Houston-born Matt Mullenweg joined the Greater Houston Partnership for a fireside chat on his tech company Automattic's success of distributed work. Photo via ma.tt

The pandemic and the measures companies have taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have opened employers eyes to non-traditional ways of working. An increased percentage of the workforce pivoted to remote working this year — in some cases, this was the first time employees were allowed to work from home.

But not having a traditional office setup is far from new to Houston native Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress. He started his company with remote team members basically from day one. In a virtual fireside chat with Scott McClelland, president of H-E-B Food & Drug, for Greater Houston Partnership's Houston NEXT: An ERG Summit last month, Mullenweg describes why he feels confident that a remote — or distributed, has he defines it — workforce is the future.

"Words are really important, and when I hear the word 'remote,' I think there's a central office and then there's someone who's not part of it," Mullenweg says during the chat. "So, we were trying to think of something that captured the fact that we were close to each other in our work — we're just not physically in the same place most of the time. 'Distributed' is what we came up with."

For Mullenweg, this way of running his business was advantageous for the company at its founding in 2000. Since those early days, Automattic, WordPress's parent company, has raised around $700 million in venture funding and made around 20 acquisitions. This success, Mullenweg says, is in part due to distributed work.

"All of this is designed to create a really robust network so that the work can continue regardless of location or anything," Mullenweg says on his workforce structure. "This especially during the early days, allowed us to work two or three times faster than our competitors because when they were doing five days of work a week, we were doing 15 days of work a week."

Mullenweg's plan for distributed work has been the subject a series of blogs, a podcast, and even a TED Talk. As passionate as he is that it is the future of the workforce, he realizes there's a process to getting there, and it's going to take time. He explains a five-tiered process that focuses on strategic culture changes and tech optimization.

"I think you need to have a culture and a way of working that allows people who aren't physical co-present with their colleagues to be productive," Mullenweg says. "The truth is not every company is there yet."

While Mullenweg always believed the rise of distributed work would reach milestones throughout his lifetime, the pandemic might be accelerating crucial steps toward the growth of this type of workforce. Especially since, as Mullenweg explains, this isn't the last major event that's going to occur and prevent in-person work.

"We're all hoping COVID to be gone as soon as possible, but this isn't the last thing like this. I'm sure there are going to be other issues that require us to be more decentralized in the future," Mullenweg says. "If you can get good at that as an organization, you'll be primed to succeed in the coming decades as a business."

Ultimately, distributed work has a lot of potential in the modern workforce, and the structure can do wonders for business advancement as well as employee moral.

"One thing we've found is that when people are really happy and fulfilled, they bring their best selves to work — they're more creative and have more energy," Mullenweg says.

Houston NEXT: An ERG Summit - Fireside Chat with Matt Mullenweg www.youtube.com

H-E-B is ringing up a new accolade. Photo courtesy

Equipped with online and in-app ordering, Texas grocer named No. 1 for delivery

DOING MORE

Widely praised for its response to the ongoing pandemic, Texas-based grocery chain H-E-B's cart has once again been filled with kudos.

In a study by market research and mystery shopping firm Ipsos, H-E-B ranked first for grocery delivery among U.S. retailers, with a 99 percent accuracy rate. At No. 2 in the grocery delivery category was Austin-based Whole Foods Market, which achieved a 95 percent accuracy rate.

For the study, mystery shoppers across the country rated various retailers on the quality of their buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS), curbside, and delivery services. Ipsos conducted 150 mystery shops per retailer across these three categories.

"Use of BOPIS and curbside pickup has increased for 78 percent of shoppers since COVID-19 began, and 69 percent expect to continue using it at the same or higher levels after the pandemic subsides," Carlos Aragon, vice president of U.S. channel performance at Ipsos, says in an October 9 release. "As we continue to see the adoption and usage of these new digital offers rise and continue to stick, it is important that brands have the mechanism to ensure they deliver a seamless and safe customer experience for these new users."

To promote social distancing, H-E-B rolled out two-hour delivery in April, eliminating the need for customers to interact.

"With Texans relying on delivery now more than ever, it is our duty to support more of our communities across the state, as quickly as possible," Jag Bath, Favor's CEO and H-E-B's chief digital officer, said in an April release.

To accommodate two-hour delivery for H-E-B customers, Favor undertook a statewide expansion. The grocery chain rolled out its home delivery option in 2018, the same year that H-E-B bought Favor.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Grand prize winner, Traci Johannson, 3 Sons Foods; Jody Hall, H-E-B; George Johannson; Winell Herron, H-E-B; Luke and Ayden Johannson; James Harris, H-E-B. Photo courtesy of H-E-B

Houston startup claims HEB award and heads for shelves

Food fix

Five homegrown Texas businesses are enjoying Lone Star State-sized bragging rights after a big win on August 8. The entrepreneurs are the collective winners of H-E-B's sixth-annual Primo Picks Quest for Texas Best contest, which recognizes the most innovative products. Collectively, the winners earn $80,000 in prizes, and, just as important, coveted shelf space in H-E-Bs across the state.

A Houston family leads the way, joining winners from Austin; San Antonio; Woodway; and Atlanta, Texas. Houston's 3 Sons Foods won a grand prize of $25,000 and featured placement as a Texas Primo Pick for Diablo Verde Sauce, a creamy cilantro offering. The company is owned by and operated by Traci Johannson and her three young sons: George (11), Luke (14), and Ayden (16). A portion of Diablo Verde sales goes to the International Rhino Foundation to help stop the illegal poaching of rhinos, according to a release.

First place honors — and a $20,000 prize — go to Austin's Courtney Ray Goodson for her Uncle Ray's Peanut Brittle. Inspired by her great uncle Ray's 35-year-old recipe, Goodson's offerings include Bacon Pecan, Butternut, Pecan, and classic Peanut Brittle.

Hailing from Woodway, Texas, Derek Newball landed second place and $15,000 for his EVOKE collagen drink. Capitalizing on the collagen drink trend, Newball's coconut-based products are meant to benefit skin, hair, joints, and bones, and come in coconut, mandarin coconut, and pineapple coconut flavors.

To the Moon Family Foods, based in Atlanta, Texas, tied for third place (a $10,000 prize) with its To the Moon Family Foods Nutty-Carrot Spread. Creators Kay Lynn York and Joan Reece combine carrots, pecans, and "mouthwatering" spices for a spread to be used on sandwiches; meats; or even rolled in balls, coated, and fried.

Tying with To the Moon at third place (and a $10,000 prize) is San Antonio's Grain4Grain Low-Carb Flour and Mix. Owners Yoni Medhin and Matt Mechtly recycle spent grains from local microbreweries to make a low-carb, high-protein, high-fiber flour. For every pound of flour sold, Grain4Grain donates a pound to those in need.

The 2019 Quest for Texas Best competition drew more than 800 entries from nearly 140 cities and towns across the state after a call for entries in February of this year. Through two qualifying rounds, submissions were judged on taste and flavor, customer appeal, value, uniqueness, market potential, and differentiation from current products at most H-E-B stores.

"Each of these 20 competitors displayed unprecedented creativity, style, and commitment to providing outstanding, unique products for our consideration," said James Harris, director of diversity & inclusion and supplier diversity at H-E-B, in a statement. "In fact, the entries were so good that we ended up with five winners this year. We are delighted to share that diversity and ingenuity with our customers across the state."

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This story originally appeared on CultureMap.

Mayor Sylvester Turner talked parks, innovation, firefighter salaries, and more at the Greater Houston Partnership's State of the City. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

5 things Mayor Turner promised Houston in his State of the City Address

Looking forward

In the 2019 State of the City Address hosted by the Greater Houston Partnership on May 20, Mayor Sylvester Turner took the stage at the Marriott Marquis in front of over 1,500 Houstonians.

Some of the obvious topics were of course on the table — pension reform, hurricane recovery, job growth — but Mayor Turner surprised attendees with the announcement of a public-private parks program and again alluded to the re-envisioned of Astroworld.

Here's what all the mayor promised in his address.

Public-private partnerships for Houston parks

Houston's major parks have undergone major transformations lately backed by private investments — Buffalo Bayou Park, Memorial Park Conservancy, and Bayou Greenways 2020, to name a few — but the city would like to shift focus to smaller, neighborhood parks across the city. To do this, Mayor Turner called for 50 companies to sponsor 50 parks.

"Today, I am asking the Greater Houston Partnership, the Houston Parks Board, and the Parks Department, to help me bring together 50 companies to form a citywide coalition for our neighborhood parks — primarily in underserved communities," Mayor Turner says.

Scott McClelland, president of HEB Food and Drug and board chair of the GHP, offered up HEB as a corporate partner for the program on the spot, despite the formal details of the program not yet being disclosed. Mayor Turner did specify that the park sponsorship would be a commitment over a few years.

"The 50 for 50 effort will touch every district in the city. All Houstonians should have easy access to welcoming, well-maintained, safe, and fun parks," he says.

A developed innovation corridor and a resurgence of AstroWorld

In both in his introductory address and fireside chat with McClelland, Mayor Turner talked about the emergence of Houston's innovation ecosystem. He cites the 140 percent increase in technology jobs as well as the 3,000 reported startups that call Houston their home. He mentions that Silicon Valley-based accelerator program Plug and Play is preparing to enter the market and another 25 million investment from the Houston Exponential fund of funds is expected.

"We're not walking; we're sprinting," Mayor Turner says. "There is no better place for an [innovation] ecosystem to take place than Houston."

Mayor Turner also credited Rice University's The Ion project as a major source of growth for the city's innovation ecosystem.

"We are building an innovation hub and corridor — in collaboration with academia, thank you, Rice, for loaning us the Sears building on South Main, and the energy and tech companies."

When discussing the innovation district, the mayor also gave a shout out to Travis Scott for being the "instigator" of a new AstroWorld-like theme park the city has in the works, but no details were disclosed in the address.

Rethinking Houston's transportation system

As Houston's population continues to grow, Houstonians spend more and more time in their cars fighting traffic. The mayor called for action to reimagine Houston's transportation.

"Our city has changed, the region is changing, and our transportation, transit, and mobility must change," he says. "People want options, and we must give them options."

Mayor Turner alluded to the Metro Next plan that will be on the ballot this November. While he didn't go into much detail, he encouraged support for the plan.

A raise for the Houston Fire Department

McClelland started the fireside chat with a question about the state of things after Proposition B's repeal following being deemed unconstitutional. The proposition, which originally passed last fall, would have matched Houston firefighters' salaries with police officers.

The mayor says that with the repeal, no layoffs or job cuts will be made within the Houston Fire Department. He recognizes that firefighters are in need of a raise, but it must be one the city can afford.

"Our firefighters are deserving of a pay raise," Mayor Turner says. "What I've put forth is 9.5 percent over three years, but look, my door is open."

The best is yet to come

Mayor Turner wrapped up his address on a positive note, saying that the city's growth will continue.

"The state of our city is strong, resilient, and sustainable," he says. "The best for us as a city has yet to come."

All of these initiatives on the mayor's agenda are working for toward uniting and enhancing Houston.

"We are building one complete city," he says. "And we work together, we win."

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Houston hospital introduces first-of-its-kind voice technology into its operating rooms

Hey, MIA

Hey, MIA. Start surgery.

These are the words Houston doctors are learning to say in the operating rooms, thanks to a first-of-its-kind voice technology developed by the Houston Methodist's Center for Innovation in collaboration with Amazon Web Services. In the same way we use programs like Alexa or Siri to make our everyday tasks easier, the Methodist Intelligent Automation, or MIA, is allowing medical professionals to improve the way they interact both with technology and patients alike.

"There's been a push in the industry for a long time that people sitting behind computers and typing and staring at a computer screen is inadequate," says Houston Methodist Chief Innovation Officer Roberta Schwartz. "There's been a desire to return people back to each other rather than physicians and look at a screen and patients look at a doctor looking at a screen."

Currently in its pilot phase, MIA is working to do just that through two key functions that shift the way medical professionals work in what Schwartz calls the "era of electronic medical records."

The first is through operating room voice commands. Here medical professionals can run through a series or checklists and initiate important actions, such as starting timers or reviewing time of anesthesia, through voice instead of by typing or clicking, which can become cumbersome during lengthy and highly detailed surgeries. Information is displayed on a large 80-inch TV in the operating suite and following surgery all of the data captured is imported into the traditional EMR program. The technology has been prototyped in two Houston Methodist O.R. suites so far and the hub aims to trial it in a simulation surgery by the end of the year.

Additionally, the hub is developing ambient listening technology to be used in a clinical setting with the same goal. Houston Methodist and AWS have partnered with Dallas-based Pariveda to create specialized hardware that (after gaining patient permission) will listen into doctor-patient conversations, transcribe the interaction, and draft a note that is then coded and imported directly into the EMR.

"For EMR the feedback is that it's clunky, it's click-heavy, it's very task oriented," says Josh Sol, who leads digital and clinical innovation for Houston Methodist. "Our goal with the Center for Innovation and this technology hub is to really transform that terminology and bring back this collaboration and the patient-physician relationship by removing the computer but still capturing all the pertinent information."

The ambient listening technology is further off and is currently in user acceptance testing with clinicians.

"They've had some great feedback, whether it's changing how the note is created, changing the look and feel of the application itself," Sol adds. "All feedback is good feedback at this point. So we've taken it in, we prioritize the work, and we continue to improve the application."

And the hub doesn't plan to stop there. Schwartz and Sol agree that the next step for this type of medical technology will be patient facing. They envision that in the near future appointment or surgery prep can be done through Alexa push notifications and medication reminders or follow up assessments could be done via voice applications.

"It's all going to be of tremendous value and it's coming," Schwartz says. "We may be taking the first baby steps, but each one of these voice technologies for our patients is out there on the horizon."

Chevron to launch makerspace at The Cannon, Houston a top city for STEM, and more innovation news

Short stories

Houston's innovation ecosystem has been booming with news, and it's likely some might have fallen through the cracks.

For this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, a startup snags a win at a pitch competition, Chevron announces a new makerspace, a software company makes an acquisition, and more.

Houston named a best city for STEM

Image via SmartAsset

For the fifth year, personal finance website, SmartAsset, analyzed data for the 35 cities in the county with the largest STEM workforces. The study looked at the racial diversity index as well as the gender diversity index. The data for both metrics comes from the Census Bureau's 2019 1-year American Community Survey.

Houston ranked No. 7 on the list, and according to the report, the total number of STEM workers in Houston, Texas exceeds 79,500. Around 70 percent of the total STEM workers there are men, and more than 30 percent are women. Additionally, Houston has the third-best race/ethnicity index score in the study with more than 19 percent of STEM workers are Hispanic or Latino, almost 20 percent are Asian, and more than 8 percent are Black.

Texas makes up about a third of the top 10 list with Dallas and Fort Worth coming in at No. 9 and No.10, respectively.

Chevron announces digital makerspace in The Cannon

Photo courtesy of The Cannon

The Cannon and its surrounding Founders District in West Houston has announced the addition of Chevron's digital makerspace, which will be dedicated to startup partnerships and community organizations.

"Chevron's support for The Founders District and The Cannon expands our commitment to Houston's growing innovation ecosystem," says Barbara Burger, Chevron vice president, Innovation and president of Chevron Technology Ventures, in a news release. "We look forward to utilizing this new space to collaborate with other Chevron organizations, such as our Wells group, as we work to deliver more reliable, affordable, ever-cleaner energy."

While Chevron has been a key partner for The Cannon since 2018 and even had branded office space within the hub, this new space represents a new lease agreement for a significantly larger footprint.

"We are thrilled to partner with Chevron Technology Ventures in developing this exciting makerspace at The Founders District," says Mark Toon, CEO of Puma Development, the company developing The Founders District and founder of Work America Capital, a venture capital firm dedicated to investing in Houston-based businesses. "CTV is the paradigm for meaningful innovation in Houston. By investing in emerging technologies in energy, they are paving the way for innovation to remain at the heart of Houston's most prominent industry."

Lazarus 3D wins The Ion's pitch competition

Photo via Laz3d.com

After months of pitching events, The Ion's Startup Demo Day for 2020 concluded on November 18 with four final pitches from Lazarus 3D, Skylark Wireless, HelloWoofy, and Swoovy.

After each of the four founders presented at the virtual event, which was powered by Dell Technologies, Lazarus 3D, a startup that produces 3D-printed organs and tissues for surgical practice, took home the win and the cash prize.

"I'm so grateful to Ion Houston — I've met so many people and made so many connections," says Smriti Zaneveld, co-founder and president. "All of the companies that present at these events are doing something so meaningful."

Applications are now open for the next series. Apply online by clicking here.

Houston tech co. acquires New Zealand business

Photo via Onit.com

Houston-based Onit Inc., a legal software provider, announced that the company has acquired McCarthyFinch and its artificial intelligence platform.

"Our vision is to build AI into our workflow platform and every product across the Onit and SimpleLegal product portfolios," says Eric M. Elfman, Onit CEO and co-founder, in a news release. "AI will have an active role in everything from enterprise legal management to legal spend management and contract lifecycle management, resulting in continuous efficiencies and cost savings for corporate legal departments.

"Historically, legal departments have been thought of as black boxes where requests go in and information, decisions or contracts come out with no real transparency," Elfman continues. "AI has the potential to enhance transparency and contribute to stronger enterprise-wide business collaboration in a way that conserves a lawyer's valuable time."

The newly acquired software has the capacity to accelerate contract processing by up to 70 percent and increase productivity by over 50 percent. With the acquisition, Onit is enhancing its new artificial intelligence platform Precedent and the company's first release on the platform will be ReviewAI.

New sustainability-focused app launches at Climathon

Photo courtesy of Footprint

Houston-based Footprint App Inc. launched its latest carbon footprint education and action software during the Houston Climathon that was hosted earlier this month by Impact Hub Houston.

By tracking the user's sustainable habits, the student-focused tool allows users to compete to reduce their environmental impact. Footprint has launched in over 50 classrooms across the nation and is also being used by several corporations.

"With the state of Texas recently receiving an 'F' in climate education from the National Science Foundation, we see Footprint as the perfect tool for K-12 and beyond to help Texas students engage with climate science in a fun, competitive way," says Dakota Stormer, Footprint App, Inc. CEO and co-founder, in a news release.