3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

Get to know this week's Houston innovators to know — and the companies they've founded. Courtesy photos

This week's innovators to know are all Houston startup founders who have identified a need in their industries and created companies to provide solutions.

From blockchain and data to real estate and smart materials, these Houston entrepreneurs are making an impact across industries as well as the Houston innovation ecosystem.

Andrew Bruce, CEO and founder of Data Gumbo Corp.

andrew bruce

Andrew Bruce had the idea for Data Gumbo when he realized how difficult it was to share data in upstream oil and gas. Courtesy of Data Gumbo

The oil and gas industry was sitting on a gold mine without any idea of how to harvest it before Andrew Bruce and his company Data Gumbo came around. If energy companies were ever going to be able to set up autonomous drilling, they needed to integrate data and challenge the commercial model.

"Data Gumbo was originally founded to solve that integration problem. Take data from different sources, standardize it, clean it up, and make sure only the people who have the authority to get access to the data, can get access to the data," Bruce says on the most recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "That's why we're called Data Gumbo — take a bunch of data, put it in the pot, stir it up, and make it taste good."

Now, years after founding the company, Bruce has raised millions and has expanded to new industries, and he has more up his sleeves. Listen to the episode and read more here.

Reda Hicks, CEO and founder of GotSpot Inc.

reda hicks

Reda Hicks create GotSpot — a digital tool that helps connect people with commercial space with people who need it. Courtesy of GotSpot

Every company, once a year, has to face the annoying and challenging tasks associated with the planning the holiday party — including identifying the point person for planning, which is usually someone who has an entire other job to focus on in addition to their new party planning tasks.

"I've worked at a law firm for over a decade, and I remember the giant hassle it was at the last minute to figure out who was responsible for the holiday party," says Reda Hicks founder and CEO of GotSpot Inc., a platform that connects people with short-term commercial space.

GotSpot's new seasonal tool — Holiday SOS — aims to be companies' one-stop shop for planning corporate holiday celebrations, from luncheons to happy hours and no matter the size of the event. The opportunity allows for the burden to be taken off that person within the company — who has a real, non party-planning job — while also allowing for new avenues of daytime business for party service providers. Click here to read more.

Ody De La Paz, CEO and founder of Sensytec

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Ody De La Paz's company, Sensytec, started as a class project and turned into a growing startup. Courtesy of Sensytec

Some people find and accept a post-graduation job while in college, but Ody De La Paz actually created his job and his company while in school. Sensytec, a smart concrete developer, may have began as just a class project at the University of Houston's Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship within the C. T. Bauer College of Business, but De La Paz and his team have proven the market need of his product over and over again.

De La Paz saw the need to really grow and develop his company after competing in a series of pitch competitions. He and his cofounder, Anudeep Maddi, competed in eight across the world, and took hope first place prizes in five.

"That kind of gave us the hint that this should be a company, and we need to make it happen as quick as possible," De La Paz, CEO of Sensytec says on this week's Houston Innovators Podcast. Listen to the episode and read more here.

Andrew Bruce talks Data Gumbo expansion on the most recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Courtesy of Data Gumbo

Houston blockchain company plans for huge growth — from new offices to new industries

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 9

Andrew Bruce saw that the oil and gas industry had a data problem. If energy companies were ever going to be able to set up autonomous drilling, they needed to integrate data and challenge the commercial model.

On this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, Bruce, CEO of Data Gumbo Corp., shares how he created a solution to move the needle on streamlining data within industry.

"Data Gumbo was originally founded to solve that integration problem. Take data from different sources, standardize it, clean it up, and make sure only the people who have the authority to get access to the data, can get access to the data," Bruce says on the podcast. "That's why we're called Data Gumbo — take a bunch of data, put it in the pot, stir it up, and make it taste good."

Since its inception in 2016, Bruce has led the company to raise a total of $9.3 million — recently closing a $6 million series A led by Saudi Aramco's venture arm. While that recent pop of investment means expanding to new industries — the company announced its entrance into the construction industry — Bruce says the funds will also take Data Gumbo to new global markets, including the Middle East.

"The whole thing for us is building this blockchain network of interconnected companies," Bruce says. "The more companies that are a part of that network, the more value that network has."

Bruce discusses his planned growth, the origin story of Data Gumbo, and how the Houston innovation ecosystem has helped the company grow in the episode. Listen to it below and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Houston-based Data Gumbo is entering a new phase of business within oil and gas. Courtesy of Data Gumbo

Houston oil and gas blockchain company expands into new sector

Building blockchain

With a new partnership, Houston-based Data Gumbo Corp. will move into a new sector within oil and gas, allowing the startup to tap into the Permian Basin.

Austin-based Antelope Water Management, which provides sustainable water solutions within the O&G industry, has partnered with Data Gumbo on its blockchain network, called GumboNet™, allowing the Houston startup to go beyond the drilling sector. The partnership means Data Gumbo will have life operations in both onshore and offshore drilling, including in the shale basins, according to a news release.

"As an integrated water management company in the Permian Basin providing tailored management services for water infrastructure, we look forward to incorporating Data Gumbo into each of our business units," says Dustin Brownlow, CEO of Antelope, in the release. "Data Gumbo is a game changer enabling us to provide customers, vendors, and regulators the best experience that smart contracts can offer."

According to the release, this partnership is the first use of a blockchain platform for water management services in U.S. shale sites in the industry.

"Data Gumbo was the first blockchain in offshore drilling and now we are the first in oil and gas water management. We anticipate continuing to break ground across the industry as companies realize the vast benefits we afford them such as security, certainty of data and, most of all, savings to the bottom line," says Andrew Bruce, CEO of Data Gumbo, in the release.

The technology allows for valuable cost-saving initiatives, including lower overhead expenditures, fewer outstanding payments between parties, and data certainty for business transactions.

Data Gumbo operates as a blockchain-as-a-service company, where clients across midstream, drilling and completions opt into the network service. The company was founded in 2016 and recently closed a $6 million Series A round.

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These 3 Houston research projects are aiming to fight or prevent cancer

Research roundup

Cancer remains to be one of the medical research community's huge focuses and challenges, and scientists in Houston are continuing to innovate new treatments and technologies to make an impact on cancer and its ripple effect.

Three research projects coming out of Houston institutions are providing solutions in the fight against cancer — from ways to monitor treatment to eliminating cancer-causing chemicals in the first place.

Baylor College of Medicine's breakthrough in breast cancer

Photo via bcm.edu

Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Harvard Medical School have unveiled a mechanism explains how "endocrine-resistant breast cancer acquires metastatic behavior," according to a news release from BCM. This research can be game changing for introducing new therapeutic strategies.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and shows that hyperactive FOXA1 signaling — previously reported in endocrine-resistant metastatic breast cancer — can trigger genome-wide reprogramming that enhances resistance to treatment.

"Working with breast cancer cell lines in the laboratory, we discovered that FOXA1 reprograms endocrine therapy-resistant breast cancer cells by turning on certain genes that were turned off before and turning off other genes," says Dr. Xiaoyong Fu, assistant professor of molecular and cellular biology and part of the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center at Baylor, in the release.

"The new gene expression program mimics an early embryonic developmental program that endow cancer cells with new capabilities, such as being able to migrate to other tissues and invade them aggressively, hallmarks of metastatic behavior."

Patients whose cancer is considered metastatic — even ones that initially responded to treatment — tend to relapse and die due to the cancer's resistance to treatment. This research will allow for new conversations around therapeutic treatment that could work to eliminate metastatic cancer.

University of Houston's evolved brain cancer chip

Photo via uh.edu

A biomedical research team at the University of Houston has made improvements on its microfluidic brain cancer chip. The Akay Lab's new chip "allows multiple-simultaneous drug administration, and a massive parallel testing of drug response for patients with glioblastoma," according to a UH news release. GBM is the most common malignant brain tumor and makes up half of all cases. Patients with GBM have a five-year survival rate of only 5.6 percent.

"The new chip generates tumor spheroids, or clusters, and provides large-scale assessments on the response of these GBM tumor cells to various concentrations and combinations of drugs. This platform could optimize the use of rare tumor samples derived from GBM patients to provide valuable insight on the tumor growth and responses to drug therapies," says Metin Akay, John S. Dunn Endowed Chair Professor of Biomedical Engineering and department chair, in the release.

Akay's team published a paper in the inaugural issue of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine & Biology Society's Open Journal of Engineering in Medicine and Biology. The report explains how the technology is able to quickly assess how well a cancer drug is improving its patients' health.

"When we can tell the doctor that the patient needs a combination of drugs and the exact proportion of each, this is precision medicine," Akay explains in the release.

Rice University's pollution transformation technology

Photo via rice.edu

Rice University engineers have developed a way to get rid of cancer-causing pollutants in water and transform them into valuable chemicals. A team lead by Michael Wong and Thomas Senftle has created this new catalyst that turns nitrate into ammonia. The study was published in the journal ACS Catalysis.

"Agricultural fertilizer runoff is contaminating ground and surface water, which causes ecological effects such as algae blooms as well as significant adverse effects for humans, including cancer, hypertension and developmental issues in babies," says Wong, professor and chair of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in Rice's Brown School of Engineering, in a news release. "I've been very curious about nitrogen chemistry, especially if I can design materials that clean water of nitrogen compounds like nitrites and nitrates."

The ability to transform these chemicals into ammonia is crucial because ammonia-based fertilizers are used for global food supplies and the traditional method of creating ammonia is energy intensive. Not only does this process eliminate that energy usage, but it's ridding the contaminated water of toxic chemicals.

"I'm excited about removing nitrite, forming ammonia and hydrazine, as well as the chemistry that we figured out about how all this happens," Wong says in the release. "The most important takeaway is that we learned how to clean water in a simpler way and created chemicals that are more valuable than the waste stream."

Deloitte lays out the benefits of digital innovation

Some workers fear technology, wondering "will a robot eventually replace my job?" Yet, Deloitte Insights and MIT Sloan Management Review found in a recent study that the more a company uses digital technology, the more likely it is to be innovative, which can benefit individuals, teams, organizations, and groups of organizations.

Deloitte and MIT collaborated for the fifth time to conduct a global study about digital innovation. They surveyed more than 4,800 businesspeople and interviewed 14 subject matter experts. The results were published in a June 2019 report titled "Accelerating Digital Innovation Inside and Out."

Deloitte and MIT shared two main findings from the survey:

  1. Digitally maturing companies innovate at higher rates — both internally and externally — than companies with early or developing digital maturity.
  2. Companies should know their ethics so that they can innovate wisely.

Internal innovation
Most digitally maturing companies innovate internally in two ways. First, they typically allow individuals to innovate within their jobs. The more digitally mature a company is, the more likely an employee was to say that more than 10 percent of their work involves the opportunity to experiment and innovate. The opposite was also true. Employees of less digitally mature companies were more likely to say that less than 10 percent of their work involves the opportunity to experiment and innovate.

In addition to encouraging individuals to innovate, most digitally maturing companies urge groups to innovate by establishing cross-functional teams. These teams are generally comprised of individuals from across multiple departments and roles and often exist to accomplish a specific task. Deloitte and MIT found that 83 percent of digitally maturing companies surveyed use cross-functional teams. This is far higher than respondents of either developing or early-stage companies' cross-functional team use — 71 percent and 55 percent, respectively.

External innovation
In addition to having employees innovate internally (both individually and in groups), digitally maturing companies often innovate externally by collaborating with others (e.g., their customers, their competitors, government institutions, and more) in their ecosystem. Ecosystems, which are formal or informal networks of organizations working toward a common goal, typically feed innovation in two ways. First, they integrate platform companies, meaning that companies that provide services to other companies — such as Amazon and PayPal — are both a part of the ecosystem and also strengthen it by being part of it.

Second, digitally maturing companies allow all organizations within the network to get better feedback. A company is not just getting feedback from their own customers, but from all customers within the ecosystem.

Ethics and innovation
In order to get the most benefit from their internal and external collaborations, companies should use "loose coupling," a term first coined by organizational theorist Karl Wieck. This means that individuals are linked to teams, teams to the organization, and the organization to fellow members of its ecosystem — but not too tightly. This model allows people the freedom to have both some autonomy and also some oversight as they innovate. If people are micromanaged, they are not able to innovate as well.

Because innovation requires loosening the reins somewhat, companies should have strong ethics systems in place. Otherwise, innovation can get out of hand, and a company risks having employees develop goods or services which aren't in line with organizational values.

Survey conclusion
Over half (56 percent) of survey respondents said they think their organization will exist and be in a much stronger position in 10-20 years due to the organization's use of digital capabilities. A similar percentage (44 percent) of survey respondents said that in 10-20 years, they think that their organization will have been bought out or gone out of business. Companies can act based on market and competitive forces but cannot control them. Companies can, however, decide how much of a priority digital innovation will be.

If they decide it is a priority, how can companies become more innovative? Companies should consider several tips:

  1. Work with other organizations within your ecosystem.
  2. Prioritize cross-functional teams.
  3. Use loose coupling which allows room for trial and error.
  4. Establish and continually update your ethics guidelines.

Innovation in Houston
The Houston innovation scene is thriving, and local organizations know that they are stronger together than apart. Houston Exponential is a "nonprofit organization created to accelerate the growth of Houston's innovation ecosystem" which hopes to "turn Houston into a hub for high-growth high-potential companies by creating pathways for innovation to flow at scale." Houston Exponential has stakeholders from companies, non-profits, government entities, and academic institutions.

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About Deloitte
Deloitte refers to one or more of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, a UK private company limited by guarantee ("DTTL"), its network of member firms, and their related entities. DTTL and each of its member firms are legally separate and independent entities. DTTL (also referred to as "Deloitte Global") does not provide services to clients. In the United States, Deloitte refers to one or more of the US member firms of DTTL, their related entities that operate using the "Deloitte" name in the United States and their respective affiliates. Certain services may not be available to attest clients under the rules and regulations of public accounting. Please see www.deloitte.com/about to learn more about our global network of member firms.

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Growing Houston thrift startup aims to impact the unsustainability of the fashion industry

do goodfair

A Houston-based online retailer for second-hand clothing is quickly growing, aiming to make "No New Things" the mantra of the fashion world.

As the popularity of "Fast Fashion," or cheap clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers, begins to decline, brands are refocusing on upcycled, recycled, and sustainable clothing — and Goodfair has bet its business plan on this movement.

"I realized that there was too much stuff out there," says Topper Luciani, founder and CEO of Goodfair, "and there is an environmental crisis being caused by the clothing industry. They're manufacturing so many items, they're using slave labor, they're pumping dyes and other chemicals into rivers. It's absolutely wild."

The fashion industry contributes 10 percent of the world's carbon emissions, is the second-largest user of the earth's water supply, and pollutes the oceans with microplastics according to a report from Business Insider in October 2019. Additionally, the outlet reports that 85 percent of all textiles go to the dump every year.

"Still, we have an enormous demand for these clothes that are being thrown away and that demand is just being filled by more cheap new clothes at malls and things like that, instead of reintroducing second-hand clothes," says Luciani. "I've been working really hard on creating a way to make a frictionless process for reintroducing those clothes."

Luciani, tells InnovationMap that he predicts the size of the recycled clothing industry will grow to $51 billion by 2023. Following in the footsteps of second-hand online retail giants such as thredUP and Poshmark, Luciani takes things to the next level by focusing on adding ease to the online shopping experience, telling InnovationMap that it should be as easy as clicking one button.

The idea of Goodfair was surprisingly not inspired by the apparel industry at all. Luciani tells InnovationMap that he was influenced by the founder of Uber, Garret Camp, and Camp's idea for a one-click car service.

"Their whole concept was to just hit a button and a taxi comes, says Luciani. "I wanted to look at a thrift store through that lens."

Goodfair, which launched in 2018, adds to the trend of second-hand clothing with the introduction of "mystery shopping," shipping all of their clothing in variety packs chosen according to a customer's size and taste. This eliminates the cost of photographing, measuring, lowering the price for both the customer and the company.

"I had this idea that not only would mystery shopping eliminate the paradox of choice, but everyone loves a surprise," he tells InnovationMap.

Luciani tells InnovationMap that he sees a trend among Gen Z, individuals born between 1995–2009, for buying second-hand, noting that about 90 percent of Goodfair customers are between the ages of 18 and 25. thredUP also reports that Gen Z and Millennials are driving the growth of used clothing retailers, noting that "18–37 year-olds are adopting second-hand clothing 2.5 times faster than other age groups" in the company's 2019 Resale Report.

"This was the generation that was forged in the Great Recession and they saw the ills of decadence," says Luciani. "They saw the ills of not having financial literacy. Ultimately, these woke kids are aware that branding is kind of a heist."

Goodfair taps into this market, leaning into social media platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat to promote the company. The company recently kicked off an Instagram series called "In the racks, in the rags" where followers can win a random item from their warehouse, located in Houston's East End.

Goodfair joins the growing roster of local companies focused on sustainable fashion. For example, Magpies & Peacocks, the nation's only nonprofit design house, opened a new store in the East End last year. Houston is home to a number of brick-and-mortar stores which line Westheimer Boulevard in the heart of the city, including Buffalo Exchange, Leopard Lounge, Pavement, and LO-FI.

Luciani, who moved to Houston from Brooklyn, New York, leads Goodfair with Emily Keeton, COO. Keeton joined the company in October 2019, leaving her previous leadership role at WeWork. The company announced in January 2020 that they will be adding a vice president of marketing to the team.

In the coming years, Luciani tells InnovationMap that he hopes to launch an app for the brand, and also expand into offering other goods.

"I have a vision of essentially creating a used Amazon," says Luciani, "Everything that gets donated to thrift stores can get donated in this mystery mechanic."

Luciani has a long history in the textile industry. In 2004 while in college, he launched a men's polo shirt brand, Sir Drake.

"When I reflected on the experience and as I educated myself about the clothing industry, this was right when fast fashion was taking off, I realized that if I launched another fashion brand that I would just be contributing to industrial pollution problem," he says.

He tells InnovationMap that he then started selling used neckties on eBay, launching his mission with sustainable fashion.

"We expect that a year from now we will be generating five times the sales we did in 2019 and become a multi-million dollar business," Luciani says.