3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

From fitness tech and interior design to super thin wearable technology, this week's innovators to know can't be stopped. Courtesy photos

Another week, another set of Houston innovators to keep your eye on. This week's cast of characters are from across industries — from fitness innovation to interior design for tech companies. Scroll through to meet the people behind Houston innovation.

Lizzie DeLacy, founder of DeLacy Wellness

Photo courtesy of DeLacy Wellness

After years of working in fitness, Lizzie DeLacy, founder of DeLacy Wellness, wanted to be able to help more people on their health and wellness journeys. She launched Bodypeace — an app that offers workout sessions, recipes, and tips for a healthier lifestyle — to help people make time for fitness and mindfulness.

"Rather than focusing on really long sessions, though we have a couple in there, we focus on short 5-minute sessions, so anyone can fit movement into their schedule and lifestyle," DeLacy tells InnovationMap. "Additionally, we break it down by body part focus, because oftentimes people don't know necessarily what exact movement or pose or stretch they might need."

Read more about DeLacy and Bodypeace here.

Cunjiang Yu, a Bill D. Cook associate professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Houston

Photo courtesy of UH

Cunjiang Yu, a professor and researcher at the University of Houston, is the lead author on a paper that ran as the cover story in Science Advances. In the paper, Yu identifies a wearable technology that can detect health conditions while being so incredibly thin, the wearer might not even notice.

"Everything is very thin, just a few microns thick," says Yu, who also is a principal investigator at the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH, in a release. "You will not be able to feel it."

Read more about Yu and the technology here.

Amy English, director of interiors for HOK

Photo courtesy of HOK

For most people, the design of an office might be non-consequential. But, for Amy English, director if interiors for HOK, designing the right space can do wonders for your company. English wrote a guest article for InnovationMap that outlines different trends in interior design for tech companies.

"While the next big technological advancement isn't set in stone, one thing is certain: Companies that wish to remain competitive and responsive in the future will need workplaces with the flexibility and personalization that allow their people to gather, connect, innovate, and simply be their best," she writes.

Read English's guest article here.

Lizzie DeLacy, founder of DeLacy Wellness, launched a new platform called Bodypeace offering wellness and exercise tips through the app. Courtesy of DeLacy Wellness

Houston fitness guru takes her expertise mobile with new app

Fit tech

As time spent on mobile devices stretches longer and attention spans get shorter, a Houstonian thinks she has a solution to combine personal technology and a healthy lifestyle.

Lizzie DeLacy, founder of DeLacy Wellness, has launched a new app called Bodypeace that offers workout sessions, recipes, and tips for a healthier lifestyle, but in a different way than consumers might be used to.

"Rather than focusing on really long sessions, though we have a couple in there, we focus on short 5 minute sessions, so anyone can fit movement into their schedule and lifestyle," DeLacy tells InnovationMap. "Additionally, we break it down by body part focus, because oftentimes people don't know necessarily what exact movement or pose or stretch they might need."

DeLacy worked as a private fitness instructor for years before deciding to create the Bodypeace app to make her coaching and practices accessible to more people. Her goal is to help as many people as possible feel better so they can grow to be the best version of themselves, referring to this concept as "Eventual Energy."

The Bodypeace app, which launched on iTunes and Google Play on July 17, allows users to filter by body part, choosing between an all body session, or focus on a specific spot such as hamstrings, hips, back, shoulders, and more.

"In my experience as a yoga instructor, I saw that these are pain points for a lot of people," says DeLacy.

The app tailors content for the user by asking a series of questions about workout habits, and lifestyle. There is a free trial period for users to explore the app, as well as paid options, $17.99 a month or $119.99 a year.

"The busier people get the less they want to spend time in their cars or pay the fees that are associated with gym memberships, and having the ability to do something from the comfort of your own home or on demand that fits your schedule," says DeLacy. "I think it's really appealing to a lot of people, myself included."

DeLacy shares that many fitness apps out there geared towards getting a six pack or losing weight can be intimidating to those that have never worked out before or have an injury that they're recovering from. She designed her app to be accessible for all fitness levels, ages, and genders.

"The content on Bodypeace is really for the athletes and the 'never-evers' alike," DeLacy tells InnovationMap. "There is a whole group of people that are either new to working out or have never considered it before."

DeLacy founded DeLacy Wellness in 2016, a year after she moved to Houston. DeLacy is a certified yoga instructor and holds a health coaching certification. The company, which is privately funded, has two full-time staff, DeLacy and her partner and COO Jack Martin, two advisory board members, two instructors, and one community contributor.

DeLacy tells InnovationMap that on the community portion of the Bodypeace app, there is a lot of free information available for users to test the content. DeLacy and her team hope to connect wellness content creators and contributors with people who are looking for information to feel and live better.

"We're hoping to create a platform where you're doing movement and you're also going to learn about movement, nutrition, mental health, and other topics dealing with wellness," says DeLacy.


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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.