This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Joanna Nathan of Prana Thoracic, Alfredo Arvide of Cloche, and Susan Davenport of the Greater Houston Partnership. Photos courtesy

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

Joanna Nathan, CEO, and co-founder of Prana Thoracic

Prana Thoracic, an innovative startup in the lung cancer diagnostics space, has raised its series A round of investment. Photo via LinkedIn

Joanna Nathan has been busy. It's been just under six months since the launch of her company, Prana Thoracic, a Houston health tech startup tackling lung cancer diagnostics, and the company has already secured its next round of investment funding. A medical device company developing a tool for early interception of lung cancer, the company announced last week that it closed a $3 million series A financing round.

In August, the company received a $3 million award from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas. All of Prana Thoracic's funding is being used to develop the unique diagnostic product and the company's path to first-in-human clinical studies.

“Our technology provides a definitive answer to patients with lung nodules and allows physicians to intervene earlier in the lung cancer patient’s journey,” says Joanna Nathan, CEO, and co-founder of Prana, in a news release. “Our team is grateful to have the support of our investors and excited to leverage this financing to accelerate our technology to the bedside.” Read more.

Alfredo Arvide, co-founder and managing director of Cloche

This new restaurant technology allows for eateries to upgrade to mobile ordering for no cost. Photo courtesy of Cloche

A new mobile software platform has launched in Houston and is currently looking for restaurants interested in utilizing their technology to upgrade their eatery with mobile ordering at no cost to the restaurant.

Alfredo Arvide, co-founder and managing director of Cloche, tells InnovationMap that the idea for the platform came after the pandemic forced restaurateurs to quickly pivot to touch-free menus. Now that the consumer has adapted to scanning QR codes to view menus, the next step is to optimize ordering — something that will also help with the labor shortages that restaurants are now facing.

"Now is the time transform this industry by creating a better meal experience for the consumers, an easier job for the restaurant staff and a more efficient, more profitable business for restaurant owners," Arvide says. Read more.Read more.

Susan Davenport, senior vice president and chief economic development officer for the Greater Houston Partnership

The Greater Houston Partnership's Susan Davenport shares details on Houston House at SXSW, HETI House at CERAWeek, and taking the city on tour to spread awareness of the ecosystem. Photo via houston.org

Every year, one of the biggest tech conferences in the world convenes right down the road from Houston in downtown Austin. That's a huge opportunity for the Greater Houston Partnership to showcase and congregate Housto's tech innovators.

Susan Davenport, senior vice president and chief economic development officer for the Greater Houston Partnership, shares on the Houston Innovators Podcast how the GHP has made an effort to increase Houston's presence at SXSW over the past few years. This year, the third year for Houston House, the GHP and the Houston Energy Transition Initiative are convening over 20 Houston innovators for two days of programming.

"We want to further the development of our ecosystem," Davenport says on the podcast. "Houston is so uniquely place for this — we have such well-developed industry sectors and a customer base. ... All entrepreneurs want to showcase their products and talk about what their doing. We'll have people there to answer questions and, most importantly, invite them to Houston." Read more and listen to the episode.

This new restaurant technology allows for eateries to upgrade to mobile ordering for no cost. Photo courtesy of Cloche

Houston restaurant tech now serving optimized mobile ordering

order up

A new Houston company has designed a platform that enables mobile ordering at no cost to restaurants.

Cloche, a mobile software platform named after the bell-shape dish cover that's known to come with room service orders, has launched in Houston and is currently looking for restaurants interested in utilizing their technology to upgrade their eatery with mobile ordering at no cost to the restaurant.

Alfredo Arvide, co-founder and managing director, tells InnovationMap that the idea for the platform came after the pandemic forced restaurateurs to quickly pivot to touch-free menus. Now that the consumer has adapted to scanning QR codes to view menus, the next step is to optimize ordering — something that will also help with the labor shortages that restaurants are now facing.

"Now is the time transform this industry by creating a better meal experience for the consumers, an easier job for the restaurant staff and a more efficient, more profitable business for restaurant owners," Arvide says.

Existing technology costs restaurants thousands, but Cloche takes its cut on the consumer side. Customers pay a small percentage of their total for a platform fee — something that costs significantly less than the tip they'd leave if they had a waiter serve their table.

"We want to put consumers in control of their meal experience by connecting consumer’s phones directly with the kitchens," Arvide says, noting that the platform allows for users to request refills, condiments, and more. "We also want to uphold the restaurants’ staff wellbeing. Our intention is not to have technology replace the human aspect of the restaurant experience but take it to the next level."

One Houston restaurant — Cascabel Mexican Vegan in Spring Branch — has already deployed the technology. The company is actively seeking new eateries to onboard the platform. Arvide says any restaurant can benefit from Cloche, but right now he things cafes and casual dining spots are primed for the platform.

"While the Cloche experience will come more natural for fast food, counter service, ghost kitchens and overall, less personal meal experiences, we are working hard on adapting our service to support everything, from food-trucks to more sophisticated upscale restaurants where we would expect – and encourage – the wait staff to shift their focus from taking food orders manually to delighting customers," Arvide says.

The software for the platform has been designed by Blue People, a Houston-based custom software development shop. The organization works with companies of all sizes looking to develop their own platform, including startups looking to build their MVPs and mobile apps. In addition to his role at Cloche, Arvide serves as chief innovation officer for Blue People.

The five finalists for Mentor of the Year in the Houston Innovation Awards sound off on their best advice. Photos courtesy

Houston's top startup mentors of 2022 share go-to advice for founders

words of wisdom

Houston is home to many great mentors — all hailing for completely different backgrounds.

At the Houston Innovation Awards Gala on November 9, InnovationMap and Houston Exponential are honoring five finalists selected by judges — and naming one winner — who have dedicated at least a portion of their lives to supporting others within the startup and tech scene in Houston.

Here are some words of wisdom from our awards honorees from the Mentor of the Year category for the 2022 Houston Innovation Awards.

"I always remind people to be open and ask for help. There is a common misconception that if you disclose your idea, someone else will quickly run with it and beat you to market! ... Don’t alienate yourself by overprotecting the idea and keeping it all to yourself. The more you open up about your idea the more feedback you’ll get, good and bad, both of which are vital in the success of the product long term."

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- Alfredo Arvide, Blue People and HOUnited. Arvide, who's been an advisor for over a decade, adds, that "most markets are big enough to allow competition to thrive, so keeping your idea behind close doors until you launch may hurt you as the market may not be ready for it. Having multiple players competing in the market will help you in the long run, as long as you have a great product and a sound marketing strategy."

"Understand the problem you are trying to solve. Build a team that works well together and has the intellect, drive, and willingness to develop and bring to market a solution for that problem. Leadership is not about giving orders and making all the decisions. It is about creating the environment for your team members individually and collectively to do their best work and be most fulfilled."

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- Barbara Burger, adviser and board member for several startups and organizations. With over 20 years of experience supporting startups, Burger says she is mostly focused on startups dedicated to decarbonizing the energy system.

"Don't have 'rocking chair regret.' What I mean is when you are old and in a rocking chair, you aren't going to regret the year (or less) you took away from a guaranteed salary to test if your idea worked. So, take the time and follow your dreams — you never know what could happen!"

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- Craig Ceccanti, T-Minus Solutions. Ceccanti, who also co-founded Pinot's Palette and Rivalry Technologies, has been mentoring for over a decade. "I love helping people and always have so helping others achieve their dreams is a natural progression for me, he says. "I've also had incredible mentors and I like to pay it forward every chance I get. I feel that mentoring is fun, therapeutic, and mutually beneficial as I feel I learn from the smart people I get to talk to daily!

"Bring great people on your journey with you — team members, advisors, investors, mentors, consultants, etc."

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- Emily Reiser, Texas Medical Center and Enventure. Reiser, who's mentored companies for several years, says it's her own mentors that inspired her. "I had excellent mentors who generously gave their time for me, especially Upendra Marathi, and it's just a given that I mentor others. It's a privilege to learn from the people I mentor and see them become successful."

"Be your own cheerleader. Stay true to yourself and don't give up."

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Kara Branch, founder of Black Girls Do Engineer Corp. "I have always been the only black woman in all my roles. As a mother of three daughters, my oldest daughter inspired Black Girls Do Engineer Corp.," Branch says. "When she daughter was 9, she came to me and said she wanted to be a software engineer. ... If anyone can help her achieve her dreams is her mom and I wanted to create a space for girls who look like my daughter to come together and do the things they love and are passionate about."

This Houston expert describes the main phases central to any innovation journey. Photo courtesy of Slalom

Houston expert: How to navigate the innovation journey — from PoC to MVP

guest column

As a technologist, one thing I learned early in my career about the technology landscape is its constant improvements and I understood that companies who kept up with those changes remain successful and competitive. However, only companies mastering a disciplined innovation framework are truly able to harness the power of emerging tech to help them solve their most complex business challenges.

Innovative solutions come in all shapes and sizes, but not all of them should come to life. Specifically, when considering digital solutions, there are a few widely accepted innovation approaches in the product engineering field. This quick guide describes the main phases central to any innovation journey.

Feasibility Study

Ideating can be fun but executing a feasibility study will ground you on what will work and what may still be science fiction. The thought here is to spend two to four weeks doing research and talking to experts to answer a few key questions that will help you determine the feasibility of your idea or concept. Through the study, you will learn how to look at it from both a technology and a business perspective. More importantly, to answer the question 'Is it even possible to accomplish your goal with this technology?'

A subject matter expert (SME) will quickly tell you yes or no and why. If you find the technology is indeed suitable, then you will move on to evaluate the business feasibility. Does it make financial sense? Does it work within established business policies? Will there be a healthy Return On Investment (ROI) within an acceptable timeline? If you find positive responses to those questions, then you should feel confident to move on to a Proof of Concept (PoC) or even jump to a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). On the other hand, if either the technology is not feasible or the solution doesn't make business sense, then you've just saved yourself a lot of time, budget, and possibly headaches.

Proof of Concept

This phase is about testing the theory and proving the hypothesis, technically speaking. You'll need to go through a Proof of Concept if the technology solution you have in mind hasn't been tested in either a lab setting or in the field. Thinking outside of the box and innovating is all about trying new approaches and solving problems in a novel way, so you'll have to spend the time and budget ensuring it will work as expected. However, you must be very careful to not get carried away.

A proper PoC should take four to six weeks, max. It should help you quickly determine whether the technology will live up to its promise or if you need to pivot to another approach. Building a team with the right skillset is vital to this process because they are the ones evaluating the proposed solution and comparing it to the expected outcomes. Any signs of discord should empower the team to stop the project, saving further investment, and should help you decide if another approach is even possible. If all criteria has been met, then move on to the MVP stage.

Minimum Viable Product

At this point, you have confirmed the solution you imagined works and you are ready to unlock its potential. But you must start small. You must prioritize all the features you want this product to have and decide what the core functionality should be. This is important because if you choose too many features to start with, you may initially spend too much money and time and may even miss a window of business opportunity you may have lined up. Hence the name of the MVP, it is a product that employs the minimum time, money, and features while still being a viable product.

In summary, if you have an innovative idea for a technology solution, I recommend you first determine whether it's feasible, both technology and business wise, through a short and focused study. If feasible, then you can put that concept to the test through a PoC and determine its desirability. If this product is indeed desirable, then moving into building an MVP will help you understand its viability – and that is how you can successfully innovate while keeping risks at bay.


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Alfredo Arvide is the director for the products and innovation practice at Slalom Consulting in Houston, where he helps clients solve their most complex business challenges by leveraging emerging technologies and applying innovative technology solutions.

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

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

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.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

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

WHERE TO BE

From networking meetups to speaker expert speaker summits, March is filled with opportunities for Houston innovators.

Here's a roundup of events you won't want to miss out on so mark your calendars and register accordingly.

Note: This post may be updated to add more events.

 March 6 — Women's History Month Mixer

Bag Talk and Jem are collaborating to produce a dynamic Rooftop Mixer, designed to bring together entrepreneurs, startups, founders, tech professionals, health experts, and investors.

In honor of Women's History Month, the speaker panel will feature trailblazing women entrepreneurs who have redefined success in their respective fields. Gain invaluable insights, strategies, and inspiration as they share their journeys in business, innovation, and leadership.

This event is Wednesday, March 6, from 6 to 9 pm at Reset. Click here to register.

 March 7 — Energy Workforce of the Future Career Fair & Summit

A variety of Gen-Z speakers will be unpacking the future of working in the energy industry. Take advantage of this unique occasion to showcase your skills, exchange ideas, and build valuable connections. Denise Hamilton will be the keynote speaker followed by a host of other energy innovators.

This event is Thursday, March 7, from 7:30 am to 4 pm at the Briar Club. Click here to register.

 March 7 — GB Spring Mixer 2024

Meet community members, network, and develop relationships with local businesses at this event for Pearland's small business community. This mixer is sponsored by Pearland Innovation Hub, a home for innovation, entrepreneurship and small business growth, custom built for Pearland's business community.

This event is March 7, from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at The Cannon. Click here to register.

 March 14 — Pi Day With Portal Innovations

TMC Helix Park will host a Pi Day celebration at TMC3. All scientists, researchers, math experts, and innovators are invited to come and recognize the significant impact Pi (3.14) has had in shaping our world today and continuously in the future. Enjoy networking opportunities with Pi bites, games, and prizes.

This event is Thursday, March 14, from 12 to 1:30 pm at TMC Helix Park. Click here to register.

 March 14 — FanTechstic Mixer

This event is a mixer for tech professionals and tech enthusiasts. Connect with potential employers, collaborators, and mentors who can shape the trajectory of your career.

This event is Thursday, March 14, from 5:30 to 9:30 at Luxtrium Event Venue. Click here to register.

March 16 — Generative AI: Understanding and Fine Tuning LLM

This webinar dives deep into Generative AI, the game-changer that creates images from text, crafts personalized campaigns, and writes reports in seconds. Attendees will learn the innerworkings of Large Language Models (LLMs), the engines behind this revolution. Learn practical skills, explore real-world use cases, and future-proof your career.

This event is Saturday, March 16, from 10 am to 12 pm at Houston Translations. Click here to register.

March 18-22 — CERAWeek by S&P Global

For the 42nd time, CERAWeek is convening energy leaders from around the world for a conference, this year with its theme of "Multidimensional Energy Transition: Markets, climate, technology and geopolitics" that will zero in on the world's journey to zero-carbon.

The event is Monday, March 18, to Friday, March 22, in Downtown Houston. Click here to register.

March 21 — Global Energy: Qatar's LNG Expansion

At this event, expert panelists will delve into issues of investment partnerships, destination markets for gas supply, and the practicalities of expanding fossil fuel exports amid global decarbonization goals. Qatar is in the midst of expanding its LNG export capacity, increasing from 77 million tons per annum to 126 million by 2027.

This event is Thursday, March 21, from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy. Click here to register.

March 21 — Energy Underground - Early Design Partnerships

Meet up with renewable energy product developers, service providers, energy transition thought leaders, and more at this networking event. Make industry contacts, secure financing, share deals, or recommend talent looking to enter the energy workforce. This month meeting is open to everyone, but focused on connecting energy software founders with VP's of Operations and Projects at energy companies.

This event is Thursday, March 21, from 11:30 am to 2 pm at The Cannon. Click here to register.

March 26 — Bots & Brews

This is the spring meetup of the Energy Drone / Robotics / Data crowd, with over 200 leaders attending. Enjoy beer, bites and bots. Check out the latest robotics and data / AI tech, while hearing new case studies and connecting with some of the biggest leaders in energy and autonomous systems.

This event is Tuesday, March 26, from 5:30 to 7:45 pm at the Ion. Click here to register.

March 27 — Energy Industry Young Professionals Gumbo Cook-Off & Technology Showcase

Explore cutting-edge products, network with industry professionals, and savor delicious creations in the Gumbo Cook-Off. Make it a night to remember with live music, a beverage garden, and fundraising efforts to support the energy industry and first responders.

This event is Wednesday, March 27, from 5 to 9 pm at Bad Astronaut Brewing Co. Click here to register.

March 27 — 2024 CultureMap Houston Tastemaker Awards

The CultureMap Tastemaker Awards is an annual celebration of Houston's top restaurant and bar talent, as selected by their peers. Check out this signature in-person tasting event and awards ceremony. Celebrate all of the nominees and the winners, while sampling bites and sipping specialty drinks along the way.

This event is Wednesday, March 27, from 7 to 10 pm at Silver Street Studios. Click here to register.



Houston AI femtech startup raises $2M round to expand platform to B2B opportunities

fresh funding

A Houston-based startup that's improving health and wellness for women with its artificial intelligence-backed platform has raised a bridge round of funding.

Ema closed its latest bridge round, bringing its total funding to nearly $2 million. The company received investment from Kubera's Venture Capital and Victorum Capital, which joined existing investors Hearst Labs, Wormhole Capital, Acumen America, and Techstars.

Ema strives to deliver "personalized, empathetic, and evidence-based support" to its users through its generative AI technology. The platform has more than 100,000 users, and has expanded into the B2B sector with $100,000 in contracts within just 30 days after pivoting to this model, according to the company.

"Ema was born from a deep-seated belief in the transformative power of AI to make women's health care more accessible and effective," Amanda Ducach, CEO of Ema, says in a news release. "Our recent funding and rapid B2B growth validate our approach and enable us to further our mission."

The company, originally founded as SocialMama looking to connect mothers digitally to each other and, later, physicians and experts, rebranded a year ago. The platform aims to be comprehensive and holistic to positively affect women's health and wellness journeys across life stages and categories.

"Our vision extends beyond immediate health concerns; we see Ema as a companion that can support women throughout their lives, offering guidance, support, and understanding whenever they need it," Ducach explains. "This latest round of funding will help us expand into new areas, including employee benefits, where we believe we can make a substantial difference."

Amanda Ducach founded the company in 2019. Photo via Twitter

Why founders need to be prioritizing problem-solution fit, according to this Houston innovator

guest column

Over the past 10 years I have been so incredibly fortunate to work for and with dozens of startup ecosystems, startup development organizations, competitions and accelerators.

Through these interactions I have mentored, advised and coached over 500 startups and as I've reflected back on these interactions and relationships I have observed some crucial insights that I am humbled to be able to share here with you — starting with the importance of problem-solution fit.

My top observation is that the success of founders often hinges on their focus on a specific problem, from the perspective of the problem holder (which is not always their customer) and particularly a problem set they care deeply about. This focus is far more impactful than merely having a great idea. Founders with a laser focus on a problem, showed remarkable advantages. These founders were:

  • Quicker in Validating Assumptions: Their problem-centric approach allowed them to more rapidly test and validate their hypotheses about market needs and solutions.
  • Focused on Data-Driven Decision Making: They were more receptive to letting data guide their strategic decisions, leading to more grounded and effective strategies.
  • Agile in Pivoting: When confronted with challenges or new information, these founders could pivot more efficiently, as their commitment was to solving the problem, not just to their solution.

This problem-focused mindset proved to be a significant differentiator in their journey from ideation to success.

For these reasons, the philosophy that problem-solution fit leads development, has become a cornerstone in my approach to fostering innovation. It underscores the need for startups and organizations alike to delve deeper into understanding the real challenges they face, the first order problems, which in turn opens doors to more impactful and sustainable solutions.

Most recently, In my time at MassChallenge, my approach to problem identification diverged significantly from industry norms. The crux of my strategy was to shift the founders' focus from their innate bias towards their innovation or the allure of monetary gain to a deeper connection with the underlying problem — transforming the innovator's bias into the innovator's gift.

In my interactions, I often met two predominant types of founders:

  • Technical Founders: These individuals were deeply enamored with the technology or product they created. Often coming from the research world or a technical / engineering background within one industry. Their passion was more about the innovation itself rather than its impact or the problem it aimed to solve.
  • Profit-Oriented Founders: These founders were driven primarily by the potential for financial success. Often coming out of Business school, consulting firms or investment / banking background. Their focus was often on the market opportunity, timing, size and scale rather than the problem needing a solution.

I am not a believer that anyone fits into a box but these were broad commonalities I observed over time. While neither mindset is inherently flawed, it became evident that a third type of founder, those who developed a passion for solving a specific problem — often tied to a personal or emotional connection — tended to achieve greater success.

The challenge lay in transforming the mindset of founders who initially did not have this problem-centric focus. To do this, I employed a series of exercises and mental experiments that anyone can do aimed at uncovering the true purpose behind their ventures. Two pivotal tools in this process was Simon Sinek's Golden Circle, which helped delve into the why behind their companies and Ash Maurya’s Problem Discovery process that he details in Lean Mastery.

These exercises were transformative. Founders typically developed a stronger attachment to these newly framed problem statements than to their initial motivations. It aligned their endeavors with a purpose that was emotionally significant to them, thereby enhancing their commitment and effectiveness in addressing the problem.

This approach to problem identification was not just about finding a market fit; it was about aligning the founders' core values and motivations with the problems they aimed to solve, thereby unleashing the true potential of their innovations.

One of the most significant challenges was persuading founders to shift their mindset from their initial focus to a problem-oriented approach. This transition was often difficult, as change is inherently challenging, especially when founders have invested months or years in developing something they feel deeply connected to. The key was to reframe and redirect their passion towards understanding and solving the core problem for the problem holders that were most affected. This shift in focus wasn't always successful, but when it did take effect, it markedly increased the founders' likelihood of success.

Part of the difficulty in effecting this founder mindset shift stemmed from the overwhelming amount of content directed at startup founders, emphasizing the immediate need for customer feedback and early creation of MVP’s. While these aspects are crucial (at the right time), there is a noticeable gap in guiding founders towards the critical step of identifying problem-solution fit earlier in the process. As a result, many founders fell into the trap of building upon untested assumptions, believing that once they've created a product or identified a revenue model, the journey was set on the right path.

This challenge wasn't confined to startup founders alone, it is prolific across the innovation economy. Corporates, governments, and universities also displayed resistance in identifying their core, underlying problems. They often focused on surface-level issues or immediate technological needs without recognizing the structural problems causing these more visible issues.

As a founder, an innovator, or anyone passionate about bringing new solutions to the masses, this shift in perspective is crucial. It allows founders and organizations to understand their challenges more deeply, leading to more effective and sustainable solutions. It isn’t just about solving the problems they could articulate, but about uncovering the first principles issues that needed addressing.

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Jon Nordby is managing partner at Anthropy Partners, a Houston-based investment firm, and professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Houston.