Houston Methodist has doled out $4.8 million to Houston nonprofits. Photo via TMC.edu

Houston Methodist has awarded $4.8 million to 50 Houston-area nonprofits as part of its Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Grant Program, the hospital announced this month.

The funds go toward "addressing the root causes of health inequities experienced by social, racial and ethnic minorities," according to the hospital. An estimated 51,000 Houstonians are expected to be impacted by these dollars.

Of the nonprofits selected, 24 are healthy neighborhood programs, 16 are educational empowerment programs and 14 are economic programs.

The grant program is broken up into two types of funding: The Social Equity Grant and the DEI Grant. Now in its third year, the program has for the first time selected recipients of the Social Equity Grant that all support economic empowerment.

"We know there is a direct correlation between economic stability and health outcomes," Ryane Jackson, vice president, community benefits at Houston Methodist said in a statement. "Without livable wages or employer backed insurance, access to health care can be limited. If we can help those in underserved communities obtain employment and increase their wages in a short amount of time, then we can provide immediate and meaningful change that can potentially be felt for years to come.”

Capital IDEA Houston is a local nonprofit that’s received the Social Equity Grant. The organization helps low-wage workers find living-wage careers. Capital IDEA plans to use the funds to support Black and Hispanic Women in health care professions and launch a pilot program that will assist women with an associate degree who are interested in pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Another recipient, Compudopt, will focus on digital literacy training to low income African American and Hispanics, while Montrose Center will use the funds to support its Seniors Preparing for Rainbow Years program at the Law Harrington Senior Living Center. Other recipients include Avondale House, BakerRipley, Interfaith Caring Ministries, Kids Meals Inc., and the Tejano Center for Community Concerns. Click here to find a full list.

DEI is at the forefront of Houston Methodist's vision for the future of health care. In a recent interview with InnovationMap, Arianne Dowdell, vice president and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at Houston Methodist, shared how linked diversity and innovation are to her.

"I think we're in a very interesting time when we think about how health care looks. It's changing drastically and so people have a lot more options for where they choose to get their health care and who their providers are," she tells InnovationMap. "So I think that the thought of the patient comes first is really going to be the key of understanding how do we tackle health equity."

Since launching Houston Methodist's DEI Grant Program has awarded more than $11 million to 83 Houston-area nonprofits. Last year it awarded $4.6 million to 59 organizations. Click here to see who else has been awarded funding through the program.
This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Steve Latham of DonateStock, Arianne Dowdell of Houston Methodist, and Howard Berman of Coya Therapeutics. Photos courtesy

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 fintech to health care DEI — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Steve Latham, co-founder and CEO of DonateStock

Houstonian and serial entrepreneur plans to scale nonprofit fintech toolThe sky's the limit for DonateStock, Co-Founder and CEO Steve Latham says. Photo courtesy of DonateStock

For the third time in his career, serial entrepreneur Steve Latham recession activity, so he feels confident he knows the playbook of how to handle what's on the horizon. For his latest venture, Donate Stock, a tech platform that simplifies stock donation for both the donor and the beneficiary, he's focused on weathering whatever storm is incoming.

"We've raised more money to extend our runway, and we're keeping a super tight lid on expenses because your cash is your oxygen," he says. "There are companies going out of business in our industry right now that had really promising businesses but just spent too much money before they could get to the revenue phase."

He shares the background story on DonateStock and his own career on last week's Houston Innovators Podcast episode. Read more and stream the episode.

Arianne Dowdell, vice president and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at Houston Methodist

Arianne Dowdell spoke with InnovationMap about Houston Methodist's DEI initiatives — and how they will help develop the hospital of the future. Photo courtesy of Houston Methodist

Innovation and equity are two things they have to go together — and Houston Methodist knows that. Which is why Arianne Dowdell serves as vice president and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at Houston Methodist. Under her leadership, the health care provider is putting the patients at the forefront of the hospital system's priorities through its DEI initiatives.

In an interview with InnovationMap, Dowdell shares more about these ongoing initiatives and her role, as well as the importance of DEI in innovative health care.

"It doesn't matter if you're down here in the medical center or out in Baytown," she says. "The innovation and what we're thinking about and the technologies and the way that we communicate with our patients, all that is part of innovation, which helps our DEI initiatives become more successful in everything that we're doing." Read more.

Howard Berman, CEO of Coya Therapeutics

A Houston biotech startup focused on developing therapeutics for neurodegenerative and autoimmune diseases has closed its IPO. Photo courtesy of Coya

A clinical-stage biotech company based in Houston has announced the closing of its $15.25 million IPO.

Coya Therapeutics, now trading under the ticker COYA, announced this week that its IPO — previously disclosed in December — has closed its initial public offering of 3,050,000 shares of its common stock and accompanying warrants to purchase up to 1,525,000 shares of common stock, per a news release. Howard Berman, CEO of Coya Therapeutics, has lead the company since February of 2021. Read more.

Arianne Dowdell spoke with InnovationMap about Houston Methodist's DEI initiatives — and how they will help develop the hospital of the future. Photo courtesy of Houston Methodist

Q&A: Houston innovator on DEI initiatives, importance in health care

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Prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion within health care innovation goes hand in hand, according to Arianne Dowdell, vice president and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at Houston Methodist.

"I think we're in a very interesting time when we think about how health care looks. It's changing drastically and so people have a lot more options for where they choose to get their health care and who their providers are," she tells InnovationMap. "So I think that the thought of the patient comes first is really going to be the key of understanding how do we tackle health equity."

Houston Methodist, under Dowdell's leadership, is putting the patients at the forefront of the hospital system's priorities through its DEI initiatives — whether that's employee programs or training the future leaders of the health care industry through its DEI Summer Scholarship Program.

In an interview with InnovationMap, Dowdell shares more about these ongoing initiatives and her role, as well as the importance of DEI in innovative health care.

InnovationMap: Tell me a bit about your role leading DEI at Houston Methodist. What are you tasked with and why is it important to the organization?

Arianne Dowdell: In my role, I'm responsible for really leading the vision for unparalleled safety, quality and service, and innovation through the lens of DEI. And what that really means is thinking about how we execute our diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies. When we think about our employees, our patients as well as our community. So, my role is rather broad in scope. I oversee DEI for all of the Houston Methodist hospitals in the area and we year by year target and have certain goals of what we want to accomplish under each of those layers. When we think about our patients and our employees in the community.

IM: In what ways do DEI and innovation intersect?

AD: You know, the wonderful thing about innovation is that there is such a huge overlap with DEI. When we think about our patient care, we just start there and think about what we're doing with our new hospital that's opening.

For example, we talk about making it the hospital in the future. Part of that innovation piece means that we're meeting our patients where they are with the needs that they have. So, a lot of times we talk about equity versus equality and what people need and what we have to remember when we think about equity, especially with our patients and the fact that we serve such a diverse community, is making sure that those innovations that we're coming up with as we're thinking about the patients varies right in different aspects to make sure that every patient that comes in the door is receiving the very best care that they have. It's a great opportunity being at a hospital that's so innovative to make sure that we're considering our innovative technologies to meet the different patients that we have that are coming through our doors every day.

It doesn't matter if you're down here in the medical center or out in Baytown. The innovation and what we're thinking about and the technologies and the way that we communicate with our patients, all that is part of innovation, which helps our DEI initiatives become more successful in everything that we're doing.

IM: What are some of the initiatives you’ve gotten to spearhead so far in your tenure?

AD: Our department's been around for about two and a half years. And so there's a couple of things that we're really excited about that are ongoing, but we've seen a lot of traction and measurable results. One is the employee resource groups we currently have — I think we're at nine, maybe 10 at this point for our groups — and we have close to 2,000 employees that are part of the groups working to make sure that they are empowered in the workplace and have support, but we also provide professional development opportunities for them.

Another thing that we've started are solidified DEI training programs and actually going and working with departments, both those that are clinical and non clinical within the hospital on DEI related issues. That's been a big success for us as well. And we're really evolving those trainings to become more of educational opportunities as we really start to have a heavy focus on health equity moving into 2023.

We also have a comprehensive training communications program, so we communicate out all of our efforts at all of our hospitals. And so engaging our CEOs at each of those hospitals and making sure that we allow all of our employees to have a way of learning about the work that we're doing in various mediums has been something we've worked really hard to achieve. And we also have different DEI groups and committees at each of our hospitals. That's been a way for us to connect and have leaders at all of our hospitals that are supporting our overall system wide initiatives.

It's been really fun the past two years to have different layers of the work that we're doing, including our 25 million DEI Grant to different nonprofit organizations in the community to make sure that we're looking at all these different layers. As I had mentioned before, that touch on everything that we do. And we're also going to be hyper focused moving into next year of making sure that we diversify our cancer center as well. And so now that we've kind of laid that first layer foundation, it's really nice to see how the team is evolving and the work that we're doing and also using data to show the results of the work that we're doing. So, with two years under our belt, it's nice to have some of that information now.

IM: How is Houston Methodist supporting future leaders in health care?

AD: One of the things I really wanted to make sure that we started once COVID slowed down a little bit, was to give underrepresented students an opportunity to pursue careers in health care that are non clinical. A lot of people in college, they don't know about all the different aspects of what runs a hospital, right? And so I thought it was a great opportunity for us to launch this program that we started last summer.

We started with six students that received scholarship funding and they all fall below the federal poverty line is how we established what the criteria was along with grades, etc. but a really great opportunity for students to come here for ten weeks on a paid scholarship in various departments throughout the hospital to learn what those inner workings are, to then pursue careers, possibly in things like DTI, human resources, spiritual care, managed care. So it was really fun to watch the first cohort of students go through last year.

These are our future leaders and teaching them all about the aspects of what, like I said, runs a hospital. But when we think about care of our patients, how everyone is such an integral part to it. And so for going into this summer coming up, we've actually more than doubled the number of opportunities that will be available. So, we now have 17 spaces that are available for students and we're branching out to all of our community hospitals and we've reached out to more schools around the nation. And so I'm excited to bring in this next cohort of leaders to really begin to think differently about how we look at care overall and manage hospitals from a diverse aspect. It's been a great program and our leadership here at the hospital is also very engaged, which I love.

IM: What’s on your radar for 2023?

AD: So, 2023 is really going to be a focus on health equity. Establishing we've got various dashboards that we're establishing to track and monitor what we're doing, but also working with all 29,000 plus of our employees to help them understand what role they play in achieving health equity so we can focus on the role that our clinicians play. But it's equally as important for the people that work at registration to understand the importance of the questions that we ask to make sure we're meeting the needs of our patients when they call and set up appointments.

We will be really hyper focused on that. We'll also be leveraging even more of the work that our employee resource groups do. And so I'm very excited about that as well as they become more involved in the community. When you talked about prevention and education, a lot of the members of our ERGs are now out in the community and doing a lot of really great work. And so those are just two of the programs that I'm really excited about for 2023 that will be hyper focused on.

IM: Why is equity in health care so important and what does the industry need to do to accomplish it?

AD: I think we're in a very interesting time when we think about how health care looks. It's changing drastically and so people have a lot more options for where they choose to get their health care and who their providers are. And so I think that the thought of the patient comes first is really going to be the key of understanding how do we tackle health equity. Because when we look at all the different requirements from systems throughout the country, and then we look at results from what patients say, we have to spend the time to marry those two together.

At the end of the day, that still is our patient comes first — so how are we educating our future clinicians? Are we working with our med schools to make sure we're tackling that because we really have to look to the future generations? How are we reporting out our efforts and our outcomes is going to be important to. Keeping that patient centered focus is going to be key to achieving health equity. And also a lot of times we don't want to acknowledge what our shortcomings are. Know people always want to say this is where we excel, but really taking the time to acknowledge what can we do better, and doing those deep dives, It doesn't matter if you're a large health system or if you're one of the newer branches that's coming out. You have to take the time to really look at what those results are, to make sure you're measuring them to achieve those new goals. So I think that that's actually going to be the key to moving forward and making sure you keep politics out of it to the extent possible and really just stay patient. Focus is what's going to be necessary because people have choices for where they want to go for their health care. And I think we all have to be mindful of that.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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These five individuals are up for the DEI Champion award this week. Here's what challenges they are facing promoting an equitable innovation ecosystem. Photos courtesy

Houston's 2022 DEI Champions share obstacles they are overcoming promoting equitable innovation

EAVESDROPPING AT THE HOUSTON INNOVATION AWARDS GALA

As one of the most diverse cities in the world, Houston's business and innovation community has a unique opportunity to prioritize not just its diverse population, but also to make sure the city has equitable and inclusive opportunities.

Five Houstonians have been named finalists in the DEI Champion category for the Houston Innovation Awards Gala, which will be held on November 9. They shared some of the challenges they are facing as they fight to make sure Houston has an equitable innovation ecosystem.

"I have always been the only Black women in all of my engineering roles, and I worked so hard to get there and quite often feel so uncomfortable in this space. So, individuals who question my name don't always understand the important of someone expressing that I see you to an individual can mean. However, this is a challenge I am willing to face because I am changing people lives and these lives I am changing will impact the world."

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— Kara Branch, founder and CEO of Black Girls Do Engineer Corp. "Although I believed in myself and that girls that look like me needed that representation and someone to mentor them and expose them to S.T.E.M., I had no one to do this for me, so I had to do this for girls in my community," she says. "I have faced some people who fight me about my name, but my name had to be my name because I needed to let Black girls know I was talking to them."

"You can’t expect to make an impact, big or small, if you’re not willing to meet people where they are. One challenge we’ve seen when it comes to talking about and implementing DEI programs within the organization is that not everyone has the same understanding of what diversity, equity, and inclusion is."

Photo courtesy

Arianne Dowdell, vice president and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer for Houston Methodist. "Another challenge we see is that sometimes people expect to see change immediately," she continues. "This is a journey not a race, and if done right, it’s something that will continue to evolve and grow."

"Nobody wants to be tagged as difficult or uncomfortable to be with. A lot of bystanders will also make a calculated risk when witnessing bias, what is in it for me? Many will turn a blind eye if there are other interests at play."

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— Juliana Garaizar, head of Houston incubator for Greentown Labs and lead investor for Portfolia. Garaizar explains that she sees people afraid of facing the repercussions that come with speaking up or standing up to bias and harassment.

"Sustainable funding. We have the talent, the access to mentors and STEM education/activities and preparation workshops and certifications. But not having the capital to hire and effectively manage this growth has been very challenging to where we've had to say no to expansion (girls in need) and and increase in girls within our yearlong and skill-building programs."

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— Loretta Williams Gurnell, founder of SUPERGirls SHINE Foundation. She continues, "However, because we are serious in creating a diverse and sustained pipeline for more underserved girls (women) in STEM, we heavily rely on organizations that are like-minded in practices and core values to partner with and provide our services and opportunities to their girls and vice versus. It builds community and sustainability for all who are involved."

"The problems we face are so daunting and overwhelming that it can be hard to know where to start. ... At some point I realized that you just have to start somewhere, and you have to go deep in one area." 

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— Rob Schapiro, director of Microsoft's Energy Acceleration Program. "Only 27 percent of STEM workers are women. A mere 2 percent of venture capital money goes to women and far less to black women. The average wealth of the top 5 percent of White American households is seven times more than the average of the top 5 percent of Black households. These kinds of statistics can paralyze you into inaction," he explains. "It is great to be an ally to all, but you can have more impact if you focus your attention and efforts on a specific area. What is challenging still is that you will want to do more and spread your efforts, but you have to stay disciplined. One person cannot fix everything. But, using your privilege and your network you can influence many others and through them make a huge impact."

Progress and feedback will help you reach your organization's DEI goals. Photo via Pexels

Houston expert: 5 things to consider when tackling DEI at your organization

guest column

Houston is often touted as the most diverse city in the country, but with that comes the responsibility of making sure we are creating inclusive and equitable opportunities that reflect the communities we serve.

With the current state of our country dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as social and political issues, employers across the city have searched for the right thing to say and do to help their employees and customers during this time when personal feelings and beliefs impact the workplace more now than ever. While there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to implementing DEI across an organization, here are a few steps and considerations companies can take to ensure DEI is a priority moving forward.

Understand your audience

It's important to understand the perspectives of those you serve. Identifying your audience will help develop a DEI strategy that addresses concerns from multiple lenses. At Houston Methodist, we focus on our patients, employees and the communities we serve. Anyone building a DEI program needs to not only be cognizant of their audience, but also understand their needs in today's climate before spending time and resources to develop initiatives that will address those needs. Ultimately, this will help shape a more impactful approach to DEI within your organization.

Define success

When developing a DEI strategy, success may seem overwhelming or lofty. But, viewing success as progress will help your organization accomplish your goals in a way that employees and other stakeholders will benefit from in the long run.

Set strategic and measurable goals that clearly state what your organization wants to achieve through its DEI efforts. These goals need not be big at the onset; make sure they are attainable. Most importantly, it's critical to revisit your goals on a regular basis and identify gaps, and be willing to pivot, if needed, along the way so your organization eventually reaches its goals. At the hospital, we've developed a DEI dashboard for all departments in our hospitals to help us with setting those measurable goals. Once measurable goals are identified, a DEI scorecard will be used to identify progress for departments and our organization year over year. When people are able to easily track and see progress or gaps, it will make it easier to reach desired goals.

An organization can't be successful with any new type of program if everyone within the organization doesn't understand the importance of DEI in their department and within the company as a whole. Progress often starts with one person. Providing training to employees about the impact that DEI can have on their day-to-day work will help them champion that within the organization. For example, we've launched something at our hospital called "Together We Grow," a training program aimed at building a foundation for what DEI is by exploring everyday scenarios employees may encounter. This program first started with leadership and is now available to all employees within the hospital system.

Establish a timeline

Once measurable goals have been established, develop a timeline for accomplishing those goals. By selecting two or three goals that can be focused on over a particular time period (i.e., six months or one year), your organization can implement targeted programs and best practices to drive the success of DEI for a more long-term plan. It's ok if not every program is up and running within the year; creating milestones along the way will give your organization time to grow its DEI efforts and aspire to something meaningful for your employees, customers or community. The need for DEI doesn't go away, so it's important to continue efforts year-round with a growth mindset.

Evaluate how DEI holistically fits into your business

A DEI department, team or individual can't be successful if the work isn't aligned with the mission of the organization. It does not help if an organization has competing priorities, so DEI goals must be embedded in your organization's business goals.

Additionally, it's also important to have leadership set the tone for the rest of the organization to follow. Executive leaders that fully commit to the organization's DEI efforts and promote transparency, feedback and accountability for those programs will yield the most meaningful and lasting results.

Recognize your ‘why’

As a business, it's important to understand why DEI is important for your organization's success. You need to both be able to understand and articulate the business case for why diversity matters in your organization. Studies like this one from Boston Consulting Group continue to show a positive correlation between workforce diversity, innovation and overall company performance. The workforce is constantly changing and becoming more diverse, so making sure your organization is adapting to those different perspectives and taking into consideration why this work is vital to your employees, customers and your community will help turn DEI ideas into action.

For many health care organizations, health equity has shaped community engagement efforts and programs. Addressing health equity for racial, ethnic and social minorities in the Greater Houston area has been a priority for Houston Methodist for nearly 30 years, and this work has also informed and strengthened our DEI efforts in the communities we serve.

In conclusion, remember progress and feedback will help you reach your organization's DEI goals. For these initiatives to be effective, everyone within your organization must understand that each person plays a role in shaping the success of DEI efforts.

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Arianne Dowdell is vice president, chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at Houston Methodist.

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Houston expert: How to build startup runway in a choppy venture funding market

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The venture funding market in 2023 has been very tough.

The number of rounds closing is significantly down from the 2022, and a record number of companies are raising. Overall VC fundraising is down, but great deals are getting funded well and at good valuations, while many are struggling. Fewer new investors are writing lead checks and being more cautious when they do, later stage investors are shifting earlier stage to manage risk, bad cap tables, operating plans, and reluctant insiders are killing otherwise good deals, and everyone is working on ensuring their portfolio is in good shape.

This is just another venture cycle. The sky is not falling, the playbook for this cycle was written long ago. But if you are a founder, you may need to take action. If you are less than 15 months of runway, it’s time to go to your investors with a plan. You need to either be well on your way to closing a round, starting your fundraise if the company is ready, know your investor group’s plan to bridge or do an inside round if necessary and what you need to achieve to unlock that, or bring them a realistic plan yourself to get to 18 to 30 months of runway. But whatever you need to do, you need to do it now.

The runway plan

The core of a good runway plan is building a cash wedge by taking a little from everywhere, and drop margin and cash. A little revenues, a little in pricing, a little headcount reduction, a little insider capital, a little new capital, and a little balance sheet help. How much a little is, depends on your own dynamic. The secret to a good cash wedge runway plan is starting early, and doing it now. Every day of delay increases the depth of the changes needed for the same runway – until you reach a point where the brutal burn math just doesn’t work, and the changes become costly or even untenable.

Focus on your customers. Nothing cures runway or fundraising ills like revenue. You’ve built these relationships for a reason. They are taking your calls because they care. If you and your team aren’t spending most of your time with customers right now, you are doing it wrong. Good customers get it. Focus their attention on how your product makes them money, and how much. Support their internal efforts to grow the account. Open book it, raise prices if it makes sense, and ask for more volume or contract extensions at good prices if you can’t. With new customers, focus on getting more phase ones that fit in the budget your champions have available quickly. Bet you and your customer can find more budget later when you’ve demonstrated value to them. Bid every grant and non-dilutive source that makes sense, which builds leverage for yourself and your investors.

Burnmatters. In a tight market, no one likes to buy burn, and demonstrating efficiency of revenue and backlog relative to capitalization and burn level matters. If you’re going to cut (and you probably should), cut much deeper than you think, and do it now. You ran this company when it was four people and no money, you can do it again if you really had to. Start making quick decisions about what you can defer and cut in the near term, there is always an easy 5 to 10 percent of costs you can cut and push to next year, and often a few points that can be pulled from supply chain deals. Overplan for growth, but don’t release to spend until your capital markets plan is clear.

Rebalance your spend. Shift your cost structure and organization chart forward towards the customer. Aggressively expand customer facing lead generation, guerilla marketing, applications engineering and direct sales efforts, at the expense of internally facing ones like R&D, manufacturing, and overhead. Repurpose people, change comp structures, job descriptions, or adjust costs and headcount. Get your team on board with the focus and where your runway is. A 12-person startup has about 2,000 labor hours a month to throw at its problems, 3,000 hours on overdrive, when your runway shortens, it’s time to hurl those at customers. Keep in mind, none of this is permanent, good startup organizations are elastic and in six months you can shift back or add again. You’re only really making 180-day changes here. That’s what the nimble startup means. It’s about runway and quick product and operational shifts.

Hit the balance sheet for cash. Depending on company stage and type, sell any underutilized assets and inventory, defer some capex, put someone on collecting AR and adjust your contract terms and pricing to pull forward cash flow, term out and negotiate payment terms on AP, leases and debt. One huge caveat. Do not take venture debt. Until you are profitable, venture debt does not actually create the runway in the real world that you see on paper, and has killed more good startups on the cusp of greatness. Venture debt is Lucy, runway is the football, and you are Charlie Brown.

Adjust your capital markets strategy. The classic rule is raise all you can when you can, because capital is available most when you need it least. But that’s not the whole story. And founders need to realize it is really dangerous to take a deal to market that is not ready, and doesn’t have the right level of insider support, is priced or structured wrong. While the market sets the price and terms, once you’ve a cap table full of investors, both new and existing investor appetite, and valuation, becomes a partial function of existing and new investor appetite and support. Take out a deal that’s not ready, or with too much burn, too little insider support, too high a last valuation, too large a convert or safe overhang or prior capitalization, too little team ownership, or too much valuation or cash need relative to its team, technology, TAM and traction (and cap table), and a founder and board can turn a good opportunity into a death spiral headed straight off a cliff, fast.

The "Magical 25" percent ratio. This is an art not a science, but the Magical 25 percent ratio on a prototypical startup will give you an idea of how powerful a Runaway Plan can be to get a deal done and reset a founder’s opportunity.

Imagine a middle of the road seed funded SaaS startup, burning $350,000 gross, with $100,000 in MRR, which has raised $3 million in cash from three investors and spent half of it. On its current trajectory it has six months of cash left, and is bankrupt by March. Market turned down, and the initial investor calls don’t result in a lead VC leaning in. The logic of burn rate math is brutal. In 90 days the company is on fumes, and it has no term sheet in hand, with the odds of getting one generally falling. And in today’s market the $1 million in ARR has become the new minimum not sufficient condition for fundraising, and the company will need to get farther on it’s A to be attractive to a B round investor. If the founder does nothing and waits 90 days they’ll be begging their investors for a bridge, and begging new investors for a flat round, and will likely end up with downround or an ugly insider bridge. At $250,000-a-month burn and no term sheet, within 150 days the founder will then need an inside round of between $4.5 and $6 million to get to the prototypical 24 month runway, or a $1.5 to $2 million bridge to buy enough more months to fundraise and build value. That’s 1.5x to 2x the capital raised, or over half the existing capital in a bridge, and puts intense pressure on strength of your cap table, growth rate, broad insider support, and quality of revenues in a tight venture funding market.

If the founder instead cuts costs 25 percent immediately, and then throws all hands on deck to find 25 percent more revenue — at this level of burn the startup probably has a team of at least 12 to 15 people, meaning the founder can throw at least 2,000-3,000 man hours in an all hands customer push in just the next 30 days if they had to. At the same time, the founder goes to his largest investors, walks through the cash and cost plan, and asks them to give him a term sheet for a seed extension with existing investors all kicking in 25 percent of their contribution to date, with the extension equal to 25 percent of the total capital at close. It can be papered fast and cheap. That adds $750,000, leaving the founder to find one new investor to join the insiders at the last price for 25 percent of the extension – a much easier ask of a new investor in a tough market, and probably one the founder has a couple of interested parties that have been watching, or certainly one of the founder’s investors can make a quick call to a friend to close. Brutal burn rate math has now become magical burn rate math and the company has 18 months of runway, has halved its net burn, and can additionally get away with half the A round equal to 1x the capital it has raised to date at the end of it if need be.

The "magical" part is the founder has now changed the odds for everyone – his team only has to find 25 percent revenues and costs. His insiders are only asked for 25 cents on the dollar support at a price they should love, leaving the typical fund with plenty of follow-on reserves after that, a new investor does not have to carry the lion share of the burn, set price, do as much dd, or worry about investor fatigue, and the insiders don’t have to go it alone and have external validation, and the founder has minimized their dilution, and their fundraising time. If the founder then is able to keep costs flat for just 6 months in a sprint and pick up another 25 percent in revenues, the runway at the current cashout date is still 16 months, and the company is set up well for its next round, with on $4 million in capitalization on nearly $2 million in ARR, a new investor with dry powder in the deal, and plenty of reserves left on the cap table to support the A, with a lot more traction – leaving the size of A round the company has to have at less than half the level of before, the effective revenue multiple insiders and new investors are facing halved, the burn the new investor had to buy halved and lots of time and options for the founder to drive value, dilution, and scale.

Founders, it’s your company. Your decision. Just be aware, how and how fast you play the tough decisions when the market shifts, changes the calculus for your investors, and their level of confidence and ammunition to back your future decisions. When you feel the market starting to tighten up, consider giving yourself, and your investors, some breathing space, then use that breathing space to drive value.

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Neal Dikeman is a venture capitalist and seven-time startup co-founder investing out of Energy Transition Ventures.

Houston entrepreneur launches platform for on-demand ordering with biz support for restaurateurs

it's chewtyme

While Ashley Loveless Cunningham has advised clients how to fix bad credit and build a healthy financial life for years, a look at her family’s own spending on food delivery came as a wake-up call.

Like a lot of busy households, they loved to order food through delivery apps, so much so that Cunningham realized it was time for a change. With the delivery charge and other fees that apps like DoorDash and GrubHub tack on, a food order can easily double in price. A $15 bowl from Chipotle that her son liked to order cost almost $40 by the time it got to the house — and that doesn’t even include a tip for the delivery driver.

“I thought, wait a minute. This is ridiculous,” she says.

She says she brainstormed, and began to look into ways to offer an alternative, not only for consumers, but for minority-owned restaurants that were struggling to keep their doors open.

So, Cunningham, whose business ventures include her financial literacy business New Credit Inc. and a perfume line, created her own app, ChewTyme.

The app launched in Houston and Atlanta last Friday, and has drawn over 3,000 consumer downloads, which Cunningham says is a “pretty good” start.

Cunningham, 40, a native of Mobile, Alabama, says she moved to Houston with her family ten months ago, drawn by the opportunity to grow their various businesses. And, the city’s vibrant food scene offered another avenue.

“Everybody moves here to open a restaurant,” she says of Houston.

Extra support on the side

Through restaurant owner clients of her credit counseling business, she learned that many were struggling to remain open. A lot of the business owners aren’t aware of the many options available to them, in business lines of credit, assuming their own personal financial credit is in good shape.

That’s where the business education side of the app comes in, where restaurateurs will gain access to “Business University,” financial guidance for their journey in the industry.

“I tell people, it’s not only about cash funding. There are other resources out there, things we need to thrive in the business space,” she says, adding that this includes mentorship and publicity services.

Many restaurant owners told her they partner with at least two or three food delivery apps already. But she thinks ChewTyme will stand out.

“A lot of people I’ve talked to, they just don’t know where to start,” she says. Her partnership with the restaurants would solve that issue, helping restaurateurs create a “full, state-of-the-art profile” that guides them every step of the way.

While she's yet to onboard her inaugural Houston restaurants, the app has begun to draw interest, Ashley says, especially from entrepreneurs who need a cheaper way to scale their business growth.

Cunningham says ChewTyme offers a competitive alternative to many third-party apps, which she says charge anywhere from a 20-22 percent commission on a restaurant’s delivery orders. The app will charge a 17 percent commission, with no monthly fee, and a flat $4.95 delivery rate to consumers, whom she plans to attract with discounts and promotions.

She hopes to initially sign up 25 restaurants in Houston and the same number in Atlanta, during the beta run of the app. As they work out the kinks, she feels confident in expansion.

Her biggest challenge moving forward is hiring quality drivers, she says.

“That really scares me. People who want to work, who have integrity. I’ve heard horror stories because people literally pick up their food and don’t deliver it,” she says.

ChewTyme is working with contracting partners who are conducting screening and background checks for potential drivers, and onboarding restaurant owners with follow-up. Interested restaurateurs or drivers can request more information on ChewTyme's website.

Tapping into a high-growth market

Third-party food delivery exploded in popularity during the pandemic, and a 2021 McKinsey report found that food delivery more than tripled since 2017. Post-pandemic, the on-demand services industry growth hasn't waned.

The Texas Restaurant Association fought for a law passed in 2021 to prevent third-party apps from adding restaurants to a delivery platform without a financial agreement or partnership, according to Christine Robbins, executive director of the association. But now that relationship seems to have settled into a profitable venture on both sides.

Taj Walker, of H-Town Restaurant Group, which owns Hugo’s, Xochi, and six other local restaurants, says the apps don’t typically charge a fee unless the restaurant takes part in an app’s ad promotion of their restaurant.

An app’s commission can range from 10 to 25 percent, he says, which their restaurants compensate for by charging 10 percent more on app orders than in-house food. The apps have become an important revenue stream for some H-Town’s more casual eateries, especially Urbe and Prego, which are popular among younger clientele, Walker says.

While Cunningham’s main goal is to uplift minority entrepreneurs and communities, the app will be available to any restaurateur who wants it.

Top Space City news of 2023: New Houston unicorn, an IPO, spaceport development, and more

year in review

Editor's note: As the year comes to a close, InnovationMap is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston innovation. In the Space City, there were dozens of space tech stories, from a space tech company reaching unicorn status to another completing its IPO. Here are five Houston space tech-focused articles that stood out to readers this year — be sure to click through to read the full story.


Local university gets green light to launch new building at Houston Spaceport

City of Houston has entered into an agreement with Texas Southern University to develop an aviation program at the Houston Spaceport. Photo via fly2houston.com

With a financial boost from the City of Houston, the aviation program at Texas Southern University will operate an aeronautical training hub on a two-acre site at Ellington Airport.

The Houston Airport System — which runs Ellington Airport, George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Hobby Airport, and Houston Spaceport — is chipping in as much as $5 billion to build the facility, which will train aeronautical professionals.

On May 3, the Houston City Council authorized a five-year agreement between the airport system and TSU to set up and operate the facility. Continue reading the full story from May.

Houston space tech startup closes deal to IPO

Intuitive Machines will be listed on Nasdaq beginning February 14. Photo via intuitivemachines.com

It's official. This Houston company is live in the public market.

Intuitive Machines, a space tech company based in Southeast Houston, announced that it has completed the transaction to merge with Inflection Point Acquisition Corp., a special purpose acquisition company traded on Nasdaq.

“We are excited to begin this new chapter as a publicly traded company,” says Steve Altemus, co-founder, president, and CEO of Intuitive Machines, in a news release. “Intuitive Machines is in a leading position to replace footprints with a foothold in the development of lunar space. With our launch into the public sphere through Inflection Point, we have reached new heights financially and opened the doors for even greater exploration and innovation for the progress of humanity.”

The transaction, which was originally announced in September, was approved by Inflection Point’s shareholders in a general meeting on February 8. As a result of the deal, the company will receive around $55 million of committed capital from an affiliate of its sponsor and company founders, the release states. Continue reading the full story from February.

Houston to host 6 Italian aerospace companies with new program

Six Italian companies are coming to the Space City to accelerate their businesses thanks to a new program. Photo via nasa.gov

It's an Italian invasion in Houston — and it's happening in the name of accelerating innovation within aerospace.

For the first time, Italy has announced an international aerospace-focused program in the United States. The Italian Trade Agency and Italian Space Agency will partner with Space Foundation to launch Space It Up, an initiative that will accelerate six companies in Houston.

“The launch of Space It Up marks a pivotal moment in our ongoing commitment to nurturing innovation and facilitating global partnerships," Fabrizio Giustarini, Italian Trade Commissioner of Houston, says in a news release. "This program serves as a testament to the collaborative spirit that defines the aerospace industry. It represents the convergence of Italian ingenuity and Houston's esteemed legacy in space exploration, setting the stage for unprecedented advancements." Continue reading the full story from August.

Houston space tech startup raises $350M series C, clinches unicorn status

Axiom Space CEO Michael Suffredini (right) has announced the company's series C round with support from Aljazira Capital, led by CEO Naif AlMesned. Photo courtesy of Axiom Space

Houston has another unicorn — a company valued at $1 billion or more — thanks to a recent round of funding.

Axiom Space released the news this week that it's closed its series C round of funding to the tune of $350 million. While the company didn't release its valuation, it confirmed to Bloomberg that it's over the $1 billion threshold. Axiom reports that, according to available data, it's now raised the second-most funding of any private space company in 2023 behind SpaceX.

Saudi Arabia-based Aljazira Capital and South Korea-based Boryung Co. led the round. To date, Axiom has raised over $505 million with $2.2 billion in customer contracts, according to the company.

“We are honored to team with investors like Aljazira Capital, Boryung and others, who are committed to realizing the Axiom Space vision,” Axiom Space CEO and president Michael Suffredini says in a news release. “Together, we are working to serve innovators in medicine, materials science, and on-orbit infrastructure who represent billions of dollars in demand over the coming decade. Continue reading the full story from August.

Texas university to build $200M space institute in Houston

Texas A&M University will build a new facility near NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo courtesy of JSC

Texas A&M University's board of regents voted to approve the construction of a new institute in Houston that hopes to contribute to maintaining the state's leadership within the aerospace sector.

This week, the Texas A&M Space Institute got the greenlight for its $200 million plan. The announcement follows a $350 million investment from the Texas Legislature. The institute is planned to be constructed next to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

“The Texas A&M Space Institute will make sure the state expands its role as a leader in the new space economy,” John Sharp, chancellor of the Texas A&M System, says in a news release. “No university is better equipped for aeronautics and space projects than Texas A&M.” Continue reading the full story from August.