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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Troubled Texans are the 10th most stressed out people in America, report finds

new report

There is a plethora of reasons to be stressed out in 2024. Among the list of grievances are budgeting woes, lapses in addressing racial inequity, a significant amount of drunk driving, and prohibitively high healthcare costs.

So it comes as no surprise that Texas was ranked the No. 10 most stressed state of 2024, according to the latest annual report from WalletHub. Texans' stress levels are only slightly better than they were in 2023, when the Lone Star State ranked No. 9.

The personal finance website compared all 50 states across 40 unique metrics to determine every state’s worries on certain issues, such as employment, finance, health, or family-related stress.

Here's how Texas performed in the major categories in the study:

  • No. 5 – Work-related stress
  • No. 8 – Family-related stress
  • No. 11 – Health- and safety-related stress
  • No. 23 – Money-related stress

Texas employees have the second-longest workweek in the nation, the report found, placing the state right behind Alaska and tied with Wyoming. Places like Houston, Corpus Christi, and San Antonio are a few of the most stressful U.S. cities for workers in 2024 (with several other Texas cities not far behind), clearly showing that there's much more work to be done to alleviate Texans' work-related stress.

Hardships with work may have an influence on Texans' ability to rest at night, as the report additionally found Texas fell behind into No. 23 for its share of adults that get adequate sleep.

Other Texas-sized stress factors like crime rates, housing affordability, health troubles, and poverty rates also put a damper on residents' well-beings. Texans have the fourth lowest credit scores in the nation, the ninth highest share of adults with fair or poor health, and the 11th highest number of residents living in poverty.

It's not just young and middle-aged adults who experience these worries, the report claimed.

"[E]very age group except people 65 and older reported being under more stress in 2023 than they were in 2019 before the pandemic," the report's author wrote.

WalletHub analyst Cassandra Happe suggested a few ways frazzled Texans can try to improve their stress levels, such as exercising, participating in hobbies, going on vacations — of course, in whatever capacity that is most accessible — and seeking help from a mental health professional.

"What many people don’t realize, though, is that changing location can also be a big stress reducer," Happe added. "For example, states that have lower crime rates, better health care, and better economies tend to have much less stressed residents."

Texans surely aren't envious of Louisiana, which traded places with Mississippi (No. 2) in 2024 to become the nation's No. 1 most stressed out state. Louisiana residents experience the third highest work- and health-and-safety-related stress, the fourth highest money-related stress, and the 10th highest family-related stress. Louisianans may want to try some breathing exercises in their spare time.

Texas residents can, however, be filled with jealousy over Minnesota (No. 50), which was crowned the least stressed out city in America. Maybe that's where Texans need to be taking vacations.

The overall top 10 most stressed states are:

  • No. 1 – Louisiana
  • No. 2 – Mississippi
  • No. 3 – Nevada
  • No. 4 – New Mexico
  • No. 5 – Arkansas
  • No. 6 – West Virginia
  • No. 7 – Alabama
  • No. 8 – Kentucky
  • No. 9 – Oklahoma
  • No. 10 – Texas
The full report and its methodology can be found on wallethub.com.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Welcome to another Monday edition of Innovators to Know. Today I'm introducing you to three Houstonians to read up about — three individuals behind recent innovation and startup news stories in Houston as reported by InnovationMap. Learn more about them and their recent news below by clicking on each article.


Aziz Gilani, managing director at Mercury

Aziz Gilani, managing director at Mercury, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

Aziz Gilani's career in tech dates back to when he'd ride his bike from Clear Lake High School to a local tech organization that was digitizing manuals from mission control. After years working on every side of the equation of software technology, he's in the driver's seat at a local venture capital firm deploying funding into innovative software businesses.

As managing director at Mercury, the firm he's been at since 2008, Gilani looks for promising startups within the software-as-a-service space — everything from cloud computing and data science and beyond.

"Once a year at Mercury, we sit down with our partners and talk about the next investment cycle and the focuses we have for what makes companies stand out," Gilani says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The current software investment cycle is very focused on companies that have truly achieved product-market fit and are showing large customer adoption." Read more.


Yaxin Wang, director of the Texas Heart Institute's Innovative Device & Engineering Applications Lab

The project is funded by a four-year, $7.8 million grant. THI will use about $2.94 million of that to fund its part of the research. Photo via texasheart.org

The United States Department of Defense has awarded a grant that will allow the Texas Heart Institute and Rice University to continue to break ground on a novel left ventricular assist device (LVAD) that could be an alternative to current devices that prevent heart transplantation and are a long-term option in end-stage heart failure.

The grant is part of the DOD’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP). It was awarded to Georgia Institute of Technology, one of four collaborators on the project that will be designed and evaluated by the co-investigator Yaxin Wang. Wang is part of O.H. “Bud” Frazier’s team at Texas Heart Institute, where she is director of Innovative Device & Engineering Applications Lab. The other institution working on the new LVAD is North Carolina State University.

The project is funded by a four-year, $7.8 million grant. THI will use about $2.94 million of that to fund its part of the research. As Wang explained to us last year, an LVAD is a minimally invasive device that mechanically pumps a person’s own heart. Frazier claims to have performed more than 900 LVAD implantations, but the devices are far from perfect. Read more.

Atul Varadhachary, managing director of Fannin Innovation

Atul Varadhachary also serves as CEO and president of Allterum Therapeutics. Photo via LinkedIn

Allterum Therapeutics, a Houston biopharmaceutical company, has been awarded a $12 million product development grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT).

The funds will support the clinical evaluation of a therapeutic antibody that targets acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), one of the most common childhood cancers.

However, CEO and President Atul Varadhachary, who's also the managing director of Fannin Innovation, tells InnovationMap, “Our mission has grown much beyond ALL.” Read more.

Houston organizations launch collaborative center to boost cancer outcomes

new to HOU

Rice University's new Synthesis X Center officially launched last month to bring together experts in cancer care and chemistry.

The center was born out of what started about seven years ago as informal meetings between Rice chemist Han Xiao's research group and others from the Baylor College of Medicine’s Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at the Baylor College of Medicine. The level of collaboration between the two teams has grown significantly over the years, and monthly meetings now draw about 100 participants from across disciplines, fields and Houston-based organizations, according to a statement from Rice.

Researchers at the new SynthX Center will aim to turn fundamental research into clinical applications and make precision adjustments to drug properties and molecules. It will focus on improving cancer outcomes by looking at an array of factors, including prevention and detection, immunotherapies, the use of artificial intelligence to speed drug discovery and development, and several other topics.

"At Rice, we are strong on the fundamental side of research in organic chemistry, chemical biology, bioengineering and nanomaterials,” Xiao says in the statement. “Starting at the laboratory bench, we can synthesize therapeutic molecules and proteins with atom-level precision, offering immense potential for real-world applications at the bedside ... But the clinicians and fundamental researchers don’t have a lot of time to talk and to exchange ideas, so SynthX wants to serve as the bridge and help make these connections.”

SynthX plans to issue its first merit-based seed grants to teams with representatives from Baylor and Rice this month.

With this recognition from Rice, the teams from Xiao's lab and the TMC will also be able to expand and formalize their programs. They will build upon annual retreats, in which investigators can share unpublished findings, and also plan to host a national conference, the first slated for this fall titled "Synthetic Innovations Towards a Cure for Cancer.”

“I am confident that the SynthX Center will be a great resource for both students and faculty who seek to translate discoveries from fundamental chemical research into medical applications that improve people’s lives,” Thomas Killian, dean of the Wiess School of Natural Sciences, says in the release.

Rice announced that it had invested in four other research centers along with SynthX last month. The other centers include the Center for Coastal Futures and Adaptive Resilience, the Center for Environmental Studies, the Center for Latin American and Latinx Studies and the Rice Center for Nanoscale Imaging Sciences.

Earlier this year, Rice also announced its first-ever recipients of its One Small Step Grant program, funded by its Office of Innovation. The program will provide funding to faculty working on "promising projects with commercial potential," according to the website.