3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Jim Havelka of InformAI, Christa Westheimer of New Stack Ventures, and Charles Turner of Kare Technologies. Courtesy photos

Editor's note: In the week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three innovators recently making headlines — from health tech founders to a venture capital rising star.

Jim Havelka, founder and CEO of InformAI

Jim Havelka, founder and CEO of InformAI, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the difference his technology can make on the health care industry. Photo courtesy of InformAI

InformAI is providing solutions for data optimizations in health care — something that'll allow for better diagnoses and treatment. Jim Havelka shares on the Houston Innovators Podcast last week that his company's success is due to being headquartered in Houston and tied to the Texas Medical Center. The company's team works out of JLABS @ TMC as well as TMC Innovation Institute.

"Those relationships have been very helpful in getting data to build these particular products," Havelka says. "Just the Texas Medical Center alone has roughly 10 million patient encounters every year. The ability to get access to data and, equally important, the medical experts has been a tremendous benefit to InformAI." Click here to read more and stream the podcast.

Christa Westheimer, venture fellow at New Stack Ventures

Need an in with a venture capital firm? This Houstonian has an idea. Photo courtesy

As a venture fellow, Christa Westheimer — who's a student at Rice University — works hard to find startups working on the next great thing. And she realizes there are so many Houston startups seeking funding, so she has some advice: get in touch.

"During my tenure as a venture fellow, I have been sifting through online resources — from Crunchbase and AngelList to LinkedIn — with the hopes of finding a really neat startup that would earn an investment from New Stack Ventures," she writes in a guest column for InnovationMap. Click here to read more.

Charles Turner, founder of Kare Technologies

Charles Turner founded Kare Technologies on the heels of a crisis — and the pandemic has accelerated the company's growth. Photo courtesy of Kare

Charles Turner saw an inefficiency in senior health care staffing — even before the industry was rocked by a pandemic. He founded Kare Technologies to use software to address this problem. In light of COVID-19, the need for better staffing solutions grew across industries and Kare expanded its features to reach hotel and restaurant workers.

"We'd always plan on doing this, and with the advent of COVID we accelerate our development on the hospitality side," Turner says. Click here to read more.

Houston-based Kare Technologies optimizes staffing for caregivers, and COVID-19 has allowed them to grow faster than they expected. Image courtesy of Kare

Houston-based senior care startup accelerates gameplan amid pandemic

startup that kares

Houston-based acute care startup Kare Technologies has yet to waste a good crisis.

The company, which offers senior facilities and qualified caregivers a platform to post and accept work for hire, was born out of founder Charles Turner's experience in Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma in 2017.

Turner first entered the senior care industry as a facilities developer and watched in 2017 as staff in Houston and Florida struggled through the storms.

"In both of those situations, my buildings were fine but my employees were [flooded in] and they couldn't get to work. We had to rely on the staff — especially in Harvey — that was in the building when the hurricane hit. We had to rely on them for four days straight and they didn't sleep for four days," Turner says. " We were by ourselves."

In 2019, Turner launched Kare as a way for facilities to work through everyday staffing challenges and natural disasters alike. The platform matches senior-care facilities with vetted and credentialed staff who are eager to pick up extra shifts in the industry with growing demand.

"The biggest issue we're facing — and this is even a non-COVID world — is staffing," Turner says about his industry.

Charles Turner founded Kare Technologies on the heels of a crisis — and the pandemic has accelerated the company's growth. Photo courtesy of Kare

According to Turner, many frontline workers (which include certified nursing assistants, certified medication aides, licensed vocational nurses, licensed professional nurses, and the likes) are required to take on a second job to make ends meet. However, those jobs are often not in the senior-care field.

"They are very missional, they do love caring for seniors," he says of senior caregivers. "And so there's tension. 'I can stay in working senior care, or I can make $5 more an hour working at Amazon or something like that.' But they don't love that."

Too, the platform allows facilities to pay a fee for using the marketplace, instead of paying an expensive staffing agency that takes a cut from every placement or hire.

Amid the pandemic, the company expanded its features to reach hotel and restaurant workers.

"We'd always plan on doing this, and with the advent of COVID we accelerate our development on the hospitality side," Turner says.

Thanks to Houston-based Golden Section Financial's $1 million in-kind software services grant program, Kare was able to onboard a new team of senior developers to add the features and functionality that would allow recently laid off or furloughed hospitality workers to put their skills to use. Just as caregivers could use the platform to find jobs that fit their skill sets, these workers could find work they were qualified for as cooks, receptionists, waiters, and housekeepers at senior facilities.

The grant also allowed the company to add important features to the platform to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in hard-hit senior care facilities. These features would limit the number of buildings workers could bounce around from and encouraged workers to stay within a smaller network.

Currently the Kare is being used by several thousand workers and hundreds of senior care facilities, Turner says. He anticipates that the platform will be available in all major U.S. cities by the end of the year, and will be exploring international opportunities by 2022.

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Houston SaaS startup closes $12M series A funding round with support from local VC

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A Houston startup with a software-as-a-service platform for the energy transition has announced it closed a funding round with participation from a local venture capital.

Molecule closed its $12 million series A, and Houston-based Mercury Fund was among the company's investors. The company has a cloud-based energy trading and risk management solution for the energy industry and supports power, natural gas, crude/refined products, chemicals, agricultural commodities, softs, metals, cryptocurrencies, and more.

"We led the seed round of Molecule upon their formation and are excited to participate in their series A," says Blair Garrou, co-founder and managing director of Mercury, in a news release. "Molecule's success in the ETRM/CTRM industry, especially in relation to electricity and renewables, positions them as the company to beat for the energy transition in the 2020s."

The company will use its new funds to further build out its product as well as introduce offerings to manage renewables credits, according to the release.

"In 2020, we realized that electricity — the growth commodity of the 2020s — represented over half of Molecule's customer base, and we decided to double down," says Sameer Soleja, founder and CEO of Molecule, in the release. "We were also rated the No. 1 SaaS ETRM/CTRM vendor. With this fundraise, we have the fuel to become No. 1 SaaS platform for power and renewables, and then the market leader overall.

"Molecule is ready to power the energy transition," Soleja continues.

Molecule's last round of funding closed in November 2014. The $1.1 million seed round was supported by Mercury Fund and the Houston Angel Network.

Houston-based afterlife planning startup launches new app

there's an app for that

The passing of a loved one is followed with grief — and paperwork. A Houston company that's simplifying the process of afterlife planning and decision making is making things even easier with a new smartphone app.

The Postage, a digital platform meant to ease with affair planning, recently launched a mobile app to make the service more accessible following a particularly deadly year. The United States recorded 3.2 million fatalities — the most deaths in its history, largely due to the coronavirus pandemic.

After losing three family members back-to-back, Emily Cisek dealt first hand with the difficulty of wrapping up a loved one's life. She saw how afterlife planning interrupted her family's grieving and caused deep frustration. Soon, she began to envision a solution to help people have a plan and walk through the process of losing someone.

The Postage, which launched in September, provides a platform for people to plan their affairs and leave behind wishes for loved ones. The website includes document storage and organization, password management, funeral and last wishes planning, and the option to create afterlife messages to posthumously share with loved ones.

"Right now, as it stands ahead of this app, end-of-life planning is really challenging. It's this daunting thing you have to sit down and do at your computer," says Cisek. Not only is it "daunting," but it's time-consuming. According to The Postage, families can expect to spend nearly 500 hours on completing end-of-life details if there is no planning done in advance.

With more than 74 percent of The Postage's web traffic coming from mobile users, an app was a natural progression. In fact, Entrepreneur reports the average person will spend nine years on their mobile device. Cisek wanted to meet users where they are at with a user-friendly app that includes the same features as the desktop website.

"What we wanted to do [with the app] is make it so easy to plan your life and the end of your life using one click — as easy as it was for posting and commenting on social media," explains Cisek. "People are so used to reflecting on those behaviors and clicking one button to add a picture ... we wanted to make it that simple," she continued.

Cisek and her team focused on providing a "seamless experience" within the app, which took approximately four months to build, which mirrors the desktop platform.

Though The Postage's website had mobile functionality, the app includes the ability to record and upload content. Whether snapping a picture of their insurance policy or recording a video to share with loved ones, The Postage app allows users to capture photos and videos directly within the app.

After snapping a picture, "the next step inherently is sharing it with your loved ones," says Cisek. Photos, family recipes and videos can easily be shared securely with loved ones who accept your invitation to The Postage so "that legacy continues on," she says.

Since The Postage's fall launch, the company has grown a steady base of paid subscribers with plans to expand.

"We're really starting to change the way people plan for the future," says Cisek.