3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Bill Voss of Everest, Day Edwards of ChurchSpace, and Tim Neal of GoExpedi. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from e-commerce to the '"AirBNB for churches" — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Bill Voss, founder and CEO of Everest

Bill Voss joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss upcoming upgrades to Everest. Photo via LinkedIn

Bill Voss wanted to create a digital marketplace that would be a one-stop shop for outdoor activity equipment, apparel, and sporting goods. He had the vision, and he launched Everest. But it's taken some time to develop the platform he dreamt of.

"Our biggest challenge to date was technology. For the past two years, we have been developing our own technology," Voss says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Before the end of this year, there will be a brand new website with a better user experience and an amazing marketplace app. It's going to be really exciting."

Voss says he has mountainous goals for Everest — and the potential for impact on the entire sports and outdoors industry is there. As the new website, app, and streaming service all deliver over the next year, Voss says the company will take a huge step toward being able to disrupt the industry. Click here to read more.

Day Edwards, co-founder and CEO of ChurchSpace

Day Edwards and her startup, ChurchSpace, are fresh off an Amazon accelerator. Photo courtesy of Church Space

Houston startup, ChurchSpace, recently participated in the inaugural cohort of the AWS Impact Accelerator for Black Founders, which included a pre-seed fundraising campaign and a $125,000 equity injection from Amazon.

"Being a part of the inaugural AWS Impact Accelerator has changed the trajectory and tech build of ChurchSpace," says Day Edwards, CEO and co-founder of the company. "From the grant time to having the ability to build a platform using the latest technologies to ensure churches can share their space safely has truly been a blessing. I urge any female founder to definitely take time to apply. This is a life changing opportunity for all startups."

The AWS Impact Accelerator strengthened ChurchSpace’s efforts of turning underutilized church real estate into on-demand event, worship, and kitchen space. The program provides high-potential, pre-seed startups the tools and knowledge to reach key milestones such as raising funding or being accepted to a seed-stage accelerator program. Click here to read more.

Tim Neal, founder and CEO of GoExpedi

Houston-based GoExpedi placed on this year's Inc. 5000. Photo by Colt Melrose for GoExpedi

In the latest edition of its roundup of fastest growing privately held companies, Inc. magazine has recognized dozens of Houston organizations.

Houston startup GoExpedi, an industrial supply chain and analytics company, is the highest ranking local tech company on the list. GoExpedi ranked No. 675 in the 2022 edition of Inc. 5000, with a 924 percent growth rate between 2018 and 2021.

"The team at GoExpedi is honored to rank number 675 among America's Fastest-Growing Private Companies on the Inc. 5000 Annual List," says Tim Neal, CEO of GoExpedi, in a news release. "GoExpedi has grown exponentially since launching in 2017 due to our forward-thinking and innovative supply chain solutions." Click here to read more.

Bill Voss of Everest joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the upgrades coming to shoppers and sellers alike. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston innovator hunts down better tech for online outdoor equipment marketplace

houston innovators podcast episode 147

Get ready, sports and wilderness lovers. A Houston company that's built an online marketplace for apparel and equipment is gearing up for some big updates to its user experience.

Bill Voss — founder and CEO of Everest, an online marketplace working to be a one-stop shop for all outdoors and sporting equipment — joined the Houston Innovators Podcast this week to discuss some major upgrades to the platform that are coming soon.

"Our biggest challenge to date was technology. For the past two years, we have been developing our own technology," Voss says on the show. "Before the end of this year, there will be a brand new website with a better user experience and an amazing marketplace app. It's going to be really exciting."

Another new addition to Everest is a Amazon Prime-like level of membership called Caliber. This option will provide consumers the same level of discounts, overnight shipping, etc. that they've come to expect from entities like Amazon. Caliber will also include a video streaming component that Voss says will launch next year.

While Everest is in many ways striving to compete with the likes of Amazon, Voss says the company wants to differ in one big way — how it collaborates with sellers.

"We really are seller friendly," Voss says. "We work with our sellers and communicate with them. We think we have some of the best customer service as it relates to seller interaction in the business. If our sellers are happy, it will translate to a better customer experience at the end of the day."

Voss says he has mountainous goals for Everest — and the potential for impact on the entire sports and outdoors industry is there. As the new website, app, and streaming service all deliver over the next year, Voss says the company will take a huge step toward being able to disrupt the industry.

"A true marketplace allows us to come together as one group, and we can conquer the space. We can be a true disruptor, we can be a household name, and we can do something very special here," he explains. "But we don't believe we have to do it alone. The seller community is coming together in one ecosystem called Everest."

Voss shares more about the future of Everest on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Everest will sell products from more than 1,000 U.S. manufacturers. Photo courtesy of Everest

Pioneering Houstonian launches innovative online marketplace for outdoor equipment

A MOUNTAINOUS ACHIEVEMENT

Houston businessman Bill Voss has forever found his zen through his lifelong passion for the great outdoors, but there’s one aspect that was making him positively furious: the shopping.

Burned out with driving to brick-and-mortar stores, standing in long lines, and dealing with dreaded returns, Voss turned his necessity into invention and launched Everest.com, a new shopping/lifestyle marketplace and community platform that links active-minded customers to more than 1,000 U.S.-based merchants and retailers.

By utilizing what it describes as “state of the art” artificial intelligence, the company aims to create the largest marketplace on earth for the outdoor recreation community, covering activities such as hiking, camping, biking, rock climbing, winter sports, water sports, team sports, fishing, hunting, kayaking, rafting, and road and trail running.

Voss’ timing is sound: Current industry estimates suggest consumers spend $700 billion in outdoor recreation, with less than 20 percent of those sales transacted online. Towards that end, Voss plans to increase his sellers to 10,000 by 2023.

Everest members can also enjoy perks through a program dubbed Caliber, which provides its members with several exclusive benefits including free shipping, advance sales, travel benefits, big discounts on gear, and — a plus these days — discounts on fuel. Voss notes that the site’s core values are pushing U.S.-made products and giving back; Everest will have nonprofit and conservation partners.

CultureMap caught up with the active Voss on the heels of his Everest launch.

CultureMap: Congratulations on the launch. Essentially, have you created an Amazon for the outdoors crowd — but with a sense of community, too?

Bill Voss: We started Everest.com to create the first online marketplace with the sole focus of offering outdoor enthusiasts retail goods for purchase from merchants across the country who offer domestically made goods.

In our experience, people who love the outdoors also appreciate the concept of community. At Everest, we want to bolster that community by giving local businesses a wider sales reach, contributing to local and national charitable organizations, and asking everyone in our community to share the story of their “Everest.”

We’re taking a fairly segmented market and bringing it together into one community-focused ecosystem. We call that ecosystem Everest.


CM: What Houston spots have most inspired you? And have you visited Everest yet?

BV: I’m a fisherman at heart. I have been fishing the Gulf of Mexico since I could hold a fishing rod. There is nothing I’d rather do than spend a whole day on the water casting, trolling, or remembering many epic fights reeling in a big one.

So naturally, I love Galveston, Kemah, etc. and being so close to the Gulf is a huge reason why I love Houston. The city itself may be a major metropolitan area, but it is full of so many parks and recreation areas that are great to walk through when you need to escape the sounds of the city for a bit— which Houston really doesn’t get enough credit or exposure for.

Houston has an amazing outdoor community with so many choices to support it — it’s hard to pick just one activity that ranks number one.

I do have plans to visit Everest actually! I am arranging a trip with two brothers that have made it to the top more than anyone else and they assure me it will be an amazing trip.

CM: Clearly, you’re an avid outdoorsman. Is it correct to say that Everest was inspired by frustration and hassle of bouncing to other sites and stores?

BV: Exactly! I found myself doing just that and it’s infuriating. I’d be visiting multiple stores, going through multiple checkouts, and waiting on multiple boxes to arrive — and sometimes dealing with multiple return scenarios. So, I set out to fix it — for all of us.

I grew up fishing, spending hours on the water with my dad. To me that’s one of the best parts of any outdoor activity, the quality time spent with the people you love. I don’t think you get the same experience if you’re sitting around a tv screen together, and you certainly don’t get it if you’re spending hours on your computer trying to track down the perfect beginner fishing rod for your daughter. Time is precious, and the endless toil of gear compilation eats into those few available hours we have to spend together.

By aggregating thousands of outdoor brands and gear retailers and centralizing them into one marketplace, we’re allowing our users to hop on, find everything they need, and check out easily. We’re just getting started but, within the next two years, we hope to add even more sellers and products along with more community offerings.

Being out on the water showing my kids how to bait a hook or how to find a school of fish, those are the memories I hope they take with them. With Everest, it has been important to me to help make those kinds of experiences easily attainable for everyone and the people they love.

CM: Speaking of other stores, do you plan to go head-to-head with the REIs and Sun and Skis of the world? Or Amazon?

BV: I get this question all the time and I love it. As to the first two, definitely not. We’re a marketplace, we’re here to help companies like REI and Sun and Ski, who can participate as sellers and reach new customers.

The difference is that our members can pick up everything they need, from multiple retailers, in one cart, with one easy checkout option. Many of the big names already spotlight and sell products on Amazon — they can do the same with Everest. We are a community of like-minded outdoor loving enthusiasts that have been looking for a niche marketplace to serve all of us.

Think of what Chewy did in the pet industry — we are doing the same thing for those that love the outdoors. Amazon has to be everything to everybody. We don’t, and we don’t want to.

CM: Do you see Everest ever creating brick-and-mortar stores?

BV: Wonderful question. The beauty of Everest is we are still a young company with options to consider. But remember, one of the main tenets of Everest is supporting our sellers. We are not looking to get into a situation where we are competing directly with them.

However, we’d love to one day open a shop selling Everest sweatshirts and swag in downtown Houston. It would be so fulfilling to see the outdoor community wearing Everest branded clothing and putting Everest stickers on their gear in the future.

The bottom line is, we are sprinting as hard as we can in hopes of waking up one day as a true disruptor, household name, and eternal brand.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Houston named a market to watch within the life science sector

h-town on the rise

Houston is receiving more kudos for its robust life sciences sector.

Bayou City lands at No. 13 in JLL’s 2022 ranking of the country’s top 15 metro areas for life sciences. JLL says Houston “is poised for further growth” in life sciences.

Here’s how Houston fares in each of the ranking’s three categories:

  • No. 12 for supply of life sciences-oriented commercial real estate
  • No. 14 for access to life sciences talent
  • No. 15 for life sciences grant funding and venture capital

Earlier this year, Houston scored a 13th-place ranking on a list released by JLL competitor CBRE of the country’s top 25 life sciences markets. Meanwhile, commercial real estate platform CommercialCafe recently placed Houston at No. 10 among the top U.S. metros for life sciences.

JLL applauds Houston for strong growth in the amount of life sciences talent along with “an impressive base of research institutions and medical centers.” But it faults Houston for limited VC interest in life sciences startups and a small inventory of lab space.

“Houston is getting a boost [in life sciences] from the growing Texas Medical Center and an influx of venture capital earmarked for life sciences research,” the Greater Houston Partnership recently noted.

Boston appears at No. 1 in this year’s JLL ranking, followed by the San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego, Washington, D.C./Baltimore, and Philadelphia.

Last year’s JLL list included only 10 life sciences markets; Houston wasn’t among them.

“The long-term potential of the sector remains materially unchanged since 2021,” Travis McCready, head of life sciences for JLL’s Americas markets, says in a news release.

“Innovation is happening at a more rapid pace than ever before, the fruits of research into cell and gene therapy are just now being harvested, and revenue growth has taken off in the past five years as the sector becomes larger, an atypical growth track.”

Texas startup developing lab-grown brisket earns national spotlight

futuristic food

Brisket, a barbecue staple in Texas, is as synonymous with the Lone Star State as the Alamo and oil wells. A Texas company recently recognized as the state’s most innovative startup wants to elevate this barbecue staple to a new high-tech level.

BioBQ is working on technology to bring its lab-created, cell-cultured brisket to the market in 2023. The Austin-based company made the Bloomberg news service’s new list of the 50 startups to watch in the U.S. — one startup for each state.

The co-founders of BioBQ are Austin native Katie Kam, a vegan with five college degrees (four from the University of Texas and one from Texas A&M University), and Janet Zoldan, a “hardcore carnivore” who’s a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. Kam is the CEO, and Zoldan is the chief science officer.

This kind of meat is genuine animal meat that’s produced by cultivating animal cells in a lab, according to the Good Food Institute.

“This production method eliminates the need to raise and farm animals for food. Cultivated meat is made of the same cell types arranged in the same or similar structure as animal tissues, thus replicating the sensory and nutritional profiles of conventional meat,” the institute says.

It turns that before becoming a vegan, Kam worked at the now-closed BB’s Smokehouse in Northwest Austin as a high school student. She’d chow down on sauce-slathered brisket and banana pudding during on-the-job breaks.

“But then over time, as I learned more about factory farming and could no longer make the distinction between my dogs and cats I loved and the animals that were on my plate, I decided to become vegan,” Kam writes on the BioBQ website.

Hearing about the 2013 rollout of the first cell-cultured hamburger set Kam off on her path toward starting BioBQ in 2018. Zoldan joined the startup as co-founder the following year.

Now, BioBQ aims to be the first company in the world to sell brisket and other barbecue meats, such as jerky, made from cultured cells rather than slaughtered animals.

According to BioBQ’s profile on the Crunchbase website, the startup relies on proprietary technology to efficiently produce meat products in weeks rather than the year or more it takes to raise and slaughter cattle. This process “allows control of meat content and taste, reduces environmental impacts of meat production, and takes BBQ to the next tasty, sustainable level consumers want,” the profile says.

In 2020, Texas Monthly writer Daniel Vaughn questioned BioBQ’s premise.

He wrote that “there is something about the idea of lab-grown brisket that keeps bothering me, and it has nothing to do with science fiction. If you could design any cut of beef from scratch, why choose one that’s so difficult to make delicious? Why not a whole steer’s worth of ribeyes?”

Kam offered a very entrepreneur-like response.

“I’m from Austin, and I know that brisket’s kind of a big deal here,” Kam told Vaughn. “It seemed like a great, challenging meat to demonstrate this technology working.”

Meanwhile, Zoldan came up with a more marketing-slanted reaction to Vaughn’s bewilderment.

“I don’t think cell-based meats will take over the market, but I think there’s a place for it on the market,” Zoldan she told Vaughn.

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This article originally ran on CultureMapCultureMap.

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

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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.