For newly named CEO of Topl, it's game on. Courtesy of Topl

From a business perspective, Kim Raath, founder and CEO of Topl, sees the challenges and expected recession caused by COVID-19 as an opportunity — and a test.

"A bunch of companies — like Airbnb — were built in the 2008 recession," Raath says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "I'm excited to see if we make it through here, I think we can survive anything."

Topl was founded by Rice University graduates — Raath, James Aman, and Chris Georgen — to track impact in various industries, such as carbon footprints in oil and gas or fair wages for farmers in agriculture, via a robust blockchain network. The company closed a $700,000 seed round last year and is looking toward another round of investment this year — yes, even amidst the current situation.

Raath just recently took over as CEO for the company following the completion of her Rice Ph.D in statistics and a Master's in economics, and it was a perfect time for the founders to sit down and realign their company. Aman will continue to focus on the tech, Georgen will focus on the customer, and Raath will steer the ship.

"It was definitely a cool experience for us as founders to go through together, but I'm glad that all three of us came out of this excited about what we're doing moving forward," says Raath.

And then, the coronavirus hit, which, to Raath, has proven to be an added obstacle and an exciting time to be in the track and trace world of blockchain.

"A lot of these COVID-19 trackers that everyone is watching, the data is being pulled into these trackers in the same way you could be tracking your chocolate, diamonds, anything," says Raath. "I'm excited to see the virtual and digital side of this — people are realizing you can use data to visualize things — and at the same time use that data for informed decision making."

She's observed that people are actually thinking of the effects on supply chain — in more than just the business sense.

"I don't think any of us thought this much about supply chain. Most of us just went to the grocery store, and we had all these options," Raath says.

Raath, like many startup founders, have had to make some tough calls and some huge cuts to her business, which has been scrappy and bootstrapped most of its existence anyways. In the episode, she offers her fellow startup leaders some advice about making these cuts as well as reminds them, as well as herself, that everyone is in the same boat right now — ask yourself what you can do to stand out and survive.

"Everyone is in the same place — including your competition right now," Raath says. "You don't have control of the uncertainty — but no one does. What do you have control over right now and how can you act on that control. That's what my focus has been."

Listen to the full episode below — or wherever you get your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Data Gumbo, led by founder and CEO, Andrew Bruce, has expanded into Indonesia with a new client. Courtesy of Data Gumbo

Houston-based blockchain company continues growth with expansion in Southeast Asia

making moves

A Houston startup that's created a global industrial blockchain network has announced a new application and expansion into a new market.

For the first time, Data Gumbo Corp.'s GumboNet will be used in geothermal energy drilling thanks to the startup's new Indonesia-based client, Air Drilling Associates, a drilling and project management service provider.

"Expansion into Southeast Asia with ADA's deployment signals GumboNet's global applicability and benefit to industry — in this case, geothermal energy development," says Andrew Bruce, CEO and founder of Data Gumbo, in a news release. "We are excited that Data Gumbo is entering yet another sector of the energy market for improvements across its supply chain."

ADA will use GumboNet to automate invoice payments of its contracts, including ADA's work on on major geothermal exploration drilling campaign for international power company. This project is part of the country's plan to develop infrastructure to meet national electrical energy needs.

"In geothermal energy, supply chain parties are sluggish to invoice and execute payments, remote operations exist all over the world, and it takes dozens of counterparties to get a well site up and running," says Diederik Zwager, CEO of Air Drilling Associates, in the release. "By implementing GumboNet, we will gain greater transparency into our operations, and experience billing and invoicing execution at a monumentally faster rate."

Zwager will also become an adviser for Data Gumbo and is eager "to implement the network at ADA to pass along the benefits to customers, vendors and suppliers," he says in the release. The company has a presence in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, the Asia-Pacific region, and North and South America.

Since its inception in 2016, Data Gumbo has raised a total of $9.3 million — recently closing a $6 million series A led by Saudi Aramco's venture arm. While that recent pop of investment means expanding to new industries — the company announced its entrance into the construction industry — Bruce preciously commented that these funds would go toward taking Data Gumbo to new global markets.

"The whole thing for us is building this blockchain network of interconnected companies," Bruce says on a recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The more companies that are a part of that network, the more value that network has."

Andrew Bruce talks Data Gumbo expansion on the most recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Courtesy of Data Gumbo

Houston blockchain company plans for huge growth — from new offices to new industries

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 9

Andrew Bruce saw that the oil and gas industry had a data problem. If energy companies were ever going to be able to set up autonomous drilling, they needed to integrate data and challenge the commercial model.

On this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, Bruce, CEO of Data Gumbo Corp., shares how he created a solution to move the needle on streamlining data within industry.

"Data Gumbo was originally founded to solve that integration problem. Take data from different sources, standardize it, clean it up, and make sure only the people who have the authority to get access to the data, can get access to the data," Bruce says on the podcast. "That's why we're called Data Gumbo — take a bunch of data, put it in the pot, stir it up, and make it taste good."

Since its inception in 2016, Bruce has led the company to raise a total of $9.3 million — recently closing a $6 million series A led by Saudi Aramco's venture arm. While that recent pop of investment means expanding to new industries — the company announced its entrance into the construction industry — Bruce says the funds will also take Data Gumbo to new global markets, including the Middle East.

"The whole thing for us is building this blockchain network of interconnected companies," Bruce says. "The more companies that are a part of that network, the more value that network has."

Bruce discusses his planned growth, the origin story of Data Gumbo, and how the Houston innovation ecosystem has helped the company grow in the episode. Listen to it below and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Houston-based Data Gumbo is entering a new phase of business within oil and gas. Courtesy of Data Gumbo

Houston oil and gas blockchain company expands into new sector

Building blockchain

With a new partnership, Houston-based Data Gumbo Corp. will move into a new sector within oil and gas, allowing the startup to tap into the Permian Basin.

Austin-based Antelope Water Management, which provides sustainable water solutions within the O&G industry, has partnered with Data Gumbo on its blockchain network, called GumboNet™, allowing the Houston startup to go beyond the drilling sector. The partnership means Data Gumbo will have life operations in both onshore and offshore drilling, including in the shale basins, according to a news release.

"As an integrated water management company in the Permian Basin providing tailored management services for water infrastructure, we look forward to incorporating Data Gumbo into each of our business units," says Dustin Brownlow, CEO of Antelope, in the release. "Data Gumbo is a game changer enabling us to provide customers, vendors, and regulators the best experience that smart contracts can offer."

According to the release, this partnership is the first use of a blockchain platform for water management services in U.S. shale sites in the industry.

"Data Gumbo was the first blockchain in offshore drilling and now we are the first in oil and gas water management. We anticipate continuing to break ground across the industry as companies realize the vast benefits we afford them such as security, certainty of data and, most of all, savings to the bottom line," says Andrew Bruce, CEO of Data Gumbo, in the release.

The technology allows for valuable cost-saving initiatives, including lower overhead expenditures, fewer outstanding payments between parties, and data certainty for business transactions.

Data Gumbo operates as a blockchain-as-a-service company, where clients across midstream, drilling and completions opt into the network service. The company was founded in 2016 and recently closed a $6 million Series A round.

These five Houston startups are linking up industries and blockchain technology. Getty Images

5 Houston companies using blockchain to unlock new opportunities across industries

Linked in

Blockchain has really started to come into its own as more and more companies are applying the technology across industries — from oil and gas analytics and fundraising to even social media marketing.

Five Houston companies have made their mark on these different industries by incorporating this burgeoning technology.

Data Gumbo

Andrew Bruce had the idea for Data Gumbo when he realized how difficult it was to share data in upstream oil and gas. Courtesy of Data Gumbo

As the blockchain-as-a-service company's name suggests, Houston-based Data Gumbo is all about the data.

"The whole idea is to build out the blockchain network, and provide a network that they can subscribe to and start doing business on that network," Andrew Bruce, CEO of Data Gumbo, says. "It's a service, so there's a subscription fee. It gives them access to the savings they already have available within their organizations."

The company, which focuses on providing midstream and upstream oil and gas companies with timely decision-making information, was launched in 2016 and faced a big learning curve in the industry.

"We got a lot of questions and concerns about what blockchain is, why they need it, and whether or not they can trust it," Bruce says. "We were introducing a completely new concept to a conservative industry."

The industry is coming around as Data Gumbo grows its network and proves results.

Social Chains

Big companies are using your data to make a profit — but what if you got a kickback of that cash? That's what Houston-based Social Chains is trying to do. Pexels

When it comes to social media marketing, Houston-based Social Chains is putting the power back into the hands of users. Big social media companies, like Facebook, sell data about you to marketers and advertisers, and there's nothing you can do about it. Social Chains is a new platform where users own their own data and receive a cut of the payment.

"On our platform, the user is a stakeholder. Our platform distributes 50 percent of the profits to the users," Srini Katta, founder and CEO of the company, says.

Social Chains already has 5,000 users and, Katta says, that's with little to no marketing efforts. Currently, he's been working out a few kinks before launching into marketing for the platform, though he expects to do that beginning next month. Most of Social Chain's current users are high school to college students, so that will be the primary demographic for the marketing strategy.

Topl

Houston-based Topl can track almost anything using its blockchain technology. Courtesy of Topl

Blockchain, when applied to consumer products, can be used to complete the full picture of that product. A chocolate bar, for instance, can be traced from cacao farm to grocery store. Not only does the connected information keep each party accountable when it comes to prices, it tells a story.

"We are a generation that wants a story," says Kim Raath, CFO of Topl. "We want an origin, and don't want to be fooled. And, because you might be able to reduce the cost by having this transparency, you might be able to bring down the cost on both sides."

Topl, a Houston-based startup that was created by a few Rice University graduate and doctorate students, uses blockchain to connect the dots. One of the ways Topl's technology is being used is to track money. If an investor gives to a fund, and the fund gives to a startup, there's nothing to connect that first investor to the startup's success or to measure its impact. This is a tool used by investors or donors alike. For instance, if you were to create a scholarship, you can use Topl to track what student received that money and if they are meeting the required metrics for success.

Topl's 2019 focus is on growing its network and what it's able to provide its clients, like an app factory for companies trying to track specific things.

Iownit.us

The stock market has been using tech for years — why shouldn't the private sector have the same convenience? Getty Images

To Rashad Kurbanov, the private investment world was extremely backwards. While the stock market had been digitizing investment for years, private funds had a drawn out process of emails and meetings before moves were made. He thought introducing technology into the process could help simplify the investing for both sides of the equation.

"What we do, and where technology helps us, is we can take the entire process of receiving interest from investors, signing the transactions, issuing the subscription agreements, and processing the payments and put that all online," says Kurbanov, CEO and co-founder of Houston-based iownit.us.

The company is still seeking regulatory approval, but once that happens, the technology and platform will be ready to launch. The platform is a digital site that connects investors to companies seeking money. The investors can review the companies and contribute all online while being encrypted and protected by blockchain.

Houston Blockchain Alliance

blockchain

Here are some of the most common, misunderstood aspects about blockchain technology. Getty Images

The Houston Blockchain Alliance is a newly formed networking group for anyone working within or interested in the blockchain industry. Mahesh Sashital, co-founder of Smarterum, a blockchain news site, founded the organization late last year after realizing Houston was in need of an informative networking group.

"I thought that I'd start the Houston Blockchain Alliance so that someone like me, who's already in the industry, can find other people working in the industry," he says. "And for other people interested in blockchain can learn more and get up to speed with the technology."

The alliance aims to host regular events — its launch event is Feb. 20 — and educate people on blockchain. Click here to read Sashital's guest column about common blockchain misunderstandings.


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Houston scores lofty ranking in new study of America’s best cities

h-town proud

Buoyed by diversity, fine food, and Fortune 500 companies, Houston ranks as the 11th best city in the country and the top city in Texas, according to a consulting firm's annual study.

"Smart, skilled, and soulful, Houston is the American city of the future," says the study, published by Vancouver, Canada-based Resonance Consultancy Ltd., which specializes in marketing, strategy, and research for the real estate, tourism, and economic development sectors.

In last year's study, Houston also held the No. 11 ranking.

The 2020 study praises Houston for its:

  • Ethnic diversity, with more than 145 languages spoken in Houston-area homes.
  • Highly regarded restaurants, rated fourth behind Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago.
  • Healthy concentration of Fortune 500 companies, representing the country's biggest businesses. Twenty-two companies based in the Houston area are listed on this year's Fortune 500.
  • Airport connectivity (No. 7 ranking).

The study further lauds the city for development of the Houston Spaceport, a hub for the region's space industry. However, the study notes that Houston ranks 47th for prosperity, 74th for employment, and 99th (next to last) for income equality.

"From medicine to space to energy, we are at the forefront of innovation. We are resilient problem-solvers who work together to find common solutions, no matter if we're facing Hurricane Harvey or a global pandemic," real estate developer David Mincberg, chairman of Houston First Corp., says in an August 6 release. "Houston continues to grow and get better, so we invite those who live here to rediscover our city and visitors to come as soon as it is safe and enjoy all that Houston has to offer."

Houston First promotes the city as a destination for leisure and business travelers.

Resonance Consultancy ranks large U.S. cities by relying on a mix of 26 performance and quality measures. This year, New York City tops the list, followed by Los Angeles; San Francisco; Chicago; Washington, D.C.; San Diego; Las Vegas; San Jose, California; Miami; and Boston.

Three spots behind Houston is Dallas, at No. 14. Austin comes in at No. 17 and San Antonio at No. 28. Fort Worth isn't included in the ranking.

Highlights for Dallas include:

  • No. 1 ranking for airport connectivity, thanks largely to the presence of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
  • Country's highest concentration of corporate headquarters (more than 10,000).
  • Country's third largest grouping of Fortune 500 companies (24 in Dallas-Fort Worth).
  • Sixth largest LGBTQ community in the U.S.
  • Dallas Arts District, the country's largest contiguous urban arts district.

"Dallas inspires big ideas. This big and bold approach has resulted in world-class arts, culture, architecture, dining, business, and more, which are changing the face of the city," VisitDallas, the city's convention and tourism arm, says on its website.

Sitting at No. 17, Austin boasts No. 8 rankings for educational attainment and nightlife, the study says, along with a vibrant cultural scene anchored by events such as SXSW and a flourishing tech landscape dotted by the likes of Apple, Dell, Facebook, Google, and Oracle.

Austin's showing in the Resonance Consultancy study comes on the heels of the city being hailed by U.S. News & World Report as the No. 1 place to live in the country, with particularly high marks for desirability, jobs, and quality of life.

"With a strong, continually growing tech-talent labor force and an overall lower cost of living and doing business, I think Austin could end up being a beneficiary market in the recovery of the pandemic as many tech users look to move out of more densely populated areas like New York City or San Francisco," Erin Morales, senior vice president of commercial real estate services company CBRE, said in a July news release.

At No. 28, San Antonio earns kudos from Resonance Consultancy for its plethora of attractions, including the River Walk, five colonial missions, San Antonio Zoo, San Antonio Museum of Art, and Texas Golf Hall of Fame. Alamo City shows up at No. 7 in the study's attractions category.

In addition, the study highlights San Antonio's popular mixed-use Pearl district, whose assets include a campus of the Culinary Institute of America. "Around the esteemed school, a host of grads and chefs have clustered, creating a smorgasbord of choices from Italian to 'cue to bakery to vegetarian cuisine," according to the study.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: All three of this week's Houston innovators to know started something new amid a global pandemic — a new job at a Texas-wide accelerator, a new app to help shops and businesses safely serve customers, and a new resilience-focused hub that launched just in time for hurricane season.

Richard Seline, managing director of ResilientH20

Richard Seline of ResilientH2O Partners explains how he's helping foster new hurricane and flood prevention technologies in the Bayou City. Photo courtesy of ResilientH20

Following Hurricane Harvey, Richard Seline saw several emerging startups focusing on flood tech. Meanwhile, he saw insurance companies very interested in finding new technologies in the same space. But, these two entities were not talking.

"It's two different languages," Seline says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "There's a whole language and a whole mindset within the insurance industry that is not real well known."

Seline, managing director of ResilientH20, along with the Insurance Information Institute and The Cannon, has launched the Gulf Coast & Southwest Resilience Innovation Hub to foster this type of technology and bring insuratech startups and the big insurance players to the table. Stream the podcast and read more.

Adrianne Stone, venture associate for Capital Factory

Adrianne Stone has joined Capital Factory's Houston operations as the company prioritizes digital startup interaction. Photo courtesy of Capital Factory

After spending a year and a half in Silicon Valley on the products team for 23andme, Adrianne Stone is back in Houston, filling the venture associate role for Capital Factory. Stone got her Ph.D from Baylor College of Medicine and replaces Brittany Barreto, another BCM Ph.D who left the position to pursue a new venture.

"The mindset in Silicon Valley is different from how it is here in Texas — in good ways and bad ways. It was interesting to be exposed to a very potent startup vibe," Stone tells InnovationMap. "I'm looking forward to being able to meet all the cool companies, founders, and investors we have here in the Houston area." Read more.

Ethan Saadia, app developer and creator of Wayt

Ethan Saadia, a 17-year-old high school student, created an app to improve the user experience of shopping during a pandemic. Photo courtesy of Wayt

Like most of the world, Ethan Saadia has seen small, local businesses suffer from the social distancing mandates amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Saadia, a rising high school senior, wanted to do something to help.

He created Wayt, a smartphone app that provides businesses and their customers with a platform to communicate making curbside pickup, booking appointments, and even join a virtual line. Ultimately, Wayt has a great opportunity to help businesses — even outside of a pandemic

"From my perspective and experiences from my friends and family," says Saadia, "curbside pickup and virtual lines are definitely here to stay because even before the pandemic, popular places used to have long lines and that presented many new challenges. The pandemic is just accelerating technological change that will make our lives easier." Read more.

Ventilator designed by Rice University team gets FDA approval

in the bag

A ventilator that was designed by a team at Rice University has received Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ApolloBVM was worked on March by students at Rice's Brown School of Engineering's Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen, or OEDK. The open-source plans were shared online so that those in need could have access to the life-saving technology. Since its upload, the ApolloBVM design has been downloaded by almost 3,000 registered participants in 115 countries.

"The COVID-19 pandemic pushed staff, students and clinical partners to complete a novel design for the ApolloBVM in the weeks following the initial local cases," says Maria Oden, a teaching professor of bioengineering at Rice and director of the OEDK, in the press release. "We are thrilled that the device has received FDA Emergency Use Authorization."

While development began in 2018 with a Houston emergency physician, Rohith Malya, Houston manufacturer Stewart & Stevenson Healthcare Technologies LLC, a subsidiary of Kirby Corporation that licensed ApolloBVM in April, has worked with the team to further manufacture the device into what it is today.

An enhanced version of the bag valve mask-based ventilator designed by Rice University engineers has won federal approval as an emergency resuscitator for use during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo courtesy of Stewart & Stevenson

The Rice team worked out of OEDK throughout the spring and Stewart & Stevenson joined to support the effort along with manufacturing plants in Oklahoma City and Houston.

"The FDA authorization represents an important milestone achievement for the Apollo ABVM program," says Joe Reniers, president of Kirby Distribution and Services, in the release. "We can now commence manufacturing and distribution of this low-cost device to the front lines, providing health care professionals with a sturdy and portable ventilation device for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic."

Reniers continues, "It is a testimony to the flexibility of our people and our manufacturing facilities that we are able to readily utilize operations to support COVID-19 related need."

The device's name was selected as a tribute to Rice's history with NASA and President John F. Kennedy's now-famous speech kicking off the nation's efforts to go to the moon. It's meaningful to Matthew Wettergreen, one of the members of the design team.

"When a crisis hits, we use our skills to contribute solutions," Wettergreen previously told CultureMap. "If you can help, you should, and I'm proud that we're responding to the call."