A new report finds that the Lone Star State isn't prime for innovation jobs — and more Houston innovation news. Photo via Getty Images

Houston's summer has been heating up in terms of innovation news, and there might be some headlines you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, Houston investors were tapped for impressive roles, a local hospital system has invested in the city's diversity and inclusion, and more.

Houston Methodist awards more than $4.6 million for 2022 DEI Grant program

Ryane Jackson, vice-president, community benefits at Houston Methodist, oversees the grant program. Photo courtesy of Houston Methodist

Houston Methodist announced grants to 59 Houston-area nonprofit organizations totalling more than $4.6 million thanks to the Houston Methodist Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Grant Program. The program supports "community initiatives focused on addressing the social determinants of health that lead to health inequities within racial, ethnic and social minorities, including women, people experiencing homelessness, older adults, the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants and more," per a news release.

It's the second year for the DEI Grant Program, and the latest donations will support more than 100,000 people in the Houston area through 29 healthy neighborhood programs, 16 economic empowerment programs, and 17 educational empowerment programs.

“It’s incredibly encouraging to see so many local non-profit organizations working to close the health and social disparity gaps that exist among minority groups in the Houston area,” says Ryane Jackson, vice-president, community benefits at Houston Methodist, in the release. “The goal of the Houston Methodist DEI grant program is to enact meaningful change. For us, that change entails working together with local charity agencies in our collective pursuit to build a healthier Houston that reaffirms the value and worth of everyone. Entering our second year of funding, we’re pleased to support even more local organizations this year who are critical in shaping our community.”

The program has two types of grant funding — the Social Equity Grant for health equity programs targeting racial and ethnic minorities, and the DEI Grant, which provides resources for operating growing agencies serving broader minority communities.

Some examples of the grants are:

  • DEI Grant to the The Montrose Center, which empowers the LGBTQ+ community and their families to live healthier, more fulfilling lives. DEI grant funds will benefit LGBTQ+ seniors and African American seniors from Third Ward in need of affordable and affirmative housing and will enable the hiring of a case manager to support the initiative.
  • DEI Grant tp the Santa Maria Hostel, which offers a comprehensive continuum of care for women and their families including residential detoxification, substance use disorder treatment for women, and emergency and transitional housing. DEI Grant funding will support the Recovery Support Services Program that assists formerly incarcerated women with housing and economic stability through salary support for Peer Recovery Coaches. This agency is the only recovery agency that allows women to keep their children with them while going through the program.
  • Social Equity Grant to Boat People SOS - Houston, a nonprofit social and legal services provider whose purpose is to empower, organize, and equip immigrant communities in their pursuit of liberty and dignity. The Houston Methodist Social Equity grant funding will support their senior services program designed to address social support needs and provide resources to Vietnamese seniors.

2 Mercury investors named to prestigious programs

Samantha Lewis and Aziz Gilani of Mercury have each received exciting appointments. Photos via Mercury

Houston-based venture capital firm has two employees to celebrate. Samantha Lewis, principal at Mercury, was announced as a member of the Class 27 of the Kauffman Fellows Program, a group of global innovation investors, just after Aziz Gilani, managing director at the firm, was appointed to the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, a Federal advisory committee that advises the United States Secretary of Commerce.

For Lewis, the appointment enrolls her in the two-year program, which is described as "a United Nations of venture investing," in a news release. She joins a network of 765 fellows — including 59 in the current cohort — spanning six continents and representing over 670 VC firms around the globe.

At NACIE, Gilani was one of 32 leaders appointed by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo last month. The group, according to a news release, will be tasked with "developing a National Entrepreneurship Strategy that strengthens America’s ability to compete and win as the world’s leading startup nation and as the world’s leading innovator in critical emerging technologies."

Texas ranks as middle of the pack when it comes to innovative states

Texas ranks in the lower half of the nation when it comes to innovation jobs. Chart via Smartest Dollar

The Lone Star State was named the 30th most innovative state, according to a new report from Smartest Dollar. The report evaluated data from 350 metros and all 50 states and sought to identify the locations with the most innovative workers. Researchers calculated a composite innovation index for each location and ranked states accordingly.

Here is a summary of the data for Texas, according to the report:

  • Composite innovation index: 59.30
  • Share of workers in the most innovative jobs: 2.6 percent
  • Total workers in the most innovative jobs: 322,910
  • Average annual wage for all workers: $54,230
  • Average annual wage for workers in the most innovative jobs: $77,098

Here are the statistics for the entire United States:

  • Composite innovation index: 59.53
  • Share of workers in the most innovative jobs: 3.1 percent
  • Total workers in the most innovative jobs: 4,428,790
  • Average annual wage for all workers: $58,260
  • Average annual wage for workers in the most innovative jobs: $86,562

Applications are open for pitch competition

A new pitch competition is looking for finalists. Photo via Getty Images

Applications are now open for the Black Girl Ventures x Omaze Houston pitch competition. The deadline to submit is July 1.

This fall, seven finalists will pitch their businesses to a panel of judges, and the first place winner will win $10,000. Second and third place winners will receive $6,000 and $2,000, respectively. Capital One will match funds, effectively doubling the prize money for the top three finalists.

Eligibility includes Black and Brown woman-identifying founders with revenue-generating (under $1 million) businesses. Founders can submit their applications online. Finalists will be notified on July 18.

Black Girl Ventures has been active in Houston since 2020. According to the organization, the region has six Change Agents, or fellows, who work to strengthen and expand the local entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Houston startup joins national 5G accelerator cohort

Houston startup joins a cohort of companies changing the future of 5G. Photo via Getty Images

A Houston company has been named to a new 5G-focused accelerator program. The gBETA 5G Technology Spring 2022 cohort includes Houston-based Ohana. Using advertising revenue, the company brings free access to information and connectivity to the world and is planning to roll out a 5G smartphone and data plan free to users across the globe later this year.

gBETA, which has an industry agnostic cohort ongoing in Houston, also has this 5G-focuset version that follows a similar structure. The five companies will go through the free, seven-week accelerator — that kicked off May 5 — and receive intensive and individualized coaching and access to gener8tor’s national network of mentors, customers, corporate partners, and investors.

The program will culminate with the gener8tor Showcase Day in the fall, which will highlight each of the five companies.

“We’re so fortunate to have such a diverse set of founders from across the country, with expertise across the internet technology and communications continuum,” says Doug Applegate, gBETA director for the 5G Technology program. “They highlight the capabilities and possibilities of what 5G Technology can bring to the world, and we’re excited to see how the companies grow.”

The other companies include Chicago-based Socian Technologies, Fishers, Indiana-based Qumulex Boston-based Mentore, and Dallas-based Taubyte.

Black Girl Ventures has launched in Houston. Photo courtesy of Black Girl Ventures

Organization launches Houston chapter to drive investment and social capital for women of color

a seat at the table

Everyone knows the statistics. Female-founded startups receive around 2 percent of the venture capital funding, according to some reports, and when you break that down into women of color receiving funding, it's even less.

A Washington D.C.-based organization is looking to give these women seats at the table with the launch of Black Girl Ventures in Houston. BGV is based in The Cannon locally, and is looking to partner with other Houston organizations to grow its presence.

"Black Girl Ventures is here — not just in Houston but across the country and the globe — to be able to help create social and financial capital for black and brown women," says Sharita M. Humphrey, a Houston financial adviser and team lead for BGV in town.

The organization launched its local chapters — including Houston, Miami, Durham, Philadelphia, and Birmingham —right around the same time this spring to create a huge splash across the country. The organization, which is made up of 31 employees and leaders across the country, focuses on events and programing for female founders of color to prepare them for financial growth — including the networks and know how needed for that process.

"Being an African-American women founder I did see that there was a need for more social and financial capital," Humphrey says. "We have access — especially living here in Texas — to financial capital, but we don't understand how important that social capital is to be able to obtain that financial capital."

The cornerstone event for Houston's BGV is set to be in August. It's a pitch event with a live crowdfunding campaign. The event, which uses SheRaise online to fundraise, has been done for a few years coinciding with SXSW — this year's was done digitally. Now, with the launch of the five markets, each of the new chapters will get to fo their on versions locally.

The event requires the eight companies that will pitch to: be revenue earning, have a black or brown female founder, and be based in the Houston area. The first, second, and third place startups will win prizes, and each of the startups will be able to raise money online through SheRaise. Companies can apply online for the event.

Humphrey says she has big plans for her BGV chapter, including raising $1 million for her Houston members — something she is determined to make happen with the right amount of social capital help and financial coaching.

"When they get to the table with venture capitalists, they'll be ready," she says.

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Houston investors back new platform for retail traders looking to follow financial influencers

making a splash

As anyone who witnessed the impact Gamestop's meme stock had on the country already realizes, influential investors can drive momentum within the financial sector. And one company with fresh funding from a Houston firm is betting on that exactly.

CashPool is a new mobile platform that gives everyday investors the opportunity to derive influence from the investment strategies and trades made by trusted and influential stock traders who have built substantial followings on social media platforms. By allowing retail traders the chance to join social media influencers’ various “pools” on its platform, CashPool is primed to change the way the masses acquire wealth.

This is the kind of algorithmic trading aimed at a new generation of investors that gets the attention of early-stage venture capital funds like Houston-based Ten X Labs, a pre-seed angel fund that recently invested in CashPool to help the trading platform continue its mission of transforming the investment landscape.

"We are thrilled to receive funding from Ten X Labs, as it validates our innovative approach to trading and investing," CashPool Founder and CEO Averett Barksdale says in a news release. "This investment will enable us to further enhance our platform, expand our user base and continue to revolutionize the industry. We believe that everyone should have transparent, governed access to profitable trading and investment opportunities, and through CashPool we are making that vision a reality."

Connecting the dots

CashPool is broker agnostic connector, allowing its users to keep their current brokers like Robinhood, Coinbase, Charles Schwab, Acorns, Fidelity, ETRADE, Stash, Sofi and Betterment and creates a seamless investment experience.

“We are that middle piece,” says Barksdale. “So your money stays on whatever brokerage you’ve connected to the platform, and we just execute the trades on your brokerage for you.”

Considering that users’ money remains with their original brokerage, how does CashPool monetize its platform?

“We don’t charge users to execute trades,” says Barksdale. “We charge per pool you join. So, on our platform, strategies are called pools and a user can join as many strategies as they want.”

Financial influencers set the strategies. These are profitable traders who have become influencers on various social media platforms and built-up followings comprised of people who are or are desiring to be retail traders themselves.

“There are a ton of people out there who actually are profitable traders,” says Barksdale. “Same as what we saw happen with GameStop and the whole Reddit situation. That was a financial influencer, right? It just so happens that he had a strategy that he thought would work and it turned out for a while it did work, right?

“We want to not only empower the retail trader, but empower these financial influencers who are profitable as well. Just because it's a whole marketplace out there for it. But a lot of times the retail trader doesn't quite understand who to go with. On our platform, you could see the results of these financial influencers right before your eyes on our platform. So you can see if they're profitable or not, or if someone's just on Instagram or whatever, social media platform posting screenshots but aren’t actually executing those trades.”

Increasing transparency

With trading, past success can be an arbiter for future performance, so with CashPool, users can choose to join the pools of influencers who have documented success as a trader on the platform.

“On our platform you can't hide,” says Barksdale. “We're connected to their brokerage account, so we see what trades they're making in real time. We also see their performance in real time, and we display that on the platform. That's something that you really can't get around. So if someone on Instagram says they traded this stock, then I made X amount of dollars and had this percentage of return, then you go to the platform and look at your pool and see they didn't do that and were lying the whole time, it’s literally just putting everything out there in the open. We have the kind of transparency that doesn't exist currently right now in the space.”

Broadcasting one’s successes is easy, but what about the losses?

“I thought it was going to be a lot more difficult just thinking, do people really want to show what they're doing?” says Barksdale. “But the thing that I've seen is a lot of these traders are a whole lot more competitive. And the traders who are doing it, they're constantly talking out against people who aren't actually doing it in real life.

“A lot of the traders who are actually profitable, they do live trades every day. But how do users if they should pay to get into a specific trader’s live trading session? Like, how do they know they're profitable already?

“On CashPool, users can see an actual influencer's win rate and say, 'Okay, 86 percent of the time they are profitable, and I could see how many trades they've made in total.' From that standpoint, users can make an educated decision on what pools to join and pay for.”

CashPool users can join as many pools as they see fit, but the cost of each pool’s membership may vary due to the popularity or success percentage rate of the financial influencer.

“You can join as many pools as you want, but what we suggest is you start by joining the pools of influencers that you already follow and trust, that you're already following like on Twitter or YouTube or Instagram or whatever it may be,” says Barksdale. “We are suggesting that you follow them first and you join their pools first. What we do is on the monetization side is we allow the creators on our platform who are the influencers to set their own price for their pool.”

Building a secure network

Outside of who or what to follow, information security is likely a concern for potential users. Financial influencers’ trade information is readily available (win percentages and number of trades, not dollar amounts), but users’ won’t be able to see other users’ information on the platform.

“Currently, we have a list of 10 brokerages who are on board, and then we're working to onboard more as we keep going on,” says Barksdale. “So, we have like your Interactive brokerages, and we also have a few other ones that are UK specific and Canada specific. We would love to have every single brokerage on the platform, but unfortunately, there are a couple that are still kind of playing hard to get, so to speak.”

The first rollout of CashPool is set, but version two will likely include content creation from the financial influencers.

Barksdale, who has a background in product development and experience working at companies like Charles Schwab and Fidelity, is mostly excited about the prospect of CashPool unlocking expert financial strategies for everyone, not just the financial advisors behind the closed doors of Wall Street.

“Yes, my philosophy is that financial health and financial growth should be accessible for all,” says Barksdale. “The thing that gets me is it needs to be responsible. So, for example, RobinHood is a platform that doesn't necessarily care if you are making responsible decisions, they just care that you're trading on that platform.

“Our platform is strictly focused on actually being the place where these retail traders can make responsible decisions centered around investing and trading.”

Tech companies contribute to recovery fund for those affected by Houston storm

helping hands

The past month in Houston has been marked by severe flooding and a sudden storm that left nearly a million residents without power. The Houston Disaster Alliance has established the Severe Weather and Derecho Recovery Fund to help those impacted by the weather.

“The Greater Houston Disaster Alliance was formed so that in times of crisis, there is a swift and efficient response to help those severely impacted begin the process of recovery,” said Stephen Maislin, president and CEO, Greater Houston Community Foundation. “When disaster strikes, it requires a collaborative and coordinated response from the nonprofit, for-profit, public sector, and philanthropic community to ensure the most vulnerable in our region get the help they need to start the recovery and rebuilding process.”

At least a million dollars has been donated to the fund, courtesy of $500,000 from the CenterPoint Energy Foundation and another $500,000 from Comcast. With Houston now a federally declared disaster area by President Joe Biden, impacted residents are able to apply for various grants and aid.

Those still struggling from the weather events should call the 211 Texas/United Way HELPLINE. Assistance is available for housing, utilities, food, elder assistance, and other areas. Crisis counseling is also available.

“Outside of times of disaster, we know that 14 percent of households in our region are struggling on income below the federal poverty line and 31 percent of households in our region are working hard but struggling to make ends meet. It’s these neighbors who are disproportionately impacted when disaster strikes,” said Amanda McMillian, president and CEO, United Way of Greater Houston. “This fund allows us to lift up the most vulnerable who have been impacted by recent weather events to ensure they can not only recover from the immediate crisis, but also prepare themselves for future disasters.”

The derecho storm that hit Houston on Thursday, May 16 had wind gusts up to 100mph. Nearly a million people in the Houston area were left without power, and as of Wednesday CenterPoint was still working to restore electricity to more than 60,000 people. Photos showed that the storm toppled massive power pylons, took down trees, and even ripped the sides off buildings. Miniature tornadoes touched down in parts of the city, adding to the devastation.

The Houston Disaster Alliance was launched in 2023 as a joint effort between the Greater Houston Community Foundation and United Way of Greater Houston to help mitigate the damage of weather crises year-round. This has become increasingly necessary as Houston's weather has become more unpredictable than ever.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.