The Houston Food Bank scored marks for its innovative use of tech and the cloud. Photo courtesy of Houston Food Bank

One of Houston’s most cherished food charities has been recognized for its tech prowess. Houston Food Bank has been awarded the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Imagine Grant.

The endowment honors “the vision and work of nonprofit organizations as they seek to improve their communities and the world with the help of cloud technology,” per a press release.

Specifically, the food bank was recognized in the Go Further, Faster category for the launching of a cloud-native digital logistics platform to better serve vulnerable populations facing food insecurity (that insecurity was greatly exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the food bank notes.

Each winner in this category receives up to $150,000 in unrestricted funding, up to $100,000 in AWS Promotional Credit, and essential engagement with AWS technical specialists.

The challenges of COVID and the pandemic forced the food bank to get creative — and it responded. The food bank began delivering meals in March 2020 as part of its COVID-19 response through partnerships with volunteers, staff, corporate donors, and organizations such as CrowdSource Rescue, Task Rabbit, and Amazon.

This pilot has been a success: to date, more than 2.3 million meals have been delivered to those in need, the food bank notes in press materials.

Tech-wise, the food bank’s Home Delivery Platform operates using a cloud-native serverless architecture which includes heavy use of AWS services (AWS Lambda, Amazon DynamoDB, Amazon API Gateway, AWS Amplify, and more), with a mobile web responsive front-end written in React/Typescript.

The client side is split across four responsive web applications, each with a different function: Home Delivery management, pantry management, client orders, and driver deliveries. All of these apps utilize shared components and APIs that communicate with each other based on the different user personas.

Pariveda Solutions serves as the technology partner for the implementation of this platform. The project is a capability expansion on top of an existing manual process to deliver food to clients.

Houston Food Bank applied for the Imagine Grant in order to enhance their process digitally, connect submitted orders to the client’s nearest pantry, and manage delivery operations more effectively, with an emphasis on time management and delivery logistics, the organization notes in a release.

“With the success of our home delivery operations, Houston Food Bank’s goal now is to scale operations to expand home delivery for greater reach and impact,” said HFB president/CEO Brian Greene in a statement. “Additionally, with the proposed improvements, we hope to shift to utilizing volunteers for this important service instead of third-party delivery providers, and to deliver food using the client choice model, where clients may select foods based on personal preference, cultural and dietary needs. We are thankful to AWS and Pariveda Solutions for providing their support and expertise as we continue to find new ways to solve the age-old problem of hunger and work towards our ultimate vision of a world that no longer needs food banks.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

A new Amazon delivery station is headed to League City. Photo courtesy of Amazon

Amazon yet again expands its presence in Houston

it's 'zon

Jeff Bezos' global powerhouse is showing no signs of slowing; indeed, its Houston-area footprint is growing. Amazon Logistics has announced plans to open a new 180,000-square-foot delivery station located in League City.

This new outpost promises to power Amazon's last-mile delivery capabilities to speed up deliveries for customers specifically in the Galveston County area, per a release.

Just what is an Amazon delivery station? Simply put, packages are shipped to delivery stations from neighboring Amazon fulfillment and sortation centers and loaded onto vehicles for final delivery to customers.

Amazon brass projects the site located at 2455 Tuscan Lakes Blvd. to open in early 2022. Along with obvious delivery improvement for area residents, the new center will offer plenty of local job opportunities. Candidates can earn an industry-leading minimum starting wage of $15 per hour; full-time employees receive comprehensive benefits, including full medical, vision, and dental insurance as well as a 401(k) with an impressive 50-percent company match.

(Those interested should visit https://www.amazondelivers.jobs/ for information on job postings and to apply online.)

Delivery stations also offer entrepreneurs the opportunity to build their own business delivering Amazon packages, as well as independent contractors the flexibility to be their own boss and create their own schedule delivering for Amazon Flex, the company notes.

As CultureMap previously reported, Amazon opened four Houston-area delivery stations in March.

"We are extremely excited about Amazon coming to League City," said League City mayor Pat Hallisey in a statement. "Not only will it bring jobs, but it will benefit a large majority of our residents, as well as those in neighboring cities, who regularly shop on Amazon."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Amazon is delivering four new stations to Houston. Photo courtesy of Amazon

Amazon ramps up delivery service in Houston with 4 new outposts

now delivering

Houstonians who anxiously watch their Amazon order status when it's "out for delivery" can take heart that the process may now be speedier.

Jeff Bezos' global juggernaut of all things shopping has just announced four new delivery stations in Houston, aimed specifically at increasing efficiency for deliveries.

How do these delivery stations work? Packages from Amazon's fulfillment and sortation centers are shipped to delivery stations, where they are loaded into vehicles for final delivery.

Amazon expects the new sites to open later this year, per a press release. The new delivery station locations are

  • 9155 Derrington Rd. (76011)
  • 11311 N Gessner Dr. (77064)
  • Northcrest and Spring Steubner in Spring (77064)
  • Interstate 59 and Kingwood Dr. (77365)

These new sites also offer employment opportunities, creating more than 300 new, full-time jobs. The gigs pay a $15 per hour starting wage and offer a variety of benefits packages.

Delivery stations also offer entrepreneurs the opportunity to build their own business delivering Amazon packages, as well as independent contractors the flexibility to be their own boss and create their own schedule delivering for Amazon Flex, the company notes.

"We are excited to continue our investment in Texas with new delivery stations across Houston that will create hundreds of new job opportunities and provide faster and more efficient delivery for customers," said Amazon spokesperson Daniel Martin in a statement. "We look forward to continuing our growth in Texas and want to thank local and state leaders for their support in making these projects possible."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Amazon has announced where its latest Houston-area fulfillment center is going to be. Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Amazon announces another fulfillment center in the Houston area

it's 'zon

Amazon.com Inc. has expanded its presence in the greater Houston area with the announcement of its latest fulfillment center in Missouri City,. Expected to open in 2021, the new one million square-foot center will create over 500 new full-time jobs.

"We're excited to be expanding our network of operations in Missouri City," says Alicia Boler Davis, Amazon's vice president of global customer fulfillment, in a press release. "We are grateful for the strong support we've received from local and state leaders as we broaden our footprint throughout Texas. Every day at Amazon, incredible employees come together to deliver magical experiences for customers and we look forward to creating over 500 jobs for the local community, with industry-leading pay and comprehensive benefits starting on day one."

While Amazon has opened a few fulfillment centers over the past several years — including some equipped in automation and robotics — the new location will focus on bulky or larger-sized customer items such as patio furniture, outdoor equipment, or rugs, according to the release.

According to Missouri City Mayor Yolanda Ford, this deal represents the city council's priority of expanding the economic base and "moving Missouri City's economy forward into the future."

"Missouri City and Amazon are alike when it comes to success, diversity, customer service and community. We are looking forward to this new business model, which focuses on customer service and expands the economy as this is another partnership that will build on our commercial tax base, helping to ease the property tax burden on residents," says Mayor Ford in the release.

Per the release, Amazon has created more than 43,000 jobs in Texas since 2010 with an estimated economic impact of more than $18.8 billion to the state.

According to city leadership, this is just the first step in what they hope is a long relationship between Missouri City and Amazon.

"We welcome Amazon to Missouri City and are excited that this piece of the City's long-term economic development plan has come to fruition," says City Manager Odis Jones in the release. "Our teams have been working hand-in-hand the last few weeks to finalize the deal and we are looking forward to continuing our corporate-community partnership with this industry giant for years to come."

The tech giant is hiring in Houston. Courtesy photo

Amazon launches annual seasonal hiring event with thousands of Houston jobs

work for bezos

Just in time for the holiday, Amazon is doing a mega-seasonal hiring event, which includes new jobs available in Houston.

According to a release, the company is adding 100,000 new seasonal jobs across the U.S. and Canada, to complement its regular full- and part-time positions. Some 2,800 of those positions are in the Greater Houston area.

These seasonal jobs, which have become an annual event, offer opportunities for pay incentives, benefits, and a possible longer-term career should the employee be interested; or it can simply be extra income during the holiday season.

They offer a $15 minimum wage, and full-time employees receive comprehensive benefits on day one, including health, dental, and vision insurance, and 401K with 50 percent company match.

Jobs include:

  • stowing
  • picking
  • packing shipping
  • delivering customer orders
  • managing people
  • being a safety ambassador
  • HR
  • IT
  • operating robotics

The jobs are listed on their website — "Earn up to $652 a Week," they say — and include locations in Houston.

New hires will be fully trained and all facilities follow strict COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

The 'Zon has opened two storefronts in the Houston area. Photo courtesy of Amazon

Amazon unlocks 2 prime brick-and-mortar stores in the Houston area

THAT'S SOME PRIME SHOPPING

The juggernaut that is Amazon considers to rule the universe and expand. Now, local fans of Jeff Bezos' digital behemoth can look forward to two new brick-and-mortar stores in the Houston area.

Amazon announced the opening of two Houston stores on September 18: Amazon 4-star in The Woodlands Mall and Amazon Books in Baybrook Mall.

For the uninitiated, the Amazon 4-star is a new store that carries highly rated products from the top categories across all of Amazon.com — including devices, consumer electronics, kitchen, home, toys, books, games, and more.

As the name implies, all products are rated four stars and above by Amazon customers. Other determinants include the item being a top seller, or if it is new and trending on Amazon.com, according to a press release.

Shoppers can expect fun features such as "Bring Your Own Pumpkin Spice," "Stay Connected Home Tech for Work and Play," "Fresh Off the Screen," and "Trending Around Houston" to discover must-have products. The Woodlands Amazon 4-star (1201 Lake Woodlands Dr.) is the 23rd Amazon 4-star location nationwide.

Meanwhile, shoppers in Baybrook Mall's Amazon Books (1132 Baybrook Mall Dr.) can expect myriad titles rated as customer favorites, whether trending on the site, devices, or listed as customer favorites. Amazon Books in the Baybrook Mall is the 23rd Amazon Books location nationwide.

Books customers can shop cookbooks alongside a highly curated selection of cooking tools, as well as, popular toys, games, and other home items. Amazon Books is open to all: Prime members pay the Amazon.com price in store, and customers who aren't already Prime members can sign up for a free 30-day trial and instantly receive the Amazon.com price in store, according a release.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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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.