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 SaaS startup closes $12M series A funding round with support from local VC

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A Houston startup with a software-as-a-service platform for the energy transition has announced it closed a funding round with participation from a local venture capital.

Molecule closed its $12 million series A, and Houston-based Mercury Fund was among the company's investors. The company has a cloud-based energy trading and risk management solution for the energy industry and supports power, natural gas, crude/refined products, chemicals, agricultural commodities, softs, metals, cryptocurrencies, and more.

"We led the seed round of Molecule upon their formation and are excited to participate in their series A," says Blair Garrou, co-founder and managing director of Mercury, in a news release. "Molecule's success in the ETRM/CTRM industry, especially in relation to electricity and renewables, positions them as the company to beat for the energy transition in the 2020s."

The company will use its new funds to further build out its product as well as introduce offerings to manage renewables credits, according to the release.

"In 2020, we realized that electricity — the growth commodity of the 2020s — represented over half of Molecule's customer base, and we decided to double down," says Sameer Soleja, founder and CEO of Molecule, in the release. "We were also rated the No. 1 SaaS ETRM/CTRM vendor. With this fundraise, we have the fuel to become No. 1 SaaS platform for power and renewables, and then the market leader overall.

"Molecule is ready to power the energy transition," Soleja continues.

Molecule's last round of funding closed in November 2014. The $1.1 million seed round was supported by Mercury Fund and the Houston Angel Network.

Houston-based afterlife planning startup launches new app

there's an app for that

The passing of a loved one is followed with grief — and paperwork. A Houston company that's simplifying the process of afterlife planning and decision making is making things even easier with a new smartphone app.

The Postage, a digital platform meant to ease with affair planning, recently launched a mobile app to make the service more accessible following a particularly deadly year. The United States recorded 3.2 million fatalities — the most deaths in its history, largely due to the coronavirus pandemic.

After losing three family members back-to-back, Emily Cisek dealt first hand with the difficulty of wrapping up a loved one's life. She saw how afterlife planning interrupted her family's grieving and caused deep frustration. Soon, she began to envision a solution to help people have a plan and walk through the process of losing someone.

The Postage, which launched in September, provides a platform for people to plan their affairs and leave behind wishes for loved ones. The website includes document storage and organization, password management, funeral and last wishes planning, and the option to create afterlife messages to posthumously share with loved ones.

"Right now, as it stands ahead of this app, end-of-life planning is really challenging. It's this daunting thing you have to sit down and do at your computer," says Cisek. Not only is it "daunting," but it's time-consuming. According to The Postage, families can expect to spend nearly 500 hours on completing end-of-life details if there is no planning done in advance.

With more than 74 percent of The Postage's web traffic coming from mobile users, an app was a natural progression. In fact, Entrepreneur reports the average person will spend nine years on their mobile device. Cisek wanted to meet users where they are at with a user-friendly app that includes the same features as the desktop website.

"What we wanted to do [with the app] is make it so easy to plan your life and the end of your life using one click — as easy as it was for posting and commenting on social media," explains Cisek. "People are so used to reflecting on those behaviors and clicking one button to add a picture ... we wanted to make it that simple," she continued.

Cisek and her team focused on providing a "seamless experience" within the app, which took approximately four months to build, which mirrors the desktop platform.

Though The Postage's website had mobile functionality, the app includes the ability to record and upload content. Whether snapping a picture of their insurance policy or recording a video to share with loved ones, The Postage app allows users to capture photos and videos directly within the app.

After snapping a picture, "the next step inherently is sharing it with your loved ones," says Cisek. Photos, family recipes and videos can easily be shared securely with loved ones who accept your invitation to The Postage so "that legacy continues on," she says.

Since The Postage's fall launch, the company has grown a steady base of paid subscribers with plans to expand.

"We're really starting to change the way people plan for the future," says Cisek.