A new report finds that the Lone Star State is ideal for female entrepreneurs — and more Houston innovation news. Photo via Getty Images

Houston is starting summer strong in terms of innovation news, and there might be some headlines you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, the Lone Star State ranks in the top 10 best states for women in business, a software startup rolls out a new tool, $5,000 small business grants are up for grabs, and more.

Texas named a top state for female entrepreneurs

The Lone Star State is prime for women entrepreneurs. Graphic courtesy

Banking platform NorthOne has ranked the top 10 states for women in entrepreneurship. Colorado took the No. 1 spot, but Texas ranked at No. 7. The report factored in data across eight metrics for all 50 US states including percentage of women-owned businesses, percentage of women-owned businesses with over 500 employees, number of women-owned businesses, startup survival rate, women-to-men pay ratio, unemployment rate for women, overall unemployment rate, and more.

According to the report, Texas has seen a boom in business growth over the last couple of years. The Lone Star State ranks seventh nationally for the percentage of new businesses at 18.18 percent and has the second highest startup survival rate in our top 10 at 79.63 percent.

"Texas offers a ton of opportunities for female entrepreneurs, too. It has one of the highest numbers of women-owned businesses in the country at a whopping 1.4 million, 2.11 percent of which have over 500 employees," reads the blog post. "That’s the fourth highest overall compared to all 50 states."

Pandata Tech selected for prestigious space innovation program

Pandata Tech is headed for St. Louis. Photos courtesy of Pandata

Pandata Tech was selected from hundreds of national applicants to join a first-of-its-kind program from the United States Government's National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in partnership with Missouri Technology Corporation and St. Louis-based Capital Innovators.

The 13-week hybrid program will be held at NGA's Moonshot Labs in St. Louis. Eight companies have been selected for the third cohort, and they are tasked with tackling the NGA's four mission imperatives.

Pandata Tech's Data Quality Method (DQM) platform addresses the NGA's mission of Data Access and Data Integrity.

"We are grateful and excited to work directly with a team at NGA to explore multiple use cases that address internal cybersecurity risks and data validation," says Jessica Reitmeier, co-founder of Pandata Tech.

sEATz wins visiting VC competition

This Houston startup is headed to D.C. Photo courtesy

Revolution Ventures visited Houston and was hosted by the HX Venture Fund. On the visit, investors got a peek into the Houston innovation ecosystem, meet startups, and more. Managing Partner Tige Savage, who spoke with InnovationMap ahead of his visit, posed a challenge to startups to showcase their dream day in Houston. The winner would receive a trip to Washington D.C., where Revolution is based, and the Revolution team would return to the Bayou City to execute the dream day.

Houston-based in-venue mobile ordering solution sEATz won the competition with its submission, which included visiting Houston's sports stadiums, experiencing NASA, drinking at breweries, and BBQ. The submission can be viewed here.

Liongard expands its offerings

Houston-based Liongard's Roar technology is helping its customers get all their IT services under one umbrella. Image via Getty Images

Houston-based IT software and automation platform Liongard announced its collaboration with Gradient MSP to automate billing reconciliation. The new tool allows users to pull actual usage data from the customer systems and manage complex billing details more efficiently.

“We’re excited to streamline our Partners’ operations with an automated billing reconciliation solution that’s powerful and intuitive,” says Matt Miller, Liongard's vice president of product, in a news release. “We have the data that partners need to automate this manual process and partnering with Gradient to fully automate that workflow saves MSPs time and money.”

Liongard and Gradient MSP have been testing the integration for several months and have received rave reviews from their Partners.

“We’ve already been through our first billing cycle and I’m eager to deploy more inspectors and creatively address other reconciliation needs with the use of custom metrics,” says Brandon Myers, CEO at IMS Solutions Group. "In the end, the combined customization allows us to address unique situations. We all win together.”

Hello Alice launches latest fund opportunity

Hello Alice is giving out $5,000 grants to small businesses. Photo by Hero Images

Hello Alice has announced its latest round of the $5,000 Small Business Growth Fund. The fund provides the capital entrepreneurs need to make their next big move. Each recipient will receive a $5,000 grant, provided by Mastercard, to accelerate their growth and help make 2022 the year of their small business.

Eligible businesses must:

• Be a for-profit business

• Have less than $1 million in 2021 gross annual revenue

• Have a commitment to their customers and community

• Have a clear plan for use of funds If you applied and were not selected for a previous round of the program, you are welcome to submit a new application.

Hello Alice will evaluate applications based on any new information and judge it against a new pool of applicants. The deadline for this round is May 20, 2022, at 5 pm. Apply now.

A new report finds that the Lone Star State is ideal for female entrepreneurs. Photo via Getty Images

Texas named a top state for women-led startups

this one's for the ladies

Who runs the world? According to Merchant Maverick's inaugural Best States for "Women-Led Startups'' study, Texas is a great place for women to be in charge.

The Lone Star state cracked the top 10 on the list, earning a No. 6 spot according to the small business reviews and financial services company, which based the study on eight key statistics about this growing segment of the economy. Colorado (at No. 1), Washington, Virginia, Florida, and Montana were the only states to beat out Texas on the rankings—leading the Merchant Maverick team to conclude that "the part of the country that lies west of the Mississippi is great for startups led by women entrepreneurs."

Women-led startups in Texas received $365 billion in VC funding in the last five years, the report found. This is the seventh largest total among U.S. states. Too, about 20 percent of Texans are employed at woman-led firms, which is the fifth highest percentage among states. Roughly 35 percent of employers in Texas are led by women.

A few other key findings that work in female founders' favor: The startup survival rate in Texas is nearly 80 percent. And a lack of state income tax "doesn't hurt either," the report says.

Still there are shortcomings. On a per capita basis, only 1.27 percent of Texas women run their own business. The average income for self-employed women is also relatively low ranking among states, coming in around $55,907 and landing at 31st among others.

This is not the first time Texas has been lauded as a land of opportunity for women entrepreneurs. A 2019 study named it the best state for business opportunities for women. Houston too has proven to support success for the demographic. The Bayou City was named in separate studies a best city for female entrepreneurs to start a business and to see it grow.

Still, as many findings have concluded, the realities of the pandemic loom for all startups and small business owners. The Merchant Maverick study was careful to add: "The pandemic has changed the economic landscape over the past year, and often for the worse.

"This means that not every metric may be able to accurately gauge how a state might fare amidst the pandemic," the report continues. "To help factor in COVID's impact, we included some metrics that take 2020 into account, but it will be a while until we get a full picture of the pandemic's devastation.""

This week's innovators to know roundup includes Fiona Mack of JLABS, Grace Rodriguez of Impact Hub Houston, and Emily Cisek of The Postage. Photos courtesy

3 female Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In today's Monday roundup of Houston innovators, I'm introducing you to three female innovators across industries — from life science to impact innovation.

Fiona Mack, head of JLABS @ TMC

Fiona Mack has joined JLABS @ TMC as head of the incubator. She shares her vision for the lab on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of JLABS

Fiona Mack is among the latest additions to the Houston innovation ecosystem, as she joined JLABS @ TMC just a few months ago. On her plate right now is assessing the needs of the incubator's 49 member companies in the portfolio and understanding the needs of the Texas innovation ecosystem.

"As I learn more about the history of life science sector in Texas, over the past 20 years there has been an impetuous to build up this critical mass of companies here to really make it a strong hub that competes with the energy sector to make it a pillar of the economy here," Mack says. Read more and stream the podcast interview.

Grace Rodriguez, executive director and CEO of Impact Hub Houston

Grace Rodriguez and her team at Impact Hub Houston is in for a busy week. Courtesy of Impact Hub Houston

Grace Rodriguez has a marathon of a week ahead of her — but it's an exciting one. The fourth annual Houston Innovation Summit is going on now, and she's really passionate about the theme.

"The focus on education and policy is really interesting to me — it's not just about tech and business anymore," Rodriguez says. "It's really about how we are supporting businesses in the face of the pandemic, climate change crises — floods, fires, hurricanes — the entire world is being affected by these crises. ... [We need to focus on] how we are making sure that people are aware of everything that's happening and how we can innovate solutions." Read more about the latest from Impact Hub and what THIS events not to miss.

Emily Cisek, founder of The Postage

The Postage is a new company that uses technology to help ease the experience of afterlife responsibilities for family members. Photo courtesy of The Postage

Three years ago, Emily Cisek was struck with immense grief when she lost three family members back to back. She says she learned first-hand how arduous the process of wrapping up someone's life is and how it can take away from the grieving process.

Cisek's grief planted a seed and she has the idea for The Postage, a digital platform that helps collect information and digital assets in one place to ease with affair planning.

"I think the way The Postage has [made planning more available] it's provided a price point, an understanding and steps involved that are more easily accessible; no matter what age group, what race, what your background is, your religion, anything like that, you're able to sign up," says Cisek. Read more.

Women in the work place have been hit the hardest by the pandemic. Houston experts discuss the effect in a guest column and a panel hosted by Sesh Coworking on Oct. 14. Photo via Pexels

Houston experts discuss the toll the pandemic has taken on women in the workplace

guest column

The shutdown of our economy, schools and childcare systems has created a wildfire that is raging across our nation, disproportionately impacting women, radically shifting social values, and compromising our nation's post-pandemic recovery.

While women have made great gains in the last few decades towards gender equality, the pandemic has exacerbated some of the larger remaining issues — time spent in unpaid work or "invisible labor," political under-representation, violence against women, limited access to capital and the gender pay gap) — and, according to a recent analysis by McKinsey, without serious intervention, is at risk of wiping $1 trillion off global GDP by 2030.

While everyone has suffered during the pandemic, women have found themselves under disproportionate pressure — women's jobs have become more vulnerable (women are 1.8 times more likely to lose their jobs than men), female dominated industries (restaurants, child-care, leisure and hospitality, health care, and education) have been hardest hit, and women of color in particular are more likely to be laid off or furloughed (leanin.org - women in workplace study).

These inequities, coupled with the increased stress and labor of child-care while "working from home" have placed an overwhelming strain on the working parents, and in particular mothers, of America. The mental and emotional health loads of working parents have been pushed to their limits and with that working families are re-prioritizing their values and spending habits faster than ever before.

Is it any surprise that during the pandemic the need for families to quickly adapt to the new economy plus the inequity of women's wages versus men is driving more and more women to sacrifice their careers and dreams to ease the increased burdens the pandemic has inflamed?

Leanin.org and McKinsey's Women in the Workplace study polled over 40,000 employees across 317 companies between May and Aug 2020, and found that more than 1 in 4 women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce entirely, according Leanin.org and McKinsey.

Labor Department statistics show that this inclination is already in action: In August and September 1.1 million people left the workforce, and of that 800,000 were women. According to a recent analysis by the National Women's Law Center of those 800,000 women — 324,000 were Latinas and 58,000 were Black women. Now compare that to the 216,000 men who left the job market during August and September.

This exodus of women leaving the workforce has broad reaching and long-lasting effects on not just female-owned businesses and women in the workplace – it is an issue that impacts every person at every level of business. Women's rise in participation in the labor force is not just good for women, it is good for business: directly impacting our GDP and a rise in wages for everyone, not just women.

A decline of women in the labor force, on teams, in leadership positions and in decision-making roles compromises not just our economy's recovery and productivity, but also the innovation and effectiveness in industry, competitiveness on a global scale, aspirations of future generations of women, and society as a whole.

If "women hold up half the sky" you could certainly argue that the sky is now falling. So, the question is – what can we do about it? And that is a question we intend to tackle in depth on Wednesday, October 14, at 1 pm in a virtual town hall with inspiring women who are already paving the road to our recovery: Elizabeth Gore of Hello Alice, Cate Luzio of Luminary; Cathy Mchorse of United Way of Greater Austin; Lucie Green of Light Years. Click here to register.

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Maggie Segrich is co-founder and CFO of Sesh Coworking and Courtney Sikes Longmore is the founder at Pure Palate. The two female innovators will be on the panel of the online event.

Houston is a top city for female entrepreneurs, according to a recent study. Getty Images

Houston named top city for female entrepreneurs, 2 local startups collaborate, and more innovation news

Short stories

Houston's innovation ecosystem has been booming with news, and it's likely some might have fallen through the cracks.

For this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, Houston is recognized for its female-friendly business community, Texas ranks as top for gig economy, the latest Chevron investment is in nuclear energy, and more.

Houston named among top cities for female entrepreneurs

Houston ranked No. 11 on a new study on top cities for female business owners. Via fundera.com

According to a new study from Fundera, Houston ranks among the top 15 cities for female entrepreneurs in the United States. The Bayou City came in at No. 11 based on data pulled from The American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau as well as the Tax Foundation. Metrics included:

  • Percent of self-employed business owners who are women — 18 percent of total score.
  • Percent of women employed in their own business — 18 percent of total score.
  • Earnings gap between male and female business owners — 18 percent of total score.
  • Housing cost as a percent of earnings for female entrepreneurs — 18 percent of total score.
  • Percent of residents with bachelor's degree, denoting high-skilled workforce — 9 percent of total score.
  • Job growth — 9 percent of total score.
  • Tax rates — 9 percent of total score.

"One of the most diverse cities in the country, Houston is also good to its women entrepreneur population," the study reads. "Its biggest strength here, however, may be in its job growth numbers, which were likely impacted by 2020's coronavirus pandemic. It remains to be seen whether the city's strong economic numbers will continue in the years to come."

Lubbock, the only other Texas city to crack the top 15, came in at No. 13.

Galen Data and Zibrio team up with new partnership

A Houston company's balance tracking technology is tapping into another Houston company's cloud technology. Photo courtesy of Zibrio

Houston-based tech companies, Galen Data and Zibrio, have announced a new medical device partnership. Zibrio's SmartScale, which can measure and track physical balance to identify an person's chance of falling, will be able to leverage the Galen CloudTM in order to securely connect data from the device with a patient's physician to support remote patient care.

"Our partnership with Zibrio is a case study in helping an early stage medical device company focus on what they do best," says Galen Data CEO Chris DuPont in a news release. "Galen Data provided outside expertise that has saved Zibrio the needless cost and burden of designing a cloud solution from scratch."

According to the release, the CDC reports that 28 percent of individuals over 65 fall each year, and falls are the leading cause of accidental death in those over 65. Amid the pandemic, the Australian PT Association found an increase in fall right of up to 30 percent.

"With COVID-19 impacting activities of older adults, it was even more critical to find a cost-effective solution to better track, manage, and analyze balance data from our SmartScale," says Zibrio founder and CEO, Katharine Forth, in the release.

IGNITE Madness startup applications close Sept. 4

Ignite Healthcare Network, a health tech startup group that promotes and advances female entrepreneurs, is closing startup applications for its October 22 and 29 event, Ignite Madness. The competition mimics a March Madness-style bracket and will be judged by 10 judges.

The brackets include:

  1. Mental /Behavioral Health
  2. Telemedicine/Remote Patient Monitoring
  3. Medical Devices
  4. Patient Engagement
  5. Employee Wellness
  6. Population Health/Analytics
  7. Femtech/Women's Health
  8. WILDCARD: Other Disruptive Solutions
Apply online for up to $300,000 in cash and prizes.

Texas named the 6th best state for freelance and gig workers

Gig workers are welcome in Texas. Screenshot via directlyapply.com

A job discovery platform, DirectlyApply, has identified the best gig economies to work in and Texas ranked as No. 6. The study looked at nine cost and job opportunity factors, which included the cost of living, the number of restaurants and attractions, the number of advertised gig roles, etc.

Texas has a reported 4,859 gig jobs and 16 gig companies operating locally, and the state sports an average gas price of $0.63 a liter and $1,422 a month to rent an apartment. New York, Florida, California, Ohio, and Illinois ranked ahead of Texas, respectively. The full study is available online.

Adapt2 Solutions recognized with award

Jason Kram is the executive vice president of Adapt2 Solutions. Photo courtesy of Adapt2 Solutions

Houston AI software company, Adapt2 Solutions, has been selected as the winner of the "Best AI Solution for Big Data" award in the 2020 AI Breakthrough Awards program conducted by AI Breakthrough. The awards recognize artificial intelligence and machine learning innovation. This year, the contest saw more than 2,750 nominations from over 15 different countries throughout the world, according to a news release.

"Energy enterprises are dealing with an increasingly complex and ever-changing landscape, including increased renewables, volatile markets, and increased pace of technology innovation for each of the commodity market," says James Johnson, managing director of AI Breakthrough, in the release.

"Adapt2 Solutions is in a unique position to support energy companies with powerful artificial intelligence technology to help their operations to automate, optimize and maintain a competitive advantage. We want to recognize this achievement by awarding them with 'Best AI Solution for Big Data' and we extend a hearty congratulations to the entire Adapt2 team on their well-deserved industry recognition."

The win comes at a strategic time for the company. Adapt2's predictive analytics models forecast unexpected fluctuations in power capacity. Amid the pandemic, this technology enables energy companies to map out demand at a time when they're balancing strained revenue and squeezed spending is paramount, Executive Vice President Jason Kram previously told InnovationMap.

"In times of disruption, big data can inform decision-making for energy companies to optimize energy-market operations with timely and reliable data," Kram says.

Houston Methodist introduces contactless temperature screening

Houston Methodist has set up over a hundred contactless temp checks across its facilities. Photo courtesy of Houston Methodist

Houston Methodist has incorporated new technology from care.ai, an AI-powered temperature monitoring platform, to conduct contactless temperature checks for visitors across 100 locations throughout eight hospitals and 36 physician clinics.

Upon entrance to designated areas, visitors stand in front of a tablet that scans an individual's temperature through the use of thermal technology aimed at the forehead. The technology aims to speed up screening measures and free up staff from the checkpoints. Should a visitor have an elevated skin temperature out of normal range, Methodist staff is contacted.

Chevron invests in nuclear fusion startup

The latest investment from CTV is in nuclear energy. Photo via chevron.com/technology/technology-ventures

Chevron's investment arm, Chevron Technology Ventures, recently announced an investment in Seattle-based Zap Energy Inc., which is working on a modular nuclear reactor. CTV sees nuclear energy as a promising avenue for innovation "across the globe access to affordable, reliable, and ever-cleaner energy," according to a news release.

"We see fusion technology as a promising low-carbon future energy source," says Barbara Burger, president of CTV, in a release. "Our Future Energy Fund investment in Zap Energy adds to Chevron's portfolio of companies we believe are likely to have a role in the energy transition."

This Series A investment is the 10th for Chevron's Future Energy Fund, which focuses on investments in companies that enable macro decarbonization, the mobility-energy nexus, and energy decentralization.

"Our Future Energy Fund investments provide us with strategic insight into power generation markets and potentially disruptive impacts of innovative approaches, like fusion, geothermal, wind, and solar, on the conventional power value chain," says Burger.

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Houston innovator joins VC world to increase her social impact

Q&A

Kelly Avant didn't exactly pave a linear career path for herself. After majoring in gender studies, volunteering in the Peace Corps, and even attending law school — she identified a way to make a bigger impact: venture capital.

"VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems," Avant tells InnovationMap.

Avant joined the Mercury Fund team last year as an MBA associate before joining full time as investment associate. Now, after completing her MBA from Rice University this month, Avant tells InnovationMap why she's excited about this new career in investment in a Q&A.

InnovationMap: From law school and the peace corps, what drew you to start a career in the VC world?

Kelly Avant: I graduated from Rice University with an MBA, starting scouting for an investment firm in my first year, and by the summer after my first year I was essentially working full-time interning with Mercury. But, I like to tell people about my undergraduate degree in gender studies and rhetoric from a little ski college in Colorado. If you meet someone else in venture capital with a degree in gender studies, please connect us, but I think I might be the only one. I’ll spare you what I used to think — and say — about business students, but I have really come full circle.

I always thought I would work in a nonprofit space, but after serving in Cambodia with the Peace Corps, working for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and briefly attending Emory Law School with the intention of becoming a civil rights lawyer.I found that time and time again the root of the problem was a lack of resources. The world’s problems were not going to be solved with my idealism alone.

The problem with operating as a nonprofit in a capitalism is you basically always pandering to the interests of the donors. The NFL was a key sponsor of The National Domestic Violence Hotline. The United States has a complicated, to put it lightly, relationship with Cambodia and Vietnam. It became pretty clear that the donor/nonprofit relationship was oftentimes putting the wrong party in the driver’s seat. I was, and still am, very interested in alternative financing for nonprofits. I became convinced that the most exciting businesses were building solutions to the world’s problems while also turning a profit, which allows them to survive to have a sustainable positive impact.

VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems.

IM: What are some companies you’re excited about?

KA: There are a couple super interesting founders I’ve met directly engaging with . To name a few: CiviTech, DonateStock, and Polco.

I’m very proud to work on mercury investments like Houston’s own, Topl, which has built an extremely lightweight and energy efficient Blockchain that enables tracking of ethical supply chains from the initial interaction.
I’m also excited about mercury’s investment in Zirtue, which enables relationship based peer to peer lending to solve the massive problem of predatory payday loans.

We have so many awesome founders in our portfolio. The best part about working in VC is meeting passionate innovators every day. I get excited to go to work everyday and help them to build better solutions.

IM: Why are you so passionate about bringing diversity and inclusion into Mercury?

KA: I love working with exciting, highly capable, super smart people. That category includes so many people who have been historically excluded. As an investment team member at Mercury, I do have a voice, and I have an obligation to use that voice to speak highly of the best people in rooms of influence.

IM: With your new role, what are you most focused on?

KA: In my new role, I am identifying and researching high potential investments. We’re building out a Mercury educational series to lift the veil of VC. We want to facilitate a series that gives all founders the basic skills to pass VC due diligence and have the opportunity to build the next innovative companies. My goal is ultimately to produce the best returns possible for our investors, and we can’t accomplish that goal unless we’re building out resources to meet the best founders and help them grow.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Houston college system plans to open $30M resiliency-focused center

to the rescue

Houston’s initiative to protect the city from catastrophes is getting a big boost from Houston Community College.

The college is developing the Resilience Center of Excellence to aid the city’s resilience campaign. At the heart of this project is the 65,000-square-foot, $30 million Resiliency Operations Center, which will be built on a five-acre site HCC’s Northeast campus. The complex is scheduled to open in 2024.

HCC estimates the operations center will train about 3,000 to 4,000 local first responders, including police officers and firefighters, during the first three years of operation. They’ll be instructed to prepare for, manage, and respond to weather, health and manmade hazards such as hurricanes, floods, fires, chemical spills, and winter freezes.

According to The Texas Tribune, the operations center will include flood-simulation features like a 39-foot-wide swift water rescue channel, a 15-foot-deep dive area, and a 100-foot-long “rocky gorge” of boulders.

The college says the first-in-the-nation Resilience Center of Excellence will enable residents, employers, civic organizations, neighborhoods, and small businesses to obtain education and certification aimed at improving resilience efforts.

“Our objective is to protect the well-being of our citizens and our communities and increase economic stability,” Cesar Maldonado, chancellor of HCC, said when the project was announced.

Among the programs under the Resiliency Center of Excellence umbrella will be non-credit courses focusing on public safety and rescue, disaster management, medical triage, and debris removal.

Meanwhile, the basic Resilience 101 program will be available to businesses and community organizations, and the emergency response program is geared toward individuals, families, and neighborhoods.

HCC’s initiative meshes with the City of Houston’s Resilient Houston, a strategy launched in 2020 that’s designed to protect Houston against disasters. As part of this strategy, the city has hired a chief resilience and sustainability officer, Priya Zachariah.

“Every action we take and investment we make should continue to improve our collective ability to withstand the unexpected shocks and disruptions when they arrive — from hurricanes to global pandemics, to extreme heat or extreme cold,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said last year. “The time is now to stop doing things the way we’ve always done them because the threats are too unpredictable.”

In an InnovationMap guest column published in February 2021, Richard Seline, co-founder of the Houston-based Resilience Innovation Hub, wrote that the focus of resilience initiatives should be pre-disaster risk mitigation.

“There is still work to be done from a legislative and governmental perspective, but more and more innovators — especially in Houston — are proving to be essential in creating a better future for the next historic disaster we will face,” Seline wrote.