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.

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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Self-driving pizza delivery goes live in Houston

innovation delivered

After announcing their partnership to work on pizza deliveries via self-driving robots in 2019, Dominos and Nuro have officially rolled out their technology to one part of town.

Beginning this week, if you place a prepaid order from Domino's in Woodland Heights (3209 Houston Ave.), you might have the option to have one of Nuro's R2 robot come to your door. This vehicle is the first do deliver completely autonomously without occupants with a regulatory approval by the U.S. Department of Transportation, according to a news release.

"We're excited to continue innovating the delivery experience for Domino's customers by testing autonomous delivery with Nuro in Houston," says Dennis Maloney, Domino's senior vice president and chief innovation officer, in the release. "There is still so much for our brand to learn about the autonomous delivery space. This program will allow us to better understand how customers respond to the deliveries, how they interact with the robot and how it affects store operations."

Orders placed at select dates and times will have the option to be delivered autonomously. Photo courtesy of Nuro

The Nuro deliveries will be available on select days and times, and users will be able to opt for the autonomous deliveries when they make their prepaid orders online. They will then receive a code via text message to use on the robot to open the hatch to retrieve their order.

"Nuro's mission is to better everyday life through robotics. Now, for the first time, we're launching real world, autonomous deliveries with R2 and Domino's," says Dave Ferguson, Nuro co-founder and president, in the release. "We're excited to introduce our autonomous delivery bots to a select set of Domino's customers in Houston. We can't wait to see what they think."

California-based Nuro has launched a few delivery pilots in Houston over the past few years, including the first Nuro pilot program with Kroger in March 2019, grocery delivery from Walmart that was revealed in December 2019, and pharmacy delivery that launched last summer.

From being located in a state open to rolling out new AV regulations to Houston's diversity — both in its inhabitants to its roadways, the Bayou City stood out to Nuro, says Sola Lawal, product operations manager at Nuro.

"As a company, we tried to find a city that would allow us to test a number of different things to figure out what really works and who it works for," Lawal says on an episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It's hard to find cities that are better than Houston at enabling that level of testing."

Steam the episode here.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — startup development, fintech, and health care — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston

Impact Hub Houston has two new initiatives for female founders. Photo courtesy of Impact Hub Houston

Two accelerator programs were recently announced and they both are aimed at supporting female founders — and one Houston organization is behind them both. Impact Hub Houston announced that it has partnered up with Frost Bank to sponsor eight female founders to participate in Impact Hub's new Accelerate Membership Program.

Additionally, Impact Hub Houston has teamed up with MassChallenge for their own initiative supporting female founders in the Houston-Galveston region in partnership with Houston-based Workforce Solutions. The three organizations are collaborating to launch launch a bootcamp to support female founders in the greater Houston region.

"As a female founder myself, I'm incredibly excited about this opportunity to support and uplift more women entrepreneurs and women-led businesses in our region," says Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston, in a news release. "By now, it's no secret that women, and especially women of color, are under-invested in; and this is our chance to change that by helping more women strengthen their businesses and prepare to seek funding." Click here to read more.

Youngro Lee, co-founder and CEO of NextSeed and COO of Republic

What does the future of investment look like? That's something Youngro Lee thinks about daily – and he shares his thoughts on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of NextSeed

The world of investing is changing — and the power shift is tilting from the rich elite to individuals. Youngro Lee, co-founder and CEO of NextSeed and COO of Republic, has seen the change starting several years ago.

"Investing is traditionally seen as something you can't do unless you're rich," Lee says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "There was a certain understanding of what anyone (looking to invest) should do. … But now the world is so different."

Lee shares more about the future of investing and how he's watched the Houston innovation ecosystem develop over the years on the episode. Click here to read more and stream the podcast.

Liz Youngblood, president of Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center and senior vice president and COO of St. Luke's Health

As we enter year two of the pandemic, the way hospitals function now and in the future is forever changed. Photo courtesy

No industry has been unaffected by COVID-19, Liz Youngblood, president of Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center and senior vice president and COO of St. Luke's Health, observes in a guest column for InnovationMap. But hospitals — they've had a spotlight shown on them and their technology adoption since day one of the pandemic.

"The pace of innovation for hospitals has been at breakneck speed — from the evolution of new treatment protocols to the need to reconfigure physical spaces to support an influx of patients while also promoting a healing environment during this unprecedented time," she writes.

Hospitals, she says, look and feel completely different now than they did last year and the year before that. Click here to read more.

Over $1.4M in prizes awarded at Rice University's student startup competition

RBPC 2021

In its 21st year, the Rice Business Plan Competition hosted 54 student-founded startups from all over the world — its largest batch of companies to date — and doled out over $1.4 million in cash and investment prizes at the week-long virtual competition.

RBPC, which is put on by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, took place Tuesday, April 6, to Friday, April 9 this year. Just like 2020, RBPC was virtually held. The competition announced the 54 participating startups last month, and coordinated the annual elevator pitches, a semi-finals round, wildcard round and live final pitches. The contestants also received virtual networking and mentoring.

Earlier this week, Rice Alliance announced the seven student-led startups that then competed in the finals. From this pack, the judges awarded the top prizes. Here's how the finalists placed and what won:

  • SwiftSku from Auburn University, point of sales technology for convenience stores that allows for real time analytics, won first place and claimed the $350,000 grand prize from Goose Capital. The company also won the $50,000 Business Angel Minority Association Prize, the $500 Best Digital Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, and the $500 Third Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $401,000. The company also won the CFO Consulting Prize, a $25,000 in-kind award.
  • AgZen from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a pesticide alternative spray and formulation technology company, won the second place $100,000 investment prize (awarded by Finger Interests, Anderson Family Fund, Greg Novak, and Tracy Druce). The startup also won a $300,000 Owl Investment Prize, the $100,000 Houston Angel Network Prize, the $500 Best Energy Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, and the $1,500 Third Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $502,000. The company also won the $30,000 in-kind Polsinelli Energy Prize.
  • FibreCoat GmbH from RWTH Aachen University, a startup with patented spinning technology for the production of inexpensive high-performance composite fibers, won the third place $50,000 investment prize (also awarded by Finger Interests, Anderson Family Fund, Greg Novak, and Tracy Druce). The company also won the $100,000 TiE Houston Angels Prize and the $500 Best Hard Tech Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $150,500.
  • Candelytics from Harvard University, a startup building the digital infrastructure for 3-D data, won the fourth place $5,000 prize.
  • OYA FEMTECH Apparel from UCLA, an athletic wear company that designs feminine health-focused clothing, won the fifth place $5,000 prize. The company also won the $5,000 Eagle Investors Prize, the $25,000 Urban Capital Network Prize, and the $1,000 Second Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $36,000.
  • LFAnt Medical from McGill University , an innovative and tech-backed STI testing company, won the sixth place $5,000 prize and the $20,000 Johnson and Johnson Innovation Prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $25,000.
  • SimpL from the University of Pittsburgh, an AI-backed fitness software company, won the seventh place $5,000 prize. The company also won the $25,000 Spirit of Entrepreneurship Prize from the Pearland Economic Development Corp., bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $30,000.

Some of the competition's participating startups outside of the seven finalists won monetary and in-kind prizes. Here's a list of those.

  • Mercury Fund's Elevator Pitch Prizes also included:
    • Best Life Science $500 Prize to Blue Comet Medical Solutions from Northwestern University
    • Best Consumer $500 Prize to EasyFlo from the University of New Mexico
    • Best Overall $1,000 prize to Anthro Energy from Stanford University
  • The Palo Alto Software Outstanding LivePlan Pitch $3,000 Prize went to LiRA Inc. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • The OFW Law FDA Regulatory Strategy Prize, a $20,000 in-kind award went to Paldara Inc. from Oklahoma State University.
  • The Silver Fox Mentoring Prize, which included $20,000 in kind prizes to three winners selected Ai-Ris from Texas A&M University, BruxAway from the University of Texas, and Karkinex from Rice University as recipients.
  • The first, second, and third place winners also each received the legal service prize from Baker Botts for a total of $20,000 in-kind award.
  • The Courageous Women Entrepreneurship Prize from nCourage — a $50,000 investment prize — went to Shelly Xu Design from Harvard University.
  • The SWPDC Pediatric Device Prize — usually a $50,000 investment divided its prize to two winners to receive $25,000 each
    • Blue Comet Medical Solutions from Northwestern University
    • Neurava from Purdue University
  • TMC Innovation Healthcare Prize awarded a $100,000 investment prize and admission into its accelerator to ArchGuard from Duke University
  • The Artemis Fund awarded its $100,000 investment prize to Kit Switch from Stanford University
The awards program concluded with a plan to host the 22nd annual awards in 2022 in person.

If you missed the virtual programming, each event was hosted live on YouTube and the videos are now available on the Rice Alliance's page.