3 Houston innovators to know this week

hou to know

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Pedro Silva of Milkify, Anthony Palmiotto of OpenStax, and Brad Deutser of Deutser. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from femtech to edtech — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Pedro Silva, CEO and co-founder of Milkify

Pedro Silva of Milkify join the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the impact of their successful Shark Tank experience. Photo courtesy of Milkify

While Milkify's founders — husband and wife team Pedro Silva and Berkley Luck — secured partners on a popular business pitch and investment show, the entire experience almost didn't happen.

Silva and Luck, who got her PhD in molecular and biomedical s at Baylor College of Medicine, founded the company to provide breast milk freeze drying as a service to Houston-area families. Now, Milkify has customers across the country, but the duo didn't know if going through the process would be worth the investment and publicity, or if it would just be a distraction.

"The competitor in me wanted to be the first breast milk company to go on the show and to tell our story to the world — to show the world what my wife came up with that we thought was so great," Silva says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It was probably the scariest 45 minutes of my life."Read more.

Anthony Palmiotto, director of higher education at OpenStax

OpenStax, founded out of Rice University, has continued its growth, adding new partners and textbooks. Photo via openstax.org

In an effort to combat the hefty price tag of assigned texts, OpenStax, a nonprofit education startup out of Rice University, which is on a mission to increase educational access for all, seeks to democratize high-quality education by offering free, peer-reviewed, openly licensed textbooks for students and knowledge seekers across the globe.

This month, OpenStax will add to its 57 open education resources, or OER, titles with a full version of John McMurry's popular pre-med textbook, Organic Chemistry, under an open license to honor his late son, Peter, who passed away in 2019 after losing his battle with cystic fibrosis.

“Before the nursing books, we were doing business books,” Anthony Palmiotto, director of higher education at OpenStax, tells InnovationMap. “Murry’s book builds out our science offerings, so we're thinking about the different areas that students take that can be barriers for them to move up in education and succeed. From there, we’ll continue to think about how a free textbook can help students through that process.” Read more.

Brad Deutser, founder and CEO of Deutser

In his new book, Houstonian Brad Deutser explores how increasingly important a sense of belonging is in the workplace. Photo courtesy

Last week, Houstonian and business consultant Brad Deutser published his book, BELONGING RULES: Five Crucial Actions that Build Unity and Foster Performance. In a guest column for InnovationMap, Deutser writes of the importance of belonging in the workplace with his colleague Isabel Bilotta, managing consultant and head of learning and innovation at Deutser's learning initiative.

"Although there are many definitions out there, we define belonging as where we hold space for something of shared importance," the article reads. "It is where we come together on values, purpose, and identity; a space of acceptance where agreement is not required but a shared framework is understood; where there is an invitation into the space; an intentional choice to take part in; something vital to a sense of connection, security, and acceptance." Read more.

In his new book, Houstonian Brad Deutser explores how increasingly important a sense of belonging is in the workplace. Photo via Getty Images

Houston innovator explores importance of belonging within the modern workforce

guest column

Even in a highly digital, globalized world, the essence of business remains the same: a vibrant tapestry of people working together towards a common goal.

Regardless of how fractured business focus can become, people are at the center of everything that brings business success. And people all share in our fundamental human need to belong to something greater than ourselves and to experience a sense of community, support, and affiliation with others.

The intricacies of human connection underpin our collective drive for unity and purpose, which becomes profoundly disrupted when an organization loses sight of prioritizing its employees. To prevent the Great Disconnect from further eroding our people and forestalling the perils of losing their best and brightest people, leaders must cultivate a deep understanding of, and commitment to, fostering organizational belonging.

The recent groundbreaking study by the team behind Deutser's Institute for Belonging, incorporating the perspectives of nearly 15,000 employees, crystallizes this sentiment. Our results overwhelmingly indicate that an employee's sense of belonging outstrips both their perception of organizational culture and their salary as key determinants of engagement, satisfaction, and overall performance. Previously, employers believed the inverse to be true. This is a significant shift in the attitudes of the workforce.

Unless leaders devote considerable energy, time, and resources towards nurturing an organizational culture of belonging, they may risk depleting their most valuable asset: their people. This article delves into the intricate details of our research and the consequent implications for leadership, aiming to provide a blueprint for leaders to build an inclusive and empowering workspace.

In another of our studies with 275 employees, a staggering 90 percent affirmed the importance of experiencing a sense of belonging at work. Broadening our research to an expansive sample of 14,709 employees across diverse industries and roles, we found an undeniable correlation: individuals who experienced a sense of belonging exhibited significantly higher levels of engagement, job satisfaction, and effort. The most striking understanding about this work was that belonging predicts satisfaction, engagement, and commitment to the organization over and above employees’ views of the culture or strategy.

As leaders, we’ve seen a decades long placement of culture and strategy at the top — but it is belonging that really drives performance. Another adjunct study, employing an experimental design with 71 employees, validated that employees would willingly forego higher compensation and be more inclined to stay at an organization that nurtures their sense of belonging. In sum, organizations and leaders stand to gain substantially by investing in nurturing connections, empowerment, and unity among their teams.

In our survey research, conducted with a sample of 14,709 employees, we used a five-dimensional measure of organizational belonging, encapsulating:

  1. Acknowledgment and appreciation of individual opinions.
  2. Fostering a strong sense of team unity.
  3. Opportunities for professional growth within the company.
  4. Optimal alignment between job responsibilities and individual skill sets.
  5. Trust in leadership’s commitment to their welfare.

Although there are many definitions out there, we define belonging as where we hold space for something of shared importance. It is where we come together on values, purpose, and identity; a space of acceptance where agreement is not required but a shared framework is understood; where there is an invitation into the space; an intentional choice to take part in; something vital to a sense of connection, security, and acceptance.

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Brad Deutser is the founder and CEO of Deutser, a Houston-based consulting firm, and author of BELONGING RULES: Five Crucial Actions that Build Unity and Foster Performance. Isabel Bilotta is managing consultant and head of learning and innovation at Deutser's learning initiative.

Here's who to know in innovation this week in Houston. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

As we head into May, this week's Houston innovators are all thought leaders keeping our city and state at the forefront of technology and innovation — from consulting to real estate, and everything in between.

Amy Chronis, managing partner of the Houston office of Deloitte

Amy Chronis runs the Houston office of Deloitte and serves on the sustainability board for the GHP. AlexandersPortraits.com

Shortly after Amy Chronis was named as Deloitte's Houston managing partner, she got the call to join the sustainability committee for the Greater Houston Partnership. Chronis did not take this position lightly, she says, and she immediately started researching what Houston needed as a business ecosystem.

In March, as the chair for the organization's sustainability committee, she brought together a group of constituents to engage in a Smart Cities study with the goal to identify what Houston needs to focus on — what it wanted to be known for. She learned a lot about the city through the study.

"It's affirming how much all types of people with different backgrounds care and are interested in this topic and are highly desirous of our region moving forward," she says. "I also learned that things are more complicated or difficult than we would like — in terms of funding initiatives, for instance." Read the full story here.

Brad Deutser, author and founder of the Deutser Clarity Institute

DCI has been described as the "Wonkaland for business." Courtesy of DCI

Brad Deutser is taking his approach to business consulting and creative thinking to a whole new level with the Deutser Clarity Institute. The idea accelerator, think tank, and learning lab opens this week in Uptown.

"The Deutser Clarity Institute has captured the imagination of leaders across the country," says Deutser in a release. "Even with the available science on environmental design and leadership learning, we took a chance and pushed creativity and innovation to the farthest reaches to develop a fundamentally different space, way of learning and learning curriculum. We are also producing game changing research which will influence how leaders drive engagement." (Deutser serves on the board of InnovationMap.) Read the full story here.

Alex Doublet, CEO of Door.com

Buying a home is more digitized than ever — and here's how that's affecting the industry. Photo courtesy of Door

Alex Doublet is an honorary Houston innovator to know this week after he authored a guest article about technology trends in real estate that greatly affect Houston real estate. The Dallasite cites a recent lawsuit in which homesellers claim The National Association of Realtors, Realogy Holdings Corp., HomeServices of America, RE/MAX Holdings, Inc., and Keller Williams Realty, Inc. violated the federal antitrust law by conspiring the sellers to pay an inflated amount to the buyer's broker.

"The lawsuit highlights a new need for home buyers and sellers: transparency," writes Doublet. "Gone are the days when real estate agents can take a hefty commission from his or her clients without providing value that is worthy of the price tag. The sellers who came forward to shed light on this issue have provided further proof that the current real estate model is outdated, and some serious changes could be on the way." Read Doublet's article here.

Brad Deutser's Deutser Clarity Institute opens on May 1. Courtesy of DCI

Houston author and consultant opens 'Wonkaland for business' studio and lab

Golden ticket

Brad Deutser is taking his approach to business consulting and creative thinking to a whole new level with the Deutser Clarity Institute. The idea accelerator, think tank, and learning lab opens next month in Uptown.

"The Deutser Clarity Institute has captured the imagination of leaders across the country," says Deutser in a release. "Even with the available science on environmental design and leadership learning, we took a chance and pushed creativity and innovation to the farthest reaches to develop a fundamentally different space, way of learning and learning curriculum. We are also producing game changing research which will influence how leaders drive engagement." (Deutser serves on the board of InnovationMap.)

It's the first location for the Houston-based consultancy, which has a diverse staff made up of academicians, business leaders, professional athletes, and more. Deutser — who published his business strategy book, Leading Clarity, last year — has a goal to translate scientific studies and research into immersive education for business leaders. The institute's website describes it as "Wonkaland for business" and is supposed to surround its visitors with an imaginative space for clients' creative exploration.

Here are some design elements you can expect at DCI, according to the release:

  • A 6-by-6-foot glass "Clarity Performance Index"
  • A 10-by-10-foot energy obstruction grid
  • 15 magic spinning cubes (games on two sides, whiteboard on one side and clarity exercise on one side of each cube)
  • A "higher thinking" leadership game/journey on the ceiling
  • A mirrored reflection room with exercises on each mirror and window pane
  • The brain labyrinth
  • A positivity beam
  • A "leadership weave" which is a live research project on leadership competencies by industry.
  • Tactile and engaging tools, like: magnets, stickers, colorful markers, multi-sized sticky notes and more.

Along with its grand opening, DCI is releasing its findings from a study on employee engagement. According to the release, the study analyzed over 13,500 employees in 13 areas that correlate to performance of organizations. Three of the 13 areas — vision + values, leadership, and team capability — have the biggest impact on employee retention and engagement.

InnovationMap is co-hosting the grand opening of the space.

Creative space

Courtesy of DCI

The institute was designed with creativity in mind.

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Innovative coastline project on Bolivar Peninsula receives federal funding

flood mitigation

The Galveston’s Coastal Barrier Project recently received federal funding to the tune of $500,000 to support construction on its flood mitigation plans for the area previously devastated by Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Known as Ike Dike, the proposed project includes implementing the Galveston Bay Storm Surge Barrier System, including eight Gulf and Bay defense projects. The Bolivar Roads Gate System, a two-mile-long closure structure situated between Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula, is included in the plans and would protect against storm surge volumes entering the bay.

The funding support comes from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and will go toward the preconstruction engineering and design phase of Ecosystem Restoration feature G-28, the first segment of the Bolivar Peninsula and West Bay Gulf Intracoastal Waterway Shoreline and Island Protection.

Coastal Barrier Project - Galveston Projects

The project also includes protection of critical fish and wildlife habitat against coastal storms and erosion.

“The Coastal Texas Project is one of the largest projects in the history of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” says Col. Rhett A. Blackmon, USACE Galveston District commander, in a statement. “This project is important to the nation for many reasons. Not only will it reduce risk to the vulnerable populations along the Texas coast, but it will also protect vital ecosystems and economically critical infrastructure vital to the U.S. supply chain and the many global industries located here.”

Hurricane Ike resulted in over $30 billion in storm-related damages to the Texas coast, reports the Coastal Barrier Project, and created a debris line 15 feet tall and 40 miles long in Chambers County. The estimated economic disruption due to Hurricane Ike exceeded $150 billion, FEMA reported.

The project is estimated to take two years to complete after construction starts and will cost between $4 billion and $6 billion, reports Texas A&M University at Galveston.

Houston organization selects research on future foods in space health to receive $1M in funding

research and development

What would we eat if we were forced to decamp to another planet? The most immediate challenges faced by the food industry and astronauts exploring outside Earth are being addressed by The Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) at Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Space Medicine’s newest project.

Earlier this month, TRISH announced the initial selection for its Space Health Ingress Program (SHIP) solicitation. Working with California Institute of Technology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Baylor-based program chose “Future Foods for Space: Mobilizing the Future Foods Community to Accelerate Advances in Space Health,” led by Dr. Denneal Jamison-McClung at the University of California, Davis.

“TRISH is bringing in new ideas and investigators to propel space health research,” says Catherine Domingo, TRISH operations lead and research administration associate at Baylor College of Medicine, in the release. “We have long believed that new researchers with fresh perspectives drive innovation and advance human space exploration and SHIP builds on TRISH’s existing efforts to recruit and support new investigators in the space health research field, potentially yielding and high-impact ideas to protect space explorers.”

The goal of the project is to develop sustainable food products and ingredients that could fuel future space travelers on long-term voyages, or even habitation beyond our home planet.

Jamison-McClung and her team’s goal is to enact food-related space health research and inspire the community thereof by mobilizing academic and food-industry researchers who have not previously engaged with the realm of space exploration. Besides growing and developing food products, the project will also address production, storage, and delivery of the nutrition created by the team.

To that end, Jamison-McClung and her recruits will receive $1 million over the course of two years. The goal of the SHIP solicitation is to work with first-time NASA investigators, bringing new minds to the forefront of the space health research world.

“As we look to enable safer space exploration and habitation for humans, it is clear that food and nutrition are foundational,” says Dr. Asha S. Collins, chair of the SHIP advisory board, in a press release. “We’re excited to see how accelerating innovation in food science for space health could also result in food-related innovations for people on Earth in remote areas and food deserts.”

Clean energy nonprofit CEO to step down, search for replacement to begin

moving on

Greentown Labs, which is co-located in the Boston and Houston areas, has announced its current CEO is stepping down after less than a year in the position.

The nonprofit's CEO and President Kevin Knobloch announced that he will be stepping down at the end of July 2024. Knobloch assumed his role last September, previously serving as chief of staff of the United States Department of Energy in President Barack Obama’s second term.

“It has been an honor to lead this incredible team and organization, and a true privilege to get to know many of our brilliant startup founders," Knobloch says in the news release. “Greentown is a proven leader in supporting early-stage climatetech companies and I can’t wait to see all that it will accomplish in the coming years.”

The news of Knobloch's departure comes just over a month after the organization announced that it was eliminating 30 percent of its staff, which affected 12 roles in Boston and six in Houston.

According the Greentown, its board of directors is expected to launch a national search for its next CEO.

“On behalf of the entire Board of Directors, I want to thank Kevin for his efforts to strengthen the foundation of Greentown Labs and for charting the next chapter for the organization through a strategic refresh process,” says Dawn James, Greentown Labs Board Chair, in the release. “His thoughtful leadership will leave a lasting impact on the team and community for years to come.”

Knobloch reportedly shifted Greentown's sponsorship relationships with oil companies, sparking "friction within the organization," according to the Houston Chronicle, which also reported that Knobloch said he intends to return to his clean energy consulting firm.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.