, based mostly in Ukraine. As the company expands, Colosivschi has plans to significantly grow the Galleria-area Houston team, which is currently just a few employees strong.

But Colosivschi is ready for big growth. Currently, Currux is available only in Houston, but other U.S. cities will follow soon. As an energy industry lifer, the entrepreneur is also primed for significant changes not only to how we drive, but how we consume energy.

"The age of the internal combustion engine and automobile ushered in the age of oil. The age of lithium ion batteries, machine learning and digitization of transaction mediums similarly will have profound effects for both transportation and energy sectors," he predicts. He's confident that Currux can grow with those sea changes. And he's ready to help transform the world, starting with Houston.

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Former Shopify exec joins Houston scale-up e-commerce software company

joining the team

Houston-based e-commerce software and services company Cart.com has hired a former Shopify executive as its chief people officer.

Before joining Cart.com, Lani Doyle was chief HR officer at Strategic Solutions Group, a provider of health care software. Previously, she was vice president of HR and people operations at 6 River Systems, a provider of software and robotics for warehouses. Prior to that, Doyle was head of talent development and operations at Shopify, an e-commerce platform for businesses that posted revenue of $7.1 billion in 2023.

Cart.com is one of the fastest-growing companies in commerce today, and I’m excited to partner with our teams to help drive growth and scalability,” Doyle says in a news release. “I am eager to contribute to shaping our culture and developing programming that supports and elevates high-performing teams, ensuring we achieve our ambitious goals.”

Omair Tariq, founder and CEO of Cart.com, describes Doyle as a “strategic leader” who will help develop the startup’s continually growing team. The company, founded in 2020 in Houston, employs more than 1,600 people.

“Her deep expertise in HR strategy and talent development will be instrumental as we accelerate our growth trajectory and foster a dynamic workplace culture,” says Frank Parker, chief operating officer of Cart.com.

In February, Cart.com made another high-level executive move by promoting Joe Barth from senior vice president of fulfillment to chief logistics officer.

Cart.com has more than 6,000 customers. The company handles more than 75 million orders per year from 14 fulfillment centers in the U.S.

Earlier this year, Tariq joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to share a bit about his company's growth and its relocation from Austin back to Houston.

"I think Austin served its purpose. It certainly allowed us to be in the limelight in all the right ways, and I'm grateful for it," Tariq says on the show. "But once we got to a point, once we closed our series C round and became a unicorn ... I think we're now at a scale where the infrastructure that Houston provides is probably something that will be more attractive and useful for us in the long term."

Autonomous freight co. with Houston-Dallas pilot opens early access program

join the fleet

Texas has been a key testing area for autonomous freight technology for years, and one major player in the space has made its latest move to put the pedal to the metal on self-driving trucking.

Aurora Innovation (NASDAQ: AUR) announced a new program with Uber Freight. Premier Autonomy, which will provide "early access to over 1 billion of Aurora’s driverless miles to Uber Freight carriers through 2030," is launching to deploy autonomous freight vehicles on the Uber Freight network.

Uber Freight, an end-to-end logistics company managing over $18 billion of freight, is also reportedly going to be among Aurora's first customers for its Dallas-to-Houston freight route that anticipates driverless hauls beginning at the end of 2024.

“Uber Freight and Aurora see a tremendous opportunity to democratize autonomous trucks for carriers of all sizes, enabling them to drive more revenue, scale their fleets, and strengthen their bottom lines,” Lior Ron, founder and CEO of Uber Freight, says in a news release. “Autonomous trucks will make moving goods more efficient, and this industry-first program will help facilitate and accelerate the adoption of autonomous trucks with our carriers. We’re proud to work alongside the amazing team at Aurora to bring this technology into the hands of carriers and ultimately usher in a new era of logistics.”

The new program, a first for the industry, allows customers to purchase and begin implementing Aurora Driver, a self-driving system that can work with multiple vehicle types, including freight trucks and passenger vehicles. Aurora provides driver-as-a-service products for trucking and ride-hailing industries and has a slew of partners in addition to Uber and Uber Freight, including FedEx, Toyota, Volvo Trucks, Volvo Autonomous Solutions, and more.

“With Uber Freight, we can provide hundreds of carriers priority access to autonomous truck capacity that they wouldn’t otherwise have. Working with carriers of all sizes is one of the many ways we will transform the industry and see thousands of driverless trucks on the road,” Ossa Fisher, president of Aurora, says in the release. “It’s exciting and validating that companies like Uber Freight are reserving our long-term capacity for their customers. We all see collective value in this offering.”

With enrollment into the new Premier Autonomy Program, customers receive a subscription to the Aurora Driver for autonomous freight hauling, the opportunity to access over 1 billion driverless miles through 2030, and access to autonomous trucks via a planned, seamless integration of the Aurora Driver into the Uber Freight platform, according to the news release.

Since 2020, Uber Freight and Aurora have hauled millions of pounds of cargo through their pilot program that operated on the Dallas-Houston route.

Houston startup designs new platform for better navigating health care

patient portal

Taking control of your health can be a difficult path to walk on your own. A new startup, created by eight female Rice University students, is aimed at wading through the health care system.

The Healthcare Navigator is a platform that helps users to learn about not just treatment options, but also the financial bearings thereof.

“About 88 percent of Americans aren’t health literate,” founder and president Kayla Grimes says in a news release. “It’s very hard for them to navigate health care in the way to get the best benefit for it, so what our platform will do is essentially give them the tools and resources to confidently navigate the health care system. We also help with price transparency specifically.”

The multidisciplinary team includes women majoring in pre-med, computer science, medical humanities, art and business. According to Grimes (a rising senior business major), the seed for the idea’s success was planted two years ago when she was volunteering for the National Patient Advocacy Foundation.

“They told me, ‘If you do this right, this could actually change everything in health care,’” she remembers.

Now she and her team have an app, as well as an accessible website, composed of several features all meant to make it easier to save money — and users’ health. The features are:

  • Cost Compass, which compares procedure costs across local hospitals, enabling users to shop around and save money.
  • Care Genius AI, an AI chatbot that helps users to negotiate medical bills and answers health care system questions.
  • Patient Power Modules, which are interactive educational videos that make understanding the health care system easy and engaging.
  • Pocket Doc, which helps consumers find the best providers for them based on location, ratings and quality metrics.
  • Pulse Check Alert keeps users informed on important health care news and patient insights.
  • Care Manager streamlines users’ health care needs and goals in one convenient place.

Grimes says that she hopes that users will skip Google reviews and go straight to their Pocket Doc, which includes information on hospitals, clinics, urgent care centers and freestanding emergency rooms.

“We have that in the system, so that you can actually see useful metrics instead of just going on Google reviews and reading their readmission rate — we’re going to explain what’s a good readmission rate and what’s a bad readmission rate,” she says. “That’s the whole point: We’re not just going to give you these metrics, we’re also going to give you some benchmarks, so you can make the decision for yourself.”

When dealing with your health, knowledge is certainly power, and Healthcare Navigator is bestowing a new kind of power on its users.