Progress and feedback will help you reach your organization's DEI goals. Photo via Pexels

Houston is often touted as the most diverse city in the country, but with that comes the responsibility of making sure we are creating inclusive and equitable opportunities that reflect the communities we serve.

With the current state of our country dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as social and political issues, employers across the city have searched for the right thing to say and do to help their employees and customers during this time when personal feelings and beliefs impact the workplace more now than ever. While there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to implementing DEI across an organization, here are a few steps and considerations companies can take to ensure DEI is a priority moving forward.

Understand your audience

It's important to understand the perspectives of those you serve. Identifying your audience will help develop a DEI strategy that addresses concerns from multiple lenses. At Houston Methodist, we focus on our patients, employees and the communities we serve. Anyone building a DEI program needs to not only be cognizant of their audience, but also understand their needs in today's climate before spending time and resources to develop initiatives that will address those needs. Ultimately, this will help shape a more impactful approach to DEI within your organization.

Define success

When developing a DEI strategy, success may seem overwhelming or lofty. But, viewing success as progress will help your organization accomplish your goals in a way that employees and other stakeholders will benefit from in the long run.

Set strategic and measurable goals that clearly state what your organization wants to achieve through its DEI efforts. These goals need not be big at the onset; make sure they are attainable. Most importantly, it's critical to revisit your goals on a regular basis and identify gaps, and be willing to pivot, if needed, along the way so your organization eventually reaches its goals. At the hospital, we've developed a DEI dashboard for all departments in our hospitals to help us with setting those measurable goals. Once measurable goals are identified, a DEI scorecard will be used to identify progress for departments and our organization year over year. When people are able to easily track and see progress or gaps, it will make it easier to reach desired goals.

An organization can't be successful with any new type of program if everyone within the organization doesn't understand the importance of DEI in their department and within the company as a whole. Progress often starts with one person. Providing training to employees about the impact that DEI can have on their day-to-day work will help them champion that within the organization. For example, we've launched something at our hospital called "Together We Grow," a training program aimed at building a foundation for what DEI is by exploring everyday scenarios employees may encounter. This program first started with leadership and is now available to all employees within the hospital system.

Establish a timeline

Once measurable goals have been established, develop a timeline for accomplishing those goals. By selecting two or three goals that can be focused on over a particular time period (i.e., six months or one year), your organization can implement targeted programs and best practices to drive the success of DEI for a more long-term plan. It's ok if not every program is up and running within the year; creating milestones along the way will give your organization time to grow its DEI efforts and aspire to something meaningful for your employees, customers or community. The need for DEI doesn't go away, so it's important to continue efforts year-round with a growth mindset.

Evaluate how DEI holistically fits into your business

A DEI department, team or individual can't be successful if the work isn't aligned with the mission of the organization. It does not help if an organization has competing priorities, so DEI goals must be embedded in your organization's business goals.

Additionally, it's also important to have leadership set the tone for the rest of the organization to follow. Executive leaders that fully commit to the organization's DEI efforts and promote transparency, feedback and accountability for those programs will yield the most meaningful and lasting results.

Recognize your ‘why’

As a business, it's important to understand why DEI is important for your organization's success. You need to both be able to understand and articulate the business case for why diversity matters in your organization. Studies like this one from Boston Consulting Group continue to show a positive correlation between workforce diversity, innovation and overall company performance. The workforce is constantly changing and becoming more diverse, so making sure your organization is adapting to those different perspectives and taking into consideration why this work is vital to your employees, customers and your community will help turn DEI ideas into action.

For many health care organizations, health equity has shaped community engagement efforts and programs. Addressing health equity for racial, ethnic and social minorities in the Greater Houston area has been a priority for Houston Methodist for nearly 30 years, and this work has also informed and strengthened our DEI efforts in the communities we serve.

In conclusion, remember progress and feedback will help you reach your organization's DEI goals. For these initiatives to be effective, everyone within your organization must understand that each person plays a role in shaping the success of DEI efforts.

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Arianne Dowdell is vice president, chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at Houston Methodist.

Take the time to do your homework before jumping into launching a communications strategy. Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert shares tips on understanding the science of communications

Guest column

Co-founder of the Hackett Center for Mental Health, Maureen Hackett, once told me, "Newman & Newman applies the science of communications." I had never heard our approach to marketing communications described that way, but I understood her point. Before we produce promotional materials, digital campaigns or social media platforms, we research answers to fundamental questions for delivering a positive return on investment.

So many leaders want to jump straight into producing tangibles. I understand, they want solutions they can see, touch and hear, and they want them now. It can be tough to employ thoughtful strategies when you're pressed for results. The good news is that research doesn't have to delay taking action, but it has everything to do with how successful those actions will be.

Investing in communications research

Just as you wouldn't hire a marketing communications specialist to design a medical device, founders of a life science company are rarely trained in the proficiencies of strategic communications. Clearly, they possess the vision, but translating that vision into compelling language, and ultimately impactful marketing tools, requires an applied science all its own.

In formulating communication strategies, we study what you do and why it matters, as well as the perspectives of your key audiences to better understand their motivations. Much like a life science engineer applies research findings to develop new products or processes, we use the results of our research to develop messages and marketing tools that connect the purpose and impact of your innovative device or service with the unique priorities, needs and concerns of each group you are targeting.

Though necessary, it requires skill and insight. In their Industrial Biotechnology article, Marketing and communicating innovation in industrial biotechnology, biochemist Hamid Ghanadan and co-author Michael Long wrote, "The challenge is that most life science products and services address multiple market segments, fit within multiple applications and workflows, and are sought by multiple types of audiences. Thus, marketing management has to create a chameleon that can be compelling and convincing on very targeted terms."

Targeting your message on their terms

Organizations sometimes limit the focus of their marketing communications to sources of funding, investors and clients who contract their services or products, and telling them why they should. To prevent missed opportunities, it's important to research the full spectrum of your company's audiences. For instance, what key influencers in the innovation ecosystem have the potential of facilitating valuable connections for you or represent strategic partnerships? If you're a B2B2C company, who are your customer's customers whose satisfaction, compliance and understanding of what you've developed can influence the future of that contract?

Once each key audience is identified, what does it mean to speak their language? Because when it comes to formulating audience-specific messaging, one size does not fit all. The more tailored your communications, the more you incorporate their vernacular into your story, the better the results. This too requires research for effectively connecting the solutions you offer with what's important to a given audience. Ultimately, it's a merging of your knowledge and intentions with the unique interests, concerns and needs of those you want to reach.

Every organization is founded on answering a need. It defines your purpose. What is the significance of your organization's purpose and how is it clearly communicated in messaging that influences opinion and motivates action in your target audiences? Answering that fundamental question is the first step in research that I've yet to see not reveal significant results.

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Kelli Newman is president of the Houston-based communication strategies firm, Newman & Newman Inc., where she leads a talented team of marketing professionals advancing the success of their purpose-driven clients.

There's no quick fix to getting back to where you were, but a keen eye and sensible decision-making will ensure you're more prepared than your competitors. Photo via Unsplash

4 ways Houston businesses can recover cash flow in a post-COVID world

Guest column

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a cash flow disaster for many businesses, whether it's small restaurants forced to close their doors for months on end or commercial rental properties unable to fill their office space in light of widespread remote working.

Houston, much like many major US cities is facing a big recovery job as the country looks to move on from the worst of the pandemic. While much is to be determined when it comes to what the Delta varient's effect is, businesses are open and the time to think creatively about recovering cash flow is here.

In this article, we'll look at how Houston businesses can get over what was a huge shock and re-evaluate for a post-COVID world.

First things first: Assess the financial damage

Before you can begin to work on a strategy for recovery, your business first needs to assess the financial damage COVID-19 inflicted on it.

There are many different layers to this, which will become more important depending on the size of your business. Start by looking at the hard numbers that define your business (both pre and during the pandemic), such as:

  • Year profit
  • Yearly spend
  • Yearly losses (and expected losses)
  • Employee salaries

There's a chance things aren't quite as bad as you expected. You might have saved on office space through working remotely or have seen an uptick in online customers that represents a revenue shift. This may seem like basic business management, but in a situation such as this, it's easy to ignore the forest for the trees.

Once you've got these numbers in line, you can start to develop a rebuilding plan that relates entirely to your business, rather than cutting and pasting one from another business that is unlikely to have experienced the same issues.

Re-assess your business plan

Chances are, you didn't include a contingency option for a global pandemic in your business plan. No need to panic. If you made it this far, you were obviously a well-structured and organized business. However, to ensure you survive future challenges, it's worth re-assessing your business plan.

Specifically, you need to look at how ready your business is to pivot to the idea of the 'new normal'.

There are many decisions to be made, from top-level finances to employee management to customer service. You may be forced to implement new systems to keep track of your newly remote team, offer subsidies for utility bills to your staff or implement new quality control tests to keep your customers safe and comfortable with your business.

A wider analysis of your industry can be a more effective exercise than looking directly at your plan. Competitors may have innovated in ways you didn't initially think possible. Pay attention to trends and emerging opportunities to mark yourself as a business worth shopping for and working with. Find that profitable niche and see if your business plan can be re-worked around it.

Your business plan will lay bare your business model's strengths and weaknesses in the new world. Don't try and plough through difficult weather with the wrong tyres. Make a simple change, even if it means hard decisions, for the good of your company.

Optimize daily processes and cut out wasteful tasks 

So you've analyzed the damage and re-assessed your business plan for a new set of challenges. Now you can get into the gritty details of making a change.

One of the simplest and most cost-effective ways of getting your business running with a positive cash flow again is to optimize those wasteful daily processes and tasks you and your team get stuck on every day.

Of course, many of these will be unique to your industry and way of doing business, but from invoicing to daily admin tasks, there's so much wasted time every day that could be better spent getting your business back on track.

A few immediate suggestions include:

  • Cutting down on business travel by prioritising virtual meetings and re-thinking how your sales and executive staff travel. Even company cars can become less of a money burden if you take the time to know how to how to save gas (and the money you spend on it)
  • Going paperless and using that printer money to operate through cloud software won't just bring your business into the 21st century, but make daily meetings and employee collaboration more most-effective
  • Using financial trackers to assess your financial situation regularly and automate invoicing, making sure you're always getting paid on time

Monitoring all of this excess spend spillage and ensuring you're on top of emerging problems can be made very simple through time tracking tools. Rather than just a way to keep an eye on remote employees and cut out excessive slacking, Houston businesses can spot which needless tasks are making key employee's life difficult and where budget is being wasted through these (as of March 2020) essential digital tools

.

Consider outside funding options

Last year, we covered how creative thinking in terms of financing can be Houston businesses' path out of COVID financial burden. Since then, much has changed, but many of the methods remain realistic ways businesses of all sizes can recover cash flow.

Unless you went into the pandemic with significant cash to burn, you're likely playing things quite close to the line right now. Without customers through the door and big contracts, you might need working capital to jump-start your recovery.

Fortunately, some great financing options for small businesses have sprung up or gone from strength to strength throughout the COVID rebuilding period. Some of these options include:

Now, not all of these options will work for your business, particularly the ones aimed at small businesses. However, they're all reasonable ways of getting a short-term boost to buy remote office equipment, re-work your business for social distancing to avoid closures or bring in new employees.

The key is not to become reliant on these revenue streams. They should be short jabs to get your business going again, not a consistent fix you should turn to in the event of financial challenges. Borrowing can be both an unhealthy attitude to have and a competitive venture.

Completing these tasks will help you establish a timeline for recovery. No one is quite sure what their business will look like once COVID-19 is completely a thing of the past, but the pandemic should be a lesson that no business can be caught slacking.

The journey to recovery, particularly sorting out your cash flow is full of tiny steps. There's no quick fix to getting back to where you were, but a keen eye and sensible decision-making will ensure you're more prepared than your competitors.

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Kayleigh Alexandra is an entrepreneur and writer at WriterZone and Micro Startups based in the United Kingdom.

An Italian company has moved in on Houston. In an op-ed, the company's founder shares why he bet on the Bayou City. Photo via Getty Images

Why this Italian tech company is betting on Houston

Guest column

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Houston has the the second largest veteran community in America — and the energy industry is vets' top employer. Photo via Getty Images

Houston-based veterans will lead the energy transition, says this expert

guest column

Many people living in Houston don't realize that the veteran community is taking an increasing leadership role in the energy transition. The Greater Houston area is the second largest veteran community in America with over 5,500 new veterans and their families coming to Houston annually. We are the fastest growing city in America for veterans as well.

In Houston you'll find a community of veterans who create a workforce and culture of excellence -- no handouts needed here. Our city is home to innovation in many industrial sectors, and also in the veteran services market. Combined Arms is the premier technology partner for accelerating the connection of veterans to resources like employment.

Headquartered in Houston, the agency operates in a dozen states nationally with a co-working space of over 30 veteran serving nonprofits on site and 120 services online. The top employment organization for veteran employment in the country, NextOp, is also headquartered in Houston. NextOp is focused on developing a pipeline of talent directly from military installations to industrial craft trades. They have the best numbers for placement of veterans and speed to employment, perfect for accelerating the energy transition as companies are looking for talent to fill new industry roles.

The energy sector is already the largest employer of veterans in Houston. We are a vibrant community with weekly networking happy hours for white collar veterans working in the energy industry at the original Kirby Icehouse on Wednesdays, put on by Houston Veterans in Business.

With one of the highest concentrations of public companies in the country, we have over 85 public companies with employee resource groups for veterans. The leaders of these groups meet regularly to support and serve our community. We are a thriving community that has the depth of relationships and connections to foster the personal and professional growth of veterans new to Houston and those that have called Houston home their entire lives. The majority of these groups are within energy companies that are actively supporting the energy transition.

Some examples of veteran-led energy transition companies include:

  • Everpoint Services, founded by Tyler Goodell, is bringing an oilfield services model to the wind, solar, and energy storage industries along with wind blade and solar panel recycling.
  • FastGrid, founded by Eric Curry, is rapidly growing through the project engineering side of renewable energy project development across the country.
  • WindCom, led by CEO Tim Hertel, conducts wind blade repairs and servicing.
  • Blue Bear Capital, co-founded by Tim Kopra, invests in high-growth technology companies across the energy, infrastructure, and climate industries.
  • eRenewable, co-founded by Fred Davis, provides real-time online auctions for Power Purchasing Agreements (PPAs) and Virtual PPAs.
  • Last Dollar Trucking, co-founded by Nate Reeve, focused on the transport of the massive number of wind blades entering texas ports.
  • JAG Argueta, founded by Keith Argueta, provides accounting and fractional CFO services to cleantech startups.
  • Digital Wildcatters, co-founded by Jake Corley, building the "Barstool Sports of Energy"
  • Amberjack Capital, co-founded by Patrick Connelly, is a private equity investor in energy transition and infrastructure projects.
  • re:3D, co-founded by Samantha Snabes, pioneering new innovations to decimate the cost & scale barriers to 3D printing.
  • South Union CDC, founded by Efrem Jernigan, is developing the Sunnyside Solar project.
  • Fervo Energy, led by CFO David Ulrey, is developing next-generation geothermal projects to deliver 24x7 carbon-free energy.

One of the top chapters nationally for Bunker Labs is also here, with a veteran entrepreneur accelerator at WeWork downtown, the WeWork Veterans in Residence program. On top of that the largest veteran business plan competition is hosted by Rice University. The Veteran Business Battle is entering its 7th year with one of the finalists Parasanti pivoting their successful edge computing solutions into the energy transition for cleantech applications through their recent acceptance to Haliburton Labs.

Houston is also building a chapter of the Veterans Energy Project which is advocating for the Biden administration's infrastructure bill. Jon Powers with CleanCapital, a private equity investor focused on accelerating the flow of capital into distributed generation project, co-founded the Veterans Energy Project. Having served our country in a time of war, it is time again to place the country first and advocate for the infrastructure that supports all Americans.

The veterans of Houston can help make Houston not only the leader in the energy transition but also ensure that we are the energy capital of the future.

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Kevin Doffing is the president of Energy Capital of the Future.

When approaching prototype creation, you must make a series of decisions. This expert weighs in with her expertise. Photo courtesy

Lessons in prototyping: Choosing the right approach to product development

guest column

When embarking on the journey of developing and bringing a new product to the market, you as an inventor have to consider a multitude of aspects that add to the overall market success of your final product. And prototyping is one of the key product development stages that helps you achieve that.

Whether you're going to launch a hardware or a software product, or the combination of both — you need to have a prototype made. First, it allows you to validate your idea and see if it's worth investing time and money into. Second, it creates opportunities for product improvement, detection and elimination of design flaws, and cost reduction, especially during manufacturing.

Therefore, you will need to make a set of choices before you actually build a prototype to ensure that it results in a viable, cost-effective, and quality market-ready product. Let's look at major choice points and their implications that will help you navigate the process in the most efficient way.

To begin, let's look at the various options you have.

The success of any process lies in its foundation. Hence, before anything else you need to decide on the product development approach you're going to follow. Some inexperienced inventors, for instance, choose to go from product idea straight to having a prototype made. They skip three initial steps that are crucial for building a sound road map of the development process and creating a product with a maximum market potential.

In most cases, those inventors end up coming to companies that build prototypes to start from scratch. Usually, it's because they hit a dead end with their prototype or a product was manufactured with many defects. The latter is always a result of improperly optimized pre-production prototype, if optimized at all.

The extensive experience of our product development team shows that a methodological approach to the entire process, prototyping in particular, yields the most effective results. That's why we always recommend it to those inventors who choose to DIY their prototype. If you're one of them, here is a short version of the approach with steps it implies that you can use prior to prototyping. You can find the in-depth version here.

1. Product discovery

To set the path for the development of your idea you need to identify your product's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. In other words, you need to conduct a SWOT analysis, which will help you learn about:

  • intellectual property opportunities
  • your competition and target market
  • features your product should have
  • time and cost of your idea development.

2. Concept design

Based on the results of the SWOT analysis, you can establish the road map of the development of your product and get to creating a concept or industrial design. Concept design is a virtual representation of your idea translated into 2D renderings and 3D CAD models that show you a rough look and functions your product will have. These should be built in accordance with preferences of your target audience to ensure the product's market fit. Concept design is usually made by a professional Industrial Designer. But if you have a basic knowledge of how to use industrial design software applications, then you can make it yourself.

3. Market and prior art research 

Another important step before prototyping is gathering and analyzing feedback from potential consumers. This is done through market research. With a concept design developed, you can conduct focus groups and consumer surveys to understand if the audience likes your idea. The information you get will give you more opportunities to improve your idea and add necessary changes to the design before prototyping, thus reducing the cost of the process and increasing market potential.

Prior Art Search, or research of existing patents, provides some of the benefits as market research. But its main purpose is to identify similar product ideas that have already been patented, so that you can make your product stand out by adding unique features to the design, as well as avoid a conflict of patent rights.

In a follow up article next week, we will discuss more decisions you must make during the prototype process. I have also previously contributed to guest columns on the following:

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Onega Ulanova is the founder of OKGlobal.

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City launches public dashboard for tracking COVID-19 in Houston's wastewater

data points

In 2020, a group of researchers began testing Houston's wastewater to collect data to help identify trends at the community level. Now, the team's work has been rounded up to use as an online resource.

The Houston Health Department and Rice University launched the dashboard on September 22. The information comes from samples collected from the city's 39 wastewater treatment plants and many HISD schools.

"This new dashboard is another tool Houstonians can use to gauge the situation and make informed decisions to protect their families," says Dr. Loren Hopkins, chief environmental science officer for the health department and professor in the practice of statistics at Rice University, in a news release. "A high level of virus in your neighborhood's wastewater means virus is spreading locally and you should be even more stringent about masking up when visiting public places."

The health department, Houston Water, Rice University, and Baylor College of Medicine originally collaborated on the wastewater testing. Baylor microbiologist Dr. Anthony Maresso, director of BCM TAILOR Labs, led a part of the research.

"This is not Houston's first infectious disease crisis," Maresso says in an earlier news release. "Wastewater sampling was pioneered by Joseph Melnick, the first chair of Baylor's Department of Molecular Virology and Microbiology, to get ahead of polio outbreaks in Houston in the 1960s. This work essentially ushered in the field of environmental virology, and it began here at Baylor. TAILOR Labs is just continuing that tradition by providing advanced science measures to support local public health intervention."

It's an affordable way to track the virus, says experts. People with COVID-19 shed viral particles in their feces, according to the release, and by testing the wastewater, the health department can measure important infection rate changes.

The dashboard, which is accessible online now, is color-coded by the level of viral load in wastewater samples, as well as labeled with any recent trend changes. Houstonians can find the interactive COVID-19 wastewater monitoring dashboard, vaccination sites, testing sites, and more information at houstonemergency.org/covid19.

Rice University rises with massive $100M gift for innovative new student center

student centered

Rice University's Owls are soaring of late, with the school just being named the top in Texas and No. 7 in the U.S. Now, the institution known as the "Ivy League of the South" is the recipient of a mammoth gift aimed at a game-changing student center.

The Moody Foundation has granted Rice University a massive $100 million for its planned Moody Center for Student Life and Opportunity, which will replace Rice's current Memorial Center (RMC), and will become a new focal point for the university's 300-acre wooded campus, the school announced.

Notably, this new student center is designed by Sir David Adjaye of Adjaye Associates; the acclaimed architect's other works include the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Scheduled to break ground in early 2022 and construction completed in 2023, the brand-new Moody Center for Student Life and Opportunity will maintain some elements of the old RMC, namely the chapel and cloisters. Students and staff can expect demolition of the rest of the existing RMC, per a press release.

Moody's $100 million grant matches the record for the largest gift in the university's history. (Last year, the Robert A. Welch Foundation donated $100 million to the school to establish the innovation-driven Welch Institute.) The Moody Foundation has contributed over $125 million to Rice since 1964, a press release notes.

As part of the Moody $100 million gift, a new Moody Fund for Student Opportunity will support an endowment dedicated to student programs "physically anchored in the new student center and elsewhere in the university," according to the school.

All this supports Rice's recently announced plans for a 20-percent expansion of the undergraduate student body by fall 2025, as CultureMap previously reported.

"We are extremely grateful for this extraordinary philanthropy in support of Rice students," said Rice president David Leebron in a statement. "This gift will enable our students to broaden their engagements and experiences while at Rice in ways that will empower their success throughout their lives. It will also enable us to both connect more deeply with Houston and with the world. This will be the epitome of what an inclusive and outward-looking student center should be."

Elle Moody, a trustee of both the Moody Foundation and Rice, added: "As a Rice University alumna, I know this gift will have a profound and lasting effect on the campus and its students. This investment is supporting much more than just a building. We're investing in every student, so they have access to pursue any endeavor whether it's leadership, artistic, athletic, global or more."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.