The Digital Fight Club made its Houston debut on November 20 at White Oak Music Hall. Emily Jaschke/InnovationMap

What do you get when you cross the information of an innovation panel with the ferocity of a boxing match? A verbal sprawling among innovation leaders that can only be known as the Digital Fight Club.

Houston's DFC came about with the help of Accenture, which had been a partner at the Dallas events, and InnovationMap, who teamed up as presenting sponsors for the event. DFC's founder, Michael Pratt, came up with the idea for Digital Fight Club as a way to liven up technology-focused events and networking opportunities.

The setup of the event is five fights, 10 fighters, and five judges. Each fighter has just a couple minutes to take their stand before the event moves on.

"This is Digital Fight Club," says Pratt, CEO of the company. "You get subject matter experts, and serious founders and CEOs on the stage and make them make their case. You learn something, it's a lot of fun, and it's a lot better than a panel."

The hour of fighting is coupled with a VIP event ahead of the showdown and an after party where further networking can continue on. At Houston's VIP event, InnovationMap got to check in with partners, fighters, and referees about how they thought the event was going to pan out. Check out the VIP event video here.

The panel of referees included Gabriella Rowe, CEO of Station Houston; Denise Hamilton, CEO of Watch Her Work; Tim Kopra, partner at Blue Bear Capital; Lance Black, Director at TMCx; and Barbara Burger, president of Chevron Technology Ventures.

The refs asked two questions per fight, and were able to vote on the winners of each round — as was the audience through an interactive web-based application. The break down of the fights, topics, and winners are as follows:

Fight #1: Future Workforce of Robotics/AI. Matt Hager, CEO of Poetic Systems, vs Pablo Marin, senior AI Leader, Microsoft. Hager took the win with 77 percent of the vote.
Fight #2: Whose responsibility is cybersecurity. Ted Gutierrez, CEO of SecurityGate vs Tara Khanna, managing director and Security Lead at Accenture. Khanna won this round, snagging 66 percent of the votes.
Fight #3: Oil & Gas Industry and the Environment. Michael Szafron - commercial adviser for Cemvita Factory, vs Steven Taylor, co-founder of AR for Everyone. Szafron received 76 percent of the voites, securing the win.
Fight #4: Digital in our personal lives. Grace Rodriguez, CEO of ImpactHub, vs Javier Fadul, chief innovation officer at HTX Labs. Rodriguez won with the largest margin of the night — 85 percent.
Fight #5: Future of Primary Care Geetinder Goyal, CEO of First Primary Care, vs Nick Desai, chief medical information officer at Houston Methodist. Goyal received 72 percent of the votes to take home the win.

The fights were heated, and some of the fighters had knockout quotes, from Hager's "AI is mostly bullshit" to Khanna's "Compliance doesn't mean you're secure." For more of the knockout quotes, click here.

The fight is on

Emily Jaschke/InnovationMap

Mike Pratt, who hosted the event, founded the Digital Fight Club in 2016.

Ten Houston innovators took the stage for five fights on the role technology plays in the future of industry. Emily Jaschke/InnovationMap

Overheard: Local fighters land knockout statements at Houston's first Digital Fight Club

Eavesdropping in houston

On Wednesday, Houston's innovation ecosystem hosted the rowdiest crowd at a professional business event that the city has ever seen.

Digital Fight Club, a Dallas-based event company, had its first Houston event at White Oak Music Hall on November 20 thanks to presenting sponsors Accenture and InnovationMap. The event featured 10 fighters and five referees across five fights that discussed cybersecurity, the future of primary care, and more.

"This is Digital Fight Club," says Michael Pratt, CEO of the company. "You get subject matter experts, and serious founders and CEOs on the stage and make them make their case. You learn something, it's a lot of fun, and it's a lot better than a panel."

If you missed the showdown, here are some of the nights zingers made by the entrepreneurs and subject matter experts that were the fighters of the evening.

"I believe that computers can get a lot of information to create [something new]. That's my job, that's what I do, and I see it done."

Pablo Marin, senior AI leader at Microsoft, during the fight on robotics and AI in the workforce. Marin's argument was that artificial intelligence and robotics can and will replace all repetitive jobs. However, he also believes that computers have the ability to create, as well, based on their ability to see the whole world and have access to all the world's information.

"AI is mostly bullshit."

Matthew Hager, CEO of Poetic Systems. Hager, who won the first fight of the night, responded to Marin that, while businesses like to believe that AI is actually able to deliver results so that they can sell more, the technology hasn't actually arrived yet. Plus, Hager says AI will never be creative without the human element. "Creativity is about who created it. It's about the photographer, not the camera," he says.

"What if the seatbelt laws and the speed limits were defined by Dodge, Ford, or Chrysler?"

Ted Gutierrez, CEO and co-founder of Security Gate, who argued for government to take the reigns of cybersecurity. He adds that companies are never going to be able to agree to one set of rules. "We gotta get one group to set the standard, and it's up to everyone else to refine that and innovate for it," he says.

"Compliance doesn't mean you're secure."

Tara Khanna, managing director and security lead at Accenture, who won the fight on cybersecurity needing to be figured out by the business industry. She argues that the private sector wins the war on talent and recruiting, so it has the money and resources to dedicate to the issue in more ways than the government ever will.

"I was born, I'm going to die, and there is nothing like earth in the universe as we know it. It is worth preserving and protecting."

Steven Taylor, co-founder of AR for Everyone, in the fight over the oil and gas industry's responsibility to the environment. He argued that it's going to be a mix of policy and corporate initiatives that changes the industry.

"I think the free market is going to get there if the consumer has the choice to pick what they want to do."

Michael Szafron, commercial adviser for Cemvita Factory, who took home the win for the oil and gas and the environment fight. Szafron's argument was that corporations are going to do what their consumers want, so that's who would drive them to action. "Let's look at California —very regulated environmentalists, and a million of those people get moved to Texas," he says.

"Disconnecting our personal lives from technology would not only limit ourselves, but it would also limit our capacity to adopt those tools to the needs of our society." 

Javier Fadul, chief innovation officer at HTX Labs, during the fight on digital in our personal lives. Fadul argues that not only does technology allow us to connect worldwide, but disconnecting would prevent that technology from developing further.

"I love tech, but now that it's on all the time everywhere, we need to make time to unplug."

Grace Rodriguez, CEO of Impact Hub Houston, who won the fight on personal technology. She says that yes, technology can help international connectivity, but it does more harm than good as people use personal tech as a default or distraction from humans right in front of them. "When your with people, be present," she says.

"Part of our innovation to redesign primary care is really to deploy technology out there to seamlessly provide care."

Nick Desai, chief medical information officer at Houston Methodist, who argued that the future of primary care is new innovations within traditional medicine. He adds that virtual care, which is something Methodist is working on, can help improve accessibility.

"The future of primary care is here. It's called direct primary care." 

Geetinder Goyal, CEO of First Primary Care, who won the fight on the future of primary care with his argument for a new, free market approach to medicine. Direct primary care opens up treatment and access to physicians with a monthly fee for patients to work outside of health care plans.

Houston startup development organizations have banded together for the third annual Houston Innovation Summit. Getty Images

Here's what events to attend each day during The Houston Innovation Summit

Where to be

For the third year, The Houston Innovation Summit is taking over the town to promote entrepreneurship and innovation within the city.

THIS begins today and runs through the weekend. Each day represents a theme — all pertinent to Houston. Impact Hub Houston has worked with other local startup development organizations to curate the programming for the week. Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director for Impact Hub Houston, says Houston has the innovation infrastructure by now, and now it's about execution.

"For 2019, the goal is now how do we go from inclusion to integration," Rodriguez says on a recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "I think we're at that step now of becoming more inclusive as a community."

THIS, just like last year, runs on the same week of Global Entrepreneurship Week, which is why today's programming starts with a global focus. Follow along on a global scale with #GEWecosystems.

For a complete list of THIS events (most of which are free and all over town), head to the website. Here are the events you should make sure not to miss.

Monday — Houston: We're Global

Starting strong, the first can't-miss event is the kickoff party. The free event is in the Amegy Building downtown (1801 Main Street), which is currently being transformed into The Cannon Houston's new Launch Pad. The event runs from 4 to 5:45 pm, and you can expect networking and interactive discussions on Houston's innovation ecosystem's growth and potential. Click here to register.

Tuesday: This Is Houston

While GotSpot's Female Founder Luncheon at MassChallenge is a good one to make if you can, the big event this day is Houston Exponential's 2020 Vision event. Basically an open house-style event, attendees at this free event can learn how to engage with HX and what the organization has planned for 2020. InnovationMap and Accenture are teaming up for a fireside chat about the diversity and potential in Houston. Click here to register.

Wednesday: Fresh Perspectives

The fight for technology and innovation is on. The first Houston Digital Fight Club is on Wednesday, November 20, and will feature five fights between industry experts on topics like cybersecurity, sustainable energy, primary care, and more. Audience members get to decide on a winner, and there will be tons of opportunities for networking. The event is $30 per person and will be at White Oak Music Hall. InnovationMap and Accenture are the lead sponsors. Click here to register.

If you can't make this evening event, WeWork Food Labs is cooking up a special event to discuss food innovation in Houston. Click here to register.

Thursday: The Next Generation

While the week so far has been centered around the future of Houston, Thursday focuses specifically on the next generation of people who will be powering the ecosystem. And, of course, money is essential to that equation. Join for a panel from top investor leaders at an event focused on next generation investing at HCC SouthEast Felix Fraga Academic Campus - East End. The panel itself is $5, but for $15 you can also catch two other discussions on campus that day. Click here to register.

For an early bird alternative, Mercury Fund is hosting a Female Founders breakfast at 7:30 am at their office (3737 Buffalo Speedway, Suite 1750). This one is free to attend. Click here to register.

Friday: Integrating Innovation

Friday's events all take place at The Cannon Houston (1334 Brittmoore Road), and there's a specific focus on military technology and military-affiliated entrepreneurs. The Southwest Muster Across America Tour in Houston is from 1 to 6 pm and will consist of an expo, pitch competition, expert talks, and more. The WeWork Veterans in Residence Program Powered by Bunker Labs will show off their companies, and Bunker Labs has teamed up with Ford Fund to host pitch competitions for veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs. Houston is one of seven stops for the competition, and the top two showcase pitches will win $5,000 and $3,500 from the Ford Fund to help support their businesses. Click here to register.

Following this event is Impact Hub's monthly Fuckup Night, where entrepreneurs share their stories of success, struggle, and failure. Click here to register.

Weekend: Innovation Education

The week wraps up with events focusing on education. One not to miss is on Saturday: The HCC IDEAS Pitch Competition. The competition begins at 1 pm and there is $2,500 on the line. Any HCC student is able to apply to pitch. Click here to register.

Meet a Houston native who scored $300,000 on TV, an entrepreneur with big plans for Houston, and a health care innovator looking to shake things up. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

From swimming away with $300,000 on Shark Tank to announcing new programming for Houston's innovation ecosystem, this week's Houston innovators to know have things to be excited about. Here's who to know this week in innovaiton.

Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston

Grace Rodriguez

Courtesy of Grace Rodriguez

It's a busy month for Grace Rodriguez. The leader of Houston's Impact Hub chapter, along with her team, is planning the third annual Houston Innovation Summit — a week long of programming for innovators, investors, entrepreneurs, and more scattered around the city.

Rodriguez took a break from the planning to discuss the events, her passion for driving equitable innovation resources, and more on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"Houston is so diverse, and there are so many entrepreneurs that weren't getting access to the same resources," she says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Click here to read more.

Patrick Coddou, CEO and co-founder of Supply

Patrick Coddou

Courtesy of Supply

Patrick Coddou, a native Houstonian and CEO of Supply, pitched their product to the panel of five investors on ABC's Shark Tank and hooked one of them, tech millionaire Robert Herjavec. In exchange for his $300,000 investment, Herjavec received a 15 percent stake in the four-year-old company.

"It was a surreal experience for us just making an appearance on the show, but we couldn't have been more pleased with the outcome," Patrick Coddou, CEO of Supply and a Houston native, says in a release. "I knew we had shaped a brand that sets itself apart, not only because of the innovative razor design but also the kind of standard we hold ourselves to, and I'm glad that resonated with Robert and the rest of the Sharks."

Herjavec battled against fellow Shark Kevin O'Leary to invest in Supply, but the Coddous wound up accepting Herjavec's offer. Click here to read more.

Emily Reiser, innovation strategist at the TMC Innovation Institute

As if working with her team to plan and execute the Texas Medical Center's accelerator's ninth cohort last week, Emily Reiser, innovation strategist at TMC, also had to plan for and execute the important announcement that TMCx has been redesigned for 2020. The program will be more heavily involving the TMC network of organizations for the program.

"Our focus going forward is on our member institutions — the clinics, the hospitals, and our partners who really bring forward these technologies into the future," says Reiser.

The 2020 cohort will be specifically focused on solving these member institutions' problems. Click here to read more.

Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston, wants to set up the city's innovation ecosystem for success. Courtesy of Grace Rodriguez

Innovation leader wants Houston's diverse population to have the same access to entrepreneurial success

Houston innovators podcast episode 6

It's not enough to Grace Rodriguez that Houston's been recognized as the most diverse city in the nation. She wants Houston's innovation ecosystem to have inclusion and opportunities for all.

One of the originals founders of Station Houston, Rodriguez saw that, while Station and others at the time were making huge moves for helping entrepreneurs, there were some that weren't having the same experience.

"Houston is so diverse, and there are so many entrepreneurs that weren't getting access to the same resources," she says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Rodriguez founded Houston's chapter of Impact Hub, a global organization that helps to accelerate nonprofits and startups working to advance the United Nations' sustainable development goals, last year. The organization now works with other entities, like The Cannon Houston, to provide useful and inclusive programming for the entirety of the city's innovation world.

Recently, organization hosted Houston's first Climathon — a hackathon for climate change solutions — and is currently working on programming for the city's upcoming The Houston Innovation Summit, or THIS. The week-long event takes place November 18 to November 24 and engages and activates organizations across the city — such as Bunker Labs, The Cannon, Houston Exponential, and more.

With the growth of startup development organizations and new accelerator programs entering the market, Rodriguez wants now for each organization to come together — like they will be doing for THIS.

"Now I think the conversation needs to be, 'How can all of us play well together?'" Rodriguez says.

On the podcast, Rodriguez discusses her career, the impact of Impact Hub, and more details about THIS. Check it out below and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.


These three Houstonians have a lot up their sleeves for their companies. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

This week's three Houston entrepreneurs are all about improving access for startups — either to capital or to resources — and that's no small undertaking in a market like Houston. With its urban sprawl and large population, Houston's been considered to have a connectivity problem. Luckily, these three folks have solutions.

Grace Rodriguez, executive director and co-founder of Impact Hub Houston

Grace Rodriguez is the co-founder and executive director of Impact Hub Houston. Courtesy of Grace Rodriguez

Grace Rodriguez has been working to launch Impact Hub Houston for a while now, but her and her team's moment has come. For Rodriguez, the goal is to both advance Houston startups, as well as the innovation ecosystem as a whole.

"Our real vision is to help Houston become a role model for how the world solves the most pressing issues," she says. "We want to show the rest of the world that Houston has the talent, expertise, insight, and resources to solve issues around the world." Read more about Rodriguez and Impact Hub Houston here.

Nicolas Carnrite, co-founder of LetsLaunch

Nicolas Carnrite founded LetsLaunch to improve access to funding. Courtesy of LetsLaunch

Something didn't add up for Nicolas Carnrite. The opportunity to invest in companies was limited to such a small percentage of the population.

"There's something like 30 million people globally that have a $1 million net worth, which is the definition of being an accredited investor," Carnrite says. "Thirty million people out of 7.7 billion, so it's a little less than half a percentage."

This translated into an opportunity to create LetsLaunch, a securities investment online platform that democratizes investment. The Houston company has taken it a step further in its recent partnership with The Cannon. Read more about this partnership here.

Youngro Lee, co-founder and CEO of NextSeed

Youngro Lee NextSeed

Youngro Lee, co-founder and CEO of NextSeed, wants to create a connection between business and their communities. Courtesy of NextSeed

Thanks to a recent SEC accreditation, Youngro Lee is now able to announce that his Houston online fundraising platform, NextSeed, is a broker-dealer. The platform, which has helped the likes of Buffalo Bayou Brewery and The Waffle Bus raise thousands of capital dollars, is now able to offer its community more investment opportunities. Read more about what the deal means for the company here.

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Overheard: Houston execs weigh in on the innovation ecosystem and local startups

Eavesdropping in Houston

Something has shifted in Houston, and businesses across industries — whether it be real estate, health care, or energy — are focused on innovation, emerging technologies, and the role of startups within the business community.

At the Greater Houston Partnership's annual Economic Outlook on December 5, three panelists from various industries gathered to discuss some of the biggest issues in Houston — from the multifamily real estate market to what the local workforce needs. The panel was moderated by Eddie Robinson, the morning news anchor for Houston Public Radio, and the panelists did weigh in a few issues affecting innovation.

Missed the talk? Here are a few overheard moments from the discussion.

"Houston allows you to do what you do. And you don't get that in other places."

Photo via Greater Houston Partnership/Facebook

Bradley R. Freels, chairman of Midway Cos. Freels says, while the city's been overshadowed by other Texas cities for innovation and tech — and even by its large oil and gas industry presence, the city is becoming a great place for startups. "This is a great place to do business because it's easy to get started in business here. I think it's just over shadowed to some degree," he says, adding later that, "the initiative around the innovation corridor is real."

"Houston is unique, in my opinion, in how open and welcoming it is."

Photo via Greater Houston Partnership/Facebook

— David Milich, CEO of UnitedHealthcare - Texas & Oklahoma. Building off the panelists point that Houston is a spirited, can-do city, Milich specifies that it's the collaboration between people in Houston that sets the city apart. "When we present ourselves with something to get done, we generally get it down."

"We're realizing that the economy is shifting. As we move forward in the 21st century, our entire workforce needs to be tech fluent."

Photo via Greater Houston Partnership/Facebook

Nataly Marks, managing director and region manager at JPMorgan Chase. When asked about jobs needed in Houston, Marks specified technology positions. Moreover, JPMorgan Chase is emphasizing getting the entire staff proficient in the latest tech resources.

New travel startup plans the perfect vacations for Houston's busy young professionals

GET THERE NOW

Work-life balance for a young professional is hard. There's the dream of travel but the nightmare of planning. Then there's the challenge of working with limited vacation days and finding a friend whose schedule lines up.

To the rescue comes Houston-based Here & Now Travel, which aims to create a vacation free of stress and full of memorable experiences and offers adventurous group travel specifically for young professionals.

When discussing the inspiration for starting their company, cofounder Alex Coleman tells CultureMap that he and his wife and fellow cofounder, Elise, were caught between the benefits and drawbacks of individual versus group travel.

They loved the freedom of solo traveling but not the potential feelings of isolation and vulnerability. When it came to traveling with friends, they enjoyed the bonding and security in a group but not all the work involved with navigating everyone's schedules and preferences during planning.

"We decided to create a travel company that combined the best of both worlds," Coleman says. "A company that gave people the flexibility of going to their desired destinations at their desired time, without losing the experience of traveling with a group of awesome people."

As young professionals themselves, the Colemans also wanted their company to consider the typically low number of vacation days their target clients have. That's why Here & Now trips take advantage of weekends and holidays so participants only have to take a maximum of three days off from work.

Here & Now Travel currently has six trips planned for 2020: two to Costa Rica, two to Colombia, and two to Mexico. On these trips, the itineraries lean towards adventure activities and cultural experiences.

For example, their next trip scheduled for January 9 to January 13 to Costa Rica includes exploring Juan Castro Blanco National Park, zip lining through the rainforest, learning how to make tortillas with a local family, and more.

"We shy away from crowded tourist attractions. We pride ourselves on showing travelers hidden gems of our destinations, be it the hidden Mayan cenote in Tulum where we have to be blessed by the community's Mayan Shaman before entering, or one of the region's largest waterfall in Costa Rica which sits on the land of a small farming family," says Coleman. "Through these tucked away, amazing places, we get to see things others typically don't, and have true interaction with the communities we are visiting.

Each Here & Now package includes private transportation to and from the airport and for the duration of the trip, shared three or four-star accommodation, all breakfasts and lunches, and all entrance fees and itinerary activity costs. Flights, dinners, and the required travel insurance are not included.

If you decide to join one of their trips, you can expect to be in a group of between six and 14 young professionals — with 14 being the absolute max as Here & Now Travel doesn't want to overrun the visited communities or contribute to the overuse of their resources.

"Large groups in charter buses feel clunky and seem like you are trampling or disrupting the destinations you are visiting," says Coleman. "We cap our trips at 14 people, allowing us to be good stewards of the communities we visit, and maintain our feel as a small group of travelers...and not tourists."

Each travel group is also accompanied by a Here & Now host who handles all the logistics as well as a local guide, which is a feature that Coleman believes sets their company apart from others.

"Travelers on Here & Now trips are always led by someone who calls that destination home," he explains. "Our guides have an emotional bond to the places we explore. Their passion and connection to their homes is something that can't be replicated."

Along with employing these local guides, Here & Now Travel works with local drivers, restaurants, and lodging as a way to ensure the money they spend in each community stays in that community.

As a further testament to their commitment to sustainable tourism, Here & Now Travel plans to offset their carbon footprint, which is mainly caused by airline travel, by donating to the nonprofit Trees for Houston in 2020.

The company also has plans to increase their number of trips to once per month and to eventually include European destinations.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.