3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Tammi Wallace of the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce, Adam Putterman of OURS, and Ghazal Qureshi of UpBrainery. Courtesy photos

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from edtech to mental health — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Tammi Wallace, co-founder of the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce

Tammi Wallace of the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce was a panelist on The Ion's Pride in Tech event. Photo via LinkedIn

There are a few days left in Pride Month, and Houston's tech community came together last week to celebrate — but also discuss some of the challenges within the ecosystem for LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs.

In a Q&A with InnovationMap, Tammi Wallace, co-founder of the Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce, shared her advice for LGBTQIA+ innovators and allies.

"Get involved with the Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce," she says. "Since 2016, the chamber has been working to build a strong community to support LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs and get them access to resources to help their businesses grow and thrive." Click here to read more.

Adam Putterman, co-founder of OURS

Adam Putterman, co-founder of OURS, shares how he jumped on the opportunity that is innovating the future of relationship health. Photo courtesy of OURS

More than ever before, people are warming up to the idea of seeking professional health care for more than just their bodies, Adam Putterman, co-founder of OURS says on the most recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"We've seen a massive shift in the perception of counseling and therapy — and, more importantly, all the aspects of health that are not just your body," he explains. "It's no longer just going to the gym, it's meditating, coaching for a professional field. We've found that people are taking that mindset and applying it to their relationship as well."

After launching its beta in 2020, OURS worked in stealth to develop its product, which officially launched in May. The platform costs $400 for a four-week program that includes six personalized interactive sessions with an OURS guide at the helm of the experience. These one-hour technology-powered sessions are based around an innovative new technology, called Loveware, and include dynamic and meaningful conversations between a couple that are built around the magic that comes from being in the room with an expert. Click here to listen to the full episode and read more.

Ghazal Qureshi, founder and CEO of UpBrainery

Innovations like artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and machine learning certainly have advantages in the edtech sector. Photo courtesy

The education community is facing big changes thanks to technology and new innovations. In a guest column for InnovationMap, Ghazal Qureshi — founder and CEO of UpBrainery, a Houston-based immersive educational technology platform — shares how things like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and more have the potential to impact the sector.

"AI has created benefits for educators as well, such as it has created a task automation system in which all kinds of daily mundane tasks including grading papers, admin work, replying to queries, etc. have been directly automated," she writes. "Although adopting cutting-edge technology in the educational industry for most institutions is certainly not a piece of cake as it is time-consuming and very costly." Click here to read more.

Innovations like artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and machine learning certainly have advantages in the edtech sector. Photo by Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

Houston founder: Innovating education in an evolving world

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Once upon a time, gaining knowledge was relatively a simpler task. Going to school, being taught through books, the joy of taking notes on a neat blank page, and the use of bright, colorful stationery had another level of excitement.

Now, the overwhelming innovations in the educational sector has changed the entire landscape and left educators, students, and parents wondering whether they will be able to adapt to the changing times.

Innovations like artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and machine learning certainly have advantages in the edtech sector.

What are AI, AR, and machine learning?

It is common to see these acronyms flash around in product innovations, news, and the educational sector. Artificial intelligence is the capability of a robot that is managed or controlled by a computer to do tasks that are carried out by humans, such as analyzing and making decisions.

Whereas augmented reality is the experience of a real world where the objects belonging to the real world are enhanced by the computer. Machine learning is a part of artificial intelligence that allows computers to act without being explicitly programmed.

According to the report published in Statista, “the global artificial intelligence market is projected to grow rapidly in the future years, reaching around $126 billion by 2025."

The Business Research Company has stated in their article that “the global augmented reality in training and education market size is expected to grow from $6.27 billion in 2021 to $10.37 billion in 2022 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 65.4 percent.”

Will the education industry be able to survive in these rapidly evolving times?

One thing which the pandemic has proved is that e-learning and e-teaching became easily accessible, adaptable, and preferred by the majority of the working class. Not only that but post-pandemic, both students and educators preferred online education over traditional methods since over time we have recognized the upside of e-learning.

Some of these include studying at your own pace and convenience, you get to design your schedule, and improved time management because you get to skip on travel-time and it leads to enhanced learning through innovative educational tools such as AI, AR, and machine learning.

As explained by Communications of the Association for Information System (CAIS), a study was conducted regarding what were the factors of receiving distance education despite the normal circumstances. A model was developed based on social cognitive theory and social cognitive career theory. It was then tested by using data from 525 college students surveyed after enrolling in distance learning classes. Per the report, "results indicate that personal and environmental factors drive intentions to continue with distance learning through their impact on distance learning perceived performance, and satisfaction.“

Augmented Reality in the educational sector has enabled teachers to engage their students through virtual examples of various concepts, by utilizing gaming-like strategists to help students understand the textbook materials easily.

As a result, students have shown keen interest, high engagement, faster learning, and easy memorizing capabilities.

A recent example of augmented reality in the educational sector is Google Expedition, which enables students to see 3D objects in the classroom like volcanoes, the human brain, DNA, etc., which helps them to understand, visualize and experience the learning process. It goes beyond the traditional imaginative process of learning and experiencing.

According to Assembler Blog, “statistics have revealed that 80 percent of more students are likely to attend a class that incorporates augmented reality experiences.” Moreover, “70 percent of students also say that they could grasp the material faster and improve their learning experience” through AR technology used in teaching.

Similarly, machine learning and AI have also taken the educational industry by storm.

A blog written in The Journal has stated that: “According to the eLearning Industry, 47 percent of learning management tools will be enabled with AI capabilities in the next three years.”

Artificial intelligence has helped students in tutoring when students face problems and are not able to reach their teachers at that moment, making virtual tutors, artificially intelligent software, and chatbots perfect solutions in these situations.

Moreover, personalization is something that every student prefers to have in their education. Through machine learning, AI has enabled its students to choose their program based on their capability, pace, and desire. We must recognize that each person has learning preferences, most of us only memorize through visual means. Similarly, another person might be an auditory learner or a kinesthetic learner. Hence, it is imperative to identify these cognitive traits to deliver personalized and successful learning experiences to our students.

AI has created benefits for educators as well, such as it has created a task automation system in which all kinds of daily mundane tasks including grading papers, admin work, replying to queries, etc. have been directly automated.

Although adopting cutting-edge technology in the educational industry for most institutions is certainly not a piece of cake as it is time-consuming and very costly.

But by looking at all the facts and figures, the benefits and students teachers' high engagement evidence shows that indeed the educational sector will transform and cope with the speedy changes gradually.

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Ghazal Qureshi is the founder and CEO of UpBrainery, a Houston-based immersive educational technology platform that taps into neuroscience research-based programs to provide adaptive learning and individualized pathways for students at home or in the classroom.

Reda Hicks (left) of GotSpot Inc, Ghazal Qureshi (center) of Idea Lab Kids, and Abbey Donnell of Work & Mother are this week's innovators to know. Courtesy photos

3 Houston female entrepreneurs to know this week

Who's who

Another Monday means another set of innovators to know. This one focuses on a few female startup leaders changing the game in the commercial real estate and education industries.

Reda Hicks, founder and CEO of GotSpot Inc.

Reda Hicks create GotSpot — a digital tool that helps connect people with commercial space with people who need it. Courtesy of GotSpot

Turns out, Hurricane Harvey was the big push Reda Hicks needed to create her startup, GotSpot Inc., the Airbnb of commercial real estate.

"It was really Harvey and having so many people desperate to find space for emergency purposes that made me realize there are so many contexts in which people need space right away for something specific," she says. "Certainly the primary user is the entrepreneur trying to grow their business, but there are so many other reasons why a community would need better access to the space it already has."

Hicks, a lawyer by trade, now juggles startup life, being a wife and mom, and her full-time legal career. Read the rest of the story here.

Ghazal Qureshi, founder of Idea Lab Kids

Ghazal Qureshi wanted to engage her own kids in educational activities. Now, her programing has expanded worldwide. Courtesy of Idea Lab Kids

At first, Ghazal Qureshi just wanted to find her kids a quality after school educational program. When she couldn't, she decided to make something herself. Now, it's a franchised company with locations worldwide.

"From the beginning, we were never restricted by trying to make money. It was a passion project only," Qureshi says.

IDEA Lab Kids, an education program focused on STEAM, which stands for science, technology, engineering, arts, and math, has 18 locations in Houston, and, two years ago, she expanded the brand into a franchise business — the Idea Lab International Franchise Company. Read the rest of the story here.

Abbey Donnell, founder of Work & Mother

Abbey Donnell's startup, Work & Mother, provides a new way for new moms to pump breast milk during the workday. Courtesy of Work & Mother

When Abbey Donnell heard horror stories from some friends who recently returned to work after giving birth, she had an idea. What if new moms had a stylish, spa-like lactation experience during the workday that was less inconvenient and, well, awkward.

"There were constant stories about [women] being told the use the IT closet, or the conference room, or the bathroom or their cars," Donnell says. "Some of them were pretty big oil and gas firms companies that should've had the resources and space to do better than that."

Donnell founded Work & Mother, a boutique pumping and wellness center, and opened the first location in downtown Houston in 2017 and is planning its second downtown location. Read the rest of the story here.

Ghazal Qureshi wanted to engage her own kids in educational activities. Now, her programing has expanded worldwide. Courtesy of Idea Lab Kids

Houston entrepreneur expands her passion project to international franchise business

After school program

Ghazal Qureshi was looking for a way to engage her children in after school education. After failing to find anything that existed, she started brainstorming a new, engaging education model.

"From the beginning, we were never restricted by trying to make money. It was a passion project only," Qureshi says.

Qureshi turned her passion project into IDEA Lab Kids, an education program focused on STEAM, which stands for science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. She opened 18 locations in Houston, and, two years ago, she expanded the brand into a franchise business — the Idea Lab International Franchise Company. Now the company has locations across the United States and around the world.

The passion she had at Idea Lab's start has become an essential part of each franchise location, and Qureshi is seeking out franchise partners just as passionate to "take our idea far and wide," she says

"We are educating the future innovators and entrepreneurs of tomorrow," Qureshi says.

Front of class
Idea Lab locations around the country are engaging children from pre-k through high school in hands-on projects that reflect their own interests. Qureshi's goal is to take learning beyond the classroom.

"Anytime kids are out of school, Idea Lab is in session," says Qureshi.

Qureshi recalls that when fidget spinners were dubbed a distraction in traditional schools, children in Idea Labs were studying how the toy's motor operates, and were actually creating their own spinners using 3-D printers.

"Idea Lab picks up the slack in areas that traditional schools are unequipped to excel," explains Qureshi.

Small class sizes, and an array of technology and materials give children attending their after-school programs, weekend workshops, summer camps, or birthday parties the opportunity to use technologies that they may not otherwise be exposed to.

"You'll never see our kids just listening to lectures; it's all project-based," she says. "We are training them for the skills they will need for their jobs in the next 5, 10, 15 years."

Getting the ball rolling
Qureshi began Idea Lab in Houston seven years ago, inspired by the challenge of raising her own children with quality STEAM education.

"My background is in IT," she explains, "but I felt like I was really missing out on being part of my children's lives, so I decided to leave corporate life. I put my energy into my kids and finding the best educational opportunities for them. But I realized there was a void."

With the need to build and create inherent in her personality, Qureshi quickly saw her new company begin to grow.

Qureshi's oldest son, now headed for college, is a big part of her personal success story with her Idea Lab program. She saw his creativity and motivation for learning blossom throughout his years of Idea Lab classes such as coding movie production, or robotics. Qureshi is excited that Idea Lab still provides the same educational boost to thousands of children that she saw so profoundly impact her son.

Especially after her experience in starting her own business, Qureshi wants to encourage future entrepreneurs through Idea Lab's entrepreneurship program. Projects that children develop within this program embody all aspects of the blended learning STEAM model, plus a good measure of critical thinking and creativity. Children may build their own restaurant, and as founders, managers, and chefs, they must create menus and pricing, recipes with units of measure, 3-D printed objects such as spoons, and navigate other realities of owning a small business. Equally as important, children must learn to collaborate toward common goals, and utilize each other's strengths.

Ready for graduation
The company is actively looking for expansion opportunities and prospective franchisees.

"The ideal franchisee," Qureshi says, "is someone who 'gets' the void in the education, understands the education industry, or has kids for whom they haven't been able to find great programs for."

Thus far, Idea Lab has 52 assigned territories in the United States, six in Canada, one opening soon in Ecuador, and talks are beginning with other country partners. Although for Qureshi, founding Idea Lab from the ground up required countless hours of dedication.,

"When you buy a franchise, everything is all worked out for you, all the hardship has been taken out of it, as someone has already done the trial and error," Qureshi says.

Idea Lab provides materials and models for everything from tested and vetted curriculum to implementation of their programs, making it as easy as possible to hit the ground running.

As Idea Lab keeps its finger on the pulse of the next wave of innovation to motivate children, and grow their business, they are looking for partners who are interested in helping to provide a creative education to the community.

As Qureshi always tells parents, "with a little bit of a push, you'll be surprised by how many new things kids can learn through their own exploration, if given the opportunity."

Three female-founded companies pitched to potential investors at The Cannon. Here's why they are ones to watch. Courtesy photos

3 female Houston startup founders to watch in 2019

Leading ladies

The Lone Star State has been deemed a great place for female entrepreneurs to get their feet wet, and Houston's ecosystem is full of these leading ladies. At a pitch party at The Cannon, a coworking space in West Houston, over 100 guests, including Cannon Ventures investors and Cannon members, gathered to hear three of these female founders pitch their companies.

From DNA dating and smart pillboxes to an educational franchise company, these three female-led institutions are ones to watch this year. Here's why.

X&Y Technologies

Brittany Barreto wants X&Y Technologies to be known for its science-based dating expertise. Karla Martin/Pheramor

Now is the time to have a DNA-based technology company, says Brittany Barreto, CEO and co-founder of X&Y Technologies. She launched her genetics-based data app over two years ago, and now she's expanding the brand to include a couples compatibility test and B-to-B software-as-a-service feature, so that other dating apps can utilize her technology.

"Our traction with the dating app was a fantastic way to prove that we are the thought leaders, we have the infrastructure, and we have the algorithm and we've proven that the market is ready to buy a DNA kit to find love," she says in her pitch.

With fundraising plans in 2019, Barreto hopes to launch the expanded company, and says she has already seen a lot of interest in both of the new DNA-based products. Read more about Pheramor's national growth, the X&Y expansion, and how Barreto got her start.

IDEA Lab Kids

Ghazal Qureshi pitched her education franchise company, IDEA Lab Kids, and discussed her plans to double its presence in 2019. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Six years ago, when Ghazal Qureshi wanted an after school program for her kid and their diverse interests, she created it. Now, the interactive programming that focuses on the science, technology, engineering, arts and math activities for kids is a growing franchise opportunity. After launching the franchise model in February 2017, IDEA Lab Kids already has 10 locations, with seven coming on board within the next few months — including a location in Ecuador.

"In 2019, we're looking to double the number of campuses," Qureshi says in her pitch.

What makes IDEA Lab different from its competitors, she says, is the interactive and diversified curriculum that engages all children.

"We know that kids have limited attention spans theses days," Qureshi says. "New technologies and methods are needed every day in order to grasp that attention span, and that is what we are really good at. At any given day, there are drones flying, augmented reality, cooking classes, and more are happening under the roof of an IDEA Lab campus."

In addition to expanding its presence, Qurshi has worked to roll our new products, such as a coding club, updated website registration tools

EllieGrid

Regina Vatterott is thinking outside the pillbox with her startup, EllieGrid. Courtesy of EllieGrid

When she was in college, Regina Vatterott fainted on her way to lunch. She had lapsed on taking her medicine and vitamins, which caused an imbalance in her health. She was using a traditional pillbox that was tacky and a pain to organize and starting thinking about a product that was more stylish and used smart technology. She and her cofounders created EllieGrid, a sleek pillbox that syncs to your phone to send you messages when its time to take your meds and allows for an easier organization process.

EllieGrid's reception has been great, and the company is expanding to provide users new tools and technology. For instance, EllieGrid is starting to learn more about when its users take its medicine, which can translate to partnerships with insurence companies that currently pay pharmacies to check in with patients who haven't picked up their medicine.

"For us, Ellie is just the start," Vatterott says in an interview with InnovationMap. "We want to develop more health and wellness accessories that are traditionally known to be medical devices."

Large companies are taking interest in the Houston-based startup. Over the past three weeks, Best Buy, Walmart, CVS Health, and Pelion all reached out and expressed interest in the company, some actually placing orders and setting up trials.

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Houston SaaS startup raises $10M to keep up with customer growth

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A Houston software company has announced its latest funding.

Liongard, an IT software provider, has raised an additional $10 million led by Updata Partners with contribution from TDF Ventures — both existing investors in the company. The funding, according to a news release, will go toward providing the best customer service for Liongard's growing customer base.

The technology is providing managed service providers, or MSPs, improved visibility across the IT stack and an optimized user experience.

“Since working with our first MSP partners, we’ve seen time and again the power of visibility into IT data, reducing the time they spend researching customer issues and allowing them to respond faster than their peers,” says Joe Alapat, CEO and co-founder of Liongard, in the release. “This investment enables us to continue to achieve our vision of delivering visibility into each element of the IT stack.”

The company has about 2,000 partners in support of more than 60,000 end customers. And has been recognized as a top employer by Forbes and Inc. magazine earlier this year.

“We are excited to deepen our commitment with Liongard,“ says Carter Griffin, general partner at Updata, in the release. “With its leading data platform for MSPs we expect continued fast-paced growth.”

Liongard's last funding round was in May of 2020 and was a $17 million series B round. Both Updata Partners and TDF ventures were involved in that round. The company's total funding now sits at over $30 million.

Rice University rises to No. 1 spot in new ranking of best college investments

money moves

By one measure, earning a degree at Rice University is the smartest move in the Lone Star State.

In its eighth annual ranking of colleges and university that give students the best return on their educational investment, personal finance website SmartAsset places Rice at No. 1 in Texas and No. 10 in the U.S. It’s the only Texas school to break into the national top 10.

To determine the best-value colleges and universities in each state, SmartAsset crunched data in these categories: scholarships and grants, starting salary for new graduates, tuition, living costs, and retention rate.

While the tuition ($47,350) and student living costs ($17,800) at Rice are the highest among the top 10 Texas schools on the list, the average amount of scholarships and grants ($43,615), average starting salary ($77,900), and retention rate (97 percent) also are among the highest.

According to Rice, tuition, fees, on-campus room and board, books, and personal expenses for the 2022-23 academic year add up to $74,110. That figure, which excludes financial aid, applies to a full-time, degree-seeking student living on campus.

“Rice University is consistently ranked as a best value in higher education and is one of America’s leading teaching and research universities,” the school’s Office of Financial Aid says. “By attending Rice, you will not only receive a superior education at a reasonable cost, you also will benefit from having a Rice degree long after graduation.”

Three other schools in or near the Houston metro area appear on SmartAsset’s list of the biggest-bang-for-your-buck schools in Texas:

  • Prairie View A&M University, No. 4. The university posted the lowest retention rate (74 percent) among the 10 schools. The remaining figures sit roughly in the middle of the pack.
  • University of Houston, No. 5. The university’s tuition ($8,913) was the lowest in the top 10, as was the average amount of scholarships and grants ($6,544).
  • Texas A&M University-College Station, No. 6. The university’s living costs are the second highest among the top 10 ($17,636), while its average starting salary for new grads lands at No. 3 ($64,400).

Other schools in the state’s top 10 are:

  • University of Texas at Austin, No. 2.
  • University of Texas at Dallas (Richardson), No. 3.
  • Texas Tech University in Lubbock, No. 7.
  • LeTourneau University in Longview, No. 8.
  • University of North Texas in Denton, No. 9.
  • Texas State University in San Marcos, No. 10.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston expert addresses the growing labor shortage within health care

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Long before COVID-19 became a part of our new normal, the concerns around shortages in health care staffing were present.

To put this in real terms, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the latest projection of employment through the end of this decade is an increase of nearly 12 million jobs. A fourth of those — 3.3 million to be exact — are expected to go towards health care and social assistance roles.

Before the pandemic, the concerns centered around managing a growing retired population and a slowing in higher education nurse enrollment. Then amid the growing shortage concerns surrounding the support for aging baby boomers, we were all thrusted into a pandemic.

The stressors on health care professional staffing have doubled down and what the increased shortage has shown us is the need to intervene and change the traditional hiring practices. Speed to place a nurse on assignment doesn’t just ensure productivity — it is a matter of life or death.

Over the past several years, the evolution of technology has drastically changed how health care facilities operate and interact with their employees as well as patients. There was a point in time where the structure in health care staffing was rigid without flexibility or varieties of employment type. Conversations around travel positions, per diem, and permanent are all now commonplace as the recent shortages caused us to normalize the discussion around role type and use of technology to influence speed to hire.

This whole evolution was put to test when April 2020 came, and the initial brunt of the pandemic was in full swing. The entire world was in panic mode. During these quarantine times, we were in a state of a health care emergency with thousands of patients seeking health care. Unfortunately, hospitals could not keep up with this demand with their existing nurse professionals, and became severely overloaded and dangerous. Due to this the United States saw unprecedented labor shortages, impacting a large number of nurses and health care workers as it pertains to both their physical and mental health.

What we are seeing now is a period classified as the “The Great Rethinking,” where nurses and health care workers alike are speaking up for what they believe in and deserve. Salary transparency and flexibility are just the tip of the iceberg for this movement.

SkillGigs is unique in that we are giving the power back to registered nurses and health care professionals, while meeting the demand created by the pandemic. Our team has been fortunate to be a catalyst to direct the change in the future of work, and we look forward to continuing to innovate.

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Bryan Groom is the division president of health care at Houston-based SkillGigs.