3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes former city council member Amanda Edwards, Gaurav Khandelwal of Velostics, and Anshumali Shrivastava of ThirdAI. 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 — from logistics tech to computer science — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Amanda Edwards, former Houston City Council Member

Amanda Edwards worked with local female leaders to launch BEAMW. Photo via LinkedIn

A couple years ago, Houston City Council Member Amanda K. Edwards, along with entrepreneurs Carolyn Rodz and Courtney Johnson Rose, formed a task force to provide Mayor Sylvester Turner with recommendations about increasing increase access to capital for minority- and women-owned business enterprises and assisting these business owners in scaling up their businesses. The task force created the Houston Small Business Community Report, which shed light on the disparities in access to resources for women and BIPOC-founders.

In response to this report, Edwards and a cohort of female leaders have launched the Business Ecosystem Alliance for Minorities and Women, or BEAMW, to address these disparities these businesses face when seeking capital and attempting to scale their businesses.

"It is not enough to state that Houston is the most diverse city in the country; we must be the city where the challenges that diverse communities face are solved," Edwards says in a release. Click here to read more.

Gaurav Khandelwal, CEO and founder of ChaiOne and Velostics

Serial entrepreneur says he sees logistics innovation as a "massive opportunity" for Houston. Photo courtesy

Gaurav Khandelwal has been an advocate for growing Houston's innovation ecosystem since he started his company ChaiOne — an industrial software provider — in 2008. Now, with his new company, Velostics, he is passionate about making Houston a hub for logistics innovation too.

"I think that there are some trends in Houston that I'm seeing as a founder, and one of them is logistics," Khandewal says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"If you look at Chicago — it's had some crazy amount of logistics unicorns that have popped up over the past few years, and they aren't slowing down," Khandewal says on the show. "Houston, I would argue, is better positioned, because we have this massive port. I think logistics is a massive opportunity for Houston." Click here to read more and listen to the episode.

Anshumali Shrivastava, CEO and co-founder of ThirdAI

Anshumali Shrivastava is also an associate professor of computer science at Rice University. Photo via rice.edu

A seed-stage company is changing the game for data science and artificial intelligence, and the technology was developed right on the Rice University campus.

ThirdAI, founded by Anshumali Shrivastava in April, raised $6 million in a seed funding round from three California-based VCs — Neotribe Ventures and Cervin Ventures, which co-led the round with support from Firebolt Ventures.

"We are democratizing artificial intelligence through software innovations," says Shrivastava in a news release from Rice. "Our innovation would not only benefit current AI training by shifting to lower-cost CPUs, but it should also allow the 'unlocking' of AI training workloads on GPUs that were not previously feasible." Click here to read more.

A group of entrepreneurs, small business support groups, and more teamed up to create the Business Ecosystem Alliance for Minorities and Women, or BEAMW. Photo via beamw.org

Collaborative organization launches to support minority and female founders

BEAMW me up

A group of organizations — consisting of entrepreneurs, investors, chambers of commerce, business support organizations, and small business advocates — have teamed up to bridge the gap in resources for women- and minority-owned businesses.

The Business Ecosystem Alliance for Minorities and Women, or BEAMW, celebrated its launch on August 26 at a virtual event, and announced its anchor partner, Texas Capital Bank.

"At Texas Capital Bank, we truly believe small businesses are the heartbeat of the economy and we are thrilled BEAMW has formed to serve as a collaborative network, committed to serving entrepreneurs across our region today and inspiring those of tomorrow," says Jenny Guzman of Texas Capital Bank, in the news release. "Small business owners are the lifeblood of every community and we're proud to serve alongside BEAMW as partners in providing technical assistance, mentors and support as this collaborative grows and positively impacts the fabric of economy and business ecosystem."

The mission of BEAMW is to address the disparities these businesses face when seeking capital and attempting to scale their businesses. BEAMW was first ideated by the group being the Houston Small Business Community Report, which was created by the City of Houston's Women and Minority-Owned Business Task Force. Led by former Houston City Council Member, Amanda K. Edwards, and co-chaired by entrepreneurs Carolyn Rodz and Courtney Johnson Rose, the task force provided Mayor Sylvester Turner with recommendations about increasing increase access to capital for minority- and women-owned business enterprises and assisting these business owners in scaling up their businesses.

Minority-owned businesses have been denied loans at three times the rate of non-minority-owned firms, according to the report, and only 24 percent of small businesses are owned by Houston women.

"It is not enough to state that Houston is the most diverse city in the country; we must be the city where the challenges that diverse communities face are solved," Former City Council Member Amanda Edwards says in the release.

BEAMW and Texas Capital Bank's Community Impact together will create programming for the rest of the year, specifically focused on:

  • One on One Financial Preparedness Small Business Counseling
  • Business Networking Forums
  • Texas Capital Bank Bankers' Roundtables

More information about BEAMW — including how to get involved — may be found at beamw.org.

Speakers at the third annual Houston Innovation Open Conference discussed policy, performance, and more. Photo by Zview/Getty Images

Overheard: 5 powerful quotes from Houstonians speaking at the Houston Open Innovation Conference

EAVESDROPPING IN Houston

When it comes to Houston's innovation ecosystem, there's a lot to discuss. From accelerator programs to role of educational institutes, the third annual Houston Open Innovation Conference covered it all on Thursday, March 28.

I had the pleasure of attending the full-day conference, which was a meeting of the minds of Houston innovation. To catch you up and rid you of your fear of missing out, check out these five overheard quotes from the day.

“I’ve charged my board on Houston Exponential, and I say to them, ‘What good is it for us to be the most diverse city in the country if we’re not solving the challenges that impact diverse communities.’”

Amanda Edwards, Houston City Council Member in At-Large Position 4, in her keynote presentation calling for Houston to lead the charge in solving inequalities in innovation.

“Competition is good. I would rather have an abundance of an ecosystem than just one (accelerator). I think each different group — whether it’s MassChallenge, Station Houston, or The Cannon or any other current or future accelerator — all has their own value proposition.”

Brian Richards, managing director, Accenture Houston Innovation Hub, during the panel about startups and entrepreneurs. The quote was in response to an audience question about competition within Houston accelerators and programs.

“If we don’t create this ecosystem, others will tap into the resources we have, and we lose or we fall short.”

Mayor Sylvester Turner, in his keynote presentation, explaining why the city is focused on developing the city's ecosystem now — before it's too late.

“I think the more emphasis on incubators and accelerators has addressed the need for community. You have people who are like minded … and you have a community that cares about something more deep rather than just being in the same physical space together.”

Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston, on the panel about accelerators and incubators. The panel question was regarding how some coworking spaces have evolved to be accelerator or incubator programs.

“This is such a uniquely positioned city because of its corporate base, because of the strength of its university structure, and because of the combination of that and the ability to collaborate within those two is a different kind of runway or opportunity.”

Susan Davenport, senior vice president, economic development at the Greater Houston Partnership, during the "Houston Innovation Ecosystem" panel.

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Exclusive: Houston logistics SaaS startup raises $2.5M seed round

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A Houston company that's providing software solutions for middle-mile logistics challenges has raised fresh funding.

Velostics Inc., which has an enterprise software-as-a-service model that specializes in automating inbound logistics at industrial facilities — like terminals and warehouses — announced it has raised $2.5 million. The seed round was led by Kansas-based Flyover Capital with participation from Small Ventures USA, Cultivation Capital, Starboard Star, Congress Avenue Ventures and BioUrja Ventures.

Founded by Gaurav Khandewal, Velostics targets the $37 billion inbound logistics management market, a so-called "log jam" for businesses that the company's software strives to make flow a lot more optimally.

“Flyover is incredibly excited to support the Velostics team in their mission to transform inbound logistics,” says Keith Molzer, managing partner at Flyover Capital. “This segment of the supply chain is ripe for better technology to address challenges of congestion, driver labor shortages, and the growing demands of ecommerce. Gaurav and team are an exceptional group of entrepreneurs ready to drive efficiency and a better customer experience at industrial facilities.”

The fresh funding will go toward recruiting top talent for Velostics's team, particularly in its account management, inside sales, and marketing departments, as well as continuing to develop the AI-driven product, which has an impact for both its users and the environment.

“Idling trucks waiting outside facilities emit over 42 million tons of CO2 annually — eight times the US national average. By orchestrating the movement of trucks in and out of facilities, not only do we provide tremendous supply chain benefits, we also help the environment," Khandewal says in the release. "We’re excited to partner with our customers and our investors to solve global congestion.”

Flyover Capital was founded in 2014 and has a keen interest in the Houston market, Dan Kerr, principal at the firm, previously told InnovationMap.

Houston is "one of the cities among those that fall in our region where we plan to spend a significant amount of time," Kerr said in May of last year. "We cover a lot of ground, but there are certain cities were we try to get there quarterly. Houston is definitely one of those places."

In September, Khandewal joined the Houston Innovators Podcast and discussed how he has been a champion of Houston innovation since he started ChaiOne in 2009. He shared how he thinks the city has a great opportunity to be a leader in logistics technology.

"I think that there are some trends in Houston that I'm seeing as a founder, and one of them is logistics," Khandewal says on the show.

Gaurav Khandelwal, CEO and founder of ChaiOne and Velostics Gaurav Khandelwal is the CEO and founder of Velostics. Photo courtesy

Houston VC-backed tech founder on reinventing a sales team and supporting financial independence

Houston innovators podcast episode 112

Four years ago, Samantha Ettus found herself as a keynote speaker in a room with thousands of ambitious and talented women. It was a conference for multi-level marketing sales associates and, as Ettus found out later, most of them — despite their talent and passion — were losing money on whatever product they were selling.

"I realized there was a problem. There obviously was a need — all of these people want to be doing something outside of their families that gives them fulfillment and meaning and has goals associated with it — but they also want to be earning money," Ettus says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "And the first part was being fulfilled — but the second part wasn't."

Ettus created an alternative to check both of those boxes. Park Place Payments is a fintech startup founded in 2018 in California. Houston was one of the initial six test market for the business model, and the company now has over 1,000 account executives across all 50 states. Sales team members are trained for free on how to sell Park Place's payment processor service to local businesses.

Ettus says the payment processor industry is competitive and most small business owners are very disappointed with the customer service they receive. The average business changes payment processors every three years, Ettus says, and Park Place wants to change that.

"Payments is an industry where something always goes wrong," Ettus says. "As a small business owner, if you can't reach someone — that's really important for the livelihood of your business. ... We really think of ourselves as an outsourced payment partner for small businesses."

This past year has been one for growth for Park Place, Ettus says, and earlier this year, she closed on the company's seed round, which was supported by Curate Capital, founded by Houstonian Carrie Colbert. Now the company is focused on its tech team, including hiring a CTO. Early next year, Ettus hopes to close a Series A round, again with support — financially and otherwise — from Colbert.

"I feel so lucky because a lot of people pointed us to traditional Silicon Valley VCs in the beginning, and I had a lot of conversations. I didn't feel some of those firms had the patience to grow with us," Ettus says.

The company has been tied to Houston from its early days, from testing the business in town to a Houston-based early hire, Nancy Decker Lent, who is a founding member of the team and head of product for Park Place.

Ettus shares more on her passion for supporting financial independence for women and how she plans to grow her company on the podcast. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

New Houston-based specialty pet supply company aims to pamper your pooch

good dog

Considering that Americans will reportedly spend $109.6 billion on pets this year, according to new data, it really pays to be discerning when buying. Now, Houston dog owners can stay local when shopping for their fur babies.

Houstonians Brad Madrid and Bobby Dwyer have launched Fido, a new e-commerce pet wellness brand. Available all over Houston, Texas, and indeed, the nation,

Fido products will initially start with Chill Chews and Clear Ears, both of which are scientifically formulated and aim to provide relief and comfort, per a press release. Products are lab-tested and veterinarian-approved, per the company.

Anxious pups may benefit from Chill Chews, which make training, traveling, and everyday life smoother and are said to help pets relax. The Clear Ears, meanwhile, is composed of natural ingredients such as eucalyptus and aloe and is meant to keep pets’ ears clean and clear of any wax, debris, fungus, and bacteria.

“As a professional dog trainer and breeder, I’ve worked with hundreds of dogs which has allowed me to develop a deep understanding of how dogs think and function,” said Dwyer in a statement. “Through my profession, I’ve discovered a need for products to ensure canines’ health and wellness, and it’s our mission to provide great products to make good boys even better.”

Brad Madrid and Bobby Dwyer have launched Fido, a new e-commerce pet wellness brand. Photo courtesy of Fido

Madrid and Dwyer aren’t just business partners but also brothers-in-law. Bringing science to Fido, Madrid boasts a background in pharmaceuticals, while Dwyer brings canine know-how with his experience as a dog trainer.

Both hope to see their business grow by leaps and bounds. Products are available for purchase on the website and shipping is available nationwide. Plans for products to be sold in local pet stores, as with international shipping available in the future.

If current data is any indication, Madrid and Dwyer are in the right business. A survey of 2,000 dog and cat owners found that 52 percent of respondents said they spend more money on their pets than they do on themselves each year, per GoBankingRates.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.