3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's Who

From oil and gas deals to finance-focused initiatives, this week's innovators are ones to watch. Courtesy photos

As Houstonians head back to work or school following a fun summer break, we know two things for sure.

The first is that traffic will get back to its headache inducing craziness and that Houston startup news will only get more frequent. This week's innovators to know include oil and gas entrepreneurs with big deals on the line plus a finance-savvy woman who wants to encourage others to take control of their personal finance.

Tara Karimi, co-founder and chief scientist at Cemvita Factory

Cemvita Factory

Courtesy of Cemvita Factory

A brother-sister team has taken a huge step forward with their biotech startup, Cemvita Factory. Moji Karimi, who has a background in the oil and gas industry, and his sister, Tara, who has a background in biotech, teamed up a few years ago to create a technology that can mimic photosynthesis, turning carbon dioxide into glucose. It was Tara who figured out the technique and then the two worked backward to identify the industries — oil and gas and space — to work within.

Now, Cemvita is celebrating an investment from an Occidental Petroleum subsidiary — Oxy Low Carbon Ventures LLC.

"We have an ambitious goal to take one gigaton of CO2 out of the carbon cycle in the next decade and are very excited about being a part of Occidental's journey to become a carbon-neutral company," says Tara, co-founder and chief scientist, in a release.

Read more about Cemvita Factory here.

Travis Parigi, founder and CEO of LiquidFrameworks

Courtesy of LiquidFrameworks

Travis Parigi has built his software company from the ground up. Now, for the first time, he's thinking strategically about growth, thanks to a new financial partner.

Parigi's company, LiquidFrameworks, is an enterprise software company with applications in the upstream and downstream services industry. While the software focuses on automation and AI applications, Parigi tells InnovationMap that he has his eyes on emerging technology all the time. I keep a keen watch on a lot of the different technologies that are emerging out there.

"Blockchain is certainly one of them that we're looking at," Parigi says. "I think there's some interesting things that we might be able to do with that as it relates to price book management, which is complex and varied. It could be that blockchain could end up providing a nice mechanism for both parties to independently have pricing data verified."

Read more about Parigi and LiquidFrameworks here.

Eryn Schultz, co-founder of pHERsonal Finance Day

Courtesy of pHERsonal Finance Day.

Eryn Schultz wanted to encourage women to take control of their finances. So she created her own holiday for it called pHERsonal Finance Day. She hosted Houston panels and talks on the day — Friday, August 23 — and motivated women everywhere to take a moment and make a smart financial plan.

"In a world of women's marches and the 'Future is Female' t-shirts, women should be stepping up to shape their financial futures," Schultz writes in a guest column for InnovationMap. "For that reason, women should take a financial health day."

Schultz had a great turnout and reception for the Houston event, and she's already planning for next year.

Read more about pHERsonal Finance Day here.

August 23 is pHERsonal Finance Day — a day dedicated to education about financial practices for women. Getty Images

Why women should take a personal finance day from this Houston founder

Guest column

You've seen the statistics on Americans' financial health. The average American is not in great shape: $6,000 per person in credit card debt, $4,900 per person in student loan debt, and 51 percent of all workers who feel they aren't saving enough for retirement.

You also probably know about two other trends: women are living longer than men and divorcing at higher rates. What you may not know is that in 2019, most married women still say their husbands manage their finances. Even more surprisingly, millennial women have their husbands manage their financial futures at higher rates than their mothers. According to a 2017 UBS survey, 61 percent of millennial married women say their husbands manage their finances versus 54 percent of boomers. How do these trends come together?

Each year, there are two million American women who get divorced or widowed. These women grapple with a traumatic life event while trying to figure out the passwords to their investment accounts. In addition, married women are waking up to discover their retirement savings are short of their expectations. In a world of women's marches and the "Future is Female" t-shirts, women should be stepping up to shape their financial futures. For that reason, women should take a financial health day.

What's a financial health day? It's 24-hours where you take the day off work or dedicate a Sunday to writing down the balances of your investment accounts, renegotiating your auto insurance, and deciding if you should roll over that old 401K. A financial health day is not going to magically wipe away your student loans or solve your spending problem, but it can give you a plan for paying off debt or your mortgage three years early.

There is growing consensus on what being financially healthy means: you should maintain a four to six-month emergency fund, carry zero credit card debt, and contribute 10 to 20 percent of your monthly income to a retirement fund. Additional goals, like buying a house or paying for your kids' college, don't come until you have achieved a stable foundation.

Along with knowing what "financial health" means, there is also general agreement among financial experts on the best ways to achieve it:

  • Know your money situation. Physically write out your loans (credit cards, auto loans) with their interest rates, and all of your savings (including retirement). Seeing it all in one place will help you figure out your priorities.
  • Create money goals. Set multiple goals and prioritize them (you can also fund more than one goal at once). Is it saving for the down payment on a house or becoming debt free?
  • Track your spending. Where is your money going? There are budgeting apps from Mint or YNAB to help you keep track. Are there places where you can tweak your spending habits to fund your savings goal? Can you cancel a recurring expense you aren't using? Could you negotiate a better rate on your phone bill?
  • Automate to achieve your goals. Set up recurring payments to your debt and savings. Automated monthly transfers from your checking account to your savings goals make sure you aren't as tempted to spend that money. Schedule monthly and yearly calendar alerts to check your spending, rebalance your portfolio, etc. One advanced tip is to enroll in your 401K plan's "save more later" option. This will increase the percentage of your paycheck you put into your 401K annually.

These items seem simple. Yet, why are so few people doing them? It takes a LOT of work to get this money infrastructure set up. At the end of a long day of client meetings, chasing a toddler, or some combo of the two, it's difficult to muster the mental energy to address your finances – especially if you have the option of outsourcing this responsibility to a capable partner. That's where a day dedicated to your financial to-dos will help. You don't need to be solely in charge of your money, but you definitely need to understand the plan.

While we feel that everyone can benefit from a financial health day, the first pHERsonal Finance Day targeted to millennial women is scheduled for August 23. Check out our schedule if you want to get started. If taking a whole day off feels like a long-shot, take this quiz here to help you prioritize your financial to-dos. Whether it's a daily money minute or an appointment with a financial adviser (pick one who is a fiduciary), what are you doing to own your financial future?

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Eryn Schultz is the co-founder of pHERsonal Finance Day.

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NASA taps Houston startup to create commercial habitat to attach to the International Space Station

out of this world

A Houston-based space startup has been named the winner of a NASA competition — and the prize is getting to create the first commercial habitat in space.

Axiom Space has won NASA's NextSTEP-2 Appendix I solicitation, a call for a commercial habitat to be attached to the International Space Station's Harmony module, or Node 2. Axiom is working to create a commercial space station that would eventually serve as a replacement for ISS.

"We appreciate the bold decision on the part of NASA to open up a commercial future in low Earth orbit," Co-founder Michael Suffredini says in a news release. "This selection is a recognition of the uniquely qualified nature of the Axiom team and our commercial plan to create and support a thriving, sustainable, and American-led LEO ecosystem."

Axiom was founded by Suffredini, former NASA ISS program manager, and space entrepreneur Kam Ghaffarian in 2016. The company has plans to launch a node module, research facility, manufacturing operations, crew habitat, and large-windowed Earth observatory all to be attached to the ISS. The targeted launch date is set for late 2024.

Part of Axiom's long-term plans include an Earth observatory. Photo via axiomspace.com

"Axiom exists to provide the infrastructure in space for a variety of users to conduct research, discover new technologies, test systems for exploration of the Moon and Mars, manufacture superior products for use in orbit and on the ground, and ultimately improve life back on Earth," continues Suffredini.

"As we build on the legacy and foundation established by the ISS Program, we look forward to working with NASA and the ecosystem of current and future international partners on this seminal effort."

Ghaffarian has decades of space expertise and founded Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies, which went on to be a NASA engineering services provider before being acquired by KBR in 2018. Now, KBR — along with Boeing, Thales Alenia Space Italy, Intuitive Machines, and Maxar Technologies — serves as a partner to Axiom.

"A commercial platform in Earth orbit is an opportunity to mark a shift in our society similar to that which astronauts undergo when they see the planet from above," Ghaffarian, who serves as Axiom's executive chairman, says in the release.

"Our goal is to advance the state of humanity and human knowledge. I am glad to see the Axiom team, with its advanced human spaceflight, engineering, and operations expertise, recognized for its potential to do just that and build off of ISS."

The Axiom Segment will be attached to the ISS until the station is phased out. Then, Axiom will launch a power source into space to serve Axiom's operations before detaching from the decommissioned ISS all together. Eventually, the Axiom Segment will be a free-flying commercial space station.

"There is a fantastically steep learning curve to human spaceflight," Suffredini says in the release. "The collective experience at Axiom is quite far along it. Because we know firsthand what works and what doesn't in [low Earth orbit], we are innovating in terms of design, engineering, and process while maintaining safety and dramatically lowering costs."

Entrepreneur feels called to demystify cryptocurrency with his Houston startup

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 16

Spencer Randall, an engineer by trade, developed a fascination with cryptocurrency, and he wasn't able to shake it.

"Once I understood the technology, it wasn't really a choice. I felt compelled and driven to learn as much as I possibly could," he says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "I'd say it was more of a calling."

His interest lead him to frequent cryptocurrency and blockchain meetups, and, when those started to feel all over the place, he started to host his own meetups, focused on key issues within the technology.

It was through these meetups that Randall met who would meet Brooks Vaughan, Norman Hamilton, Michael Thoma, and Joseph Romero, who would then become the co-founders of CryptoEQ.

"There really wasn't a go-to resource (for cryptocurrency," Randall says. "What we wanted to do and what our mission today is to be the most trusted and intuitive analysis for cryptocurrencies."

So, the group of entrepreneurs created CryptoEQ, which gives cryptocurrency investors a community to interact with and learn from. The company, which works out of The Cannon, launched its version 2 for the site this month and saw a 500 percent growth among users. CryptoEQ is also planning to grow its site and resources and is hiring a new full-time employee this year.

Randall discusses trends he's seen in the industry, plans for 2020, and more in the podcast episode. Listen to the full episode below — or wherever you get your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Station Houston merges with statewide startup investor and accelerator

joining forces

Station Houston and Austin-based Capital Factory announced that they will be combining forces through a merger effective immediately.

Capital Factory will power all of Station Houston's membership and mentorship, including startup-focused services, as well as add its own statewide resources, which include investors, mentors, and more.

"The more high quality startups we have across a diverse range of industries, the more investors, big companies, and big government want to get involved," Gordon Daugherty, co-founder and president, says in a news release, relating the collaboration to Metcalfe's Law. "Uniting with Station Houston will see benefits run both ways."

The combined entity, referred to as "Station Houston, powered by Capital Factory," will operate out of 1301 Fannin St., where Station currently resides, before moving into the Ion when it's completed, which is slated to be early next year.

"As we continue to develop our innovation economy in Houston and prepare for the opening of the Ion in January 2021, there is no better partner than Capital Factory to serve the needs of our entrepreneurs," says Gabriella Rowe, executive director of The Ion. "For years, they have demonstrated their commitment to startups across Texas, helping them build their ideas through mentorship and introducing them to venture capital from around the country."

Capital Factory was founded in Austin in 2009, and entered into the Houston market last year. Currently, The Cannon has a dedicated space for Capital Factory and its portfolio clients and employs two people in Houston. Capital Factory also has a presence in Dallas.

Station Houston was founded in 2016 and has over 200 startups, 400 members, and 130 mentors, according to the release.

"Capital Factory is one of the top startup development organizations in the country. By partnering with Station Houston and expanding their footprint into the Ion, their commitment to Houston's entrepreneurs is clear," says Harvin Moore, president of Houston Exponential, in the news release.

"It's a win for Houston's startups and for our booming ecosystem," Moore continues. "Increasing bridges between Texas' major tech ecosystems has enormous synergistic value, and I am thrilled to see Houston and the Ion play a significant role in building such competitive strength."