Check out these conferences, pitch competitions, networking, and more. Getty Images

Summer's here and living isn't necessarily easy — especially when it comes to scheduling. Houston's busting at the seams with networking, panel, and pitch events this month.

If you know of innovation-focused events for this month or next, email me at natalie@innovationmap.com with the details and subscribe to our daily newsletter that sends fresh stories straight to your inboxes every morning.

June 4-6 — Houston Innovation Week

Silicon Valley-based Plug and Play will host a series of innovation-focused events over three days. Tuesday, June 4, will be focused on energy and sustainability, while Wednesday, June 5, will focus on health tech. The week concludes Thursday, June 6, with TMCx's Demo Day.

Details: The event is from Tuesday, June 4, to Thursday, June 6, at the TMC Innovation Institute (2450 Holcombe Blvd). Learn more.

June 6 — TMCx Demo Day

TMCx's cohort of entrepreneurs take to the main stage to pitch their solutions to close out the four-month digital health accelerator program. During the event, 19 digital health startups will showcase the progress they have made on their solutions, and what they have planned for the future.

Details: The event is from 1 to 7 pm on Thursday, June 6, at the TMC Innovation Institute (2450 Holcombe Boulevard). Learn more.

June 6 — Houston Low-Carbon Energy Summit

The summit is intended for industry experts to discuss how Houston energy companies can apply our region's know-how, technical capabilities, and unique industry footprint to create and demonstrate new business opportunities to achieve a low carbon energy future. Areas to be explored will include energy storage and renewable energy, carbon sequestration and usage, methane capture, cleaner fuels, and expanded markets for natural gas.

Details: The event is from 9 am to 4 pm on Thursday, June 6, at the Royal Sonesta Galleria Houston (2222 West South Loop). Learn more.

June 5 — Using Machine Learning for Facies classification in Oil and Gas

Rajiv Shah will talk about how to train a machine learning algorithm to predict facies from well log data. He will walk through the background and then go through a Python notebook that builds the model.

Details: The event is from 6:30 to 8:30 pm on Wednesday, June 5, at Station Houston (1301 Fannin St. Suite 2440). Learn more.

June 12 — Lunch n' Learn: Using Behavioral Economics To Your Company's Advantage

Learn "What Joe Knows"- with Richard Gosselin, chief development officer at Penngo Marketing Group.

Details: The event is from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm on Wednesday, June 12, at The Cannon (1336 Brittmoore Road). Learn more.

June 12-13 — Energy Drone & Robotics Summit

Over 1,000 energy and engineering leaders gather in Houston to talk drones and robotics trends, best practices, and to see, drive and fly the latest tech.

Details: The event is from Wednesday, June 12 to Thursday, June 13, at the Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel & Convention Center (1601 Lake Robbins Dr). Learn More

June 13 — HCC's Small Business Summit and Expo

Funding advice, roundtable discussions, and more valuable information for existing and aspiring entrepreneurs hosted by Houston Community College.

Details: The event is from 8:30 am to 2 pm on Thursday, June 13, at the West Houston Institute (2811 Hayes Road). Learn more.

June 13 — HX live: Houston Astros Sportstech

Houston Exponential will be hosting a sports tech presentation led by Matt Brand, senior vice president of corporate partnerships and special events at the Houston Astros.

Details: The event is from 3:30 to 5:30 pm on Thursday, June 13, at The Cannon (1336 Brittmoore Rd.). Learn more.

June 14 — Meet with Illumina Ventures

Noel Jee, an associate from Illumina Ventures, will be visiting JLABS @ TMC to provide an overview about the investment firm's key areas of interest. Following the presentation, there will be a networking lunch. And finally, for those companies who apply online and are approved, one-on-one meetings with Illumina Ventures provides an intimate forum to discuss your company.

Details: The event is from 10:30 am to 1 pm on Friday, June 14, at the TMC Innovation Institute (2450 Holcombe Blvd). Learn more.

June 15 — Enventure Basecamp: Business Building Workshop

Basecamp is an inclusive environment for those who are interested in adapting their life science experiences to real business applications. All are welcome, and the event is free.

Details: The event is from 9 am to noon on Saturday, June 15, at the TMC Innovation Institute (2450 Holcombe Blvd). Learn more.

June 20 — Startup Pains: What I Wish I Knew

This monthly series hosted by the University of Houston lets you learn from someone else's mistakes and successes. This month's speaker is M. Scott Conley, chief delivery officer and vice president of Drylet LLC.

Details: The event is from 4 to 5 pm on Thursday, June 20, at the UH Technology Bridge (Innovation Center, building 4, floor 2, 5000 Gulf Fwy).Learn more here.

June 24 — Open Project Night with Impact Hub Houston and Sketch City

Connect and collaborate with real, passionate people who are working on projects, ventures, and collaborations to improve to the city of Houston. If you have an idea, are working on something, or are looking for ways to collaborate with people who are doing work at the intersection of innovation and impact this event is for you.

Details: The event is from 6 to 8 pm on Tuesday, June 25, at The Black Sheep Agency (611 West 22nd Street). Learn more.

Here's your one-stop shop for innovation events in Houston in May. Getty Images

10+ can't-miss Houston business and innovation events for May

Where to be

The month of May has business and innovation events aplenty to offer local entrepreneurs and movers and shakers. Scroll through this month's event roundup to find workshops, pitch nights, and more — and stay tuned, as more events will be added.

If you know of innovation-focused events for this month or next, email me at natalie@innovationmap.com with the details and subscribe to our daily newsletter that sends fresh stories straight to your inboxes every morning.

May 2 — SGWomen The Many Shades of Entrepreneurship Celebrating Houston

Startup Grind Houston is recognizing the women behind some Houston startups.

Details: The event is from 6 to 9 pm on Thursday, May 2, at TMC Innovation Institute (2450 Holcombe Blvd). Learn more.

May 7 — Innovative Drug Discovery and Development Kickoff Mini-Symposium

Gulf Coast Consortia for Quantitative Biomedical Science's new program and focus on supporting therapeutics advancement from discovery, through development, and to the clinic.

Details: The event is from 8:45 am to 1 pm on Tuesday, May 7, at Bioscience Research Collaborative (6500 Main Street). Learn more.

May 7 — Startup Co-Founder Matching: Find the Right Partner in Houston

Network and speed pitch with fellow entrepreneurs in town as Founder Institute Houston plays matchmaker.

Details: The event is from 6:30 to 10 pm on Tuesday, May 7, at Station Houston (1301 Fannin St., suite 2440). Learn more.

May 8 — Fireside Chat with Silicon Valley Bank

Explore the journey of a healthcare startup when it comes to investment and take a look back on 2018 investment trends and try to predict what the future of 2019 holds for healthcare companies raising money.

Details: The event is from 5:30 to 8 pm on Wednesday, May 8, at JLabs @ TMC (2450 Holcombe Blvd.). Learn more.

May 9 — High Impact Paid Marketing: Leah Faul, Ameritex Movers

Learn the difference between organic and paid marketing efforts. And learn how what CPC vs CPM means. With these two fundamental concepts learn 5 targeted, high-impact, low-cost digital marketing tactics to reach your growth goals.

Details: The event is from 5 to 6:30 pm on Thursday, May 9, at Station Houston (1301 Fannin St, suite 2440). Learn more.

May 10 — Eternal Energy Lunch n' Learn: SME’s Growth & Technology Commercialization

Led by Eternal Energy's Ashraf Zeid, the session will review key factors in ascertaining technology readiness levels and associated commercialization strategies for oil and gas startups and small businesses.

Details: The event is from 11:30 am to 1 pm on Friday, May 10, at The Cannon (1336 Brittmoore Road). Learn more.

May 10-12 — Comicpalooza

Celebrities, esports, and more will take over downtown Houston for a weekend full of activities.

Details: The event is from Friday, May 10, to Sunday, May 12, at the George R. Brown Convention Center (1001 Avenida de las Americas). Learn more.

May 15 — Fuckup Nights Houston: Momtrepreneurs

Failure is just part of the process. Impact Hub Houston brings this global speaker series to Houston to focus on entrepreneurs that also hold the title of "mom."

Details: The event is from 6 to 8 pm on Wednesday, May 15, at Oakmont Houston (1916 Baldwin St). Learn more.

May 15-16 — Texas A&M New Ventures Competition

The Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station and the Texas A&M University System along with a growing number of sponsors are working to ensure today's innovative ideas become a reality through the Texas A&M New Ventures Competition.

Details: The event is from Wednesday, May 15, to Thursday, May 16, at Texas A&M University (College Station). Learn more.

May 18-19 — Houston Hackathon

Do you have what it takes to solve the city's problems? Share your expertise with like-minded individuals to make Houston's tech city safer and more efficient.

Details: The event is from Saturday, May 18, to Sunday, May 19, at The Cannon (1336 Brittmoore Road). Learn more.

May 22 — 2019 SEEchange Conference

Network with like-minded businessmen and women looking to propel innovation and business success in Texas.

Details: The event is from 8 am to 8 pm on Wednesday, May 22, at TMC Innovation Institute (2450 Holcombe Blvd). Learn more.

May 22 — Nuts and Bolts of Early Clinical Research

JLabs has tapped into an expert in study designs and trial protocols in early clinical research to help you prepare for the lab to clinic leap.

Details: The event is from 11 am to 2 pm on Wednesday, May 22, at JLabs @ TMC (2450 Holcombe Blvd.).Learn more.

May 22 — A-CON

Calling all data scientists, engineers, analysts, and more — the Analytics Conference Houston focuses on the latest news and updates in the world of analytics today.

Details: The event is from 8 am to 5 pm on Wednesday, May 22, at D&B (7620 Katy Freeway).Learn more.

May 22 — WeWork's Fireside Chat and AMA with Ryan Merket

Join WeWork Labs for a fireside chat with Ryan Merket. Ryan will share lessons, and strategies learned throughout his entrepreneurial career. Now an angel investor, he will share the approaches taken when investing in startups.

Details: The event is from 6 to 8 pm on Wednesday, May 22, at WeWork Labs (708 Main St., 10th Floor). Learn more.

May 28 — Open Project Night

Bring your own idea or just come to listen at this monthly Impact Hub Houston event.

Details: The event is from 6 to 8 pm on Tuesday, May 28, at Black Sheep Agency (611 West 22nd Street). Learn more.


Amy Chronis runs the Houston office of Deloitte and serves on the sustainability board for the GHP. AlexandersPortraits.com

Deloitte exec calls for advancements across the city as Houston's innovation ecosystem evolves

Featured innovator

When Amy Chronis, the Houston managing partner for Deloitte, was asked to join the Greater Houston Partnership last year, she immediately started doing some research on some of the bigger picture issues the city is facing.

In March, as the chair for the organization's sustainability committee, she brought together a group of constituents to engage in a Smart Cities study with the goal to identify what Houston needs to focus on — what it wanted to be known for.

Overwhelmingly, the stakeholders wanted the city to be known for its innovation, something that surprised Chronis. The group pared down the eight topics of action into three they felt were most timely and then spent the rest of the time focusing on: clean energy, transportation, and smart infrastructure (technology and communication). Now, Chronis has a better understanding on what the city wants as she leads her committee for the GHP.

In her career, which has spanned the state of Texas, she's always served clients in various sectors. Specifically over her last 30 or so years in Houston, Chronis has seen the tide change within innovation, especially with large energy companies.

"We're not Silicon Valley, but Houston has so much going on in terms of development — in energy but also even in medical with the Texas Medical Center," says Chronis, citing advancements from the likes of Rice University, Houston Exponential, TMCx, Station Houston, and more. "Houston's got a lot more going on than people realize."

Chronis sat down to talk with InnovationMap about the change Houston companies are experiencing and her work with the GHP.

InnovationMap: What did you learn from the smart cities study you conducted for the GHP?

Amy Chronis: I learned a lot. It's affirming how much all types of people with different backgrounds care and are interested in this topic and are highly desirous of our region moving forward. I also learned that things are more complicated or difficult than we would like — in terms of funding initiatives, for instance.

IM: In terms of developing the city's workforce, what aspects of the community does Houston need to focus on?

AC: I think there was widespread agreement that we need to keep improving our educational outcomes for all our people. The issues around workforce development are critical for us to improve. It will take public-private partnerships to make real progress.

IM: What can Houston learn from other cities?

AC: I learned a lot about other Smart City initiatives that are being done and accomplishments made in other cities around the world. What those accomplishments have in common was a concerted effort by the city, region, and business leaders — all the stakeholders — to agree on smaller, attainable goals. Instead of trying to address something in a huge way, they nibbled at the edges, if you will.

IM: Do you think Houston is able to do that?

AC: Absolutely, I love Houston — in particular our manifest destiny and inherent pillar to our culture where everyone can make it. It's why I came here 30-something years ago and why my family and I love it here. I think hard work and opportunity still makes Houston a great city. We have the ability, we just need help bringing actionable steps forward.

IM: Switching gears a little, what's the role Deloitte and its clients are playing within Houston's innovation ecosystem?

AC: We like to think we're a real conduit for innovation and a digital transformation for many of our clients. We're very blessed to serve many of the large energy companies — and across industries — in Houston. It's really gratifying to see how much is being invested in research and development and the focus on innovation catalysts. I think there's an awareness now — more than there was a few years ago — that if you're not moving forward, then you're behind.

IM: How do you see the future of Houston's workforce?

AC: I think we have real progress to be made to make sure all of our citizens can achieve the education and opportunities they need. I'm heartened by public-private partnerships that are already underway.

As digitalization moves along, people talk about whether or not artificial intelligence and machine learning will replace jobs. It will replace some jobs, but it'll be far more important that young people still learn those really critical thinking skills. We will need people to evaluate data and make decisions — that critical reasoning will still be absolutely vital.

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Portions of this interview have been edited.

According to research done by a Rice University professor, businessmen and women are more likely to help out colleagues who attended the same university. Pexels

Rice University research finds that investors and executives are more likely to help out those from their alma mater

Houston Voices

Friends help each other out, right? Imagine young men or women racing down a New England playing field, effortlessly passing a lacrosse ball on their way to the goal. Now imagine some of those old friends as CEOs of large firms, and others as managers of mutual funds. Do they still have each other's backs?

That was the question Rice Business Professor Alexander W. Butler explored in a recent paper. What he found makes perfect sense given human nature, and raises serious questions about the dynamics of the financial market.

Yes, Butler and his coauthor, Umit G. Gurun of the University of Texas at Dallas, found, CEOs of publicly traded corporations and mutual fund managers from the same schools do appear to help each other out. It may be conscious or unconscious: they do what friends do the world over. But the effect on the market can be profound.

To trace the role of social connections in the world of corporate and finance, Butler and Gurun studied how mutual fund managers vote when shareholders proposed limiting executive pay. They cross-referenced these data with information about the educational background of the firms' executives and of the mutual fund managers who took part in the votes.

When voting fund managers and an executive went to the same schools, Butler found, those halcyon days at A&M or Wharton clearly corresponded to fewer votes to limit executive pay.

Now, this may reflect all kinds of things. Shared school ties could mean fund managers have more relevant information about a firm's CEO and his or her value. The shared culture and vocabulary of a school environment might ease information flow between a CEO and managers. But there is also another possibility: Perhaps the value a mutual fund manager places on a CEO's firm has nothing to do with the company's actual value. The manager may simply support him because he's a school friend.

CEOs weren't the only ones to benefit from old-school ties. Well-connected investors prospered too. When a fund manager shared a school background with a given CEO, Butler found, the fund outperformed funds whose managers weren't part of the network. For investors as well as CEOs, in other words, school ties with decision makers at mutual funds raised the chances of a winning outcome.

So a shared school or social background leads to well-paid CEOs, successful fund managers and happy investors. What's not to celebrate?

Plenty, it turns out.

The better trading outcomes of well-connected mutual fund managers have implications far beyond one happy set of shareholders. The Securities and Exchange Commission protects a level playing field because it's in the public interest for the U.S. financial markets to be liquid.

Consumers buy and sell stocks more easily when they are confident that a product's price is reasonably close to its actual value. When one party seems to know more about a stock – perhaps through friendship with the CEO – other investors may lose confidence that they can assess the value of stocks as accurately. When too many consumers distrust the market, liquidity drops. Fewer people buy and sell.

Think how much it easier it is to buy a used car with public resources such as Carfax, or pre-owned car certifications. In the past, a buyer had to wonder what a car seller knew but wasn't saying – or else try to buy a car from someone she already knew and trusted.

Almost everyone has a friend. Almost everyone has experienced the memories, common lingo, and wordless sense of goodwill that come from sharing a common history. Butler and Gurun's study of corporate and financial markets, however, shows how these natural instincts can disadvantage players outside the alumni circle. Shareholders may have less power to limit CEO pay. And consumers may end up less confident about the value of stocks, shaking trust in the financial markets overall. Surely, that's not what friends are for.

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This article originally appeared on Rice Business Wisdom.

Alexander W. Butler is a professor of finance at Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University.

When it comes to getting a good return on investment, businesses should be equally focused on mitigating risks as they are on earning a profit. Getty Images

Business leaders must focus on risks as much as on profit to ensure business success, according to Rice University research

Houston Voices

Consider for a moment the race to build the next super computer. Google, Alibaba and other U.S. and China companies are racing to build a machine — called quantum computing — far more powerful than anything the world has ever seen. In this race, China reportedly has the lead.

Given that this kind of technology can protect trillions of dollars in corporate and even national secrets, why do American companies lag behind? If such research and development represents an unknown and is a potential business risk, should U.S. companies be interested in assuming such a task? Rice Business professors Vikas Mittal, Yan Anthea Zhang and a Rice Business Ph.D. student Kyuhong Han, may have answers.

They researched the various ways companies create strategic advantages for themselves. What is the relationship between these strategies and the risks involved? Companies create value through innovation-based activities such as research and development or else via branding and advertisement. As there's no set formula for success, each company has its own approach — which could affect the risk associated with the company's stock price (called idiosyncratic risk).

Typically, the two strategic pillars are examined separately, rather than jointly. But when they compared the two approaches, they found that one presented far more risk than the other.

To reach their conclusions, the Rice team looked at a data set of 13,880 firm-year observations that included 2,403 firms operating in 59 industries over 15 years (2000–2014). The data sets were from the firms' annual operational and financial information from Standard & Poor's Compustat, the University of Chicago's Center for Research in Security Prices and from the Kenneth French Data Library. What the data revealed was the stock price of companies that placed a higher strategic emphasis on marketing and branding (called value appropriation) than companies that focused research and development (called value creation).

If it is less risky for a firm to emphasize branding and marketing over research and development it stands to reason that firms would want to exercise caution in big new research and development efforts. What's the payoff for making a quantum computer or even Space X, after all, if the research and development risks associated with the endeavor are extraordinarily high? In some instances, it may be much safer to rebrand and market. Closer to home, many companies in the oil and gas industry bet big on innovative ventures — costly product features, digitization initiatives and so on that may only increase the risk to their stock price than meet customer needs.

The researchers found that firms that plunge big efforts into research and development have more to worry about than whether their innovations will work. They have to weather the fluctuations of industry demand. When industry demand is volatile, the downside of excessive research and development, at the cost of customer-relevant strategies is even worse.

For the Rice Business researchers, the lessons for managers are clear. The return on investment is intimately linked not only with optimizing potential profits but also minimizing potential risks. Research and development heavy endeavors like Space X and quantum computers may be flashy, but in the event of an unexpected drop in demand, they're also more likely to plummet to earth, creating stock-price volatility.

Managers need to think about the elements that create risk — like demand instability. The more companies create a stable and predictable client base, the less risk that they have to face in the stock market. There is still a tendency among many firms to see advertising and research and development as preceding and guiding customer perceptions, preferences and behaviors. But perhaps the relationship is just the opposite.

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This article originally appeared on Rice Business Wisdom. Vikas Mittal is the J. Hugh Liedtke Professor of Marketing at the Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University. Yan Anthea Zhang is a Fayez Sarofim Vanguard Professor of Management at the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University. Kyuhong Han is a marketing Ph.D. student at the Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University.

Over half of Houston business leaders say their company has already enabled AI, blockchain, and extended reality technology. Getty Images

Business leaders in Houston have a surprisingly high tech adoption rate

Early bird gets the worm

When it comes to enabling new technologies to advance business practices, Houston business leaders are ahead of the curve. According to a new study, the majority of the companies surveyed are already using artificial intelligence, blockchain, and extended reality today.

The global study, Technology Vision 2019, was conducted by Accenture and included surveys from 6,600 business and IT executives around the world, including 100 in Houston. Dallas was the only other Texas market surveyed, along with nine other major United States metros — Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington D.C.

Of the 100 respondents, 91 said that innovation efforts have accelerated within their organization over the past three years because of new technology, and 80 said that while they feel their employees are digitally savvy, they are "waiting" for the company's technology to catch up. However, when it comes to the need to reskill employees due to emerging tech in the workplace, 47 percent says that need will happen within the next two years.

The survey also focused on three distinct technologies — AI, blockchain, and extended reality, which includes augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality. XR responses indicate that 66 percent of business leaders have already used some sort of version of XR either in one or more of their business units (37 percent) or are piloting the technology (29 percent).

The numbers for adoption for AI is similar, with 65 percent of leaders saying they have introduced AI tech in the workplace already —nearly 2 in 5 have already adopted somewhere within the company, while over 1 in 4 say their company has an AI pilot program.

Blockchain, according to the study, falls further down the spectrum in Houston companies. Only 15 percent of the companies have a pilot program, but 42 percent have blockchain technology already in use in one or more business units — for a total of 57 percent adoption rate.

With 5G on the horizon, almost all respondents — 79 percent — say the technology is going to revolutionize their industry in terms of how they provide products or services to their clients. Almost half said that impact will happen and jobs will be altered within the next three years.

Brian Richards, managing director at Accenture, oversees the company's Houston Innovation Hub. The hub welcomes in business leaders who are utilizing Accenture's services to ideate and then implicate innovative technologies. At a recent panel in the Accenture office, Richards spoke to emerging tech in Houston and said there's been no shortage of leaders wanting to move the needle on new tech.

"I've never seen [corporations] more motivated than they are right now to be able to think differently on how they are able to engage Houston," he said.

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

Eavesdropping in Houston

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

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

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

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

Photo via Greater Houston Partnership/Facebook

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

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

Photo via Greater Houston Partnership/Facebook

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

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

Photo via Greater Houston Partnership/Facebook

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

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

GET THERE NOW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.