3 Houston innovators to know this week

hou to know

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Pedro Silva of Milkify, Anthony Palmiotto of OpenStax, and Brad Deutser of Deutser. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from femtech to edtech — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Pedro Silva, CEO and co-founder of Milkify

Pedro Silva of Milkify join the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the impact of their successful Shark Tank experience. Photo courtesy of Milkify

While Milkify's founders — husband and wife team Pedro Silva and Berkley Luck — secured partners on a popular business pitch and investment show, the entire experience almost didn't happen.

Silva and Luck, who got her PhD in molecular and biomedical s at Baylor College of Medicine, founded the company to provide breast milk freeze drying as a service to Houston-area families. Now, Milkify has customers across the country, but the duo didn't know if going through the process would be worth the investment and publicity, or if it would just be a distraction.

"The competitor in me wanted to be the first breast milk company to go on the show and to tell our story to the world — to show the world what my wife came up with that we thought was so great," Silva says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It was probably the scariest 45 minutes of my life."Read more.

Anthony Palmiotto, director of higher education at OpenStax

OpenStax, founded out of Rice University, has continued its growth, adding new partners and textbooks. Photo via openstax.org

In an effort to combat the hefty price tag of assigned texts, OpenStax, a nonprofit education startup out of Rice University, which is on a mission to increase educational access for all, seeks to democratize high-quality education by offering free, peer-reviewed, openly licensed textbooks for students and knowledge seekers across the globe.

This month, OpenStax will add to its 57 open education resources, or OER, titles with a full version of John McMurry's popular pre-med textbook, Organic Chemistry, under an open license to honor his late son, Peter, who passed away in 2019 after losing his battle with cystic fibrosis.

“Before the nursing books, we were doing business books,” Anthony Palmiotto, director of higher education at OpenStax, tells InnovationMap. “Murry’s book builds out our science offerings, so we're thinking about the different areas that students take that can be barriers for them to move up in education and succeed. From there, we’ll continue to think about how a free textbook can help students through that process.” Read more.

Brad Deutser, founder and CEO of Deutser

In his new book, Houstonian Brad Deutser explores how increasingly important a sense of belonging is in the workplace. Photo courtesy

Last week, Houstonian and business consultant Brad Deutser published his book, BELONGING RULES: Five Crucial Actions that Build Unity and Foster Performance. In a guest column for InnovationMap, Deutser writes of the importance of belonging in the workplace with his colleague Isabel Bilotta, managing consultant and head of learning and innovation at Deutser's learning initiative.

"Although there are many definitions out there, we define belonging as where we hold space for something of shared importance," the article reads. "It is where we come together on values, purpose, and identity; a space of acceptance where agreement is not required but a shared framework is understood; where there is an invitation into the space; an intentional choice to take part in; something vital to a sense of connection, security, and acceptance." Read more.

OpenStax, founded out of Rice University, has continued its growth, adding new partners and textbooks. Photo via openstax.org

Growing Houston tech nonprofit expands access to textbooks for college students

openstax updates

If everyone that attended a college or university were polled, they’d all likely agree that one of the worst parts of the experience was the rising costs of textbooks.

In an effort to combat the hefty price tag of assigned texts, OpenStax, a nonprofit education startup out of Rice University, which is on a mission to increase educational access for all, seeks to democratize high-quality education by offering free, peer-reviewed, openly licensed textbooks for students and knowledge seekers across the globe.

This month, OpenStax will add to its 57 open education resources, or OER, titles with a full version of John McMurry's popular pre-med textbook, Organic Chemistry, under an open license to honor his late son, Peter, who passed away in 2019 after losing his battle with cystic fibrosis.

“The author, John McMurry, granted us the ability to publish the 10th edition openly,” Anthony Palmiotto, director of higher education at OpenStax, tells InnovationMap. “So, the most widely used organic chemistry textbook went from being one of the most expensive undergraduate texts on the market (almost $100), to a free and open text, making this a watershed moment for OER.”

This school year, OpenStax is adding 16 academic institutions onto its platform, including Georgia State University, Southwest Texas Junior College, Texas A&M University-Commerce, University of San Diego, and more. It's the largest batch of new schools OpenStax has onboarded in a year, Palmiotto says in a news release.

Founded to increase access

Richard Baraniuk, a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rice University, founded OpenStax. Photo via rice.edu

OpenStax founder and director Richard Baraniuk, a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rice University, started the OER publisher in 1999 to remove financial barriers and make educational resources more widely available. Much like increasing access to McMurry’s Organic Chemistry, the goal is to continue to support both learners and educators by providing easily accessible and well-developed materials.

“Our mission is to support all learners in their educational pursuits by providing access to high-quality education,” Palmiotto says. “Richard Baraniuk founded it initially as a way for faculty and others to get their material and their knowledge in the form of textbooks and other learning materials to students.

“And then born out of that, we started this robust textbook development and course material development program where we put out the highest-quality materials we can in a way that fits the way courses are taught. Meaning convenience and scope and sequence and other needs that instructors must use textbooks. So really the access was really the start of it, increasing that and lowering barriers to education, and then a lot flowed from that.”

OpenStax’s library of OER titles, which are published under a Creative Commons Attribution license, are free and easily accessible on the go and usable on any device in multiple formats, including digital and PDF.

Funded by philanthropic supporters, OpenStax normally works to openly access five or six books per year, working mostly on introductory courses. Most recently, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board funded the publisher to do a series of nursing books, eight in total.

“Before the nursing books, we were doing business books,” Palmiotto says. “Murry’s book builds out our science offerings, so we're thinking about the different areas that students take that can be barriers for them to move up in education and succeed. From there, we’ll continue to think about how a free textbook can help students through that process.”

Tapping into tech

Currently, OpenStax has over 7.5 million users in the formal education space, primarily in higher education introductory courses, as well as grades K–12. Photo via openstax.org

In addition to nursing, OpenStax is working towards releasing books in data science and computer science, including programming, workplace software and, eventually, artificial intelligence.

“AI is a big deal to us,” says Palmiotto. “We're thinking about it a lot, and in the books themselves, we're incorporating as best we can how AI plays into Data Science, Computer Science and Python Programming those. We’re thinking about how AI could be used and will impact programming, for example. But the AI landscape is changing as we go, and that's another reason we don't just put out the books, we maintain them.

“So, we can continually update them. Once we publish, six months later, we can publish updates or additions to reflect what's happening in courses or in professions or in the workforce to reflect how AI is being used as new software is released and so on.”

As OpenStax continues to build on its OER title database, they are using multiple methods of outreach to reach as many people as possible. Currently, they have over 7.5 million users in the formal education space, primarily in higher education introductory courses, as well as grades K–12.

“Over 140 countries are using our material,” says Palmiotto. “We're not as easily able to track how many students have used our material in all those other countries. But that's not the point, we want to put it out there. We know it's being used. We want to help as much as possible. But it is being used in all those countries and in different ways. Some people are translating it. Some people are using it in English. Some people are breaking it up. It just depends on what they need.”

Evolving the industry

OpenStax repeatedly receives feedback from users worldwide that appreciate the openness and availability of their books. Photo via openstax.org

As much as OpenStax is a disrupter to conventional textbook publishers, they would rather work in partnership with publishers like Murry’s former house Cengage rather than outright replacing them.

“What we've tried to do with those publishers is actually partner with them and say, we know that textbook prices were too high,” says Palmiotto. “Some of them partnered with us, Cengage, Riley, some of the other publishers, like Macmillan, incorporate our textbooks into their platforms so that instructors and students have that flexibility even with those publishers.

“Not every publisher wants to do that. That's their choice. But what we've tried to do is say ‘let's make an ecosystem.’ That's what we call it and let them participate in this movement that open education has become.”

With their textbooks on an open forum, it might seem that OpenStax texts would be susceptible to hacking or other unauthorized changes. But, according to Palmiotto, there’s a safeguard to that.

“We keep the standard version,” he says. “That's why a lot of people keep using it because they know that the version that we provide will be the most up-to-date version. But it is openly licensed. So, if we see that a school wants to teach the course in a slightly different way or if they want to recombine two different books to make a different course, take biology and make human biology, or take philosophy and make ethics or something, they can do that.

“But we still retain the standardized version that we redistribute and make sure that that's the high-quality one that people can look to. So nobody is getting back to our version and changing it, but they do have the opportunity to change their own.”

After more than a decade in the space, OpenStax repeatedly receives feedback from users worldwide that appreciate the openness and availability of their books.

“We have some great stories of different learners from all over the world that are non-traditional students facing barriers,” says Palmiotto. “And having a free textbook and not having to choose between food and their book or courseware makes a huge difference in their lives. If they have this flexibility in what they have to purchase, most people appreciate that choice.”

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Houston hospital flies in drone delivery service for medical supplies, prescriptions

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A Houston hospital system has announced that it has plans to launch a drone delivery service for specialty prescriptions and medical supplies in 2026.

Memorial Hermann Health System announced that it intends to be the first health care provider in Houston to roll out drone delivery services from San Francisco-based Zipline, a venture capital-backed tech company founded in 2014 that's completed 1 million drone deliveries.

"As a system, we are continuously seeking ways to improve the patient experience and bring greater health and value to the communities we serve. Zipline provides an innovative solution to helping our patients access the medications they need, quickly and conveniently, at no added cost to them," Alec King, executive vice president and CFO for Memorial Hermann, says in a news release.

Zipline boasts of achieving delivery times seven times faster than traditional car deliveries and can usually drop off packages at a rate of a mile a minute. The drones, called Zips, can navigate any weather conditions and complete their missions with zero emissions.

Per the release, the service will be used to deliver items to patients or supplies or samples between its locations.

"Completing more than one million commercial deliveries has shown us that when you improve health care logistics, you improve every level of the patient experience. It means people get better, faster, more convenient care, even from the comfort of their own home," adds Keller Rinaudo Cliffton, co-founder and CEO of Zipline. "Innovators like Memorial Hermann are leading the way to bring better care to the U.S., and it's going to happen much faster than you might expect."

Houston tech founder shines spotlight on small businesses with new awards initiative

houston innovators podcast episode 234

For decades, small businesses have operated in essentially the same manner — handwritten notes to request time off, manual punch cards to clock in, and verbal agreements to swap shifts. And 10 years ago, Houstonian Rushi Patel thought it was time to upgrade these local shops, eateries, and other businesses.

Homebase, which was founded in San Francisco in 2014 and has its largest office in Houston, provides a suite of software tools for employee scheduling, time tracking, communication, and task management for its users, most of which are small businesses.

After a decade of growing its technology and clientbase, Patel, co-founder and COO of the company, explains the unique challenges these small businesses face on the Houston Innovators Podcast — as well as how Homebase helps.

"It's a bit of an orchestra in terms of what entrepreneurs have to do. Your job is to compose a little, but conduct as well," Patel says on the show. "You've built the song of what you want to have happen, but you're conducting lots of different things to make it a reality as a small business owner."



Patel explains how optimizing these personnel aspects of the business frees up founders and managers and improves the employee experience too. Currently, the job market is competitive for these types of businesses, and retention and hiring are major focus points for entrepreneurs.

With 10 years of data and experience of working with small businesses, Homebase introduced a new awards program this week in honor of National Small Business Week. The inaugural Top Local Workplace Awards honored over 50,000 businesses across the country for a range of positive workplace factors — like pay transparency and employee engagement.

"There are over 2 million employee-centric, main street type of businesses in the United States," Patel says, "these are the restaurants, the retailers, and the service providers. They employ north of 70 million people, so there's a lot of impact that these businesses can have. But what we found was they deserve recognition, and there wasn't recognition for the good practices that these employers were doing."

Using its data, which includes over 2.5 million hourly worker data points, Homebase's team implemented the awards to highlight the companies providing their employees — who are in most cases considered a work family, as Patel says — with a great experience.

10+ can't miss Houston business and innovation events for May

WHERE TO BE

From pitching competitions to expert speaker summits, May is chock-full of opportunities for Houston innovators.

Here's a roundup of events you won't want to miss out on so mark your calendars and register accordingly.

Note: This post may be updated to add more events.


May 2 — State of Houston's Global Economy

Explore the complexities of Houston's global economy, dissect the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead and chart a course for sustainable growth in the years to come at this business conference sponsored by the Greater Houston Partnership. Highlighting the day will be a presentation by the Partnership’s Chief Economist, Patrick Jankowski who will share his insights into the role global trade plays in the region’s growth.

Panel conversation speakers include:
  • Kurt Heim, Vice President of Environmental Advancement, Daikin Comfort
  • Moderator: George Y. Gonzalez, Partner, Haynes Boone, LLP
This event is Thursday, May 2, from 8:15 to 10 am at Partnership Tower. Click here to register.

May 3 — Transformative Healthcare Innovations Across the TMC

This symposium is filled with discussions, presentations, and networking opportunities. Discover the latest advancements in healthcare technology and how they are shaping the future of medicine. The event will be held in person at the TMC3 Collaborative Building, so come ready to engage with industry experts and fellow healthcare enthusiasts.

This event is Friday, May 3, from 9 am to 3:30 pm at TMC3 Collaborative Building. Click here to register.

May 6 to 9 — Offshore Technology Conference.

Since 1969, the Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) has served as a central hub convening energy professionals from around the world to share ideas and innovations, discuss, debate, and build consensus around the most pressing topics facing the offshore energy sector.

This conference is Monday, May 7, to Thursday, May 9, at NRG Park. Click here to register.

May 7 — Small Business Awards Houston 

This year's awards luncheon event theme will be "The SBA Awards presented by SCORE are going to Space" celebrating Houston's advances into space with two fantastic guest speakers and the optional “How to do business with NASA” workshop. The keynote speakers will be Stephanie Murphy, Aegis Aerospace and Arturo Machuca, Director of the Houston Spaceport.

This event is Tuesday, May 7, from 11 am to 1:30 pm at Royal Sonesta Galleria Houston. Click here to register.

May 7 — Tech + Tequila Talk: Goal Park Innovation

At the upcoming edition of Tech+Tequila talk, hear the process behind activating public spaces like Goal Park. Specifically, explore how innovation plays a key role in creating a safer and more dynamic environment for the community. Join in discussions on the intersection of art, philanthropy, and urban development, and learn how projects like Goal Park are shaping the future of our cities.

This event is Tuesday, May 7, from 6 to 8 pm at Niels Esperson Building. Click here to register.

May 13 — TECHSPO Houston 2024 Technology Expo

TECHSPO Houston brings together developers, brands, marketers, technology providers, designers, innovators and evangelists looking to set the pace in advancing technology. Watch exhibitors showcase the next generation of advances in technology & innovation, including; Internet, Mobile, AdTech, MarTech and SaaS technologies.

This event is Monday, May 13, from 9 am to 7 pm at Marriott Marquis. Click here to register.

May 14 — An Evening with Johnson & Johnson's Immunology Team

Johnson & Johnson Innovative Medicine Immunology Team will present our strategic priorities in the space as part of our search for promising scientific innovations.

The focus areas of the program include bispecifics for auto-immune and inflammatory diseases, multispecific T-cell engagers for deep cell depletion, and tissue T-Reg / stromal immune modulators. After the programming concludes, there will be an opportunity to network at the reception with industry leaders and like-minded innovators. This networking session will provide attendees with a chance to discuss ideas, and further explore collaboration opportunities

This event is Tuesday, May 14, from 4 to 7 pm at Texas Medical Center. Click here to register.

May 16 — Energy Underground

The Energy Underground is a group of professionals in the Greater Houston area that are accelerating the Energy Transition. Make industry contacts, secure financing, share deals, recommend talent looking to enter the energy workforce at this meeting of like-minded innovators.

This event is Thursday, May 16, from 12 to 1 pm at the Cannon West Houston. Click here to register.

May 16 — UH Tech Bridge: Innov8Hub Pitch Day

This event is your chance to immerse yourself in the vibrant startup ecosystem, network with industry experts, and discover the next big thing. Get ready to witness groundbreaking ideas and cutting-edge pitches from talented individuals.

This event is Thursday, May 16, from 5 to 7:30 pm at UH Tech Bridge. Click here to register.

May 18 — Create by Getty Images Houston 2024

Head to this event to shoot a variety of ready-to-upload content for your portfolio and enjoy priceless creative development opportunities. Connect with fellow creators, collaborators, and peers to expand your network and build meaningful relationships. Participate in interactive workshops to enhance your skills and knowledge and gain actionable takeaways for creative endeavors.

This event starts Saturday, May 18, at 8:30 am at The Cannon West Houston. Click here to register.

May 22 — Pearland Innovation Hub Anniversary

Come for an evening filled with innovation, creativity, and fun. Attendees will have an opportunity to meet some members, partners, and sponsors of Pearland Innovation Hub.

This event is Wednesday, May 22, from 6 to 8 pm at Spacio.us. Click here to register.

May 28 — Texas Small Business Expo

Texas Small Business Expo is a trade show, educational business to business conference, exhibition & networking event for entrepreneurs, start-ups and anyone that owns a business or looking to start their own business. Learn how to solve challenging business issues by discussing strategies, acquire valuable knowledge from those in your business and connect with top vendors in various industries.

This event is Tuesday, May 28, from 4 to 9 pm at Wakefield Crowbar. Click here to register.

May 29 — Bayou City Bio Pulse at Gensler

Join the GHP for its next Bayou City Bio Pulse, hosted by global architecture, design and planning firm, Gensler. This event will feature panel discussions, tours of Gensler’s space, VR walkthroughs and more.

This event is Wednesday, May 29, from 4 to 6 pm at Gensler's office (2 Houston Center). Click here to register.