ProUnitas is working to empower schools with the technology and training. Image via prounitas.org

As the learning landscape shifted from in-person to virtual, the ability to provide students with necessary support systems and resources became compromised. However, one Houston edtech company worked hard to close that gap.

ProUnitas, a Houston-based nonprofit, partnered with Thoughtworks, a global technology consultancy, to expand its PurpleSENSE platform to mobile. This partnership was ensured through significant private investment, including a one-time gift of $440,000 from the Kinder Foundation.

ProUnitas promises that this expansion will allow student support teams to take the power of PurpleSENSE with them on the go for easier, real-time response using the new PurpleSENSE mobile app.

"A mobile version of PurpleSENSE will empower student support teams to work more rapidly, efficiently and effectively towards their mission and goals," Chris Murphy, CEO of Thoughtworks North America, says in a news release.

Committed to ensuring that no students fall through the cracks, ProUnitas' purpose is focused on providing all students, including those most impoverished, with support services such as food assistance programs, mental health counseling, and after-school clubs.

"Every day many of our students carry the burden of poverty on their shoulders to school, and despite the availability of services, schools do not have the technology infrastructure necessary to connect students to resources in a coordinated way. We want to change this reality," says Adeeb Barqawi, president and CEO of ProUnitas, says in the release.

Engaged in similar work, the Kinder Foundation was a natural partner.

"The Kinder Foundation believes that children cannot succeed if they are juggling significant personal challenges," says Nancy Kinder, president and CEO of the Kinder Foundation, in the release. "As a result of the pandemic, we are seeing mental health and the impact of stress with fresh eyes. Now is the time to support our children and help them thrive and learn. We are proud to help elevate the work of ProUnitas to reach more schools and more students in this critical time of need."

In a press release, ProUnitas states that through these new mobile capabilities, up to 60 percent of administrative work in providing social service options is eliminated. It also shortens the response time for a student to be identified and receive services by 90 percent.

The expansion of PurpleSENSE to mobile is a critical step for ProUnitas to effectively support more schools and students.

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Following Silicon Valley Bank collapse, banking diversification is key for Houston founders

SVB shake up

Last week, Houston founder Emily Cisek was in between meetings with customers and potential investors in Austin while she was in town for SXSW. She was aware of the uncertainty with Silicon Valley Bank, but the significance of what was happening didn't hit her until she got into an Uber on Friday only to find that her payment was declined.

“Being positive in nature as I am, and with the close relationship that I have with SVB and how they’ve truly been a partner, I just thought, ‘OK, they’re going to figure it out. I trust in them,'” Cisek says.

Like many startup founders, Cisek, the CEO of The Postage, a Houston-based tech platform that enables digital legacy planning tools, is a Silicon Valley Bank customer. Within a few hours, she rallied her board and team to figure out what they needed to do, including making plans for payroll. She juggled all this while attending her meetings and SXSW events — which, coincidentally, were mostly related to the banking and fintech industries.

Sandy Guitar had a similar weekend of uncertainty. As managing director of HX Venture Fund, a fund of funds that deploys capital to venture capital firms around the country and connects them to the Houston innovation ecosystem, her first concern was to evaluate the effect on HXVF's network. In this case, that meant the fund's limited partners, its portfolio of venture firms, and, by extension, the firms' portfolios of startup companies.

“We ultimately had no financial impact on venture fund 1 or 2 or on any of our portfolio funds or our underlying companies,” Guitar tells InnovationMap. “But that is thanks to the Sunday night decision to ensure all deposits.”

On Sunday afternoon, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. took control of SVB and announced that all accounts would be fully insured, not just up to the $250,000 cap. Customers like Cisek had access to their accounts on Monday.

“In the shorter term, the great news is SVB entity seems to be largely up and functioning in a business as usual manner,” Guitar says. “And they have a new leadership team, but their existing systems and predominantly the existing employee base is working well. And what we're hearing is that business as usual is taking place.”

Time to diversify

In light of the ordeal, Guitar says Houston founders and funders can take away a key lesson learned: The importance of bank diversification.

“We didn't think we needed one last week, but this week we know we need a resilience plan," she says, explaining that bank diversification is going to be added to "the operational due diligence playbook."

"We need to encourage our portfolio funds to maintain at least two banking relationships and make sure they're diversifying their cash exposure," she says.

A valued entity

Guitar says SVB is an integral part of the innovation ecosystem, and she believes it will continue on to be, but factoring in the importance of resilience and diversification.

"Silicon Valley Bank and the function that they have historically provided is is vital to the venture ecosystem," she says. "We do have confidence that either SVB, as it is currently structured or in a new structure to come, will continue to provide this kind of function for founders."

Cisek, who hasn't moved any of her company's money out of SVB, has similar sentiments about the importance of the bank for startups. She says she's grateful to the local Houston and Austin teams for opening doors, making connections, and taking chances for her that other banks don't do.

"I credit them to really being partners with startups — down to the relationships they connect you with," she says. "Some of my best friends who are founders came from introductions from SVB. I've seen them take risks that other banks won't do."

With plans to raise funding this yea, Cisek says she's already started her research on how to diversify her banking situation and is looking into programs that will help her do that.

Staying aware

Guitar's last piece of advice is to remain confident in the system, while staying tuned into what's happening across the spectrum.

“This situation that is central to the venture ecosystem is an evolving one," she says. "We all need to keep calm and confident in business as usual in the short term while keeping an eye to the medium term so that we know what happens next with this important bank and with other associated banks in the in our industry."

Meet the Texas security experts building a framework for safer schools

For the Kids

For a large portion of his career, Mike Matranga worked as a Secret Service agent protecting the President and First Family all over the world.

He then moved to the Department of the Interior, specializing in domestic terrorism, when the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School occurred. Only three months later, another school shooting happened in Santa Fe, Texas.

That's when Matranga received a phone call from a Texas superintendent, asking him to take his decades of security experience and training and develop a proactive school safety program — something that didn't yet exist. That comprehensive, holistic plan would go on to be ranked No. 1 in Texas and No. 5 in the nation.M6

Mike Matranga, M6 GlobalM6 Global's Mike Matranga.Photo courtesy of M6 Global

This led Matranga to found M6 Global, which today specializes not only in school safety plans but also programs for industrial and corporate settings and even major sporting events.

The team is comprised of current and former federal agents and security specialists, a psychiatrist, a leading emotional intelligence doctor, a former White House doctor, and emergency management experts. Together, they have more than 100 years combined experience in school safety, law enforcement, and national and global security.

And that's what's made Matranga's initiatives so successful: the people.

“Of all the measures and initiatives we implemented, the absolute most important thing we have are people who have the ability to make real change — which no camera system will provide," he says. "Simply teaching people how to identify pre-attack behavior, self-harm behavior, and a person in crisis will always be what is most important. Secondly, having the resources and courage to intervene once those things are identified will keep individuals off the path to violence. We must never discredit the human element.”

M6 Global also partners with ASAP Security Services in Houston to provide the most up-to-date technology and products, with everything from facial recognition software to cameras to threat detection software. It makes their services fully turn-key, and as Matranga says, "two brains are better than one."

Mike Matranga and President Joe Biden, M6 GlobalMike Matranga (left) with President Joe Biden.Photo courtesy of M6 Global

"At some point we have to realize that the law enforcement response that we adopted in the '80s is not working," he adds. "And it’s not just police — it’s the patterns and behaviors of people that will tell you there is a problem, so we need to shift from a reactive to a proactive mindset. We need to have actionable resources in place and a society that's better informed to recognize the signs before someone becomes a person in crisis."

To learn more about M6 Global and explore its services, visit here.