Get to know the startups in the running for the Houston Innovation Awards People's Choice award. Photos courtesy

There's one category at the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards that's yet to be decided — and that's because the decision is up to you.

The People's Choice: Startup of the Year category will honor the fan favorite of this year's awards. Seven companies will be showcasing their unique technologies at the event, and attendees get to decide their fate.

Click here to secure your tickets to the November 8 event where you get to help choose the winner of this exciting category.

Here are the seven companies, selected by this year's judges, who are up for the honor.

Blue People, helping bring ideas to life through software development expertise.

Enrique Carro, CEO of Blue People. Photo courtesy of Blue People

What's the company culture like at your company? How big of a priority is maintaining it as the company grows?

At our company, culture isn't just a buzzword; it's the heart of who we are. We have this fun concept called the "Blue Tags" where everyone picks a cool, sometimes hilarious, nickname—it's our way of saying, "Hey, we love your uniqueness!" And guess what? Fridays are special because we gather employees for a celebratory meeting where tequila shots are allowed that we call Viernes De Shots (Friday's Shots). However, it's not just about the shots; it's about building connections and recognizing our achievements as a team. Furthermore, our "Blue Principles", or what other companies call core values, guide us every day, woven into everything we do. As we grow, keeping this inclusive vibe alive is at the top of our to-do list! Cheers to a unique and awesome workplace!

How would you describe your leadership style in three words?

Adaptive, inspirational, and empowering

How has your company given back to the community in the past year or so?

In the past year, our company has been deeply committed to giving back to the community through various initiatives. We actively engaged in the Tejano Tech Summit and fostered dialogue with Tech & Tequila talks. Moreover, we dedicated our time as judges in the Young Inventors competition, encouraging and supporting young talent. Our CTO played a pivotal role by mentoring students in software engineering projects, emphasizing cloud technology, modern stack, and agile methodologies. We also proudly emerged as winners in the 50 cent G-Unity Business Lab Pitch competition and actively participated in programs like gener8tor gBeta accelerator and Codelaunch. Additionally, we extended our outreach to the academic realm, coaching and mentoring participants in events such as the Sam Houston State University Innovation Pitch Competition, where we achieved 1st place, and collaborating with Latin Venture Studio as partners. As a testament to our commitment to community engagement, we are part of the DevOpsDays Houston organization committee, contributing to a series of technical conferences. Furthermore, we play a role in The Houston Tech Rodeo, showcasing the best of the Houston startup community through conferences and friendly competitions, reinforcing our dedication to the growth and development of the community we are part of.

DrySee, innovative waterproof dressing with liquid intrusion technology.

Robert Bradley Greer is the CEO of DrySee. Photo via LinkedIn

What's the company culture like at your company? How big of a priority is maintaining it as the company grows?

DrySee has an adaptive environment with open communication and transparency. Our leadership is available to receive and provide regular feedback, and values the spirit of entrepreneurship. DrySee feels that the imaginative and engaged atmosphere is important to our growth and success.

How would you describe your leadership style in three words?

Inclusive, team-oriented, and consensus-driven.

How has your company given back to the community in the past year or so?

We donated thousands of DrySee bandages to the medical efforts in Ukraine.

Eden Grow Systems, next generation farming technologies.

Leo Barton Womack Jr is the CEO of Eden Grow Systems. Photo courtesy of Eden Grow

What's the company culture like at your company? How big of a priority is maintaining it as the company grows?

We are on a mission to bring food sovereignty to the people. Our vision is that our world is A Garden OF Eden, and we are here to serve it.

How would you describe your leadership style in three words?

Service, example, and commitment.

How has your company given back to the community in the past year or so?

We are deploying our systems into food desserts, schools, Ukraine, and around the world helping underserved communities begin their journey to food independence.

Feelit Technologies, nanotechnology for preventive maintenance to eliminate leaks, fires and explosions, increase safety and reduce downtime.

Shoshi Kaganovsky, president of North America at Feelit Technologies. Photo courtesy of Feelit

What's the company culture like at your company? How big of a priority is maintaining it as the company grows?

Culture is people-oriented. We are focusing on building a team that lasts. Diversity is key. Giving chances and creating opportunities is what will advance our world further. We believe that the human asset is the most important asset we have. It's a huge priority for us to maintain this is make sure that as we grow, our culture leads the way for us, with respect, dedication and innovation.

How would you describe your leadership style in three words?

Lead by example.

How has your company given back to the community in the past year or so?

School supplies, mentorship programs for children, sponsorship and hiring people from war zones/conflicted territories.

Fervo Energy, leveraging proven oil and gas drilling technology to deliver 24/7 carbon-free geothermal energy.

Tim Latimer, CEO and co-founder of Fervo Energy. Photo via LinkedIn

What's the company culture like at your company? How big of a priority is maintaining it as the company grows?

Fervo's culture revolves around four core values: build things that last; innovate through collaboration; do what we say we're going to do; stop and smell the roses. Taken together, these values create a highly creative, collaborative, and optimistic culture in which employees are encouraged to be open-minded, honest, and supportive. Maintaining this culture as Fervo's scales is one of the executive team's highest priorities.

How would you describe your leadership style in three words?

Visionary, determined, and collaborative.

How has your company given back to the community in the past year or so?

Fervo has joined the Real Energy Alliance of Houston and the Greater Houston Partnership to contribute to the broader Houston business and environmental community. Fervo also sponsored a class at Rice University to provide undergrads with clean energy mentorship and experiential learning opportunities. Fervo also recruited summer interns from the University of Houston Bauer College of Business.

Rhythm Energy, 100 percent renewable electricity service for residential customers in Texas.

P.J. Popovic, CEO of Houston-based Rhythm Energy. Photo courtesy of Rhythm

What's the company culture like at your company? How big of a priority is maintaining it as the company grows?

At Rhythm Energy, our company culture is defined by several key aspects: Passionate: Our team is genuinely passionate about renewable energy and our mission to make a positive impact on the planet. Collaborative: Collaboration is at the heart of our culture. We encourage cross-functional teamwork and open communication. Encouraging: We foster an environment that encourages innovation and supports employees in pursuing their ideas and initiatives. Flexibility: Our employees appreciate the flexibility we offer, allowing them to balance work and life effectively. Impact: Everyone at Rhythm Energy understands the meaningful impact our work has on the environment and society. Maintaining this culture is a top priority for us as we grow. We take proactive steps, such as quarterly surveys and team discussions, to gather feedback and implement positive changes. Our commitment to preserving this culture remains unwavering.

How would you describe your leadership style in three words?

Visionary, resilient, and approachable.

How has your company given back to the community in the past year or so?

Rhythm gives back to the community in a variety of ways. First, we have a very sustainable approach to our work environment, which promotes a remote first work culture, recycles, composts, and uses sustainable office supplies. Second, we actively participate in community service projects, whether volunteering at the Houston Food Bank, doing park clean up at Buffalo Bayou Park or planting trees at Memorial Park. Last, but not least, we partner with many local organizations, such as elementary school PTOs, youth sports clubs and performing arts education programs like Theatre Under the Stars, and really focus on giving back and educating the youth in the community, as they are the future and most impacted by our sustainable decisions today.

The Postage, a comprehensive life planning and succession software platform for families and small businesses.

Emily Cisek, CEO and co-founder of The Postage. Photo courtesy of The Postage

What's the company culture like at your company? How big of a priority is maintaining it as the company grows?

At The Postage, our company culture is all about understanding, supporting, and empowering each other. We're like a team of sailors, believing that when we lift one boat, we lift all. We value empathy, making sure we put ourselves in our customers' shoes, understanding their needs, and building solutions that truly matter. Everyone is encouraged to go that extra mile, take initiative, and embrace challenges as opportunities to learn and grow. We believe in transparency, keeping communication open, honest, and straightforward. As we grow, keeping this culture alive and thriving is a big deal for us. It's what makes us who we are, and we'll keep nurturing it because it's key to our success and how we want to make a positive mark in the world.

How would you describe your leadership style in three words?

Empathetic, transparent, and empowering.

How has your company given back to the community in the past year or so?

At The Postage, we're all about giving back and spreading kindness in the community. For the past three years, we've been honored to partner with the Smilin Rylen Foundation, a cause that truly hits home for us. Rylen's spirit is a big inspiration for us. He's a driving force behind our dedication to making a positive impact every day. So, to celebrate his life we encourage acts of kindness within our team and community. Small gestures, like helping out or sharing a kind word, mean a lot to us and embody the positivity Rylen always shared. Our commitment doesn't stop there. We proudly support the Smilin Rylen Foundation, not only financially but by getting involved in their events. We believe in spreading kindness and compassion, just as they do. At The Postage, we're all about making a positive mark, and Houston is our hub to make that happen. We're committed to uplifting our diverse and vibrant community, embracing the opportunity to lead the way. Even though we're a young company, our goal of creating a positive impact on people's lives remains strong, and we're thrilled about the future and the potential to keep making a meaningful difference, right here in Houston and beyond.

Last weekend was a tumultuous one for founders and funders in Houston and beyond. Here's what lessons were learned. Photo via Getty Images

Following Silicon Valley Bank collapse, banking diversification is key for Houston founders

SVB shake up

Last week, Houston founder Emily Cisek was in between meetings with customers and potential investors in Austin while she was in town for SXSW. She was aware of the uncertainty with Silicon Valley Bank, but the significance of what was happening didn't hit her until she got into an Uber on Friday only to find that her payment was declined.

“Being positive in nature as I am, and with the close relationship that I have with SVB and how they’ve truly been a partner, I just thought, ‘OK, they’re going to figure it out. I trust in them,'” Cisek says.

Like many startup founders, Cisek, the CEO of The Postage, a Houston-based tech platform that enables digital legacy planning tools, is a Silicon Valley Bank customer. Within a few hours, she rallied her board and team to figure out what they needed to do, including making plans for payroll. She juggled all this while attending her meetings and SXSW events — which, coincidentally, were mostly related to the banking and fintech industries.

Sandy Guitar had a similar weekend of uncertainty. As managing director of HX Venture Fund, a fund of funds that deploys capital to venture capital firms around the country and connects them to the Houston innovation ecosystem, her first concern was to evaluate the effect on HXVF's network. In this case, that meant the fund's limited partners, its portfolio of venture firms, and, by extension, the firms' portfolios of startup companies.

“We ultimately had no financial impact on venture fund 1 or 2 or on any of our portfolio funds or our underlying companies,” Guitar tells InnovationMap. “But that is thanks to the Sunday night decision to ensure all deposits.”

On Sunday afternoon, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. took control of SVB and announced that all accounts would be fully insured, not just up to the $250,000 cap. Customers like Cisek had access to their accounts on Monday.

“In the shorter term, the great news is SVB entity seems to be largely up and functioning in a business as usual manner,” Guitar says. “And they have a new leadership team, but their existing systems and predominantly the existing employee base is working well. And what we're hearing is that business as usual is taking place.”

Time to diversify

In light of the ordeal, Guitar says Houston founders and funders can take away a key lesson learned: The importance of bank diversification.

“We didn't think we needed one last week, but this week we know we need a resilience plan," she says, explaining that bank diversification is going to be added to "the operational due diligence playbook."

"We need to encourage our portfolio funds to maintain at least two banking relationships and make sure they're diversifying their cash exposure," she says.

A valued entity

Guitar says SVB is an integral part of the innovation ecosystem, and she believes it will continue on to be, but factoring in the importance of resilience and diversification.

"Silicon Valley Bank and the function that they have historically provided is is vital to the venture ecosystem," she says. "We do have confidence that either SVB, as it is currently structured or in a new structure to come, will continue to provide this kind of function for founders."

Cisek, who hasn't moved any of her company's money out of SVB, has similar sentiments about the importance of the bank for startups. She says she's grateful to the local Houston and Austin teams for opening doors, making connections, and taking chances for her that other banks don't do.

"I credit them to really being partners with startups — down to the relationships they connect you with," she says. "Some of my best friends who are founders came from introductions from SVB. I've seen them take risks that other banks won't do."

With plans to raise funding this yea, Cisek says she's already started her research on how to diversify her banking situation and is looking into programs that will help her do that.

Staying aware

Guitar's last piece of advice is to remain confident in the system, while staying tuned into what's happening across the spectrum.

“This situation that is central to the venture ecosystem is an evolving one," she says. "We all need to keep calm and confident in business as usual in the short term while keeping an eye to the medium term so that we know what happens next with this important bank and with other associated banks in the in our industry."

CodeLaunch named its winner — and more Houston innovation news. Photo courtesy of Honeycomb

Houston startup secures bank partnership, energy tech co. wins competition, and more

short stories

Houston startup founders have been moving and shaking in the local innovation ecosystem — from being recognized for their out-of-this-world innovation to big wins.

In this roundup of Houston startup and innovation news, a Houston company snags a major partnership, an energy tech startup wins big on stage, and more.

The Postage gets a new partner

The Postage platform will be available to AmBank Company's employees, customers, and their families. Photo courtesy of The Postage

A Houston tech platform that streamlines estate and legacy planning has entered into a partnership with AmBank Company — American State Bank, American Investment & Trust, and Perspective Insurance — in Sioux Center, Iowa. The bank will deliver The Postage's services to its employees, customers, and their families.

The Postage unique platform allows users important information organizational tools, as well as state-specific will document creation. The technology also allows users to share meaningful family memories, write future messages, and collaborate with loved ones of their choosing.

"Community is at the core of everything American State Bank does. They exemplify that by supporting their customers through the myriad of choices that arise while navigating their financial lives. The Postage fits right into that, and we are thrilled to share our platform with their employees and customers in their planning and organization efforts," says Emily Cisek, CEO and co-founder of The Postage, in a news release. "We hope to grow awareness of the family-driven digital solution and provide AmBank's customers the opportunity to gain control and safeguard their critical information. We look forward to providing AmBank's customers with the guidance they need to protect their wealth and wisdom now and for generations to come."

The partnership, which rolled out last month, was announced as American State Bank and the family of brands celebrated 50 years of business.

"Our commitment to delivering outstanding service and top-notch products to our customers, colleagues, and community has been unwavering for over half a century," says Joel Westra, AmBank first vice president. "This partnership allows us to extend our digital services while staying true to our core values of connection and community.

"Our team has witnessed the struggles of families coping with losing a loved one, we recognized the need for a service like The Postage," he continues. "Far too often, people are uncertain about the next steps, the whereabouts of important documents, and even their loved one's final wishes. We recognize that to prevent these challenges, families need help navigating difficult conversations and guidance on how to get started with their planning, which The Postage provides."

E360 wins Houston startup competition

E360 and Honeycomb Software share the win at the 2023 Houston CodeLaunch event. Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

CodeLaunch, a traveling seed-stage accelerator, hosted its second Houston startup pitch competition last week, and a Houston energy efficiency startup emerged victorious.

E360 won the top prize at the event on March 2. The program paired six finalists with consultant development teams to pitch and compete for up to $150,000. The startup's technology is a holistic building solution that monitors both the energy efficiency and indoor air quality of commercial buildings.

“The goal I pursued at CodeLaunch was to meet industry leaders and investors who can help take the product to the next level," says Mat Bonassera, chief enterprise architect at E360, in a news release. “The vast majority of buildings are both incredibly inefficient as well as dangerous to their occupants, due to the dangerous levels of compounds in the air.

"We solve both these complex problems at the same time," he continues. "This is unheard of in our industry. We do this by monitoring vast sums of IOT data and then using Machine Learning and real-time monitoring we adjust the building to optimize its performance. This is a revolutionary way to look at commercial buildings."

E360 shares the win with its partner development team Honeycomb Software, an international custom software development company. The provided hands-on support to E360 scale during a two-day hackathon held February 25 and 26.

“The desire to promote energy efficiency of the buildings and the sustainability in business influenced our decision of whom to work with during the Hackathon," says Oleksandr Semeniuk, CEO of Honeycomb Software, in the release. "Our team worked tirelessly to expand the functionality of E360, and this victory is a testament to their hard work and dedication."

Axiom named among most innovative companies

KBR is one of Axiom Space's partners on its new NASA-sanctioned ISS project. Photo via AxiomSpace.com

Fast Company named it's 50 most innovative companies — and Axiom Space, a Houston-based commercial, full-service orbital mission provider, was named No. 49 on the list. It was also recognized as one of the most innovative space tech companies "for going to space without a chaperone," per the magazine.

The article recognized several of Axiom's accomplishments, including:

  • Managing the first all-private mission to the International Space Station in April of 2022. The mission sent a four-person crew into space for 17 days.
  • Developing plans to expand the international community of space explorers, including Italy, Canada, New Zealand, and others.
  • Building a module to attach to the ISS, which is progress toward the world’s first commercial free-floating space station.

“In the space business, there’s a big focus on the transportation, the rockets,” Michael Suffredini, president and CEO of Axiom, tells Fast Company. “But if you think about the railroads that were built across the U.S., they were built to serve a destination. Without a reason to go somewhere, they wouldn’t exist. We’re building the destination in space—the real estate to allow multiple businesses to operate in low-Earth orbit and take advantage of the microgravity environment.”

NASA also makes the ranking for "showing that a public space program can still do big things," according to the list.

Calling all student-founded startups and businesses

Rice and UH have programs for startup and small business entrepreneurs. Photo via uh.edu

Rice University and the University of Houston have upcoming deadlines for their summer accelerators. The summer programs all operate in coordination with each other and offer support for student, faculty, or staff founders and their startups and small businesses.

The four programs, and their focus and application deadlines, are as follows:

  • Rice's OwlSpark is focused on early-stage startup teams with at least one Rice student, faculty, or staff founders to grow from innovation to commercialization. Apply by March 13.
  • UH's RedLabs is focused on early-stage startup teams with at least one UH student, faculty, or staff founders to grow from innovation to commercialization. Apply by March 31.
  • Rice's BlueLaunch is focused on non-tech small business entrepreneurs who are either student, faculty, or staff at Rice. Apply by March 13.
  • UH's Red Launch is focused on non-tech small business entrepreneurs who are either student, faculty, or staff at UH. Apply by March 31.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Asma Mirza of Steradian Technologies, Sahar Paz of Own Your Voice, and Emily Cisek of The Postage. Photos courtesy

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 — from health tech to software — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Asma Mirza, founder and CEO of Steradian Technologies

Asma Mirza joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to explain how a pandemic pivot turned into a global health opportunity. Photo courtesy

It took a global pandemic for Asma Mirza to see a gaping hole in modern health care: Quick and affordable diagnostics tools. She founded Steradian Technologies in 2018, originally to create human super-sight via proprietary optics. In early 2020, the company was getting ready to start testing the device and fundraising. Then, the pandemic hit, knocking the company completely off course.

Co-founder and CEO of the company, Mirza, says on last week's Houston Innovators Podcast that the Steradian co-founders discussed how their optic technology could detect diseases. Something just clicked, and the RUMI device was born.

"We are from Houston, Texas, which is one of the most diverse and accessible cities in the country, and we were having trouble with basic diagnostic accessibility. It was taking too long, it was complicated, and people were getting sick and didn't know if they were positive or negative," Mirza says on the show. "That's when we pivoted the company and decided we were going to pivot the company and use optics to detect diseases in breath." Click here to read more.

Sahar Paz, CEO of Own Your Voice Strategy Firm

A Houston expert shares how to improve on communication in the health care setting. Photo courtesy

Emotional intelligence is a major part of running a business — but its crucially more important in the health care space, according to Sahar Paz. She writes in a guest column for InnovationMap how to improve on communication in the health care setting — and why it is necessary to provide a high level standard of care.

"Health care sets up an environment for a tornado of emotions, and the rules and regulations centered around patient-provider interactions are often complex to navigate," she writes. "This leaves many on the brink of emotional exhaustion, and for survival’s sake, depersonalization with patients becomes the status quo. Feeling a disconnect with their patients is another added weight, as few get into this industry for just the paycheck – it’s the impact of helping people get healthy and stay healthy that motivates them." Click here to read more.

Emily Cisek, founder and CEO of The Postage

A Houston founder shares an analysis of relationship banking, the pros and cons of digital banking competition, and an outlook of digital banking inroads to develop relationship banking. Photo courtesy

Emily Cisek is the founder and CEO of The Postage, a tech-enabled, easy-to-use estate planning tool, and she is helping simplify estate management — something that includes working with banks. She writes in a guest column for InnovationMap how ripe for innovation the industry is.

"Digital banking firms that want to thrive in the upcoming decades are going to need to innovate in long-term financial planning products that bring their customers into a closer, more personal relationship with them," she writes. "The finance world will continue to change and develop, but the hopes, fears, and dreams of people trying to build and secure a better future for themselves and their children will remain the same for tomorrow’s customers as they were for their parents and grandparents. It is up to the digital finance industry to adapt and develop to provide the customers of today—and tomorrow— with these invaluable services and securities." Click here to read more.

A Houston founder shares an analysis of relationship banking, the pros and cons of digital banking competition, and an outlook of digital banking inroads to develop relationship banking. Photo courtesy

Why the banking biz is ripe for innovation, according to this Houston founder

guest column

After our doctor and our child’s school, a bank is an institution with which we share the relationship that is most personal and vital to our well-being in this world. Some might put a good vet third, but other than that, no private entity is more responsible for escorting us to a healthier and happier outcome over the course of our lives.

The bank vault is a traditional symbol of security and prosperity, and not just for our pennies. We safeguard possessions in banks that are so important we don’t even trust keeping them in our own houses. Wills, birth certificates, and the precious family heirlooms of countless families are held in safety deposit boxes behind those giant vault doors, and banks have been the traditional guardians not only of our wealth but our identity and future as well.

The importance of relationship banking

Faith and confidence in our banks is so fundamental to the customer relationship that it has evolved into a unique and otherwise unthinkable arrangement for any good capitalist in a healthy marketplace: banks pay us to be their customers. Imagine a doctor offering you $20 for trusting them to give you a colonoscopy and you’re on the road to understanding the sacrosanct union between bank and customer.

In fact, this trust is so deeply anchored in the American psyche that a new generation of digital banking companies has sprung up on the idea that it doesn’t need to exist in physical reality. The fintech industry has exploded in the last decade, and today, over 75 percent of Americans are engaged in online banking in one form or another. Every single one of those 200 million customers are taking for granted that they will be well served, despite having no personal guidance through any of the financial products and services that these online entities provide.

Benefits of fostering relationships with banking customers

In the late 90s and early 2000s brick-and-mortar banks realized that greater personalized care for their customers was going to be a critical point of competition. The in-person experience is an opportunity to offer advice and incentives for a wide range of products and financial management assistance. It’s rooted in an incredibly simple axiom that is taking hold in every aspect of modern society: everyone benefits if we all get along better.

There’s a lot of statistical traction behind this theory. Customers who report they are “financially healthy” are down 20 percent over the last year, which means people are looking for guidance. 73 percent of customers who visit a local bank branch report having a personal relationship with their bank, while only 53 percent say the same of their digital institution. Most importantly, although many digital banks are offering similar products and services to their real-world counterparts, customer engagement remains very low.

It starts with your products

The truth is, today’s bank customers still want that same personal relationship their great-grandparents had before they engage with deeper financial products and services. They believe it makes them more financially successful, and confirm that human connections and economic prosperity go hand-in-hand.

Products that are Challenging for Digital Markets

Residential mortgages, for example, are an $18 trillion dollar industry that deals in durations longer than most digital banking services have even existed. The perception of continuity and stability is highly valued by clients in the mortgage relationship. Today, most customers feel that only comes with a handshake and a smile from an employee who has to fit in a meeting before they pick their kids up from school.

While digital firms have proven themselves capable of offering savings and checking services, most have fallen flat on the mortgage front because of the premium on personal relationships. Loyalty is the reward for time, service, and shared experience, and financial institutions that cannot provide that package for their customers are never going to access a deeper and more meaningful portfolio of services.

Finding Well-suited Products for Digital Finance

The message for the digital finance world is as clear as it is pressing. The future of the industry will revolve around more personalized experiences, interactions, and long-term products. At the same time, the American public has embraced digital banking, and we are looking at a new generation of bank users who may never walk through a branch door in their life.

In order to compete, the digital industry will need to identify and develop a range of long-term products and services that make sense for customers in today’s environment. Mortgages may be out of the question, but the safety deposit box holds great promise for industry in-roads. Optimal services for deeper, more personal customer engagement include things like:

  • Legacy and estate planning
  • Will preparation and safeguarding
  • Preservation of cherished photos and videos
  • Important personal data storage


Because these things are product-based, they are well suited to the digital ecosystem. The cryptocurrency industry and modern online banking have solidified consumer confidence in the digital bank vault, and there is a great deal of faith in the perpetuity of electronic documents and storage.

The IRS estimates that upwards of 90 percent of Americans are E-filing their taxes and that only comes with a widespread belief that our highly sensitive information can and will be preserved and protected by digital architecture.

Secure your future

Digital banking firms that want to thrive in the upcoming decades are going to need to innovate in long-term financial planning products that bring their customers into a closer, more personal relationship with them.

The finance world will continue to change and develop, but the hopes, fears, and dreams of people trying to build and secure a better future for themselves and their children will remain the same for tomorrow’s customers as they were for their parents and grandparents.

It is up to the digital finance industry to adapt and develop to provide the customers of today—and tomorrow— with these invaluable services and securities.

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Emily Cisek is the founder and CEO of The Postage, a tech-enabled, easy-to-use estate planning tool.

Why you should be offering your employees estate and legacy planning tools. Photo courtesy of The Postage

Houston innovator: 3 reasons you should incorporate estate planning to your company benefits

guest column

As priorities for employees have shifted as part of the Great Resignation the need for non-traditional benefits has continued to arise. Employees are expecting their personal and family wellness to be at the core of what their employers are offering. This is a big consideration when deciding to stay or leave a company. While HR professionals and employers are realizing they need to re-evaluate their benefits and how they keep top talent, there’s one key benefit that is typically missed that is a life necessity for all, estate and legacy planning.

Given today’s uber competitive talent market, there’s an opportunity for companies to embrace new benefits that go beyond the typical and support vital needs, such as financial wellness and estate planning. Taking the next step by providing and connecting employees with the right resources can make all the difference. Estate and legacy planning goes beyond creating a will, it’s about end to end care of life and legacy. It helps transition wealth and wisdom across generations. It handles your affairs, finances, your digital assets, protects your children and pets, and ensures your wishes are carried out if you are temporarily unavailable or permanently incapable of handling them. It’s as critical and as necessary as insurance yet is not typically included as a key employee benefit.

Why should you add estate and legacy planning as part of your employee benefits? Here’s the top three reasons to consider:

1. Create value for your employees and their families

Financial wellness and security are the utmost important for employees. In fact, it’s one of the most-valued benefits, based on a recent survey Morgan Stanley found that 90 percent of employees want their company to prioritize financial benefits. Are you going to be one of the 95 percent of HR executives that plan to do so? If so, there are multiple ways that a company can help its employees to build wealth and protect their financial security through traditional benefits such as retirement savings plans, health insurance, voluntary life, and disability insurance, and more. But additional benefits like estate and legacy planning should be a part of this assortment of benefits that support protecting employees and their families’ finances - by helping them build and protect their financial and personal legacies.

Employers can show that they value and support their employee’s financial success and security by providing tools and resources that make it simple to handle these historically daunting tasks and keep them organized throughout life, which allows employees to have peace of mind for their families’ future, financial and beyond.

2. Stand out among your competitors

Most employers do not provide legacy and estate planning services. Only 12 percent of employers provide these types of benefits, yet over 72 percent of those who are not offered estate planning services by their employer, would be interested in using them if offered. That’s a huge percentage of your employee population that would benefit from this service while differentiating you from other employers and provide an opportunity for your company to show just how much you value your employees’ futures.

3. Show you care about your employees

More people have begun to self-reflect on what is truly important to them as a part of the Great Resignation. Now, employee desires have evolved beyond a high salary with decent benefits. Employees want to feel valued beyond the work they do, and even further than that, they need an environment where their career, their loved ones, and their own being is supported. These psychological needs are translating into demands for companies to provide more thoughtful employee benefits packages.

A study conducted by Morgan Stanley shows how perceptions of employees and HR executives alike have transformed, with 9 in 10 HR executives saying their company needs to do a better job helping employees understand how to maximize their financial benefits. Proving to your employees that you care about them beyond the ‘now’beyond simply providing short-term benefits that exclusively affect them in the present day–leverages your company’s commitment to caring for your workers.

For people that struggle with organizing their property and wealth, estate planning can help visualize their total net worth. However, benefits that not only anticipate employees’ future financial needs but also organize their family network will drive continual engagement within your company and prove genuine care for your workers. For example, The Postage helps people plan their legacy. On top of estate planning, customers also have the ability to store and document important life events and memories, or even utilize our message planning feature where they can send timely notes to their family at a future date.

Employees want to feel valued beyond their work and taking the steps to help them build physical and financial legacies for both themselves and their loved ones will put your company one step ahead of everyone else. It is time for estate planning to join the conversation for employee benefits packages and helping employees proactively plan their future could be the cornerstone of attracting and retaining diverse talent.

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Emily Cisek is the founder and CEO of The Postage, a tech-enabled, easy-to-use estate planning tool.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.