Houston was Dallas-based Alto's second market to expand into in 2020. Photo courtesy of Alto

Houston is a car dependent city and Houstonians spend approximately 75 hours a year in traffic. Ridesharing is a safer and more comfortable way to connect people and the places they need to travel. As Houston continues to grow — the city added 250 people a day in the last year — transportation options are crucial to connect people to the places they need to go.

What’s an alternative to driving your own vehicle? Ridesharing.

Ridesharing has many benefits, and it’s crucial that rideshare models both deliver a safe and consistent experience to passengers while supporting the needs of the cities in which they operate. In my view, responsible ridesharing has three parts: safety, fleet optimization, and sustainability.

The most obvious benefit is safety. The most important objective rideshare businesses have is to transport passengers from point A to point B; everyone in the vehicle is precious cargo. If you’re out drinking, for example, you can ditch your personal vehicle and call for a ride. Having drivers that are professionally trained and their mission to make sure you arrive at your destination safely is the most important priority.

I founded Alto with the mission to create a safer rideshare experience for passengers and drivers alike. To me, personal safety while riding or driving should be the top priority of a ridesharing company. Safety is at the core of Alto’s business model, and it’s built into everything we do. At the center of our business is our W-2 employee drivers who are background checked and complete a driver safety training program. Other features include in-car surveillance, telematic tracking, and in-app tracking of your Alto’s position and status. These features are key in creating a safer way to travel as well as building rapport with customers.

Responsible rideshare services also need to have purposeful wait times. Calling for an on-demand ride and receiving a two-minute pick up time is not sustainable and not good for cities. It doesn’t make sense for your ride to arrive faster than an ambulance would. Having such short wait times incentivizes putting more cars on the road and increases the number of drivers driving around a small section of the city waiting for the next ride request. More cars on the road lead to road congestion and even slowing down road lanes that are dedicated to public transit. Even extending a wait time for pick up to 10-15 minutes can greatly reduce the number of vehicles needed to serve customers, alter customers’ approach to hailing a ride, and with a little planning, create greater efficiencies for the city, customers, and the business.

Rideshare fleets that have sustainable assets are essential for acting as a responsible industry in cities and demonstrates a business’s positive impact. For many years we’ve been hearing about the great electric vehicle (EV) revolution for personal vehicles. But what about rideshare fleets? I think ridesharing services will continue to grow as a transportation alternative and I believe that the rideshare industry should prioritize electrification.

It’s not enough to put vehicles on the road without trying to make the industry more sustainable and climate conscious. Houston, an energy sector powerhouse, is leading the green energy transition and I think Houstonians, along with riders all over the country, want to see EV rideshare fleets.

My company Alto, for example, has announced its vision to transition our entire fleet to EVs over the next two years. There are few discussions about the EV transition for fleets and I’m proud that Alto is leading the industry in this regard. This EV vision is one example of how a rideshare company can build a better and more accountable industry, and these steps also give Houstonians a more responsible and sustainable transportation solution.

As Houston continues to grow, Houstonians will need transportation alternatives that meet various trip demands and do not overwhelm or harm the city’s transportation capabilities. Safety protocols, optimized fleets, and sustainability are all essential factors needed in a transportation framework to keep up with Houston’s economic and population growth. To get to that dinner reservation, the game at the Toyota Center, or that conference at the Convention Center, Houstonians should have access to a transportation alternative — ridesharing — to get them to their destination responsibly, safely, and sustainably.

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Will Coleman is the CEO of Dallas-based Alto, a luxury rideshare service that currently operates in Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, and Washington, D.C.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Winston Wright of Alto, Serafina Lalany of Houston Exponential, and Zeev Braude of SiteAware. 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 startup development to construction technology — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Winston Wright, Houston general manager at Alto

Winston Wright leads Houston operations for Dallas-based Alto, which is taking on the likes of Uber and Lyft. Photo courtesy of Alto

As any Houstonian knows, the city is quite large. While Dallas-based Alto, a luxury rideshare service, rolled out in Houston a while ago, Winston Wright has plans to make sure the company is covering the entire greater Houston area.

Wright, who's the Houston general manager for Alto, joined last week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. He shares more on Alto's future in Texas and beyond, as well as what's challenging him most as he grows the team locally.

"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. Click here to read more and to listen to the episode.

Serafina Lalany, executive director of Houston Exponential

Houston Exponential appoints new executive director and restructures its board HX has its new permanent leader. Photo courtesy of Serafina Lalany

It's a new era for Houston Exponential, and Serafina Lalany, named the organization's executive director last September, is leading HX into its new phase.

"The interesting thing of being an organization of ex-startup operators is that we operate as a startup ourselves," she tells InnovationMap. "Along the journey of supporting and building infrastructure for a startup community, we have also been seeking our own product market fit. I think we're at the place now where we have a profound realization of what that is and who we serve. We have crystal clear vision around that."

Lalany discusses more of her plans for HX for 2022 and shares how the organization is evolving to be what Houston's innovation ecosystem needs in an interview. Click here to read more.

Zeev Braude, CEO of SiteAware

Houston-based SiteAware has raised $15 million in its latest round of funding. Photo courtesy of SiteAware

SiteAware, a Houston construction software startup, raised $15 million in its series B round, which was led by Singapore-based Vertex Ventures Israel. Existing investors Robert Bosch Venture Capital GmbH, Axon Ventures, Oryzn Capital, The Flying Object, and lool Ventures also contributed to the round.

The company's digital construction verification, or DCV, platform uses AI and digital twin technology to provide real-time verification of construction fieldwork. According to a press release from SiteAware, the construction industry represents a $1.3 trillion market share of the United States economy.

"SiteAware's DCV error prevention technology is disrupting the construction industry by dramatically accelerating schedules and streamlining work processes for all parties. In the next few years, everyone from contractors to developers will be using DCV to build without rework," says Zeev Braude, CEO of SiteAware, in a news release. "DCV gives the construction ecosystem access to data they've never had before, data that holds the key to the next jump in productivity for the industry." Click here to read more.

Winston Wright leads Houston operations for Dallas-based Alto, which is taking on the likes of Uber and Lyft. Photo courtesy of Alto

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.


From startups making pick-up easy to tips on navigating cyberbullying, these Houstonians are weighing in on tips for parents with tech-enabled kids. Photo by Getty Images

Houston experts share tips for families in the digital age

tech challenges

We're at the start of a new school year, the time when parents, teachers, and children are still transitioning from the lull of the summer to the stride of a new routine.

This year, like the last, may still involve the unpredictability and constant administrative changes that come with a global pandemic.

In fact, as parents know, more issues seem to have arisen after classes started than before. With that in mind, we've created a handy guide to help kickstart the academic new year.

Issues covered here include how to plan healthy lunches, cutting screen time, smart ideas for transportation, and an epidemic currently plaguing young generations: cyberbullying.

A new digital menace

Unlike traditional bullying, the threat of cyberbullying is constant if kids have access to electronic devices — it doesn't stop at the end of the school day. And these bullies can remain anonymous, giving them the confidence to attack seemingly without repercussions. For victims, this creates a terrorizing environment from which they're not safe even at home.

Victims of cyberbullying are twice as likely to self-harm and exhibit suicidal behavior, and suicide was the second-leading cause of death for those between the age of 10 up to 24, according to the CDC.

Thankfully, parents can identify cyberbullying early on or even prevent it from reaching their families.

With cyberbullying, "there are no physical signs like a black eye or a tattered piece of clothing, which makes it harder to notice," Houston attorney and CrimeStoppers spokesperson Jammy Kiggundu tells CultureMap.

He advises parents and teachers to look out for "changes in behavior, if the child seems more withdrawn, under- or oversleeping, loss of appetite, bed-wetting at an age that shouldn't be happening. Signs of anxiety."

Parents should also guide their children's use of mobile apps and social media. Giving kids access to the internet without direction is "no different than giving a child a vehicle and the keys and say 'good luck,'" Kiggundu says.

This requires you to educate yourself on social media and apps, too. Find community workshops in your area or watch free training videos online to arm yourself with the knowledge necessary to protect your child. Even if you're social-media literate, there's always something new to learn. (Eerily, there are now a teen and children dating apps — see more here.)

Lastly, be vigilant. "If your child leaves with 40 apps and comes home with 42, you now need to know what those other two apps are," Kiggundu adds.

Social ground rules

Parents should establish some ground rules with social media. Some tips include: ensuring kids have private social media accounts, monitoring their messenger conversations, and limiting their number of online friends and followers.

Those efforts might also yield another beneficial outcome: cutting down on your child's screen time.

The CDC reports that children ages eight to 10 spend an average of six hours per day in front of a screen. That number rises to nine hours for those between 11 and 14. And that doesn't include the time spent in front of a computer for school work.

If you suspect your child is being cyberbullied, Kiggundu says the first thing to do is start a conversation and develop a healthy dialogue so he or she feels comfortable opening up. If your suspicions are confirmed, you'll want to collect as much information and evidence as possible — screenshots, computer print-outs, etc. — because schools will need your assistance in investigating the matter.

Kiggundu warns to never attempt to resolve the matter yourself by approaching the alleged aggressor's parents. Always work through the school and law-enforcement officials to address the issue.

Conversely, if you suspect your child is cyberbullying someone: acknowledge the issue and consider seeking professional help. Remain calm and try to explain to your child how the victim might be feeling, in an effort to elicit empathy and ensure it doesn't continue. Try to delve deep into the issues your son or daughter is facing that may be prompting this behavior, Kiggundu advises.

Remember that if your child is attacking another, you may be held accountable, since you have an obligation to "supervise your child in a non-negligent manner."

Getting a brake at the pick-up line

Changing gears: the dreaded, long pick-up and drop-off line hasn't changed, even if you now work from home. Add to the fact that the Delta Variant is still making its way through schools, creating a health hazard for children packed together as they await their parents.

One hack is to invest in a bicycle with a rear or front carrier to pick up your kids and bypass the lines. There are also bikes with trailers to easily haul your kids to-and-from school.

Another option is to hire a safe car service. Consider the "part Uber, part carpool" HopSkipDrive. The company allows parents to request rides for children at least six years of age via its app or website. Parents then receive a profile photo of the "CareDriver," as well as tracking updates throughout the ride. HopSkipDrive assures parents that their employees are screened, have childcare experience and are thoroughly vetted before they join the service.

Inner-Loop may have also seen ride-share service Alto making its way around town. The Texas-based company hires background-checked employees, as opposed to independent contractors, to chauffeur people in comfortable, well-kept vehicles. They can seat up to six passengers, so parents can arrange for a carpool with multiple stops to make it more economical. Drivers are incentivized to drive responsibly since their pay is dependent on the "safety score" they earn.

While after-school activities typically buy parents time to pick up their children and avoid long lines, several schools are temporarily suspending their programs due to COVID. But places like the YMCA are still taking in kids and implementing COVID-compliant safety measures. Or create a safe after-school network of vaccinated kids and parents who can join at the school playground and take turns transporting the students.

A major mid-day boost: lunch

While you may feel helpless when it comes to protecting your young ones from the threat of COVID, you can offer them a nutritious diet to aid in their good health.

School-provided lunches are generally improving, but parents should remain watchful of what their kids are being served.

One of the biggest health factors is added sugars, which creep into juice pouches, breakfast cereals and snacks. The American Heart Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that children ages 2 to 18 not consume more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar daily.

If you're packing their lunches, make sure to thoroughly read nutrition labels and to incorporate as many fruits and vegetables as possible.

Physician and mom of two, Chelsea Casey, MD, suggests "including a fat (like olives) and protein" when meal prepping. Avoid leaving the produce section when food shopping because "the less processed the better."

She also suggests investing in a thermos for pasta and other warm meals. "Alternate sandwiches and get creative," Casey said. "We make skewers of tomatoes, mozzarella and olives."

Also: give yourself a break. Casey says not to fall into the mom-guilt trap, "We definitely do cheat days."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Alto is revving up in Houston. Photo courtesy of Alto

Innovative Texas-based ride-share rolls into Houston with new cars and delivery service

Alto is a go

Houstonians who are interested in an alternative to Uber — and don't mind giving a Dallas-based company a shot — can now look for a new ride. Alto, the ride-share and delivery company based in Big D, has announced its expansion plans to Houston. The company is now offering pre-scheduled rides; Houston residents will be able to book on-demand rides starting October 1, according to a press release.

As CultureMap previously reported, Alto touts itself as a safer, more consistent approach to hailing a ride. Founded in 2018, Alto brands itself as "the first employee-based, on-demand ride-share company." Employees receive salaries and benefits, each company-owned car is branded with the Alto logo (so riders can be sure they're stepping into the right vehicle), and cloud-based cameras capture both interior and exterior videos of the ride.

The company offers ride memberships and also shops, purchases, and delivers from local brands directly to consumers with same-day delivery available.

For safety during the pandemic, all Alto drivers wear masks and gloves during every trip and each Alto vehicle is fitted with a HEPA cabin air filter which removes 99.9 percent of airborne particles, the company claims. Car interiors are also treated with PermaSafe, an EPA-registered hospital-grade sanitizing mist that is said to kill pathogens like COVID-19.

"Alto is thrilled to announce our expansion plans to Houston and offer the same clean, safe ride-share experience that's revolutionizing the industry to this new market," said Will Coleman, founder and CEO of Alto. "We're confident Houston residents will find Alto to be unlike any other ride-share experiences they've had to date, and find comfort in Alto's leading safety and health precautions, as well as elevated rider experience."

Locals who are interested in more information and getting on the Houston launch waitlist can the official site. The Alto app is available for download on the App Store and Google Play.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Houston-based health tech startup is revolutionizing patient selection for clinical trials

working smarter

On many occasions in her early career, Dr. Arti Bhosale, co-founder and CEO of Sieve Health, found herself frustrated with having to manually sift through thousands of digital files.

The documents, each containing the medical records of a patient seeking advanced treatment through a clinical trial, were always there to review — and there were always more to read.

Despite the tediousness of prescreening, which could take years, the idea of missing a patient and not giving them the opportunity to go through a potentially life-altering trial is what kept her going. The one she didn’t read could have slipped through the cracks and potentially not given someone care they needed.

“Those stories have stayed with me,” she says. “That’s why we developed Sieve.”

When standard health care is not an option, advances in medical treatment could be offered through clinical trials. But matching patients to those trials is one of the longest standing problems in the health care industry. Now with the use of new technology as of 2018, the solution to the bottleneck may be a new automated approach.

“Across the globe, more than 30 percent of clinical trials shut down as a result of not enrolling enough patients,” says Bhosale. “The remaining 80 percent never end up reaching their target enrollment and are shut down by the FDA.”

In 2020, Bhosale and her team developed Sieve Health, an AI cloud-based SaaS platform designed to automate and accelerate matching patients with clinical trials and increase access to clinical trials.

Sieve’s main goal is to reduce the administrative burden involved in matching enrollments, which in turn will accelerate the trial execution. They provide the matching for physicians, study sponsors and research sites to enhance operations for faster enrollment of the trials.

The technology mimics but automates the traditional enrollment process — reading medical notes and reviewing in the same way a human would.

“I would have loved to use something like this when I was on the front lines,” Bhosale says, who worked in clinical research for over 12 years. “Can you imagine going through 10,000 records manually? Some of the bigger hospitals have upwards of 100,000 records and you still have to manually review those charts to make sure that the patient is eligible for the trial. That process is called prescreening. It is painful.”

Because physicians wear many hats and have many clinical efforts on their plates, research tends to fall to the bottom of the to-do list. Finding 10-20 patients can take the research team on average 15-20 months to find those people — five of which end up unenrolling, she says.

“We have designed the platform so that the magic can happen in the background, and it allows the physician and research team to get a jumpstart,” she says.” They don’t have to worry about reviewing 10,000 records — they know what their efforts are going to be and will ensure that the entire database has been scanned.”

With Sieve, the team was able to help some commercial pilot programs have a curated data pool for their trials – cutting the administrative burden and time spent searching to less than a week.

Sieve is in early-stage start up mode and the commercial platform has been rolled out. Currently, the team is conducting commercial projects with different research sites and hospitals.

“Our focus now is seeing how many providers we can connect into this,” she says. “There’s a bigger pool out there who want to participate in research but don’t know where to start. That’s where Sieve is stepping in and enabling them to do this — partnering with those and other groups in the ecosystem to bring trials to wherever the physicians and the patients are.”

Arti Bhosale is the co-founder and CEO of Sieve Health. Photo courtesy of Sieve

Houston nonprofit unveils new and improved bayou cleaning vessel

litter free

For over 20 years, a nonprofit organization has hired people to clean 14 miles of bayou in Houston. And with a newly updated innovative boat, keeping Buffalo Bayou clean just got a lot more efficient.

Buffalo Bayou Partnership unveils its newest version of the Bayou-Vac this week, and it's expected to be fully operational this month. BBP Board Member Mike Garver designed both the initial model of the custom-designed and fabricated boat as well as the 2022 version. BBP's Clean & Green team — using Garver's boat — has removed around 2,000 cubic yards of trash annually, which is the equivalent of about 167 commercial dump trucks. The new and improved version is expected to make an even bigger impact.

“The Bayou-Vac is a game changer for our program,” says BBP field operations manager, Robby Robinson, in a news release. “Once up and running, we foresee being able to gain an entire workday worth of time for every offload, making us twice as efficient at clearing trash from the bayou.”

Keeping the bayou clean is important, since the water — and whatever trash its carrying — runs off into Galveston Bay, and ultimately, the Gulf of Mexico. The improvements made to the Bayou-Vac include removable dumpsters that can be easily swapped out, slid off, and attached to a dump truck. The older model included workers having to manually handle trash and debris and a secondary, land-based vacuum used to suck out the trash from onboard.

Additionally, the Bayou-Vac now has a moveable, hydraulic arm attached to the bow of the vessel that can support the weight of the 16-foot vacuum hose. Again, this task was something done manually on the previous model of the Bayou-Vac.

“BBP deeply appreciates the ingenuity of our board member Mike Garver and the generosity of Sis and Hasty Johnson and the Kinder Foundation, the funders of the new Bayou-Vac,” BBP President Anne Olson says in the release. “We also thank the Harris County Flood Control District and Port Houston for their longtime support of BBP’s Clean & Green Program.”