From pitching to value proposition, here's what you should be thinking about to make your company stand out. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

During your pitch, investors will be looking to see what your startup's value proposition is. What can you offer that your competitors cannot?

Imagine if you will, your startup develops a watch that can detect when you're about to have a heart attack, and automatically sends an alert with your location to 911.

You've perfected the design and engineering intricacies of the device. It's ready to go out and save lives, and make you tons of money in the process.

Now imagine you can't get this product off the ground because your pitches keep falling flat. Investors don't have confidence in you as an entrepreneur, even if your product is amazing. Remember, you can have an awesome product, but you won't reap any rewards if that awesomeness cannot be expressed to financial gatekeepers.

That's where the art of the pitch matters. Pitching to a venture capitalist might be the most vital part of your startup's success. This is where you express how important your product is or how in demand your services are. This is where you convince investors your product (and you) is worth investing in.

Next, you'll have to determine your company's value proposition, which is the heart of your competitive advantage. This tells venture capitalists why they should invest in your company and not others.

Investors are putting their money and reputation on the line for your company. Their leap of faith has to be as educated as possible. If you can educate them very thoroughly why your startup is different, why it stands out from the rest, investors will feel much more comfortable with their decision to reject other bids in favor of yours.

You don't only need to convince them to choose your company, you also need to convince them that rejecting the other companies won't come back to bite them in the rear. Nobody likes to live with regret, least of all people who put themselves in a position to lose millions of their dollars on a bad decision. The best way to reaffirm an investor's faith in your company is to provide a product or service that is fairly new to the market. New products mean less saturation and higher demand, especially if the product solves a problem or provides a unique function.

There are plenty of toasters on the market, but what about wireless toasters? Outdoors-people everywhere would surely line up to buy that. You're providing a product of real value to a certain sect of people. Your competitive advantage is that your toaster is wireless and portable. That would be your company's value proposition to your investor.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

Rene Cantu is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

Investors might be drawn to active fund investing, but index funds might be less risky, according to Rice University researchers. Getty Images

Rice University research finds how index funds can be a good investment opportunity for the risk adverse

Houston Voices

It's easy to assume that investing, like cooking, requires skill to get the right mix of ingredients. But that's not the case with index funds. Effort goes into building them, but these ready-made investments need minimal intervention. Yet the outcomes are appetizing indeed.

In the past few decades, use of index funds has exploded. So have media coverage and advertisements questioning if they can truly compete with active funds. A recent study by Alan Crane and Kevin Crotty, professors at the business school, provides a resounding "yes." These humble investment recipes, it turns out, are richer than they might seem.

Index funds track benchmark stock indexes, from the familiar Dow Jones Industrial Average to the widely followed Standard & Poor's 500. Like viewers following a cooking show, index fund managers buy stocks in the same companies and same proportions as those listed in a stock index. The best-known indices are traditionally based on the size of the companies.

The idea is that the index fund's returns will match those of its model. An S&P 500 index fund, for example, includes stocks in the same 500 major companies included in the Standard & Poor index, ranging from Apple to Whole Foods.

Index funds are part of the broad range of investment products called mutual funds. Like cooks making a stew, mutual fund managers add shares of various stocks into one single concoction, inviting investors to buy portions of the whole mixture.

While some mutual funds are active, meaning professional managers regularly buy and sell their assets, index funds are passive. Their managers theoretically just need to keep an eye on any changes in the index they're copying. Not surprisingly, active index funds tend to charge more than passive ones.

Curiously, not all index funds perform at the same level. So what should that mean for investors? To study these variations and their implications, Crane and Crotty expanded on past research about skill and index fund management, analyzing the full cross section of funds.

This wasn't possible to do until fairly recently: there simply weren't enough index funds to study. The first index fund, which tracked the S&P 500, was developed by Vanguard in the 1970s. To do their research, the Rice Business scholars looked at performance information for both index and active funds, starting their sample in 1995 with 29 index funds. The sample expanded to include a total of 240 index funds, all at least two years old with at least $5 million in assets, mostly invested in common stocks. They also analyzed 1,913 actively managed funds.

Using several statistical models, Crane and Cotty found that outperformance in index-fund returns was greater than it would be by chance. The discovery suggests that passive funds, although they require little skill to run, have almost as much upside as active funds.

In fact, the professors found, the best index funds perform surprisingly closely to the best active funds, but at a lower cost to the investor. The worst active funds perform far worse than the worst index funds–even before management fees.

The findings topple the conventional wisdom that only actively managed funds stand a chance of beating the market. While active-fund managers often measure their success against that of passive funds, the data show investors who are risk averse would do better to choose passive funds over more expensive active ones.

More adventurous investors, of course, will always be tempted by what's cooking in actively managed funds. But overall, investing in plain index funds is as good a meal at a lower price.

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This story originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom.

Alan D. Crane and Kevin Crotty are associate professors of finance at the Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University.

Houston-based Sensytec founder gives his advice for accelerating your startup. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

University of Houston-founded company shares its lessons learned from accelerator programs

Houston Voices

A startup accelerator provides promising companies with an opportunity to boost their chances of marketing their technologies. These programs help small companies pivot their technologies strategically, interface with industry sectors and engage with mentor network to better pitch their ideas to the market.

Unfortunately, most startups will never have the chance to participate in an accelerator. But the information gained from such an experience can be valuable knowledge for all entrepreneurs who wish to accelerate their business.

Sensytec – a UH startup that developed smart cement to monitor the health of structures – was recently accepted into the Techstars Energy Accelerator. Techstars Energy is a highly competitive accelerator in Norway that partners with Equinor, Kongsberg, and Mckinsey to find sustainable technologies for the energy industry. Sensytec's smart cement technology is being considered for use in new oil and gas wells and concrete structures.

Sensytec president Ody De La Paz learned quite a bit about what companies are looking for when it comes to new technology and what entrepreneurs can do to boost their startups.

Understand where your tech fits into the market

Though joining Techstars to better position their smart cement technology to energy companies, De La Paz has learned the many ways in which his company's tech could be positioned to other markets.

"Recognizing the way the market is moving is critical to successfully pitching your tech to customers," he says. "But you have to be honest with yourself – your target market may not be the one you need to pitch your tech to make money."

According to De La Paz, this is where many inventors may miss their opportunity to profit.

"It's understandable that many researchers and inventors are passionate about the one problem they are trying to solve," he says. "But the real trick is trying to discover the solution currently needed by industry sectors – and that is continually changing."

His recommendation? Be open to any opportunity.

"It's not so much about you or your technology," he says. "It's about how your technology fits within an industry's business strategy. It's always about what the company needs, so there may be different applications to consider."

Focus on company values

Every decision made by industry will be focused on the bottom line. It's business, after all. But in addition to providing a high-value, low-cost solution for companies, aligning your tech with company core values may win over a few more hearts.

"Because we know that Equinor has a 'safety first' approach and values sustainability, we put together a solid business case to reflect those values," says De La Paz.

Current technologies used to monitor cement are not as accurate as they should be, says De La Paz. This leads to very costly solutions. So Sensytec built a business case that outlines how their technology accurately reports when cement loses structural health, allowing companies to proactively fix problems before they become disasters.

"We know exploration and drilling will continue," he says. "But if we can show how our technology is not only cost effective, but a safer choice for oil and gas companies like Equinor, we will align with their values and that's very important to them."

Seek feedback — and lots of it

One of the things De La Paz has experienced while in the Techstars Energy accelerator is the value of feedback.

In fact, he says you can't get enough of it, that every piece of feedback, every perspective gained is another clue that helps you figure out if your technology is needed and, if so, how to pitch it.

Here's what he suggests:

1. Interview as many customers as possible

According to De La Paz, every person working in that industry has perspective. He and his team have interviewed hundreds of experts, from the architect to the concrete manufacturer to subcontractors. "It's important to understand your customer and how they think about our technology," he says.

2. Find mentors

In addition to interviewing customers, select a few as mentors. Business leaders, strategists, and even everyday users, can help you toss around ideas.

3. Be honest with yourself

When you receive the feedback, be honest with yourself, says De La Paz. You may be better suited for another market or you may need to pivot your technology, but this will not happen if the feedback is not used wisely.

De La Paz also stress the value of patience and persistence during this process.

"It's a very long process and there's a lot you have to consider," he says. "But if you stay on top of everything and follow through, it will help your startup get moving more quickly."


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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

Lindsay Lewis is the director of strategic research communications at UH.

Hey startups, are you ready to rock and roll? Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

Here's what startups can learn from the Rolling Stones, according to University of Houston researchers

Houston voices

Editor's note: If you think you can't learn some business tips from a rock band, think again. The University of Houston's Big Idea has rounded up a few lessons to be learned from the Rolling Stones — along with advice from UH researchers.

"Start Me Up"

In 1970, the Rolling Stones' long-standing deal with Decca Records expired. This opened a giant door for the band, which I assume they painted black.

Because the band had achieved such success, they were able to form their own record label, dubbed Rolling Stones Records. This was done in an effort to exert more control over their music, not just creatively, but financially. The Stones could now retain the rights over their own music.

Much akin to this move, many startups are launched because entrepreneurs wish to have more control over certain aspects of their technology or product. When asked why he launched his own startup, James Briggs, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry at the University of Houston and president and CFO of Metabocentric Biotechnologies, explained, "Primarily, it was because we felt that development of the technology stood a much better chance if we prosecuted it rather than trying to find a licensing partner."

"Under Your Thumb"

It's no secret that one of the biggest perks of developing your own startup is that you get to be the one to take care of your baby; to oversee the development of your tech through all its stages. You and your co-founders make the decisions on the long road to achieving your vision. Similarly, Professor Briggs and his business partner John Weihua, Ph.D., chairman and CEO of Metabocentric, could now control their company and develop it according to their vision. Had Professor Briggs and Chairman Weihua gone with a licensing partner at such an early stage of their startup, it could have stymied their financial growth.

A licensing entity is not just costly, it handcuffs your startup to dealing with only one licensing partner: them. As a result, you can't generate revenue elsewhere, which you can do if you control your own company.

Much like the Stones' newfound ability to control their own music by not having the tentacles of Decca Records around it, Professor Briggs and Chairman Weihua now had that same ability with their tech; all because they chose to venture out on their own in the infancy of their startup. They were able launch their startup without licensing partners by acquiring non-dilutive funding, which grants startups money without seeking equity in return. So, again, you keep more control of your tech.

"Beast of Burden"

Big record companies have always made it a point to primarily sign acts that are already well established and have a strong fan base locally. Artists in the '60s had to really work hard to gain a big enough name for themselves in their region. Flyers, radio ads, playing weddings, bar mitzvahs, and birthday parties for free just to get your name out there, all the while having to create new material; musicians looking to get signed really had to put in the work.

Before they became household names, the Rolling Stones had garnered a big following in London in 1963. Big enough that the then-gigantic Decca Records noticed and decided to sign them. Record companies sign bands with big local followings because they are more likely to succeed on a grand scale, as opposed to artists who never ventured beyond their garage. In a sense, this was a way for big record companies to reduce the risk of signing an artist that turns out to be a dud.

"Beast of Burden (Remix)"

"Pharmaceutical companies, now, look to small biotech startups to de-risk the lead and approach before they consider partnerships or acquisitions," proclaimed Professor Briggs during his presentation at UH's Startup Pains event. "Pharmaceutical companies don't want to buy failure, they want to buy the success. So they make sure to look for small biotech companies who bring their tech to a point where it is de-risked enough that a partnership suddenly becomes less of a risk to undertake."

Biotech entrepreneurs have to also put in a lot of work to position their startups for potential deals and partnerships with giant pharmaceutical companies. Laying the groundwork for a startup includes searching for investors, virtually begging for money, entering competitions, updating your tech, growing your team, commercializing your product, and staying relevant. "It's a lot of hard work. There will be successes and there will be failures. But in the end, if you stay true to yourselves and your company, there's a greater chance it will pay off."

"Let's Spend the Night Together"

Chemistry, the non-science-y kind, is one of the most overlooked aspects of startups for entrepreneurs. The chemistry a team of individuals have with each other makes for a positive company culture that maintains high morale.

In music, nothing is more important than chemistry. You are whole rather than the sum of a band's parts. Mick Jagger met Keith Richards when they were 16 and became friends because they owned the same Muddy Waters record. Since that time, they have remained best friends. In the studio and on stage, few duos have portrayed the same level of camaraderie and chemistry as Mick and Keith. They met their drummer Charlie Watts at 17, just a year later, and bassist Ronnie Wood in 1975, and lo and behold, they're still all together today.

With a catalog of over 500 songs over 50 years, with the same four band members for the majority of that time, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better paragon of chemistry than the Rolling Stones.

For startups, a strong company culture composed of like-minded individuals working together with chemistry is a prime way to keep your employees motivated, especially when your company is so young, you cannot pay them very much. "You have to remember that most startups are extremely tiny, with 2 to 3 people even, so chemistry is vital. You want to have a culture where you can air your grievances with each other and be honest about your company," Professor Briggs said during the Q & A session of Startup Pains.

"Time Is On Your Side"

A good startup sees its employees working together, functioning as a well-oiled machine, spending long nights together figuring out problems, taking turns ordering Chinese for late meetings, checking each other's work, and learning each other's personalities to more effectively communicate. It takes time. But if the chemistry isn't there naturally, it'll be there once you put in the time to iron out each other's wrinkles.

Investors want to see that your startup has a positive culture before they invest. Similarly, funding entities view company culture as a component that impacts a startup's net profits. If your startup is in disarray, do you really think an intelligent investor is going to want to give you millions of their dollars?

"Even if your tech is great, investors need to see that the company behind the tech is worth the risk."


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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

Rene Cantu is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

By analyzing the Q&A portions of earnings and conference calls, Rice University researcher found that outlooks and verbiage varied between people with cultural differences. rawpixel.com/Pexels

Business call interactions vary by cultural backgrounds, Rice University research finds

Houston voices

It's Alibaba's latest earnings call, and CEO Daniel Zhang is fielding questions during a Q&A. An analyst from the U.S. thinks Zhang sounds cautious, and leaves his forecast as is. But another analyst, who grew up in Shanghai as Zhang did, notes a certain cheerful nuance in his tone. After the call, she revises her earnings forecast for Alibaba upward. The market jumps.

It's an anecdote reported from earnings calls time and again: when an analyst and manager both come from the same, collectivist culture, the analyst somehow seems able to discern unspoken meaning in the manager's tone. This ability to detect underlying optimism or pessimism prompts these analysts to adjust their forecasts ⁠— and the market responds.

In a recent study, Rice Business professor Patricia Naranjo proved that this unspoken communication is real. When both analyst and manager in an earnings call come from collectivist cultures ⁠— that is, cultures that prize the group over the individual ⁠— the effect on the market is measurable,

Working with colleagues Francois Brochet of Boston University and Gregory S. Miller and Gwen Yu from the University of Michigan, Naranjo found that after an earnings conference call, markets responded more dramatically to revisions from analysts who had the same, collectivist ethnicity as the C-suite executives who spoke. The results suggest these "intra-cultural analysts" play a key role in getting stock prices to reflect managers' true outlook.

To measure this phenomenon, Naranjo and her team first amassed a sample of English-language earnings conference call transcripts from 2002 to 2012. The calls occurred within the three days around an earnings announcement. The final sample consisted of 57,740 conference calls held by 5,021 unique firms from across the globe.

The 24,901 executives from 42 countries who took part in the calls were mostly CEOs and CFOs, but there were also COOs, CMOs and IROs, among others. Of the managers, six percent were female and ten percent had a post graduate education. The average age of the executives was 52.77.

The researchers began with the premise that ethnicity helps shape an outlook that is either more or less individualistic. The researchers then assigned managers and sell-side analysts to likely ethnic groups, based on first and last names and an ethnicity-name matching technique. Assigned groups included Anglo-Saxon, Chinese, European, Hispanic, Indian, Japanese, Korean, Russian/Slavic, and Vietnamese.

Next, the researchers measured each ethnicity's individualism outlook, using an index based on analysis of 88,000 IBM employees in 72 countries. Unsurprisingly, Anglo-Saxons rated the highest on the individualism scale, followed by Europeans. Koreans and Chinese were the least individualistic, and were categorized as more group-oriented.

Now it was time to test the hypothesis. Did managers from more individualistic cultures have a more optimistic tone during conference calls? The prediction was based on psychology research showing that independent cultures – typically Western ⁠— place more emphasis on influencing individuals through shows of self-confidence and optimism. Because Q&As tend to be more spontaneous than scripted calls, Naranjo and her colleagues zeroed in on the Q&As to conduct their analysis. Their hypothesis proved correct: the managers from individualistic cultures did indeed speak with a more positive tone during the calls. They also used more first-person pronouns as they spoke.

The finding held true even for executives from individualistic cultures who had studied or worked in group-oriented cultures. Though these executives weren't quite as positive-sounding as counterparts who hadn't spent time in group-oriented cultures, the researchers concluded that the cultural traits the executives inherited from their native ethnic group were long-lasting.

Overall, the researchers also found, CEOs tended to speak more positively and use more singular first-person pronouns on average. Female managers used less optimistic language, and older managers tended to adopt a more pessimistic tone, but also used more singular first-person pronouns.

Finally, those analysts who shared a group-oriented cultural background with the managers on a conference call responded more strongly to the managers' tone ⁠— suggesting that they recognized the effect of culture on a speaker's tone of voice. Collectivist managers, as a rule, used less optimistic language.

When Naranjo's team studied individualistic analysts matched with group-oriented managers, the analysts' response was not as strong. Nor was there any pronounced special response when an analyst from a group-oriented culture was paired with an individualistic manager. When analysts are from different backgrounds as managers, in other words, there's no evidence that they will strongly revise a forecast in response to tone.

For investors tuning in to company conference calls, the findings speak volumes. For analysts and executives who share the same, collectivist background, important messages can go unspoken ⁠— and still be understood. Not only that, but when these "intra-cultural analysts" read between the lines and act on their intuitive cultural knowledge, the markets listen. Investors should take note as well.

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This article originally appeared on Rice Business Wisdom.

Patricia Naranjo is an assistant professor of accounting at Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University.

Customer churn is inevitable, but it's what you do with the opportunity that matters. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

University of Houston expert on feeling the churn of customers and what to learn from it

Houston voices

Think of customer churn as a robust balloon, ready to touch the sky as soon as you let go. Every day you hold on to that balloon, air molecules will diffuse through the knot. Your balloon will become flabby. This exodus of air is known in business as a churn. Customer churn is the amount of customers that your company loses during a specific time frame. Canceled subscribers, dissatisfied clientele, or customers that just found a better alternative. Keeping track of churn is a vital part of your company's continued growth. Doing so will give you the brutal truth regarding customer retention.

It's difficult to measure the success of your startup without keeping track and analyzing your shortcomings as well. Sure, you want 100 percent customer retention. But even a company that has figured out how to stop the aging process will not have such an unrealistic rate. Losing customers is part of the game. However, you don't have to let it kill your company. You can learn from it.

Measuring customer churn rate

You can measure your churn rate by subtracting lost patronage from the number of customers you had to start a period. So, if you started off the month or quarter with 1,000 customers, and end up with 500 at the end of that period, your churn rate is 50 percent. You lost 50 percent of your customers. Ouch. Unless your company decides to go into selling raincoats in the Sahara, it is doubtful your churn rate will be that high. But you understand how it's calculated now.

So, why is customer churn so important? Well, for starters, the cost of acquiring new customers is 25 times higher than the cost of retaining the ones you already have. Further, research has determined that a mere five percent rise in retention rates can boost profits upwards of 25 percent.

Curb your churn

There are a few ways to curb customer churn.

One way is to concentrate on your most loyal customers. One of the biggest gripes against Comcast is that they offer so many special rates to new customers, and almost nothing for their long-time customers. The same was said about Uber until they recently launched Uber Gold. How many "special deals for first time customers" do you see with phone service companies? Tons. It would be more advantageous to focus your resources on your loyal customers. Give them another reason to stay. After all, as we just covered, it's cheaper for your company to retain them than to get new customers.

Another way to reduce churn rates is to track and analyze it every fiscal quarter. This analysis can help you understand why exactly customers are leaving. You can even detect patterns to show at what point in their patronage they are leaving. All this data can be used to make better decisions about improving your company's services or products.

Listen to fleeing customers

Speaking of making better decisions for your company, the best way to do that is to talk to the customer. When you were in high school, you probably had "intel" on your crushes to see if they liked you back. You probably spent months agonizing over what they meant by this text or that comment. In retrospect, you probably now know it would have been so much easier to just ask. Letting the customer be your compass will steer your company in the right direction. Lapsed customers will almost always be honest with you. What have they got to lose? They will tell you straight up what they didn't like and why they didn't like it. With a large enough sample size, you'll soon have a good idea about what you could be doing better to keep your current customers from fleeing your company like it's Blockbuster. No offense to Blockbuster.

In summary, keeping the customers you have is just as important as winning over new ones. It's harder to put air into an already knotted balloon than it is to just keep the air it already has inside. If you focus on keeping your customers, much like that air-filled balloon, sky's the limit.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

Rene Cantu is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

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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.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

From swimming away with $300,000 on Shark Tank to announcing new programming for Houston's innovation ecosystem, this week's Houston innovators to know have things to be excited about. Here's who to know this week in innovaiton.

Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston

Grace Rodriguez

Courtesy of Grace Rodriguez

It's a busy month for Grace Rodriguez. The leader of Houston's Impact Hub chapter, along with her team, is planning the third annual Houston Innovation Summit — a week long of programming for innovators, investors, entrepreneurs, and more scattered around the city.

Rodriguez took a break from the planning to discuss the events, her passion for driving equitable innovation resources, and more on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"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. Click here to read more.

Patrick Coddou, CEO and co-founder of Supply

Patrick Coddou

Courtesy of Supply

Patrick Coddou, a native Houstonian and CEO of Supply, pitched their product to the panel of five investors on ABC's Shark Tank and hooked one of them, tech millionaire Robert Herjavec. In exchange for his $300,000 investment, Herjavec received a 15 percent stake in the four-year-old company.

"It was a surreal experience for us just making an appearance on the show, but we couldn't have been more pleased with the outcome," Patrick Coddou, CEO of Supply and a Houston native, says in a release. "I knew we had shaped a brand that sets itself apart, not only because of the innovative razor design but also the kind of standard we hold ourselves to, and I'm glad that resonated with Robert and the rest of the Sharks."

Herjavec battled against fellow Shark Kevin O'Leary to invest in Supply, but the Coddous wound up accepting Herjavec's offer. Click here to read more.

Emily Reiser, innovation strategist at the TMC Innovation Institute

As if working with her team to plan and execute the Texas Medical Center's accelerator's ninth cohort last week, Emily Reiser, innovation strategist at TMC, also had to plan for and execute the important announcement that TMCx has been redesigned for 2020. The program will be more heavily involving the TMC network of organizations for the program.

"Our focus going forward is on our member institutions — the clinics, the hospitals, and our partners who really bring forward these technologies into the future," says Reiser.

The 2020 cohort will be specifically focused on solving these member institutions' problems. Click here to read more.