Whitney Wolfe Herd might be joining Austin's exclusive billionaires club. Photo by Kristen Kilpatrick

An Texas tech entrepreneur soon might join the city's exclusive billionaires' club.

Whitney Wolfe Herd, founder and CEO of Austin-based dating-app provider Bumble, could move from millionaire to billionaire status if, according to reports, her Austin-based company goes public. The Bloomberg news service reported September 1 that Bumble is preparing an initial public offering, or IPO, of its stock. The IPO could value Bumble at $6 billion to $8 billion, according to Bloomberg.

In November, private equity giant Blackstone Group Inc. bought a majority stake in Bumble. At the time, Herd's Bumble business partner, Andrey Andreev, sold all of his shares in the company to Blackstone. But the Wall Street Journal reported that Herd retained the "vast majority" of her Bumble holdings. In its announcement of the deal, Blackstone said Bumble (then known as MagicLab) was valued at $3 billion.

It's not known how much of a stake in Bumble that Herd still owns; in 2017, Forbes reported she controlled 20 percent of the company's stock. If that's still the case and Bumble's value shoots to $6 billion to $8 billion with the IPO, Herd might wind up sitting on a fortune — at least on paper — in the range of $1.2 billion to $1.6 billion. Keep in mind, though, that this is a rough estimate, given the lack of clarity surrounding Herd's ownership stake.

In 2019, Forbes estimated Herd's net worth at $290 million. Before Herd established the women-centric Bumble app in 2014, the Southern Methodist University alum co-founded the Tinder dating app.

If the Bumble IPO materializes and Herd's net worth soars above $1 billion, she'd become Austin's eighth billionaire — and its second female billionaire, according to Forbes.

Last year, Herd told Inc. that she wants Bumble to be prove that a company "can still drive massive profit and be a good business model while pushing the needle on safety and privacy for users."

If Herd does soar to the billionaire stratosphere, she'll be in good company here. Tech mogul Michael Dell leads Austin's billionaire crew, followed by private equity king Robert Smith, vodka guru Tito Beveridge, hair care and tequila magnate John Paul DeJoria, tech titan Thai Lee, software baron Joe Liemandt, and private equity tycoon Brian Sheth. Lee is currently only woman in the bunch.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

BumbleSpot launched in Houston at all three Nourish Juice Bar locations. Courtesy of Nourish

Texas-based Bumble launches Houston meet-up hubs for safe and productive interactions

Digital turned reality

Turning digital connections into real-life associations can be a little nerve wracking, no matter the context. Austin-based Bumble, a dating app that's expanded to become a networking resource, is trying to make that first face-to-face meeting a little safer and smoother.

"The idea for BumbleSpot is to create a network of physical locations across the US and Canada that support our mission to end misogyny and empower women in their relationships across all aspects of life," Andee Olson, director of partnerships at Bumble, says in a press release.

Over 80 BumbleSpots have been named — with more promised to announce over the next year. While Houston wasn't among the roll-out cities, it officially has three BumbleSpots to choose from, as all three Nourish Juice Bar locations have signed on as partners.

Jessica Huffman opened the first Nourish Juice Bar in the summer of 2015 in Montrose, and her Rice Village and Heights locations followed suit. She says when Bumble reached out to her, she jumped onboard since she has mutual friends with Bumble's founder and CEO, Whitney Wolfe Herd.

To be a BumbleSpot, the establishment must agree to uphold the mission and values of Bumble, which prioritizes safety, kindness, respect, equality, accountability, and growth, according to a Bumble spokesperson.

Huffman says Nourish is perfect for Bumble with its focus on healthy foods and a friendly environment.

"When you're in Nourish, you're probably going to see me or my brother or one of our employees who's worked there for a while," Huffman says. "We talk to everyone all the time and always try to make people feel comfortable."

A spokesperson says more Houston partners are coming, as local business have expressed interest following the launch of BumbleSpot.

Bumble premiered in 2014 as a female-first dating app, and moved its headquarters to Austin in 2017. In March of 2016, it launched BumbleBFF focused on creating friendships. Then, just a few months later, it launched BumbleBizz focusing on making business connections.

In August, the company launched Bumble Fund — an early-stage investment fund focused on female-led companies. The fund's first five benefactors were named as BeautyCon, Cleo Capital, Female Founders Fund, Mahmee, and Sofia Los Angeles.

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2 COVID-19-focused research projects happening in Houston

research roundup

While it might seem like the COVID-19 pandemic has settled down for the time being, there's plenty of innovative research ongoing to create solutions for affordable vaccines and tech-enabled protection against the spread of the virus.

Some of that research is happening right here in Houston. Here are two innovative projects in the works at local institutions.

UH researcher designs app to monitor best times to shop

A UH professor is putting safe shopping at your fingertips. Photo via UH.edu

When is the best time to run an errand in the pandemic era we currently reside? There might be an app for that. Albert Cheng, professor of computer science and electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston, is working on a real-time COVID-19 infection risk assessment and mitigation system. He presented his plans at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers conference HPC for Urgent Decision Making and will publish the work in IEEE Xplore.

Cheng's work analyzes up-to-date data from multiple open sources to see when is the best time to avoid crowds and accomplish activities outside the home.

"Preliminary work has been performed to determine the usability of a number of COVID-19 data websites and other websites such as grocery stores and restaurants' popular times and traffic," Cheng says in a UH release. "Other data, such as vaccination rates and cultural factors (for example, the percentage of people willing to wear facial coverings or masks in an area), are also used to determine the best grocery store to shop in within a time frame."

To use the app, a user would input their intended destinations and the farthest distance willing to go, as well as the time frame of the trip. The risk assessment and mitigation system, or RT-CIRAM, then "provides as output the target location and the time interval to reach there that would reduce the chance of infections," said Cheng.

There's a lot to it, says Cheng, and the process is highly reliant on technology.

"We are leveraging urgent high-performance cloud computing, coupled with time-critical scheduling and routing techniques, along with our expertise in real-time embedded systems and cyber-physical systems, machine learning, medical devices, real-time knowledge/rule-based decision systems, formal verification, functional reactive systems, virtualization and intrusion detection," says Cheng.

2 Houston hospitals team up with immunotherapy company for new vaccine for Africa

The new vaccine will hopefully help mitigate spread of the disease in Sub-Saharan Africa. Photo via bcm.edu

Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital have teamed up with ImmunityBio Inc. — a clinical-stage immunotherapy company — under a licensing agreement to develop a safe, effective and affordable COVID-19 vaccine.

BCM has licensed out a recombinant protein COVID-19 vaccine candidate that was developed at the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development to ImmunityBio. According to the release, the company engaged in license negotiations with the BCM Ventures team, about the vaccine that could address the current pandemic needs in South Africa.

"We hope that our COVID-19 vaccine for global health might become an important step towards advancing vaccine development capacity in South Africa, and ultimately for all of Sub-Saharan Africa," says Dr. Peter Hotez, professor and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor and co-director of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development.

ImmunityBio, which was founded in 2014 by Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, is working on innovative immunotherapies that address serious unmet needs in infectious diseases, according to a news release from BCM.

"There is a great need for second-generation vaccines, which are accessible, durable and offer broad protection against the emerging variants," says Soon-Shiong. "ImmunityBio has executed on a heterologous ("mix-and-match") strategy to develop a universal COVID-19 vaccine. To accomplish this, we have embarked upon large-scale good manufacturing practices and development of DNA (adenovirus), RNA (self-amplifying mRNA) and subunit protein (yeast) vaccine platforms. This comprehensive approach will leverage our expertise in these platforms for both infectious disease and cancer therapies."

Elon Musk taps into Texas workforce for out-of-this-world bartender gig

DRINKING ON THE JOB

Can you mix a mean margarita? Are you capable of slinging a superb Aperol spritz? If so, Elon Musk wants you to become a "spaceport mixologist."

Musk's SpaceX, which builds and launches rockets, is hiring a "passionate, experienced" mixologist for its "spaceport" near Brownsville. The ideal candidate possesses at least two years of "superior" mixology experience at resorts, bars, and full-service restaurants, including the ability to pair drinks with themed menus.

Among other duties, the mixologist will prepare drinks, including handcrafted cocktails, and will ensure "consistency and compliance with the restaurant's recipes, portioning, and waste control guidelines."

The new mixologist will concoct alcoholic beverages for SpaceX's launch facility in Boca Chica, a Texas Gulf Coast community about 20 miles east of Brownsville. The job posting indicates the mixologist will work on the culinary team serving the SpaceX workforce.

According to Austin-based job website Indeed, the average mixologist in the U.S. earns $13.53 an hour. The SpaceX job posting doesn't list a salary, but you've got to imagine Musk — by far the richest person in Texas — would fork over more than $13.53 an hour for a spaceport mixologist.

By the way, in case you're not a master mixologist, SpaceX also is looking for a sous chef in Boca Chica. The sous chef will be tasked with cooking up menus that emphasize seasonal items and "creative" options. The chef's duties will include sourcing high-quality ingredients "with a focus on local, sustainable, and organic items."

Musk, who spends much of his time in Austin, is developing what the Bloomberg news service describes as an "empire" in Texas. Aside from the SpaceX facility, Musk-led Tesla is building a vehicle manufacturing plant just east of Austin and is moving its headquarters here. If that weren't enough, the Musk-founded Boring Co., which specializes in developing underground tunnels, lists 20 job openings in Austin on its website. In addition, SpaceX tests rocket engines at a site in McGregor, about 17 miles southwest of Waco.

"Texas has had its share of characters over the years, and many have been larger-than-life, wealthy risk-takers who came from elsewhere," Waco economist Ray Perryman tells Bloomberg. "There's still a wildcatting mentality here, and there's still a mystique about Texas that Elon Musk fits well."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.