3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

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

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.

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

How technology is disrupting — and improving — the real estate industry in Texas

Modern moving

A recent lawsuit is rocking the residential real estate industry across the country. Home sellers whose properties were listed on one of 20 MLSs 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. 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.

Our next moves as a united industry in the wake of this lawsuit are critical. It is critical that we react positively. It is critical that we bring more value and transparency to our customers, and it is critical that we utilize the technology we now have at our hands to do so.

How is technology finding its way into real estate? Here are a few ways in the evolving world of home buying and selling has evolved over the past five years:

Online searching 

Everything can be done online. In most modern real estate transactions, the buyer has already found the house they want before they even contact an agent to begin the process. To put that into numbers, 95 percent of buyers are looking for their home online, and over half find it before they engage an agent, according to the National Association of Realtors. Despite the fact that this big chunk of the traditional real estate agent's job has been cut out, the commission is still the same and the buyer will have to pay it indirectly through a higher listing price on the home.

Evolving past commissions and working towards a focus on the customer experience is the only way to provide value and stay relevant in the world of apps and search bars.

Accurate valuations 

Algorithms and accuracy in information gathering are imperative to a successful real estate transaction. Traditional agents will often come to a potential seller client with high dollar signs, telling them they should list their home for a high price. This is a tactic used to earn the seller's business. Where is the data behind that hefty price? What kind of algorithm did the agent use to value the home?

Modern real estate brokerages should be utilizing advanced valuation algorithms to bring an accurate value of the home to the seller instead of wooing them with an unattainable price.

Targeted marketing

Due to the high dependency of the internet, mass marketing in physical publications aren't as effective as they once were — consumers have more options to find what they need faster. Fifty percent of people that will ever see a home that is advertised online will see it in the first seven days on the market. We all know the importance of target marketing, and here's where social media comes in.

Targeting the right people on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google will get a home sold faster than a newspaper or magazine can even be published. Effective agents will have built online audiences for each type of home to ensure a faster sale.

Simplifying and increasing visibility

Remember how important transparency is? Simplifying and streamlining the process is right up there with it on the priority list. Luckily, there's an easy way to solve both: custom portals. Clients love the fact that they can login and see their entire buying or selling experience in one neatly packaged, convenient tool.

The modern tools now at the hands of real estate brokerages should not diminish service, but rather enhance it. Acting as a specialized guide and using the technology to bring incredible value to clients should be the new norm when it comes to real estate transactions.

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Alex Doubet is the founder and CEO of Door, Inc. (Door.com), which is a residential real estate startup company based in Texas.

Texas startups should be getting funded with Texas money, and here's why. Getty Images

Why it's important for Texas startups to get funding within the Lone Star State

Stay local

When you set out to disrupt a long-standing industry, one of the most important aspects is figuring out where you are going to get the money. Odds are, you are going to be OK with breaking the mold on other traditional practices such as forgoing the venture capitalist firms for smaller companies who share your innovative vision and want to invest in it.

That philosophy works well in Texas seeing as the big venture capitalists tend to stay on the East and West Coasts.

There are dozens of things to think about when starting a company. Funding can be the most important, and there are many ways to approach raising funding for your startup. Here are a few things to consider.

Think local

They say everything is bigger in Texas, and one thing is for certain, the Texas economy is thriving and historically very stable. Five of the top 10 fastest-growing cities in the U.S. are in Texas, and a recent Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas report found that Texas is the top state for corporate relocations due to our business-friendly climate.

Benefits of the Texas economy

Business owners and investors alike are noticing the rapid job growth, low tax rates, minimal regulation, successful economic development, and the fact that Texas is the largest exporting state in the nation.

It's important to explore and evaluate all of your options because there are investors everywhere – big and small. I explored fundraising in other states and had I gone that route, it most likely would have led to a successful fundraising campaign. However, it would have looked a lot different. I learned during the first round of fundraising that as much as the angel investment matters, the first meaningful investment might matter even more.

Explore family office investors — it's personal

Traditionally, companies looking for investors seek out the venture capitalist firms with deep pockets. You can joke that Texas is a venture capitalist desert. Compared to the "coasts," there are not many venture capitalist firms here.

I realized that what Texas does have plenty of, is family office investors. And I quickly learned that it was this type of organization that I truly desired. Why? Because local family offices are more likely to share your "homegrown" startup vision. They have true vested interest and it is really personal for them.

Also, the younger generations of these family businesses often lead the way in extending beyond oil wells, fracking, shopping centers and agriculture in seeking to invest in technology startups.

Expert tip: We used our personal connections to target regional investors such as Court Wescott; the founder of 1-800-Flowers; retired Hollywood Casinos CEO Jack Pratt; The Murchison Family; and residential real estate developer Phillip Huffines. We were able to successfully reach around $12 million in the Series A round of fundraising.

When we were ready for the next round of fundraising, we had everything we needed right here in Texas.

Great ideas get funded

Venture capitalists who put a lot of money into a lot of companies also delegate to those companies a lifespan, or a timeline for getting their money back.

Since the family offices believed in our concept and understood what we were doing, we were seen as more of a long-term investment and therefore given a longer time horizon than we would if we had gone the more traditional route of fundraising.

Investors like to watch their investments grow and typically they have more money for second and third rounds of funding when you can prove your success in the first few years.

The bottom line: Investing in Texas companies is a beneficial strategy due to the Lone Star State's booming economy and investing in companies that you believe in makes for a more meaningful relationship, which helps everyone involved succeed.

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Alex Doubet is the CEO and founder of Door Inc., a Texas-based, tech-infused real estate platform.

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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.