3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Alfredo Arvide of Slalom Consulting, Allison Post of the Texas Heart Institute, and Jeff Price of Pronto Pay. Courtesy photos

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — tech consulting, health care, and fintech — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Alfredo Arvide, senior principal within product engineering at Slalom Consulting

Should you launch an app? Or just a web page? This consultant weighs in with his advice. Photo courtesy of Slalom

Tech founders have a lot of decisions to make, and Alfredo Arvide of Slalom Consulting wrote a guest column for InnovationMap to help advise on a big one.

"One of the biggest decisions you'll have to make as an entrepreneur is whether you should host your product or service on the web, via an app, or through a webapp," he writes. "Product development has a million intricacies that will dictate – and sometimes demand – a specific route to market." Read more.

Allison Post, manager of innovation partnerships at the Texas Heart Institute

Allison Post joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share what she's focused on in cardiac innovation. Photo courtesy of THI

In a perfect world, Houston's health care institutions work collaboratively on innovative health care solutions and the city soars as a major hub for life science innovation. That perfect world is Allison Post's goal. As Texas Heart Institute's manager of innovation partnerships, she is in charge of supporting THI innovators and connecting the institute with the rest of the city.

"I only see just phenomenal things for Houston, and what I really want is for the Texas Medical Center to become even more interconnected. We've got to be able to transfer ideas and thoughts and intentions seamlessly between these institutions and right now there are a lot of barriers," Post says. "And I really think Texas Heart is hopefully going to serve as an example of how to take down those barriers." Read more and stream the episode.

Jeff Price, founder and CEO of Pronto Pay

This Houston startup has an app for helping employees get a portion of their paychecks before payday. Photo via Pexels

So much of the country lives paycheck to paycheck, and Jeff Price saw a business opportunity to help out employees who need an advance on their wages. He founded Pronto Pay in the first quarter of 2021. The software aims to connect hourly works with transparent access to wages earned before pay day without disrupting the employers' books.

"When you think about it, payroll hasn't changed in nearly two centuries. As far as we can remember, you get paid weekly or bi-weekly. And that's precisely the point we're trying to solve," Price says. Read more.

Should you launch an app? Or just a web page? This consultant weighs in with his advice. Photo courtesy of Slalom

Web page or app? Houston expert shares his tips for launching your online platform

guest column

One of the biggest decisions you'll have to make as an entrepreneur is whether you should host your product or service on the web, via an app, or through a webapp. In this quick guide, I'll go over a few tips to help you narrow down the options and make an informed decision.

First, allow me to explain each of these terms. In this context, I am assuming your big idea is either a product or service which your customer base will consume in a digital format. The question is, do you deliver your product or service via a regular webpage (web), does it require robust native application functionality (app), or can it be a hybrid model where the app runs on browser (webapp).

Certainly, if you can sell your product or services through a simple online store, then the debate is over: you should just web. If you are just selling a new gadget, for example, you don't need an app nor a webapp. E-Commerce has come such a long way that a simple webpage will suffice.

However, if that is not your situation, then here's three main considerations to help you decide between building an app or a webapp.

Native hardware required

If your product or service will use a hardware component from your audience's mobile device or tablet, such as the GPS, the Camera, the Microphone, or the Gyroscope, then you should heavily lean towards building a native app.

There are web frameworks that will allow you to gain access to a devices' camera or GPS via a webapp, but none are as stable, reliable, or robust as using a native app framework.

The question then becomes, what operating system do you develop your native app in: Apple's iOS, Google's Android, Microsoft's Windows, other or all of them?

Keep in mind there are platforms – such as Xamarin – that enable you to develop in multiple native app ecosystems simultaneously, however, deciding the platform(s) will affect your timeline, budget and audience reach. Also know that if your product or service can or should be accessible offline, then that reinforces your native app decision and eliminates a webapp given they require connectivity to run on a browser.

Universal adoption expected

In contrast, if you are looking to sign-up a broad audience then you should lean towards building a webapp.

All devices, whether mobile, tablets or laptops, have sophisticated and modern web browsers that can easily run webapps. Therefore, if you don't want to worry about deciding between different platforms, then by building a universal webapp that is compatible with all popular browsers all your users will have immediate access.

This route also bypasses all the requirements you must meet and the policies you must comply with to publish your native app to communities such as Apple's App Store or Google Play.

Even better you can update and maintain your webapp at your own pace, not having to rely on Apple's or Google's approval and publish/update schedules.

Investment tolerance 

Now, if you gathered major seed funding or hit it big in a series A round giving you a higher upfront investment tolerance, then I'd advise you to go the native app route.

The aforementioned Apple and Google native app marketplaces, albeit strict, offer amazing features that you would not be able to leverage going the webapp route. Your customer experience will almost certainly be higher going native app, which will increase your ROI, promote repeat subscribers and overall success.

But this route will be more expensive than webapp, especially if you do decide to offer it on multiple major platforms. Hence, if you have the budget, go for it and launch natively. If your investment tolerance is more reserved, then start with a webapp, and simply iterate until you are forced to go native.

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This quick guide is by no means an exhaustive list of considerations. Product development has a million intricacies that will dictate – and sometimes demand – a specific route to market. Yet, if you ask yourself a few of the questions I laid out, you will be able to make an informed decision guiding your commercialization strategy as you kick off your startup journey.

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Alfredo Arvide is a senior principal within product engineering at Slalom Consulting in Houston, where he helps clients tackle their most complex business challenges by applying innovative technology solutions.

This week's roundup of innovators includes Alfredo Arvide of MAP360, Gaurab Chakrabarti of Solugen, and Stephen Ives of YMCA of Greater Houston. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: The three innovators being called out this week for their latest news includes three leaders looking to make a difference and disrupt the norm. From innovating diversity and inclusion to making a huge splash in the chemicals industry.

Alfredo Arvide, CEO and co-founder of MAP360

This Houston startup is increasing access to marketing for other startups and small businesses

"We're here for the founders and the little guys," Alfredo Arvide says about his new venture that's redefining marketing for small businesses and startups. Photo courtesy of MAP360

Alfredo Arvide's story isn't too unfamiliar. After getting laid off amid a recession, he turned his full focus to his startup hoping to disrupt the industry he's worked in for years. The only difference here is Arvide's story is still ongoing, and the industry he's trying to disrupt is marketing for startups.

"There is a great opportunity in Houston with the accelerating innovation ecosystem," says Arvide. "When my co-founder and I were brainstorming ideas, we saw the need for a marketing program tailored specifically for startups or small businesses."

MAP360 touts a 50 percent or fewer costs of an agency with the same agency-quality talent. The services they offer range from branding, storytelling, design, to consulting. They also offer tiers or packages aimed for startups, funded or growing businesses, and established businesses. Click here to read more.

Gaurab Chakrabarti, CEO and co-founder of Solugen

Solugen, which uses plant-centered biotechnology to produce environmentally friendly chemicals, has raised an additional $30 million and is speculated to soon reach unicorn status. Photo via solugentech.com

Is Solugen going to be the next unicorn — a startup valued at $1 billion — to come out of Houston? That's what Forbes, but that's not what Gaurab Chakrabarti is focused on right now. He's got bigger goals to disrupt the entire chemicals industry.

"Quite simply, we want to become the next DowDuPont or the next iconic chemical company, but using principles of green chemistry instead of principles from petroleum chemistry," Chakrabarti says.

And he's on the right path. Recently, Solugen raised another $30 million in a bridge round after raising $36 million last year. Click here to read more.

Stephen Ives, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Houston

The Equity Innovation Center Powered by Reliant will have online resources as well as an interactive learning lab at Tellepsen Family Downtown YMCA. Photo courtesy of Urban Land Institute Houston

With Houston's diversity and in light of the current civil unrest, the YMCA of Greater Houston wanted to create something to help educate Houstonians and provide a space for unity and collaboration. That's why the organization is launching The Equity Innovation Center Powered by Reliant, says Stephen Ives, president and CEO of YMCA of Greater Houston.

"The YMCA of Greater Houston vows to stand with our brothers and sisters who are made to feel less safe by the many recent incidents – fighting for health equity in the face of the inequities being laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic and unjust killings," says Ives. "The Y will continue expanding and strengthening its commitment to combat racism, bias, prejudice and inequalities while fighting for justice."

The center is coming out of a $100,000 donation from Reliant, which will be distributed in $50,000 commitments over two years. The sum is a part of Reliant and NRG's "Powering Change" initiative. Click here to read more.

"We're here for the founders and the little guys," Alfredo Arvide says about his new venture that's redefining marketing for small businesses and startups. Photo courtesy of MAP360

This Houston startup is increasing access to marketing for other startups and small businesses

A new Houston organization is working to redefine the way startups set up their marketing strategy — focusing on specific projects tailored to the client's goals at a significantly cheaper price than a normal marketing agency.

MAP360, also known as The Marketing Acceleration Program, is collaborating one-on-one with clients to learn their particular needs and goals for individual projects. Unlike traditional marketing agencies, they do not work on retainer, instead they focus on small contracts to increase efficiency and affordability for startups and small businesses.

"There is a great opportunity in Houston with the accelerating innovation ecosystem," says Alfredo Arvide, CEO and co-founder. "When my co-founder and I were brainstorming ideas, we saw the need for a marketing program tailored specifically for startups or small businesses."

Arvide's new marketing acceleration program has always been one of his goals as a budding entrepreneur, previously founding Pushr an app that manages multiple social profiles across all platforms. However, it was his layoff from Accenture last month, a result of the ongoing impact of coronavirus on the economy, that spurred him into action with his business partner, Jacqueline Levine, who has taken on the role of chief marketing officer.

The two have combined decades of experience in the marketing world — most recently Arvide was the prototyping center director within the Houston Accenture Innovation Hub.

"Usually in a startup, the entrepreneur wears a lot of different hats," says Arvide. "They have the responsibility to market the business and manage financials, this is a lot of pressure. We wanted to provide a different sphere of the marketing spectrum at an affordable price."

MAP360 touts a 50 percent or fewer costs of an agency with the same agency-quality talent. The services they offer range from branding, storytelling, design, to consulting. They also offer tiers or packages aimed for startups, funded or growing businesses, and established businesses. Each package has a different time frame and helps the client's marketing goals with the most efficiency.

For example, a startup has a need for pitch materials and setting up basic brand guidelines, unlike a growing client who perhaps needs a marketing distribution plan or social media engagement plan more urgently.

"We are able to focus on affordability and the needs of our clients because of our strategic nature," says Arvide. "We are going to provide our clients with campaigns that are very specific to their audience while providing them a plan and metrics for success."

MAP360 strategy of upfront costs and marketing plans cut to size added another benefit for clients' bang for their buck with their proprietary approach to data. The psychographic data allows businesses to measure and meet their target metrics using a profile of their customer's interests and values.

"We use a partner firm that uses demographic and psychographic data," says Arvide. "Then we can analyze the firm's target audience at the highest probability. We are not casting a huge net, rather fishing for the very specific fish willing to bite."

A startup itself, MAP360 has its own plans and metrics for its own success, aiming to add 10 to 15 new clients before the end of the year and expect that figure to double in the next year to 20 to 30 clients. They also plan to use local marketing professionals and freelancers to expand their pool of specialists.

"We're here for the founders and the little guys," says Arvide. "We want to help them be better and partner with local talent to make Houston first in the innovation sphere."

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Houston energy blockchain company announces $7.7M in funding, plans to expand to the Middle East

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A Houston-based tech company has announced another round of funding to support its blockchain network growth as well as to establish a presence in the Middle East.

Data Gumbo has closed its series B funding round totaling $7.7 million with follow-on investments led by Equinor Ventures. The round includes participation from Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures and Bay Area and Houston-based venture firm L37. The round's first close was announced in September 2020 at $4 million. The additional funds to close the Series B will be used to scale Data Gumbo to serve demand for GumboNet™ and GumboNet™ ESG. Additionally, Data Gumbo plans to establish a presence in the Middle East to cover expected demand growth in the region.

"The successful close of our series B is continued proof of the efficacy and booming interest in our ability to capture critical cost savings, deliver trust and provide transparency across commercial relationships," says Andrew Bruce, founder and CEO of Data Gumbo, in a news release. "Compounded by the growing demand for transparent, accurate sustainability data and the launch of our automated ESG measurement solution, GumboNet™ ESG, Data Gumbo's trajectory is well-positioned to serve our growing customer base by ensuring economic productivity and value. This infusion of capital will support our expansion efforts as we bring more international users to our network."

With this latest raise, Data Gumbo's total funding raised to date is $18.4 million.

"Data Gumbo's success is marked by a wide variety of business use cases and opportunities for expansion," says Bruce Niven, chief investment officer at Aramco Ventures, in the release. "Our continued investment is a testament to our continued support as the company attracts new customers, experiences further demand for its network and gains traction in new markets."

The company's technology features smart contract automation and execution, which reduces contract leakage, frees up working capital, enables real-time cash and financial management, and delivers provenance with unprecedented speed, accuracy, visibility and transparency, per the release.

"Data Gumbo is the market leader for smart contracts backed by blockchain, and the coming year will be a period of exponential growth for the company as they penetrate new industrial markets," says Kemal Farid, partner at L37, in the release. "We believe strongly that GumboNet will become the de facto network for smart contracts across industries for capturing value and solving enormous pain points in contractual relations. Additionally, as companies move to meet increasing sustainability measurement demands and ESG improvements, there is a huge growth path available for Data Gumbo with the launch of GumboNet ESG."

Earlier this year, the company announced its environmental, social and corporate governance tracking and reporting tool.

"Equinor's recent pilot at the Johan Sverdrup field has demonstrated that GumboNet can create strong value for the partnership," says Gareth Burns, head of Equinor Ventures, in the release. "Our follow-on investment confirms Equinor Ventures' confidence in Data Gumbo's solution for our company and the broader energy industry."

3 Houston startups announce strategic appointments across health tech, materials, and software

short stories

Three Houston tech startups have new hires they're excited about this summer. From new board members to c-level execs, here's who's moving and shaking in Houston innovation.

Former Memorial Hermann CEO joins board of ZIBRIO

This Houston medical device startup has added a big name to its board. Photo courtesy of ZIBRIO

Dan Wolterman, who served as president and CEO of Memorial Hermann Health System for 15 years, has been named to the board of directors of Houston-based ZIBRIO. The health tech company, which was founded based on NASA technology, has developed a device that measures balance.

"We're delighted to have Dan on the team," says Katharine Forth, ZIBRIO CEO and co-founder, in a news release. "He understands ZIBRIO's vision to work across the full continuum of care, empowering older patients and clinicians with quantifiable fall prevention. His experience and enthusiasm will be invaluable in helping us to achieve it."

Falling is the top cause of trauma injury and trauma death across all age groups, according to ZIBRIO's release, and the current cost of falls in people over 65 is $50 billion – which is expected to double.

"ZIBRIO is coming to market at a time when population health and prevention are key for Healthcare systems to generate outcomes. They have a strong team and an elegant solution to a complex problem that will help millions," Wolterman says in the release.

Inhance adds to its C-suite

Inhance Technologies has added an integral member to its leadership. Photo via inhancetechnologies.com

Inhance Technologies, an international provider of polymer material science solutions based in Houston, has named its new CFO. Andrew Leeser, previously at Cimarron Energy, has joined the company to lead global finance, accounting and treasury functions, as well as human resources and information technology.

"I'm delighted to welcome Andrew to the Inhance Technologies family. He has an excellent track record in organizations spanning a range of industries, and I'm sure that his experience will help us continue on our upward trajectory," says Andrew Thompson, president and CEO of Inhance Technologies, in a news release. "We look forward to working with him to build a bright future for the company and our customers as we help them make a conscious choice towards more sustainable plastics."

The company just recently announced its expansion, including another new C-level exec and a new 75,000-square-foot site in St. Louis.

"I'm very pleased to have joined Inhance Technologies and I look forward to helping the organization achieve its goals over the next few years. With the significant growth in demand for our fully recyclable barrier technology Enkaseä, as well as our global expansion, there is no doubt I'm joining the company at an exciting time," says Leeser in the release.

Houston fintech unicorn names new council

Meet the new council dedicated to supporting HighRadius's new platform. Photo via LinkedIn

HighRadius, a Houston-based fintech company that reached unicorn status last year, has announced the members of its advisory council for its new microlearning and community platform Highako Academy.

Bob Shultz, managing partner of Quote-to-Cash Consulting, will serve as chairman of the council.

Other council members include:

  • John LaRocca, Sr. Director of Global Credit, Hitachi Vantara
  • Roger Torneden, Director of Business, Management and Legal Programs for UCLA Extension
  • R. Britt Hastey, Chair, Business Administration Department, Los Angeles City College
  • Bruce Lynn, Managing Partner, the FENG LLC
  • Scott Blakeley, Partner, Blakeley LLP

The council "will identify and improve courseware, certification programs and the methods of delivery based on current and future industry and professional trends," according to an email from the company. Highako Academy is aimed at helping teams and customers develop critical industry skills.

"Our customers have asked us for an online self-service learning platform, and that led us to launch highako.com as a beta platform last year," says Urvish Vashi of HighRadius in a recent release. "With 10,000+ users on the platform and a vibrant partner ecosystem consisting of credit groups, collection agencies, attorneys and industry associations, we see this echoing a larger trend of millennials and Gen Z gravitating towards microlearning platforms."

Expert: How to ensure your tech is ready for a hurricane in Houston

Guest column

Houstonians are no strangers to hurricanes. We've already seen some activity this summer, and we still have a few months to go. Although we can't prevent every negative situation when it comes to weather, AT&T has picked up a few tried and true tips that can help you stay safe prepared during this hurricane season.

Tips to plan ahead:

  • Save your smartphone's battery life. In case of a power outage, extend your device's battery life by putting it in power-save mode, turning off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, deleting apps, or putting your phone in Airplane Mode. This may prevent you from using certain features but will ultimately save battery power.
  • Keep your mobile devices charged. Be sure to have another way to charge your smartphone if the power goes out. One option might be using your car's USB port or a USB car charger.
  • Keep your mobile devices dry. Mobile phones can be a critical lifeline during a storm. To protect yours, store it in a water-resistant case, floating waterproof case, or plastic bag. A car charger or back-up battery pack can come in handy. If you have multiple devices to keep charged, consider a multi-port back-up battery pack.
  • Back up important information and protect vital documents. Consistently back up insurance papers, medical information and the like to the Cloud or your computer. With cloud storage, you can access your data from any connected device.
  • Have a family communications plan. Choose someone out of the area as a central contact in case your family is separated. Most importantly, practice your emergency plan in advance.
  • Store emergency contacts in your mobile phone. Numbers should include the police department, fire station, hospital, and family members.
  • Forward your home number to your mobile number in the event of an evacuation. Because call forwarding is based out of the telephone central office, you will get calls from your landline phone even if your local telephone service is down.
  • Track the storm on your mobile device. If you lose power at your home during a storm, you can use your mobile device to access local weather reports.

Likewise, we take a series of steps to ensure our Houston area network is ready to withstand the storm season each year.

Preparing our network in Houston:

When we know a storm is coming, we immediately assess what is needed to prepare our network. Some of those measures include:

  • Engaging Network Operations Center to monitor the network and partner with local personnel for recovery efforts.
  • Maintaining backup generators at cell sites and switching facilities in case of power loss.
  • Staging portable generators at strategic locations for deployment after an event.
  • Working with State and Federal Emergency Operations Centers to ensure first responders have the mobile connectivity they need before, during and after an event.

Keeping first responders connected:

Communication is critical to rescue and recovery efforts. That's why we were selected by the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) – an independent agency within the federal government – to deliver FirstNet® to first responders and the extended public safety community. FirstNet is the only nationwide network built with and for America's first responders. In the Houston area, agencies using FirstNet include Law Enforcement, Fire, EMS, and Emergency Management, among others. FirstNet is used in day-to-day operations and during emergency response, including hurricane preparedness and response. In addition, organizations and agencies that could be called on to help support public safety also use FirstNet. These include healthcare, public works, essential government services, school security, utilities, energy, and transportation that operate in support of primary public safety entities and are critical to the response efforts. Together, these agencies utilize the FirstNet network for broadband connectivity for voice and data to prepare for and respond to hurricane events. FirstNet provides the connectivity they need with:

  • Priority & Preemption: In emergencies and disasters, commercial networks can quickly become congested. That's why FirstNet is the only nationwide network that gives first responders always-on priority and preemption. It puts them at the front of the "communications line."
  • Greater Command & Control: Public safety agencies have access to a fleet of more than 100 dedicated mobile cell sites that link to FirstNet via satellite and do not rely on commercial power availability. New this storm season, there's a giant addition to the FirstNet disaster response arsenal: FirstNet One – an approximately 55-foot aerostat, more commonly known as a blimp. And, to give first responders greater command and control of their network, the FirstNet Response Operations Program aligns with the National Incident Management System to better guide the deployment of these assets.
  • Enhanced Coverage and Capacity: We've also deployed FirstNet Band 14 spectrum. Band 14 is nationwide, high-quality spectrum set aside by the U.S. government specifically for FirstNet. We refer to it as public safety's VIP lane- during an emergency, this band can be cleared and locked just for FirstNet subscribers.

Recovery and relief:

During those unfortunate times when recovery response is needed, our Natural Disaster Recovery program and FirstNet Response Operations Group have technology and equipment to help with relief efforts such as:

  • Mobile cell sites and mobile command centers, like Cell on Wheels (COWs) and Cell on Light Trucks (COLTs)
  • Emergency Communications Vehicles (ECVs)
  • Flying Cell on Wings (Flying COWs)
  • Drones
  • A self-sufficient base camp: complete with sleeping tents, bathrooms, kitchen, laundry facilities, an on-site nurse, and meals ready to eat (MREs)
  • Hazmat equipment and supplies
  • Technology and support trailers to provide infrastructure support and mobile heating ventilation and air conditioning
  • Internal and external resources for initial assessment and recovery efforts

Together, let's have a smart and safe hurricane season.

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Luis Silva is vice president and general manager at AT&T.