3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

From health care to politics, here's who you need to know in Houston innovation this week. Courtesy photos

There's no summer slowdown in sight, as Houston's innovation world keeps turning. Texas Children's Hospital is amping up their attention to innovation — and so is the mayor. Meanwhile, a local software company just made a big hire. Here's what innovators you need to keep an eye on.

Myra Davis, senior vice president and chief information and innovation officer of Texas Children's Hospital

Myra Davis is responsible for Texas Children's Hospital's technology and innovation — two completely separate things, she says. Courtesy of TCH

Myra Davis wants you to realize that there's a difference between technology and innovation. As the chief information officer, she's been in charge of maintaining tech within the hospital system. However, her role has evolved to include innovation, which means thinking about what new elements TCH can bring in — or what existing elements can be improved or expanded. Read more about Davis and what TCH is up to.

Talin Bingham, CTO of Identity Automation

Talin Bingham has been named CTO of Houston-based Identity Automation. Courtesy of Identity Automation

The chief technology officer is a huge role when it comes to a software company's hierarchy. Houston-based Identity Automation just tasked Talin Bingham with the position. Bingham replaces co-founder Troy Moreland as CTO, and Moreland will support the company in an advisory capacity. Last summer, the company made a major acquisition and sees plenty of opportunities for growth. Read more about the new hire.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner gave his State of the City address on May 20. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Mayor Sylvester Turner and his team are innovators themselves, constantly coming up with new ideas to enhance and connect the city. The city's latest endeavor was announced last week at the Greater Houston Partnership's State of the City luncheon. Mayor Turner's idea is to have 50 corporations sponsor 50 Houston-area parks scattered across the city for five years. Up next is finding 49 more companies, since Scott McClelland of HEB offered up his company on the spot. Read the 5 things the mayor promised in the address.

Talin Bingham has been named CTO of Houston-based Identity Automation. Courtesy of Identity Automation

Houston software company hires new CTO after Q1 growth

Mover and shaker

Houston-based Identity Automation has named a new chief technology officer following growth last quarter.

Talin Bingham will replace co-founder Troy Moreland as CTO, and Moreland will support the company in an advisory capacity, according to a release.

"We are excited about the experience and wisdom that Talin brings to this role," says James Litton, CEO at Identity Automation, in the release.

"Talin is a seasoned CTO with an exceptional track record in on-time product delivery and implementation—both of which are essential to the Identity Automation 2.0 growth strategy. We are confident that his entrepreneurial spirit will help us achieve our vision of continued product evolution and rapid expansion across key markets."

Bingham has over 35 years of technical leadership — 25 of which has been in managerial roles. Prior to this appointment, he was the managing director of product and technology at Vista Consulting Group in Utah.

Identity Automation is the provider of RapidIdentity, which is a technology integration platform companies can use to accelerate the digital transformation process. The company has a global presence with tens of millions of identities in its system, which functions both on the premises and cloud resources.

Last summer, the company made its second acquisition — an enterprise single sign-on and virtual desktop platform called HealthCast Inc.

"Identity Automation has the most powerful and scalable platform in the identity management space, backed by a strong leadership team and the momentum of our recent success." Bingham says in the release.

"I'm excited to have a hand in the company's direction during such a pivotal time, ensuring we maximize the quality and delivery of engineering and do so as a cohesive, company-wide effort that make it possible to meet our full potential for growth."

James Litton Discusses Cybersecurity www.youtube.com

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Houston unicorn fintech company launches new B2B education platform

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Houston-based HighRadius — which recently hit $1 billion valuation, reaching unicorn status — has launched a new learning platform.

Highako Academy by HighRadius, launched the platform to help credit and collections teams build certain skills faster. Highako features over 650 expert-led videos, community forums, and resources. The new on-the-job training platform, which announced its launch this week, is used by more than 2,800 companies, according to a press release.

"Our customers have asked us for an online self-service learning platform, and that led us to launch highako.com as a beta platform last year," says HighRadius COO Urvish Vashi in the release. "With 10,000+ users on the platform and a vibrant partner ecosystem consisting of credit groups, collection agencies, attorneys and industry associations, we see this echoing a larger trend of millennials and Gen Z gravitating towards microlearning platforms."

In honor of the launch of Highako Academy, the organization has announced plans for Credit SkillCon '21, a lunch-and-learn event from June 16 to July 20. The 53 live workshops, panel discussions, and on-demand sessions will focus on topics including negotiations, credit risk assessment, bankruptcy litigation, collections strategy and more. .

"We continually hear from members about wanting more and different educational options," says Jon Flora, president and CEO of NACM Business Credit Service. "The last year has changed much about how we answer this call, and now we have a solution. We are the first NACM affiliate to partner with Highako Academy."

HighRadius and its AI-powered SaaS technology, which streamlines accounts-receivable and cash-management processes, are growing fast. The company, which processes over $2.23 trillion in receivables transactions annually, per the release, raised $300 million in March. At the time of that raise, HighRadius, founded in 2006, employed more than 1,000 people around the world — and was hiring.

"Our goal has always been to build a long-lasting business that outlasts all of us," Sashi Narahari, founder and CEO of HighRadius, said in the news release. "I look forward to working with [our] high-quality, long-term investors, who share a common vision of transforming the office of the CFO using a combination of artificial intelligence built on top of connected-finance workspaces and embedded analytics."

Autonomous delivery company joins forces with FedEx for new pilot in Houston

self-driving mail

A tech company with self-driving robots deployed across Houston delivering pizza, groceries, and more has yet again launched a new pilot program — this time focused on parcel delivery.

Nuro and FedEx announced a new partnership to deploy Nuro's technology for last-mile delivery at a large scale with FedEx.

"FedEx was built on innovation, and it continues to be an integral part of our culture and business strategy," says Rebecca Yeung, vice president of advanced technology and innovation at FedEx, in a news release. "We are excited to collaborate with an industry leader like Nuro as we continue to explore the use of autonomous technologies within our operations."

The new pilot, which began in April, according to the release, is the latest in the FedEx portfolio of autonomous same-day and specialty delivery devices. The partnership allows for FedEx to be able to explore various use cases for autonomous vehicle logistics, like multi-stop and appointment-based deliveries. Meanwhile for Nuro, it's the company's first expansion into parcel logistics.

"Working with FedEx—the global leader in logistics—is an incredible opportunity to rethink every aspect of local delivery. This multi-year commitment will allow us to truly collaborate and bring Nuro's powerful technology to more people in new ways, and eventually reach large-scale deployment," says Cosimo Leipold, Nuro's head of partnerships, in the release. "Our collaboration will enable innovative, industry-first product offerings that will better everyday life and help make communities safer and greener."

California-based Nuro has launched a few delivery pilots in Houston over the past few years, including the first Nuro pilot program with Kroger in March 2019, grocery delivery from Walmart that was revealed in December 2019, and pharmacy delivery that launched last summer. The most recent pilot program — pizza delivery with Domino's — officially went live in Woodland Heights earlier this year.

Nuro's expansion in Houston has a lot to do with the legislation that's happening at the state level. Last year, Nuro was granted its exemption petition from the United States Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This move is a first for DOT, and it allowed Nuro to roll out its vehicles on public roads without the features of traditional, passenger-carrying vehicles — like side mirrors or windshields, for instance.

The city also just offers a lot of opportunities to try out various neighborhoods and environments.

"As a company, we tried to find a city that would allow us to test a number of different things to figure out what really works and who it works for," Nuro Product Operations Manager Sola Lawal says an episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It's hard to find cities that are better than Houston at enabling that level of testing."

Lessons in prototyping: Figuring out the best type of prototype

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As you continue your journey of developing and bringing a new product to the market, you have a series of decisions to make when it comes to prototyping — whether you're going to launch a hardware or a software product, or the combination of both — you need to have a prototype made.

Before you begin, there are a number of things to consider. In an article for InnovationMap last week, I looked at major choice points and their implications that will help you navigate the process in the most efficient way.

After you successfully laid the foundation for the development process and got you CAD models ready, you arrive at the next choice. Prior to making a prototype of your invention you need to decide what type of prototype you're going to build. Whether you're making it yourself or hiring a rapid prototyping company, you need to know the purpose your prototype will fulfil because it will help to select proper methods, techniques, and materials for building. With that in mind, let's go through the types of prototypes and purposes behind building them.

Types of Prototypes

Mockup

This type is usually used as a simple representation of your product idea, to gauge physical dimensions and see its rough look. It's especially useful for making physical models of complex and large products without investing a significant amount from the start. Mockup is perfect for initial market research and various types of early testing.

Proof of concept

This type of prototype is built when you need to validate your idea and prove that it can be realized. It comes in handy when approaching potential partners and investors.

Functional prototype

This kind of prototype is also called a "looks- and works-like" model because it has both technical and visual features of the product presented. It is used for testing product's functionality, conducting consumer surveys, and fundraising campaigns.

Pre-production prototype

This is the most complex type that is made at the latest stage of product development. It's used for ergonomics, manufacturability, and material testing, as well as to minimize risks of defects during manufacturing. This is a model that manufacturers use to produce the final product.

Choosing to Partner with Prototyping Company

It's important to note that prototyping is an iterative process. It is a fusion of art and science that helps you to uncover the full potential of your product, which in turn increases its chances for market success. Therefore, you will likely go through several types of prototypes, with each kind usually requiring a few versions to achieve the parameters you set for the model.

And this process also requires help of a company that builds prototypes or of a professional product development team. You can start looking for the one after you made your first mockup or proof of concept. It is recommended because creating more complex prototypes implies the use of sophisticated equipment, sourcing of materials and components that could be too expensive or complicated to do without an established network of suppliers. Plus, skills and experience play a huge role in creating quality prototypes. Taking all three factors – equipment, experience and skills - into account, it's smart to outsource your prototyping needs to a professional company.

This article is a follow up article to my post from last week. I have also previously contributed to guest columns on the following:

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Onega Ulanova is the founder of OKGlobal.