This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Jim Gable of Chevon, Brad Burke of Rice Alliance, and Chris Romani of illumipure. Photos courtesy

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

Houston energy innovator on why now's the right time for energy transition innovation

Jim Gable, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy

The cleantech innovation space has momentum, and Chevron strives to be one of the incumbent energy companies playing a role in that movement, Jim Gable, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures, shares on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"People call it cleantech 2.0, but it's really cleantech 3.0," Gable says, explaining how he's been there for each wave of cleantech. "The people are better now — the entrepreneurs are better, the investors are better. Exits are here in the cleantech space."

"It's all driven by policy-enabled markets, and the policy is here now too. Twenty years ago, you didn't have nearly the same level of policy influence that you do now," he continues. "Things are coming together to help us really create and deliver that affordable, reliable, ever cleaner energy that's going to be needed for a long time." Read more.

Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship

Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, has received an impressive award for his leadership. Photo via Rice.edu

A figurehead in Houston's innovation ecosystem has received an award for his career leading innovation in higher education.

Brad Burke, who's served as managing director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship since its inception 22 years ago, received the Outstanding Contributions to Advancing Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Higher Education Award. Burke was presented with the award at the 2023 Deshpande Symposium for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Higher Education.

Recognizing an individual who has proven to be successful in leading entrepreneurship within higher education, the award was founded by serial entrepreneur Desh Deshpande. The event attracts academics, policy planners, and practitioners every year to share thought leadership within higher education entrepreneurship and innovation. Read more.

Chris Romani, chief marketing officer for illumiPure

If mobile marketing isn't in your startup's toolkit, it should be. Photo courtesy

When it comes to marketing tools, there's a lot out there. Some aren't worth it, but some can make a huge difference. Chris Romani, chief marketing officer for illumiPure, Houston-based medical device company, in a guest column for InnovationMap, outlined some of the tools that make an impact.

"For startups, when and how to begin marketing their business can feel like a cumbersome task," he explains. "As a chief marketing officer, I was asked to list services and channels that I oversee, and I came up with 16. For founders of startups who must often take on the roles of CEO and COO in addition to CMO as they look to expand their teams, that time commitment is not reasonable for someone who also has a personal life." Read more.

If mobile marketing isn't in your startup's toolkit, it should be. Photo via Getty Images

How to leverage mobile marketing for your startup, according to this Houston expert

Guest column

Consumer privacy is driving startups to immediately begin marketing and data collection. Google and Apple have recently stressed the importance of first-party data collection for businesses. For the last two decades, businesses have had access to cookies to advertise to people who visited their digital assets. Digital advertising has already changed with Apple’s iOS 14.5 alterations, switching the default of ad tracking from yes to no and both Google and Apple expect data privacy to increase.

For startups, when and how to begin marketing their business can feel like a cumbersome task. As a chief marketing officer, I was asked to list services and channels that I oversee, and I came up with 16. For founders of startups who must often take on the roles of CEO and COO in addition to CMO as they look to expand their teams, that time commitment is not reasonable for someone who also has a personal life.

Entrepreneurs need tools that are simple to institute and not cost prohibitive, to meet their respective milestones. First, we need to collect first party data, so that when we get to our minimum viable product we have plenty of people waiting to buy it. Next, marketing must work even when we can’t focus on it. Third, we must focus on revenue generating activities, whether they are marketing or not. Finally, we want to create an environment where successful entrepreneurs have a work and life balance.

Before doing anything else — get a virtual phone number

A virtual phone number is the first marketing tool I would use for any business. This number can be connected to your cell phone during certain hours of the day and disconnected for others. This allows people to reach you on your schedule. Put this phone number on every asset you have, so it can be integrated into future tools, such as customer relationship management and Google My Business. With proper opt-in information, it also creates an immediate list for SMS marketing in the future. A virtual phone number typically runs $1 to $2 a month plus usage fees, so it can be used by any business.

It is important that this is set up first, because without this, you can’t use the following marketing tools effectively.

Tool 1: Missed Call – Text Back

An entrepreneurs’ worst nightmare is missing an important phone call, whether it’s an investor or closing your first sale. Constant phone and email checking causes anxiety, but more importantly, it is a low revenue activity, so you are actively hurting your business.

Missed Call – Text Back, or MCTB, allows a customizable text message to be delivered to a client when you miss their phone call. It moves the caller towards resolution (sales or otherwise) immediately encouraging them to give you more information about their problem. The best part is, that once you have the system in place, it costs you zero time. Imagine walking out of a meeting and instead of 10 missed calls, you have 10 text messages that you can quickly answer. How much time did you just get back?

Pro Tip: In many cases, you can automate your emails in a similar way.

Tool 2: A funnel page

Now that we have a tool that allows us to work productively without constant phone checking, we need to increase our book of business. This is where a funnel comes in.

A funnel is a unique digital experience you would like a specific person — a client or investor — to have. When you start a business, a funnel can be your website because you only have one specific thing you want any visitor to do, like collect information.

Almost every consultant to new businesses is promoting funnel building. Why? Because a good funnel motivates people to act in a specific way. If you are raising funds, you want an investor to have a specific experience to garner interest, not hope they navigate to the correct webpage. If you have a new technology, you want early adopters to learn and then provide a simple way to collect their information, so that you can contact them when your product is ready. Finally, if you’re about to hit the market with your new product, providing customers with a simple purchase method will improve revenue during your important proof-of-concept period.

Funnels, like MCTB, can grow and adapt with your business, providing different groups of people with different experiences, with minimal effort. For instance, suppose I created a dating app and needed early adopters. Instead of creating one funnel, let’s say I created two. The only difference between the two funnels, is the first one’s headline was “The No. 1 new dating app for men” and then the second one said women. Everything else remains the same, but the experience is immediately different for the consumer. The more you can change the funnel to cater to their personal experience, the better it will be, but even simple changes can go a long way.

Pro Tip: Funnels are easiest to keep track of when they are subdomains of your website.

Tool 3: Automated SMS marketing

The final tool I recommend to start is Automated SMS Marketing. Assuming you have people properly opted in from your funnel — review Telephone Consumer Protection Act (1991) to ensure legal compliance — you can make sure they receive a welcome message in the first 5 minutes.

The most important part of text messaging marketing is allowing your customer to believe they are really having a conversation with you. If you can avoid it, never tell a customer that your digital number is automated. If you need, tell them it is automated but overseen by you. You are the owner of the business or the inventor of the technology, people want to talk to you. Customers want to pretend that they know you. Allow them this feeling. Once the customer responds, you should be picking up an organic conversation with them anyway.

Bringing it together

Using these tools, we have created a simple, repeatable method to gather customer data and start their customer journey. Your funnel may also help you gather an email list, but your most active prospects will be more than willing to communicate with you over the phone.

When you can’t take calls, whether it’s because you are in a meeting or with your kids, you can rest easier, knowing that potential customers get an immediate response that helps them get where they need to go, or at the very least, when you get back to work, you can help them quickly.

And the best part for a new entrepreneur is that this can all be done cost effectively. Personally, I recommend a service called HighLevel, a feature-rich cost-effective CRM, that includes all of the tools previously discussed. Most tech savvy entrepreneurs can figure out how to institute all these practices quickly from one platform in a no code environment. If you’d rather have assistance, there are 20,000 agencies that use the platform and just as many YouTube videos.

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Chris Romani is the chief marketing officer for illumiPure, a Houston-based medical device company.

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Innovative coastline project on Bolivar Peninsula receives federal funding

flood mitigation

The Galveston’s Coastal Barrier Project recently received federal funding to the tune of $500,000 to support construction on its flood mitigation plans for the area previously devastated by Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Known as Ike Dike, the proposed project includes implementing the Galveston Bay Storm Surge Barrier System, including eight Gulf and Bay defense projects. The Bolivar Roads Gate System, a two-mile-long closure structure situated between Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula, is included in the plans and would protect against storm surge volumes entering the bay.

The funding support comes from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and will go toward the preconstruction engineering and design phase of Ecosystem Restoration feature G-28, the first segment of the Bolivar Peninsula and West Bay Gulf Intracoastal Waterway Shoreline and Island Protection.

Coastal Barrier Project - Galveston Projects

The project also includes protection of critical fish and wildlife habitat against coastal storms and erosion.

“The Coastal Texas Project is one of the largest projects in the history of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” says Col. Rhett A. Blackmon, USACE Galveston District commander, in a statement. “This project is important to the nation for many reasons. Not only will it reduce risk to the vulnerable populations along the Texas coast, but it will also protect vital ecosystems and economically critical infrastructure vital to the U.S. supply chain and the many global industries located here.”

Hurricane Ike resulted in over $30 billion in storm-related damages to the Texas coast, reports the Coastal Barrier Project, and created a debris line 15 feet tall and 40 miles long in Chambers County. The estimated economic disruption due to Hurricane Ike exceeded $150 billion, FEMA reported.

The Coastal Texas Project is estimated to take 20 years to complete after construction starts and will cost $34.4 billion, reports the USACE.

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Correction: This article previously reported the incorrect project valuation and timeline. It has been updated to reflect the corrrect information.

Houston organization selects research on future foods in space health to receive $1M in funding

research and development

What would we eat if we were forced to decamp to another planet? The most immediate challenges faced by the food industry and astronauts exploring outside Earth are being addressed by The Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) at Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Space Medicine’s newest project.

Earlier this month, TRISH announced the initial selection for its Space Health Ingress Program (SHIP) solicitation. Working with California Institute of Technology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Baylor-based program chose “Future Foods for Space: Mobilizing the Future Foods Community to Accelerate Advances in Space Health,” led by Dr. Denneal Jamison-McClung at the University of California, Davis.

“TRISH is bringing in new ideas and investigators to propel space health research,” says Catherine Domingo, TRISH operations lead and research administration associate at Baylor College of Medicine, in the release. “We have long believed that new researchers with fresh perspectives drive innovation and advance human space exploration and SHIP builds on TRISH’s existing efforts to recruit and support new investigators in the space health research field, potentially yielding and high-impact ideas to protect space explorers.”

The goal of the project is to develop sustainable food products and ingredients that could fuel future space travelers on long-term voyages, or even habitation beyond our home planet.

Jamison-McClung and her team’s goal is to enact food-related space health research and inspire the community thereof by mobilizing academic and food-industry researchers who have not previously engaged with the realm of space exploration. Besides growing and developing food products, the project will also address production, storage, and delivery of the nutrition created by the team.

To that end, Jamison-McClung and her recruits will receive $1 million over the course of two years. The goal of the SHIP solicitation is to work with first-time NASA investigators, bringing new minds to the forefront of the space health research world.

“As we look to enable safer space exploration and habitation for humans, it is clear that food and nutrition are foundational,” says Dr. Asha S. Collins, chair of the SHIP advisory board, in a press release. “We’re excited to see how accelerating innovation in food science for space health could also result in food-related innovations for people on Earth in remote areas and food deserts.”