Houston founders recognized as influential women

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These are the Houston women named to this year's Women of Influence list by Entrepreneur Magazine. Photo via Getty Images

A handful of Houston women have been named to Entrepreneur Magazine's 2022 Women of Influence list, which recognizes women making an impact in their respective industries.

Ghazal Qureshi and Vernee Hines, co-founders of The Woodlands-based UpBrainery Technologies, and Houston-based Carolyn Rodz, along with her California-based co-founder, Elizabeth Gore, of Hello Alice, made the 2022 list. Additionally, representing the bar and restaurant world, Alba Huerta, founder of Julep, joins her fellow Houstonians for the honor.

UpBrainery is an AI-driven technology platform that helps middle and high school students align their interests with career development. The company has worked with Whataburger, Girl Scouts, The Houston Rockets, NASDAQ and others. It was also named by the Department of Defense Education Activity as the premiere provider of Career Technology Education for 52 military middle schools across the world this summer. The app uses its proprietary BrainLab platform that presents TikTok-style videos, gamified learning and augmented reality to relate to its young users.

"Our careful plan to launch a disruptive education technology in 2020, just as schools shut down, did not go well!," the duo told Entrepreneur. "But today we're engaging students through gamified content and immersive experiences. We've been hyperfocused on career development in middle and high school with new tools that allow students to better understand their interests and aptitudes. Technology is the only way to scale change. And although changing the status quo in education is daunting, it's doable."

Qureshi, Qureshi serves as the CEO of Upbrainery, and Hines were also named to Forbes' Next 1000 list in 2021, which featured inspiring entrepreneurs and small-business leaders “who are redefining what it means to build and run a business amid the new normal.” The company recently participated in the gBETA Houston accelerator in 2021.

Hello Alice is a data-driven platform that provides over 1 million small business owners with free advice, resources, and access to funding. Most recently, the Houston-based tech company announced a new founder-focused credit card.

"As a Latina- and women-founded company, we focus on New Majority small business owners facing persistent and glaring disparities in access to capital," the two founders told the magazine. "We have raised and distributed over $37 million in grants — mostly to women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, those with a military connection, and entrepreneurs with disabilities. And we've brought on partners like Mastercard and NAACP to help."

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Loretta Williams Gurnell of the SUPERGirls SHINE Foundation, Al Ansari of FreshBrew, and Carolyn Rodz of Hello Alice. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from advocacy to coffee manufacturing — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Loretta Williams Gurnell, founder and executive director of the SUPERGirls SHINE Foundation

Loretta Williams Gurnell, founder and executive director of the SUPERGirls SHINE Foundation, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how she's impacting young women in STEM. Photo courtesy of SUPERGirls SHINE Foundation

Years ago, through her own experience working with students, Loretta Williams Gurnell realized there wasn't any initiative connecting the dots for young women in terms of translating their state-mandated math and science classes into successful careers and job opportunities.

She set out to connect those dots and increase STEM opportunities for young women and launched her organization SUPERGirls SHINE Foundation in early 2016 to focus on programming to spark STEM interest and education for girls age 10 to 17. Later, amid the pandemic, she realized she needed to do more than just put on events and programming for these young women.

"We had to look at what's going to be longterm for these girls. How can we take the programatic piece that we do so well and make it a part of their lifestyle and decision making opportunities, so we had to pivot," she says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. Click here to read more.

Al Ansari, president and CEO of FreshBrew

FreshBrew has upgraded to some high-tech roasting equipment. Image courtesy of FreshBrew

Al Ansari takes coffee seriously — and he's putting his money where his mouth is. Houston-based FreshBrew, one of the largest private-label coffee and tea producers in the country, announced this month the recent investment of $10 million into its specialty roasting and production divisions.

The company, which supplies specialty blended coffee, tea and total beverage solutions to hospitality and retail business, is expanding its current roasting production and will fund extraction, bottling and canning capabilities, making FreshBrew one of only a few companies in the country to offer total end-to-end beverage solutions. The expansion, which is on the same land the company has owned since its inception in 1995, is slated to be complete in early 2023.

“Over the years, we take a myopic approach with our customers, we look at what they want to achieve and look at their market, and blend their wants and our knowledge and create custom profiles for them,” says Ansari, president and CEO of FreshBrew. Click here to read more.

Carolyn Rodz, founder and CEO of Hello Alice

In an interview with InnovationMap, Carolyn Rodz, CEO and founder of Hello Alice, explains how the partnership came about and how the program will significantly move the needle on equitable access to capital for small business owners. Photo courtesy of Hello Alice

Last month, Hello Alice — now with 1 million members in its community — announced a new program with MasterCard that provides small business owners a simpler way to unlock access to capital.

The Hello Alice Small Business Mastercard offers users expert business advice, business insights, cash back, and a rewards program that gives entrepreneurs points for completing business-advancing activities on the Hello Alice platform.

"As a small business owner myself, I've created a card that I wish I would have had," Carolyn Rodz, CEO and founder of Hello Alice, tells InnovationMap. "We really looked at where are the gaps for these business owners and the things they don't already have or are unable to access." Click here to read more.

In an interview with InnovationMap, Carolyn Rodz, CEO and founder of Hello Alice, explains how the partnership came about and how the program will significantly move the needle on equitable access to capital for small business owners. Photo courtesy of Hello Alice

How this Houston innovator is providing small businesses unprecedented access to capital

Q&A

Last month, Hello Alice — now with 1 million members in its community — announced a new program with MasterCard that provides small business owners a simpler way to unlock access to capital.

The Hello Alice Small Business Mastercard offers users expert business advice, business insights, cash back, and a rewards program that gives entrepreneurs points for completing business-advancing activities on the Hello Alice platform.

"As a small business owner myself, I've created a card that I wish I would have had," Carolyn Rodz, CEO and founder of Hello Alice, tells InnovationMap. "We really looked at where are the gaps for these business owners and the things they don't already have or are unable to access."

In an interview with InnovationMap, Rodz explains how the partnership came about and how the program will significantly move the needle on equitable access to capital for small business owners.

InnovationMap: How did this partnership come about to provide this this unique credit card for small business owners?

Carolyn Rodz: We have been looking at ways to support business owners along their capital journeys for a long time. Since we started Hello Alice access to capital has been the number one barrier for small business owners, and that's only magnified when we look at business owners of color and our new majority business owners that we focus on. And so it made natural sense as we went down a path of conversations with MasterCard initially around how do we create something, particularly in a world where accessing capital, which would be daunting for business owners.

There's a lot of talk around venture capital and getting loans and what that growth journey looks like. But the reality is most business owners understand a credit card — they understand how it works. So, that was a great starting point for us. Then we looked at what are some of the issues with cards — all business cards particularly or commodities. They're typically an afterthought from a lot of the financial institutions that offer them. We're seeing a lot of these emerging fintech companies that are rolling out cards, but even for them, the small business audience is typically an afterthought. They're really focused on tech companies and very rapid growth businesses.

It felt like mainstream small businesses were really getting lost in this conversation, so that was where we really wanted to tackle. How do we solve some of these problems — how do we create benefits that are actually meaningful to small business owners? Things like one-on-one coaching and helping them get access to workshops that will help them along their growth journey. Things that they can redeem points for experiences and opportunities that that may not otherwise be accessible through a lot of these business owners.

The other piece that we wanted to support is the large group of businesses that don't qualify for a traditional credit card. And so we, in tandem with our unsecured credit card, also launched a secured card. And the idea for that was that we could actually roll out a credit quality tool. So, in conjunction with all the education and wraparound services that we're offering, there's a six- to nine-month process that a business owner — if they have poor credit history — can go through to build up that credit with a secured credit card and then seamlessly transition into an unsecured card. It's an opportunity to take that first step toward building and growing their business and accessing the capital that they need to grow.

IM: How does this initiative target the inequality in access to capital for small business owners?

CR: Well, nine out of 10 of business owners are relying on their personal credit card when they're applying for financing. When we look at entrepreneurs of color, the rate of low credit score for them is two to three times higher for Black and LatinX entrepreneurs specifically. So for us, this is the importance of building in conjunction with our creating equitable access to credit program that is much broader, frankly, than the card itself, but offering the wraparound services around it, making sure that we are providing the secured to unsecured seamless transition plan.

We're also working with the First National Bank of Omaha, and the reason we selected them at the bank, they're the largest privately held bank in the country. This also gave us the flexibility to really look at alternative underwriting models and the the opportunity to learn through all of the insights that we're gaining around these small business owners. We're trying to figure out how do we start to look at some of these alternative data points and identify not just the financial history of a business owner.

There are a lot of circumstances that lead to poor credit scores, whether it was for a health circumstance that they endured or veteran business owners who may have no credit history because they've been overseas for a long period of time. We're looking at what are some of the data points that are indicating that a business owner is more likely to succeed and more likely to repay the credit that they've taken on. We know already through a lot of research and data points that having a business plan automatically makes you more likely to repay your your debt. Or the fact that you are getting positive feedback from mentors is a strong indicator that you're going to be more likely to pay off some of those debts. And so we're really looking at what are some of these things that may be overlooked but are frankly more indicative of who the business owner is and the potential for their for their business and their opportunities to be able to repay credit that they take off.

IM: What type of small business owners do you feel like this is a really good solution for? What all can they expect from the program?

CR: As a small business owner myself, I've created a card that I wish I would have had. When I started this company, I really looked at what was available to the market. This credit card, like many cards, offers benefits that are pretty standard in the market right now. Things like cash back, extra points, and kickers for certain spends that are relevant to small business owners. But again, we really looked at where are the gaps for these business owners and the things they don't already have or are unable to access.

What we discovered was there are lots of accelerators, programs, and workshops and things — but they're expensive. So, there's an opportunity here. We work with our network of partners that we have for Hello Alice that are traditionally paid or have a cost to roll them out and offer business owners points and earnings that can be spent toward that.

Mentorship, as you know, is a huge, huge barrier, particularly when we look at our new majority entrepreneurs, so all of our cardholders get access to one-on-one coaching for this card. And we've really focused on areas that are primary interest to them, things like business strategy, operations, and financing for their businesses.

And then the other important piece of this is leveraging our partner network. We have so many partners that we work with at Hello Alice, companies that are offering products and tools and services to small business owners. With this card, we're opening up additional discounts beyond what we've already negotiated standards for all of our community, whether it's an extra discount on things like QuickBooks, Salesforce, or different tools that they might be using. We have over 70 affiliate partners that we've already brought into the program working with more every week right now, which is really exciting.

We're also trying to find new opportunities — where can we bring the most benefit these business owners in a way that grows with their company and that, as they're spending and creating traction with their company, our team is working behind the scenes to unlock more and more opportunities every stage of that journey.

IM: Do you feel like this program is a response to the growing challenges small businesses have been facing over the past few years?

CR: I mean, our business certainly had a hell of a couple of years, and 89 percent of small business owners in our community, which is now over a million business owners strong, claim the access to capital is limiting their growth potential. Where we focus a majority of our energy as a company is unlocking those barriers.

As we dig into that, what we're seeing is access to capital — whether that's early days as a credit card or a grant funding, or later stage with loans or even venture capital — is that we need to address this by helping to unlock that journey for business owners, but also making sure that we're supporting them with the opportunities that are relevant to their own stage of growth.

The other piece is revenue generation. We always want to focus on the core and sustainable business health of a company and making sure that they're bringing in revenue and that they've created a business model that actually works and is scalable. We're working a lot on providing them not just money into their business or outside capital, but how do we actually help them generate revenue and clear capital in all the stages unless they have that capital? How do we actually help them deploy that capital in meaningful ways will help them grow their business?

All of the wraparound services that come with the core of what Hello Alice offers — and certainly with this credit card we're getting a deeper layer of insight, because we know more about the businesses, we know how they're spending, what they're doing. We're really learning about how do we additionally support this cohort of business owners with the right wraparound services, making sure that they're getting the right thing at the right time.

What's interesting is that and the reason we really started with the credit card is that 50 percent of small business owners have a personal credit score of 680 or better, and that's strong enough to apply for most business credit cards. However, that score locks them out of getting a business loan, which typically requires a score of 720 or better to qualify. So we're able to tap into a cohort and help them grow this pool of capital in the earliest stages. But really making sure that we're giving them the growth tools that ultimately free them up to go get that loan, to go walk into a main street bank and have that power of choice along their capital journey.

In general, we focus a lot on access to capital. We deployed over $37 million in small business grants to date, and we're continuing to grow that pool. We're actually working right now on an equitable access to capital fund, which will allow us to utilize those grants to actually pay the security deposit for select business owners who may not qualify for additional credit.

Ultimately, this is a really tangible way to work with financial institutions, MasterCard, and our broader partner ecosystem. We haven't seen the statistics move in decades. How do we actually open up more capital to business owners that otherwise wouldn't qualify for it? And this is our our first of many steps toward towards putting a really tangible stake in the ground.

IM: What about the challenges of the pandemic — how do you see COVID-19 and its shutdown affect small businesses?

CR: For us, like many businesses, I think the pandemic was it shook everything up. I think we had a plan and a path forward that always entailed unlocking access to capital and unlocking opportunity — that has never changed for us. But it accelerated a lot of things. We had planned to deploy grant funding in 2020 independent of the pandemic. When COVID hit and we saw these businesses struggling, we quickly pivoted. We accelerated that plan significantly. We started deploying grants within weeks of shelter in place — even before PPP had been announced and before businesses were accessing any government support. We were among the first to offer emergency grants and put us in a really strong position to grow that program and again to accelerate the rollout of that, which is now turned into a much larger program.

That really was, I would say, the acceleration of our entire early stage access to capital continuum. And what we learned from that was how much capital these business owners actually need. The process gave us a lot of information that that has really helped roll out the broader continuum of capital for us. We launched our lending marketplace with over 92 small business lenders all focused on fair and equitable funding, which is available over all as well. And so these credit cards round out that early stage access to capital.

But when we look at our new majority cohort — and even many white male businesses — we have to get business owners of all types that are struggling with access to capital. Everybody's willing to give money to business owners that have traction, that are doing well with their business, that are on a growth path. But it's very hard to get the traction that big investors need, and that's always really struggle.

The pandemic accelerated a lot in this space. It made us realize that the opportunity here is actually much greater to support these businesses and also got a lot of attention from partners. We've been having these conversations for years, frankly, prior to the pandemic. And everybody recognized there was an issue, but I don't think they realized the impact of the issue until COVID hit, and small businesses were the ones that kept operating and made sure that we were getting the resources that we needed to continue to live in a time when everything was a little bit uncertain.

------

This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Small business owners now have a new option for their credit and financial support needs, thanks to Hello Alice and Mastercard. Image via Getty Images

Houston small biz tech platform launches entrepreneur-focused credit card

hello credit

When you're a small business owner, every service you sign up for or institution you open an account at should be a helpful partner on your business journey. At least, that's how Hello Alice sees it.

The Houston company has partnered up with Mastercard and First National Bank of Omaha to provide small business owners a suite of financial services with their line of credit. The Hello Alice Small Business Mastercard will offer users expert business advice, business insights, cashback, and a rewards program that gives entrepreneurs points for completing business-advancing activities on the Hello Alice platform.

“We designed the Hello Alice Small Business Mastercard to meet the needs of small business owners where they are, breaking longstanding barriers to mentorship, access to credit, and overall financial health for those who have traditionally been denied access,” says Elizabeth Gore and Carolyn Rodz, co-founders of Hello Alice, in a statement.

“In times of economic boom and bust, access to capital remains the leading challenge for all small business owners, and particularly for New Majority owners, which is why we continue to focus our efforts on expanding the capital continuum beyond our existing grants and loans programs,” the duo continued.

Offered as a traditional credit card, the Hello Alice Small Business Mastercard provides users with credit-building opportunities. Business owners with a limited or poor credit history also have the opportunity to a secured version of the credit card that still provides full benefits from the program.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our communities, yet too often face significant obstacles in securing the resources they deserve, particularly if the owners come from underserved communities,” says Linda Kirkpatrick, president for North America at Mastercard, in the release. “The launch of the Hello Alice Small Business Mastercard is an important step in our mission to build a more inclusive digital economy by providing small businesses with the financial tools and capital they need to thrive, while also advancing our half-billion-dollar commitment to help close the racial wealth and opportunity gap for Black communities.”

This initiative is the latest announcement from Hello Alice’s Equitable Access to Capital program, which is focused on increasing access to the capital — as well as financial products, tools, and education — small businesses need to grow sustainably and power the national economy. By 2025, according to Hello Alice, approximately $70 million in grants could fund credit enhancements for approximately 30,000 business owners, unlocking up to $1 billion in credit access.

“FNBO has been committed to helping small businesses succeed for 165 years, and we are proud to partner with Hello Alice and Mastercard in this vital initiative to elevate all small businesses,” says Jerry J. O’Flanagan, executive vice president of Partner Customer Segment at First National Bank of Omaha.


The new credit card will provide credit and financial advice, support, and education to small business owners. Image via helloalice.com

A new report finds that the Lone Star State is ideal for female entrepreneurs — and more Houston innovation news. Photo via Getty Images

Texas ranks as top state for female entrepreneurs, Houston startup wins VC competition, and more

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Houston is starting summer strong in terms of innovation news, and there might be some headlines you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, the Lone Star State ranks in the top 10 best states for women in business, a software startup rolls out a new tool, $5,000 small business grants are up for grabs, and more.

Texas named a top state for female entrepreneurs

The Lone Star State is prime for women entrepreneurs. Graphic courtesy

Banking platform NorthOne has ranked the top 10 states for women in entrepreneurship. Colorado took the No. 1 spot, but Texas ranked at No. 7. The report factored in data across eight metrics for all 50 US states including percentage of women-owned businesses, percentage of women-owned businesses with over 500 employees, number of women-owned businesses, startup survival rate, women-to-men pay ratio, unemployment rate for women, overall unemployment rate, and more.

According to the report, Texas has seen a boom in business growth over the last couple of years. The Lone Star State ranks seventh nationally for the percentage of new businesses at 18.18 percent and has the second highest startup survival rate in our top 10 at 79.63 percent.

"Texas offers a ton of opportunities for female entrepreneurs, too. It has one of the highest numbers of women-owned businesses in the country at a whopping 1.4 million, 2.11 percent of which have over 500 employees," reads the blog post. "That’s the fourth highest overall compared to all 50 states."

Pandata Tech selected for prestigious space innovation program

Pandata Tech is headed for St. Louis. Photos courtesy of Pandata

Pandata Tech was selected from hundreds of national applicants to join a first-of-its-kind program from the United States Government's National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in partnership with Missouri Technology Corporation and St. Louis-based Capital Innovators.

The 13-week hybrid program will be held at NGA's Moonshot Labs in St. Louis. Eight companies have been selected for the third cohort, and they are tasked with tackling the NGA's four mission imperatives.

Pandata Tech's Data Quality Method (DQM) platform addresses the NGA's mission of Data Access and Data Integrity.

"We are grateful and excited to work directly with a team at NGA to explore multiple use cases that address internal cybersecurity risks and data validation," says Jessica Reitmeier, co-founder of Pandata Tech.

sEATz wins visiting VC competition

This Houston startup is headed to D.C. Photo courtesy

Revolution Ventures visited Houston and was hosted by the HX Venture Fund. On the visit, investors got a peek into the Houston innovation ecosystem, meet startups, and more. Managing Partner Tige Savage, who spoke with InnovationMap ahead of his visit, posed a challenge to startups to showcase their dream day in Houston. The winner would receive a trip to Washington D.C., where Revolution is based, and the Revolution team would return to the Bayou City to execute the dream day.

Houston-based in-venue mobile ordering solution sEATz won the competition with its submission, which included visiting Houston's sports stadiums, experiencing NASA, drinking at breweries, and BBQ. The submission can be viewed here.

Liongard expands its offerings

Houston-based Liongard's Roar technology is helping its customers get all their IT services under one umbrella. Image via Getty Images

Houston-based IT software and automation platform Liongard announced its collaboration with Gradient MSP to automate billing reconciliation. The new tool allows users to pull actual usage data from the customer systems and manage complex billing details more efficiently.

“We’re excited to streamline our Partners’ operations with an automated billing reconciliation solution that’s powerful and intuitive,” says Matt Miller, Liongard's vice president of product, in a news release. “We have the data that partners need to automate this manual process and partnering with Gradient to fully automate that workflow saves MSPs time and money.”

Liongard and Gradient MSP have been testing the integration for several months and have received rave reviews from their Partners.

“We’ve already been through our first billing cycle and I’m eager to deploy more inspectors and creatively address other reconciliation needs with the use of custom metrics,” says Brandon Myers, CEO at IMS Solutions Group. "In the end, the combined customization allows us to address unique situations. We all win together.”

Hello Alice launches latest fund opportunity

Hello Alice is giving out $5,000 grants to small businesses. Photo by Hero Images

Hello Alice has announced its latest round of the $5,000 Small Business Growth Fund. The fund provides the capital entrepreneurs need to make their next big move. Each recipient will receive a $5,000 grant, provided by Mastercard, to accelerate their growth and help make 2022 the year of their small business.

Eligible businesses must:

• Be a for-profit business

• Have less than $1 million in 2021 gross annual revenue

• Have a commitment to their customers and community

• Have a clear plan for use of funds If you applied and were not selected for a previous round of the program, you are welcome to submit a new application.

Hello Alice will evaluate applications based on any new information and judge it against a new pool of applicants. The deadline for this round is May 20, 2022, at 5 pm. Apply now.

Considering applying for something in this roundup of grants, accelerators, and more. Photo via Getty Images

4 Houston tech and startup opportunities to apply for

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A flurry of deadlines for grants, accelerators, and more are upcoming — do you have these on your radar?

Scroll through four tech and startup opportunities happening in Houston and open for Houston innovators.

MassChallenge and IBM's Mentorship Program for Underrepresented Founders

MassChallenge and IBM are bringing back a second cohort of their mentorship program, which provides AI mentoring support and resources to high-impact startups with historically underrepresented founders. In addition to artificial intelligence, IBM is expanding this program to invite startups innovating with cyber and data security.

The IBM Mentorship program will take place over the course of three months, starting May 11, and the early-stage startups enrolled in the program will be matched with IBM Mentors who will share their expertise helping them advance their businesses.

Select participating startups will be invited to participate in a Prize Competition where IBM will award $50,000 in non-cap-table cash prizes.

Applications for the IBM Mentorship program close at 11 pm April 13, 2022. Accepted startups will be notified by May 3, 2022. Apply now.

Additionally, MassChallenge has applications open for its international cohorts — including their Texas programs. The global network supports entrepreneurs and their startups through the early stages of building a business. Founded in 2009, MassChallenge’s non-profit, zero equity accelerator model supports more than 400 startups, from all industries and anywhere in the world, across seven locations and nine programs.

Eligibility requirements include:

  • Less than $1 million in funding (equity-based)
  • Less than $2 million in revenue
  • From any industry
  • From anywhere in the world
Applications are due April 20 at 11 am. Apply now.

Small Business Growth Fund

Houston-based Hello Alice's Small Business Growth Fund provides the capital entrepreneurs need to make their next big move. Each recipient will receive a $5,000 grant to accelerate their growth and help make 2022 the year of their small business .Eligible businesses must:

  • Be a for-profit business
  • Have less than $1 million in 2021 gross annual revenue
  • Have a commitment to their customers and community
  • Have a clear plan for use of funds

If you applied and were not selected for a previous round of the program, you are welcome to submit a new application. The deadline for this application is May 20, 2022, at 5 p.m. Apply now.

M1 MedTech

Proxima Clinical Research's M1 MedTech, a medical technology accelerator, is accepting applications for its fall cohort. The accelerator is looking for five to seven of the most promising early-stage medical device companies to participate in its three-month program. The program has closed its first fund and will be selecting companies over the summer for investments up to $100,000 as a combination of both cash and in-kind services.

“Our program is unique in that it combines acceleration capital, company building expertise, and the regulatory and clinical services of a top CRO,” says Larry Lawson, a venture partner and investor with M1, in a news release. “Access to the M1 founders’ network, both within and outside of the Texas Medical Center, sets these companies up for success. There’s no better group to build a MedTech company with, period.”

Experts from Greenlight Guru, Medrio, Galen Data, and Merge Medical Device Studio join Proxima CRO as sponsors of the program and will assist with content delivery and mentoring. Applications will remain open until May 31. Apply now.

Deloitte's Technology Fast 500

Applications for Deloitte’s Technology Fast 500 are now open. Now in its 28th year, the ranking recognizes the most innovative, fastest-growing technology companies in North America across industries — media, life sciences, fintech, energy tech, and more.

“Each year, Houston’s Fast 500 applicants illustrate the important role innovation and technology play in our daily lives and in the advancement of our city,” says Amy Chronis, vice chair, oil, gas and chemicals leader, and Houston managing partner, Deloitte LLP. “We look forward to seeing the diverse portfolio of innovations Houston applicants bring to the table this year.”

To be eligible, companies must:

  • Be in business for at least four years
  • Be headquartered in North America
  • Have fiscal year 2018 operating revenues of at least US$50,000
  • Have fiscal year 2021 operating revenues of at least US$5 million
  • Have a growth rate of at least 75 percent (growth rate is computed as [(FY2021 rev. – FY2018 rev.)FY2018 rev.] x 100)
  • Own proprietary intellectual property or proprietary technology, which must be sold to customers in products or services that contribute to a majority of the company’s operating revenues

Past Houston-based winnersast Houston-based winners include Enercross LLC, Onit, and Graylog Inc.

The application period is open from April 4 to June 24. And winners will be announced on Nov. 16. Apply now.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston startups raise funding, secure partnerships across space, health, and sports tech

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It's been a new month and a few Houston startup wrapped up November with news you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, three Houston startups across health care, space, and sports tech have some news they announced recently.

Houston digital health company launches new collaboration

Koda Health has a new partner. Image via kodahealthcare.com

Houston-based Koda Health announced a new partnership with data analytics company, CareJourney.

"This collaboration will aim to develop benchmarking data for advance care planning and end-of-life metrics," the company wrote on LinkedIn. "Koda will provide clinical and practice-based expertise to guide the construction of toolkits, dashboards, and benchmarks that improve ACP programs and end-of-life outcomes."

Koda Health announced the partnership in November..

“Beyond the checkbox of a billing code or completed advance directive, it’s important to build and measure a process that promotes thoughtful planning among patients, their care team, and their loved ones,” says Desh Mohan, MD, Koda's chief medical officer, in the post.

CareJourney was founded in 2014 in Arlington, Virginia.

"I'm hopeful next-generation quality measures will honor the patient’s voice in defining what it means to deliver high quality care, and our commitment is to measure progress on that important endeavor," noted Aneesh Chopra, CareJourney's co-founder and president.

Sports tech startup raises $500,000 pre-seed investment

BeONE Sports has created a technology to enhance athletic training. Photo via beonesports.com

Houston-founded BeONE Sports, an athlete training technology company, announced last month that it closed an oversubscribed round of pre-seed funding. The company announced the raise on its social media pages that the round included $500,000 invested.

Earlier in November, BeONE Sports completed its participation in CodeLaunch DFW 2022. The company was one of six finalists in the program, which concluded with a pitch event on November 16.

Space tech company snags government contracts

Graphic via cognitive space.com

The U.S. Air Force has extended Houston-based Cognitive Space’s contract under a new TACFI, Tactical Funding Increase, award. According to the release, the contract "builds on Cognitive Space’s work to develop a tailored version of CNTIENT for AFRL to achieve ultimate responsiveness and optimized dynamic satellite scheduling via a cloud-based API.

The $1.2 million award follows a $1.5 million U.S. Air Force Small Business Innovation Research award that the company won in 2020 to integrate CNTIENT with commercial ground station providers in support of AFRL’s Hybrid Architecture Demonstration program.

“The TACFI award allows Cognitive Space to continue supporting AFRL’s vitally important HAD program to help deliver commercial space data to the warfighter,” says Guy de Carufel, the company’s founder and CEO, in the releasee. “CNTIENT’s tailored analytics platform will enable HAD and the GLUE platform to integrate modern statistical approaches to optimize mission planning, data collection, and latency estimation.”

Houston airport powers up new gaming lounge for bored and weary travelers

game on and wheels down

Local gamers now have a new option to while away those flight delays and passenger pickup waits at Hobby Airport.

Houston's William P. Hobby Airport is now one the first airports in the country to offer what's dubbed as the "ultimate gaming experience for travelers." The airport has launched a premium video game lounge inside the international terminal called Gameway.

That means weary, bored, or early travelers can chill in the lounge and plug into15 top-of-the-line, luxury gaming stations: six Xbox stations, five Playstation stations, four PC stations, all with the newest games on each platform. Aficionados will surely appreciate the Razer's Iskur Gaming Chairs and Kraken Headsets, along with dedicated high speed internet at each PC station.

The Gameway lounge pays homage to gaming characters, with wall accents that hark to motherboard circuits Crucial for any real gamer: plenty of sweet and savory snacks are available for purchase to fuel up on those fantasy, battle, or sporting endeavors. As for the gaming console stations, players can expect high definition screens, comfortable seating, and plenty of space for belongings.

Make video games a part of your pre-flight ritual. Photo courtesy of Gameway

This gaming addition comes just in time for the holiday rush, when travelers can expect long lines, delays, and are already planning for extended time for trips. As CultureMap previously reported, Hobby will see a big boost in travelers this season — the largest since 2019. Now, those on a long journey can plug in, decompress, and venture on virtual journeys of their own.

Texan travelers may be familiar with Gameway; the company opened its first two locations at Dallas Fort-Worth Airport. The buzzy lounge an industry wave of acclaim: Gameway was awarded Best Traveler Amenity in 2019 at the ACI-NA Awards and in 2020, voted “Most Innovative Customer Experience” at the Airport Experience Traveler Awards, per press materials.

Two new locations followed in 2021: LAX Terminal 6 and Charlotte Douglas International Airport. The first of Gameway's Ultra lounge brand opened in September at Delta's Terminal 3 in LAX.

Gaming culture is a way of life in the Bayou City , which hosts Comicpalooza, the largest pop culture festival in Texas, and is home to several e-sports teams, including the pro esports squad, the Houston Outlaws.

A delayed flight never seemed so ideal for gamers flying out of Hobby. Photo courtesy of Gameway

“Gameway is the real reason to get to the airport early,” said Co-Founder Jordan Walbridge in a statement. “Our mission is to upgrade the typical wait-at-the-gate experience with a new stimulating, entertaining option for travelers of all ages.”

Here's guessing Hobby might just see an increase in missed or late flight arrivals — as travelers simply must beat those big bosses, solve puzzles, or win sports matches in the lounge.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.