3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

Accenture and Plug and Play Tech Center made strategic hires in Houston. Plus, a local expert shares how important electronics recycling is. Courtesy photos

The movers and shakers of the Houston innovation world did a lot of extra moving and shaking last week. This week's Houston innovators to know include two new hires within the ecosystem.

Thomas Rubenak, senior principal at Accenture Ventures

Thomas Rubenak is senior principal of Accenture Ventures. Courtesy of Accenture

Thomas Rubenak has watched Houston's startup scene blossom over his career. Now, as senior principal at Accenture Ventures, he gets to help startups connect with Accenture and its clients.

"It's a win-win-win," Rubenak tells InnovationMap. "The client gets the benefit of having the best of the best and the startups get amazing exposure to companies they might not have been able to get in front of. And, Accenture is happy because it gets to serve the client." Read more about Rubenak and his new gig at Accenture.

Payal Patel, director of corporate relations at Plug and Play

Payal Patel, former director of business development at Station Houston, has joined Plug and Play as director of corporate partnerships. Courtesy of Payal Patel

Plug and Play Tech Center has made its first Houston hire. Payal Patel, who was preciously the director of business development at Station Houston, is now the director of corporate partnerships at Plug and Play.

"As I've gotten to know Plug and Play, what I've been most impressed with is the resources and capabilities they have," Patel says. "They've got great Fortune 500 corporate partners, they work and know the best tech startups all over the world, and they have a strong investment capability. I'm excited that those resources and capabilities are coming to Houston." Read more about the new hire and Plug and Play's plans for Houston.

Ed Wooten, director of ITAD at Smith

Wooten oversees IT asset disposition for Smith. Courtesy of Smith

Ed Wooten is in the business of safe, efficient, and responsible electronics disposal. In a world with cybersecurity threats around every corner, making sure your devices are responsibly disposed of is so important. Wooten wrote a guest article for InnovationMap about some of the lesser-known aspects regarding IT asset disposition.

"I've worked in the technology industry for over 20 years, helping customers across all industries ensure the proper and secure disposal of their equipment," writes Wooten. "I specifically want Houston businesses to be aware of some of the less-obvious facts when it comes to electronics recycling and disposal — and for them to know that trusted, locally based IT asset disposition (ITAD) services are available." Read more of Wooten's piece here.

Here's what you need to know before you toss out your old computers. Walter Zerla/Getty Images

5 things to know before you get rid of your company's old electronics

Guest column

It's important for all companies to take certain factors into consideration before they get rid of their excess electronics. I've worked in the technology industry for over 20 years, helping customers across all industries ensure the proper and secure disposal of their equipment. I specifically want Houston businesses to be aware of some of the less-obvious facts when it comes to electronics recycling and disposal — and for them to know that trusted, locally based IT asset disposition (ITAD) services are available.

The world produces 40 million tons of e-waste annually, and only 20 percent of that is being disposed of properly.

Electronic waste and its environmental effects are a serious global issue. When businesses go through technology refreshes, much of their equipment ends up sitting in landfills; this can be avoided, though. Like other widely used materials, such as glass, paper, and plastic, excess electronics and their parts can be recycled, too.

Law firms, health centers, financial institutions, and many other types of businesses aren't necessarily expected to break down electronics and recycle pieces themselves. All businesses, though, are obligated to work with a trusted IT asset disposition partner when disposing of or replacing electronic equipment to ensure that best practices for removal are followed.

Recycling and disposal experience matter when it comes to ensuring compliance with federal and environmental laws. 

Major countries around the globe, including the United States, have implemented strict recycling laws. Especially in recent years, the federal government has placed a heavy emphasis on proper electronics disposal practices. New tech products and their upgraded versions are released constantly, replacing older equipment with the latest and greatest.

For businesses, technology refreshes are often large-scale, requiring a major equipment overhaul. When mass amounts of products are left to contend with, it's easy (and common) to overlook key details. It is important to note that some environmental laws will vary by state and even by city ordinance.

Companies should partner with an ITAD professional that prioritizes reliability and is certified to a recognized, international recycling standard. e-Stewards certification offers a great example of globally responsible recycling practices that operate in accordance with specific laws. The right ITAD partner can help companies protect their overall brand integrity while staying in compliance with recycling laws.

The only way to ensure that sensitive information is safely eliminated is to wipe or shred drives.   

The rise of data breaches in the U.S. — both small and large — is concerning. Breaches often take place because hardware is handled improperly. Technology refreshes are very common, usually occurring about every two to five years for businesses.

Across office spaces, millions of megabytes of data are stored on employees' equipment. All devices, from PCs to desk phones, house potentially sensitive company information. The drives in computers are usually most at risk for compromising data. Fortunately, data can be safely removed by wiping information off the hardware or shredding it to unrestorable size.

Value can be recovered from excess electronics. 

Depending on the equipment and hardware specifications, some electronics can be remarketed as whole products or sold for their individual parts. Excess electronics are often resold at a small percentage of their original purchase price, though. But, when monetary value can be recovered from parts, companies can invest recouped revenues into new equipment.

The secondary market for excess IT equipment is quite large. Partnering with an ITAD professional that has the right network and connections can help customers achieve maximum return on investment for their equipment.

Local, on-site disposal solutions are conveniently available.  

Proper electronics recycling is easy when you partner with a trusted, experienced IT asset disposition professional. Instead of having product shipped to warehouses, companies can elect for disposal solutions to come to them. Shred trucks can wipe and destroy data off of about a thousand hard drives or SSDs per hour.

Serving as an extension of an ITAD professional's warehouse, shred trucks offer the same quality of services, but are fully mobile. On-site data sanitization services, complete with certificates of wiping and destruction, can be included. A company's IT equipment can be securely removed and documented without ever having to leave its premises.

As a facilities manager, IT supervisor, CTO, or CIO, if you don't already have a technology recycling program in place, you should start assessing your needs. If you do have an IT asset disposition program in place, make sure your partner is thoroughly qualified. The five disposal facts I've listed should serve as a guidepost for industry best practices.

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Ed Wooten is Smith's director of ITAD, or IT asset disposition.

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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.