These fast-growing companies have new personnel announcements to share. Photos courtesy

Three Houston startups have new hires they're excited about.

From new board members to c-level execs, here's who's moving and shaking in Houston innovation.

GoExpedi names senior vice president of sales

Michael Hanes will focus on sales at fast-growing GoExpedi. Photo courtesy of GoExpedi

E-commerce and supply chain company, GoExpedi, which is focused on transforming procurement for industrial and energy maintenance, repair and operations, has announced named a new executive.

Michael Hanes has been onboarded as senior vice president of sales. Hanes has over 20 years of experience in startups and emerging technologies. Most recently, Hanes worked at Heart Rhythm Society as its director of corporate relations.

"There are very few leaders that have the same level of sales experience and the diverse industry background as Michael. He is an outstanding addition to our team, as he's already started to build fruitful relationships with customers and partners, who are embracing change through the adoption of our interactive intelligence platforms," says Tim Neal, GoExpedi CEO, in a news release.

"Michael has also begun establishing a strong rapport with all of our sales leaders across the country, helping to further sharpen our processes and accelerate the growth of our already robust sales pipeline," Neal continues. "He will be instrumental for the expansion of our customer base and overall success."

Last fall, GoExpedi raised $25 million in a series C investment round in order to keep up with growth and demand.

"I am thrilled to join GoExpedi. What Tim and his team have built in just a few short years is nothing short of remarkable," says Hanes in the release. "Driving the sale of a truly innovative technology -- with the support of a deeply talented team of sales professionals -- is an amazing position to be in.

"I look forward to introducing fresh perspectives and bringing energy to further enhance our sales processes and market presence and accelerate the company's already fast-paced growth trajectory."

The Postage announces new board of directors member

Former startup CFO and venture capital adviser is joining a Houston tech company's board. Photo via liveoakvp.com

Lynn Atchison has joined the board of directors for Houston tech company The Postage, a full-service digital platform and mobile app for afterlife planning.

Based in Austin, Atchison most recently served as CFO at Khoros (née Spredfast) and also previously worked at HomeAway Inc. as CFO as well. She currently serves on other tech boards, such as Absolute Software, Bumble, Q2 Technologies and Convey, as well as being an advisory partner at LiveOak Venture Partners.

"As evidenced by her impressive experience, Lynn thrives when working with transformational and fast-growing companies, making The Postage a perfect fit," says Emily Cisek, CEO and co-founder of The Postage. "She has scaled operations, driven growth and improved profitability for companies in all lifecycle stages. We are absolutely thrilled to welcome Lynn to The Postage team."

The Postage launched last fall as a way to help simplify afterlife planning. Cisek was inspired to create her tech solution after she lost three family members back to back. This month, the company announced its new app.

During her time at HomeAway, Atchison oversaw more than 20 acquisitions and global expansions before the company went public in 2011 before being acquired by Expedia in 2015 for $3.9 billion.

"Throughout my career, I've worked with companies that redefined and established markets, ultimately becoming leaders in their respective industries, which is what I hope to do at The Postage," said Atchison. "Addressing the challenges associated with end-of-life planning is an exciting opportunity that I can personally relate to. I recently experienced a loss in my family, and I know there is something special about this idea. The Postage creates security of all users by ensuring that their families are taken care of after they pass."

Innowatts appoints new c-level exec

Energy software expert Jeff Wright has joined the globally expanding Innowatts. Photo courtesy of Innowatts

As Houston-based Innowatts continues its global expansion — most recently opening its European Union headquarters in Cork, Ireland, the energy software-as-a-service company has named a new member to its C suite.

Jeff Wright has been named the chief revenue officer of Innowatts. to drive continued expansion in the U.S. and also accelerate its growth globally. Wright was previously the global vice president of GE Digital's Grid Solutions business unit. During his tenure, GE's market position climbed from the No. 5 to No. 1 for its energy control room related software, according to a news release.

"Jeff's career can be summarized as 'Energy Meets Technology,'" says Innowatts CEO Siddhartha Sachdeva in the release. "As Innowatts business and global reach expands, we are grateful to have Jeff joining the company. He is a true energy tech leader who has second-to-none domain expertise across a diverse set of utility functions and operating units."

Wright will lead all aspects of the company's go-to-market initiatives and oversee global sales efforts and marketing channels.

"My passion to help companies disrupt and transform the utility industry aligns squarely with Innowatts' mission," says Wright in the release. "Innowatts is transforming the way energy providers will leverage data and AI to operate. Playing a pivotal role in the growth of the company coupled with driving the resilient and sustainable energy solutions of the future is a career opportunity that I am excited and passionate about. I'm truly delighted to be part of the Innowatts leadership team."

The new programming geared at idea-stage startups has officially commenced at TMC Innovation Institute. Courtesy of TMCx

New TMCx program launches, C-level execs named at Houston startups, and more innovation news

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There's been a lot of recent Houston innovation news, and you might have missed something. Keep up to date with all the news happening among startups and technology in Houston in this innovation news roundup.

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

TMCalpha premieres 

Courtesy of TMC

The Texas Medical Center has long counseled budding medical entrepreneurs in various capacities through its TMC Innovation Institute, but wanted to introduce programming specifically for early-stage companies. That's how TMC alpha was born and announced at the most recent TMCx Demo Day.

The program officially launched on July 18 and will host meetups on the third Thursday of every month.

"Over the past five years, TMC Innovation has blossomed into a global proving ground for healthcare startup companies from across the world, and we could not be more pleased with the myriad ways in which the ecosystem here has expanded in nature," says TMC Innovation Director Tom Luby in a release. "That being said, we realized that TMC Innovation needed to do more for the local innovation community and offer ample resources to support homegrown talent from within the confines of the largest medical city in the world. With TMC alpha, the hope is to connect anyone with a fledgling healthcare idea to the TMC Innovation network and create a two-way channel of meaningful dialogue."

Innowatts scores extra funding and names new C-level exec

Photo via innowatts.com

Houston-based AI-enabled analytics company, Innowatts, is growing in more ways than one. The company, which is fresh off an over $18.2 million Series B fundraise, added move funds and a new C-level executive.

Veronorte, a South American venture capital firm backed by one of the largest utilities in Colombia, became an additional investor in the company with an undisclosed contribution. Meanwhile, Eric Danziger joined the company as its new chief revenue officer. He will be tasked with the growth and sales of Innowatts' eUtility™ product.

"As the utility grid becomes more complex with the proliferation of electric vehicles and distributed generation," says Danziger in a release, "utility companies have to adapt to the data generated and needs of their consumers to manage these complex requirements."

Startup snags free office space prize

Photo courtesy of The Cannon

Shoot, a digital marketplace that simplifies the photographer and videographer booking process, has scored free office space in the newly opened Cannon building after receiving the second annual Insperity Innovation Scholarship.

The company was co-founded by Simbai Mutandiro and Alina Merida and has already launched its beta platform. The company will release its next version of the platform soon.

"Our relationship with The Cannon and the Insperity Innovation Scholarship are part of our initiative to help startups become successful more quickly by connecting and collaborating with like-minded individuals," says Larry Shaffer, Insperity senior vice president of marketing and business development, in a release. "We congratulate Shoot on receiving this scholarship and wish the co- founders continued success in furthering their entrepreneurial dream."

The other three finalists in the contest — Delfin, Social Chains, and SOTAOG — will receive open desk memberships at The Cannon for six months.

Houston falls low on the list of cities booming with growing private companies

Texas Money

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When it comes to the major metros with the biggest jump in private businesses with over $1 million in revenue, Houston is the last on the list for Texas cities. LendingTree looked at the data, and, between 2014 and 2016, Houston only saw an increase of 4.9 percent in million-dollar business growth. This earned the Bayou City a No. 32 ranking across the country.

Dallas was slightly ahead of Houston with 5.2 percent growth and a No. 29 rank. Meanwhile, Austin earned the top spot with 15.1 percent growth. San Antonio, the only other Texas metro in the study, ranked No. 12 with 9 percent growth.

Nesh forms partnership

Oil rig

Photo courtesy of Thomas Miller/Breitling Energy

The Woodlands-based WellDatabase has announced a partnership with Nesh, an AI-optimized tool that's like the Siri or Alexa of oil and gas.

"The technology is amazing and we are thrilled to work with the Nesh team," writes John Ferrell, CEO of WellDatabase, in a blog post. "The integration allows Nesh to run real-time queries against WellDatabase. Users can ask a multitude of questions and get instant answers. They can also work with the Nesh team directly to train and build new questions and workflows."

Rice University and Cognite join forces

Courtesy of Cognite

When Oslo, Norway-based Cognite announced its dual U.S. headquarters in Houston and Austin, it had plans to engage universities from the get go. Now, the company, which specializes in data software with industrial applications, has officially created a partnership and internship program with Rice University.

"This partnership illustrates Cognite's commitment to attracting top people to build the most talented software engineering team in the world," says John Markus Lervik, Cognite co-founder and CEO, in a release. "Cognite solves some of the most complex problems related to industrial digitalization. To do that, we need the best minds, so partnering with Rice University was a natural choice."

Rice students are currently in Norway this summer working for Cognite as a part as the inaugural program.

The Cannon teams up with Thompson & Knight

Courtesy of The Cannon

Houston-based law firm Thompson & Knight has officially signed on to provide resources for The Cannon startups in a strategic partnership between the two companies.

"Thompson & Knight is pleased to partner with Houston-based entrepreneurs who are building the innovation, services, and technological platforms of the very near future," says Mark M. Sloan, managing partner of Thompson & Knight, in a news release. "We will offer our experience in the issues common to startup businesses, including intellectual property, technology, corporate, labor, and other areas of counsel that will help further the goals of these pioneering companies."

The law firm will have an office in The Cannon's recently opened building in West Houston.

Solugen names president

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In May, Houston-based chemicals company, Solugen Inc., closed a $32 million round. Now, the company has put a portion of that money to work to hired the newest executive on the team. Jason Roberts, who has a decade of chemicals and oil and gas experience, has joined Solugen as president.

"What I found most compelling about Solugen was the company's quick successes and their overarching goal of decarbonizing the chemicals industry," says Roberts in a release. "The company's fundamental chemistry and technologies have created products that no one in the industry currently has. I am excited to join this young company's fast moving team at such a significant time in its history and look forward to helping scale their innovative products and services."

Houston-based Innowatts closed its Series B funding round — a $18.2 million commitment from the likes of Energy Impact Partners, Shell Ventures, and more. Photo via innowattts.com

Houston AI-enabled retail energy platform receives $18.2M investment

Follow the money

Houston-based Innowatts has closed its Series B funding round lead by Energy Impact Partners. The company, which enables artificial intelligence through its retail energy technology platform, secured a $18.2 million investment. Current funders also include Shell Ventures, Iberdrola, and Energy and Environment Investment (EEI Japan) — which all three supported the company in its Series A — along with new investor Evergy Ventures.

The funds will be used to grow the company's eUtilityTMplatform technology — a B2B cloud-based software tool to help retail energy providers better deliver quality energy services and insights to clients. The eUtilityTM platform already processes meter data from over 21 million customers globally and across 13 regional energy markets, according to the release.

"Competing in today's complex and evolving marketplace requires utility companies use data and intelligence to drive business and customer value," says Siddhartha Sachdeva, founder and CEO of Innowatts, in a release. "Energy Impact Partners, along with its coalition of innovative utility investors, appreciates the role that the eUtilityTM platform can play in creating a smarter, more efficient energy value chain. We're excited to have EIP join us on the next phase of our journey in building the digital utility of the future."

The company is "poised to become a key building block in the software-driven, intelligent grid of the future," says Michael Donnelly, partner and chief risk officer at EIP in the release.

"We invest in companies driving the transformation of the energy sector towards an increasingly decarbonized, digitized, and electrified future – solutions that our utility partners can commercialize at scale and have the greatest impact," Donnelly continues.

Innowatts' $6 million Series A round closed in August 2017. Shell Ventures lead that round.

"Utilities have the opportunity to deliver more value to customers, at lower costs and with greater personalization than ever before, while helping streamline the complex energy marketplace," says Geert van de Wouw, vice president Shell Ventures, in a release. "The predictive customer intelligence and digital solutions provided by Innowatts' eUtilityTM platform is central to executing that vision."

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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.