Digital is becoming the way to go. Photo by Towfiqu Photography, Getty Images

With the disruptive challenges the energy industry faces on a daily basis, the need for digitization has never been more apparent. In "Bits, Bytes, and Barrels: The Digital Transformation of Oil and Gas," authors Geoffrey Cann, retired partner at Deloitte Canada, and Rachael Goydan, Deloitte Consulting LLP managing director, analyze the current landscape for digital technologies in the energy business.

In this Q&A, we will get an exclusive peek into some of the key themes that Cann and Goydan discuss throughout their book, touching on the barriers to digitization and all that it can offer to the energy industry.

Amy Chronis, Houston managing partner, Deloitte LLP: What exactly is digital, and is the definition changing over time?

Rachael Goydan: Simply put, digital is comprised of three elements: data, analytics, and connectivity. It could be anything from a smartphone, computer, or car to a refrigerator or doorbell. Digital objects have the ability to generate data and do analytics and computations. They also have to be connected with other devices to be considered a digital object.

We have been seeing exponential growth over the last 5-10 years in terms of what digital is capable of, and what that means to the energy industry. Digital is constantly evolving, and its impact may even be different tomorrow. In oil and gas, there are now more ubiquitous forms of unstructured data being used, such as sounds, vibrations, or photographs. It has become relatively inexpensive to have computing power on a device and the accessibility of programming languages has grown.

AC: Digital has disrupted other industries, but is disruption possible in oil and gas?

Geoffrey Cann: There are many digital concepts that can disrupt business in oil and gas. Much like the cloud car and designer fuel, which allows consumers to pick their fuel origin, the use of artificial intelligence to interpret streaming data from cameras could introduce truly robotic eyes on oil and gas assets 24/7. Historically, the oil and gas industry has been change-averse, so the timing and size of the impact is expected to vary by sector.

Our research has found that technology suppliers, service providers, and retailers may be affected the most by digital disruption. Explorers and producers may be affected less, as their business is often already driven by data. The midstream segment has heavy assets running 24/7 that are hard to take offline, and they cannot add new technologies easily. The impact they feel will likely be less than tech companies.

In resource value, digital has already begun to disrupt. For example, some companies are using high-definition photography to take pictures of drilling cuttings, which are then pieced together via cloud using artificial intelligence and machine learning. These drilling cuttings can have one million times better resolution than with seismic.

AC: I've heard you speak about digital in oil and gas in the past, and you frequently say that digital isn't about the technology but about how people work. Could you give some examples here?

RG: Leaving digital to chance doesn't work. Companies may benefit from having information technology professionals bring expertise, cybersecurity, corporate infrastructure and assets, a help desk, virus detection and remediation, and so on. Companies may also benefit from having operational technology people, who have knowledge of the facilities, contributing a solid understanding of the sources of change resistance and how to address them. These groups will work together with the business. Some companies even have a separate digital team that helps them with change management, using a clean sheet of paper approach.

Companies also may need to recognize that there are different ways of working. Agile methods are how digital gets done versus the waterfall method. They are almost opposite ways of doing work with different speeds. Digital requires some companies to change the way they do things. Changes are to happen on a monthly, weekly, and even daily basis.

AC: Is it true that digital in oil and gas has as much potential as in other industries?

GC: Companies in upstream oil and gas are now being valued more on cashflow than traditional reserves valuation. At its heart, digital is about efficiency, which is top of mind for a lot of clients as well. To give the best return to investors, oil and gas companies may need to consider focusing on efficiency and productivity rather than focusing on reserves growth.

Oil and gas has the opportunity to tap into a key feature of the digital world: an ecosystem of resources that includes incubators, university labs, accelerators, and startup groups. Our research has shown companies in oil and gas are much less tapped into this new community of digital innovation. Because digital changes so rapidly, the industry may benefit from plugging into the existing ecosystem to take advantage of the skillsets and capabilities that are out there.

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This publication contains general information only and Deloitte is not, by means of this publication, rendering accounting, business, financial, investment, legal, tax, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such professional advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified professional advisor. Deloitte shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person who relies on this publication.

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The East End Maker Hub receives a huge grant, Chevron commits to two tech companies, and more in this Houston innovation news roundup. Courtesy of The East End Maker Hub

City council approves $24M for East End hub, TMCx opens apps, and more Houston innovation news

Short stories

Houston is busting at the seams with innovation news as the ecosystem prepares to wrap up its year of growth. From grants and M&A activity to expansions and awards, there's a lot of news you may have missed.

In this latest news roundup, millions of federal funds are doled out, a female networking app commits to Houston, an accelerator launches applications, and more.

Makerspace in the East End to receive $24 million in federal funds

The East End Maker Hub

The East End Maker Hub plans to move tenants in next summer. Courtesy of TXRX

Last week, the Houston City Council voted in approval of $24 million in federal funds going toward a makerspace in the East End. The renovated 307,000-square-foot East End Maker Hub will be a place for education, training, and small-batch manufacturing.

The project is a collaboration between Urban Partnerships Community Development Corp., or UP CDC, and TXRX Lab, which will occupy around 60,000 square feet in the facility. The rest of the space will be leased out to startups.

The $37 million project is also being funded by a $5 million grant from the Economic Development Association, $7 million from New Market Tax Credits, and around $1.25 of TXRX's funds, including funds the nonprofit raised in donations.

The new facility is expected to create over 400 jobs, reach 14,000 young people annually, and support 100 small urban manufacturers, including 20 startups. The purchase close is planned for this month, and construction will begin next month. The first tenants are slated to move in next summer.

TMCx opens applications for redesigned accelerator program

The revamped TMCx program is accepting applications until December 13. Courtesy of TMC

Applications for the Texas Medical Center Innovation Institute's new and improved accelerator program are open for the spring 2020 cohort. Life science startups from around the world can apply online.

After celebrating five years of digital health and medical device startup acceleration, TMCx announced its team had been working to rethink the program to make it more something TMC's member institutions can benefit from.

Themes for the upcoming cohort include remote monitoring, virtual care, hospital efficiency, accessibility, and ideating for the clinics and operating rooms of the future.

Applications close on December 13, and finalists for an in-person bootcamp will be announced by the end of January for the two-week program from February 24 to March 6. After the program, TMCx will select the cohort members on March 20. The program then will run five sessions from April to August before a showcase slated for September.

Chevron Technology Ventures makes two strategic investments

Chevron Technology Ventures, lead by CEO Barbara Burger, has committed to two California-based companies. Courtesy of CTV

Chevron's Houston-based tech investment arm, Chevron Technology Ventures, made two moves recently. Silicon Valley-based NovoNutrients was invited to join the CTV Catalyst Program and Palo Alto, California-based Orbital Insight closed a recent round with help from CTV.

NuroNutrients, which has developed a way to create proteins through carbon capture, is the first biotech company to join CTV's Catalyst Program. The program will help advance the company's technology through market validating opportunities like pilot programs.

Orbital Insight, a geospatial analytics software company, closed its series D funding round at $50 million. The round was led by Sequoia Capital and Clearvision Ventures with contribution from CTV, as well as from Invicta Growth, Bunge Ventures Ltd, Goldman Sachs, Tech Pioneers Fund, and others. The company has raised over $125 million of funding since its founding in 2013.

Houston SaaS company makes acquisition

Coworking Space

A Houston company specializing in digital workplace software solutions has made a strategic acquisition following an exit to private equity. Getty Images

Houston-based iOFFICE, a software-as-a-service company providing solutions in the digital workplace experience, recently acquired Canadian management software entity, Hippo CMMS.

"Incorporating Hippo's solution into iOFFICE's broader application suite is a logical next stage in our company's evolution," says Mark Peterson, CEO of iOFFICE, in a news release. "As one of the leading native SaaS, asset management systems on the market today, Hippo is an ideal fit to join our brand. Their culture is very much like our own - they're strong and they move fast. Their offerings are robust, agile and they share our passion for disrupting the market with solutions that are unlike any other."

iOFFICE was recently acquired by Chicago-based private equity, Waud Capital, which has opened doors for the company to grow at a rapid pace.

Two Houston companies rank on Deloitte's annual Technology Fast 500 list

Two Houston companies made Deloitte's international list of growing tech companies. Shobeir Ansari/Getty Images

Two Houston companies have secured spots on Deloitte's annual Technology Fast 500 annual Technology Fast 500. Onit came in at No. 249, and symplr just made the list at No. 495. In its 25th year, the list represents the fastest-growing tech, media, life science, energy tech, and telecommunications companies from around the world.

The top company on the list was New York-based UiPath, which also has a large office in Houston. The company reported 37,458 percent growth. The 500 companies represent 41 states and provinces in North America, and Silicon Valley companies made up 19 percent of the list. New York City companies held on to 12 percent of the list, the New England region comprised 8 percent of the list, Washington D.C. companies were 7 percent of the list, and Los Angeles companies represented 5 percent of the 500 companies.


HerHeadquarters app plans to launch in Houston ahead of relocation

herheadquarters

HerHeadquarters is rolling out its app locally ahead of relocating to Houston. Courtesy of HerHeadquarters

Female-founded, female-focused tech company, HerHeadquarters, has plans to relocate its business operations to Houston — but first, it's rolling out its app to local female executives. The app plans to go live for the over 103,000 female CEOs in Houston on November 25.

The app's user experience is focused on making digital connections between women-run organizations. The app is live in Los Angeles, Miami, and New York City and is expected to launch simultaneously in San Francisco.

"These collaborations give them the power to increase revenue, company exposure, and expand their territory. We're excited Houston women entrepreneurs get to experience a faster and easier way to secure powerful partnerships, " says founder and CEO of HerHeadquarters, Carina Glover, in a news release.

HighRadius expands to Amsterdam

The Houston-based SaaS company is opening its fourth office to support its growth in Europe. Photo via highradius.com

Houston-based HighRadius Corp., a growing fintech software-as-a-service company, has announced a new office in Amsterdam just three years after opening its London office. Since entering the European market, the region has seen a 400 percent increase in bookings. The company, which has its headquarters in West Houston, also has an office in India.

"Automating order-to-cash and treasury management is a problem that transcends borders," says Sashi Narahari, founder and CEO of HighRadius, in a news release. "Building on the recent addition of Jon Keating as our general manager for EMEA, we continue to invest aggressively in the European market with the opening of our Amsterdam office."

Fannin Innovation Studio granted $2 million for new study

microscope

Getty Images

Houston-based Fannin Innovation Studio has received a $2,000,000 Phase II Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Institute of Health. The grant is for the development of the ChorioAnchor device, which is designed to reduce preterm birth and infections in fetal surgery.

The device is being developed in partnership with Fannin, Texas Children's Hospital, Baylor College of Medicine, and Texas A&M University. The grant will be delivered over the next two years to devlop the device for pre-clinical and clinical testing.

"The ChorioAnchor has the potential to reduce these complications by providing mechanical support to the chorioamniotic membranes following fetal surgery, thus reducing the risk for chorioamniotic separation and PPROM," says Dr. Jimmy Espinoza of Texas Children's and BCM in a news release. "The additional support from the NICHD in the form of a Phase II SBIR grant will significantly help in refining the ChorioAnchor device with the objective of obtaining an investigational device exemption from the FDA to evaluate the efficacy and safety of the device in fetal surgeries."

Zibrio named honoree at CES Innovation Awards

The Zibrio SmartScale received national recognition at CES this year. Courtesy of Zibrio

Houston-based Zibrio, which developed a scale for measuring balance, has been named an honoree for CES Innovation Awards. The company has been invited to exhibit in the 2020 showcase.

Zibrio, founded in 2015 by Katharine Forth and Erez Lieberman Aiden, has a technology that came out of the founders' research at NASA. The medical device allows users to keep track of their balancing abilities as its convenient for them, and is especially helpful for the aging population.

Here's who to know in innovation this week in Houston. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

As we head into May, this week's Houston innovators are all thought leaders keeping our city and state at the forefront of technology and innovation — from consulting to real estate, and everything in between.

Amy Chronis, managing partner of the Houston office of Deloitte

Amy Chronis runs the Houston office of Deloitte and serves on the sustainability board for the GHP. AlexandersPortraits.com

Shortly after Amy Chronis was named as Deloitte's Houston managing partner, she got the call to join the sustainability committee for the Greater Houston Partnership. Chronis did not take this position lightly, she says, and she immediately started researching what Houston needed as a business ecosystem.

In March, as the chair for the organization's sustainability committee, she brought together a group of constituents to engage in a Smart Cities study with the goal to identify what Houston needs to focus on — what it wanted to be known for. She learned a lot about the city through the study.

"It's affirming how much all types of people with different backgrounds care and are interested in this topic and are highly desirous of our region moving forward," she says. "I also learned that things are more complicated or difficult than we would like — in terms of funding initiatives, for instance." Read the full story here.

Brad Deutser, author and founder of the Deutser Clarity Institute

DCI has been described as the "Wonkaland for business." Courtesy of DCI

Brad Deutser is taking his approach to business consulting and creative thinking to a whole new level with the Deutser Clarity Institute. The idea accelerator, think tank, and learning lab opens this week in Uptown.

"The Deutser Clarity Institute has captured the imagination of leaders across the country," says Deutser in a release. "Even with the available science on environmental design and leadership learning, we took a chance and pushed creativity and innovation to the farthest reaches to develop a fundamentally different space, way of learning and learning curriculum. We are also producing game changing research which will influence how leaders drive engagement." (Deutser serves on the board of InnovationMap.) Read the full story here.

Alex Doublet, CEO of Door.com

Buying a home is more digitized than ever — and here's how that's affecting the industry. Photo courtesy of Door

Alex Doublet is an honorary Houston innovator to know this week after he authored a guest article about technology trends in real estate that greatly affect Houston real estate. The Dallasite cites a recent lawsuit in which homesellers claim The National Association of Realtors, Realogy Holdings Corp., HomeServices of America, RE/MAX Holdings, Inc., and Keller Williams Realty, Inc. violated the federal antitrust law by conspiring the sellers to pay an inflated amount to the buyer's broker.

"The lawsuit highlights a new need for home buyers and sellers: transparency," writes Doublet. "Gone are the days when real estate agents can take a hefty commission from his or her clients without providing value that is worthy of the price tag. The sellers who came forward to shed light on this issue have provided further proof that the current real estate model is outdated, and some serious changes could be on the way." Read Doublet's article here.

Amy Chronis runs the Houston office of Deloitte and serves on the sustainability board for the GHP. AlexandersPortraits.com

Deloitte exec calls for advancements across the city as Houston's innovation ecosystem evolves

Featured innovator

When Amy Chronis, the Houston managing partner for Deloitte, was asked to join the Greater Houston Partnership last year, she immediately started doing some research on some of the bigger picture issues the city is facing.

In March, as the chair for the organization's sustainability committee, she brought together a group of constituents to engage in a Smart Cities study with the goal to identify what Houston needs to focus on — what it wanted to be known for.

Overwhelmingly, the stakeholders wanted the city to be known for its innovation, something that surprised Chronis. The group pared down the eight topics of action into three they felt were most timely and then spent the rest of the time focusing on: clean energy, transportation, and smart infrastructure (technology and communication). Now, Chronis has a better understanding on what the city wants as she leads her committee for the GHP.

In her career, which has spanned the state of Texas, she's always served clients in various sectors. Specifically over her last 30 or so years in Houston, Chronis has seen the tide change within innovation, especially with large energy companies.

"We're not Silicon Valley, but Houston has so much going on in terms of development — in energy but also even in medical with the Texas Medical Center," says Chronis, citing advancements from the likes of Rice University, Houston Exponential, TMCx, Station Houston, and more. "Houston's got a lot more going on than people realize."

Chronis sat down to talk with InnovationMap about the change Houston companies are experiencing and her work with the GHP.

InnovationMap: What did you learn from the smart cities study you conducted for the GHP?

Amy Chronis: I learned a lot. It's affirming how much all types of people with different backgrounds care and are interested in this topic and are highly desirous of our region moving forward. I also learned that things are more complicated or difficult than we would like — in terms of funding initiatives, for instance.

IM: In terms of developing the city's workforce, what aspects of the community does Houston need to focus on?

AC: I think there was widespread agreement that we need to keep improving our educational outcomes for all our people. The issues around workforce development are critical for us to improve. It will take public-private partnerships to make real progress.

IM: What can Houston learn from other cities?

AC: I learned a lot about other Smart City initiatives that are being done and accomplishments made in other cities around the world. What those accomplishments have in common was a concerted effort by the city, region, and business leaders — all the stakeholders — to agree on smaller, attainable goals. Instead of trying to address something in a huge way, they nibbled at the edges, if you will.

IM: Do you think Houston is able to do that?

AC: Absolutely, I love Houston — in particular our manifest destiny and inherent pillar to our culture where everyone can make it. It's why I came here 30-something years ago and why my family and I love it here. I think hard work and opportunity still makes Houston a great city. We have the ability, we just need help bringing actionable steps forward.

IM: Switching gears a little, what's the role Deloitte and its clients are playing within Houston's innovation ecosystem?

AC: We like to think we're a real conduit for innovation and a digital transformation for many of our clients. We're very blessed to serve many of the large energy companies — and across industries — in Houston. It's really gratifying to see how much is being invested in research and development and the focus on innovation catalysts. I think there's an awareness now — more than there was a few years ago — that if you're not moving forward, then you're behind.

IM: How do you see the future of Houston's workforce?

AC: I think we have real progress to be made to make sure all of our citizens can achieve the education and opportunities they need. I'm heartened by public-private partnerships that are already underway.

As digitalization moves along, people talk about whether or not artificial intelligence and machine learning will replace jobs. It will replace some jobs, but it'll be far more important that young people still learn those really critical thinking skills. We will need people to evaluate data and make decisions — that critical reasoning will still be absolutely vital.

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Portions of this interview have been edited.

Amazon has selected eight KIPP schools in Houston to received resources to create robotics programs. Courtesy of Amazon

Energy tech company closes round, hospital introduces VR brain tours, Amazon bets on Houston schools, and more innovation news

Short stories

From virtual reality-enabled brain scans to Amazon selecting Houston schools for its robotics program, the future is now with this latest batch of local innovation news.

Need more news rounded up for you? Subscribe to our daily newsletter that sends fresh stories straight to your inboxes every morning.

OAG Analytics closes round

Luther Birdzell, founder and CEO of Houston-based OAG Analytics is on a mission to democratize data for his upstream oil and gas clients. Courtesy of OAG Analytics

OAG Analytics, which uses artificial intelligence in the oil and gas industry, has closed its second round of strategic funding in nine months from Rice Investment Group. The capital will be used to grow the company and focus on several major enhancements to their upstream AI platform, according to a news release.

The exact amount of the raise was not disclosed by OAG, but according to a Form D filing, the company expressed that it was raising $8.72 million in this round.

"Our industry is entering the next phase of the shale revolution by moving to full-field development. As such, we need the next generation of analytical capabilities to maximize capital efficiency," says Derek Rice, partner at Rice Investment Group and director at OAG, in a release. "Large-scale development optimization requires an in-depth understanding of hundreds of uncorrelated data points, which OAG provides through data management and advanced analytics to support profitable decision making. We are thrilled to partner with OAG's team, and believe our insights and experience as an operator will continue to add value to the platform."

OAG's founder and CEO, Luther Birdzell, created a way where he can give clients an easy-to-use platform to have access to data that could save oil and gas companies millions of dollars. In fact, according to the release, OAG clients have optimized over $10 billion in capital expenditures.

"RIG's trust in the OAG team and AI platform is a huge vote of confidence," says Birdzell in the release. "As a leadership team that already built and sold a highly data-driven, technology-centric oil and gas company, RIG's market insights and capital are important to our business. We look forward to continued collaboration as we accelerate our growth."

Methodist Hospital has new VR technology for brain treatment

Patients about to undergo brain surgery can use VR to see what their surgeon is about to do to their brain. Courtesy of Methodist

Houston Methodist Hospital is channeling a Magic School Bus episode with new VR technology that allows neurosurgical patients and their family members to essentially walk through their brains ahead of their surgeries.

The patient wears a virtual reality headset and gets a 360 degree view of their brain, and the neurosurgeon can walk the patient through the surgery process. According to a release from Houston Methodist, the technology is the first of its kind that combines fighter jet flight simulation with patients' anatomy scans from MRI, CT, and/or DTI processes to make a 3D model.

Eight Houston schools named in Amazon Future Engineer Robotics Grant program

Eight Houston schools will receive resources from Amazon to create a robotics team. Courtesy of Amazon

Eight Houston schools have been selected as part of Amazon Future Engineer Robotics Grant program. The program has selected 100 schools in 21 states and each will receive support to create robotics team and a $10,000 grant. These Houston schools were selected:

  • KIPP Academy MS
  • KIPP Connect HS
  • KIPP Connect Middle School
  • KIPP Generations Collegiate
  • KIPP Northeast College Preparatory
  • KIPP NEXUS MS• KIPP Polaris
  • KIPP Sunnyside HS

The Amazon Future Engineer program launched in November, and, according to a news release, is a four-part childhood-to-career program geared at teaching technology and computer science to children from underrepresented and underserved communities. Through the program, Amazon hopes to help more than 10 million students nationwide.

Mattress Firm seeks second round of "snoozeterns"

Last summer, Mattress Firm introduced its Snoozetern program, advertising as a "dream job" for college students wanting to get "paid to sleep." The program is looking for it's next employee that will learn the ins and outs of the Houston company and test and review products. Applications are open now until May 3. To apply or learn more, visit here.

Deloitte’s 2019 Technology Fast 500 Awards are now open

Houston companies can enter to win this national recognition from Deloitte. Photo via Deloite.com

Deloitte has opened its 2019 Technology Fast 500 Awards applications. The national awards program has been honoring fast-growing tech companies for 25 years. Last year, two Houston companies were ranked: Onit and symplr. The honorees are chosen based on the past three years' of fiscal-year revenue growth over a three-year period. Applications close on June 28. Click here for more.

The Kidney Cancer Association approves $1.3 million for early detection and new treatments

Applicants have until May 20 to submit for a grant from the Kidney Cancer Association. Photo via Facebook

The Kidney Cancer Association's board of directors approved $1.3 million to be dedicated to advancing early detection and new treatments for kidney cancer. Grant applications opened April 17 and close May 20. Grant recipients will be announced in the fall.

"The KCA Board of Directors is committed to providing research funding with the goal of identifying new treatments and finding new ways to prevent and manage the disease," says Christopher Wood, board president, in a news release. "With these advancements in research and a greater understanding of these cancers, we believe the outcomes of these grants will have substantive impact for kidney cancer patients."

There will be six grants are divided into two types of awards. The Advanced Discovery Awards will honor two "established investigators" $500,000 grants, and the Young Investigator Awards will give out four $75,000 grants.

Houston neuroscientist David Eagleman to discuss new book at the Hobby Center

Courtesy images

The Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, a Houston-based nonprofit, is hosting its 25th annual A Celebration of Reading event on Thursday, May 2, at The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. The event hosts five authors, and this year, Houston neuroscientist David Eagleman is on the lineup.

Eagleman's most recent book, The Runaway Species: How Human Creativity Remakes the World, will be the topic of discussion during his presentation. Eagleman and his co-author, Anthony Brandt, seek to determine the human mind's ability and drive to create.

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Overheard: Houston execs weigh in on the innovation ecosystem and local startups

Eavesdropping in Houston

Something has shifted in Houston, and businesses across industries — whether it be real estate, health care, or energy — are focused on innovation, emerging technologies, and the role of startups within the business community.

At the Greater Houston Partnership's annual Economic Outlook on December 5, three panelists from various industries gathered to discuss some of the biggest issues in Houston — from the multifamily real estate market to what the local workforce needs. The panel was moderated by Eddie Robinson, the morning news anchor for Houston Public Radio, and the panelists did weigh in a few issues affecting innovation.

Missed the talk? Here are a few overheard moments from the discussion.

"Houston allows you to do what you do. And you don't get that in other places."

Photo via Greater Houston Partnership/Facebook

Bradley R. Freels, chairman of Midway Cos. Freels says, while the city's been overshadowed by other Texas cities for innovation and tech — and even by its large oil and gas industry presence, the city is becoming a great place for startups. "This is a great place to do business because it's easy to get started in business here. I think it's just over shadowed to some degree," he says, adding later that, "the initiative around the innovation corridor is real."

"Houston is unique, in my opinion, in how open and welcoming it is."

Photo via Greater Houston Partnership/Facebook

— David Milich, CEO of UnitedHealthcare - Texas & Oklahoma. Building off the panelists point that Houston is a spirited, can-do city, Milich specifies that it's the collaboration between people in Houston that sets the city apart. "When we present ourselves with something to get done, we generally get it down."

"We're realizing that the economy is shifting. As we move forward in the 21st century, our entire workforce needs to be tech fluent."

Photo via Greater Houston Partnership/Facebook

Nataly Marks, managing director and region manager at JPMorgan Chase. When asked about jobs needed in Houston, Marks specified technology positions. Moreover, JPMorgan Chase is emphasizing getting the entire staff proficient in the latest tech resources.

New travel startup plans the perfect vacations for Houston's busy young professionals

GET THERE NOW

Work-life balance for a young professional is hard. There's the dream of travel but the nightmare of planning. Then there's the challenge of working with limited vacation days and finding a friend whose schedule lines up.

To the rescue comes Houston-based Here & Now Travel, which aims to create a vacation free of stress and full of memorable experiences and offers adventurous group travel specifically for young professionals.

When discussing the inspiration for starting their company, cofounder Alex Coleman tells CultureMap that he and his wife and fellow cofounder, Elise, were caught between the benefits and drawbacks of individual versus group travel.

They loved the freedom of solo traveling but not the potential feelings of isolation and vulnerability. When it came to traveling with friends, they enjoyed the bonding and security in a group but not all the work involved with navigating everyone's schedules and preferences during planning.

"We decided to create a travel company that combined the best of both worlds," Coleman says. "A company that gave people the flexibility of going to their desired destinations at their desired time, without losing the experience of traveling with a group of awesome people."

As young professionals themselves, the Colemans also wanted their company to consider the typically low number of vacation days their target clients have. That's why Here & Now trips take advantage of weekends and holidays so participants only have to take a maximum of three days off from work.

Here & Now Travel currently has six trips planned for 2020: two to Costa Rica, two to Colombia, and two to Mexico. On these trips, the itineraries lean towards adventure activities and cultural experiences.

For example, their next trip scheduled for January 9 to January 13 to Costa Rica includes exploring Juan Castro Blanco National Park, zip lining through the rainforest, learning how to make tortillas with a local family, and more.

"We shy away from crowded tourist attractions. We pride ourselves on showing travelers hidden gems of our destinations, be it the hidden Mayan cenote in Tulum where we have to be blessed by the community's Mayan Shaman before entering, or one of the region's largest waterfall in Costa Rica which sits on the land of a small farming family," says Coleman. "Through these tucked away, amazing places, we get to see things others typically don't, and have true interaction with the communities we are visiting.

Each Here & Now package includes private transportation to and from the airport and for the duration of the trip, shared three or four-star accommodation, all breakfasts and lunches, and all entrance fees and itinerary activity costs. Flights, dinners, and the required travel insurance are not included.

If you decide to join one of their trips, you can expect to be in a group of between six and 14 young professionals — with 14 being the absolute max as Here & Now Travel doesn't want to overrun the visited communities or contribute to the overuse of their resources.

"Large groups in charter buses feel clunky and seem like you are trampling or disrupting the destinations you are visiting," says Coleman. "We cap our trips at 14 people, allowing us to be good stewards of the communities we visit, and maintain our feel as a small group of travelers...and not tourists."

Each travel group is also accompanied by a Here & Now host who handles all the logistics as well as a local guide, which is a feature that Coleman believes sets their company apart from others.

"Travelers on Here & Now trips are always led by someone who calls that destination home," he explains. "Our guides have an emotional bond to the places we explore. Their passion and connection to their homes is something that can't be replicated."

Along with employing these local guides, Here & Now Travel works with local drivers, restaurants, and lodging as a way to ensure the money they spend in each community stays in that community.

As a further testament to their commitment to sustainable tourism, Here & Now Travel plans to offset their carbon footprint, which is mainly caused by airline travel, by donating to the nonprofit Trees for Houston in 2020.

The company also has plans to increase their number of trips to once per month and to eventually include European destinations.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.