Lori-Lee Elliott of Dauntless XR joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share about her tech company's evolution. Photo via LinkedIn

As Lori-Lee Elliott was building out her company — an augmented reality software company to enhance industrial workflow — she was approached by a representative in the Air Force interested in her technology. That conversation would end up leading to a major rebrand and pivot, as well as multiple federal contracts and grants for the Houston startup.

Dauntless XR — originally founded as Future Sight AR in 2018 — has two software platforms that bring customers flexible mixed reality solutions. The Air Force uses the Aura platform to create 3D replays of missions, while NASA plans to utilize the technology for analyzing space weather data.

"Something that we realized when we built out this platform is that it doesn't have to be for just one thing," Elliott says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We can make it ingest all kind of data sources. It does require us as the developers and the architects to go in and learn about each application. And that's great because I get bored easily and it's an endless source of fascination."



After entering into these new industries — as well as a 2022 strategic acquisition — Elliott says her team started thinking hard about a rebrand, specifically to set the business up for success as it expands into new fields and opportunities.

"We wanted something that was a name that was a little bit more future proof," Elliott says on the show. "We wanted something that was more representative of this new thing that we had evolved into, and then also something that was going to stand the test of time going forward. We actually really enjoyed the rebrand process."

While Elliott had to learn how to navigate a rebrand, she also juggled the grant and contract process with federal entities — something else that was new to her. Dauntless XR has secured both SBIR and STTR grants and contracts with two different federal agencies, so Elliott has learned a lot.

"The lesson learned I would say is if you're interested in pursuing (grants), go and get all of your government registrations and certifications before you start," Elliott says. "They have fairly quick close deadlines, so when an opportunity opens to when it closes is usually a month. And that is not enough time to register your company at all of the different places it needs to be registered."

She shares more about what she's learned through the past few years or so, as well as what's next for Dauntless XR on the podcast.

"We are no longer limited by the laws of physics." Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert: How extended reality and the metaverse can disrupt the business world

guest column

The year is 2012. It’s your first day of a new job. You wake up extra early to get ready and drive to the office – which takes you another half hour with Houston traffic. Once you arrive, you wait in the lobby for someone to help you with badging, sit in the same room for hours while numerous facilitators click through slides, and find out your laptop won’t be available for another week or two. Not the warmest welcome or greatest impression, right?

Fast-forward to year 2022. It’s a week before you’re set to start a new job. You receive an exciting package in the mail and unbox your new joiner start kit, complete with a virtual reality headset and other company swag. You onboard completely in the metaverse, meeting and collaborating with teammates from around the world – all from the comfort of… wherever.

Especially in a time where being physically together may not be an option, extended reality has made people feel closer than ever before.

To level set, XR is the umbrella term encompassing any immersive technology that blends digital content with the real world. It covers the full spectrum of experiences ranging from augmented reality, where digital content is superimposed and simple instructions appear directly on your phone or smart glasses, to an entirely virtual world where people, places and things co-exist and interact with one another in new, computer-generated environments – also known as the metaverse.

Although XR has been around for decades, the lack of devices and standard software platforms made implementation a challenge. Now that both are widely available and affordable, the doors for innovation have been thrown wide open.

There’s been plenty of key drivers that led to XR being a hot topic right now, including:

  • The need for digitization of our lives, accelerated by the global pandemic.
  • The recent global focus on sustainability and responsible business.
  • The cross-industry commitment to customer journey, optimized employee performance, and creating new content and services.
  • The convergence of powerful advancements in technology, such as 5G, cloud, AI and blockchain.
  • The recent investment in the metaverse by companies like Microsoft and Meta, formerly known as Facebook.

Now is the time for XR.

Every industry can benefit from using immersive technology to enhance both the enterprise and consumer experience, from retail, finance and automotive to tourism, entertainment, and real estate. XR has a proven track record of increasing revenue, collaboration, and productivity and decreasing costs, safety incidents, and our carbon footprint.

By 2027 the VR gaming market size alone is projected to reach $92.31 billion, and we’re now starting to really blur the lines between gaming and training. Compared to in-person training, VR results in a 96 percent reduction in training time, 76 percent increase in learning effectiveness, 70 percent increase in productivity, and 30 to 70 percent decrease in costs.

Engineers can leverage digital twins of manufacturing facilities for product development, performance improvement and predictive maintenance.

Science classes can teleport to outer space and use haptics to feel the ice and rock that make up the rings of Saturn.

Surgeons and patients can take a three-dimensional tour of the brain before surgery, leading to better preparation, decreased operative time and reduced risk of complications.

Those suffering from dementia can recover certain motor skills or tap into old memories to trigger positive mental stimulation, aiding in both assessment and rehabilitation.

As the new fabric of life is unfolding, the metaverse is showing promise beyond its gaming roots to offer people and brands a new place to interact, create, consume and earn.

Despite spending an average of $1,300 per employee annually on training, research proves that learners forget 70 percent of the content within 24 hours and nearly 90 percent in a month. By extending reality, we engage learners with interactive, hands-on, experiences that transform one-way training into deeper learning with heightened retention.

When high-fidelity design is mixed with low latency technology enablers, XR environments intuitively engage our senses, capturing the experience as an actual memory in our brain versus something we simply read or watched.

The future is immersive technology – not only for how we work and learn but also how we exercise and have fun. XR will touch all aspects of our lives. That’s why at Accenture, we have launched a grand experiment to make enterprise virtual reality a… well, a reality. We’re currently amid the world’s largest VR deployment in history. We are deploying over 60,000 VR headsets to our people to experiment, innovate, and learn with VR.

We as a company have over 650,000 employees and have over 200,000 new joiners annually. About one third of those people joined the company during the pandemic – over 50,000 this past quarter alone. That means a good portion of our people have never set foot in our offices, let alone met any of their teammates in person.

Through the power of VR, we now have a consistent and scalable new joiner experience that inspires our people, aligns with our purpose, and equips them to learn, live and love Accenture from day one. VR gives us the opportunity to make meaningful connections and share a sense of belonging. Our people can now head to the “Nth Floor” to meet new people from all over the world and have those natural water cooler moments – even while working remotely.

In a time where live events are facing a standstill, platforms like AltspaceVR are hosting live events for everything from Burning Man and Diplo concerts to church and AA meetings. The spatial recognition offered by VR makes it a great medium to have one-to-one, one-to-many, or many-to-many interactions.

Accessibility is key too. That’s why many applications offer experiences in both VR headset and 2D on PCs.

We are no longer limited by the laws of physics.

Extended reality creates a powerful sense of presence that we as a collective society have been missing these past two years. If we’ve learned anything from this pandemic, it’s that human connection is key to mental wellness and innovation.

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Krista L. Taylor is the immersive learning lead at Accenture.

The solution to Houston's workforce problem might be right in front of our eyes. Getty Images

Developments in virtual reality technology are changing the workforce, say Houston experts

XR express

Everyone's job has training associated with it — from surgeons to construction crane operators — and there's a growing market need for faster, more thorough training of our workforce.

"The best way to learn how to do something, is to just get out and do it," says Eric Liga, co-founder of HoustonVR. "But there are a lot of reasons why you can't do that in certain types of training."

Augmented and virtual reality training programs are on the rise, and Liga cites safety, cost, and unpredictable work environments as some of these most obvious reasons reasons to pivot to training employees through extended reality. This type of training also provides portability and has proven higher retention, Liga says in his keynote speech at Station Houston's AR/VR discuss on April 25.

"You get a much higher retention rate when you actually go out and do something — physically going through the motions — than you do sitting in a classroom or reading a book," he says.

As more companies are introducing this type of technology into the workforce, there's a growing need for developers and experts to design these programs. Currently, it's rare for a company to have employees with XR expertise.

"Working on commercial accounts, I see a lot of customers who have done enterprise software — web pages and forums — but it's a very different skill set from simulations," says Jared Bienz, senior software engineer at Microsoft.

So, companies are faced with hiring developers and designers to create these training programs. Ethan LeSueur, who oversees immersive technology at ExxonMobil, says his team benefitted from the cut-throat game design industry. So many developers want to go into video game creation, but there's not enough jobs. At Exxon, developers get to create games — but for training purposes. LeSueur says he looks for a diversity of programming experience when hiring for these types of jobs.

"It's important to not have one skill set," he says. "We're looking for the people who are sort of a swiss army knife. You don't have to know everything, but if they have more than one specific skill set, that's really important."

But hiring a team might not be the only option to AR/VR development. Working with startups has been an avenue for major companies seeking out XR programs.

"People talk about digital transformation all the time, but half the time we wouldn't know what that looked like if that slapped us in the face," LeSueur says. "That's what we're asking startups to do — help slap us in the face."

LeSueur says that proving cost effectiveness is extremely important for startups looking to win big companies as clients, but so is passion. The complexity of the process as well as all the red tap of business calls for passion from a startup.

"We're trying to take a complicated physical process and digitize it," LeSueur says. "That means there's going to be a lot of back and forth."

From the startup perspective, it's not always easy working with major corporations – especially within oil and gas. Amanda, who works with construction clients and larger companies as an instructor at ITI, recommends having someone on the inside to look out for you.

"I think it's really important to have an internal champion who really owns the product and wants to see it through to its last degree of integration."

On display

Courtesy of Station Houston

After the panel, Station Houston VR companies showed off their programming.

Over half of Houston business leaders say their company has already enabled AI, blockchain, and extended reality technology. Getty Images

Business leaders in Houston have a surprisingly high tech adoption rate

Early bird gets the worm

When it comes to enabling new technologies to advance business practices, Houston business leaders are ahead of the curve. According to a new study, the majority of the companies surveyed are already using artificial intelligence, blockchain, and extended reality today.

The global study, Technology Vision 2019, was conducted by Accenture and included surveys from 6,600 business and IT executives around the world, including 100 in Houston. Dallas was the only other Texas market surveyed, along with nine other major United States metros — Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington D.C.

Of the 100 respondents, 91 said that innovation efforts have accelerated within their organization over the past three years because of new technology, and 80 said that while they feel their employees are digitally savvy, they are "waiting" for the company's technology to catch up. However, when it comes to the need to reskill employees due to emerging tech in the workplace, 47 percent says that need will happen within the next two years.

The survey also focused on three distinct technologies — AI, blockchain, and extended reality, which includes augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality. XR responses indicate that 66 percent of business leaders have already used some sort of version of XR either in one or more of their business units (37 percent) or are piloting the technology (29 percent).

The numbers for adoption for AI is similar, with 65 percent of leaders saying they have introduced AI tech in the workplace already —nearly 2 in 5 have already adopted somewhere within the company, while over 1 in 4 say their company has an AI pilot program.

Blockchain, according to the study, falls further down the spectrum in Houston companies. Only 15 percent of the companies have a pilot program, but 42 percent have blockchain technology already in use in one or more business units — for a total of 57 percent adoption rate.

With 5G on the horizon, almost all respondents — 79 percent — say the technology is going to revolutionize their industry in terms of how they provide products or services to their clients. Almost half said that impact will happen and jobs will be altered within the next three years.

Brian Richards, managing director at Accenture, oversees the company's Houston Innovation Hub. The hub welcomes in business leaders who are utilizing Accenture's services to ideate and then implicate innovative technologies. At a recent panel in the Accenture office, Richards spoke to emerging tech in Houston and said there's been no shortage of leaders wanting to move the needle on new tech.

"I've never seen [corporations] more motivated than they are right now to be able to think differently on how they are able to engage Houston," he said.

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Houston cardiac health startup raises $43 million series B to grow AI-backed platform

money moves

A Houston-based tech company that has a product line of software solutions for cardiac health has raised funding.

Octagos Health, the parent company of Atlas AI — a software platform for cardiac devices like pacemakers, defibrillators, ambulatory monitors and consumer wearables — has announced a $43 million series B raise that will bring their technology to many more hearts.

Morgan Stanley Investment Capital led the investment, which also included funds from Mucker Capital and other continuing strategic investors. The goal of the raise is to supply funds to accelerate Atlas AI’s growth across the United States and to expand into other areas of care, including ambulatory monitors, consumer wearables, and sleep.

"This investment will enable us to accelerate enhancements to our platform, in addition to scaling our commercial team and operations. We are currently the only company that helps cardiology practices migrate their historical data from legacy software providers and fully integrates with any EHR (exertion heart rate) system. We do this while enabling customized reporting supported by patient and practice decision-support analytics," says Eric Olsen, COO of Octagos Health, in a press release.

Octagos Health was founded by a team of healthcare pros including CEO Shanti Bansal, a cardiologist and founder of Houston Heart Rhythm, an atrial fibrillation center. The goal was to find a new way to deal with the massive amount of data that clinicians encounter each day in a way that combines software and the work of human doctors.

According to the Octagos Health website, “Our solution allows clinicians to focus on other ways of delivering meaningful healthcare and more efficiently manage their remotely monitored patients.”

It works thanks to customizable reporting features that allow patients’ healthcare teams to get help while monitoring them, but to do it precisely as they would if they were crunching numbers themselves.

"We are excited to partner with Octagos Health and support their vision of transforming cardiac care," says Melissa Daniels, managing director of Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital. "Octagos Health has demonstrated exceptional growth and innovation in a critical area of healthcare. We believe their platform and vertically integrated software and services significantly improve patient care and streamline cardiac monitoring processes for healthcare providers."

Will Hsu, co-founder and partner of Mucker Capital, agrees. “Octagos Health is poised for scale – industry leading gross margins, a very sticky product that doctors and clinical staff love, and a market ready for disruption with artificial intelligence. This is the new wave for diagnostic care,” he says. And with this raise, it will be available to even more clinicians and patients across the country.

Houston biotech company expands leadership as it commercializes sustainable products

joining the team

Houston-based biotech company Cemvita recently tapped two executives to help commercialize its sustainable fuel made from carbon waste.

Nádia Skorupa Parachin came aboard as vice president of industrial biotechnology, and Phil Garcia was promoted to vice president of commercialization.

Parachin most recently oversaw several projects at Boston-based biotech company Ginkjo Bioworks. She previously co-founded Brazilian biotech startup Integra Bioprocessos.

Parachin will lead the Cemvita team that’s developing technology for production of bio-manufactured oil.

“It’s a fantastic moment, as we’re poised to take our prototyping to the next level, and all under the innovative direction of our co-founder Tara Karimi,” Parachin says in a news release. “We will be bringing something truly remarkable to market and ensuring it’s cost-effective.”

Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita, says the hiring of Parachin represents “the natural next step” toward commercializing the startup’s carbon-to-oil process.

“Her background prepared her to bring the best out of the scientists at the inflection point of commercialization — really bringing things to life,” says Moji Karimi, Tara’s brother.

Parachin joins Garcia on Cemvita’s executive team.

Before being promoted to vice president of commercialization, Garcia was the startup’s commercial director and business development manager. He has a background in engineering and business development.

Founded in 2017, Cemvita recently announced a breakthrough that enables production of large quantities of oil derived from carbon waste.

In 2023, United Airlines agreed to buy up to one billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel from Cemvita’s first full-scale plant over the course of 20 years.

Cemvita’s investors include the UAV Sustainable Flight Fund, an investment arm of Chicago-based United; Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based energy company Occidental Petroleum; and Japanese equipment and machinery manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

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 logistics startup founder, a marketing expert, and a solar energy innovator.

Matthew Costello, CEO and co-founder of Voyager Portal

Houston logistics SaaS innovator is making waves with its expanded maritime shipping platform. Photo courtesy of Voyager

For several years now, Matthew Costello has been navigating the maritime shipping industry looking for problems to solve for customers with his company, Voyager Portal.

Initially, that meant designing a software platform to enhance communications and organization of the many massive and intricate global shipments happening every day. Founded in 2018 by Costello and COO Bret Smart, Voyager Portal became a integral tool for the industry that helps users manage the full lifecycle of their voyages — from planning to delivery.

"The software landscape has changed tremendously in the maritime space. Back in 2018, we were one of a small handful of technology startups in this space," Costello, who serves as CEO of Voyager, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Now that's changed. ... There's really a huge wave of innovation happening in maritime right now." Read more.

Arielle Rogg, principal and founder of Rogg Enterprises

Arielle Rogg writes in a guest column for InnovationMap about AI in the workforce. Photo via LinkedIn

Arielle Rogg isn't worried about artificial intelligence coming for her job. In fact, she has three reasons why, and she outlines them in a guest column for InnovationMap.

"The advent of AI pushes us humans to acquire new skills and hone our existing abilities so we can work alongside these evolving technologies in a collaborative fashion. AI augments human capabilities rather than replacing us. I believe it will help our society embrace lifelong learning, creating new industries and jobs that have never existed before," she writes in the piece. Read more.

Nathan Childress, founder of Solar Slice

Solar Slice Founder Nathan Childress says his new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet. Photo via LinkedIn

Nuclear engineer and entrepreneur Nathan Childress wants consumers to capture their own ray of sunlight to brighten the prospect of making clean energy a bigger part of the power grid. That's why he founded Solar Slice. The new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet.

Although trained in nuclear power plant design, solar power drew his interest as a cheaper and more accessible alternative, and Childress tells InnovationMap that he thinks that the transition to cleaner energy, in Texas especially, needs to step up.

Recent studies show that 80 to 90 percent of the money invested into fighting climate change “aren’t going to things that people actually consider helpful,” Childress says, adding that “they’re more just projects that sound good, that are not actually taking any action." Read more.