If mobile marketing isn't in your startup's toolkit, it should be. Photo via Getty Images

Consumer privacy is driving startups to immediately begin marketing and data collection. Google and Apple have recently stressed the importance of first-party data collection for businesses. For the last two decades, businesses have had access to cookies to advertise to people who visited their digital assets. Digital advertising has already changed with Apple’s iOS 14.5 alterations, switching the default of ad tracking from yes to no and both Google and Apple expect data privacy to increase.

For startups, when and how to begin marketing their business can feel like a cumbersome task. As a chief marketing officer, I was asked to list services and channels that I oversee, and I came up with 16. For founders of startups who must often take on the roles of CEO and COO in addition to CMO as they look to expand their teams, that time commitment is not reasonable for someone who also has a personal life.

Entrepreneurs need tools that are simple to institute and not cost prohibitive, to meet their respective milestones. First, we need to collect first party data, so that when we get to our minimum viable product we have plenty of people waiting to buy it. Next, marketing must work even when we can’t focus on it. Third, we must focus on revenue generating activities, whether they are marketing or not. Finally, we want to create an environment where successful entrepreneurs have a work and life balance.

Before doing anything else — get a virtual phone number

A virtual phone number is the first marketing tool I would use for any business. This number can be connected to your cell phone during certain hours of the day and disconnected for others. This allows people to reach you on your schedule. Put this phone number on every asset you have, so it can be integrated into future tools, such as customer relationship management and Google My Business. With proper opt-in information, it also creates an immediate list for SMS marketing in the future. A virtual phone number typically runs $1 to $2 a month plus usage fees, so it can be used by any business.

It is important that this is set up first, because without this, you can’t use the following marketing tools effectively.

Tool 1: Missed Call – Text Back

An entrepreneurs’ worst nightmare is missing an important phone call, whether it’s an investor or closing your first sale. Constant phone and email checking causes anxiety, but more importantly, it is a low revenue activity, so you are actively hurting your business.

Missed Call – Text Back, or MCTB, allows a customizable text message to be delivered to a client when you miss their phone call. It moves the caller towards resolution (sales or otherwise) immediately encouraging them to give you more information about their problem. The best part is, that once you have the system in place, it costs you zero time. Imagine walking out of a meeting and instead of 10 missed calls, you have 10 text messages that you can quickly answer. How much time did you just get back?

Pro Tip: In many cases, you can automate your emails in a similar way.

Tool 2: A funnel page

Now that we have a tool that allows us to work productively without constant phone checking, we need to increase our book of business. This is where a funnel comes in.

A funnel is a unique digital experience you would like a specific person — a client or investor — to have. When you start a business, a funnel can be your website because you only have one specific thing you want any visitor to do, like collect information.

Almost every consultant to new businesses is promoting funnel building. Why? Because a good funnel motivates people to act in a specific way. If you are raising funds, you want an investor to have a specific experience to garner interest, not hope they navigate to the correct webpage. If you have a new technology, you want early adopters to learn and then provide a simple way to collect their information, so that you can contact them when your product is ready. Finally, if you’re about to hit the market with your new product, providing customers with a simple purchase method will improve revenue during your important proof-of-concept period.

Funnels, like MCTB, can grow and adapt with your business, providing different groups of people with different experiences, with minimal effort. For instance, suppose I created a dating app and needed early adopters. Instead of creating one funnel, let’s say I created two. The only difference between the two funnels, is the first one’s headline was “The No. 1 new dating app for men” and then the second one said women. Everything else remains the same, but the experience is immediately different for the consumer. The more you can change the funnel to cater to their personal experience, the better it will be, but even simple changes can go a long way.

Pro Tip: Funnels are easiest to keep track of when they are subdomains of your website.

Tool 3: Automated SMS marketing

The final tool I recommend to start is Automated SMS Marketing. Assuming you have people properly opted in from your funnel — review Telephone Consumer Protection Act (1991) to ensure legal compliance — you can make sure they receive a welcome message in the first 5 minutes.

The most important part of text messaging marketing is allowing your customer to believe they are really having a conversation with you. If you can avoid it, never tell a customer that your digital number is automated. If you need, tell them it is automated but overseen by you. You are the owner of the business or the inventor of the technology, people want to talk to you. Customers want to pretend that they know you. Allow them this feeling. Once the customer responds, you should be picking up an organic conversation with them anyway.

Bringing it together

Using these tools, we have created a simple, repeatable method to gather customer data and start their customer journey. Your funnel may also help you gather an email list, but your most active prospects will be more than willing to communicate with you over the phone.

When you can’t take calls, whether it’s because you are in a meeting or with your kids, you can rest easier, knowing that potential customers get an immediate response that helps them get where they need to go, or at the very least, when you get back to work, you can help them quickly.

And the best part for a new entrepreneur is that this can all be done cost effectively. Personally, I recommend a service called HighLevel, a feature-rich cost-effective CRM, that includes all of the tools previously discussed. Most tech savvy entrepreneurs can figure out how to institute all these practices quickly from one platform in a no code environment. If you’d rather have assistance, there are 20,000 agencies that use the platform and just as many YouTube videos.

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Chris Romani is the chief marketing officer for illumiPure, a Houston-based medical device company.

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Houston researchers create AI model to tap into how brain activity relates to illness

brainiac

Houston researchers are part of a team that has created an AI model intended to understand how brain activity relates to behavior and illness.

Scientists from Baylor College of Medicine worked with peers from Yale University, University of Southern California and Idaho State University to make Brain Language Model, or BrainLM. Their research was published as a conference paper at ICLR 2024, a meeting of some of deep learning’s greatest minds.

“For a long time we’ve known that brain activity is related to a person’s behavior and to a lot of illnesses like seizures or Parkinson’s,” Dr. Chadi Abdallah, associate professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor and co-corresponding author of the paper, says in a press release. “Functional brain imaging or functional MRIs allow us to look at brain activity throughout the brain, but we previously couldn’t fully capture the dynamic of these activities in time and space using traditional data analytical tools.

"More recently, people started using machine learning to capture the brain complexity and how it relates it to specific illnesses, but that turned out to require enrolling and fully examining thousands of patients with a particular behavior or illness, a very expensive process,” Abdallah continues.

Using 80,000 brain scans, the team was able to train their model to figure out how brain activities related to one another. Over time, this created the BrainLM brain activity foundational model. BrainLM is now well-trained enough to use to fine-tune a specific task and to ask questions in other studies.

Abdallah said that using BrainLM will cut costs significantly for scientists developing treatments for brain disorders. In clinical trials, it can cost “hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said, to enroll numerous patients and treat them over a significant time period. By using BrainLM, researchers can enroll half the subjects because the AI can select the individuals most likely to benefit.

The team found that BrainLM performed successfully in many different samples. That included predicting depression, anxiety and PTSD severity better than other machine learning tools that do not use generative AI.

“We found that BrainLM is performing very well. It is predicting brain activity in a new sample that was hidden from it during the training as well as doing well with data from new scanners and new population,” Abdallah says. “These impressive results were achieved with scans from 40,000 subjects. We are now working on considerably increasing the training dataset. The stronger the model we can build, the more we can do to assist with patient care, such as developing new treatment for mental illnesses or guiding neurosurgery for seizures or DBS.”

For those suffering from neurological and mental health disorders, BrainLM could be a key to unlocking treatments that will make a life-changing difference.

Houston-based cleantech unicorn named among annual top disruptors

on the rise

Houston-based biotech startup Solugen is making waves among innovative companies.

Solugen appears at No. 36 on CNBC’s annual Disruptor 50 list, which highlights private companies that are “upending the classic definition of disruption.” Privately owned startups founded after January 1, 2009, were eligible for the Disruptor 50 list.

Founded in 2016, Solugen replaces petroleum-based products with plant-derived substitutes through its Bioforge manufacturing platform. For example, it uses engineered enzymes and metal catalysts to convert feedstocks like sugar into chemicals that have traditionally been made from fossil fuels, such as petroleum and natural gas.

Solugen has raised $643 million in funding and now boasts a valuation of $2.2 billion.

“Sparked by a chance medical school poker game conversation in 2016, Solugen evolved from prototype to physical asset in five years, and production hit commercial scale shortly thereafter,” says CNBC.

Solugen co-founders Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt received the Entrepreneur of The Year 2023 National Award, presented by professional services giant EY.

“Solugen is a textbook startup launched by two partners with $10,000 in seed money that is revolutionizing the chemical refining industry. The innovation-driven company is tackling impactful, life-changing issues important to the planet,” Entrepreneur of The Year judges wrote.

In April 2024, Solugen broke ground on a Bioforge biomanufacturing plant in Marshall, Minnesota. The 500,000-square-foot, 34-acre facility arose through a Solugen partnership with ADM. Chicago-based ADM produces agricultural products, commodities, and ingredients. The plant is expected to open in the fall of 2025.

“Solugen’s … technology is a transformative force in sustainable chemical manufacturing,” says Hunt. “The new facility will significantly increase our existing capabilities, enabling us to expand the market share of low-carbon chemistries.”

Houston cleantech company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

RESULTS ARE IN

Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

“This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

“At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

“The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.