Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston, wants to set up the city's innovation ecosystem for success. Courtesy of Grace Rodriguez

It's not enough to Grace Rodriguez that Houston's been recognized as the most diverse city in the nation. She wants Houston's innovation ecosystem to have inclusion and opportunities for all.

One of the originals founders of Station Houston, Rodriguez saw that, while Station and others at the time were making huge moves for helping entrepreneurs, there were some that weren't having the same experience.

"Houston is so diverse, and there are so many entrepreneurs that weren't getting access to the same resources," she says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Rodriguez founded Houston's chapter of Impact Hub, a global organization that helps to accelerate nonprofits and startups working to advance the United Nations' sustainable development goals, last year. The organization now works with other entities, like The Cannon Houston, to provide useful and inclusive programming for the entirety of the city's innovation world.

Recently, organization hosted Houston's first Climathon — a hackathon for climate change solutions — and is currently working on programming for the city's upcoming The Houston Innovation Summit, or THIS. The week-long event takes place November 18 to November 24 and engages and activates organizations across the city — such as Bunker Labs, The Cannon, Houston Exponential, and more.

With the growth of startup development organizations and new accelerator programs entering the market, Rodriguez wants now for each organization to come together — like they will be doing for THIS.

"Now I think the conversation needs to be, 'How can all of us play well together?'" Rodriguez says.

On the podcast, Rodriguez discusses her career, the impact of Impact Hub, and more details about THIS. Check it out below and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.


This week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast highlights 11 different entrepreneurs at a live recording at The Cannon Houston's grand opening event. Courtesy of Quy Tran/The Cannon

Meet the innovators working out of The Cannon Houston's brand new space

Houston innovators podcast episode 5

Last week, The Cannon Houston premiered its new digs in West Houston with a grand opening event attended by an incredible group of innovators, entrepreneurs, friends, family, and even puppies.

InnovationMap and the Houston Innovators Podcast had a presence at the festivities as well, which has allowed us to put together a special edition of the podcast. Rather than recording an interview with one entrepreneur in studio, this week's episode features 11 interviews with over a dozen innovators.

Here's who all you'll hear from — in order — in this episode:

  • Werner Winterboer of SapMok, a South African sustainable shoe making company that's looking to expand in Houston.
  • Brad Greer of DrySee, a liquid bandage company that's created a wetness indicator that allows for a patient to know if their bandage has been compromised thus preventing infection risks.
  • Chris Bayardo of Bayardo Safety LLC, a small compliance company that uses tech to optimize the oil and gas industry's compliance issues.
  • Dirk Van Slyke of Statistical Vision, a marketing consultancy that taps into data and metrics to help organizations take their company to the next level.
  • Aaron Knape of sEATz, an app that has perfected the mobile food and drink ordering process in stadiums.
  • Matt and Adam Woods of Skippermyboat, a tourism startup that helps travelers easily connect with boating adventures all over the world.
  • Mike T. Brown of Win-Win, a sports tech company that gamifies the donation process for causes supported by professional athletes.
  • Alex Taghi, Aimee Robert, and Jeffery Abel of Co-Counsel, the coworking concept for lawyers and attorneys.
  • Jeff Miller of Potentia, an education and staffing platform that helps place autistic employees with their right employer.
  • Drew Wadley with MiTyket, which has created a software that can prevent price gouging in the live entertainment industry.
  • Bret Bloch with Four Tower LLC, which provides integrated solutions for projects and operations.

Check out the episode below and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.


Houston-based SnapStream's CEO, Rakesh Agrawal, is the third guest on the Houston Innovators Podcast. Courtesy of SnapStream

Software entrepreneur, investor announces new service and shares why he's bullish on Houston innovation

Houston innovators podcast episode 3

With a couple decades in the Houston innovation ecosystem under his belt, Rakesh Agrawal considers himself an optimist about his city.

Agrawal founded his company SnapStream — a software company that allows its clients to easily record, search, and share video and broadcast content — in 2000 and has gone on to not only grow and expand the company, but also create a portfolio of software startups as an investor.

In the third episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, Agrawal shares how he's seen the city's innovation ecosystem evolve to what it is today — admittedly, he has a very positive outlook on the city. However, if he had to identify something Houston needs to work on, its communication.

"A lot of people go to this question of, 'What's wrong with the Houston ecosystem?' If there's anything that's a fundamental characteristic of Houston that we need to change that would really help the startup and innovation ecosystem is that often in Houston, the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing," Agrawal says on the podcast.

Agrawal says that one of the indicators of the city's success in cultivating startups is his own portfolio. About a quarter of the companies he's invested in are based in Houston.

Recently, Agrawal pulled back some of his investing activity to focus on SnapStream. The company was named the transition partner for Volicon Observer, a company Verizon brought under its umbrella and then changed its mind about, Agrawal explains in the episode.

Volicon's specialty is in monitoring and compliance, and with that move, SnapStream brought on around 150 new clients. To maintain those clients and grow its services, SnapStream has rolled out a whole new department. The launch of SnapStream Monitoring and Compliance is the next step for SnapStream's takeover of Volicon, according to a news release.

"The SnapStream Monitoring and Compliance launch builds on our depth of experience and extends SnapStream into an exciting new market," says Agrawal in the release. "The amazing SnapStream team is what differentiates us — from our engineers, who build user experiences that save our users time, to our support team, who deliver on a high standard for responding to customers and resolving issues, to our customer success team, who deliver the best onboarding experience."

Agrawal discusses the transition, his investment activity, and more in the episode. Listen to the podcast below and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.


Jon Nordby, Houston's MassChallenge Texas managing director, is the guest on the first episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Courtesy of MassChallenge

Houston's MassChallenge leader talks Texas growth and what makes the accelerator different

Houston Innovator's Podcast Episode 1

Jon Nordby has watched the city of Houston as it pivoted from innovation being a distant idea to a growing ecosystem of many moving parts and major players — all the while becoming one himself.

Nordby worked his way from advising startups and shaping the innovation coming into Houston at the Greater houston Partnership and then at Houston Exponential to now serving as the local leader for MassChallenge Texas in Houston. In fact, Nordby was a part of the team that brought MassChallenge to Houston in the first place. When he was the director of strategy at HX, the organization was discussing MCTX's Houston program.

"I guess I did a good enough job there that they invited me to be a part of the program when it launched," Nordby says on the podcast.

Nordby also discusses the program and how the inaugural cohort met — and even exceeded — his expectations in the first episode of InnovationMap's new Houston Innovators Podcast. The cohort was a shortened, smaller program, but it surprised everyone at the grand finale of the program when the Houston Angel Network gave out an investment to Houston-based Sensytec. Nordby says that's the first time a MassChallenge cohort anywhere had that opportunity.

In the podcast, Nordby shares what the next cohort will look like, and even shared how there will be two new categories within the program. MCTX will be looking for startups in the sports tech and aerospace industries and will provide special mentorship and programming for those startups. He also mentions that MCTX is gearing up for growth for its office space to be able to accomodate 100 participants in a future cohort.

Check out the podcast below for more details of MCTX's plans to expand, Nordby's take on Houston innovation, and why he's pretty glad he didn't move to Austin a few years ago.


The Houston Innovators Podcast will be uploaded on Wednesdays. Pexels

InnovationMap to launch the Houston Innovators Podcast

Streaming soon

Get ready, Houston. InnovationMap has captured the eyes of the Houston innovation ecosystem, and now it's coming for your ears too.

For almost a year now, InnovationMap has profiled a local entrepreneur or leader in the Featured Innovator section of the site every week. Now, the Q&A-style article is being taken to a new, multimedia level on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Each week, the podcast, hosted by me, Natalie Harms, will shine a spotlight on a local player in Houston's burgeoning innovation landscape. I'll chat with the weekly guest about his or her career, the role they play in Houston innovation, and where the city is going with startups and technology.

Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, or stay tuned to InnovationMap.com to read a quick excerpt and listen to the clip directly on the site.

Want a little preview? Check out our trailer:

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This Houston virtual health care platform makes it easier to get answers

digital check up

As hard as he tried, Brigham Buhler couldn't achieve the weight-loss and fitness goals he'd set in his mid-20s. Plus, he constantly felt tired and stressed out. On top of that, Brigham's entire immediate family has diabetes, and he was exhibiting the warning signs.

Buhler's nutritionist recommended he get his hormones checked. It wound up taking three months to get an initial appointment with a urologist, who then recommended a comprehensive blood test.

The blood work revealed that he did, indeed, have a hormone deficiency. Subsequent hormone treatment, in addition to taking vitamins and supplements to combat various risk factors, got Buhler's endocrine system back on track.

Born out of that frustrating situation and spurred by his more than 15 years in the medical-device industry, Buhler launched Houston-based Ways2Well in 2018. Propelled by a virtual health care platform, the company envisions a better way to treat patients by challenging the traditional health care model.

"While most virtual health care providers focus on sick care — treating patients experiencing symptoms that indicate sickness — Ways2Well is focused on preventative health care," says Buhler, a graduate of the University of Houston.

Through his own patient journey, Brigham Buhler saw a need for Ways2Well to exist. Photo via ways2well.com

Here's how Ways2Well works.

A patient visits the company's website to schedule a blood analysis at a Houston-area location of Quest Diagnostics. (Each year, Quest Diagnostics serves one-third of American adults and half of U.S. physicians and hospitals.)

Before the lab work, the patient discusses health concerns and wellness goals through a virtual appointment with a Ways2Well nurse practitioner.

Once the blood analysis is done, the nurse practitioner reviews the test results during a virtual appointment. The practitioner pinpoints underlying causes of chronic symptoms and potential risks for major conditions like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Those three ailments are the main drivers of the $3.5 trillion in annual health care costs racked up in the U.S. Ways2Well strives to reverse the symptoms of these and other chronic illnesses.

Finally, the nurse practitioner shares lifestyle or dietary changes that can reduce the likelihood of developing chronic diseases.

"Our online platform allows you to manage your health care journey from the convenience of your home or office, as long as you have access to a computer or phone and internet," Ways2Well says on its website.

Ways2Well charges nothing for a patient's initial 15-minute consultation. The blood analysis costs $299; Buhler says it goes well beyond what primary care doctors normally offer. The review of the blood analysis costs $120. Follow-up appointments cost $60 each. Neither Ways2Well nor ReviveRx accepts health insurance. However, an insurer might reimburse some out-of-pocket expenses.

The Ways2Well clinical team can prescribe medication, hormone therapy, prescription-grade vitamins and supplements, and other remedies through Ways2Well's partner pharmacy, ReviveRX. Ways2Well and ReviveRx occupy offices in the same building.

Typically, health care providers and pharmacies don't collaborate that closely on patient care. "Ways2Well is bridging that gap to offer better treatment to our patients," Buhler says.

Although ReviveRx is a full-service pharmacy, it doesn't operate like retail pharmacies such as Walgreens and CVS. Rather, patients are referred directly to ReviveRx by Ways2Well or Houston health care providers.

Today, Ways2Well focuses on the Houston market. But Buhler says the 12-employee, self-funded startup aims to expand to other Texas markets, such as Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, and San Antonio.

"Because Ways2Well is a virtual health care provider that offers appointments via video conferences and leverages the Quest Diagnostics network for blood analysis, Ways2Well can treat patients from anywhere in Texas," he says. "Ultimately, the goal is to make Ways2Well available nationwide, with a team of clinical experts across the U.S."

5 Houston entrepreneurs to know this Veterans Day

American heroes

Over a quarter of a million United States military veterans call Houston home, and that number is growing.

"Houston has the second largest and fastest growing veteran population in the country," says Reda Hicks, a Houston entrepreneur and military spouse herself. "That's a very significant chunk of our city to share an affinity, and it's not something Houston has talked about."

For its large veteran population, Houston was selected in January 2018 as the third location to set up a chapter of Bunker Labs, an acceleration and incubation organization for military-affiliated entrepreneurs.

"Our whole goal is to help empower military-affiliated people to start and grow businesses," says Hicks, who is one of the Houston leads for the program, a lawyer, and the founder of GotSpot Inc.

The program provides resources for veterans, military spouses, or anyone whose lives were affected by a family member in the military. Bunker Labs provides a digital platform for early-stage ideas called Launch Lab that's used by hundreds annually, and also has face-to-face programming through its Veterans in Business program hosted through WeWork.

"It can be the case that veterans can feel siloed, and it's wonderful to have those people around you who can really understand you, but for businesses to grow, they have to really understand the ecosystem they live in," Hicks says.

In honor of Veterans Day, here are a few Houston veteran entrepreneurs to know.

Dyan Gibbens, founder and CEO of Trumbull Unmanned

Dyan Gibbons

Dyan Gibbons translated her Air Force experience with unmanned missiles into a drone services company. Courtesy of Alice

Dyan Gibbons found her dream career in the United States Air Force Academy. She served as engineering acquisitions officer managing stealth nuclear cruise missiles, and even went on to supported Air Force One and Global Hawk UAS engineering and logistics. After her years of service, she transitioned into the reserves, when she discovered she was ineligible to serve again. She went back to the drawing board to recreate herself — this time, as an entrepreneur.

She went into a doctorate program — she already had her MBA — and was close to finishing up when her drone startup took flight. Trumbull Unmanned provides drone services to the energy sector for various purposes. With her experience as a pilot and managing unmanned missiles, she knew the demand for drones was only growing — and, being from Texas, she knew what industry to focus on.

"I wanted to start a company that uses unmanned systems or drones to improve safety and improve the environment and support energy," Gibbons tells InnovationMap in a previous interview.

Nicole Baldwin, chief visionary officer and founder of Biao Skincare

Nicole Baldwin

Photo via toryburchfoundation.org

Before founding her tech-enabled, all-natural skincare line, Biao, Nicole Baldwin served in the Army Civil Affairs Units and was deployed to Bagram, Afghanistan. In honor of Veterans Day, she shared on Facebook an image of her with young girls outside the compound she lived in.

"I often tell people not to thank me for my service, because I don't feel like I should be thanked for doing something I genuinely wanted to do," she writes in the post. "I am grateful every moment of my life knowing that I did all the things in and out of uniform that was felt from the heart."

Baldwin's company, which uses a skin-scanning technology has taken off, and she's participated in Houston's Bunker Labs programming, and she has also been a Tory Burch fellow and appeared on Shark Tank.

Brett Rosenberg, founder of Semper Fi Systems

Photo via LinkedIn.com

Brett Rosenberg spent a few years in the U.S. Air Force before he took his experience from national security to a different kind of security.

Rosenberg's startup is another one utilizing the resources of Houston's Bunker Labs. Semper Fi Systems takes information security experts' knowledge and machine learning solutions to optimize cybersecurity and avoid regulatory financial exclusion.

Nathan Wilkes, CEO of Guidon Holdings

Photo via LinkedIn.com

After four years in the U.S. Army based in Georgia, Nathan Wilkes enrolled in business school at Texas A&M University. It was during the program when he founded Guidon Holdings, a Cypress-based aggregates company that — through screening, washing, separating, clarifying, and much more — can turn a natural resource that is considered waste into something of value.

Wilkes is also a West Point Academy graduate and a member of the 2019 Bunker Labs Houston cohort.

Tim Kopra, partner at Blue Bear Capital

An U.S. Army vet, Tim Kopra spent over 244 days in space, and now he's using his tech background to invest in emerging energy companies. Courtesy of Tim Kopra

Before he spent a career total of 244 days in space, Tim Kopra first served his country in the United States Army. Nowadays, he serves the Houston innovation ecosystem as an investor and adviser to startups and entrepreneurs in the energy tech industry.

As a partner at venture fund Blue Bear Capital, Kopra uses his experience in the Army and in space to do figure out if entrepreneurs have what it takes to go the distance and if their technology is worth investing in.

"On face value, it may sound like an odd match, taking someone with a tech and operational background and putting them in venture, but quite frankly it feels very familiar to me because my career has really been focused on working on complex technology and operations with very small teams," tells InnovationMap in a previous interview. "It's not just a theoretical understanding of the technology, but understanding how to use the technology and how it works."

Here's how Houston hospitals stack up when it comes to safety, according to a national study

Best in class

Close to half of the Houston area's general acute-care hospitals are at the top of their class, according to new safety grades assigned to U.S. hospitals. But one hospital in the region is failing on the safety front, the grades show.

In its fall 2019 report card for acute-care hospitals, The Leapfrog Group gives letter grades of A, B, C, D, and F based on the hospitals' ability to shield patients from avoidable errors, injuries, accidents, and infections. The nonprofit represents hundreds of public and private employers that buy healthcare benefits.

In the Houston area, 19 hospitals earned an A, with 14 receiving a B, seven getting a C, one picking up a D and one being slapped with an F.

Chris Skisak, executive director of the Houston Business Coalition on Health, notes that 23 percent of hospitals in the Houston areas saw their Leapfrog grades go up while just 11 percent saw their grades go down. The coalition is a regional leader for The Leapfrog Group.

"Houston-area hospitals do care about their grades," Skisak says, "and going back to 2016, most obtained a higher grade after receiving a lower grade the previous assessment period. Houston is fortunate to have [about] 50 percent of its hospitals earn consistent A grades."

For the first time in at least four years, The Leapfrog Group did hit one Houston-area hospital — Huntsville Memorial Hospital — with an F. On the spring 2019 report card, the hospital received a D. In the fall of 2018, the mark was a C.

Huntsville Memorial Hospital currently is combating what's been described as a "dire financial situation."

In a November 1 statement, the Walker County Hospital District, which owns the Huntsville hospital, said the separate nonprofit entity that runs the hospital — Walker County Hospital Corp. — was beset by monetary woes and was on the verge of declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy. As a result, the district warned, the hospital might close.

According to The Huntsville Item, a proposed rescue of the hospital would place ownership and management in the hands of a joint venture between the hospital district and Plano-based Community Hospital Corp., a hospital management company. The nonprofit Plano company provides supply-chain services to a Huntsville medical practice, Huntsville Orthopedic Surgery and Sports Medicine PLLC.

In the statement, the district's board says it "remains committed to maintaining a viable hospital for the community and to improving hospital operations and services."

The Leapfrog Group graded a total of 42 hospitals in the Houston area. The nonprofit released its fall 2019 report card on November 7.

Houston-area hospitals that earned an A were:

  • Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital
  • HCA Houston Healthcare Conroe
  • HCA Houston Healthcare West
  • Houston Methodist Hospital
  • Houston Methodist West Hospital
  • Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital
  • Memorial Hermann Southeast
  • Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital
  • Memorial Hermann Northeast, Humble
  • Memorial Hermann Katy Hospital
  • HCA Houston Healthcare Kingwood
  • CHI St. Luke's Health Memorial Livingston
  • Houston Methodist Clear Lake Hospital in Nassau Bay
  • HCA Houston Healthcare Pearland
  • Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital
  • CHI St. Luke's Health The Woodlands Hospital
  • Houston Methodist The Woodlands Hospital
  • Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Hospital
  • HCA Houston Healthcare Clear Lake in Webster

Skisak says the Leapfrog report card "is a valuable resource for employers to share with their employees so that they can self-navigate to the safest and highest quality hospitals."

"The Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade offers critical patient safety information to consumers, in an easily digestible way, so that they can make informed decisions about where they seek care in the Houston area," he says in a release.

The Leapfrog Group bases its twice-a-year grades for hospital safety on 28 sets of publicly available data from more than 2,600 U.S. hospitals.