No one should be overpaying for energy, especially as a result of sneaky price hikes that they didn't know about. Photo via Getty Images

As Texas continues to grapple with fallout from Winter Storm Uri and state regulators determine the next steps forward to strengthen the electricity grid, protecting consumers and providing transparency regarding their energy bills must be the top priority.

When you think about it, asking for transparency from energy suppliers in the state is a simple and direct request. Free markets thrive only when customers have full transparency and information. There are large discrepancies, however, between notification requirements when it comes to variable rate products—where energy prices change monthly based on the market, versus fixed-rate energy products—where prices are locked in for a defined amount of time. Often, consumers are presented with variable rates that can be twice as much as the original fixed rates, and more transparency is needed to fix this.

Due to new regulations enacted recently as a result of HB16, suppliers are required to notify residential consumers of any change to their fixed rate plans. The legislation falls short, however, in protecting the larger segment of energy consumers, those who are already on a variable rate plan either because their plan expired in the past or they actively chose variable short-term rates, by not requiring notification of rate change for these variable rates. As a steadfast, customer-focused energy provider, we are encouraging the Public Utilities Commission of Texas to adopt legislation that would require that any customer on a variable rate be notified ahead of time of a change so they can make more informed decisions — a pricing notification that 82 percent of consumers are in favor of.

Why are notifications important? 

Unfortunately, many energy suppliers thrive by remaining opaque and confusing to the very customers who have invested their trust, and hard earned dollars, in them. In fact, many suppliers have crafted entire business models around the idea that customers will forget that they are on variable rate products and take gross advantage by not notifying customers when the rate changes. This is not a good business practice.

In this type of system, energy providers hike up rates and count on their customers to not notice — it is how they make the most money and secure their bottom line, all at the expense of the customer. As a result, energy consumers are potentially overpaying significant amounts for their energy. We have found some customers were paying almost twice our standard rate before they switched to us.

Second, it is incredibly low cost for energy suppliers to provide this basic notification while also extremely high value to customers. It is consumer protection at its core: providing the consumer with necessary information so that they can make informed decisions about their energy.

Transparency by consumer services is the norm

Rather than keeping business as usual, new legislation should be introduced to mandate email or text message notifications well in advance of any rate change on a variable energy product. If a customer is on a monthly variable rate, for example, this means suppliers would be required to send a notification every month before a rate changes, providing consumers with the opportunity to change energy providers or products as they see fit. These notifications on price hikes and slashes are already in demand: The majority of customers (83 percent) have noted that it is important that their energy provider is transparent with rate changes. We are simply advocating that customers want and should be informed. Life is busy. Customers should have all the important information, such as their energy rates, at their fingertips.

Other consumer services that we use every day, including streaming platforms such as Netflix, Hulu and Disney+, regularly provide this information to their customers. When prices increase on these platforms, customers are notified ahead of time via email and can choose whether to continue service at the new rate or cancel. This simple act of consumer transparency, no matter how long a customer has been a subscriber, is simple, effective and shows trustworthiness from the companies. Most importantly, consumers are always informed and are provided the information needed to make a decision that best fits their lifestyle. Despite the energy industry's long history of opaqueness, the same should be the case for energy suppliers and their customers.

New age of innovation and consumer choice

In addition to acting in the best interest of consumers, legislation requiring energy suppliers to provide timely rate updates to customers on variable energy products would also encourage healthy market competition and spur more innovation within the energy industry. Suppliers would be pushed to think more creatively about the types of products they offer their customers, creating even more options for consumers to choose and benefit from.

No one should be overpaying for energy, especially as a result of sneaky price hikes that they didn't know about. While HB16 tries to address this, it doesn't go far enough. Transparency in energy pricing is necessary and simply the right thing to do.

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Michael Lee is the CEO of Octopus Energy. He is based in Houston.

It's time for large corporations to step up to support small businesses founded by people of color. Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert: Corporations can help level the playing field for BIPOC-owned businesses

Guest column

There were times when I wasn't sure what to do next.

When I started Connect the Dots PR in 2012, I wrote out detailed business plans, saved startup dollars, and leaned heavily on people in the PR industry to guide me in terms of pricing and feedback. Of course, we had contingency plans for unexpected hardships, but you hope not to use them.

My contingency plans went out the window when we saw we were looking at more than a year of pandemic-related shutdowns and slowdowns. I didn't have time to wait it out or say let's see what happens. It was time to move strategically.

Like most businesses, we hit a snag. A big chunk of our client base was reeling with corporate layoffs, shutdowns and revamped budgets. We've held on, but at times, it was overwhelming. I remember when the pandemic initially shut everything down, my fear was what is going to happen to my business and those that depend on me, such as employees, vendors, clients and contractors? At the onset of the pandemic, an employee came to me and said if I needed to let them go they understood. It hurt to do so, but it was a mutual decision and he landed on his feet and relocated to another state.

For a business owner of color, the hurdles are higher. When building Connect the Dots PR, the most important driver was access to startup capital. But studies have shown that white entrepreneurs are able to contribute considerably more personal equity to their new businesses than entrepreneurs of color, because white American families have nearly 10 times as much wealth as Hispanic or Black American families.

While inequities existed before the pandemic, over the last year, they've gotten worse. Beyond the physical toll of COVID-19, which affected BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities, which includes Hispanic and Asian American communities among others, more severely than white ones, BIPOC-owned businesses have had less of a safety net to fall back on, have been more likely to close, and have had a harder time getting Paycheck Protection Program loans. Studies last summer showed that the pandemic shuttered Black-owned businesses at more than double the rate of white-owned businesses. It all leads to the deeply unequal recovery that we're just now embarking upon.

The journey ahead can feel discouraging, but the good news is that now I have a much better idea of what it will take to build an equitable road back and get businesses like mine on even footing.

First and foremost, there needs to be an investment in people of color-owned businesses from the public, private and nonprofit sectors. Six months ago, I applied to the Comcast RISE program which, since late last year, has invested in 2,500 BIPOC-owned businesses nationwide with monetary grants, technology makeovers and marketing services. I received the Comcast RISE Investment Fund for Connect the Dots PR, which provided relief when it was most needed. With this grant, I have been able to focus on the business and invest in my brand.

We're not the only ones. Comcast RISE plans to name 13,000 recipients by 2022. Houston was also one of five cities selected to award a $10,000 grant to 100 local businesses from the Comcast RISE Investment Fund, which is the grant I received. We need similar commitments from other corporations to level the playing field for people of color business owners.

Federal, state and local recovery programs need to target minority entrepreneurs. Too many of the existing relief efforts have had limited application windows or been first-come-first-served, which disadvantages businesses that are already starting from behind. Local organizations like the Greater Houston Black Chamber of Commerce can be useful allies in reaching businesses owned by historically disadvantaged groups.

Finally, financial institutions need better guardrails to ensure that they don't discriminate against nonwhite business owners. When accessing startup capital, barriers still exist for minority entrepreneurs, and keeping checks and balances on those with the balance sheets is the only way to make sure all businesses are starting on equal footing.

That way, when the next crisis hits, you'll have fewer businesses starting from behind, and we'll all find our way to recovery much faster. For all of us, that's a business plan worth holding onto.

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Vanessa Wade, is the founder and owner of Houston-based PR firm Connect the Dots.

Now is the time to analyze and manage costs and investments, which will be crucial to capitalize on as we head into an upswing in business. Photo by Hero Images

Houston experts: What business owners need to know about navigating government aid

guest column

Although the world may be going back to normal and it feels like we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, business owners across the country are seeing lasting negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on their companies. Especially in the restaurant industry, local business owners are having to rely on government aid to make sure employees and rent are paid, keeping stress levels very high.

Our company, Cerboni, is a financial firm that works with clients to relieve the burden business owners face by taking things like back-office work, inventory management and more off their plate to give them the freedom to focus on their trade. To help alleviate some of this stress, we are taking an in-depth look at some of the options available to business owners working to navigate government aid applications, along with opportunities for future prosperity.

Don’t let financial opportunities fall through the cracks

While business owners are often pulled in many directions, it's important to make sure you are taking advantage of any help that is available to you. Currently, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, Employee Retention Credit and the Paycheck Protection Program are available to qualifying business owners. Taking the time to figure out which opportunities you should apply for and which ones are the best fit, will greatly benefit your company in the long run.

What to know about the Restaurant Revitalization Fund

The Restaurant Revitalization Fund provides funding equal to pandemic-related revenue loss up to $10 million per business and no more than $5 million per physical location for eligible restaurants, bars and other qualifying businesses where onsite sales to the public make-up at least 33 percent of gross sales receipts. Recipients have two years to use these funds, and the money can be used for business expenses such as payroll, mortgage obligations, rent payments, maintenance expenses, construction of outdoor seating and more.

The most important thing to know about this fund is how to calculate the funding amount. For those operating prior to or on January 1, 2019, applicants will calculate the 2019 gross receipts minus 2020 gross receipts minus PPP loan amounts. Applicants that began operations partially through 2019 should average the 2019 monthly gross receipts and multiply by 12, subtract 2020 gross receipts and then subtract PPP loan amounts. Businesses that began operations between January 1, 2020 and March 10, 2021, or those who have not yet opened but have incurred eligible expenses as of March 11, 2021, should calculate the amount spent on eligible expenses between February 15, 2020 and March 11, 2021, subtract 2020 gross receipts, then subtract 2021 gross receipts (through March 11, 2021) and, lastly, subtract PPP loan amounts.

Utilizing Employee Retention Credit

The Employee Retention Credit is a fully refundable tax credit for "qualified wages" paid to employers that were ordered to suspend operations fully or partially during 2020 or experienced a significant decline (below 50%) in gross receipts during the calendar quarter. The purpose of the Employee Retention Credit is to encourage employers to keep employees on payroll during the pandemic. Recipients can receive up to $5,000 for each full-time employee retained between March 13, 2020 and December 31, 2020 and up to $14,000 for each employee retained between January 1, 2021 and June 30, 2021. Qualified wages depend on the size of the operation. If the employer averaged more than 100 employees in 2019, the wages are only paid for the time the employee is not providing services. If the employer has less than 100 employees, the wages are paid to any employee during any period of hardship due to the pandemic. Recipients of PPP are not eligible for Employee Retention Credit.

Future prosperity

The restaurant industry was greatly impacted by the pandemic, but if you survived, you now have a great opportunity ahead of you. People are starting to return to a sense of normalcy and want to get back to enjoying things like events, shopping, eating out with friends and family and more.

Now is the time to analyze and manage costs and investments, which will be crucial to capitalize on as we head into an upswing in business. Understanding all of these financial nuances can seem daunting, so Cerboni can assist with knowing how to make the right investments in order to increase sales and profitability – this could be through marketing and advertising, changing up the menu to minimize cost of goods sold or managing operating costs.

For those who want to grow their footprint, the market is hot, and it's the perfect time to expand your market presence through negotiation of better lease terms and lower interest rates. Use this time to strategize on how to not only cut costs, but how to increase sales, and how to ultimately grow.

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Maria Degaine and Joshua Santana are co-founders of Houston-based Cerboni.

The technology is already getting smarter. The cities won't be far behind. Photo courtesy of AT&T

How 5G and smart cities technology are transforming the city of Houston

guest column

A firefighter stands in front of a burning building in Sunnyside. A drone buzzes overhead to capture video of the parts of the structure they can't get eyes on. Infrared technology helps them see "through" the building to where people may be trapped. Robotic cameras are sent in to provide live video from inside, while a tablet shows blinking dots in real time of where the other firefighters are as they move through the different floors of the building.

An injured civilian is pulled out of the flames. A drone delivers potentially life-saving medication while the paramedics assess the damage. The victim's medical records are shared instantaneously with the hospital, and paramedics are connected live to the emergency room while in-transit. As they make their way to the hospital, traffic signals are a step ahead – lights are green at just the right time on Reed and Almeda, clearing the way for an expedited ride and keeping traffic safe for all until the ambulance arrives at the hospital where medical personnel already know what's needed and are ready to jump into action.

It may sound like something out of a science fiction novel, but much of this is already happening. And the parts that aren't commonplace yet may be a reality very soon. We've heard about smart cities technology for some time, and different cities will adopt technology at different paces, but the pieces are finally coming into place.

What has changed to bring this futuristic world into the present? 5G.

There's a lot of noise out there about 5G, and from a consumer standpoint most of the chatter is about speed. Yes, 5G is faster, but here at AT&T we're quick to point out that speed is only the beginning: The capacity and responsiveness of 5G technology is what makes it revolutionary for use cases like these.

According to analyst research reported by CIO Magazine, 4G technology allows around 2,000 devices all connecting at the same time in a 1-kilometer area (0.386 miles). It's the reason that you might have trouble getting a call or a text to go through when you're at a crowded stadium. The network is ready and willing, but too much demand on one location slows things down.

Think about all the connections necessary in the above scenario. The drones, each firefighter, the robotic camera, the tablets, the ambulance and its equipment, sensors in the building, the hospital and all the people waiting there, the traffic signals… the list goes on. Well, 5G technology enables something called Massive IoT and can mean as many as 1 million devices can be connected in that same kilometer range, according to analyst research reported by CIO Magazine. That's game changing. AT&T has already installed its fastest 5G+ technology at the Toyota Center. Hopefully the next time you're there you'll feel the difference for yourself.

But having all those things talk to each other only makes a real difference if the connection is uninterrupted and in as real time as possible. 5G gives us that, as well. Ultra-low latency reduces response times to milliseconds. And when you add near-zero lag time to all those connections, the future becomes the present.

At AT&T we're passionate about public safety. That's why we created FirstNet, the first dedicated network exclusively for first responders, which ensures that the lines of communication stay open when they're needed the most. Harris Health System and Harris County Juvenile Probation are among the agencies already using the network. Going forward, FirstNet could be a crucial part of smart cities technology as capabilities increase.

There are plenty of use cases that 5G will continue to enhance: Think live feeds of police body cameras and locations when in a pursuit, helping increase efficiency and accountability. Think about the first responders themselves. Did you know that heart attack is the leading cause of death among firefighters? Vital signs could be monitored allowing alerts to a fire company of an elevated heart rate in their crew, potentially saving the life of a lifesaver.

5G could be the catalyst that leads to the true adoption of autonomous cars, as millions of sensors allow not only vehicle to vehicle communication, but could also integrate pedestrian traffic, making it safer for everyone as we move towards assisted and eventually self-driving vehicles.

Utility grid sensors could allow power companies to plan more effectively for use, pinpoint outages quickly, and use AI to divert energy and heal itself.

And we all know about Houston traffic. What if there's a world coming soon where we could alleviate just 20 percent of the congestion through smart city technology? In an hour commute, you just got 12 minutes back to spend with your family.

The technology is already getting smarter. The cities won't be far behind.

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Luis Silva is vice president and general manager at AT&T.

Lawrence Schwartz — CEO of Trivie, a tech-enabled workforce training solution — shares how employees forgetting training is one of the biggest challenges for businesses. Photo via Getty Images

Texas expert: Tapping into tech can help you overcome training challenges with your workforce

guest column

Forgetting is the hobgoblin of businesses everywhere. Globally, more than $300 billion is spent annually by companies hoping to train their employees to do their jobs successfully and safely. Yet, learning professionals know that people will forget 80 percent or more of what they learned after 30 to 90 days unless it's reinforced.

It's a human biology problem — people forget. However, if that were the only issue, it would have been solved long ago. Instead, it's a holistic issue that includes how people learn and forget, how people engage with training, and how knowledge gaps are identified and addressed across entire organizations.

How do we get people to remember what we need them to know to do their job more effectively? And how do we do it without it taking up so much of their time that training becomes impossibly expensive?

Therein lies the problem. Neuroscientists have done extensive research on how the brain remembers things long-term, and it's not what most people think.

We've grown up in a culture of cramming. Review the content over and over right before a test, take the test, pass it, and you're done. Check the box. Unfortunately, your brain is done with that material too, and over time, it will purge itself of that information unless you do something about it.

The act of forgetting allows our brains to strengthen their neurological pathways to help us remember. This is called "retrieval practice" and according to Dr. Henry Roediger, one of the authors of the book, Make It Stick: "Retrieval practice via quizzes spaced out over time helps to consolidate knowledge and keep it on employees' 'mental fingertips,' so it is easy to access when needed." In essence, you re-introduce something learned so that the brain "recalls" it, and if done enough over a certain period, it is more likely that people will remember this information longer.

With today's technology, we can automate spaced repetition. Artificial intelligence can predict when people will forget and proactively nudge employees to avoid creating knowledge gaps across organizations. Delivering information in a personalized way, such that every learner has their own proficiency map, enables knowledge retention with very little time expenditure.

It's human nature that when someone knows more, they are more confident in their abilities. This translates to better performance across nearly all use cases within a business. Top salespeople know their product like the back of their hands to identify solutions for customers quickly. The best customer service teams don't just reference knowledge bases; they are familiar with the product, processes, or services that allow them to be responsive and think holistically about issues. The safest work environments are a product of employees knowing what they need to do to keep themselves, and each other, safe. Knowledge retention powers high-performing people and organizations.

Forgetting can never be eliminated. Rather, businesses that leverage forgetting as opportunities to strengthen their people's knowledge will create a culture of continuous learning. Employees will feel more empowered and confident. Knowledge silos will be broken down, and the analog ways that knowledge was retained across peer interactions will become digital. An open network of knowledge will emerge and supplement our brains, making what was once a weakness in human biology, forgetting, an opportunity to remember.

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Lawrence Schwartz is the co-founder and CEO of Texas-based Trivie.

As we overcome the COVID crisis, and look to rebuild our economy and overcome future challenges, we need to learn from this experience and refuse to go back to the bad old days of red tape and stale technology. Photo via Getty Images

How the pandemic advanced tech in government and education, according to this Houston expert

Guest column

If you've logged onto a government website recently, you know that dealing with creaking, outdated government technology is about as much fun as a trip to the DMV. Held back by byzantine procurement rules, management-by-committee, and an aggressive commitment to decades-old UX principles, government websites and other tech tools are routinely confusing, horrible to use, and deeply inefficient.

Now, though, that could finally be changing. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us all to rethink our relationships with the technologies we use, from Zoom calls to e-commerce services. Increasingly, government bodies are finding themselves forced to move faster, adopt more up-to-date technologies, and work with private-sector partners to meet new challenges and quickly bring their services into the 21st century.

Getting an education

One of the most dramatic examples comes in the realm of education. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 93 percent of school-age children have engaged in distance learning since the pandemic began, and four fifths of them relied on digital tech to take the place of classroom resources. But with access to digital tech at home strongly correlated to household income, governments and education departments have had to move quickly to ensure every child has access to laptops and web connections.

Not everyone is a fan of remote learning, and as a parent myself, I know how hard it can be to have kids at home. But one thing we should all be able to agree on is that if we're going to rely on digital learning, then we need to make sure it's available to everyone, including those families that don't have access to reliable computers and WiFi connections at home.

Achieving that rapidly and at scale has required remarkable flexibility and creativity from policymakers at all levels. Those that have succeeded have done so by brushing aside the red tape that has ensnared previous government tech initiatives, and instead working with private-sector partners to rapidly implement the solutions that are needed.

Lessons from Texas

Here in Texas, for instance, one in six public school students lacked access to high-speed internet connections at the start of the pandemic, and 30% lacked access to laptops or other learning devices. To speed the transition to remote learning, Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) launched Operation Connectivity — a $400 million campaign to connect 5.5 million Texas public school students with a computer device and reliable internet connection. To date 4 million devices have been purchased and are being distributed to kids, opening doors to greater educational and economic opportunities. Further work is in progress to remove other connectivity barriers like slow connection speeds in rural areas to help students and all Texans.

Rolling out such an ambitious project to our state's 1,200 or so school districts could have been a disaster. After all, many government IT projects grind along for months or years without delivering the desired results — often at huge cost to taxpayers. But Operation Connectivity has been different because it's grounded in a true partnership between the government and private-sector players.

Facing urgent deadlines, government leaders turned to Gaby Rowe, former CEO of the Ion tech hub, to spearhead the project. As a tech innovator, Rowe brought entrepreneurial energy and a real understanding of the power of public-private partnerships, and drove Operation Connectivity from the blueprint to execution in a matter of weeks. Tech giants including Microsoft, SAP, and Hubspot also quickly joined the effort, helping to deliver cost-effective connectivity and hardware solutions to ensure that every kid in our state could get the education they deserve. Since then, Operation Connectivity has distributed over a million devices, including laptops and wireless hotspots, to families in need, with costs split between the state and individual districts.

Private sector edge

To get a sense of how private-sector knowhow can spur government tech transformation, consider my own company, Digital Glyde. As part of the Operation Connectivity effort, we were asked to help design and build the back-end software and planning infrastructure needed to coordinate effectively with hundreds of school district officials scattered all across our state.

Ordinarily, that kind of effort would require a drawn-out process of consultation, committee-work, and red tape. But facing an urgent need to help our state's children, we were given the freedom to move quickly, and were able to implement a viable system within just a few days.

By leveraging cutting-edge data-extraction and image-processing tools, we helped Operation Connectivity to automatically process invoices and match tech costs to available COVID relief funding in record time. We achieved 95% accuracy within three weeks of deployment to ensure school districts quickly received reimbursements for the hardware they were purchasing on behalf of their schoolchildren.

Building on success

Operation Connectivity is just one example of the ways in which government actors have embraced tech and leveraged private-sector assistance to chart their way through the COVID crisis. From contact-tracing programs to vaccine distribution programs, we're seeing governments taking a far more pragmatic and partnership-driven approach to technology.

Of course, not every experiment goes to plan. In Florida, government agencies decided to use web tools to manage vaccination appointments — but implemented that idea using a commercial website built to handle birthday party e-vites. Unsurprisingly, the results were chaotic, with users having to scramble to grab appointments as they were posted to the site, and seniors struggling to wrap their head around a website designed for young parents.

Such stories are a reminder that governments can't solve big problems simply by grabbing at whatever tech tools are nearest to hand. It's vital to find the right solutions, and to work with partners who understand the complexity and constraints that come with delivering public-sector services at scale.

As we overcome the COVID crisis, and look to rebuild our economy and overcome future challenges, we need to learn from this experience and refuse to go back to the bad old days of red tape and stale technology. In recent months, we've shown what can be done when we pull together, and combine real governmental leadership with private-sector innovation and efficiency. We'll need much more of this kind of teamwork and tech-enabled creativity in the months and years to come.

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Varun Garg is the founder and CEO of Houston-based Digital Glyde

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Houston health tech startup using AI in palliative care scores $256,000 grant to test its product

Med tech moves

A new Houston-based digital advanced care planning company is streamlining some of the most difficult conversations in the health care industry around palliative care.

Founded by Tatiana Fafanova, Dr. Desh Mohan, and Katelin Cherry, Koda Health uses AI to help patients create advance medical care directives and documents—such as a living will—through an easy to use web-based interface.

Koda Health uses a conversational platform where users can enter information about their values, living situations, quality of life wishes, and more while learning about different care options at their own speed. It also uses a proprietary machine learning approach that personalizes audio-video guided dialogue based on the patient's individual and cultural preferences.

The app then autogenerates legal and medical documents, which patients can notarize or electronically witness the forms through the app or on their own.

According to Fafanova, who earned her PhD in in Molecular Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and now acts as the company's CEO, what historically has been a time consuming and expensive process, through Koda Health, takes an average of 17 minutes and is completely free of charge to the end user.

"We hope to reduce any outstanding barriers to access that might exist," Fafanova says. "It is very frequently the oldest and the poorest that are the highest utilizers of health care that don't have access to these solutions."

The app is also projected to save health care systems roughly $9,500 per patient per year, as it allows for hospitals and organizations to better plan for what their patient population is seeking in end-of-life-care.

The B2B platform was born out of the TMC's Biodesign Fellowship, which tasked Koda's founding members with finding solutions to issues surrounding geriatric care in the medical center. In March 2020, Koda incorporated. Not long after ICU beds began to fill with COVID-19 patients, "galvanizing" the team's mission, Fafanova says.

"It was no longer this conceptual thing that we needed to address and write a report on. Now it was that people were winding up in the hospital at alarming rates and none of those individuals had advanced care planning in place," she says.

After accelerating the development of the product, Koda Health is now being used by health care systems in Houston, Texas, and Virginia.

The company recently received a Phase I grant of $256,000 from the National Science Foundation, which will allow Koda to deploy the platform at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist and test it against phone conversations with 900 patients. Fafanova says the company will also use the funds to continue to develop personalization algorithms to improve Kona's interface for users.

"We want to make this a platform that mimics a high quality conversation," she says.

After Koda completes the Phase I pilot program it will then be eligible to apply for a Phase II award of up to $1 million in about a year.

Koda Health was founded by Tatiana Fafanova, Dr. Desh Mohan, and Katelin Cherry. Photos via kodahealthcare.com

Research: 5 mistakes Houston entrepreneurs should be making

houston voices

We all have heard "you learn from your mistakes," so, why do a lot of startup blogs warn entrepreneurs of the mistakes they shouldn't make when starting a business, but not very many tell them what mistakes they should be making? Some mistakes teach us more than our successes and some of those mistakes are bound to happen anyway, so why not embrace them?

Ben Wiener, a startup founder and managing partner of a Jerusalem-based micro-fund that invests in early-stage startups, provides a list of five mistakes startup founders should be making as early as possible during their entrepreneurial journey in an OnStartups blog post.

Ben Wiener’s Top  Mistakes When Starting a Business 

1. Get Screwed

"It's inevitable. Anyone – your partner, co-founder, employee, investor, or any other character in your unfolding plot – will mess you over. Someone will break your trust, violate a verbal or even written agreement, cut your compensation, or try to steal your equity or destroy your whole company (or all of the above, if you're me). Someone will do something stupid to scuttle your grand plan."

Wiener said to accept the inevitable. Power struggles are real, and the vision you have, someone else on your team may not see it the same way, causing friction. Prepare yourself for this problem and hope it doesn't cause too much damage.

"Upon reflection, you'll likely find that what enabled your misfortune was something you did or didn't do. The screwer-screwee relationship requires at least two people, and there are two sides to every story. Even if you clearly weren't "at fault" – you encountered a terrible, crooked person who did you in – you still need to ask yourself how you allowed yourself to do business with that person," Wiener said.

2. Seek Revenge

"This is an adjunct to the above mistake. Once bitten, your natural impulse may be to bite back. You've lost something – tangible, emotional, some future upside or all of the above – and you want to deny the perpetrator those same things or at least the satisfaction of having caused you that loss."

Wiener recommends trying this at least once. "I predict that not only won't you be successful, but most likely nothing will happen at all, or worse, it will bounce back at you. You'll just feel immature, cheap and dirty and the lingering recollection of that bad feeling probably will be enough to prevent you from playing the revenge card again," he said.

Beyonce said it best, "always stay gracious, best revenge is your paper." Translation: remain cordial, your success will be the best revenge.

3. Tell People Your Venture is in "Stealth Mode"

"It's natural to want to keep your cards close to your vest. Perhaps you're afraid someone will steal your idea, or you lack confidence that you've developed it well enough to convincingly describe it to others. The tech industry has even provided you the gift of a cool-sounding cover: "Stealth Mode," which makes you sound more like a covert spy shrouded in secrecy than an unsure rookie plagued by insecurity. Saying you're in "Stealth Mode" is almost certainly a mistake, for many reasons. First of all, it can easily be interpreted as either pompousness or insecurity, which is bad for your credibility. You're also signaling that you don't trust that person, creating a negative feeling that will likely persist even after you're able to elaborate later on."

You never know who a potential investor or costumer could be, so don't keep everything a secret. Pique people's curiosity. You may even know a potential investor or costumer personally, so "switch to 'Get Out There' mode" as Wiener recommends.

4. Believe that "If You Build It, They Will Come"

"The popularity of the phrase leads some founders to believe, and predict to investors, that they, too, need only to build their amazing new thingy, and the users will come running until the rest looks like a hockey stick. I can assure you that if you just build "it", "they" will almost certainly not come. In startup theory the "coming" of "they" is called "Market Pull" which almost never happens by itself, even among early adopters. Market Pull needs to follow an intense and iterative period of product design, customer development, Product/Market Fit and hands-on "Technology Push" into the target market, which only if successful begets the glorious Market Pull. You'll have to work hard to make the market notice and care, and probably personally engage your early users individually, and that's fine."

5. "Wiener's Favorite Mistake"

"My favorite founder mistake is not appropriately balancing confidence and humility. There's a yin/yang relationship between the two and as you pilot your rocketship forward, you will occasionally find that you've leaned too hard to one side or the other. As a startup founder you need to have a healthy dose of self-confidence. Ok, maybe an unhealthy dose. An overdose. You need to passionately believe that your solution is The Next Big Thing. But overconfidence can be extremely dangerous, for many reasons. It can be misinterpreted by others as arrogance, which can cause damaging interpersonal consequences. If overconfidence morphs into false confidence, it can cloud your vision or your analysis. A great founder must have just as healthy a dose of humility, an understanding of his or her relatively small place in the world. But being too humble can hold you and your venture back."

Wiener said that balancing your self-confidence and humility is something you will have to do every day. You will need to choose which situations require which trait.

What’s The Big Idea? 

When starting your own company, do you want other entrepreneurs to only tell you about their successes? Or, do you want to know their failures as well and what they learned?

"A good entrepreneur wants to talk about their mistakes as well as their successes, and a good investor wants to hear about those mistake and lessons without penalizing the pitch, Wiener said."

If you had a young child or teen in the early 2000s, maybe you heard Hannah Montana sing "Nobody's Perfect." That mantra always has and will remain true. Wiener said to expect mistakes to happen. Embrace them, and then analyze them "as those lessons learned will become important, lasting building blocks in your personal development and the development of your company."

Don't be afraid to make mistakes when starting a business. It would be weird if you didn't, actually. Learn from them and go succeed.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Cory Thaxton, the author of this piece, is the communications coordinator for The Division of Research.

Real estate giant to open another downtown Houston coworking hub

going up

A new downtown Houston skyscraper that's on the rise and expected to be completed by the end of the year will offer flexible office space.

Texas Tower will feature The Square, Hines' flexible office product, the international real estate firm announced with Ivanhoé Cambridge. The 18,000-square-foot space will provide "elevated level of service and amenitization akin to a hospitality environment," according to a news release from Hines.

"We recognize the way our tenants conduct business is rapidly changing. The Square at Texas Tower will provide the highest quality flexible work experience in the market supported by an unparalleled dedication to service and integrity. Its offerings accommodate tenants' temporary teams, task forces, and expansions, and welcomes collaboration and variability," says Hines Senior Managing Director John Mooz in the release.

The Square is scheduled to open in early 2022 in the LEED Platinum office building that's being designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli. The flexible space is a result of a collaboration between Hines and Montreal-based firm, Ivanhoé Cambridge.

"We are thrilled to offer this signature workplace service in Texas Tower," says Jonathan Pearce, executive vice president of leasing and development, office and industrial at Ivanhoé Cambridge. "We have listened to our tenants and understand their need for flexibility of service, duration and built environment. As owner of Texas Tower and long-standing partners with Hines, we thrive to put forward innovative solutions such as The Square, to elevate and support the user experience of our customers and their employees' engagement, attraction, retention, and development."

Hines introduced its coworking concept — Hines² — a few years ago. Hines² already is up and running at two locations: 717 Texas, a 33-story Class A office tower in Houston, and The Kearns Building, a 10-story office building in Salt Lake City. As Hines looks to continued expansion, future cities may include Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, DC, and London, per the release.

The Square's first Houston location opened in 2020 at 717 Texas Ave. Image courtesy of Hines