While adapting your business to better serve and retain your employees, here are three questions to keep in mind and review your business on in 2022. Photo via Getty Images

Many businesses tend to focus solely on tangible metrics during annual reporting, such as revenue, new year budgets and customer satisfaction. What is often overlooked are internal aspects of the business (unless it is a problem), measuring and scoring yourself on employee engagement and happiness.

As you start 2022, we challenge businesses to ask themselves important questions on how they are measuring their businesses, internally. We all know that over the past 20 months, we have witnessed businesses rapidly evolving to make significant changes within their organizations to meet employees' changing demands and expectations. How are they working? Many of these new business practices, such as hybrid work, will benefit employees of all generations and boost employee engagement, but is it what your employees want and need to succeed?

While adapting your business to better serve and retain your employees, here are three questions to keep in mind and review your business on in 2022.

Am I providing a space for my employees to thrive?

The COVID-19 pandemic was a formative experience that caused many, especially the new Gen Z employees, to push their employers outside of their comfort zones and have them truly reassess the need to go back to a traditional office environment. It’s important to keep in mind that many in the Gen Z demographic kickstarted their careers from a “work from home” environment while so many of us were rapidly shifting and getting used to a completely new way of working, they were entering their new norm.

As the conversations of in-office versus work-from-home arise, remember that one size does not fit all. When having these conversations, keep an open mind and be sure to actively listen. Allowing your employees to work remotely may be worrisome, but there’s evidence that some employees do thrive in this environment.

According to statistics gathered by Airtasker, remote employees worked 1.4 more days on average than those working in the office each month. These days were also more productive as remote workers reported only 27 workday minutes lost to distractions while office workers reported 37 workday minutes lost to distractions. Without a need for commuting, employees also increase their productivity by being able to start their workdays immediately.

Talk to your employees who prefer in-office about the changes you can make to improve their quality of life at work, such as new office equipment or benefits in the office like catered lunch or dry cleaning pickup/drop-off. Consider setting new policies that allow for more breaks throughout the day such as a 2-hour window with no meetings or Zoom calls or team walks. According to the Wellbeing Thesis, breaks have been proven to increase employees’ productivity. For example, relaxation breaks can help reduce stress while social breaks help boost camaraderie in a team. Understand what your team needs and most importantly, be flexible when employees who mainly work in-office want to take their work home for the day, and vice versa.

We have decided to offer our distributed employees around the country the option to work from home or from a co-working space, if they are more productive out of the house. We also have a rotating schedule of travel to Houston to spend time with the CEO in our headquarters to get some valuable face-to-face time with the team.

Regardless of the path a business wants to take in terms of work environment, remote work is a growing demand among Gen Z. This may be a scary idea for some employers, but through Ampersand’s rigorous curriculum, we are training the newest generation of professionals how to be productive and effective employees wherever they work. With courses ranging from “how to send a calendar invite” to “how to talk to your manager about a missed deadline,” Gen Z professionals will be prepared to take the world by storm after completing Ampersand’s curriculum. Additionally, Ampersand’s coaches work one-on-one with each young professional to make sure they fully understand and practice each skill, which means that they will have more than enough practice by the time they join your team.

​Am I actively contributing to their growth?

As a leader in your organization, your goal should always be to help cultivate your employees’ skills and transition them into the best version of themselves. Gen Z grew up in a society where the importance of self-improvement and emotional well-being is increasing. They openly receive feedback and advocate for their needs, which can help encourage other generations in the office to do the same.

Determining how to help your team grow individually and fulfill the needs of the company within their role can easily be evaluated during regularly scheduled check-ins. At these check-ins, leaders need to encourage candid, honest conversations with each employee to gain a better understanding of each employee’s individual goals and needs. Carefully listen to the feedback each employee gives and create an action plan catered to that individual. When employees feel that their company cares about them as individuals, in addition to the company goals, they are more motivated to achieve success in their roles.

At Ampersand, we teach young professionals how to have these conversations in a productive way, take the feedback they receive and implement it in their day-to-day growth. While Gen Z may be more upfront about their needs, taking the time to understand what each employee hopes to achieve in their role and career will build stronger ties with each person in the company, regardless of their generation.

Am I giving them space to share their ideas?

Gen Z is energizing all employees to advocate for work-life balance while introducing new tools and tactics that can modernize business practices. For example, newer employees are often seen setting boundaries for themselves and advocating for transparent communication from their employers. While this can seem jarring to some managers who don’t know how to handle the candidness, it can be refreshing to see and something we can all learn from - as long as they still respect their teams and deliver upon the expectations in the role. As Gen Z introduces new ideas to their team, leaders should encourage other generations on the team to listen and research the proposed new opportunities. The fresh new ideas may even prompt employees of other generations to share their wealth of knowledge with Gen Z to create a more collaborative work environment.

As we kickoff 2022, we encourage you to really consider how you are retaining and attracting your talent, especially Gen Z. It is up to each individual employer to look inside themselves as to why The Great Resignation is happening and consider these important questions, and be open to evolving and being mindful to provide a space (in person or not!) where employees can thrive, grow and share their ideas. The conscious effort and consideration will lead to an increase in company success and employee satisfaction, across generations.

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Allie Danziger is the co-founder and CEO of Houston-based Ampersand Professionals.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Allie Danziger of Ampersand Professionals, Jane Stricker of the Greater Houston Partnership, and Summer Reeves of Accenture's Houston Fjord Studio. 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 — from energy to design innovation — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.


Allie Danziger, co-founder and CEO of Ampersand Professionals

The ongoing trend of businesses struggling to onboard new employees is likely going to continue through the new year. Allie Danziger shares what you need to know. Photo courtesy of Ampersand

The Great Resignation is among us, and companies need to respond accordingly, Allie Danziger, CEO and co-founder of Ampersand Professionals, writes in her guest column for InnovationMap.

"It has been particularly difficult to hire and retain Gen Z employees, the newest generation in the workforce, as we navigate the expectations of these employees, as compared to past generations," she writes. "Fortunately, businesses can bounce back from 'The Great Resignation' or protect themselves before they experience a similar mass exodus by taking the time to understand employees' preferences and motivations, and make a few small changes accordingly."

Danziger shares four tips with hiring and retaining talent in this challenging time. Click here to read more.

Jane Stricker, executive director of the Houston Energy Transition Initiative at the GHP

The former BP executive will lead Houston's role in the energy transition as the executive director of the Houston Energy Transition Initiative, a brand new position at the Greater Houston Partnership. Photo courtesy of GHP

Jane Stricker, a longtime Houston-based executive at oil and gas giant BP, has been tapped to be the executive director of the Houston Energy Transition Initiative and senior vice president of energy transition.

The Greater Houston Partnership unveiled HETI in June. As the partnership explained then, HETI "aims to drive sustainable and equitable economic growth in the Greater Houston region through a portfolio of technology, policy, and market initiatives that scale and export solutions for realizing a low-carbon energy world."

"This is an exciting time for Houston and our energy ecosystem as we focus our efforts on leading the global energy transition," Stricker says. "The challenge of our lifetime is addressing this dual challenge of meeting increased global energy demand while confronting global climate change. Houston is known for solving problems that matter. I believe through innovation, collaboration, and focus, our region can lead the way and deliver solutions that change the world." Click here to read more.

Summer Reeves, director of Accenture's Houston Fjord studio

Summer Reeves says Houston is changing for the better when it comes to attracting design talent. Photo courtesy of Accenture

The winds have changed in Houston when it comes to attracting design talent, Summer Reeves — the director of Accenture's Houston Fjord studio — says on last week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Reeves is currently responsible for growing the team of Accenture's new Houston Fjord studio. She say she's excited for the way the design industry in Houston has developed. It's been second chair to Austin on the Texas landscape, but that's changing.

"There's a reason why Accenture is building a Fjord studio here in Houston — and now, versus in the past," Reeves says.

She describes Austin employers overly competitive for designers — making it hard to attract and retain design talent. This has caused a wave of designers coming to Houston. She's also seeing Houston employers — mostly in the energy industry — shift their thinking in hiring these types of positions. Click here to read more and stream the episode.

The ongoing trend of businesses struggling to onboard new employees is likely going to continue through the new year. Here's what you need to know. Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert: 4 tips on managing employees amid 'The Great Resignation'

guest column

As 2021 comes to an end, businesses continue to struggle to fill open positions caused by "The Great Resignation," and this trend is likely to continue well into the New Year.

It has been particularly difficult to hire and retain Gen Z employees, the newest generation in the workforce, as we navigate the expectations of these employees, as compared to past generations.

Fortunately, businesses can bounce back from "The Great Resignation" or protect themselves before they experience a similar mass exodus by taking the time to understand employees' preferences and motivations, and make a few small changes accordingly.

Prioritize DEI&B, mental health and provide purpose:

Today's world is much different than the world many CEOs and hiring managers grew up in, and a shift is required to successfully recruit, retain, challenge and excite the newest generation. Gen Z is one of the most diverse populations to enter the workforce, and not only do they seek out companies that value diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging in the workplace, they want to see that their diverse ideas, backgrounds and creative approaches are recognized and celebrated.

Additionally, Gen Z places a major focus on being purposeful in their actions. This generation, especially after living through COVID-19, has begun prioritizing their mental health and overall well-being in their job positions. It's important for these young professionals to make sure that they have a good work/life balance, and that they work in an environment that is healthy for their mental stability.

New professionals ask two main questions when it comes to accepting a job: "What tasks am I doing?" and "How do they relate to my overall life and career goals?" Today's blossoming workforce will readily decline a higher paying role for one where they feel they're positively contributing to society and fulfilling their own purpose. According to NACE's 2021 Student Survey Report, 75 percent of recent college graduates rated finding a job where the "organization helps improve my community/country/world" as being a higher attribute while on the job hunt, in comparison to a higher starting pay.

Explore and offer non-traditional benefits:

As COVID-19 transformed the workplace, Gen Z'ers entered the workforce with the ability to work from home. The benefits of saving time commuting to and from work and constant flexibility are all they know in their careers up to this point. As these professionals grow into managers, executives at all levels will be forced to shift their mindset about working from home (or working from anywhere, for that matter!) as the younger generation has already adapted and grown accustomed to this benefit.

While giving up this level of control feels daunting to many business owners, myself included, it is no different than millennials' demands 10+ years ago for working on teams versus in silos, digital communications and expectations for transparency from employers, which we all became accustomed to and are now norms in the workplace.

Other non-traditional benefits, such as paid volunteer hours, continuing education stipends, DEI&B committees, paid mental health days and donation matching can go a long way with younger talent. This generation equally values professional development, self-care and the community at-large, so these work perks are of high interest to them.

Competitive pay is still a top priority:

At Ampersand, we shifted our business model to provide interns with paid internship opportunities in the companies we match them with for many reasons (mostly it was the right thing to do), and the shift dramatically increased the interns' commitment to the work, the accountability and the ability to recruit higher quality talent. By offering a paid internship to aspiring young professionals, we are appreciating their worth while concurrently closing the equity gap created by unpaid internships.

Simultaneously, our business partners are able to keep professionals engaged in day-to-day work, and allow them to earn a living with a fair wage. While most internships force young professionals to choose between getting the experience and getting paid, we provide young professionals with both!

Don’t overlook the power of interns:

Interns can be a powerful tool to propel a business forward. Many young professionals are brimming with new ideas and can make a significant impact within a business. Furthermore, National Association of Colleges and Employers' research shows that 32 percent of interns initially hired by a company for an internship are likely to stay more than a year in an entry level role than new hires. Additionally, hiring interns could be the perfect solution to offset employee turnover during "The Great Resignation," since they are able to take the load off of other employees who may be feeling burnt out or overwhelmed.

While interns can be valuable additions to help reduce the workload of full-time employees, we also understand the work and time commitment it takes to train interns, which is why Ampersand was created. Ampersand's curriculum teaches young professionals solid work practices, such as how to actively participate in a business meeting, presentation skills, communicating with managers and managing their workload. Overall, Ampersand's curriculum increases a young professional's contribution to businesses while providing a solid foundation for the young professional to launch their career.

Ampersand has had over 250 young professionals graduate the program, and their experience with us has only propelled them further to thrive in their places of work. We encourage our professional alumni to show up to the workplace with their own unique personalities and requests, but we have taught them to do so in a respectful and professional manner. With that, we hope that employers will see the benefits to bringing on skilled interns who can contribute in a meaningful way to the organization, regardless of background or previous experience. And in doing so, we're confident employers can buffer the impacts of—or even avoid—this recent wave of mass turnovers.

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Allie Danziger is the co-founder and CEO of Houston-based Ampersand Professionals.


Ampersand and Curate Capital are working together to move the needle on the future of work. Photo courtesy of Curate Capital

Houston startup raises $1.75M round with support from local female-focused investor

future of work

A Houston-based startup focused on upskilling young professionals has closed its latest round of funding with support from a local investor.

Ampersand Professionals Inc. raised $1.75 million in pre-seed funding led by Curate Capital, a Houston-based, female-focused venture capital fund. Carrie Colbert, Curate's founding and general partner, will join Ampersand's advisory board.

Ampersand — founded in 2020 by Allie Danziger with Co-Founders Kathrin Applebaum and Scott Greenberg — has developed a platform for businesses to easily implement internship programs. The program also upskills and educates young professionals, providing them career development and job skills training.

"Ampersand's mission to democratize access to career-building opportunities for young professionals, ties in nicely with Curate's mission to empower women, says Colbert in a news release. "The company's platform will have a direct positive impact on young women (and others) as they begin their professional careers."

Both the female founders are personally driven by motivating and inspiring women and driving future of work solutions. The fresh funding will go toward expanding the Ampersand platform and network.

"The shift to remote work during the pandemic not only completely changed the way we all work, but also made it even more difficult for so many recent, and soon-to-be graduates, to make the connections needed to land their first internship and then gain the meaningful training to excel in those roles," says Danziger in the release. "This infusion of capital allows Ampersand to expand our e-learning platform, matching algorithm capabilities, ensure our training matches the needs of our business partners, and expand our university partnerships around the country."

Since September 2020, the Ampersand team has developed its training and career development platform with over 100 hours of job skills training content, according to the release, and has placed over 200 driven professionals in remote internships. (InnovationMap has been a business partner in Ampersand's program.)

Curate Capital was founded in 2020 by Carrie Colbert and Mark Latham. The firm, and its initial $10 million fund, is focused on funding early-stage, female-founded companies.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Nicole Rogers of Validere, Allie Danziger of Ampersand, and Ashley Small of Medley Inc. Courtesy photos

3 female Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In the week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three female innovators across industries — from energy tech to business entrepreneurship.

Nicole Rogers, senior vice president at Validere

Nicole Rogers, senior vice president at Validere, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how her company has grown exponentially over the past year. Photo courtesy of Validere

Nicole Rogers joined Canadian startup Validere during the summer last year — right smack dab in the middle of a pandemic. But despite COVID-19 and the drop in oil prices, the energy company grew exponentially — in clientbase, in venture capital support, and in employee count.

"One of the things we found that was to our advantage throughout the pandemic was a lot of folks in oil were having a career identity crisis. Oil really struggles with employment elasticity," Rogers says. "A lot of the colleagues we were talking to were just fatigued with the ups and downs going on in the past decade."

Rogers, who's based in the company's Houston office, shares more about Validere's growth and opportunities in the new year — plus what she thinks Houston needs to do to maintain its status of energy capital of the world in the episode. Click here to read more and to stream the podcast.

Allie Danziger, founder of Ampersand

Houston entrepreneur, Allie Danziger, wanted to create a program for young professionals looking to gain experience in unprecedented times. Photo courtesy of Ampersand

Allie Danziger has two small children, but she started thinking about if her kids were college age, would she want them to enroll in a virtual college experience or hold off for a time where they could have a more traditional experience. Realizing she probably wasn't alone, she thought about how she could create an alternative for high school grads — in this time of the pandemic but also in a time where college degrees aren't the best option for job security.

"I really believe that it scales way beyond this pandemic," says Danziger. In her research, she saw a lack of career-focused gap curriculums and resources available. "There are no programs that help you determine what the right path for you is—to really do that self-exploration and then apply it to your career path," she explains. Click here to read more.

Ashley Small, founder and CEO of Medley Inc.

From events to online shopping — here are four tech trends to look out for this year according to Ashley Small. Photo courtesy of Medley

It's a new year and the perfect time to reflect on where society is at from a technological standpoint. In light of the pandemic and an overarching trend of tapping into tech to provide solutions to COVID-19-related challenges, 2021 will likely see more of these trends.

"As a business owner, it's clear to me that many of these shifts will persist long after the pandemic has ended," writes Ashley Small, founder and CEO of Medley Inc., in a guest column for InnovationMap.

From subscriptions to online shopping, Small highlighted the types of tech in the digital realm that deserve our special attention in 2021. Click here to read more.

Houston entrepreneur, Allie Danziger, wanted to create a program for young professionals looking to gain experience in unprecedented times. Photo courtesy of Ampersand

New Houston career training program is helping young professionals and businesses amid pandemic

a new option

Last March, school districts abruptly closed as the threat of the coronavirus grew. In-person classes were cancelled, graduation ceremonies were held virtually, and the future career plans of new graduates were suspended in uncertainty. Through the incertitude, a Houston-based company formed to offer a path forward for young professionals impacted by a newly changed world.

In the early weeks of the pandemic, Allie Danziger sat down with her husband and tried to imagine what she would tell her children to do if they were graduating college. The University of Texas graduate relished her college experience before founding Integrate, an award-winning marketing firm in Houston.

"I wouldn't want them to go to virtual college and not have the same type of experience we were all fortunate to have," she explains.

Simultaneously, Danziger's email began to overflow with young people looking for advice on how to move forward or questioning a gap year. "I've always loved coaching and mentoring young professionals right out of college," she says.

In her 11 years at Integrate, she had mentored more than 100 interns and first-year employees. After researching gap year programs, Danziger launched a new career training program, Ampersand.

Danziger and her co-founder Scott Greenberg created Ampersand with a mission to democratize access to career-building opportunities by providing mentorship and three one-month internships to young professionals. (Disclaimer: InnovationMap is a part of the Spring 2021 Ampersand program.) The curriculum includes personality assessments, career mapping, one-on-one training, and basic career skills to know as an entry-level employee.

The flexible program includes five hours of curriculum-focused learning and 15 hours of interning, allowing participants with outside engagements and college classes to also participate.

"When I speak to universities all over the country, I always tell them that while I valued my college undergraduate experience, I got so much more out of my internships," she says.

The beta launched in August with a group of ten professionals and ten businesses. Each month, the participants rotate to a position at a different business, allowing them to be exposed to new industries and departments. The program is a flexible 20-hour commitment — five hours of curriculum-based learning and 15 hours of interning — done remotely. While Danziger created the program to serve as a way to be productive during a "gap year" or "gap semester," Ampersand can be balanced with outside activities or college classes.

During Brené Brown's 2020 commencement speech for the University of Texas graduation, she predicted that interviewers would soon tell them, "I see you're a 2020 graduate. That was tough. How did you handle it?"

The quote struck Danziger and "was probably the overall inspiration for this business," she reflects. She feels Ampersand is "a way to put that anxiety into a productive place and actually use the downtime, or use the time that you're considering your options, really mindfully."

"I really believe that it scales way beyond this pandemic," says Danziger. In her research, she saw a lack of career-focused gap curriculums and resources available. "There are no programs that help you determine what the right path for you is—to really do that self-exploration and then apply it to your career path," she explains.

Textbooks and classroom learning are important, but to Danziger, "real-world experience is invaluable." In her research and through first-hand experience, she notes there are "big issues with the higher education industry as a whole not really preparing their students for careers."

At Integrate, Danziger noticed newly-hired graduates would sometimes struggle with "basic things to know for day one," like how to ask for time-off or schedule a calendar invitation. "It ends up frustrating managers while also frustrating the entry-level employees because they're not able to succeed at the pace that they expected to," she says. "These students are graduating with tons of student debt, great skills focused in the major that they chose, but very few of the soft skills that they need in order to be successful professionally," she continues.

Student loan debt in the United States reached $1.7 trillion last year with more than 44 million borrowers; the crisis has exceeded the nation's credit card debt by more than $900 billion. A 2015 study from the University of South Carolina linked student loan debt to poor psychological functioning and stress.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, one in 10 students have changed their major more than once—a figure that can be correlated to the increasing student loan crisis.

"People are taking fifth and sixth years because they had to change their major, or they move careers after a year of their first job, which then costs them and the company significant dollars in lost wages," says Danziger.

Danziger feels Ampersand also answers the prominent issue of diversity in the workplace.

"If businesses get a more diverse workforce at that very entry-level space, who are prepared and ready to take on the jobs just like anyone else, these interns will grow through the ranks and have significantly more opportunities in management and in the boardrooms," she says.

Young professionals aren't the only beneficiaries of Ampersand. Businesses, too, have reaped the perks of interns hungry for new experiences and a resume boost. From competitive analyses to marketing plans, interns are contributing tasks companies "didn't have time to make it a priority, especially amid the pandemic," says Danziger.

Through weekly one-on-one virtual sessions, the Ampersand team works with the professionals to go over their to-do lists and act as their project managers.

"We do all the mentorship and coaching, so that the business just has to receive the end product," she explains.

"This definitely beats the option of a career day and sets them up to make more informed career choices," Liz Cordell, co-founder and COO at Mak Studio. Cordell, who participated in the first cohort, assigned interns to social media marketing projects her company didn't have the capacity to work on. Knowing the Gen Z and millennial-aged professionals excel social media, she has enjoyed working with interns who've "become a part of the team," despite a remote work environment.

"The training the interns receive with Ampersand prior to joining your team gives them access to fundamental skills, concepts, and tools used in business today. This levels up your interns to be able to meaningfully contribute to your company from day one," says Cordell. As a business owner, she feels the program provides "a unique opportunity to have an intern with professional support."

One Louisiana State University student used Ampersand to discover his creative strengths and land a job offer from one of his internships. At the beginning of the program, he confided in Danziger that he "wasn't feeling motivated to pursue this career accounting," and didn't find enjoyment in his classes.

The student's Ampersand personality assessment identified his inclination to creativity; he participated in a series of internships that included an architecture firm, furniture company, and a finance startup. "He's able to really see how he can keep his accounting degree and apply it to these other career paths. It's just amazing to see how he's blossomed from this," says Danziger.

While the nation prepares for a shift in power, the incoming president has outlined support for workforce training programs that aligns with Ampersand's mission. President-elect Joe Biden plans to make a $50 billion investment into workforce training programs when he takes office. The proposal announces that money will fund partnerships between community colleges, businesses, unions, state, local, and tribal governments, universities, and high schools to identify in-demand skills in and modernize training programs.

Ampersand kicked off its second cohort with 30 professionals and 30 participating businesses from around the country on Jan. 5, and is currently accepting applications for its summer program. She anticipates the growing startup will begin raising a seed round during the first quarter. While Danziger emanates with excitement about the launch and balances her role as President of Integrate, she has big plans for the future of Ampersand.

Danziger dreams of scaling Ampersand to serve as many young professionals and businesses who are interested in participating.

"With that, I really want to be able to bring this to the low-income community so we can fulfill the mission of democratizing access to internships and professional development to everyone," she says.


Ampersand // Professional Development & Internship Program www.youtube.com

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Houston startup secures big contract, coworking company acquired, and more local innovation news

short stories

Houston is starting 2022 strong in terms of innovation news, and there might be some headlines you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, the Bayou City is ranked based on its opportunities for STEM jobs, a Houston blockchain startup scores a major contract, Rice University opens applications for its veteran-owned busineess competition, and more.

Data Gumbo announces contract with Equinor

After a successful pilot, Equinor has signed off on a contract with Data Gumbo.. Courtesy of Data Gumbo

Houston-based Data Gumbo, an industrial blockchain-software-as-a-service company, announced that it has signed a contract with Equinor. The global energy company's venture arm, Equinor Ventures, supported the startup's $7.7 million series B round, which closed last year.

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.

“Equinor is an industry trailblazer, demonstrating the true value of our international smart contract network to improve and automate manual processes, and bring trust to all parties,” says Andrew Bruce, founder and CEO of Data Gumbo, in a news release. “Smart contracts are playing a critical role in driving the energy industry forward. Our work with Equinor clearly demonstrates the benefits that supermajors and their supply chain customers, partners and vendors experience by automating commercial transactions. We are proud to continue our work with Equinor to help them realize the savings, efficiencies and new levels of transparency available through our smart contract network.”

Equinor opted into a pilot with the company a few years ago.

“Since piloting Data Gumbo’s smart contracts for offshore drilling services in 2019, we have worked with the company to continually refine and improve use cases. We now have the potential to expand Data Gumbo’s smart contract network to enable transactional certainty across our portfolio from the Norwegian Continental Shelf to our Brazilian operated assets and beyond,” says Erik Kirkemo, senior vice president at Equinor. “GumboNet reduces inefficiencies and processing time around contract execution in complex supply chains, which is a problem in the broader industry, and we look forward to realizing the streamlined process and cost savings of its rapidly expanding smart contract network.”

WeWork acquires Dallas coworking brand with 6 Houston locations

Common Desk, which has six locations in Houston including in The Ion, has been acquired. Photo courtesy of Common Desk

Dallas-based Common Desk, which has six locations in Houston, announced its acquisition by WeWork. The company's office spaces will be branded as “Common Desk, a WeWork Company,” according to a news release.

“Similar to WeWork, Common Desk is a company built on the concept of bringing people together to have their best day at work," says Nick Clark, CEO at Common Desk, in the release. "With the added support from WeWork, Common Desk will be able to not only leverage WeWork’s decade of experience in member services to improve the experience of our own members but also leverage WeWork’s impressive client roster to further build out our member base.”

Here are the six Common Desk spaces in Houston:

Here's how Houston ranks as a metro for STEM jobs

Source: WalletHub

When it comes to the best cities for jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math, Houston ranks in the middle of the pack. The greater Houston area ranked at No. 37 among the 100 largest metros across 19 key metrics on the list compiled by personal finance website, WalletHub. Here's how Houston fared on the report's metrics:

  • No. 36 – percent of Workforce in STEM
  • No. 74 – STEM Employment Growth
  • No. 43 – Math Performance
  • No. 16 – Quality of Engineering Universities
  • No. 2 – Annual Median Wage for STEM Workers (Adjusted for Cost of Living)
  • No. 90 – Median Wage Growth for STEM Workers
  • No. 75 – Job Openings for STEM Graduates per Capita
  • No. 88 – Unemployment Rate for Adults with at Least a Bachelor’s Degree

Elsewhere in Texas, Austin ranked at No. 2 overall, and Dallas just outranked Houston coming in at No. 34. San Antonio, El Paso, and McAllen ranked No. 51, No. 65, and No. 88, respectively.

Rice University calls for contestants for its 8th annual startup pitch competition for veterans

Calling all veteran and active duty startup founders and business owners. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Rice University is now accepting applications from Houston veterans for its annual business competition. To apply for the 2022 Veterans Business Battle, honorably discharged veterans or active duty founders can head online to learn more and submit their business plan by Feb. 15.

“We’re looking forward to giving veterans the opportunity not just to share their ideas and get financing, but learn from other past winners the lessons about entrepreneurship they’ve lived through while growing their businesses,” event co-chair Reid Schrodel says in a news release.

Over the past few years, finalists have received more than $4 million of investments through the program. This year's monetary prizes add up to $30,000 — $15,000 prize for first place, $10,000 for second place, and $5,000 for third place.

Finalists will be invited to make their business pitch April 22 and 23 at Rice University. Click here to register for the event.

City of Houston receives grant to stimulate STEM opportunities

Houston's youth population is getting a leg up on STEM opportunities. Photo via Getty Images

Thanks to a $150,000 grant from the National League of Cities, the city of Houston has been awarded a chance to provide quality education and career opportunities to at-risk young adults and students. The city is one of five cities also selected to receive specialized assistance from NLC’s staff and other national experts.

“This award is a big win for young people. They will benefit from significant career development opportunities made possible by this grant,” says Mayor Sylvester Turner in a news release. “These are children who would otherwise go without, now having experiences and connections they never thought possible. I commend the National League of Cities for their continued commitment to the future leaders of this country.”

According to the release, the grant money will support the Hire Houston Youth program by connecting diverse opportunity youth to the unique STEM and technology-focused workforce development.

"Our youth deserve educational opportunities that connect them to the local workforce and career exploration, so they can make informed choices about their future career path in Houston’s dynamic economy. Houston youth will only further the amazing things they will accomplish, thanks to this grant," says Olivera Jankovska, director of the Mayor's Office of Education.

Houston software startup raises $12.5M series B

money moves

Houston-based Codenotary, whose technology helps secure software supply chains, has raised $12.5 million in a series B round. Investors in the round include Swiss venture capital firm Bluwat and French venture capital firm Elaia.

The $12.5 million round follows a series A round that was announced in 2020, with total funding now at $18 million.

Codenotary, formely known as vChain, says the fresh round of money will be used to accelerate product development, and expand marketing and sales worldwide. Today, the startup has 100-plus customers, including some of the world’s largest banks.

Codenotary’s co-founders are CEO Moshe Bar and CTO Dennis Zimmer. They started the company in 2018.

Bar co-founded Qumranet, which developed the Linux KVM hypervisor. A hypervisor creates and runs virtual machines. Software provider Red Hat purchased Qumranet in 2008 for $127 million. Before that, he founded hypervisor company XenSource, which cloud computing company Citrix Systems bought in 2007 for $500 million.

“Codenotary offers a solution which allows organizations to quickly identify and track all components in their DevOps cycle and therefore restore trust and integrity in all their myriad applications,” Pascal Blum, senior partner at Bluwat, says in a news release.

The SolarWinds software supply chain hack in 2020 and the more recent emergence of Log4j vulnerabilities have brought the dangers of software lifecycle attacks to the forefront, Bar says. Now, he says, more and more companies are looking for ways to prove the legitimacy of the software that they produce.

Codenotary is the primary contributor to immudb, the an open-source, enterprise-class database with data immutability, or stability, designed to meet the demands of highly used applications.

Dallas-based ridesharing app gears up for expansion across Houston and beyond

HOUSTON INNOVATOR PODCAST EPISODE 118

Before he started his current job, Winston Wright would have thought a startup attempting to compete with the likes of Uber and Lyft was going to fight an uphill battle. Now, he sees how much opportunity there is in the rideshare market.

Wright is the Houston general manager for Alto, a Dallas-based company that's grown its driving service platform into five markets — first from Dallas into Houston and then to Los Angeles, Miami, and, most recently, Washington D.C. Alto's whole goal is to provide reliability and improve user experience.

"We're elevating ridesharing," Wright says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "With Alto, you get a consistent, safe experience with. a high level of hospitality. And that's a key differentiator for us in the market, and we're able to replicate that time and time again."

Wright, whose background is in sales and operations in hospitality, says his vision for alto in Houston is to expand the service — which operates in the central and western parts of the city — throughout the greater Houston area.

"The vision I have for this market is that, as we move forward and continue to expand, that we're covering all of Houston," he says.

This will mean expanding the company's physical presence too. Alto recently announced its larger space in Dallas, and now the Houston operations facility will grow its footprint too.

Wright says he's also focused on growing his team. Over the past two years, pandemic notwithstanding, the company has maintained hiring growth. Alto's drivers are hired as actual employees, not contractors, so they have access to benefits and paid time off.

The company, which raised $45 million in its last round of investment, is expanding next to the Silicon Valley area, followed by three to five more markets in 2022. Then, by the end of 2023, it's Alto's mission to have a completely electronic fleet of vehicles.

"Our goal is to have over 3,000 EV cars and be the first company with a 100 percent electric fleet by 2023," Wright says.

Wright shares more on Alto's future in Texas and beyond, as well as what's challenging him most as he grows the team locally. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.