This week's set of who's who include a startup founder trying to change the world, a passionate PhD with a story of failure to tell, and a biomedical engineer enhancing health tech in Houston. Courtesy photos

Another set of female innovation leaders are making headlines as we move into another week of innovators to know.

This week's set of who's who include a startup founder trying to change the world, a passionate PhD with a story of failure to tell, and a biomedical engineer enhancing health tech in Houston.

Ana Carolina Rojas Bastidas, founder of Orolait

orolait

A Houston mom is working hard on her startup so that next summer, breastfeeding moms can swim in style and worry free. Courtesy of Orolait

On the surface, it may seem that Houston mom Ana Carolina Rojas Bastidas has a passion for fashion, as she's created and is fundraising for a new-mom specific line of swimwear. But really, she's on a mission to give breastfeeding women back their dignity with her startup, Orolait.

"I decided to build this company to challenge and change the way we depict one's breastfeeding journey," Bastidas says on the website. "I stand on the pillars of advocacy, education, and inclusion. You will see the sizing and advertising featuring all shapes, sizes, and shades because each of us is so different and that is what makes us so incredible and I am going to unapologetically celebrate that in the most ethical way I know how." Read the story.

Brittany Barreto, venture associate at Capital Factory

Brittany Barreto

Brittany Barreto founded the first nationwide DNA-based dating app, and she shares her story of its unexpected, and unavoidable, downfall. Photo courtesy of Pheramor

After dedicating three long years to her startup that began as an idea in college, Brittney Barreto is saying goodbye to Pheramor. Barreto explains how her DNA-based dating app got pulled from the Apple app store following policy changes, and how it left her with no choice but to shutter the operation.

Now, Barreto has big plans for funding femtech, and is learning a lot in her new role at Capital Factory. She's already able to do more for other founders and create a bigger impact.

"I realized that over the past two years, I had already been ad hoc coaching and mentoring founders and loving it," Barreto says. "Now, I was doing it and getting paid for it, on a bigger scale, and with more resources. I knew it was the journey I wanted to continue down." Read the full story.

Emily Reiser, senior manager of innovation community engagement at TMC

Emily Reiser

From robots and accelerator programs to her favorite health tech startups, Emily Reiser of the TMC Innovation Institute joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of Emily Reiser

Emily Reiser has known for most of her life that she's wanted to work in health tech — in some capacity. On the Houston Innovators Podcast, she explains how she combined her early interest in health care with her affinity with engineering inspired by her parents.

Now, she continues to check both those boxes at the Texas Medical Center's Innovation Institute, which has evolved a ton over the past year.

"In 2019, we had a lot of big changes around our team and our leadership," she says on the podcast. "That enabled us to take a bigger breath and a bigger pause to say, 'How are we really doing? And how could we be doing better?'" Read the full story and stream the podcast.

Meet a Houston native who scored $300,000 on TV, an entrepreneur with big plans for Houston, and a health care innovator looking to shake things up. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

From swimming away with $300,000 on Shark Tank to announcing new programming for Houston's innovation ecosystem, this week's Houston innovators to know have things to be excited about. Here's who to know this week in innovaiton.

Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston

Grace Rodriguez

Courtesy of Grace Rodriguez

It's a busy month for Grace Rodriguez. The leader of Houston's Impact Hub chapter, along with her team, is planning the third annual Houston Innovation Summit — a week long of programming for innovators, investors, entrepreneurs, and more scattered around the city.

Rodriguez took a break from the planning to discuss the events, her passion for driving equitable innovation resources, and more on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"Houston is so diverse, and there are so many entrepreneurs that weren't getting access to the same resources," she says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Click here to read more.

Patrick Coddou, CEO and co-founder of Supply

Patrick Coddou

Courtesy of Supply

Patrick Coddou, a native Houstonian and CEO of Supply, pitched their product to the panel of five investors on ABC's Shark Tank and hooked one of them, tech millionaire Robert Herjavec. In exchange for his $300,000 investment, Herjavec received a 15 percent stake in the four-year-old company.

"It was a surreal experience for us just making an appearance on the show, but we couldn't have been more pleased with the outcome," Patrick Coddou, CEO of Supply and a Houston native, says in a release. "I knew we had shaped a brand that sets itself apart, not only because of the innovative razor design but also the kind of standard we hold ourselves to, and I'm glad that resonated with Robert and the rest of the Sharks."

Herjavec battled against fellow Shark Kevin O'Leary to invest in Supply, but the Coddous wound up accepting Herjavec's offer. Click here to read more.

Emily Reiser, innovation strategist at the TMC Innovation Institute

As if working with her team to plan and execute the Texas Medical Center's accelerator's ninth cohort last week, Emily Reiser, innovation strategist at TMC, also had to plan for and execute the important announcement that TMCx has been redesigned for 2020. The program will be more heavily involving the TMC network of organizations for the program.

"Our focus going forward is on our member institutions — the clinics, the hospitals, and our partners who really bring forward these technologies into the future," says Reiser.

The 2020 cohort will be specifically focused on solving these member institutions' problems. Click here to read more.

In 2020, the TMCx program will become a needs-based accelerator looking to solve problems the Texas Medical Center's member institutions face on a regular basis. Courtesy of TMC

TMC Innovation Institute announces redesign of its acceleration program for 2020

X-citing news

TMCx has been helping medical device and digital health startups create solid business plans and lasting relationships with Texas Medical Center institutions for five years, and on the accelerator's fifth anniversary, the team announced it's mixing things up a little to better accomplish those goals.

On Nov. 7, TMCx celebrated the conclusion of its ninth cohort, and 16 medical device companies pitched to a crowd at the TMC Innovation Institute. The companies in this cohort, just like the ones before it, were selected based on their technologies that solved a problem using digital health or medical devices. However, previously, the TMC's member institutions weren't directly part of the process until after the cohort was selected.

Based on feedback from alumni, member institutions, corporate partners, and stakeholders, TMCx has redesigned the program so that next year, the accelerator will focus on the specific needs of the needs that the organizations within the TMC have identified.

"Our focus going forward is on our member institutions — the clinics, the hospitals, and our partners who really bring forward these technologies into the future," says Emily Reiser, innovation strategist at the TMC Innovation Institute.

TMCx will become a needs-based accelerator program, Reiser says, and the team at the accelerator will partner with member institutions to run specific cohorts matched to their areas of interests.

The first step will be to identify these areas of interest, then in February of 2020, TMCx will invite a number of companies related to those interests to Houston for two weeks. The TMCx team, member institutions, and other stakeholders will get to interact with the companies and see how they stack up against each other, and to see if they can really fill the needs of the hospitals, clinics, and more.

Finally, after narrowing down the companies, the final startups and entrepreneurs will be invited to participate in a six-month accelerator program that will provide the same resources, connections, and programming that TMCx has always provided to advance the health startups.

Reiser says the TMCx team and all its partners will help identify the missing pieces these companies have and provide solutions, as well as making the right connections to all the right pilot partners, investors, clinical trial experts, and more.

"We'll be here to help them fill those gaps and make sure they have lasting relationships with our clinical partners in the hospitals," Reiser says.

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Houston flight-tracking software company grows its local and international presence

taking flight

FlightAware LLC's business success has, for the most part, flown under the radar in Houston.

Many travelers know about the B2C flight-tracking functionality of FlightAware. "That's a very, very competitive space. We play in that space, but it's not our core business," founder and CEO Daniel Baker says.

These days, the privately held Houston company earns most its revenue from the B2B data it provides to airlines and other aviation clients, according to Baker. He declines to reveal revenue figures, but notes that the company — which bills itself as the world's largest flight-tracking and flight data platform — hasn't taken a penny of outside funding since it started in 2005.

Today, FlightAware employs about 110 people, with the majority of them located in Houston, Baker says. The company also maintains offices in Austin, New York City, London, and Singapore.

By the end of 2020, the companywide workforce should exceed 135, as FlightAware aims to add three new hires per month this year in areas such as Internet of Things, data science, sales, and administration, Baker says. Most of the new employees will work in Houston.

Baker says FlightAware takes an aggressive approach to hiring, with the goal of bringing aboard "really awesome people" who share levels of talent, collaboration, and "culture fit" similar to those of current employees.

By the end of 2021, FlightAware likely will run out of room in its 24,000-square-foot office at 11 Greenway Plaza in the Greenway/Upper Kirby area, Baker says. That means FlightAware will need to take about 15,000 additional square feet at 11 Greenway Plaza or relocate to a different building, he says. The company moved into its current home in 2017 from a 14,000-square-foot office at 8 Greenway Plaza.

Baker, who's a private pilot and a board member of the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum, launched the company 15 years ago as a way to combine two passions: software development and aviation.

"It was originally a hobby, and it became a business," Baker says. "It's an unlikely story. We're really, really fortunate that the timing was right."

Although FlightAware started off tracking flights in the general aviation space, it has since expanded to supply aviation data to both travelers and businesses. Each month, about 15 million passengers use the FlightAware app, which earns praise from a slew of travel critics.

Among flight-tracking apps, FlightAware "is a bit of a Swiss army knife," Condé Nast Traveler magazine observes. The FlightAware app lets you follow flights in real time, including where an incoming plane is coming from, how close it is to arriving, and what kind of weather it's encountering en route, the magazine notes. In addition, the app can send push notifications about arrivals, departures, gate changes, flight delays, and flight cancellations.

Now, FlightAware relies on the consumer-facing technology "as a stepping stone to have a bigger impact," Baker says. "Every project that we undertake is larger than the last one."

That "bigger impact" involves cranking out data that enables commercial airlines, cargo carriers, business aviation companies, and air traffic controllers to be proactive instead of reactive regarding flight activity, he says.

FlightAware's corporate customers include United Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, business-jet operator NetJets and GPS technology provider Garmin. Baker says a North American airline that he declines to name will soon roll out FlightAware technology to its airport gate agents.

For airlines, FlightAware's software delivers accurate data to help cut down, among other issues, on problems with flight delays, gate assignments, and flight connections, Baker says. FlightAware pulls data from more than 25,000 aircraft surveillance websites covering nearly 200 countries as well as air traffic control systems in more than 45 countries.

While the consumer-oriented features of FlightAware's technology face competition from the likes of FlightStats, FlightView, and The Flight Tracker, the B2B landscape is less populated. Over the years, corporate giants like Airbus, Boeing, and IBM have tackled aviation data on their own but have wound up forging data partnerships with FlightAware, according to Baker.

California self-driving vehicle startup has all eyes on Houston — here's why

On a roll

Houston — with its sprawl and winding roads broken up across various neighborhoods — is particularly challenging when it comes to self-driving car navigation. And that's exactly why Nuro, a California-based tech startup that's raised over $1 billion in funding, decided to focus on the Bayou City for its autonomous vehicle delivery pilot programs.

"Houston is our first full-scale operations city," Sola Lawal, product operations manager in Houston, tells InnovationMap. "All eyes at Nuro are focused on Houston."

Last year alone, Nuro launched three pilots in six of Houston's ZIP codes from Bellaire to the Heights. The first of which was a partnership with Kroger in March, followed by the announcement of autonomous pizza delivery from Domino's in June. Last month, Nuro announced its latest delivery partner was Walmart.

Lawal explains Houston's appeal to Nuro in a few ways, but the challenging landscape is key. Nuro cars are learning from the narrow, tree-laden streets of West University or the pedestrian-heavy, ditch-lined paths in the Heights.

"There's a ton for us to learn, but it's a great microcosm of the United States in a number of different ways," he says.

In addition to its diversity within its street types, Houston, named the most diverse city in the country, represents an ideal customer base, says Lawal, a Houston native himself. Houstonians are open minded about new experiences.

"If you think and look across Houston, the average commute is over 60 minutes for people to get back and forth," Lawal tells InnovationMap. "As we surveyed across major cities we were interested in, Houston stood out as a place where customers said they don't want go to the grocery store if they don't have to or get in their cars again to pick up their pizza."

The third reason Houston was a great market for Nuro is the amount of regulatory support the state of Texas has — Gov. Greg Abbott announced the launch of the Texas Connected and Autonomous Vehicle task force a year ago — as well as the support at the city level.

"It's been a welcoming environment from the mayor's office down for us to be here," Lawal says.

Since entering the Houston market, Nuro's local operations have grown to over 100 employees. The company still has software operations out of California, and some work being done in Arizona, but the Houston is the largest — and growing as the company seeks new partnerships with more stores with a goal of eliminating errands once and for all.

"The way that we think about this is that this new technology and our mission of accelerating robotics for everyday life, is we will bring the people what they want," Lawal says when asked about what types of stores Nuro is looking to partner with.

Eventually, Lawal says, the plan would be to have every errand be delivery optimized with Nuro technology — from big-box stores like Walmart to your local florist.

"Our goal is to have a platform that retailers can connect to in order to provide easy and inexpensive delivery," he says.

Currently, Nuro's technology is still in learning mode. Nuro's fleet of Prius cars with staff onboard are driving up and down Houston streets mapping and taking notes on a daily basis. The company also has bots, called the R2 fleet, that are designed to be unmanned.

These bots are smaller than normal cars and are completely electric. Rather than being designed to protect passengers inside like traditional automobiles, the R2s are designed to be safe for people outside the vehicle.

"It's a new way of thinking about transportation and what our vehicles can and should do," Lawal says.

2020 is the year of these R2 bots, and some areas can expect to see them in action — specifically focused on Domino's pizza delivery — in just a matter of weeks.

Preparing Houston's tech workforce starts in school, says expert

Guest column

Recent studies have shown that nearly half of students enter college with an undecided major and as many as 70 percent of students change their major at least once during their four-year program, and it is predicted that by 2030, there will be a deficit of 7.9 million tech workers alone.

In order to better prepare the future workforce, schools are encouraging career exploration through hands-on experience. The Village School has created educational partnerships throughout Houston to offer students options to find their interests and better prepare them for postsecondary success.

Educational partnerships

Students are prone to changing their majors because often they will go into a field with an impractical idea of what a specific career actually entails. With partnerships between education and industry, Houston is able to better equip students to enter college with a realistic view of what to expect in their major.

While career-focused partnerships are beneficial for students, they also play a huge role in recruiting valuable skilled talent for years to come. A good impression, good mentors and great experience goes a long way when students start job searching.

Tuning into Houston's workforce

High school is the time for students to explore different career options. When students are placed in an internship program as early as the high school level, they are able to see exactly what the day to day looks like while building a foundation of professional development as they start to think about their future. It's important for students to have a realistic vision of what a career looks like.

There are numerous businesses in Houston that are working with high school students to help them gain experience.

For example, a few of the businesses that have partnerships with The Village School include Houston Methodist Hospital, Pimcore, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, and Cisco. Students are able to gain experience in a variety of ways including:

  • Working alongside surgical technicians and experience open-heart surgery and quarantined situations
  • Learning from cancer researchers who study nicotine addiction in children and the effects on brain development
  • Leveraging data analytics to develop software helping internal team members organize calendars at a leading SAP company

All students finished their internship with a better understanding of the workforce and the skills necessary to perform in a professional environment.

Finding opportunities for everyone

If students don't attend a high school that offers internships there are still opportunities to gain experience. Many businesses are open to job shadowing or having students volunteer a few hours a week to gain experience over the summer months. The opportunity for experience is out there and available and these opportunities will continue to grow and become more accessible for all students. Houston families and businesses must work together to ensure students know their options before entering college.

Educational partnerships benefit both students and the community. It's crucial for Houston to prepare the next generation's workforce to succeed and fill jobs with capable talent. Students are able to see that while they may not think they are interested in a specific field there are opportunities within the field that match their strengths and interests.

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TeKedra Pierre is the internship coordinator at The Village School.