3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

This week's Houston innovators to know roundup includes Josh Pherigo of the Greater Houston Partnership, Brittany Barreto of FemTech Focus, and Ted Gutierrez of SecurityGate.io. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: Another Monday, another round of innovators to know in Houston as you start your week. This week's edition features a researcher who has crunched the numbers on Houston's tech specialties, a founder who's shining a spotlight on femtech, and an entrepreneur who's snagged a deal with Chevron.

Josh Pherigo, research director of data analytics at the Greater Houston Partnership

Josh Pherigo at GHP used data to look into what tech specialties are thriving in Houston — and what niches have shown promising growth. Photo via LinkedIn

When Josh Pherigo decided to look where venture capital money was going in Houston, he did so to investigate what potential industries had growth opportunities. He found that Houston has an opportunity to be a leader in clean tech — but it has some in-state competition.

Pherigo's study for the Greater Houston Partnership found that there was a cleantech war emerging between Austin and Houston. While Houston's ecosystem has a greater presence of cleantech startups, Austin cleantech is still bringing in more VC investments. However, in Houston, between new corporate incubators and Greentown Labs entering Houston, the city is creating a lot of infrastructure for this industry.

"It's going to be interesting over the next few years to see how Houston can position itself as the leader in Texas for this, because they are going to have a lot of competition from Austin," Pherigo says. Read more.

Brittany Barreto, founder of FemTech Focus

Brittany Barreto launched FemTech Focus to help call attention to women's health and wellness, as well as to help accelerate companies with tech solutions within the field. Photo courtesy of FemTech Focus

Brittany Barreto has conducted dozens of interviews with femtech entrepreneurs, and it's become abundantly clear that general accelerators aren't giving femtech companies the full picture.

"Femtech startups actually need a little bit of different advice — that's why I'm very bullish on creating a femtech accelerator," Barreto says. "In femtech, we have some unique barriers. If you just go to a general accelerator, they might not cover these issues, and you'll be blindsighted."

Barreto is now working on specified program with The Guild that's launching this month. Then, in 2021, she hopes to go live with a full program under her company, FemTech Focus. Read more.

Ted Gutierrez, founder and CEO of SecurityGate.io

Chevron has tapped SecurityGate.io's risk management cybersecurity platform. Photo courtesy of Security Gate

Last week, Ted Gutierrez announced that his company, SecurityGate.io scored a partnership with Chevron. The deal means that the energy giant will adopt SecurityGate's risk management platform for scaling operational technology cybersecurity.

"We're very excited to be working with Chevron as they replace manual, spreadsheet cybersecurity practices with scalable, digitized processes," says Ted Gutierrez, CEO at SecurityGate.io, in a press release. "Their risk management team has done amazing work and it's exciting to see where they're headed." Read more.

Brittany Barreto launched FemTech Focus to help call attention to women's health and wellness, as well as to help accelerate companies with tech solutions within the field. Photo courtesy of FemTech Focus

Exclusive: Houston entrepreneur launches femtech nonprofit and accelerator partnership

femtech focus

It's about time women's health and wellness took center stage, in Brittany Barreto's opinion, so she's launched a nonprofit to make that happen.

Houston entrepreneur Barreto recently left her position at Capital Factory to focus on FemTech Focus, an organization dedicated to increasing attention on femtech and providing resources and support for founders in the space. The nonprofit launched its podcast in April and has garnered over 5,000 subscribers across 40 countries.

"What we're focusing on for 2020 is awareness," Barreto says, adding that the podcast is key to that mission.

Barreto says next year, however, it's the her plan to create a 12-week virtual accelerator program and venture fund. The first iteration of the program is going to focus on health care — digital health, medical device, and therapeutics — for companies between seed to series A stage.

"Femtech startups actually need a little bit of different advice — that's why I'm very bullish on creating a femtech accelerator," Barreto says. "In femtech, we have some unique barriers. If you just go to a general accelerator, they might not cover these issues, and you'll be blindsighted."

Barreto says, based on the interviews she's done for the podcast, that some of these unique challenges include working with the Food and Drug Administration, creating referral programs that are extremely successful among women, and approaching "taboo" topics, which a lot of femtech companies have to deal with.

While Barreto continues working her plans for the program, she says she came across an opportunity to work with The Guild, a a woman's professional networking platform that has its own accelerator, to create a femtech-focused virtual program this fall. This partnership, Barreto says, will allow her to get her feet wet in the virtual acceleration field while also getting to help femtech entrepreneurs sooner.

Applications for Guild Academy - Femtech Edition, powered by Femtech Focus, are open online and will close September 18. The 8-week program will then wrap up mid November ahead of Thanksgiving. The program is not limited to female founders, and the cohort is looking for around 25 companies.

If you're interested, apply online and check out Barreto's Ask Me Anything event today, Thursday, September 10 at 1 pm.

Four Houston entrepreneurs have teamed up to create a program based on each of their expertise that provides a launch pad for aspiring startup founders. Getty Images

Group of Houston entrepreneurs creates masterclass for aspiring founders

founders for founders

For some aspiring startup founders, the biggest thing holding them back is not knowing where to start. A group of former founders and mentors are teaming up to create that first step.

"A few months ago it struck me that maybe there was a gap in the market between the aspiring entrepreneur," says Steve Jennis, "and the accelerator or incubator program."

Jennis, who's a founder, consultant, and mentor in Houston, tapped a few of his fellow founder-mentors to create Founder's Compass, an online masterclass for people who have a business idea but don't know what to do next. Along with Jennis, founder of JCG and PrismTech, the program was created by Brittany Barreto, founder of Pheramor and Femtech Focus; Leela Madan, founder of Madan Law; and Catherine Brown, founder of ExtraBold Sales.

"We thought that the four of us could put together a masterclass comprising of four modules — each module relates to the skill set that we are individually bringing," Jennis tells InnovationMap. "All together, we're representing a framework for new entrepreneurs to get a kickstart to their business and help them with the next step of their journey — whatever that may be."

The four modules will be presented in virtual, interactive classes lasting three hours each and offered in two different ways each month. Students can register for a two-day option — six hours on a Friday followed by another six hours on a Saturday — or a four-week option — three hours on a weeknight once a week for four weeks.

The four modules will cover the following:

  • Validating your business concept and MVP product-market fit (led by Jennis)
  • Customer development, feedback, and target market definition (led Brown)
  • Protecting your intellectual property and managing your business risk (led by Madan)
  • Engaging with the innovation ecosystem and preparing to fundraise (led by Barreto)
Jennis says the program is not intended to be competitive with accelerators, rather Founder's Compass can act as a feeder into these programs. This is why, Jennis says, the masterclass is set up to be relatively cheap at $100 an hour — or $1,200 for the full program.
"We wanted something that was much more convenient, readily available, and easily affordable, so that's why we settled on the two-day or four-evening format to give people something that they didn't have to think about for months," Jennis says. "We saw an opportunity here — not just to be another accelerator — but to be something for people in the game."

Registration for Founder's Compass is open now for September and October, and participants who sign up before August 1 will receive half off — making the course just $600.

Here's what interactive, virtual events to log on to this month. Getty Images

10+ can't-miss virtual business and innovation events in Houston for May

Where to be online

While some things in Houston are starting to open back up, society hasn't yet established a timeline for when groups of more than 10 people will be allowed to safely gather. But, the programming must go on.

With that in mind, here are over 10 Houston innovation events you can attend virtually via online meetings. Be sure to register in advance, as most will send an access link ahead of the events.

May 4: Post-COVID Fund: Venture Investing in the Post-COVID World

Join Alumni Ventures Group for a webinar that explores how changes resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic will create profound change—as well as unique opportunities for new ventures that tackle these challenges.

Details: The event is at 3 p.m. on Monday, May 4. Learn more.

May 5 — Sell Your Science: Developing a Non-Confidential Pitch for in Person and Virtual Presentations

Learn tricks in preparing a non-confidential pitch deck along with tips that are aimed to help you sell your science at in person meetings or virtually.

Details: The event is at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, May 5. Learn more.

May 6 — Impacting Public Health: How Can My Idea Be A Part of the Solution?


When a pandemic hits, as a start-up company you may find that your technology can be aligned to help. However, now your timeline is expedited with a global health emergency and you need to get your technology into the market. How do you start to connect with the right players to get your technology into the U.S. market to make an impact on public health safety and security?

Details: The event is at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, May 6. Learn more.

May 6 — Virtual Event with Cindy Eckert - Expert Entrepreneur with Over $1B Exits

Cindy Eckert is an expert entrepreneur with over $1B in Exits, CEO of Sprout Pharmaceutical, and Founder of The Pink Ceiling. Attend the virtual fireside chat between Cindy Eckert and Femtech Focus founder Dr. Brittany Barreto.

Details: The event is at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, May 6. Learn more.

May 6 — Curious About Starting a Career in Tech?

One thing we know is that web developers come from different backgrounds. From teaching to consulting, design to accounting, and they're here to tell you about making that transition. Hear from professional developers in the field about how their careers lead them what they're working on now, how they got there, and how their past experiences apply to the work they do currently. Join General Assembly if you are curious about starting a career in tech, but not sure exactly where to begin.

Details: The event is at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 6. Learn more.

May 7 — Rice Alliance Energy Tech Venture Day

Originally scheduled to be hosted at OTC, Rice Alliance Energy Venture Day will now be a virtual event to allow startups to connect with investors and energy companies. The event will showcase about 40 promising energy technology companies. These companies have initial funding and are seeking their A, B, C, or later rounds with technology validation, field trial experience, and/or initial company revenue. The event offers a great opportunity for viewers to learn more about innovative technologies and provides companies with access to potential partners and investment opportunities.

Details: The event is at 9 a.m. on Thursday, May 7. Learn more.

May 8 — Lunch & Learn: Startup Funding Rounds

Seemingly every company wants to raise venture capital, but few founders are equipped to navigate the tangled mess of rounds, investment types, and investor expectations. At the end of this presentation, you will have a better handle on whether venture capital is right for your business and what it'll take to navigate from angels to exit.

Details: The event is at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, May 8. Learn more.

May 12 — Lunch and Learn with Asian Pacific American Entrepreneurs

According to New American Economy, Asian Pacific American entrepreneurs account for nearly a million of our nation's businesses. Whether it's apps, restaurants, social services, or consumer products, it's obvious that the entrepreneurial spirit is high in our nation. Let's hear it from our AAPI small business owners who will walk us through the triumphs and challenges they've faced while running their business and how they're making it work during a shaky period.

Details: The event is at noon on Tuesday, May 12. Learn more.

May 13-14 — 2020 Texas A&M New Ventures Competition

TNVC 2020 will be entirely virtual this year. This event is the culmination of a yearlong effort to identify and provide support to Texas-best technology ventures. There will be several private semi-finals judging rounds on May 13, with an Entrepreneurial Perspectives panel and Q&A with past winners and successful entrepreneurs. The finals will be on the 14th, followed by elevator pitches and an awards ceremony, all of which are open to the entire audience.

Details: The event is on Wednesday, May 14, and Thursday, May15. Learn more.

May 15 — How to Land a Job at a Tech Startup

Join General Assembly for this online event where a panel of tech startup talent acquisition professionals will take you through what types of opportunities exist in today's talent market, how the experience at a startup will make you more marketable in the long run, what talent acquisition professionals are actually thinking while reading resumes, advice for remote interviewing, and more.

Details: The event is at noon on Friday, May 15. Learn more.

May 29 — Mothers in Tech Breakfast

In celebration of Mother's Day, join General Assembly for a virtual breakfast featuring hard-working mothers that are also succeeding in their respective industries. A few incredible mothers will share their insights on how they reached their level of success, advice on navigating the workplace as a working mom, and how we can help the next generation of mothers in tech. Get ready for an honest, vulnerable, and insightful conversation.

    Details: The event is at 10 a.m. on Friday, May 29. Learn more.

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    H-E-B leader gifts $5 million to historic Houston-area university for future students

    HEB and PVAMU

    The leader of the Lone Star State’s beloved H-E-B has bestowed a monumental gift upon a historic Houston-area university.

    On November 17, Prairie View A&M University announced that H-E-B chairman Charles Butt — one of America’s favorite CEOs and member of one of Texas’ richest families — has donated $5 million to create Founders Scholarships for incoming PVAMU students.

    “The $5 million gift will provide a permanent endowment to support students today and in the coming years,” a release notes. “Initially generating approximately $200,000 a year for scholarships, the fund will grow significantly in coming years, making even more available to support students.”

    The scholarships will be available to students from public high schools in Texas graduating in the top quartile of their class, the release says. They must be incoming first-year students, enrolled in a full-time course load, and as scholarship recipients, they will benefit from “enrichment opportunities unique to their [Founders Scholarships] cohort.”

    Scholarship disbursements will begin in fall 2022, a spokesperson confirms; the number of initial scholarships available has not been revealed.

    “Charles Butt has been amazingly generous to our university. He has shown time and time again that he genuinely cares about the opportunities afforded to students at PV. We are indebted to him for his grace and his humanity,” says Ruth Simmons, president of PVAMU, in the release.

    Prairie View A&M University is the second-oldest public institution of higher learning in the state and is one of Texas’ historically Black universities. It is located approximately 50 miles northwest of Houston and has a current enrollment of more than 8,000 undergraduate and graduate students.

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    This article originally ran on CultureMap.

    Houston logistics software startup secures $8.4M series A from international investors

    money moves

    A Houston-based software company that's reducing cost and risk in the marine supply chain has closed its latest round of funding.

    Voyager Portal, a software-as-a-service platform closed an $8.4 million series A investment round this week. The round was led by Phaze Ventures, a VC fund based in the Middle East, and included new investors — ScOp Venture Capital, Waybury Capital and Flexport. Additionally, all of Voyager's existing investors contributed to this round.

    Voyager has reported significant growth over the past two years since its $1.5 million seed round. Between Q3 2020 to Q3 2021, the company's revenue has increased 13 times and was up 40 percent from Q2 2021. Voyager now manages over $1 billion in freight on the platform, according to a news release.

    “Voyager Portal was created to significantly reduce cost, risk, and complexity when transporting bulk materials around the world,” says Matthew Costello, CEO and co-founder of Voyager, in the release. “The last two years have demonstrated just how critical shipping bulk commodities is to global markets – freight rates have increased and port congestion is at an all-time high – accelerating the demand for Voyager’s solution.”

    Costello says the fresh funds will be used to support Voyager's continued growth.

    “With our Series A funding, we’ll be able to expedite our product roadmap to support an international client base whilst expanding our engineering, development, marketing and sales teams internationally," he adds.

    Matthew Costello Voyager Matthew Costello is the CEO and co-founder of Voyager.

    Built from the ground up, Voyager's software was created to replace the antiquated and complex legacy systems the market has seen for decades. The platform allows companies to seamlessly collaborate in real time over a single shipment.

    “Voyager's implementation has been hugely impressive,” says Adam Panni, operations manager at OMV, a multinational energy company based in Austria, in the release. “The low-code functionality allows almost real-time modifications to the developing workflows and reporting capabilities with no lengthy development and minimal testing prior to implementation. By digitizing data capture across all our physical movements, we are able to analyze our business much better, enabling faster and smarter decisions driven by data. This, in turn, will provide significant, quantifiable cost reductions for our business.”

    Abdullah Al-Shaksy, co-founder and CEO of Phaze Ventures says the platform is evolving the industry as a whole at an important moment.

    “Voyager is changing the way companies are thinking of their global shipping operations,” he says. “Global supply chains are becoming increasingly complex and strained, and there is an incredible treasure trove of data that organizations are underutilizing in their decision-making process. We believe what Voyager has created for their customers across the globe will revolutionize this space forever.”

    Rice research: Revisiting the merits of nondigital data collecting

    houston voices

    Academics are learning quickly that investigations based on data from online research agencies have their drawbacks. Thousands of such studies are released every year – and if the data is compromised, so too are the studies themselves.

    So it’s natural for researchers, and the managers who rely on their findings, to be concerned about potential problems with the samples they’re studying. Among them: participants who aren’t in the lab and researchers who can’t see who is taking their survey, what they are doing while answering questions or even if they are who they claim to be online. In the wake of a 2018 media piece about Amazon’s Mechanical Turks Service, “Bots on Amazon’s MTurk Are Ruining Psychology Studies,” one psychology professor even mused, “I wonder if this is the end of MTurk research?” (It wasn’t).

    To tackle this problem, Rice Business professor Mikki Hebl joined colleagues Carlos Moreno and Christy Nittrouer of Rice University along with several other colleagues to highlight the value of other research methods. Four alternatives – field experiments, archival data, observations and big data – represent smart alternatives to overreliance on online surveys. These methods also have the advantage of challenging academics to venture outside of their laboratories and examine real people and real data in the real world.

    Field experiments have been around for decades. But their value is hard to overestimate. Unlike online studies, field experiments enhance the role of context, especially in settings that are largely uncontrolled. It’s hard to fake a field experiment in order to create positive results since each one costs a considerable time and money.

    And field experiments can yield real-life results with remarkable implications for society at large. Consider one experiment among 56 middle schools in New Jersey, which found that spreading anti-conflict norms was hugely successful in reducing the need for disciplinary action. Such studies have an impact well beyond what could be achieved with a simple online survey.

    The best way to get started with a good field experiment, Hebl and her colleagues wrote, is for researchers to think about natural field settings to which they have access, either personally or by leveraging their networks. Then, researchers should think about starting with the variables critical for any given setting and which they would most like to manipulate to observe the outcome. When choosing variables, it’s helpful to start by thinking about what variable might have conditions leading to the greatest degree of behavior change if introduced into the setting.

    Archival data is another excellent way to work around the limitations of online surveys, the researchers argue. These data get around some of the critical drawbacks of field research, including problems around how findings apply in a more general way. Archival data, especially in the form of state or national level data sets, provide information and insight into a large, diverse set of samples that are more representative of the general population than online studies.

    Archival data can also help answer questions that are either longitudinal or multilevel in nature, which can be particularly tricky or even impossible to capture with data collected by any single research team. As people spend increasing amounts of time on social media, the internet also serves as a source of newer forms of archival data that can lend unique insights into individuals’ thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors over time.

    With every passing year, technology becomes increasingly robust and adept at collecting massive amounts of data on an endless variety of human behavior. For the scientists who research social and personality psychology, the term “big data” refers not only to very large sets of data but also to the tools and techniques that are used to analyze it. The three defining properties of Big Data in this context include the speed of data processing and collection, the vast amount of data being analyzed and the sheer variety of data available.

    By using big data, social scientists can generate research based on various conditions, as well as collect data in natural settings. Big data also offers the opportunity to consolidate information from huge and highly diverse stores of data. This technology has many applications, including psychological assessments and improving security in airports and other transportation hubs. In future research, Hebl and her team noted, researchers will likely leverage big data and its applications to detect our unconscious emotions.

    Big data, archival information and field studies can all be used in conjunction with each other to maximize the fidelity of research. But researchers shouldn’t forget even more old-fashioned techniques, including the oldest: keen observation. With observation, there are often very few, if any, manipulations and the goal is simply to systematically record the way people behave.

    Researchers – and the managers who make decisions based on their findings – should consider the advantages of old-style, often underused methodologies, Hebl and her colleagues argue. Moving beyond the college laboratory and digital data survey-collection platforms and into the real world offers some unparalleled advantages to science. For the managers whose stock prices may hinge on this science, it’s worth knowing – and understanding – how your all-important data was gathered.

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    This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom and is based on research from Mikki Hebl, the Martha and Henry Malcolm Lovett Professor of psychology at Rice University, and Carlos Moreno and Christy Nittrouer, who are graduate students at Rice University. Additional researchers include Ho Kwan Cheung, Eden B. King, and Hannah Markellis of George Mason University.