Don't miss these informative online events happening throughout the month of May. Photo by Getty Images

This month, Houstonians have yet another good batch of online innovation events — from Zoom panels to virtual conferences — and you and your tech network need to know about them.

Here's a roundup of virtual events not to miss this month — like Houston Tech Rodeo, a virtual showcase from Rice University's data science students, and more.

Note: This post might be updated to add more events.

May 4 — Perfecting Your Pitch

Join The Ion for our series with DeckLaunch and Fresh Tech Solutionz as they discuss the importance and value of your pitch deck when reaching your target audience.

The event is on Tuesday, May 4, at 1 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

May 5 — D2K Virtual Showcase - Spring 2021

Join Rice University online for the interactive D2K Showcase. Student teams from the D2K Capstone and other data science programs will showcase their data science work and compete for prizes.

The event is on Wednesday, May 5, at 5 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

May 6 — Carbon to Value Initiative Kickoff

Kick off a new accelerator dedicated to carbontech. The Carbon to Value (C2V) Initiative is a multi-year collaboration between The Urban Future Lab, Greentown Labs, and the Fraunhofer USA TechBridge Program. Welcome the first cohort of startups to this exciting new program, which includes Houston-based Cemvita Factory.

The event is on Thursday, May 6, at 3 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

May 12 — Enventure "Inspire" Seminar Series - With Dr. Reece Norris

The "Inspire" Seminar Series was developed by Enventure to help students learn about the reality of working in the biotech and biomedical fields. This particular event will star Mr. Reece Norris, JD, co-founder and COO of WeInfuse. Reece began his career in corporate law and eventually entered the provider-based infusion center market, where he went on to create a first-of-its-kind infusion delivery business model.

The event is on Wednesday, May 12, at 6 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

MAy 13 — Changing the Colors of Investment

Maria Maso of the Business Angel Minority Association and Stephanie Tsuru of SheSpace are planning an inspiring conversation on diversity in investment.

The event is on Thursday, May 13, at 11:30 am. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

May 14 — Investor Speaker Series: Navigating Corporate Venture Capital

Greentown Labs is putting on a virtual event about Corporate Venture Capital. CVCs have played an important role in advancing climatetech in general, and supporting the Greentown ecosystem specifically. In this conversation, we will connect with CVCs within the Greentown network—and representing diverse industries—to discuss what they look for in startups, how they work with startups, how they like to participate in deals, and their perspective on key trends in climatetech investing. Panelists include:

The event is on Friday, May 14, at 11 am. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

May 17-23 — Houston Tech Rodeo

The Houston Tech Rodeo — a festival of events put on both online and in person — celebrates the convergence of popular culture and innovation in Houston and has transformed into an essential destination for founders and talented individuals to spur new connections and ideas while highlighting all that Houston has to offer.

The round-up of events takes place May 17 to 23. Check out all the events and register by clicking here.

May 18 — Accessibility in Tech presented by Microsoft

Attendees at this event presented by Capital Factory can look forward to a keynote chat from a serial entrepreneur or investor, insightful discussion sessions, a startup showcase pitch competition, multiple future of accessibility breakout sessions, and panels on accessibility in design and accessibility in hiring and human resource management.

The event is on Tuesday, May 18, at noon. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

May 20 — Future of Patient Experience

Healthcare centered around the patient's experience is becoming a bigger priority for systems around the world. Join experts from Houston, Texas Medical Center, the UK, and Denmark for a Biobridge event. Healthcare centered around the patient's experience is becoming a bigger priority for systems around the world.

The event is on Thursday, May 20, at 9 am. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

May 25 — Industrial XR Forum: Enterprise Projects & Tech Roundup

The Industrial XR Forum is hosting an industry-wide event focused specifically on industrial/energy and engineering large enterprise and rapidly scaling immersive tech program leaders to gain insights, use cases and technology needed for their large and often global VR/AR/XR, 3D, Digital Twin and Spatial Computing projects.


The event is on Tuesday, May 25, at 10 am. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

May 25 — HYP Referral Networking: Building Stronger Relationships

Join the Houston Young Professionals and General Assembly for a virtual networking event.

The event is on Tuesday, May 25, at 11:45 am. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

May 25 — HALO Presents: Ongoing Changes in Consumer Behavior as a Result of Covid-19

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a significant shift in consumer behavior as cities around the world saw shut downs and restrictions. Every aspect of life was affected. As the the country reopens and we enter our new normal what trends from the pandemic will stick around and what will change? Join the Texas HALO Fund and some of its portfolio companies operating in the consumer space to hear their experiences of the pandemic first hand.

The event is on Tuesday, May 25, at 5 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

May 26 — Houston Startup Showcase Semifinals

Four semifinalists will come together on the virtual stage and compete for a chance to move on to the The Ion's Startup Showcase Finals. Watch the four startups pitch their company and see who the judges will select to move on to the Final and have the opportunity to compete for a prize package. The presenting companies are:

The event is on Wednesday, May 26, at 6 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Moji Karimi of Cemvita Factory, Shanna Jin of Rice University, and Trent Crow of Real Simple Energy. 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 in Houston innovation.

Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita Factory

Moji Karimi joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how his technology is offering energy execs an innovative way to meat their climate change pledge goals. Photo courtesy of Cemvita

A lot of startups are working on technology that makes existing practices more efficient, cheaper, or faster — or all of the above. But Cemvita Factory, founded by siblings Moji and Tara Karimi, is doing something that's never been done before: biomimicking photosynthesis to convert carbon emissions into useful chemicals.

"There weren't biotech companies working with oil and gas companies for this use case that we have now," Moji Karimi says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We're defining this new category for application of synthetic biology in heavy industries for decarbonization."

With this uncharted territory comes unique challenges and opportunities. Click here to read more and stream the episode.

Shanna Jin, communications and marketing specialist of the Data to Knowledge Lab at Rice University

Startups and small businesses are accumulating data daily — here's how to use that to your advantage, according to this Houston expert. Photo via rice.edu

Ironically, the power of data management is almost incalculable. With the right practices and processes in place, businesses can make better decisions and grow more strategically. But, it's not something a lot of startups or small businesses look at regularly. That's where the Rice University Data To Knowledge group comes into play.

"Being able to interpret data and making data-driven decisions becomes the key to the success of a business," writes Shanna Jin in a guest column for InnovationMap. "It is not just a privilege for big companies anymore. Small businesses need it more than ever to make sustainable growth in the digital era." Click here to read more.

Trent Crow, founder and president of Real Simple Energy

Trent Crow, founder and president, and the Real Simple Energy team have moved over to Arcardia with the acquisition. Photo courtesy of Real Simple Energy

Earlier this month, a Houston startup exited to a larger tech company. Trent Crow, co-founder and CEO of Real Simply Energy, says all eight of the company's employees have moved over to Arcadia and more workers will be hired soon. The company has maintained a mix of office and remote workers. Arcadia will look for Houston office space later this year, Crow says.

"Expansion plans include doing more of what we're doing now and offering more features for customers," says Crow, who now is Arcadia's general manager of energy services in Texas. Click here to read more.

Startups and small businesses are accumulating data daily — here's how to use that to your advantage. Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert: How to use the power of data and analytics to inform ​small businesses​

Guest column

Starting a business in a digital era brings entrepreneurs unprecedented advantages with technology and tools designed to optimize a business' operation. Whether it is a B2C or B2B, business owners can gather almost any data and metrics to improve their performance.

Being able to interpret data and making data-driven decisions becomes the key to the success of a business. It is not just a privilege for big companies anymore. Small businesses need it more than ever to make sustainable growth in the digital era.

The challenge? There are countless analytic tools and resources available that can generate data, but you need people who can extract insights from the massive amount of data.

Hire a data science team vs. outsourcing

Many companies go to campus recruitment and scout bright data science talent who also identify with their business value. Hiring people with data science and analytic skills is optimal, but for startups that are not ready to hire an in-house team or have a short-term question, outsourcing is a better option.

Data science consulting

Many online resources can help you extract data, but you are probably wondering: where do I begin? Which tool should I use? Which exact metric should I track?

The Rice University's Data Science Consulting Clinic provides free, open to the public assistance to help clients with all of those questions. It can be for various business sectors, such as research and product development, cost predictions, analytic tools, acquisition decisions, and talent management.

Here are some of the data science aspects we specialize in:

Research & Development - Obtain data to inform a decision on what products to develop.
Data analysis of who your customers are, what they are interested in, and what product to develop is crucial for B2C and B2B. A recent example of how Rice's Data Science Consulting Clinic is making a difference is a client needed assistance with market research to help inform a startup on what kind of product they should create next. The client was able to use the data resources suggested by the student and faculty consultants to gauge consumer sentiment and examples of successful products. With the data collected, the client was able to identify the features that drive customers to purchase similar products.

Cost Predictions - A case study for an energy company
Businesses need to make crucial decisions to achieve business intelligence. CEOs and managers need to base their decisions on predictions and analysis. Another client from the Data Science Consulting Clinic was interested in predicting cost and analysis of the factors contributing to the most expense for the coming year. The client's main problem was to transform the data into a statistical model that could predict the cost. With the prediction model suggested by the student consultants, the client was able to reduce the cost by controlling factors that were likely to cause higher costs.

Acquisition Decision Making for Business Professionals
Clients from the Rice MBA program were interested in investigating the causes and effects of private equity (PE) acquisition. Specifically, the clients wanted to analyze the difference in practice habits before and after acquisitions. As a result of the consultation, the clients were able to determine what factors influenced the PE's decision to acquire new equity.

Longer term projects

It would be helpful to have a dedicated data science team who can work over a semester or year long to find the solution.

Higher education has placed a prominent focus on data science programs, especially capstone projects that provide students with real-world experience. As a business owner, you might not even think about working with an esteemed university to help you with data challenges.

The Center for Transforming Data to Knowledge, informally known as the D2K Lab at Rice University, is founded based on the mission to seek real-world data challenges for passionate data science students. Student teams have worked on over 50 sponsored data science projects with partners from a wide variety of businesses, organizations, and community partners.

Advance data science and security

The perk of working with Rice University is that it provides the most advanced data science research tools and an interdisciplinary pool of student and faculty talent who are passionate about data science. Working with Rice University also guarantees a strong data security system and a comprehensive confidentiality agreement.

  • A cloud-based financial company sponsored a series of capstone projects on applying deep learning to reduce documentation errors and increase efficiency for businesses.
  • A fintech company sponsored multiple capstone projects on building statistical models to predict costs.
  • In the tech-med industry, the D2K Lab has partnered with the Medical Informational Corps, and researchers from Texas Children's Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine to build algorithms to predict cardiac events.

The future of data-driven decision making

The digital era has become the norm for all businesses (large or small), and there's no way to avoid the power of transforming data into actionable insights. So start gathering data even before you build out a business and incorporate the culture of data-driven decision making into every sector of your business.

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Shanna Jin is the communications and marketing specialist of the Data to Knowledge Lab at Rice University.

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Houston-based equitable entrepreneurship tech platform expands programs

coming soon

Fresh off of celebrating the dismissal of a lawsuit from former Trump Administration officials, Hello Alice is expanding some of its offerings for entrepreneurs.

In partnership with top organizations — like Progressive, Antares Capital, Wells Fargo, and FedEx — Hello Alice has added new offerings for its 2024 Boost Camp programs, a mix of skill-building support and grant opportunities.

“We are fortunate to continue working with great enterprise partners who share our commitment to supporting Main Street through crucial grants and mentorship programs,” Carolyn Rodz, CEO and co-founder of Hello Alice, says in a news release. “Small businesses drive our economy, yet often lack the necessary financing and resources. By partnering with major companies, Hello Alice is ensuring that small businesses have access to the tools and opportunities they need to thrive and create jobs in their local communities. Together, we are building a robust support system that fosters innovation and growth for small businesses across the country.”

This year's programs, according to Hello Alice, are as follows:

  • Antares Capital REACH Cohort: The Antares REACH Grant Program provides $20,000 grants to small businesses. Grant recipients will also take part in Antares’ Growth Track Boost Camp program, a digital community which will be home to monthly business coaching workshops, mentorship, networking, and more. Applications are open until June 28, and the program begins August 8.
  • Progressive Driving Small Business Forward Grant & Booster Camp Program: Progressive is dedicating $1 million to award 20 deserving businesses with a $50,000 grant each. Grant recipients will be invited to attend an exclusive 12-week virtual Boost Camp coaching program. Applications have closed for the program beginning September 10.
  • Wells Fargo: Wells Fargo is supporting four virtual accelerator programs over the next 18 months, designed to support up to 500 participants for each program, with a focus on business health and credit-building practices. Applications will be announced this summer for the program, which will begin in early fall.
  • FedEx: The FedEx Entrepreneur Fund supports entrepreneurs in the United States by providing them with the necessary funding, resources, and networks to enhance the success of their businesses, including the Boost Camp coaching program.
  • Applications will be announced this fall for the program, which will begin in the winter.

More information and application access is available online.

Last year's Boost programs benefitted 100 small businesses, according to Hello Alice, which reported that the 2023 Antares REACH Cohort resulted in 60 percent of participants seeing an increase in their Business Health Score and 93 percent felt better equipped to confront challenges and capitalize on opportunities. In the end, 85 percent of participants feeling more optimistic about their business growth prospects.

"Hello Alice is proud to partner with high-level enterprise companies to empower small businesses and foster their success," Natalie Diamond, vice president of business development at Hello Alice, adds. "Together, we are creating unparalleled opportunities for entrepreneurs to achieve brand success, drive financial fitness, and thrive in today's competitive market. Our joint endeavors not only offer access to capital and resources but also provide tailored guidance and mentorship, arming small business owners with the insights and support necessary to navigate challenges and seize growth opportunities.”

Houston company's sustainable oil product reaches milestone production capacity 5 years early

overachieving

Houston-based biotech company Cemvita has achieved a key production goal five years ahead of schedule.

Thanks to technology advancements, Cemvita is now capable of generating 500 barrels per day of sustainable oil from carbon waste at its first commercial plant. As a result, Cemvita has quadrupled output at the Houston plant. The company had planned to reach this milestone in 2029.

Cemvita, founded in 2017, says this achievement paves the way for increased production capacity, improved operational efficiency, and an elevated advantage in the sustainable oil market.

“What’s so amazing about synthetic biology is that humans are just scratching the surface of what’s possible,” says Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita. “Our focus on the first principles has allowed us to design and create new biotech more cheaply and faster than ever before.”

The production achievement follows Cemvita’s recent breakthrough in development of a solvent-free extraction bioprocess.

In 2023, United Airlines agreed to buy up to one billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel from Cemvita’s first full-scale plant over the course of 20 years.

Cemvita’s investors include the UAV Sustainable Flight Fund, an investment arm of Chicago-based United; Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based energy company Occidental Petroleum; and Japanese equipment and machinery manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

Tech disruptions sparked by Texas co.'s update highlight the fragility of globally connected technology

Airlines, banks, hospitals and other risk-averse organizations around the world chose cybersecurity company CrowdStrike to protect their computer systems from hackers and data breaches.

But all it took was one faulty CrowdStrike software update to cause global disruptions Friday that grounded flights, knocked banks and media outlets offline, and disrupted hospitals, retailers and other services.

“This is a function of the very homogenous technology that goes into the backbone of all of our IT infrastructure,” said Gregory Falco, an assistant professor of engineering at Cornell University. “What really causes this mess is that we rely on very few companies, and everybody uses the same folks, so everyone goes down at the same time.”

The trouble with the update issued by CrowdStrike and affecting computers running Microsoft's Windows operating system was not a hacking incident or cyberattack, according to CrowdStrike, which apologized and said a fix was on the way.

But it wasn't an easy fix. It required “boots on the ground” to remediate, said Gartner analyst Eric Grenier.

“The fix is working, it’s just a very manual process and there’s no magic key to unlock it,” Grenier said. “I think that is probably what companies are struggling with the most here.”

While not everyone is a client of CrowdStrike and its platform known as Falcon, it is one of the leading cybersecurity providers, particularly in transportation, healthcare, banking and other sectors that have a lot at stake in keeping their computer systems working.

“They’re usually risk-averse organizations that don’t want something that’s crazy innovative, but that can work and also cover their butts when something goes wrong. That’s what CrowdStrike is,” Falco said. “And they’re looking around at their colleagues in other sectors and saying, ‘Oh, you know, this company also uses that, so I’m gonna need them, too.’”

Worrying about the fragility of a globally connected technology ecosystem is nothing new. It's what drove fears in the 1990s of a technical glitch that could cause chaos at the turn of the millennium.

“This is basically what we were all worried about with Y2K, except it’s actually happened this time,” wrote Australian cybersecurity consultant Troy Hunt on the social platform X.

Across the world Friday, affected computers were showing the “blue screen of death” — a sign that something went wrong with Microsoft's Windows operating system.

But what's different now is “that these companies are even more entrenched,” Falco said. "We like to think that we have a lot of players available. But at the end of the day, the biggest companies use all the same stuff.”

Founded in 2011 and publicly traded since 2019, CrowdStrike describes itself in its annual report to financial regulators as having “reinvented cybersecurity for the cloud era and transformed the way cybersecurity is delivered and experienced by customers.” It emphasizes its use of artificial intelligence in helping to keep pace with adversaries. It reported having 29,000 subscribing customers at the start of the year.

The Austin, Texas-based firm is one of the more visible cybersecurity companies in the world and spends heavily on marketing, including Super Bowl ads. At cybersecurity conferences, it's known for large booths displaying massive action-figure statues representing different state-sponsored hacking groups that CrowdStrike technology promises to defend against.

CrowdStrike CEO George Kurtz is among the most highly compensated in the world, recording more than $230 million in total compensation in the last three years. Kurtz is also a driver for a CrowdStrike-sponsored car racing team.

After his initial statement about the problem was criticized for lack of contrition, Kurtz apologized in a later social media post Friday and on NBC's “Today Show.”

“We understand the gravity of the situation and are deeply sorry for the inconvenience and disruption,” he said on X.

Richard Stiennon, a cybersecurity industry analyst, said this was a historic mistake by CrowdStrike.

“This is easily the worst faux pas, technical faux pas or glitch of any security software provider ever,” said Stiennon, who has tracked the cybersecurity industry for 24 years.

While the problem is an easy technical fix, he said, it’s impact could be long-lasting for some organizations because of the hands-on work needed to fix each affected computer. “It’s really, really difficult to touch millions of machines. And people are on vacation right now, so, you know, the CEO will be coming back from his trip to the Bahamas in a couple of weeks and he won’t be able to use his computers.”

Stiennon said he did not think the outage revealed a bigger problem with the cybersecurity industry or CrowdStrike as a company.

“The markets are going to forgive them, the customers are going to forgive them, and this will blow over,” he said.

Forrester analyst Allie Mellen credited CrowdStrike for clearly telling customers what they need to do to fix the problem. But to restore trust, she said there will need to be a deeper look at what occurred and what changes can be made to prevent it from happening again.

“A lot of this is likely to come down to the testing and software development process and the work that they’ve put into testing these kinds of updates before deployment,” Mellen said. “But until we see the complete retrospective, we won’t know for sure what the failure was.”