What guest articles trended this year on InnovationMap in 2019? Photo by PeopleImages

Editor's note: InnovationMap is Houston's only news source and resource about and for startups, and some of this year's top stories were penned — or, more realistically, typed — but the Houston innovation community itself. As we get ready for 2020, let's see what guest columns were most read in 2019.

How technology is disrupting — and improving — the real estate industry in Texas

Buying a home is more digitized than ever — and here's how that's affecting the industry. Photo courtesy of HAR

A recent lawsuit is rocking the residential real estate industry across the country. Home sellers whose properties were listed on one of 20 MLSs claim The National Association of Realtors, Realogy Holdings Corp., HomeServices of America, RE/MAX Holdings, Inc., and Keller Williams Realty, Inc. violated the federal antitrust law by conspiring the sellers to pay an inflated amount to the buyer's broker.

The lawsuit highlights a new need for home buyers and sellers: transparency. Gone are the days when real estate agents can take a hefty commission from his or her clients without providing value that is worthy of the price tag. The sellers who came forward to shed light on this issue have provided further proof that the current real estate model is outdated, and some serious changes could be on the way. Continue reading.

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Alex Doubet is the founder and CEO of Door, Inc. (Door.com), which is a residential real estate startup company based in Texas.

Why it's important for Texas startups to get funding within the Lone Star State

Texas startups should be getting funded with Texas money, and here's why. Getty Images

When you set out to disrupt a long-standing industry, one of the most important aspects is figuring out where you are going to get the money. Odds are, you are going to be OK with breaking the mold on other traditional practices such as forgoing the venture capitalist firms for smaller companies who share your innovative vision and want to invest in it.

That philosophy works well in Texas seeing as the big venture capitalists tend to stay on the East and West Coasts.

There are dozens of things to think about when starting a company. Funding can be the most important, and there are many ways to approach raising funding for your startup. Here are a few things to consider. Continue reading.

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Alex Doubet is the CEO and founder of Door Inc., a Texas-based, tech-infused real estate platform.

Houston expert shares her advice on how much startups should spend on marketing

When it comes to setting up a marketing budget for your startup, considering every angle is important. Getty Images

Industry research suggests spending 5 percent to 12 percent of total revenue on an annual marketing budget. At Integrate Agency, we believe marketing spend should be determined from key data points, versus current size. We shepherd our clients through a five-step process to calculate how much they should spend on marketing to maximize their ROI. Continue reading.

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Allie Danziger is the founder and president of Houston-based Integrate Agency, which focuses on digital marketing and public relations.

Finding lab space for startups and independent researchers in Houston needs to be easier, according to this expert

Rentable lab space is hard to come by. Getty Images

Finding coworking space is getting easier and easier for startups, but the same can't be said for startups looking for lab space. If Houston wants to continue to grow and develop its innovation ecosystem — specifically within research and development in the health sciences industry — the city needs more opportunities for small lab space real estate. Continue reading.

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Julie King is president of NB Realty Partners. She has mentored and provided commercial real estate advice to technology, biotech, and early-stage companies for over 20 years.

New technology gives this Houston hospital a competitive edge

A new prostate cancer treatment at Houston Methodist is enhancing the system's patient care. Getty Images

As the top ranking hospital in Texas and one of the biggest employers in Houston, Houston Methodist Hospital is poised to treat the thousands of Texan men who will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year.

Building on its legacy of delivering advanced cancer treatment, the healthcare giant is one of the first hospitals in the United States to offer men a benign approach to treating localized prostate cancer, using high intensity focused ultrasound, or HIFU. HIFU is a minimally invasive procedure that allows patients to maintain their quality of life with potentially fewer side effects. Continue reading.

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Brian Miles, M.D, is a practicing urologist and professor of urology at the Institute for Academic Medicine at Houston Methodist.

Here's who to know in innovation this week in Houston. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

As we head into May, this week's Houston innovators are all thought leaders keeping our city and state at the forefront of technology and innovation — from consulting to real estate, and everything in between.

Amy Chronis, managing partner of the Houston office of Deloitte

Amy Chronis runs the Houston office of Deloitte and serves on the sustainability board for the GHP. AlexandersPortraits.com

Shortly after Amy Chronis was named as Deloitte's Houston managing partner, she got the call to join the sustainability committee for the Greater Houston Partnership. Chronis did not take this position lightly, she says, and she immediately started researching what Houston needed as a business ecosystem.

In March, as the chair for the organization's sustainability committee, she brought together a group of constituents to engage in a Smart Cities study with the goal to identify what Houston needs to focus on — what it wanted to be known for. She learned a lot about the city through the study.

"It's affirming how much all types of people with different backgrounds care and are interested in this topic and are highly desirous of our region moving forward," she says. "I also learned that things are more complicated or difficult than we would like — in terms of funding initiatives, for instance." Read the full story here.

Brad Deutser, author and founder of the Deutser Clarity Institute

DCI has been described as the "Wonkaland for business." Courtesy of DCI

Brad Deutser is taking his approach to business consulting and creative thinking to a whole new level with the Deutser Clarity Institute. The idea accelerator, think tank, and learning lab opens this week in Uptown.

"The Deutser Clarity Institute has captured the imagination of leaders across the country," says Deutser in a release. "Even with the available science on environmental design and leadership learning, we took a chance and pushed creativity and innovation to the farthest reaches to develop a fundamentally different space, way of learning and learning curriculum. We are also producing game changing research which will influence how leaders drive engagement." (Deutser serves on the board of InnovationMap.) Read the full story here.

Alex Doublet, CEO of Door.com

Buying a home is more digitized than ever — and here's how that's affecting the industry. Photo courtesy of Door

Alex Doublet is an honorary Houston innovator to know this week after he authored a guest article about technology trends in real estate that greatly affect Houston real estate. The Dallasite cites a recent lawsuit in which homesellers claim The National Association of Realtors, Realogy Holdings Corp., HomeServices of America, RE/MAX Holdings, Inc., and Keller Williams Realty, Inc. violated the federal antitrust law by conspiring the sellers to pay an inflated amount to the buyer's broker.

"The lawsuit highlights a new need for home buyers and sellers: transparency," writes Doublet. "Gone are the days when real estate agents can take a hefty commission from his or her clients without providing value that is worthy of the price tag. The sellers who came forward to shed light on this issue have provided further proof that the current real estate model is outdated, and some serious changes could be on the way." Read Doublet's article here.

Buying a home is more digitized than ever — and here's how that's affecting the industry. Photo courtesy of HAR

How technology is disrupting — and improving — the real estate industry in Texas

Modern moving

A recent lawsuit is rocking the residential real estate industry across the country. Home sellers whose properties were listed on one of 20 MLSs claim The National Association of Realtors, Realogy Holdings Corp., HomeServices of America, RE/MAX Holdings, Inc., and Keller Williams Realty, Inc. violated the federal antitrust law by conspiring the sellers to pay an inflated amount to the buyer's broker.

The lawsuit highlights a new need for home buyers and sellers: transparency. Gone are the days when real estate agents can take a hefty commission from his or her clients without providing value that is worthy of the price tag. The sellers who came forward to shed light on this issue have provided further proof that the current real estate model is outdated, and some serious changes could be on the way.

Our next moves as a united industry in the wake of this lawsuit are critical. It is critical that we react positively. It is critical that we bring more value and transparency to our customers, and it is critical that we utilize the technology we now have at our hands to do so.

How is technology finding its way into real estate? Here are a few ways in the evolving world of home buying and selling has evolved over the past five years:

Online searching 

Everything can be done online. In most modern real estate transactions, the buyer has already found the house they want before they even contact an agent to begin the process. To put that into numbers, 95 percent of buyers are looking for their home online, and over half find it before they engage an agent, according to the National Association of Realtors. Despite the fact that this big chunk of the traditional real estate agent's job has been cut out, the commission is still the same and the buyer will have to pay it indirectly through a higher listing price on the home.

Evolving past commissions and working towards a focus on the customer experience is the only way to provide value and stay relevant in the world of apps and search bars.

Accurate valuations 

Algorithms and accuracy in information gathering are imperative to a successful real estate transaction. Traditional agents will often come to a potential seller client with high dollar signs, telling them they should list their home for a high price. This is a tactic used to earn the seller's business. Where is the data behind that hefty price? What kind of algorithm did the agent use to value the home?

Modern real estate brokerages should be utilizing advanced valuation algorithms to bring an accurate value of the home to the seller instead of wooing them with an unattainable price.

Targeted marketing

Due to the high dependency of the internet, mass marketing in physical publications aren't as effective as they once were — consumers have more options to find what they need faster. Fifty percent of people that will ever see a home that is advertised online will see it in the first seven days on the market. We all know the importance of target marketing, and here's where social media comes in.

Targeting the right people on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google will get a home sold faster than a newspaper or magazine can even be published. Effective agents will have built online audiences for each type of home to ensure a faster sale.

Simplifying and increasing visibility

Remember how important transparency is? Simplifying and streamlining the process is right up there with it on the priority list. Luckily, there's an easy way to solve both: custom portals. Clients love the fact that they can login and see their entire buying or selling experience in one neatly packaged, convenient tool.

The modern tools now at the hands of real estate brokerages should not diminish service, but rather enhance it. Acting as a specialized guide and using the technology to bring incredible value to clients should be the new norm when it comes to real estate transactions.

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Alex Doubet is the founder and CEO of Door, Inc. (Door.com), which is a residential real estate startup company based in Texas.

Texas startups should be getting funded with Texas money, and here's why. Getty Images

Why it's important for Texas startups to get funding within the Lone Star State

Stay local

When you set out to disrupt a long-standing industry, one of the most important aspects is figuring out where you are going to get the money. Odds are, you are going to be OK with breaking the mold on other traditional practices such as forgoing the venture capitalist firms for smaller companies who share your innovative vision and want to invest in it.

That philosophy works well in Texas seeing as the big venture capitalists tend to stay on the East and West Coasts.

There are dozens of things to think about when starting a company. Funding can be the most important, and there are many ways to approach raising funding for your startup. Here are a few things to consider.

Think local

They say everything is bigger in Texas, and one thing is for certain, the Texas economy is thriving and historically very stable. Five of the top 10 fastest-growing cities in the U.S. are in Texas, and a recent Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas report found that Texas is the top state for corporate relocations due to our business-friendly climate.

Benefits of the Texas economy

Business owners and investors alike are noticing the rapid job growth, low tax rates, minimal regulation, successful economic development, and the fact that Texas is the largest exporting state in the nation.

It's important to explore and evaluate all of your options because there are investors everywhere – big and small. I explored fundraising in other states and had I gone that route, it most likely would have led to a successful fundraising campaign. However, it would have looked a lot different. I learned during the first round of fundraising that as much as the angel investment matters, the first meaningful investment might matter even more.

Explore family office investors — it's personal

Traditionally, companies looking for investors seek out the venture capitalist firms with deep pockets. You can joke that Texas is a venture capitalist desert. Compared to the "coasts," there are not many venture capitalist firms here.

I realized that what Texas does have plenty of, is family office investors. And I quickly learned that it was this type of organization that I truly desired. Why? Because local family offices are more likely to share your "homegrown" startup vision. They have true vested interest and it is really personal for them.

Also, the younger generations of these family businesses often lead the way in extending beyond oil wells, fracking, shopping centers and agriculture in seeking to invest in technology startups.

Expert tip: We used our personal connections to target regional investors such as Court Wescott; the founder of 1-800-Flowers; retired Hollywood Casinos CEO Jack Pratt; The Murchison Family; and residential real estate developer Phillip Huffines. We were able to successfully reach around $12 million in the Series A round of fundraising.

When we were ready for the next round of fundraising, we had everything we needed right here in Texas.

Great ideas get funded

Venture capitalists who put a lot of money into a lot of companies also delegate to those companies a lifespan, or a timeline for getting their money back.

Since the family offices believed in our concept and understood what we were doing, we were seen as more of a long-term investment and therefore given a longer time horizon than we would if we had gone the more traditional route of fundraising.

Investors like to watch their investments grow and typically they have more money for second and third rounds of funding when you can prove your success in the first few years.

The bottom line: Investing in Texas companies is a beneficial strategy due to the Lone Star State's booming economy and investing in companies that you believe in makes for a more meaningful relationship, which helps everyone involved succeed.

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Alex Doubet is the CEO and founder of Door Inc., a Texas-based, tech-infused real estate platform.

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Houston researchers create AI model to tap into how brain activity relates to illness

brainiac

Houston researchers are part of a team that has created an AI model intended to understand how brain activity relates to behavior and illness.

Scientists from Baylor College of Medicine worked with peers from Yale University, University of Southern California and Idaho State University to make Brain Language Model, or BrainLM. Their research was published as a conference paper at ICLR 2024, a meeting of some of deep learning’s greatest minds.

“For a long time we’ve known that brain activity is related to a person’s behavior and to a lot of illnesses like seizures or Parkinson’s,” Dr. Chadi Abdallah, associate professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor and co-corresponding author of the paper, says in a press release. “Functional brain imaging or functional MRIs allow us to look at brain activity throughout the brain, but we previously couldn’t fully capture the dynamic of these activities in time and space using traditional data analytical tools.

"More recently, people started using machine learning to capture the brain complexity and how it relates it to specific illnesses, but that turned out to require enrolling and fully examining thousands of patients with a particular behavior or illness, a very expensive process,” Abdallah continues.

Using 80,000 brain scans, the team was able to train their model to figure out how brain activities related to one another. Over time, this created the BrainLM brain activity foundational model. BrainLM is now well-trained enough to use to fine-tune a specific task and to ask questions in other studies.

Abdallah said that using BrainLM will cut costs significantly for scientists developing treatments for brain disorders. In clinical trials, it can cost “hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said, to enroll numerous patients and treat them over a significant time period. By using BrainLM, researchers can enroll half the subjects because the AI can select the individuals most likely to benefit.

The team found that BrainLM performed successfully in many different samples. That included predicting depression, anxiety and PTSD severity better than other machine learning tools that do not use generative AI.

“We found that BrainLM is performing very well. It is predicting brain activity in a new sample that was hidden from it during the training as well as doing well with data from new scanners and new population,” Abdallah says. “These impressive results were achieved with scans from 40,000 subjects. We are now working on considerably increasing the training dataset. The stronger the model we can build, the more we can do to assist with patient care, such as developing new treatment for mental illnesses or guiding neurosurgery for seizures or DBS.”

For those suffering from neurological and mental health disorders, BrainLM could be a key to unlocking treatments that will make a life-changing difference.

Houston-based cleantech unicorn named among annual top disruptors

on the rise

Houston-based biotech startup Solugen is making waves among innovative companies.

Solugen appears at No. 36 on CNBC’s annual Disruptor 50 list, which highlights private companies that are “upending the classic definition of disruption.” Privately owned startups founded after January 1, 2009, were eligible for the Disruptor 50 list.

Founded in 2016, Solugen replaces petroleum-based products with plant-derived substitutes through its Bioforge manufacturing platform. For example, it uses engineered enzymes and metal catalysts to convert feedstocks like sugar into chemicals that have traditionally been made from fossil fuels, such as petroleum and natural gas.

Solugen has raised $643 million in funding and now boasts a valuation of $2.2 billion.

“Sparked by a chance medical school poker game conversation in 2016, Solugen evolved from prototype to physical asset in five years, and production hit commercial scale shortly thereafter,” says CNBC.

Solugen co-founders Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt received the Entrepreneur of The Year 2023 National Award, presented by professional services giant EY.

“Solugen is a textbook startup launched by two partners with $10,000 in seed money that is revolutionizing the chemical refining industry. The innovation-driven company is tackling impactful, life-changing issues important to the planet,” Entrepreneur of The Year judges wrote.

In April 2024, Solugen broke ground on a Bioforge biomanufacturing plant in Marshall, Minnesota. The 500,000-square-foot, 34-acre facility arose through a Solugen partnership with ADM. Chicago-based ADM produces agricultural products, commodities, and ingredients. The plant is expected to open in the fall of 2025.

“Solugen’s … technology is a transformative force in sustainable chemical manufacturing,” says Hunt. “The new facility will significantly increase our existing capabilities, enabling us to expand the market share of low-carbon chemistries.”

Houston cleantech company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

RESULTS ARE IN

Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

“This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

“At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

“The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.