3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

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

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

Bill Voss, founder and CEO of Everest

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

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

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

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

Day Edwards, co-founder and CEO of ChurchSpace

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

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

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

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

Tim Neal, founder and CEO of GoExpedi

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

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

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

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

GoExpedi, an e-commerce software company, represents Houston's tech and startup ecosystem on this year's Inc. 5000. Image courtesy of GoExpedi

Houston e-commerce startup cracks Inc. 5000 — here's who makes the 2022 list

by the numbers

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

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

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

Real estate firm Disrupt Equity is the overall top Houston performer, and the sole Houston company to break the top 200 in the report. The company charted an impressive 2,975 percent growth rate between 2018 and 2021. The firm pushes complete multifamily real estate investment offerings that are earmarked as able to achieve and even exceed projections, clearly a safe haven in one of the biggest — and hottest — real estate markets in the entire nation.

Disrupt claims an impressive ROI for clients: The company boasts a "proven track record with over a dozen full cycle exits averaging over 36 percent annualized return to investors," director of investor relations, Tarek Moussa, tells CultureMap.

"We could not be more ecstatic to hear that Disrupt Equity has been announced as the fastest growing company in Houston by Inc 5000," says Feras Moussa, Disrupt's managing partner, in a statement. "We believe success in real estate, especially in today's economic environment, comes from being a great operator and having a strong team behind you. We believe this has been a large contributor to our success and helps us to continue to provide incredible passive real estate investment opportunities to our investors."

Speaking of real estate, another Houston firm performed well. Construction Concepts, which specializes in commercial design and build in Houston and Austin, ranked No. 497 overall, with 1,251 percent growth over three years. 5111 VENTURES, listed as a full-service real estate brokerage firm specializing in technology-driven residential and commercial sales and consulting services, was No. 558 with 1125 percent growth over three years.

In all, 468 Texas-based companies made this year’s Inc. 5000. Dallas-Fort Worth firms performed especially well:

  • No. 13 StaffDNA, Plano, 19,699 percent growth rate
  • No. 17 Blue Hammer Roofing, Dallas, 15,911 percent growth rate
  • No. 116 TimelyMD, Fort Worth, 3,852 percent growth rate
  • No. 142 Curis Functional Health, Farmers Branch, 3,380 percent growth rate
  • No. 148 SmartLight Analytics, Plano, 3,317 percent growth rate
  • No. 168 Digital Thrive, Dallas, 3,056 percent growth rate
  • No. 172 Forester Haynie, Dallas, 2,984 percent growth rate

Here are the other Texas companies appearing in the state’s top 20 and in the top 500 overall.

  • No. 60 AdOutreach, Austin, 6,052 percent growth rate
  • No. 62 Webforce, Austin, 6,009 percent growth rate
  • No. 117 Homestead Brands, Austin, 3,839 percent growth rate
  • No. 174 Disrupt Equity, Houston, 2,975 percent growth rate
  • No. 188 24HourNurse Staffing, Pittsburg, 2,801 percent growth rate
  • No. 201, Everly Health, Austin, 2,643 percent growth rate
  • No. 209, Texas Solar Integrated, San Antonio, 2,559 percent growth rate
  • No. 212, Apple Blvd Boutique, Frisco, 2,555 percent growth rate
  • No. 285 Element 26, Austin, 1,948 percent growth rate
  • No. 312 Boostlingo, Austin, 1,820 percent growth rate
  • No. 317 Cover Desk, Austin, 1,800 percent growth rate
  • No. 325 Canopy Management, Austin, 1,758 percent growth rate
  • No. 497 Construction Concepts, Houston, 1,251 percent growth rate

Companies on the 2022 Inc. 5000 are ranked by percentage growth in revenue from 2018 to 2021. To qualify for the list, a company must have been founded and been generating revenue by March 31, 2018. The company also must have been U.S.-based, privately held, for-profit, and independent as of December 31, 2021. The minimum revenue required for 2018 was $100,000; the minimum for 2021 was $2 million.

"The accomplishment of building one of the fastest-growing companies in the U.S., in light of recent economic roadblocks, cannot be overstated," says Scott Omelianuk, editor in chief of Inc. "Inc. is thrilled to honor the companies that have established themselves through innovation, hard work, and rising to the challenges of today."

A total of 90 Houston-area companies made the list last year, including Homestead Brands, Onit, GoCo.io, Velentium, Softeq, Poetic, Techwave, and more.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap. Steven Devadanam and Natalie Harms also contributed to this story.

Two Houstonians have been named to the C-suites of growing startups. Photos courtesy

2 Houston startups make strategic hires

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A pair of Houston tech startups have recently announced new appointments to their leadership staff. A digital supply chain commerce company named a new CFO, while an Irish health tech company has named its new Houston-based leader.

GoExpedi names new CFO

Jorge Ordonez is the newly named CFO for GoExpedi. Photo courtesy of GoExpedi

Houston-based GoExpedi, an innovative end-to-end digital supply chain and data analytics solutions company, named Jorge Ordonez as CFO for the company.

"With our rapidly accelerating growth, ongoing investment activity and new industrial customers coming online, it was crucial that we bring on board an experienced financial leader who can help us successfully scale at a fast pace," says Tim Neal, GoExpedi CEO, in a news release. "Jorge led one of the top medical equipment providers in the country as well as a leading industrial technology solutions provider. We'll greatly benefit from his diverse financial experience, helping us to become the leading digital industrial supply chain and data analytics providers in North America."

Ordonez brings 25 years of finance and accounting experience across industries, including 10 years in distribution and logistics. His most recent position was CFO at US Med-Equip, a medical equipment provider.

"I am honored to join GoExpedi, one of the most innovative industrial supply chain and data solutions providers out there, at this time of rapid growth," says Ordonez in the release. "I look forward to working closely with GoExpedi's leadership team to support sustained financial success as the company expands into different geographies and sectors. My goals are to help the company continue its financial success and build optimized financial decision-making models and processes that will equip the company to scale and expand capital availability to continue its growth trajectory."

Health tech startup with US operations in Houston names new CEO

Benjamin A. Hertzog will lead Intelligent Implants through its next phase of development. Photo courtesy of Intelligent Implants

Benjamin A. Hertzog, entrepreneur in residence at Johnson and Johnson’s Center for Device Innovation at the Texas Medical Center, has a new title. Last month, Hertzog was named CEO of Intelligent Implants, a development-stage digital medicine and orthopedics startup based in Ireland with its United States operations based in Houston.

“Ben joined Intelligent Implants as Executive Chairman of the Board in 2020, and his broad experience in complex Class-III medical devices, leadership, and exceptional track record made it an obvious choice to have Ben join us at the helm of the company,” says John Zellmer, Intelligent Implants co-founder and founding CEO, in a news release. “Ben has the skills and credibility to guide Intelligent Implants as we navigate through the next stage of clinical and commercial activities. We look forward to his leadership as we continue to achieve key milestones.”

Zellmer will transition into the role of COO while Hertzog is tasked with leading product development, as well as clinical, and commercial activities for the company’s novel and proprietary smart orthopedic implant platform.

With more than 20 years of experience in healthcare and life sciences as an engineer, investor, and entrepreneur, Hertzog has founded medical device startup, Procyrion, leading the cardiac device company through Series C financing, product development, animal studies, strategic investment, and human clinical trials. He also served as managing director of AlphaDev (now Fannin Partners), an early-stage venture development firm.

“I am thrilled to work with John and the entire Intelligent Implants team as we make progress towards bringing this novel technology platform to the market,” says Hertzog. “Throughout my career, I’ve been driven by and focused on bringing innovative medical device therapies to the market, and I believe that SmartFuse represents the future of medical devices; smart connected implants that provide therapeutic benefits and real-time data to support clinical decision making. Ultimately, I believe these implants will have significant advantages to traditional implants in addressing unmet clinical needs and improving patient outcomes.”

Nuro, which has several pilot programs on Houston roads, has raised fresh funding — plus a few other short stories of Houston innovation. Photo courtesy of Kroger

Nuro scores $600M, Houston e-commerce startup launches ESG tool, and more local innovation news

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The Houston innovation ecosystem has been bursting at the seams with news from innovative tech companies and disruptive Houston startups as we fly through the final quarter of 2021.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, a California tech company with a large presence in Houston has raised hundreds of millions in investment funding, a logistics startup has been ranked among the most innovative companies, the city of Houston has named its new sustainability leader, and more.

California tech company with huge presence in Houston raises $600M

Nuro has fresh funding to deploy its tech in Houston and beyond. Photo courtesy of Nuro

California-based Nuro, which has a large presence in Houston, announced the closing of its $600 million series D round led by Tiger Global Management with participation from Baillie Gifford, Fidelity Management & Research Company, LLC, Gaorong Capital, Google, Kroger, SoftBank Vision Fund 1, funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc., Woven Capital, and other existing investors, per a news release. The new funding will support the development and deployment of Nuro's autonomous delivery service in communities across the country.

"We're thrilled to have the backing of these prominent investors and world class companies, and honored that they support our vision of improving communities and revitalizing local commerce," says Dave Ferguson, Nuro co-founder and president, in the release. "We believe this investment will allow us to accelerate our commercialization strategy and better everyday life with Nuro's technology."

Nuro has launched a few delivery pilots in Houston over the past few years, including the first Nuro pilot program with Kroger in March 2019, grocery delivery from Walmart that was revealed in December 2019, pharmacy delivery that launched in 2020, and pizza delivery with Domino's that went live in Woodland Heights earlier this year. Most recently, Nuro partnered with FedEx for last-mile delivery.

"Kroger launched its partnership with Nuro in 2018 to explore grocery delivery through autonomous vehicles," said Yael Cosset, senior vice president and chief information officer for Kroger, in the release. "Since then, Kroger and Nuro completed thousands of deliveries to our customers -- driving innovation that supports our expanding seamless ecosystem by creating consistent and rewarding customer experiences with scalable, sustainable, and profitable solutions."

Nuro has also signed a five year strategic partnership with Google Cloud that support the tech needed to run self-driving simulation workloads, machine learning to improve model accuracy, and storage to manage important data from the vehicles, according to the release.

Houston-based digital supply chain company launches ESG tool

Houston industrial e-commerce startup expands into the construction industry

Houston-based GoExpedi has created a new tool. Photo by Colt Melrose for GoExpedi

GoExpedi, an innovative end-to-end digital supply chain and data analytics solutions company, the launch of ESG Command. The new tool is designed to drive environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives. Users on GoExpedi's platform can identify environmentally-friendly products and certified veteran, minority and women-owned businesses.

"Led by some of the world's largest industrial companies, our clients are driving for more sustainable business practices and more equitable workplaces," says Yang Tang, CTO at GoExpedi, in a news release. "In support of these lofty goals and a more prosperous and environmentally-friendly global community, we grew GoExpedi's digital ecosystem to benefit our clients and suppliers. Our goal is to use technical advances in the supply chain to build a brighter future for all."

Last fall, GoExpedi raised $25 million in its series C in order to grow and scale operations. The company is growing its warehouse presence, most recently in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Houston logistics company ranks among the most innovative companies

Sugar Land-based Commtrex Photo via commtrex.com

Commtrex, based in the Houston area, has been presented the FreightWaves 2022 FreightTech 100 award. The startup's platform connects professionals in the rail industry. The award also honored other innovative and disruptive companies in the freight industry, including Amazon Freight, DHL Supply Chain, FedEx, Flexport, Phillips Connect, Tesla, Uber Freight, Waymo, and Waze.

"Commtrex is honored and excited to be a part of the FreightWaves FreightTech 100," says Commtrex CEO Martin Lew in a news release. "Our mission at Commtrex is to simplify the movement of freight by rail. We are doing this by creating one centralized platform for shippers to efficiently connect with rail-served transloaders, storage providers, terminals, ports, warehouses, and many other resources that support the global supply chain ecosystem. As the largest rail platform in North America, we will continue to provide best-in-class service for all of our members."

Commtrex will also be eligible to be named to the FreightTech 25, which will be announced at the F3 Virtual Experience, November 9-11.

Houston fintech unicorn opens an office in Paris

HighRadius expands to Amsterdam

HighRadius has opened its newest European office. Photo via highradius.com

Continuing its expansion in Europe, HighRadius opened its new Paris office, which will have local staff for all customer facing operations including consulting, sales and marketing. The Houston-headquartered fintech unicorn also has offices in Germany, Amsterdam, the United Kingdom, India and the United States.

"The new Paris office is a sign of cementing our growing leadership in Europe and will bring the HighRadius Autonomous Software platform even closer to French companies," says Jon Keating, vice president and general manager of HighRadius in EMEA. "Our data-driven, AI software is helping global enterprises rethink and transform their finance and accounting processes. Our aim will be to deliver improvements in Days Sales Outstanding and working capital optimization, accelerate the financial close, and improve productivity in under six months for our new clients in France."

Over the past year, HighRadius has deployed over 300 transformation projects, across 37 out of 44 European countries.The HighRadius Autonomous Software platform has processed in excess of €475 billion in finance transactions in the European region alone, per a news release.

City of Houston names new sustainability leader

Priya Zachariah was named chief resilience and sustainability officer. Photo courtesy of the city of Houston

Mayor Sylvester Turner announced the appointment of Priya Zachariah as chief resilience and sustainability officer for the city of Houston. She will oversee the city's new Office of Resilience and Sustainability. The position is new and combines previously separate but similar roles, providing for more streamlined efforts to implement the Resilient Houston Plan and the Houston Climate Action Plan, according to a news release from the city.

"Sustainability and Resilience are intrinsically tied to each other. We created our resilience and climate plans to forge a path towards a stronger, more equitable city that not only faces and overcomes disaster scenarios, but builds forward to a better Houston tomorrow," says Mayor Turner in the release. "I am confident Priya will help us meet the goals we have established."

Zachariah was previously the senior program manager for Regional and Long-Range Planning at Houston METRO. While at METRO, Zachariah led the team that successfully delivered the METRONext 2040 transit plan for the Houston Region.

"This is a critical juncture for all of us. We now have the opportunity as a community to turn our focus from resilience and climate planning, to implementation and a realization of the benefits of those plans," says Zachariah in the release. "I am grateful for this opportunity and look forward to working with Mayor Turner and all stakeholders to move us toward a more resilient and equitable future."

Here's some local Houston startup news you may have missed. Photo by Zview/Getty Images

Houston startups raise funds, enter into new partnerships, and more local innovation news

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Houston startups across industries have been moving and shaking these past few weeks, and there's a chance you may have missed some of these Houston innovation stories.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, two Houston-based e-commerce startups announce big news, a tech company pitches abroad, and more.

Houston industrial e-commerce startup expands into the construction industry

Houston-based GoExpedi has expanded its business. Photo by Colt Melrose for GoExpedi

GoExpedi, an end-to-end digital supply chain and data analytics company with solutions within procurement and delivery of maintenance, repair, and operations products for heavy industries, announced it has expanded into the commercial construction space.

Builders partnering with GoExpedi now have access to more than 200,000 critical parts and supplies, according to a news release from the company.

"Access to needed tools and materials in construction is already a challenge in today's supply chain environment," says GoExpedi CEO Tim Neal in the release. "Expanding into commercial construction is a natural extension of our capabilities as we already provide significant operational and cost value with our digital platform across similar heavy sectors. We're quickly ramping up the number of construction groups we're working with, giving them a better way to plan for and order materials to help avoid costly building delays."

GoExpedi raised a $25 million series C round in 2020 and is deploying these funds as the company grows. Earlier this year, the startup opened a new industrial and energy MRO warehouse in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

UH business college snags prestigious grant

Dean​ Paul Pavlou leads the University of Houston's Bauer College of Business.

The University of Houston's C. T. Bauer College of Business is partnering with Texas A&M University and Temple University to develop and implement an energy risk tracking and alert system in Houston and San Antonio. The research project recently received $1.5 million in grant funding from the National Science Foundation. The grant is part of the Smart and Connected Communities program.

"Advanced Learning for Energy Risk Tracking" (ALERT) is designed to prevent and mitigate costly and potentially devastating electricity outages — such as the 2021 winter storm — according to a news release from UH. Bauer College Dean and Cullen Distinguished Chair Professor Paul A. Pavlou is one of co-investigators.

"If there is one positive outcome of the winter storm, it certainly created an awareness for many people that we need to invest more in intelligent systems that can minimize the huge costs and negative impacts that electricity outages can have on people and local communities," he says in the release. "The idea of this research is to create a data-driven system to reduce, predict, and mitigate costly power outages, especially in traditionally disadvantaged communities that usually suffer the most from power outages."

The ALERT system depends on data generated by utilities, city and county governments, school districts and others, enabling preemptive repairs and allowing officials to react more quickly in the event of unforeseen outages, per the release, and a test version of the resource may begin operating in San Antonio as soon as 2022, followed by a trial in Houston.

"It's a technologically very advanced solution, but the beauty of it is that we are working with local communities to acquire the data, to enhance the system and also feed the data back to the community to actually minimize the impact on the people who suffer most from power outages," Pavlou says in the release.

Houston health tech company receives new investment

Dan Purvis, CEO of Velentium

A Houston company has fresh funding. Photo courtesy of Velentium

Velentium has announced a growth recapitalization in partnership with Connecticut-based Great Point Partners. Houston-based Velentium is an engineering firm specializing in the design and manufacturing of therapeutic and diagnostic active medical devices, and GPP is a leading health care investment firm. The new investment allows Velentium to scale national operations.

"When Great Point reached out to us earlier this year, we were immediately impressed with their deep knowledge of our market and track record building businesses," says Dan Purvis, CEO of Velentium, in a news release. "We continue to build an organization that improves the lives of people and families by helping to bring transformative medical devices to market, and Great Point is uniquely positioned to enable us to do that at an even larger scale. Today, we are starting a new chapter and taking a crucial step in realizing our dream of having 1,000 families as part of our organization."

Velentium was created to advance the next breakthrough medical device technology — all within the same company. Innovators and inventors don't have to go through the processes — from cybersecurity to manufacturing — by themselves.

"Our dream from day one was to create a one-stop shop here in Houston where new startups with IP can come to us and know that start to finish they would have their commercial device ready for approval with the FDA and that we were going to handle everything," Purvis previously told InnovationMap.

With GPP's investment, Velentium is equipped to augment its end-to-end solutions and its nearshore and offshore manufacturing capabilities, per the release.

"Velentium has played a pivotal role in the development of groundbreaking neuromodulation devices that have led to important medical technology advancements," says GPP Managing Director Adam Dolder in the release. "We look forward to being partners with Dan, Tim and the entire team and helping them to achieve their goals for the company."

Houston startup tapped for European pitch competition

Jessica Reitmeier, is the co-founder of Pandata Tech. Photo courtesy of Pandata Tech

Houston-based Pandata Tech is one of 29 companies from around the globe competing in Scotland's Net Zero Technology Centre's Clean Energy Start-up Pitch Battle finals. Each featured company has a technology solution that can help accelerate the transition to a net zero energy industry, and 10 finalists will be selected to pitch at COP 26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, on November 2, 2021.

"These start-ups are truly inspiring. Offering extraordinary innovation and ambition, all these teams are developing technologies that have significant potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," says Mark Anderson, TechX Director of Net Zero Technology Centre.

The Ion Houston nominated Pandata Tech to be part of the competition because of the startup's previous work in offshore energy and geothermal utility distribution.

"When we think about reducing C02 emissions by 50 percent or more by 2030 and the data required to meet that mark, it's simple — humans and algorithms need data they can trust," says Jessica Reitmeier, co-founder of Pandata.

Houston e-commerce services provider announces strategic partnership

Houston-based e-commerce software startup and Amazon competitor raises $25M in its series A

Cart.com has a new partner, which has increased access to tools for its clients. Photo via cart.com

Houston-based Cart.com, an end-to-end ecommerce services provider and Amazon competitor, announced a strategic partnership with Clearco, the world's largest ecommerce investor. With the new partnership, Cart.com's clients will receive access to Clearco's capital financing and Clearco's portfolio of over 5,500 companies will have access to Cart.com's end-to-end e-commerce platform.

"We're committed to making all aspects of running an ecommerce business streamlined and hassle-free — and that includes getting access to the capital needed to fuel growth," says Omair Tariq, Cart.com CEO, in a news release. "Through this partnership we're giving online sellers frictionless access to the resources they need to scale up, while allowing founders to stay laser-focused on serving their customers and building their brand."

The two companies share the mission to democratize ecommerce by delivering easier, more streamlined access to critical resources — including capital, services, and domain-specific information — which have previously only been available to companies like Amazon.

"Like Cart.com, we envision a world where founding a business is accessible to everyone, and where founders can access essential capital without having to jump through endless hoops," says Andrew D'Souza, Clearco CEO, in the release. "By partnering with Cart.com, Clearco companies will be able to access the platform's end-to-end ecommerce engine — including online store technology, integrated fulfillment services, and customer service support — to scale their ecommerce growth."

The five finalists in the Top Founder Under 40 category for the inaugural InnovationMap Awards share the challenges they have had to overcome. Photos courtesy

Overheard: Young founders explain the challenges they've faced

Eavesdropping in houston

It's not easy being the youngest person in a room, and that's certainly the case for startup founders looking to make an impact on an industry that's been doing things a certain way since before they were born.

The five finalists of the Top Founder Under 40 category for the InnovationMap Awards presented by Techwave were asked to share their challenges overcame as young founders. Here's what they had to say. Click here to register for the livestream.

"It wasn't until I stood my ground by being persistent, and by not being afraid to hand their responsibilities to someone else, that they finally took me seriously."

Photo courtesy of CaseCTRL

— Pamela Singh of CaseCTRL says. "While working as on a Department of Defense Contract, I was leading a development effort with other older white men who were mostly retired military," she explains."They did not appreciate a young ethnic female giving them orders, and would often ignore my email requests or assigned tasks. At first, I felt defeated, but then I had to remember that although they have a lot of knowledge in general, I was the one with the right knowledge for this specific project."

"Changing the minds of experienced executives, who have worked in the energy industry for decades, was an uphill battle that took time and a considerable amount of effort."

With fresh funds, this Houston entrepreneur plans to scale his industrial e-commerce startup

Photo by Colt Melrose for GoExpedi

— Tim Neal of GoExpedi. "Over the years, I have enjoyed great success in my professional career, but that has not come without a few challenges," Neal says. "I am incredibly grateful for my mentors who believed in my vision despite my age."

"I think my go getter attitude has always helped me out and aid me mature faster."

Photo courtesy of LAMIK Beauty

— Kim Roxie of LAMIK Beauty. "Since I started at such young age at 21, after being labeled 'at risk' in high school, I think I have always been seen as 'too young,'" she says. "However, My life motto is 'qualify yourself!'"

"Once I started just being myself and not carrying the weight of the no's it really improved my productivity, my leadership, and my overall success as a person and as a leader in my business."

Emily Cisek, CEO and co-founder of The Postage

Photo courtesy of The Postage

— Emily Cisek of The Postage. "I think advocating for myself and my business as a younger female founder has been a challenge mostly because as a person you want to please the people around you, investors, whoever, and sometimes no matter what you do, they aren't going to be on the same page and that's OK," she says. "But not carrying that forward is what's important. There's been times I've been told no, when I was trying to be exactly what I thought an investor or business partner wanted to hear."

"Typically, companies that have been around and have older leadership can have an advantage."

Photo via TMC.edu

— Emma Fauss of Medical Informatics Corp. She says she's experienced age discrimination early on within the health care industry.

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University of Houston powers up first robot food server in a U.S. restaurant

order up

The University of Houston is taking a bold step — or, in this case, roll — in foodservice delivery. UH's Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership is now deploying a robot server in Eric’s Restaurant at its Hilton College.

Booting up this new service is major bragging rights for the Coogs, as UH is now the only college in the country — and the only restaurant facility in Houston — to utilize a robotic food delivery.

These rolling delivery bots come from the state-of-the-art food service robot called Servi. The bots, created by Bear Robotics, are armed with LiDar sensors, cameras, and trays, and automatically return to their posts when internal weight sensors detect a delivery has been completed.

Not surprisingly, these futuristic food staffers are booting up plenty of buzz at UH.

“People are excited about it,” says Dennis Reynolds, who is dean of the Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership and oversees the only hospitality program in the world where students work and take classes in an internationally branded, full-service hotel. Launching robot waitstaff at UH as a test market makes sense, he notes, for practical use and larger implications.

The Servi robots deliver food from the kitchen to the table. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

“Robotics and the general fear of technology we see today are really untested in the restaurant industry,” he says in an announcement. “At Hilton College, it’s not just about using tomorrow’s technology today. We always want to be the leader in learning how that technology impacts the industry.”

Bear Robotics, a tech company founded by restaurant experts and tech entrepreneurs, hosted a Servi showcase at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago earlier this year. After seeing the demo, Reynolds was hooked. UH's Servi robot arrived at Eric’s Restaurant in October.

Before sending the bot to diners' tables, the bot was prepped by Tanner Lucas, the executive chef and foodservice director at Eric’s. That meant weeks of mapping, programming, and — not surprisingly — “test driving” around the restaurant.

Tanner even created a digital map of the restaurant to teach the Servi its pathways and designated service points, such as table numbers. “Then, we sent it back and forth to all of those points from the kitchen with food to make sure it wouldn’t run into anything," he adds.

But does having a robot deliver food create friction between human and automated staff? Not at Eric's. “The robot helps my workflow,” Joel Tatum, a server at Eric’s says. “It lets me spend more time with my customers instead of just chasing and running food.”

Once loaded, the kitchen staff can tell the Servi robots where to take the dishes. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

Reynolds believes robots will complement their human counterparts and actually enhance the customer experience, even in unlikely settings.

“Studies have been conducted in senior living facilities where you might think a robot wouldn’t be well received, but it’s been just the opposite,” Reynolds says. “Those residents saw the change in their lives and loved it.”

To that end, he plans to use Servi bots in other UH venues. “The ballroom would be a fantastic place to showcase Servi – not as a labor-saving device, but as an excitement generator,” Reynolds notes. “To have it rotating through a big event delivering appetizers would be really fun.”

Critics who denounce robot servers and suggest they will soon displace humans are missing the point, Reynolds adds. “This isn’t about cutting our labor costs. It’s about building our top-line revenues and expanding our brand as a global hospitality innovator,” Reynolds says. “People will come to expect more robotics, more artificial intelligence in all segments of hospitality, and our students will be right there at the forefront.”

Servi bots come at a time of dynamic growth for Hilton College. A recent rebrand to “Global Hospitality Leadership” comes as the college hotel is undergoing a $30 million expansion and renovation, which includes a new five-story, 70-room guest tower. The student-run Cougar Grounds coffeehouse reopened this semester in a larger space with plenty of updates. The neighboring Eric’s Club Center for Student Success helps with recruitment and enrollment, undergraduate academic services, and career development.

“To be the first university in the country to introduce robotics in the dining room is remarkable,” Reynolds adds. “There are a lot of unique things we’re doing at Hilton College.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston innovator on seeing a greener future on built environment

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 162

An architect by trade, Anas Al Kassas says he was used to solving problems in his line of work. Each project architects take on requires building designers to be innovative and creative. A few years ago, Kassas took his problem-solving background into the entrepreneurship world to scale a process that allows for retrofitting window facades for energy efficiency.

“If you look at buildings today, they are the largest energy-consuming sector — more than industrial and more than transportation,” Kassas, founder and CEO of INOVUES, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. “They account for up to 40 percent of energy consumption and carbon emissions.”

To meet their climate goals, companies within the built environment are making moves to transition to electric systems. This has to be done with energy efficiency in mind, otherwise it will result in grid instability.

"Energy efficiency goes hand in hand with energy transition," he explains.

Kassas says that he first had the idea for his company when he was living in Boston. He chose to start the business in Houston, attracted to the city by its central location, affordable labor market, and manufacturing opportunities here.

Last year, INOVUES raised its first round of funding — a $2.75 million seed round — to scale up the team and identify the best markets to target customers. Kassas says he was looking for regions with rising energy rates and sizable incentives for companies making energy efficient changes.

"We were able to now implement our technology in over 4 million square feet of building space — from Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York City, Portland, and very soon in Canada," he says.

Notably missing from that list is any Texas cities. Kassas says that he believes Houston is a great city for startups and he has his operations and manufacturing is based here, but he's not yet seen the right opportunity and adaption

"Unfortunately most of our customers are not in Texas," "A lot of work can be done here to incentivize building owners. There are a lot of existing buildings and construction happening here, but there has to be more incentives."

Kassas shares more about his growth over the past year, as well as what he has planned for 2023 on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

Houston SPAC announces merger with Beaumont-based tech company in deal valued at $100M

speaking of spacs

A Houston SPAC, or special purpose acquisition company, has announced the company it plans to merge with in the new year.

Beaumont-based Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc., a provider of thermal imaging platforms, and Houston-based SportsMap Tech Acquisition Corp. (NASDAQ: SMAP), a publicly-traded SPAC with $117 million held in trust, announced their agreement for ICI to IPO via SPAC.

Originally announced in the fall of last year, the blank-check company is led by David Gow, CEO and chairman. Gow is also chairman and CEO of Gow Media, which owns digital media outlets SportsMap, CultureMap, and InnovationMap, as well as the SportsMap Radio Network, ESPN 97.5 and 92.5.

The deal will close in the first half of 2023, according to a news release, and the combined company will be renamed Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc. and will be listed on NASDAQ under a new ticker symbol.

“ICI is extremely excited to partner with David Gow and SportsMap as we continue to deliver our innovative software and hardware solutions," says Gary Strahan, founder and CEO of ICI, in the release. "We believe our software and sensor technology can change the way companies across industries perform predictive maintenance to ensure reliability, environmental integrity, and safety through AI and machine learning.”

Strahan will continue to serve as CEO of the combined company, and Gow will become chairman of the board. The transaction values the combined company at a pre-money equity valuation of $100 million, according to the release, and existing ICI shareholders will roll 100 percent of their equity into the combined company as part of the transaction.

“We believe ICI is poised for strong growth," Gow says in the release. "The company has a strong value proposition, detecting the overheating of equipment in industrial settings. ICI also has assembled a strong management team to execute on the opportunity. We are delighted to combine our SPAC with ICI.”

Founded in 1995, ICI provides infrared and imaging technology — as well as service, training, and equipment repairs — to various businesses and individuals across industries.