This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Dr. Toby Hamilton of Hamilton Health Box, Meredith Wheeler and Maggie Segrich of Sesh Coworking, and Simone Biles of Cerebral. Courtesy photos

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

Dr. Toby Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton is a leader in Houston's health care innovation ecosystem, and he joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss his latest endeavor, which is rethinking primary and preventative care. Photo via tmc.edu

Dr. Toby Hamilton has seen Houston establish itself as a leader in health innovation, and he's been a part of that journey too. He started his career as a physician before founding Emerus Holdings, a micro-hospital system in the Houston area which later exited to private equity. He also founded a nonprofit focused on connecting hospital innovation leaders called the Healthcare Innovators Professional Society and led the Texas Medical Center's Biodesign program for two years.

Over the years, he says he's seen the potential develop for Houston to hold a significant role in health care innovation across the world — it's just going to take all hands on deck.

"As a community, if we can get behind that vision and be the place that tests, develops, and creates opportunities, Houston has the potential to be unlike anything in the world," he says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. Click here to listen and read more.

Meredith Wheeler and Maggie Segrich, founders of Sesh Coworking

Co-founders Maggie Segrich (right) opened Sesh with Meredith Wheeler in 2020. Photo courtesy of Sesh

One of Houston's coworking companies is moving on up. Sesh Coworking is moving into a new space that's 10 times as large as its original location — and it's an optimal location too, say Meredith Wheeler and Maggie Segrich, founders of Sesh Coworking.

"Being able to grow our community at our beautiful original location in Montrose through the pandemic is a testament to the grit and resilience of Houstonians. We are so honored and grateful to be a part of their journey,” says Segrich. “We are excited that our new location in Midtown, near the Innovation District, will provide more Houstonians with the workspace and support they need."

The two-story space is expected to open in two phases. Tenants will first move into the space's second floor in January while the first floor, the larger of the two floors, completes construction and is expected in March. Click here to read more.

Simone Biles, chief impact officer at Cerebral

Houston's favorite gymnast is the chief impact officer on a California-based tech company that's raised $462M. Photo via getcerebral.com

The greatest gymnast of all time has a new title to her many gymnastics accomplishments. Simone Biles recently joined mental health startup Cerebral as chief impact officer, and the company is backed by SoftBank and has a valuation of $4.8 billion.

Biles has been vocal about her passion for mental health. Cerebral was an official sponsor of Biles’ Gold Over America Tour, which took place from September to November, and is an official sponsor of the 2022 Simone Biles International Invitational, a gymnastics competition that will be held January 27-30 at Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center. The Spring-based World Champions Centre, Biles’ home gym, stages the invitational.

“Mental health is just as important as physical health, but for far too long the stigma of mental health has prevented too many people from seeking help,” Biles says in a Cerebral news release. “I have my own challenges with mental health, and therapy has been very empowering for me as I try to be the best person that I can be. I believe everyone should have access to mental health resources, and Cerebral gives me the ability to personalize my mental health care experience.” Click here to read more.

Houston's favorite gymnast is the chief impact officer on a California-based tech company that's raised $462M. Photo via getcerebral.com

Houston superstar Simone Biles snags C-suite position in SoftBank-backed company

flipping into tech

Less than two months after Olympic gymnastics star Simone Biles of Spring joined mental health startup Cerebral as chief impact officer, the company has raised $300 million in venture capital — a sum that vaulted it to a valuation of $4.8 billion.

San Francisco-based Cerebral announced the $300 million round December 8. SoftBank Vision Fund 2 led the Series C round, with participation from Prysm Capital, Access Industries, WestCap Group, and ARTIS Ventures.

Launched in January 2020, Cerebral has raised a total of $462 million from investors, including an undisclosed amount from Biles.

Biles, a 4-foot, 8-inch gymnastics powerhouse, has won 32 Olympic and World Championship medals. But it was her off-the-mat moves at this year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo that drew worldwide attention. Biles contended in just one event in Tokyo after withdrawing from all other competition to concentrate on her mental health.

Two months after the Olympics, Biles agreed to become Cerebral’s chief impact officer, serving as the face of the brand.

Cerebral was an official sponsor of Biles’ Gold Over America Tour, which took place from September to November, and is an official sponsor of the 2022 Simone Biles International Invitational, a gymnastics competition that will be held January 27-30 at Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center. The Spring-based World Champions Centre, Biles’ home gym, stages the invitational.

“Mental health is just as important as physical health, but for far too long the stigma of mental health has prevented too many people from seeking help,” Biles says in a Cerebral news release. “I have my own challenges with mental health, and therapy has been very empowering for me as I try to be the best person that I can be. I believe everyone should have access to mental health resources, and Cerebral gives me the ability to personalize my mental health care experience.”

Cerebral bills itself as a one-stop online shop for mental health care and wellness. The company offers counseling, therapy, and medication delivery and management online for conditions such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.

Cerebral boasts that the $300 million round makes it the world’s largest and fastest-growing online provider of mental health services.

“Cerebral’s growth in the last year shows just how much the world needs affordable and accessible mental health care. It’s important to us that we not only improve access to mental health care through a convenient platform and affordable plans, but to also improve patient outcomes,” says Kyle Robertson, co-founder and CEO of Cerebral.

The pandemic ramped up the use of telehealth services, including those delivered by Cerebral. According to Fortune Business Insights, the U.S. market for behavioral health grew 11.3 percent in 2020, with pandemic-fueled mental health concerns helping drive up demand. Fortune Business Insights estimates the U.S. market will expand from $77.62 billion in 2021 to $99.4 billion in 2028.

Globally, the mental health market is projected to jump from $383.31 billion in 2020 to $537.97 billion by 2030, according to Allied Market Research.

Digital health startups like Cerebral are benefiting from the mushrooming market for mental health. Rock Health, an investment and advisory firm, says that through the first nine months of 2021, investors pumped $21.3 billion into U.S. digital health startups. That compares with $14.6 billion in all of 2020.

Cerebral says its $300 million cash infusion will enable it to undertake a global expansion, as well develop strategic partnerships and explore M&A opportunities. Today, Cerebral comprises a network of over 2,300 clinicians practicing in all 50 states.

“Roughly half of the American population is affected by mental health issues. However, obstacles like cost, limited provider availability, and fear of judgment remain in the way of getting the treatment they need,” says Priya Saiprasad, a partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers, which manages SoftBank’s venture capital funds.

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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.