3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

This week's innovators to know in Houston includes Tim Neal of GoExpedi, Shay Curran of UH, and Arun Gir of iEducate. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: In today's Monday roundup of Houston innovators, I'm introducing you to three gentlemen representing a diverse set of industries — from nanotech and higher education to industrial e-commerce and education.

Tim Neal, CEO of GoExpedi

Tim Neal, CEO of Houston-based GoExpedi, shares how his company plans to scale following its recent series C closing. Photo by Colt Melrose for GoExpedi

Timing is everything, and Tim Neal says it's been a key factor in his company's success. GoExpedi acts as an Amazon of industrial business, basically. Just as the e-commerce platform has made online ordering easy, trackable, and fast, so has GoExpedi for industrial parts. And, thanks to companies like Amazon and on-demand ordering in general, this type of fast and reliable service is what everyone expects now.

"The labor pool in the oil and gas space in particular — 50 percent of it turn it over. Now you're no longer having these tradesmen who are 60-plus years old and walking encyclopedias. You have a younger workforce that's used to buying on eCommerce and their daily life. So, it's helping them by technical parts in a not technical way," Neal says in a Q&A with InnovationMap. "We just had a pool of clients who were more tech native and who had more familiarity with transacting online." Click here to read more.

Seamus Curran, CEO and founder of Integricote

University of Houston professor and entrepreneur, Seamus Curran, has pivoted amid the pandemic to use his nanotechnology expertise to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Integricote

Seamus Curran's life went from juggling teaching, research, and running his startup from early morning to late at night every day to working and teaching from home when the pandemic hit. He started looking into the virus and realized his nanotechnology actually has a real application in protecting people. First, he started coating masks. Lately he's been working on a new line of protection.

"The big thing for me when we were shut down was that people couldn't go to work or school. The country can't live that way — but you can't send people back to work in a world that's not safe," Curran says in this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "How do you create a safer environment? That's the thing that really got me going in the beginning in the summer. We looked at filters." Click here to read more and stream the episode.

Arun Gir, CEO of iEducate

Houston-based iEducate is connecting local tutors and mentors to students. Photo courtesy of iEducate

Now more than ever, young students need hands-on instruction to keep up in their studies, which for so many still are being conducted virtually. iEducate engages student mentors from the nearby University of Houston education program and graduating Alief ISD high school students to work alongside teachers to ensure that every child has the academic support needed to achieve their full potential.

"We are building on our unique range of educational support services that we have provided over the past to help schools advance student learning in these uncertain times," says Arun Gir, CEO of iEducate.

Gir says the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent school closings have forced iEducate to adapt, just like many other teachers and educators. For the first time, they are offering a needs assessment to any school that is interested in working with them. Click here to read more.

Houston-based iEducate is connecting local tutors and mentors to students. Photo by Julia M Cameron from Pexels

Houston-area education platform looking for new schools to help teachers with online tools

online education

A Houston-based nonprofit mentorship program that matches underperforming second to fifth graders with college student tutors to provide them targeted support has adapted to the online schooling era, by introducing hybrid learning services in partnership with Texas Region 4 Education Service Center.

iEducate engages student mentors from the nearby University of Houston education program and graduating Alief ISD high school students to work alongside teachers to ensure that every child has the academic support needed to achieve their full potential.

"Before the pandemic closed schools, our vision was to have an in-person system mixing public institutions with our local community," says Arun Gir, CEO of iEducate. "Mentors could provide their math, science, and literacy skills to prove targeted support to students, encouraging teachers to differentiate learning by identifying groups that could benefit the most from our help."

Gir says the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent school closings have forced iEducate to adapt, just like many other teachers and educators. For the first time, they are offering a needs assessment to any school that is interested in working with them.

"We are building on our unique range of educational support services that we have provided over the past to help schools advance student learning in these uncertain times," says Gir.

With their recently announced partnership with the Texas Region 4 Education Service Center, they will be able to train mentors on instructional tools and strategies to support any type of instruction including in-person, remote, and hybrid instruction.

"We are excited to collaborate with iEducate," says Pam Wells, executive director of Region 4 Education Service Center. "Their transformational work confirms the value that iEducate brings along with their ability to adapt and respond to our evolving educational needs."

The nonprofit, which was founded in 2013, started off as a hobby with Gir and volunteers working directly with individual schools, but after a few years, he left his job to work on building iEducate.

"Our focus is definitely on closing that achievement gap," says Gir. "One of our biggest issues is the literacy gap because that's a precursor to any type of student achievement beyond the early years. Personalized instruction focused on getting the portion of the class that is behind has led to growth for the students."

This summer, they conducted a needs assessment and revamped their mentorship program for a virtual classroom's needs, including calling out for more mentors. More than 600 applicants answered the call, ready to support over 7,000 students during the 2020-2021 school year.

"There was an overwhelming need for new types of assistance," says Gir. "From helping parents learn how to use online digital learning platforms to one-on-one tutoring and group tutoring sessions in the evening for students and parents, our mentors are willing and able and they have risen to the challenge."

To learn more about working with iEducate, email contact@iEducateUSA.org.

"We are navigating unexplored waters," says Gir. "We thought about opening up any school in the Houston area because we know that COVID-19 response measures are very decentralized which means we have to go directly to the source."

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Houston SaaS startup closes $12M series A funding round with support from local VC

money moves

A Houston startup with a software-as-a-service platform for the energy transition has announced it closed a funding round with participation from a local venture capital.

Molecule closed its $12 million series A, and Houston-based Mercury Fund was among the company's investors. The company has a cloud-based energy trading and risk management solution for the energy industry and supports power, natural gas, crude/refined products, chemicals, agricultural commodities, softs, metals, cryptocurrencies, and more.

"We led the seed round of Molecule upon their formation and are excited to participate in their series A," says Blair Garrou, co-founder and managing director of Mercury, in a news release. "Molecule's success in the ETRM/CTRM industry, especially in relation to electricity and renewables, positions them as the company to beat for the energy transition in the 2020s."

The company will use its new funds to further build out its product as well as introduce offerings to manage renewables credits, according to the release.

"In 2020, we realized that electricity — the growth commodity of the 2020s — represented over half of Molecule's customer base, and we decided to double down," says Sameer Soleja, founder and CEO of Molecule, in the release. "We were also rated the No. 1 SaaS ETRM/CTRM vendor. With this fundraise, we have the fuel to become No. 1 SaaS platform for power and renewables, and then the market leader overall.

"Molecule is ready to power the energy transition," Soleja continues.

Molecule's last round of funding closed in November 2014. The $1.1 million seed round was supported by Mercury Fund and the Houston Angel Network.

Houston-based afterlife planning startup launches new app

there's an app for that

The passing of a loved one is followed with grief — and paperwork. A Houston company that's simplifying the process of afterlife planning and decision making is making things even easier with a new smartphone app.

The Postage, a digital platform meant to ease with affair planning, recently launched a mobile app to make the service more accessible following a particularly deadly year. The United States recorded 3.2 million fatalities — the most deaths in its history, largely due to the coronavirus pandemic.

After losing three family members back-to-back, Emily Cisek dealt first hand with the difficulty of wrapping up a loved one's life. She saw how afterlife planning interrupted her family's grieving and caused deep frustration. Soon, she began to envision a solution to help people have a plan and walk through the process of losing someone.

The Postage, which launched in September, provides a platform for people to plan their affairs and leave behind wishes for loved ones. The website includes document storage and organization, password management, funeral and last wishes planning, and the option to create afterlife messages to posthumously share with loved ones.

"Right now, as it stands ahead of this app, end-of-life planning is really challenging. It's this daunting thing you have to sit down and do at your computer," says Cisek. Not only is it "daunting," but it's time-consuming. According to The Postage, families can expect to spend nearly 500 hours on completing end-of-life details if there is no planning done in advance.

With more than 74 percent of The Postage's web traffic coming from mobile users, an app was a natural progression. In fact, Entrepreneur reports the average person will spend nine years on their mobile device. Cisek wanted to meet users where they are at with a user-friendly app that includes the same features as the desktop website.

"What we wanted to do [with the app] is make it so easy to plan your life and the end of your life using one click — as easy as it was for posting and commenting on social media," explains Cisek. "People are so used to reflecting on those behaviors and clicking one button to add a picture ... we wanted to make it that simple," she continued.

Cisek and her team focused on providing a "seamless experience" within the app, which took approximately four months to build, which mirrors the desktop platform.

Though The Postage's website had mobile functionality, the app includes the ability to record and upload content. Whether snapping a picture of their insurance policy or recording a video to share with loved ones, The Postage app allows users to capture photos and videos directly within the app.

After snapping a picture, "the next step inherently is sharing it with your loved ones," says Cisek. Photos, family recipes and videos can easily be shared securely with loved ones who accept your invitation to The Postage so "that legacy continues on," she says.

Since The Postage's fall launch, the company has grown a steady base of paid subscribers with plans to expand.

"We're really starting to change the way people plan for the future," says Cisek.