Day Edwards, co-founder of ChurchSpace, and Margo Jordan, CEO of Enrichly, were among the recipients of grants from Google. Photos courtesy

Two Houston-based startups were named among 50 companies nationwide to receive $100,000 as part of the Google for Startups Black Founders Fund this month.

The $5 million fund aims to close the wealth gap for Black founders around the country by offering 50 $100,000 non-dilutive awards, meaning that the investment does not require founders to give up equity in exchange for funding. The award also includes programming, mentorship and access to free mental health therapy and now includes 176 founders in the United States.

ChurchSpace and Enrichly were the two Houston-based companies to receive the award.

ChurchSpace, known as the Airbnb for churches, is a mission-based company that aims to help churches convert underused real estate into event, meeting and commercial kitchen space to boost revenue and relieve financial burden while remaining compliant with IRS regulations for non-profits.

“We applied to Google for Black Startups to have the opportunity to gain perspective on how to build a better product and experience for our customers,” Day Edwards, co-founder of ChurchSpace, said in a statement. “We believe that being a part of the program will enable us as Black founders to better lead and build a tech-enabled platform that is eradicating church underutilization rates across the nation.”

The company 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-free grant from Amazon. The company plans to launch the second iteration of its marketplace in December 2022.

Meanwhile, Enrichly provides on-site mental health curriculums for schools through machine learning, gamification and data automation. The company's logic model is designed to have short-term, mid-term and long-term results in students' goal setting abilities, emotion and stress management techniques, conflict resolution, etiquette, relationships, resilience and more.

“The Google for Startups Black Founders Fund is an incredible opportunity for the growth of our company.” Margo Jordan, CEO of Enrichly, said in the statement.

Enrichly plans to use the funds to expand its team and reach growth goals in the future.

Earlier this summer, Google for Startups also selected three Houston companies for its inaugural Google for Startups Latino Founders Fund. Read more about the companies selected here.
Google has named its first class of Latino entrepreneurs for its inclusive fund. Photo via Getty Images

Google taps 3 Houston Latino-led startups for inaugural non-equity cash awards

Money moves

Google announced today that it has selected 50 companies for the inaugural cohort of the Google for Startups Latino Founders Fund.

Nine startups in Texas have been selected — and three of them are bases in Houston. Each company will receive an equity-free $100,000 investment, as well as programming and support from Google, mentorship from technical and business experts, access to free mental health therapy, and more.

The Houston companies selected were:

  • AnswerBite, which supports marketing enterprise teams with social proof videos and customer insights in minutes and has over 300 clients
  • Boxes, which creates devices that combine physical and digital technology to democratize convenient, affordable, and sustainable retail
  • Ease, financial practice operations platform that helps clinicians build new practices from the ground up

“Being selected to attend the inaugural cohort of Google for Startups Latino Founders Fund gets us one step closer towards completing our mission of increasing healthcare access for Black and Latino communities,” says Dr. Mario Amaro, founder and CEO of Ease, in a news release. “The support and excitement that Google continues to have for small business gives us so much confidence in the future of private practice and clinician entrepreneurship.”

The program was founded to shrink the gap in opportunities and wealth for Latinos in the business community who are disproportionately affected by a lack of access to funding.

“We are excited to support these talented Latino entrepreneurs as they build innovative solutions and solve tough problems,” says Daniel Navarro, US marketing lead for Google for Startups, in the release. “I hope the launch of our inaugural Google for Startups Latino Founders Fund not only catalyzes the growth of these incredible Latino-led startups, but also inspires other Latino entrepreneurs, and ultimately generates wealth within the community."

The Greater Houston Partnership hosted a panel of Houston tech experts for the second annual State of Technology event. GHP/Twitter

Houston experts talk tech and the city's future as an innovation hub

Eavesdropping in Houston

What's the future of technology in the Bayou City? Several experts sat down to discuss at a recent luncheon.

The Greater Houston Partnership hosted its second annual State of Technology event — the first to be hosted in person — this week, and panelists joined the stage to discuss ESG, venture capital, and what's next for Houston's growing tech scene. Missed the conversation? Here are several key moments from the event.

"We've got to keep our foot on the gas in Houston."

— Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the GHP, says at the start of the panel. "We were hardly in the game at all five years ago. We are clearly in the game today — we're being noticed," he continues. "But just being in the game is not what we aspire to. We aspire to be a leader and a major player, so we still have a lot of work to do."

"We have seen an incredible shift across all industries and sectors focused on the business impact of ESG. And Houston is in such an incredible place for that."

— Trinity Lloyd, sustainability and energy transition lead at Google Cloud. "Like technology, energy is at the core of every industry and sector," she shares. "We're seeing a ton of innovation around energy transition and climate tech."

"Venture capitalists are seeking the best ideas. Traditionally, VC has been about who you know, but that's changed drastically."

— Sandy Guitar, managing director of the HX Venture Fund. "We're not all the way there yet, but most venture capitalists we're working with are very focused on making sure they get the best ideas in the most democratic way," Guitar says of inclusion in VCs. "You really have to understand difference to solve important problems."

"Early stage venture is at its prime right now. ... It also happens to be the kind of environment that Houston has really been known for."

— Guitar says of the landscape of Houston's startup ecosystem. "We have great early stage venture capital opportunities," she says. "People are looking to get invested in earlier and earlier."

"Premium is now knowing where your products came from." 

— Ann Lai, vice president and general manager of displays solutions business group at HP Inc. "The progeny of your device or services is extremely important to the average user."

"While we seek to solve our own corporate social responsibility and innovate within our organizations to have better and more accurate reporting, we have this opportunity to create new markets."

— Lloyd says. "We're starting to see industry lines blurring," she continues. "In 10 years, the way we all do business is going to be different."

"How do we use all of us as grassroots ambassadors to talk about Houston as a strong place for technology?"

— Lai says on getting the word out about Houston's tech scene. "We also need to find ways to track talent earlier in the pipeline."

"It's about the venture capital community at large efficiently finding the fastest growing deals, and corporations having a risk tolerance to lean into that."

— Guitar says about what needs to happen in Houston. "It's about getting that match making right," "That can change the trajectory of Houston."

"Doing good in the world is critical to attracting talent."

— Lloyd says on the future of the workforce. "Houston has an infrastructure of intellectual capital unlike any other city in the world that is really critical across ESG and the climate spectrum."

Here's your latest roundup of innovation news you may have missed. Shobeir Ansari/Getty Images

Google grants Houston founders funds, The Ion looks for artists, and more local innovation news

short stories

The Houston innovation ecosystem is bursting at the seams with news, and for this reason, local startup and tech updates may have fallen through some of the cracks.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, the Comcast RISE program expands to grant more funds, Google names Houston-area recipients from its Black Founder Fund, The Ion is looking for artists to participate in a new initiative, and more.

Google cohort awards Black founders $100,000 each

Google has granted funds to two Houston companies. Photo via Pexels

DOSS and SOTAOG, two Houston-based startups, have received $100,000 each as a part of the second cohort of the Google for Startups Black Founders Fund, a $10 million initiative for Black founders. Originally reported to be a part of Google's accelerator early this summer, DOSS is a digital brokerage that uses tech to make homeownership more affordable, and SOTAOG is an enterprise solutions provider within the oil and gas and heavy industrial industries.

"The Google for Startups Black Founders Fund embodies our mission of helping underrepresented founders grow their businesses. We are excited to continue the fund and contribute funding to Black founders, with no strings attached. Black founders currently receive less than 1 percent of total VC funding," says Jewel Burks Solomon, head of Google for Startups US, in a news release. "We heard loud and clear from the 2020 fund recipients that Google for Startups and Goodie Nation have been crucial to their success not only through funding, but through community, mentorship, network connections and technical expertise."

Last year, Google for Startups awarded 76 Black-led startups up to $100,000 in non-dilutive funding, as well as technical support from tools and teams across Google, including as much as $120,000 in donated search Ads from Google.org and up to $100,000 in Google Cloud credits, according to the release.

In addition to the two companies from Houston, eight companies from Austin and Dallas were also chosen for the second program.

The Ion calls for local artists

The Ion is looking for local artists to create innovative window displays. Photo courtesy of The Ion

The Ion, a Midtown innovation hub that's owned and operated by Rice Management Company, is looking for local artists to work on two prominent display windows at the front of the newly renovated historic Sears building.

"As a nexus for creativity of many different kinds, The Ion welcomes Houston's talented artists to tap into their unique skill sets and diverse backgrounds to submit inventive proposals that will ultimately comprise two different art installations. Each installation will contribute to Houston's innovation ecosystem by inspiring the growing community of creators who will see the building's display windows on a daily basis," says Artistic Consultant Piper Faust in a news release.

The two art installations will reside for six months — from February to August of next year. The submissions will be evaluated by a team of experts identified by Rice Management Co. and Piper Faust. The budget for each project will be $20,000.

According to the release, the submissions are open to Houston-area artists and should be in line with The Ion's "vision and mission of accelerating innovation, connecting communities and facilitating partnerships to create growth and opportunity in Houston."

Artists can apply online until October 1 at 5 pm.

Comcast RISE announces additional $1 million for Houston founders

Comcast to dole out $1M in grants to BIPOC-owned small businesses in Houston

The Comcast RISE program will give out another batch of $10,000 grants to BIPOC-owned small businesses in Houston. Photo via Getty Images

The Comcast RISE Investment Fund, which announced funding for 100 small businesses in Houston earlier this year, has expanded to provide an additional $1 million in support. The program is focused on BIPOC-owned small businesses in Harris and Fort Bend Counties that have been in business for three or more years with 1 to 25 employees.

Eligible businesses can apply online at ComcastRISE.com beginning October 1 through October 14 for one of the one hundred $10,000 grants.

Houston startup wins $25,000

Day Edwards, founder and CEO of Church Space

Day Edwards, founder and CEO of Church Space, won $25,000 for her company. Photo courtesy of Church Space

Dallas-based Impact Ventures, a nonprofit startup accelerator focused on empowering women and communities of color, hosted its bi-annual event, The Startup Showcase. A Houston-based company, Church Space, took the top prize of $25,000.

Billed as the "Netflix of churches," Church Space originally started as a way to allow groups to rent spaces for worship. But, in light of the pandemic, the company is pivoted to launch Church Space TV, a streaming program that allows churches and ministries to stream worship services for free.

"It felt like the perfect opportunity to give churches a way to reach more people during the pandemic," Day Edwards, founder and CEO of Church Space, previously told InnovationMap. "This would create more impact than anything we could possibly offer at this time."

The company is also one of MassChallenge Texas's 2021 cohort.

Houston health care leader receives prestigious award

Dr. Peter Hotez, a leader in the development of Texas Children's and Baylor's COVID-19 vaccine construct, has been named the recipient of a prestigious award. ​Photo courtesy of TCH

Dr. Peter Hotez, Texas Children's Hospital Chair in Tropical Pediatrics, has been awarded the 2021 David E. Rogers Award. Hotez is co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children's Hospital and Professor of Pediatrics and Molecular Virology and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

The annual award, presented by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Association of American Medical Colleges, "honors a medical school faculty member who has made major contributions to improving the health and health care of the American people," according to a news release.

"I am thrilled to be honored with the David E. Rogers Award," Hotez says in the release. "As we continue this fight against COVID-19, having the additional support from the AAMC will amplify our efforts to improve public health nationally and globally."

The award will be presented to Dr. Hotez at the 2021 AAMC Awards Recognition Event on Wednesday, October 27.

Hotez is leading the development of Texas Children's and Baylor's COVID-19 vaccine construct, according to the release, and he has dedicated much of his time to vaccine advocacy efforts, countering rising antivaccine and anti-science sentiments in the United States while promoting vaccine diplomacy efforts globally.

Google has announced its Houston office is expected to deliver in May. Photo courtesy of Google

Google to invest $50M in Texas and shares new details on its upcoming Houston office

google is coming

Mark it on your calendars: In May, Google is expected to complete the buildout of its first office in Houston.

Google will occupy one floor totaling 11,000 square feet in the One Buffalo Heights building at 3663 Washington Ave. The tech giant announced the Houston office last June.

It's unclear how many Google employees will work in the Houston office, which will be a regional hub for Google Cloud's sales team. But if Google adheres to industry standards for office space per person, the Houston office would house roughly 60 to 70 employees.

Google revealed the May timetable for completion of its Houston office on March 18 in conjunction with a broader announcement about investing $50 million in office space and data center space this year in Texas.

"We are excited to see Google expand its presence in Texas and here in Houston," Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, says in a Google release. "Google is working closely with Houston companies in energy and healthcare to ensure successful digital transformation in these core industries. At the same time, the company is collaborating with emerging energy 2.0 companies to help usher in the energy transition to a low-carbon future. We believe the future holds more partnership opportunities for Google and the Houston region."

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says the Google office will help lay the groundwork for Houston's evolution as Silicon Bayou, a center of tech innovation. Along those lines, Bill McKeon, CEO of the Texas Medical Center, says the medical complex is working with Google on several initiatives designed to capitalize on his organization's health data and intellectual capital.

Google's local office will contribute to a growing tech presence in Houston.

Houston ranks 14th among major U.S. metro areas for hiring of tech workers, according to tech job website Dice.com. That's one spot ahead of San Jose, California, the heart of Silicon Valley. Austin appears at No. 7 on the list and Dallas at No. 9.

Adding to Houston's tech status is that the typical tech salary sits at $91,190, putting it in 24th place for how much higher that pay is among U.S. metro areas than the typical salary for all industries, according to Business.org. On that scale, Dallas-Fort Worth is No. 23 and San Antonio is No. 26.

Tech trade group CompTIA

estimates the tech sector contributes $28.4 billion a year to the Houston area's economy. The region ranks 12th in the U.S. for total tech employment (more than 235,800 workers), with tech jobs representing 7.2 percent of the regional workforce.
Joy M. Hutton leads the Grow with Google in Houston. Photo courtesy of Google

Houston innovator to help minority entrepreneurs get access to resources she wished she had

Houston Innovators Podcast episode 63

Joy M. Hutton is used to wearing multiple hats. A consultant for nonprofits and small businesses at her own firm, Joy of Consulting, and the founder of On the Go Glam, an on-demand beauty platform, Hutton recently added another hat into rotation.

In November, when Google announced it was expanding its Grow with Google Digital Coach program to Houston, Hutton was named the local leader. Now, she's hoping to help provide important business resources to entrepreneurs just like herself.

"In Houston, you have a lot of different resources that weren't available to startups before just within the past few years, and I think that's huge," Hutton says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Being more inclusive with people who need the resources who haven't traditionally had access to those resources is a big initiative. I personally am proud to be a part of that."

Hutton specifically calls out resources like MassChallenge and Founder's Institute — both of which she serves as a mentor for — as well as DivInc, gBeta, and of course the Grow with Google program. To get involved, Houston entrepreneurs can head online to learn more and keep an eye out for monthly classes online — and hopefully, in the future, in person events as well.

Just like any other entrepreneur this year, Hutton was challenged to pivot her own startup amid COVID-19 and its accompanying challenges. On the podcast, Hutton shares how the pandemic caused her to rethink the timeline on some of the features she had in mind for the company.

Originally expecting to launch at SXSW in March, On the Go Glam was focused on providing a tech platform for on-demand makeup and hair service for women. But with barber shops being closed, Hutton saw an opportunity to pivot to provide at-home services for men too.

"The pandemic was kind of a good thing, because it allowed me to take a step back and add those additional services for men," Hutton says, adding that expanding into this part of the beauty industry was always a plan, but the new need pushed her to quickly pivot to provide this service.

Hutton shares more about the new program and her observations on how Houston has evolved as a startup ecosystem in the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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Houston hospital joins the metaverse with new platform

now online

Houston Methodist has launched a platform that is taking medical and scientific experts and students into the metaverse.

The MITIEverse, a new app focused on health care education and training, provides hands-on practice, remote assistance from experienced clinicians, and more. The app — named for the Houston Methodist Institute for Technology, Innovation and Education, aka MITIE — was created in partnership with FundamentalVR and takes users into virtual showcase rooms, surgical simulations, and lectures from Houston Methodist faculty, as well as collaborators from across the world.

“This new app brings the hands-on education and training MITIE is known for to a new virtual audience. It could be a first step toward building out a medical metaverse,” says Stuart Corr, inventor of the MITIEverse and director of innovation systems engineering at Houston Methodist, in a news release.

Image courtesy of Houston Methodist

The hospital system's DeBakey Heart and Vascular Center has created a virtual showcase room on the app, and users can view Houston Methodist faculty performing real surgeries and then interact with 3D human models.

"We view the MITIEverse as a paradigm-shifting platform that will offer new experiences in how we educate, train, and interact with the health community,” says Alan Lumsden, M.D., medical director of Houston Methodist DeBakey Heart and Vascular Center, in the release.

“It essentially democratizes access to health care educators and innovators by breaking down physical barriers. There’s no need to travel thousands of miles to attend a conference when you can patch into the MITIEverse," he continues.

Image courtesy of Houston Methodist

Houston doctors get approval for low-cost COVID vaccine abroad

green light

A Houston-born COVID-19 vaccine has gotten the go-ahead to be produced and distributed in Indonesia.

PT Bio Farma, which oversees government-owned pharmaceutical manufacturers in Indonesia, says it’s prepared to make 20 million doses of the IndoVac COVID-19 vaccine this year and 100 million doses a year by 2024. This comes after the vaccine received authorization from the Indonesian Food and Drug Authority for emergency use in adults.

With more than 275 million residents, Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous country.

IndoVac was created by the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development and Baylor College of Medicine. Drs. Peter Hotez and Maria Elena Bottazzi lead the vaccine project. Bio Farma is licensing IndoVac from BCM Ventures, the commercial group at the Baylor College of Medicine.

“Access to vaccines in the developing world is critical to the eradication of this virus,” Hotez, co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, says in a news release.

Aside from distributing the vaccine in Indonesia, Bio Farma plans to introduce it to various international markets.

“The need for a safe, effective, low-cost vaccine for middle- to low-income countries is central to the world’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Bottazzi, co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development and associate dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor.

“Without widespread inoculation of populations in the developing world, which must include safe, effective booster doses, additional [COVID-19] variants will develop, hindering the progress achieved by currently available vaccines in the United States and other Western countries.”

Bio Farma says it has completed Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trials for IndoVac and is wrapping up a Phase 3 trial.

IndoVac is a version of the patent-free, low-cost Corbevax vaccine, developed in Houston and dubbed “The World’s COVID-19 Vaccine.” The vaccine formula can be licensed by a vaccine producer in any low- or middle-income country, which then can take ownership of it, produce it, name it, and work with government officials to distribute it, Hotez told The Texas Tribune in February.

Among donors that have pitched in money for development of the vaccine are the Houston-based MD Anderson and John S. Dunn foundations, the San Antonio-based Kleberg Foundation, and Austin-based Tito’s Vodka.

“During 2022, we hope to partner with the World Health Organization and other United Nations agencies to vaccinate the world. We believe that global vaccine equity is finally at hand and that it is the only thing that can bring the COVID pandemic to an end,” Hotez and Bottazzi wrote in a December 2021 article for Scientific American.

Houston research: How best to deliver unexpected news as a company

houston voices

According to Forbes, the volume of mergers and acquisitions in 2021 was the highest on record, and 2022 has already seen a number of major consolidation attempts. Microsoft’s acquisition of video game company Activision Blizzard was the biggest gaming industry deal in history, according to Reuters. JetBlue recently won the bid over Frontier Airlines to merge with Spirit Airlines. And, perhaps most notably, Elon Musk recently backed out of an attempt to acquire Twitter.

It can be hard to predict how markets will react to such high-profile deals (and, in Elon Musk and Twitter’s case, whether or not the deal will even pan out). But Rice Business Professor Haiyang Li and Professor Emeritus Robert Hoskisson, along with Jing Jin of the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, have found that companies can take advantage of these deals to buffer the effects of other news.

The researchers looked at 7,575 mergers and acquisitions from 2001 to 2015, with a roughly half-and-half split between positive and negative stock market reactions. They found that when there’s a negative reaction to a deal, companies have two strategies for dealing with it. If it’s a small negative reaction, companies will release positive news announcements in an attempt to soften the blow. But when the reaction is really bad, companies actually tend to announce more negative news afterward. Specifically, companies released 18% less positive news and 52% more negative news after a bad market reaction.

This may seem counterintuitive, but there’s a method to the madness, and it all has to do with managing expectations. If people are lukewarm on a company due to a merger or acquisition, it’s possible to sway public opinion with unrelated good news. When the backlash is severe, though, a little bit of good PR won’t be enough to change people’s minds. In this case, companies release more bad news because it’s one of their best chances to do so without making waves in the future. If people already think poorly of a company due to a recent deal, more bad news isn’t great, but it doesn’t come as a surprise, either. Therefore, it’s easier to ignore.

It might make more sense to just keep quiet if the market reaction to a deal is bad, and this study found that most companies do. However, this only applies when releasing more news would make a mildly bad situation worse. If things are already bad enough that the company can’t recover with good news, it can still make the best out of a bad situation by offloading more bad news when the damage will be minimal. Companies are legally obligated to disclose business-related news or information with shareholders and with the public. If it’s bad news, they like to share it when the public is already upset about a deal, instead of releasing the negative news when there are no other distractions. In this case the additional negative news is likely to get more play in the media when disclosed by itself.

But what happens when people get excited about a merger or acquisition? In these cases, it also depends on how strong the sentiment is. If the public’s reaction is only minimally positive, companies may opt to release more good news in hopes of making the reaction stronger. When the market is already enthusiastic about the deal, though, companies won’t release more positive news. The researchers found that after an especially positive market reaction to a deal, companies indeed released 12% less positive news but 56% more negative news. Also, one could argue that the contrasting negative news makes the good news on the acquisition look even better. This may be important especially if the acquisition is a significant strategic move.

There are several reasons why a company wouldn’t continue to release positive news after a good press day and strong market reaction. First of all, they want to make sure that a rise in market price is attributed to the deal alone, and not any irrelevant news. A positive reaction to a deal also gives companies another opportunity to disclose bad news at a time when it will get less attention. If the bad news does get attention, the chances are better that stakeholders will go easy on them — a little bit of bad press is forgivable when the good news outshines it.

Companies may choose to release no news after a positive reaction to a merger or acquisition, the same way they might opt to stay quiet after backlash. They’re less likely to release positive news when stakeholders are already happy, preferring to save that news for the next time they need it, either to offset a negative reaction or strengthen a weak positive reaction.

Mergers and acquisitions can produce unpredictable market reactions, so it’s important for companies to be prepared for a variety of outcomes. In fact, Jin, Li and Hoskisson found that the steps taken by companies before deals were announced didn’t have much effect on the public’s reaction. They found that it’s more important for companies to make the best out of that reaction, whatever it turns out to be.

The researchers also found that, regardless of whether the market reaction was positive or negative, as long as the reaction was strong, companies could use the opportunity to hide smaller pieces of bad news in the shadow of a headline-making deal. Overall, the magnitude of the reaction mattered more than the type of reaction. People tend to have stronger reactions to unexpected news, though, so companies prefer to release negative news when market expectations are already low.

These findings are relevant beyond merger announcements, of course; they also point to strategies that could be useful in everyday communications. A key takeaway is that negative information is less upsetting when people already expect bad things — or when it comes after much bigger, and much better, news. Bad news is always hard to deliver, but this research gives us a few ways to soften the blow.

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This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom and was based on research from Jing Jin, Haiyang Li and Robert Hoskisson.