Tech company launches COVID-19 vaccine finder in Houston

there's an app for that

ClassPass, which recently opened a Houston location, has launched a new tool for users to find their closest vaccine location. Photo courtesy of ClassPass

A global tech company that recently opened a local office in Houston has announced a major upgrade to its app — and it's now available in Houston.

ClassPass, a network of fitness and wellness partners, now has Houston vaccine centers searchable within the app and website. Members can find their closest vaccine center and get important information — like hours and address — as well as how to contact the locations; however, users aren't able to book directly through ClassPass.

"We are in a global health crisis and every company should be helping to support relief and vaccination efforts however they can. Using the ClassPass platform to connect members with vaccine centers is a natural extension of our technology and a way that we can contribute to curbing the spread of COVID-19," says Jeff Bladt, vice president of pricing and inventory, in a news release.

"We have deep knowledge of how to help people find accurate and up-to-date information on local businesses after routing millions of users to fitness and wellness locations across 30 countries," he adds.

Users can search for COVID vaccine locations online or through the app. Photo courtesy of ClassPass

The new search option has been rolled out already in in Austin and Dallas, as well as Boston, Chicago, Denver, Miami, New York City and Washington, D.C.

"The process of finding a vaccination appointment can be challenging and many people don't know where to start," says Dr. Vin Gupta, a critical care pulmonologist, health policy expert, and NBC News Medical Analyst, in the release.

"I was thrilled to hear that ClassPass, a high touch app that has already trained people how to search for vital health information, is leveraging their platform to make it easier to identify vaccine sites and secure appointments," he continues. "Anything that can address this information gap is critical in getting more people vaccinated."

ClassPass quickly pivoted when the pandemic hit last year, and now all 41,500 fitness, wellness, and beauty partners on the app have been asked to provide updated details on their COVID policies. ClassPass also worked with 5,000 top studios around the world to add digital classes as an option.

In March, Houston-based ClassPass exec, Rachel Moctron, joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss this pivot and the new Houston office. Listen to it below.


This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Angela Holmes of Mercury Data Science, Ashok Gowda of BioTex, and Rachel Moncton of ClassPass. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In the week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — data science, consumer tech, and medical device innovation — recently making headlines.

Angela Holmes, chief operating officer of Mercury Data Science

Mercury Data Science has taken a tool it originally developed for COVID-19 research and applied it into new areas of research and innovation. Photo courtesy of MDS

When the pandemic hit, the team at Mercury Data Science knew data was going to have a huge role to play. Last fall, MDS released an AI-driven app designed to help researchers unlock COVID-19-related information tucked into biomedical literature. The app simplified access to data about subjects like genes, proteins, drugs, and diseases.

Now, a year into the coronavirus pandemic, the company is applying this technology to areas like agricultural biotech, in which the platform enables researchers to sift through literature to dig up data about plant genetics, says Angela Holmes, chief operating officer at MDS. The lack of gene-naming standards in the world of plants complicates efforts to search data about plant genetics, she says.

The platform's ability to easily ferret out information about plant genetics "allows companies seeking gene-editing targets to make crops more nutritious and more sustainable as the climate changes to have a rapid way to de-risk their genomic analyses by quickly assessing what is already known versus what is unknown," Holmes says. Click here to read more.

Ashok Gowda, founder and CEO of BioTex

Houston-based BioTex works with medical device and health tech companies from all stages, from R&D to commercialization. Photo via biotexmedical.com

In the process of building a medical device company called Visualase and exiting it to Medtronic for over $100 million, Ashok Gowda learned a lot. And, over the past two decades, he's been sharing that knowledge and expertise of his and his team to medtech companies of all stages at Houston-based BioTex.

"Ultimately we built a nice infrastructure by supporting (the Visualase) spin out," Gowda tells InnovationMap. "And we learned a lot about not just product development, but about commercializing and creating a new market that may not exist. And we had some really good, experienced commercial folks we had hired on the Visualase side. I just think it's a good learning lesson that you can't really teach this stuff — you gotta experience it really to understand." Click here to read more.

Rachel Moncton, vice president of Global Marketing at ClassPass

Rachel Moncton shares why ClassPass tapped Houston as a prime place to expand. Photo courtesy of ClassPass

Rachel Moncton has lived all over the world in her career at fitness and wellness-focused consumer tech company, ClassPass — and her latest assignment has been standing up the company's fourth domestic office right here in Houston, Texas.

On last week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, Moncton shares how Houston as a hub offers the growing company a chance to be a big fish in a small consumer tech pond.

"I get a lot of people saying, 'Houston? That's an interesting choice and not what we'd expect,'" Moncton says. "But that's one of the things we like about it. There's a good startup scene here but not a million different consumer tech companies, so it's nice that we are able to make a bit of a splash." Click here to read more.

Rachel Moncton joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share why ClassPass chose Houston for its fourth domestic hub and what the consumer tech company has on its horizon for 2021. Photo courtesy of ClassPass

Tech exec shares how she's excited to 'make a splash' in Houston with recent expansion

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 75

When Rachel Moncton decided she wanted to move back to the United States after years of growing consumer tech company ClassPass internationally, she had no clue where she was going to end up.

The current vice president of marketing had served in various leadership roles for the company, and the powers at be at ClassPass, a consumer-facing tech company that brings together fitness classes and wellness experiences onto one app, decided that Moncton's move would be to spearhead the company's fourth office in Houston.

ClassPass, which was founded in New York City in 2011 before quickly opening its second office in San Francisco. Moncton says a few years ago the company conducted a search for a city that would make for a great expansion and, while Houston was definitely a contender, Missoula, Montana, became the next hub for ClassPass, which has raised over $500 million in venture capital. But, Houston was top of mind for the next expansion.

"When we were thinking about our fourth U.S. office, we wanted something bigger — we're growing quickly and knew we would have to tap into a large talent pool," Moncton says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, noting other elements like Houston's parks, sports teams, culture, universities, and more.

"I get a lot of people saying, 'Houston? That's an interesting choice and not what we'd expect,'" Moncton says. "But that's one of the things we like about it. There's a good startup scene here but not a million different consumer tech companies, so it's nice that we are able to make a bit of a splash."

Last fall, Moncton made her move to Houston to stand up the office virtually, at first, and now the local team is 10 people strong. Currently, ClassPass is looking for its physical space somewhere inside the loop and is hoping to have it open by this summer. Likely, Moncton says, the office will start in a coworking or flexible space that will be able to grow alongside the team.

And speaking of growth, Moncton says ClassPass is still hiring in Houston for roles from sales and finance to customer service and more.

"We are hiring across the board. It's fun for the teams to get to meet people you might not be working with day to day, and it fosters a better sense of empathy and understanding of how the company works," Moncton says. "Even though I lead marketing, it's by no means a marketing hub."

As ClassPass expands its presence, Moncton says she's focused on expanding the company's partners on the app. ClassPass has historically connected users to fitness studios but now is featuring more and more health, wellness, and beauty experiences.

"The technology we've built is to help people find things to book in their city," Moncton says. "There's a lot of (fitness studios) and it can be hard to find what you're looking for. Beauty and wellness are no different."

Moncton shares more about what she's excited about for the future of ClassPass, and how she's experienced Houston so far on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Rachel Moctron of ClassPass, Sid Upadhyay of WizeHire, and Ashley Small of Medley Inc. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In the week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three innovators across industries recently making headlines — from fitness tech and software to PR and communications.

Rachel Moncton, vice president of Global Marketing at ClassPass

Rachel Moncton shares why ClassPass tapped Houston as a prime place to expand. Photo courtesy of ClassPass

ClassPass recently announced its entrance into the Houston market, and at the helm of the company's new local presence is Rachel Moncton. In a guest article for InnovationMap, she shares why ClassPass was so interested in Houston. The search actually started four years ago, but the tech company finally landed in Houston for its fourth location.

"In 2017, the ClassPass team spent nine months conducting an intensive nationwide search for a city that matched our mission and values," Moncton writes. "As a brand focused on supporting an active lifestyle, we wanted a city that offered a connection to the outdoors. One of the most important driving factors in our search was finding a city where we could attract incredible talent to our team. Though we settled on Missoula, Houston was high on the list." Click here to read more.

Sid Upadhyay, co-founder and CEO of WizeHire

A Houston startup has closed a $7.5 million round of funding with mostly local investment. Photo courtesy of WizeHire

Sid Upadhyay's startup has something to celebrate. The software company founded in Houston closed a $7.5 million series A round of funding led by two Houston-area venture capital firms — Amplo and Mercury Fund. According to a news release, WizeHire will use the funds to scale their business, which is centered around providing personalized hiring resources to small businesses.

"We're a small business helping small businesses with a team of people looking out for you," says Upadhyay. "Hiring is complex and personal. Our customers see what we do not just as software; they see us as a trusted advisor." Click here to read more.

Ashley Small, founder and CEO of Medley Inc.

From events to online shopping — here are four tech trends to look out for this year according to Ashley Small. Photo courtesy of Medley

For Ashley Small, founder and CEO of Medley Inc., innovation and inclusion go hand in hand. Business leaders need diverse voices at the table to drive new ideas and innovation.

"Innovation is actually impossible without diversity," Small says on the most recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "A part of this is also being really open minded to the fact that you are going to hear ideas that sound and look different. Be open to that, because that is 100 percent the point."

Small discusses more about how she's honoring Black History Month with her team and the evolution the PR and media industries have seen over the past decade on the episode. Click here to stream the episode and read more.

Here's why ClassPass tapped Houston as a prime place to expand. Photo via Getty Images

Why my global tech startup picked Houston for its next location

guest column

Most people know that fitness and wellness leader ClassPass started in New York City. It's less well known that ClassPass has a large office in Missoula, Montana that houses several members of our leadership team, including CEO Fritz Lanman.

In 2017, the ClassPass team spent nine months conducting an intensive nationwide search for a city that matched our mission and values. As a brand focused on supporting an active lifestyle, we wanted a city that offered a connection to the outdoors. One of the most important driving factors in our search was finding a city where we could attract incredible talent to our team. Though we settled on Missoula, Houston was high on the list.

I'm thrilled that four years later, we are finally adding Houston as the fourth US ClassPass office. I have personally relocated to this city and now call myself a Houstonian. Here's five reasons why ClassPass chose Houston for our new US office:

Houston has a welcoming and collaborative culture

Since moving to Houston, every person I have met has been so welcoming. Locally founded tech companies are looking for ways to partner, and accelerators such as Houston Exponential have gone out of their way to make our transition smooth and facilitate introductions within the tech ecosystem. This is a friendly city, and one that encourages the growth of tech companies.

Great sports teams and miles of biking trails

Play is such an important part of the ClassPass culture (one of our values is "play to win"), and Houston is a dynamic place to do just that. With great sports teams, amazing museums, and tons of green space with miles of running and biking trails, there is something for everyone. And particularly in the winter when our colleagues are dealing with huge snow storms in NYC and Montana, it is such a treat to be able to spend time outside.

Self care is an important part of the culture

Locally, ClassPass partners with more than 900 Houston businesses including fitness centers, gyms, spas and beauty salons. In the Houston area, we have seen tremendous usage for both our fitness and wellness offerings, with members booking classes such as a full body strength class at Tropa Z Fitness or a Pilates session at 713 Pilates. Our beauty and wellness offerings are also popular, with people making the time for a sports recovery massage at Serenite Massage, a compression session at Restore Cryotherapy, or a bikini wax at Wink Lash Bar. It's important to us to know we are based in a city where the community embraces self-care, and where we can help local businesses to grow.

The legendary food

You need food to fuel your workouts! The food scene in Houston is incredible, and I am personally delighted to keep exploring and trying takeout from more places (I am currently on a quest for the best breakfast tacos!). Whether it's ordering lunch together once we are all able to be in-person, or going out for a meal after a new milestone is reached, I look forward to sampling the food scene with our new Houston team members.

The large talent pool

Houston is home to universities including Rice University and The University of Houston, and Texas A&M and UT Austin are nearby. With so much feeder talent coming out of local schools, and a reputation as one of the most diverse cities in the US, we are confident that Houston will be a place to recruit for teams across our organization.

Want to join our team? Check out open roles here.

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Rachel Moncton is the vice president of Global Marketing at ClassPass, the leading fitness and wellness membership and a global provider of corporate wellness benefits. She is based in Houston.

ClassPass is expanding into Houston with over 20 new jobs and a local office. Image courtesy of ClassPass

Fitness tech platform expands to Houston and plans to hire

new to hou

When a global technology company focused on fitness and wellness was looking for a city to open their fourth office in the United States, the team wanted a community that was active and full of young professionals. They landed on Houston.

Membership-based fitness and wellness company ClassPass is opening a local office in Houston and is planning on hiring over 20 professionals across departments — from analytics, customer experience, design, and engineering, to marketing, partnerships and product.

Rachel Moncton, vice president of global marketing for ClassPass, has already relocated to Houston to lead the new office.

"Houston is a friendly, community-focused city with a rich talent pool. We are thrilled to contribute to the Houston economy by creating new opportunities for professionals with varying skill sets, and hope to build a local team with a broad range of experiences and backgrounds," says Moncton says in a news release.

Headquartered in New York City, ClassPass's membership and mobile application connects members to fitness and wellness appointments at over 30,000 studios and 11,500 wellness venues. In Houston, ClassPass has over 900 partners.

Currently, the company has 400 employees worldwide with offices in Missoula, Montana, and San Francisco. ClassPass's new hires will work remotely at first, and the organization is hoping to open a physical office later this year.

"It's great to see another Bay Area company expanding to Houston like Nuro, Bill.com, and Homebase," says Harvin Moore, president of Houston Exponential. "ClassPass is already using the HTX Talent jobs board to build its Houston team and we hope to work more with them as they build their presence here."

The app has 900 fitness and wellness partners in Houston already. Image courtesy of ClassPass

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

H-E-B leader gifts $5 million to historic Houston-area university for future students

HEB and PVAMU

The leader of the Lone Star State’s beloved H-E-B has bestowed a monumental gift upon a historic Houston-area university.

On November 17, Prairie View A&M University announced that H-E-B chairman Charles Butt — one of America’s favorite CEOs and member of one of Texas’ richest families — has donated $5 million to create Founders Scholarships for incoming PVAMU students.

“The $5 million gift will provide a permanent endowment to support students today and in the coming years,” a release notes. “Initially generating approximately $200,000 a year for scholarships, the fund will grow significantly in coming years, making even more available to support students.”

The scholarships will be available to students from public high schools in Texas graduating in the top quartile of their class, the release says. They must be incoming first-year students, enrolled in a full-time course load, and as scholarship recipients, they will benefit from “enrichment opportunities unique to their [Founders Scholarships] cohort.”

Scholarship disbursements will begin in fall 2022, a spokesperson confirms; the number of initial scholarships available has not been revealed.

“Charles Butt has been amazingly generous to our university. He has shown time and time again that he genuinely cares about the opportunities afforded to students at PV. We are indebted to him for his grace and his humanity,” says Ruth Simmons, president of PVAMU, in the release.

Prairie View A&M University is the second-oldest public institution of higher learning in the state and is one of Texas’ historically Black universities. It is located approximately 50 miles northwest of Houston and has a current enrollment of more than 8,000 undergraduate and graduate students.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston logistics software startup secures $8.4M series A from international investors

money moves

A Houston-based software company that's reducing cost and risk in the marine supply chain has closed its latest round of funding.

Voyager Portal, a software-as-a-service platform closed an $8.4 million series A investment round this week. The round was led by Phaze Ventures, a VC fund based in the Middle East, and included new investors — ScOp Venture Capital, Waybury Capital and Flexport. Additionally, all of Voyager's existing investors contributed to this round.

Voyager has reported significant growth over the past two years since its $1.5 million seed round. Between Q3 2020 to Q3 2021, the company's revenue has increased 13 times and was up 40 percent from Q2 2021. Voyager now manages over $1 billion in freight on the platform, according to a news release.

“Voyager Portal was created to significantly reduce cost, risk, and complexity when transporting bulk materials around the world,” says Matthew Costello, CEO and co-founder of Voyager, in the release. “The last two years have demonstrated just how critical shipping bulk commodities is to global markets – freight rates have increased and port congestion is at an all-time high – accelerating the demand for Voyager’s solution.”

Costello says the fresh funds will be used to support Voyager's continued growth.

“With our Series A funding, we’ll be able to expedite our product roadmap to support an international client base whilst expanding our engineering, development, marketing and sales teams internationally," he adds.

Matthew Costello Voyager Matthew Costello is the CEO and co-founder of Voyager.

Built from the ground up, Voyager's software was created to replace the antiquated and complex legacy systems the market has seen for decades. The platform allows companies to seamlessly collaborate in real time over a single shipment.

“Voyager's implementation has been hugely impressive,” says Adam Panni, operations manager at OMV, a multinational energy company based in Austria, in the release. “The low-code functionality allows almost real-time modifications to the developing workflows and reporting capabilities with no lengthy development and minimal testing prior to implementation. By digitizing data capture across all our physical movements, we are able to analyze our business much better, enabling faster and smarter decisions driven by data. This, in turn, will provide significant, quantifiable cost reductions for our business.”

Abdullah Al-Shaksy, co-founder and CEO of Phaze Ventures says the platform is evolving the industry as a whole at an important moment.

“Voyager is changing the way companies are thinking of their global shipping operations,” he says. “Global supply chains are becoming increasingly complex and strained, and there is an incredible treasure trove of data that organizations are underutilizing in their decision-making process. We believe what Voyager has created for their customers across the globe will revolutionize this space forever.”

Rice research: Revisiting the merits of nondigital data collecting

houston voices

Academics are learning quickly that investigations based on data from online research agencies have their drawbacks. Thousands of such studies are released every year – and if the data is compromised, so too are the studies themselves.

So it’s natural for researchers, and the managers who rely on their findings, to be concerned about potential problems with the samples they’re studying. Among them: participants who aren’t in the lab and researchers who can’t see who is taking their survey, what they are doing while answering questions or even if they are who they claim to be online. In the wake of a 2018 media piece about Amazon’s Mechanical Turks Service, “Bots on Amazon’s MTurk Are Ruining Psychology Studies,” one psychology professor even mused, “I wonder if this is the end of MTurk research?” (It wasn’t).

To tackle this problem, Rice Business professor Mikki Hebl joined colleagues Carlos Moreno and Christy Nittrouer of Rice University along with several other colleagues to highlight the value of other research methods. Four alternatives – field experiments, archival data, observations and big data – represent smart alternatives to overreliance on online surveys. These methods also have the advantage of challenging academics to venture outside of their laboratories and examine real people and real data in the real world.

Field experiments have been around for decades. But their value is hard to overestimate. Unlike online studies, field experiments enhance the role of context, especially in settings that are largely uncontrolled. It’s hard to fake a field experiment in order to create positive results since each one costs a considerable time and money.

And field experiments can yield real-life results with remarkable implications for society at large. Consider one experiment among 56 middle schools in New Jersey, which found that spreading anti-conflict norms was hugely successful in reducing the need for disciplinary action. Such studies have an impact well beyond what could be achieved with a simple online survey.

The best way to get started with a good field experiment, Hebl and her colleagues wrote, is for researchers to think about natural field settings to which they have access, either personally or by leveraging their networks. Then, researchers should think about starting with the variables critical for any given setting and which they would most like to manipulate to observe the outcome. When choosing variables, it’s helpful to start by thinking about what variable might have conditions leading to the greatest degree of behavior change if introduced into the setting.

Archival data is another excellent way to work around the limitations of online surveys, the researchers argue. These data get around some of the critical drawbacks of field research, including problems around how findings apply in a more general way. Archival data, especially in the form of state or national level data sets, provide information and insight into a large, diverse set of samples that are more representative of the general population than online studies.

Archival data can also help answer questions that are either longitudinal or multilevel in nature, which can be particularly tricky or even impossible to capture with data collected by any single research team. As people spend increasing amounts of time on social media, the internet also serves as a source of newer forms of archival data that can lend unique insights into individuals’ thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors over time.

With every passing year, technology becomes increasingly robust and adept at collecting massive amounts of data on an endless variety of human behavior. For the scientists who research social and personality psychology, the term “big data” refers not only to very large sets of data but also to the tools and techniques that are used to analyze it. The three defining properties of Big Data in this context include the speed of data processing and collection, the vast amount of data being analyzed and the sheer variety of data available.

By using big data, social scientists can generate research based on various conditions, as well as collect data in natural settings. Big data also offers the opportunity to consolidate information from huge and highly diverse stores of data. This technology has many applications, including psychological assessments and improving security in airports and other transportation hubs. In future research, Hebl and her team noted, researchers will likely leverage big data and its applications to detect our unconscious emotions.

Big data, archival information and field studies can all be used in conjunction with each other to maximize the fidelity of research. But researchers shouldn’t forget even more old-fashioned techniques, including the oldest: keen observation. With observation, there are often very few, if any, manipulations and the goal is simply to systematically record the way people behave.

Researchers – and the managers who make decisions based on their findings – should consider the advantages of old-style, often underused methodologies, Hebl and her colleagues argue. Moving beyond the college laboratory and digital data survey-collection platforms and into the real world offers some unparalleled advantages to science. For the managers whose stock prices may hinge on this science, it’s worth knowing – and understanding – how your all-important data was gathered.

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This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom and is based on research from Mikki Hebl, the Martha and Henry Malcolm Lovett Professor of psychology at Rice University, and Carlos Moreno and Christy Nittrouer, who are graduate students at Rice University. Additional researchers include Ho Kwan Cheung, Eden B. King, and Hannah Markellis of George Mason University.