3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

Meet this week's Houston innovators to know. Courtesy photos

It's safe to say most Houstonians have been glued to their TVs watching the Houston Astros in the World Series, but the city never sleeps on innovation news. And, one of this week's who's who of Houston innovation even has a World Series-worthy technology.

Here are this week's Houston innovators to know.

Patrick Lewis, co-founder of BBL Ventures

Patrick Lewis co-founded BBL Ventures that helps connect energy companies to startups that have innovative technology solutions for their pain points. Courtesy of Patrick Lewis

On last week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, Patrick Lewis, co-founder of BBL Ventures, with his 25-year career in tech investing, took the mic to discuss Houston innovation, the energy tech industry, and BBL's progress with matchmaking big corporations and the startups that can help them stay competitive.

"At our core, we're an investment firm, but our mission statement is to be the innovation partner for the energy and natural resources industry," Lewis says on the podcast. Read more.

Brian DiPaolo, the chief technology officer of Accudata Systems

Through a partnership between two Houston companies, installing breast cancer screening technology is easier than ever. Courtesy of Acudata Systems

It's National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the demand for access to detection facilities is rising. Two Houston companies joined forces to help optimize detection.

Brian DiPaolo, the chief technology officer of Accudata Systems, along with Solis Mammography announced a new partnership with the creation of Center-in-a-Box, a technology solution that supports the rapid deployment of breast screening and diagnostic service. Combining IT design, engineering, equipment installation, and go-live support into one full-service package, Center-in-a-Box is forecasted to grow Solis by approximately 30 to 60 new mammography centers within the next 24 months.

"What differentiates Accudata is the services we provide," says DiPaolo. "From procurement and project management to design, installation, and ongoing support, Accudata is a one-stop shop for turning up a new site quickly." Read more.

Ben Fairchild, founder of Fairchild Sports Performance

Ben Fairchild is in the business of keeping athletes — from professionals to amateurs — in top shape. Courtesy of FSP

Sports technology is a burgeoning business and Ben Fairchild, founder of Fairchild Sports Performance, sees the value for its clients. Fairchild has created an app that allows users to stay in shape and access training from anywhere. This has been especially helpful for Fairchild's MLB athletes, which includes World Series athletes George Springer, right fielder for the Houston Astros, and Anthony Rendon, third baseman for the Washington Nationals,

"The FSP app is for anybody who has a body," Fairchild says. "We want to find solutions for long-term health and fitness challenges for people of all walks of life." Read more.

Through a partnership between two Houston companies, installing breast cancer screening technology is easier than ever. Getty Images

Houston tech company is helping to scale breast cancer screening using IT solutions

tech detection

With October being National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, two Houston companies are working to provide a fast and accurate diagnostic solution.

Accudata Systems and Solis Mammography announced a new partnership with the creation of Center-in-a-Box, a technology solution that supports the rapid deployment of breast screening and diagnostic service. Combining IT design, engineering, equipment installation, and go-live support into one full-service package, Center-in-a-Box is forecasted to grow Solis by approximately 30 to 60 new mammography centers within the next 24 months.

Brian DiPaolo, the chief technology officer of Accudata Systems, tells InnovationMap that the product side of the solution includes equipment for a healthcare clinic, network and security infrastructure, as well as computers, tablets, phones, printers, scanners, and more.

"What differentiates Accudata is the services we provide," says DiPaolo. "From procurement and project management to design, installation, and ongoing support, Accudata is a one-stop shop for turning up a new site quickly."

According to a news release, there is a great demand to provide more centers nationwide, Solis saw the need for innovation and a cost-effective solution and turned to Accudata for assistance. In partnership with Solis, Accudata created a full-service solution for the IT design, equipment, and deployment of one clinic.

"Accudata identified the business challenge centered around people, processes, and products," says DiPaolo. "Solis was unable to scale quickly, limited resources could not provide adequate support, and they did not have the necessary project management and service delivery capabilities. Procurement from different vendors and manufacturers was difficult to manage, and the current network architecture made the process of spinning up new sites difficult and time-consuming."

DiPaolo tells InnovationMap that the company assists Solis when it's time to build out a new clinic or renovate an existing site, first performing a wireless survey to figure out the size of the clinic (small, medium, or large) and the equipment needed. Once this step is complete and the team understands the need, Accudata can begin the process of setting up the equipment in their lab before shipping it to the site and completing the deployment. The total turnaround time from purchase to clinic go-live is just three weeks.

The partnership creates a powerful match. Accudata Systems, founded in 1982 by Rich Johnson and Terry Dickson, is one of the largest IT integrators in the United States with 136 Houston-based employees, as well as a few in San Antonio and Austin and 30 in Dallas. Solis Mammography is the nation's largest independent provider of breast screening and diagnostic services with more than 50 centers in Texas, Arizona, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C, Maryland, and Virginia.

"According to the World Health Organization, breast cancer is the most frequent cancer among women, impacting 2.1 million women each year," says Solis Chief Information Officer Guhan Raghu in a news release. "Breast cancer rates are increasing in nearly every region globally, making the screening and diagnostic services Solis provides ever more vital to early diagnosis and treatment. The Center-in-a-Box IT solution developed with Accudata allows Solis to rapidly address mammography needs across the United States and further fulfill our promise to help women achieve and maintain breast health and peace of mind."

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Photos: Here's a sneak peek at The Ion Houston's construction progress

eye on the ion

The Ion Houston is expected to open its doors this year, and the building's exterior is close to completion. Now, the construction team is focusing on interiors and then tenant build outs.

The 270,000-square-foot coworking and innovation hub owned and managed by Rice Management Co. is slated to be a convening building for startups, corporations, academic partners, investors, and more. The building is organized as follows:

  • The underground Lower Level will act as academic flex space with a few classrooms and open-concept desks for The Ion's accelerators, including: The Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator, DivInc, the Rice Alliance's Clean Energy Accelerator, and the Aerospace Innovation Hub and Accelerator. There will also be an event space and The Ion's own programming.
  • On the first, street-level floor, The Ion's restaurant tenants will reside with access from both the greenspace as well as into the building. The Ion's first three restaurant tenants include: Late August, Common Bond, and STUFF'd Wings.
  • Additionally, the first floor will be home to a venture studio and the prototyping lab. There is additional space available for other tenants.
  • On the second floor, there will be 58,000 square feet of coworking space managed by Common Desk. Note: For floors 2 and up of the Ion, tenants will have access cards that allow them entrance. The first and lower floors will not require access cards.
  • The third floor of the building will house eight to 10 tenants each with 5,000 to 10,000 square feet of space. Chevron was announced as the first tenant and will reside on this floor.
  • On the fourth and fifth floors, The Ion will house one to two larger tenants on each level. These levels of the building were added on to the existing structure. The fourth floor features two balconies that tenants will have access to. Microsoft is signed on to have its space on half of the fifth floor.
The Ion is still planning on an open date in late spring or summer. For leasing information, click here. Scroll through the slideshow of construction images and renderings to see the progress of the building.

Exterior nears completion

Photo by Natalie Harms

The building's exterior is almost complete and kept much of the original building's facade. The new materials brought in match the existing color scheme.

Texas winery taps Houston tech company for innovative AR experience

cheers

The Lone Star State is home to a vibrant and innovative wine scene, but, just like most hospitality businesses, winemakers missed the opportunity to engage with their patrons amid the pandemic. With a new idea of how to engage its customers, Messina Hof, an award-winning Texas winery, rolled out a new tech-optimized, at-home experience.

The winery partnered with VISION, a Houston-based production group, to create an augmented reality app. Combining the efforts of Messina Hof's in-house label design team and the animation capabilities of VISION, the app took four months to design.

"It was a labor of love for both parties to be able to experiment with this; it was uncharted territory," says Karen Bonarrigo, owner and chief administrative officer of Messina Hof.

The three wines released — Emblaze (Sweet Red), Vitality (Dry White), and Abounding (Dry Red) — each tells a story through the AR experience.

"We wanted to try not only and push the technology as far as we can push it, but also try to really incorporate some heavy storytelling," says Dan Pratt, VISION Creative Director.

The idea to incorporate technology felt like a natural one to Bonariggo.

"The earth, water, and sunshine all go into developing what the profile is for each wine," explains Bonarrigo.

Each of the three wines have scannable labels that bring up a VR experience for app users. Photo courtesy of Messina Hof

VISION, who worked alongside Messina Hof to develop the project, blended the winery's rich family ties with the Old World history of winemaking.

When customers download the app and hold their camera over the label, a trailing vine emerges onto the screen and wraps around the bottle. As vines grow around each bottle, the three each visually signify a different natural element of winemaking — earth, water and the sun. As a rustic sign emerges, it prompts users to then click for recipe pairing recommendations.

Rather than a single-use experience, Messina Hof and VISION wanted to create an app that users could both engage with and learn from. The AR app allows users to view recipes and browse wines in one place.

"We knew we wanted the app to be functional for people to be able to interact with both when they're doing the AR experience, but then also to be able to continue to come back to it later," shares Bonarrigo. While AR wine labels have emerged in some California vineyards, she says, "it's definitely uncharted territory for the Texas industry."

Overseeing the food and wine pairing at Messina Hof is one of Bonarrigo's passions, so it was a natural choice to include recipes in the app. Messina Hof offers a concept called Vineyard Cuisine, coined from the Bonarrigo family cookbook, and incorporates wine in every meal at the vineyard.

"The idea of tying [the wine] to a recipe gave us the opportunity to be able to share new ways [our customers] could use wines in their everyday cooking," she explains.

She hopes the app's recipe feature will help families connect together.

"So often we get used to sitting down at the table, eating really quickly, and then moving on to the next thing, but there's so much connection that can happen with each other when we can slow down a little bit and have a conversation," she continues.

To Pratt, AR was the perfect way to emphasize and expand on the shared experience of wine.

"We wanted this to be an extension of that experience for people. You know, based on the love of wine and laughter with friends," he says.

For those who can't currently gather in a room together, Bonarrigo has hopes that Messina Hof can bring people together from afar.

"I think now more than ever the ability for our regular customers, even within Texas, to then share those wines with family members or friends that are outside the state seems more intuitive," she explains.

"We are so used to being creatures of habit in sharing our wine face-to-face with people that when we had the unexpected opportunity to not do that, we realized that we still have ways to be able to connect with customers through technology," says Bonarrigo.

She finds the "ease of access of being able to connect with them through the online web store" has kept Messina Hof in touch with customers throughout the pandemic, as well as digital happy hours and tasting events.

Messina Hof Harvest Green Winery & Kitchen, the newest location, opened in February, becoming the Greater Houston-area's largest winery. The space features an expansive tasting room and 83-foot wine bar, full-service restaurant, covered patio, two private tasting rooms, a wine production, barrel room, and wine warehouse.

"We knew that when we launched that location that we wanted to be able to have a series of wines at that location that was special, but also out of the box," says Bonarrigo.

Bonarrigo and her husband Paul have ushered in the expansion of Messina Hof over the last nine years. The family business began in 1977 when Paul's parents, Paul Vincent and Merrill, started an experimental vineyard. Messina Hof has locations in Bryan, Grapevine, Fredericksburg, and Richmond.

"This is our largest winery expansion endeavor that we've done," she says. "We wanted the wines to be extra special."

Similar to Messina Hof, companies across industries are seeking to explore interactive technologies to reach their customer base. "A number of our clients, and also new clients that we may not have been able to reach before, have certainly reached out to us to figure out new ways to reach an audience," shares Pratt.

Winemaking may be an Old World skill, but Messina Hof is excited to bring Texas wine into the future.

"So much of winemaking is science, and so much of it is art. There's always this push and pull as to which is more of a majority in the end product," explains Bonarrigo, who notes that Messina Hof has been using technology to innovate and optimize the growing process. The new AR app is a push toward bringing the experience her family loves into the homes of customers.

"This definitely gives a new talking point to wine," she says.