Houston Methodist's Roberta Schwartz and Texas A&M University's Dr. Roderic Pettigrew shared their thought leadership at a recent panel for Houston Tech Rodeo. Photos courtesy

The medical field is full of problems to solve — how to improve patient care, new diseases to treat, extending but also improving quality of life, and so much more. It's an industry that needs innovation — and in many cases, that means introducing new technologies and ideas.

At last week's Houston Tech Rodeo health tech saloon, two experts weighed in on the discussion. Roberta Schwartz, chief innovation officer of Houston Methodist, and Dr. Roderic Pettigrew, dean of the Intercollegiate School of Engineering Medicine at Texas A&M University, discussed how they view the health care industry's future — and what they are doing to make sure future health care providers and innovators are ready.

“You want the next generation to get equally as excited about what’s happening in that world (of health tech) and realize how much opportunity there is to disrupt the field of health care,” Schwartz says on the panel. “It’s so natural to us at Houston Methodist to say, ‘please come along and see the opportunities there are and seize them.’”

The panelists noted on where the conversation was taking place — TAMU's new EnMed building, which was constructed and dedicated to engineering medical students. Dr. Pettigrew says the new field is meant to train problem solvers.

“When you consider scientific progress throughout history and in the future, you realize that technological innovation is the engine of scientific progress,” he says. “When you think about what profession in our society solves problems for the benefit of society, it’s engineering."

The full panel recording is available on this week's Houston Innovators Podcast. Listen to it below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.



Photo courtesy of Houston Methodist

Health care innovators joined Houston Methodist and Texas A&M University's ENMED program to discuss women in health care innovation and venture capital investment. Photo courtesy of Houston Methodist

Overheard: Houston experts discuss women in med tech, insight from investors, and more

Eavesdropping in Houston

Houston's health innovation community is making strides every day toward greater quality of care and technology adoption — but what challenges is the industry facing these days?

Through a partnership between Houston Methodist and Texas A&M University's ENMED program at Houston Tech Rodeo, health innovators weighed in on topics surrounding the industry, including biases and investment opportunities.

Missed the conversation? Here are seven key moments from the panels that took place at A&M's new ENMED building in the Texas Medical Center on Thursday, March 3.

“When I look at learning and understanding the priorities — how to take care of patients and also enable those who are doing that work, that’s part of understanding the culture and learning because in the 40 years that I’ve been in the industry, it’s never been the same. There are always things that continue to present challenges from unexpected places.”

​— Ayse McCracken, founder of Ignite Healthcare Network, says on the "Four Fierce Females" panel, referencing the rate of tech disruption and how new technologies, medicine, etc. can change the health care industry and practitioners need to find ways to keep up and stay ahead of the curve.

“Whenever you experience biases, what can you do? You can lean into the fact that we are in a position to help educate and make a change. And that’s going to look different for every one of us, but lean into that instead of feeling down by it.”

— Samantha Lewis, principal at Mercury Fund, says on the "Four Fierce Females" panel, explaining that women across industries should lean into being a change agent when met with bias in the workplace.

“The reason I feel so passionate is (I’m always thinking,) ‘What more can we be doing for our community? What’s working well and what’s not working well,' so I can take that back and make positive changes in our organization.”

— Michelle Stansbury, vice president of innovation and IT applications at Houston Methodist, says on the "Four Fierce Females" panel, explaining that when she's on the other side of the equation as a patient, she really considers her experience and how it could be better.

“Every time you raise money you’re telling a story. You have to figure out what adds value to that story. … I think health care is tricky too because people getting into it aren’t necessarily aware of how complex it is.”

— Dan Watkins, venture partner and co-founder at Mercury Fund, says on the "Where’s My Money At?" investor panel, adding how important it is to investors that founders have specific information — market potential, road map, etc. — when pitching to VCs.

“As a health care startup founder and CEO, you have to wear so many different hats — especially if you’re talking about diagnostics and medical devices. It starts in the science, moves to engineering, and then winds up being commercial. To expect someone to be an expert at all those fields is very difficult.”

— Tim Marx, venture partner at Baird Capital, says on the "Where’s My Money At?" investor panel, adding that, “That’s why we look for the CEOs who really understand where they are, where they’re going, and what they need.”

“One of the things we really appreciate when we engage with founders, it’s not about ‘here’s why my company is great.’ It’s more about understanding the questions your business needs to answer. … If you think about that, that’s what we want to fund. We want to invest in the vision, opportunity, and the people, but we want to fund the — the roadmap — that usually comes with being thoughtful about the questions you’re trying to answer.”

— John Reale, venture lead at TMC Venture Fund, says on the "Where’s My Money At?" investor panel, adding "That's where we get energized."

“The idea to attract talent that’s already built great companies across the US and the world to come here, hire here, and grow here — that’s starting to actually pay off. One of the things that’s big about Houston is it’s really gritty — it’s very ‘show me the data and prove it to me first.’ … We’re having those proven points.”

— Emily Reiser, associate director of innovation at the Texas Medical Center , says on the "Where’s My Money At?" investor panel about the work TMC is doing with its accelerator program.

Jay Steinfeld (left) looks back at his successful Blinds.com exit, and Omair Tariq shares how Cart.com is growing. Photos courtesy

Houston e-commerce innovators analyze the city's tech and innovation evolution

then and now

When Blinds.com was acquired by Home Depot in 2014, it was a big moment for Houston's nascent tech and innovation ecosystem. However, Jay Steinfeld will be the first to tell you he did not expect to go through a major exit when he founded what he describes as a marketing experiment for his interior design store.

"I heard about something called 'the World Wide Web,' and I thought for $1,500, I'll create a website," Steinfeld says. "I wanted to see what it was and if I could attract people to my store. Next year, Amazon started selling books, and in 1996, I thought I'd see if I could sell this stuff."

However initially unintentional, Steinfeld created a profitable business and very intentionally grew his team with the addition of entrepreneurial-minded individuals, which included Omair Tariq. Tariq is now the founder and CEO, Cart.com, an ecommerce company that's raised $380 million in funding and is providing a suite of software services for merchants. The two sat down to discuss their entrepreneurial journeys with Scott Gale of Halliburton Labs at a Houston Tech Rodeo fireside chat.

Both entrepreneurs credit business success on creating an unparalleled employee culture that fostered a positive workplace environment that reduces turnover.

"We were very deliberate at making people knew that they were important and consequential," says Steinfeld, who recently wrote a book about creating a core culture. "We were doing consequential things by helping people become consequential. ... It really comes down to being respectful to people."

Tariq says setting up Cart.com's culture was a task he dedicated a significant amount of time to. Cart.com grew from 0 to 1,000 employees in just 14 months, so maintaining that culture at that rate of scaling was going to be difficult without the right structure in place. Tariq and his team created six core values, and decisions get put through the lens of these values.

"Building a culture — while you have to be intentional and deliberate about it — the reality is it just happens, if you get the framework right," Tariq says.

And it's not just about putting your core values in the employee handbook or on a wall in the office, but actually celebrating employees who are excelling at the execution of the values. Tariq gives the example of Cart.com's slack channel dedicated to this type of shoutouts.

In terms of hiring at such a quick pace, Tariq explains his mentality when it comes to making sure employees are a fit for the company.

"You've got to be coherent in the way you execute," Tariq says, adding that a lack of coherency leads to major mistakes in a nearly $400 million-backed tech company. "We have a very intentional policy — hire fast, fire faster, promote fastest."

Another ingredient in a successful business is developing a brand. Tariq says this is something that's more crucial than ever — especially for Cart.com, which is competing with the likes of Amazon.

"In today's world, the importance of brand is exponentially more than it was in the pre-Amazon world," Tariq says, explaining that a brand can include exceptional customer service or a best-in-class product.

Cart.com's brand and culture were intentional from inception, but the actual business plan pivoted, Tariq shares with the audience. Originally envisioned as a marketplace, Cart.com's first acquisition was a cardboard box company, which in retrospect Tariq says wasn't the best move. But, the business accounted for the majority of Cart.com's revenue, which showed promise to potential investors, he says. The business did evolve to what it is now — merchant enablement technology — but that didn't happen overnight and came with time.

"You rarely know how to get to C, until you get to B," Tariq says. "If you spend all your energy trying to figure out how to get to C, you're never going to get to B. Sometimes you have to make really dumb moves or mistakes and just pivot and iterate and improve."

The latter half of the discussion included a question from Gale about the role the city of Houston played on business success. For Steinfeld, he says the lack of competition allowed him to attract the best team members.

"While all the investors outside of Houston said, 'you can't run a tech company out of Houston — there's no talent,'" Steinfeld says. "Any talent there was came to us. We weren't competing with Facebook or any other companies."

He continues saying he wishes there were more venture funding and activity coming into Houston, but the people in town are so entrepreneurial, that he says it's confusing how the city's innovation ecosystem hasn't taken off more than it already has.

Tariq has a different perspective of hiring out of Houston. While he says he loves Houston and has no plans to relocate himself or his family, being headquartered in Houston was difficult and the city's lack of appeal in terms of recruiting is what led to him moving his HQ to Austin.

"It's an amazing city with the most amount of diversity I've seen than anywhere in the country. Every third person is a minority or an immigrant, and that is valuable. It brings different perspectives and allows you to get people with different ideas to contribute," Tariq says, adding that the cost of living, tax incentives, academic institutions, capital, are all huge appeals.

"Why is there not more innovation happening here?" Tariq asks. "The things we struggled with at Cart.com is people didn't have the right perception of Houston. What I mean that is people never think of Houston (as a really cool place to move to). It sounds really shallow, but there are little things that I think other cities do better than us that create a good perception of a city is what we need."

Regardless of HQ location, Tariq says Cart.com is a remote-first business and is continuing to grow its team with plans to IPO within the next year.

What's Houston's role in the modern era for aerospace? And how can the industry foster public-private collaboration? Experts weighed in at a recent event. Photo via NASA

Overheard: Space experts discuss commercialization, innovation, and Houston's future

eavesdropping in Houston

The aerospace industry — much more than other sectors — is run by a mixture of civil, commercial, and military players. And each of these verticals operate very differently.

At a Houston Tech Rodeo event called "Lasso the Moon" put on by Space Force Association and TexSpace, aerospace experts representing various entities — from startups to big tech to education and military organizations — discussed the future of space innovation.

Missed the conversation? Here are five key moments from the event, which included several talks and a panel at The Ion on Monday, February 28.

 "In this age of rapid advancement, Houston has to take an active stance on supporting space innovation. Leaders must leverage all that this great city and our community have to offer, and we must align civil, commercial, and academic communities to work together to build an effective space innovation ecosystem."

— Mayor Sylvester Turner says at the event's welcome address. “Ever since Houston was the first said from the surface of the moon, Houston has been known as the Space City," he says.

“How is the tech industry going so fast in updating their technology, but the government is struggling? … The system is not designed to innovate.”

— United States Space Force Lt. Gen. Chance Saltzman says, addressing innovation in space and war operations. He adds, "The system is designed to just do continuous improvement on existing capability. When we talk about the need to shift or jump and revolutionize the technology we are using, there are a lot of things at play working against us."

“Houston is the global energy capital, human spaceflight capital of the world, and has the biggest medical center of the world. All of these sectors are heavily dependent on innovation and technology. And many of these technologies overlap. It’s time to switch to technology verticals.”

— David Alexander, professor in the department of physics and astronomy at Rice University, says in a call for industries in Houston to work together. "If you focus on the technologies, then collaboration happens."

"Houston intimately understands innovation. We come from a city of wildcatters."

— Sarah Duggleby, CEO and cofounder of Venus Aerospace, says in her talk about how she's growing her California-founded company in its new Houston headquarters. She added that Texas makes it "infinitely easier to do business."

"Innovation in our business usually equates to risk. Usually when we start to on a project, we like to use time-proven technologies. Creating onramps for technology and innovation has to be something that we plan."

— Sam Gunderson, lead of partnership development at NASA's Johnson Space Center, says adding: "The other thing that I think creates a challenge for innovation within industry that I think the government needs to improve on is that we often over-define our solution set when we try to (onboard new technology). Leaving room for innovation and for people to bring something in that doesn't solve the problem in the way we anticipated needs to be a part of the way we buy services."

"You're a private business — you're trying to grow, you're trying to scale, you need cash. The government has a lot of it. It's perfectly aligned – if you do it right." 

​— Enrique Oti, CTO at Second Front Systems, says on the process of getting grants and submitting RFPs within government agencies. "There are lots of way to do it, but the only way you can get there as a startup or small company is if you're blatantly asking for the money and information."

HX's Serafina Lalany shares what to expect at Houston Tech Rodeo this year. Photo courtesy of HX

Houston Exponential's tech rodeo returns revamped and re-energized

Q&A

It's that time of year, Houston innovators. The third annual Houston Tech Rodeo starts next week, and the format is going to look different from its initial pre-COVID version as well as the last two years of virtual programming.

HTR, hosted by Houston Exponential, kicks off Sunday, February 27, with the bulk of the programming taking place during the work week, before it concluding Saturday, March 5. The full schedule is available online upon registration, which is free.

Serafina Lalany, executive director of HX, shares what attendees can expect from this year's events.

InnovationMap: HTR has a whole new format this year. What led to the evolution of the event and what are the most significant changes?

Serafina Lalany: This year's event series is concentrated along the METRO Red Line and we have two to three "Saloons" each day around thematic focus areas such as HealthTech, ClimaTech, CPG, and moree. This year, we were seeking to drive more density — with 20 events (versus 170 in previous years) all centralized downtown. It will look and feel a lot like SXSW. Our goal was to optimize for more engineered serendipity.

IM: Who should attend HTR?

SL: Tech Rodeo Roadshow is our annual event for all Houstonians who are seeking to get plugged into the startup community — whether you are an entrepreneur, investor, talent — or have ambitions to launch and scale a startup this event seeks to lower the barrier of entry.

IM: What are the central topics/industries that HTR is organized around and how did y’all decide on what these topics/industries would be?

SL: The thematic focus areas are related to Houston's core strengths and emerging startup areas: HealthTech, ClimaTech, AeroSpace, CPG, Industry 4.0, Esports, and B2B Saas.

IM: HTR returns in the fall for a summit. What can you tell us about that event and how is it different from its spring counterpart?

SL: The Summit was born out of our findings from last year's event series. When we pivoted to the hybrid event model, we captured a global audience for the first time — 47 countries, to be exact.

The Summit will bring the global tech community to Houston. Leading entrepreneurs, executives, and investors will address and debate issues facing core industries in this current moment — all in the heart of America’s most diverse city. It's four tracks (HealthTech, ClimaTech, Aerospace, and DEI) across two days at the POST.

Houston Tech Rodeo returns with in-person events — here are the must-attend panels, networking opportunities, and more. Photo by Nijalon Dunn

5 can't-miss events at Houston Tech Rodeo 2022

where to be

Saddle up, Space City. Houston Exponential's Houston Tech Rodeo is back for its third year — and the innovation-focused programing returns with in-person events scattered in downtown and beyond.

The week-long event is organized by themes and hubs. For example, WeWork Downtown will host conversations on consumer packaged goods and food tech on Monday, while health tech programing will take place Thursday at Texas A&M's EnMed building. The full schedule is available online and registration is completely free, but if you'd like to attend some can't miss panels and events, look no further than this guide below.

Feb. 28 — Lasso The Moon

What do civil, commercial, and military players need from Houston’s innovation and academic communities to solve our most far-reaching challenges? Join the Space Force Association and TexSpace for a multi-disciplinary presentation and roundtable discussion with networking and tabletop exhibits that aim high. The event features SpaceForce, Limitless Space Institute, Axiom Space, Intuitive Machines, and more.

The event takes place on Monday, Feb. 28, from 1 to 5 pm at The Ion Houston (4201 Main St.)

March 1 — Investing in ClimateTech

This discussion will bring together local VCs to discuss sourcing, diligencing, and investing in climatetech solutions, as well as how Houston is perfectly positioned to benefit from this momentum.

Speakers:

  • Ernst Sack, Blue Bear Capital
  • Eric Rubenstein, Managing Partner, New Climate Ventures
  • Amy Henry, CEO/Co-Founder, Eunike Ventures
  • Moderated by Juliana Garaizar, VIP of Innovation and Head of Houston Incubator, Greentown Labs

The event takes place on Tuesday, March 1, from 1:30 to 2:30 pm at Greentown Houston (4200 San Jacinto St.)

March 2 — The Founder Institute Texas Showcase

It's Tech Rodeo time which means we've rounded up several strong local founders to pitch as well as recognized experts to judge and AMA panel. This year we'll be available in-person at Houston's Downtown Launchpad as well as live-streaming & replaying the pitches and an impactful AMA. Join for best-in-class startup networking afterwards.

The event takes place on Wednesday, March 2, from 12:30 to 3 pm at Downtown Launchpad (10th floor, 1801 Main St.)

March 3 — Four Fierce Females - Innovator, Igniter, Inventor, Investor

Talk about girl power. Four female panelists engage in a health tech conversation from their four points of view as an innovator, igniter, inventor, and investor. Houston Methodist is hosting the entire morning's conversations from 8:30 am to noon.

  • Michelle Stansbury – Houston Methodist
  • Ayse McCracken – Ignite Healthcare Network
  • Emma Fauss - Medical Informatics
  • Samantha Lewis - Mercury Fund

The event takes place on Thursday, March 3, from 9:30 to 10:15 am at Texas A&M EnMed building (1020 Holcombe Blvd.)

March 4 — Tech Rodeo Career Fair

HTX Talent and the University of Houston Downtown Career Centers (Main Career Center and the Marilyn Davies Career Center) has introduced the first Tech Rodeo Career Fair. Top tech companies will connect with talented job seekers from all over the Houston community and surrounding areas. Learn what type of positions employers are looking for, meet recruiters and companies that fit your job profile, and grow your network.

Register to attend here: https://bit.ly/3GtcKaR

Employer registration here: https://bit.ly/3Amo7zB

The event takes place on Friday, March 4, from 1 to 4 pm at The University of Houston - Downtown.

Bonus: Where to network at HTR

A huge portion of HTR is getting the community out and about to meet, network, and share ideas and energy. There are plenty of opportunities to do so, including the following events:

  • Swag pickup (Sunday, Feb. 27, from 1 to 4 pm.) at McIntyre's Downtown (901 Commerce St.)
  • Cup of Joey (Daily, from 7 to 8:45 am) at Finn Hall (712 Main St.). Note: Coffee networking takes place at Texas A&M's EnMed building on Thursday, March 3.
  • Happy Hour and Mini-Showcase at Greentown Labs (Tuesday, March 1, from 5 to 7 pm) at Greentown Labs (4200 San Jacinto St.)
  • Techqueria at the Tech Rodeo (Wednesday, March 4, from 3:30 to 8:30 pm) at West Houston Cannon Location (1334 Brittmoore Rd.)
  • What's Your Anthem? A Happy Hour hosted by Accenture & Hines (Wednesday, March 4, from 5 to 7 pm) at The Square by Hines (717 Texas St, Floor 12)
  • Inclusive Innovation Community Happy Hour (Thursday, March 3, from 5 to 7 pm) at Weights + Measures (2808 Caroline St.)
  • Tech Rodeo Block Party (Friday, March 4, from 7 to 9 pm) at Main Street 300 block (between Congress and Preston)

All of these events have more details on the HTR website, which can be accessed here once you are registered.


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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

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

short stories

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.