The six finalists for the sustainability category for the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards weigh in on their challenges overcome. Photos courtesy

Six Houston-area sustainability startups have been named finalists in the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards, but they didn't achieve this recognition — as well as see success for their businesses — without any obstacles.

The finalists were asked what their biggest challenges have been. From funding to market adoption, the sustainability companies have had to overcome major obstacles to continue to develop their businesses.

The awards program — hosted by InnovationMap, and Houston Exponential — will name its winners on November 8 at the Houston Innovation Awards. The program was established to honor the best and brightest companies and individuals from the city's innovation community. Eighteen energy startups were named as finalists across all categories, but the following responses come from the finalists in the sustainability category specifically.

    Click here to secure your tickets to see who wins.

    1. Securing a commercial pilot

    "As an early-stage clean energy developer, we struggled to convince key suppliers to work on our commercial pilot project. Suppliers were skeptical of our unproven technology and, given limited inventory from COVID, preferred to prioritize larger clients. We overcame this challenge by bringing on our top suppliers as strategic investors. With a long-term equity stake in Fervo, leading oilfield services companies were willing to provide Fervo with needed drilling rigs, frack crews, pumps, and other equipment." — Tim Latimer, founder and CEO of Fervo Energy

    2. Finding funding

    "Securing funding in Houston as a solo cleantech startup founder and an immigrant with no network. Overcome that by adopting a milestone-based fundraising approach and establishing credibility through accelerator/incubator programs." — Anas Al Kassas, CEO and founder of INOVUES

    "The biggest challenge has been finding funding. Most investors are looking towards software development companies as the capital costs are low in case of a risk. Geothermal costs are high, but it is physical technology that needs to be implemented to safety transition the energy grid to reliable, green power." — Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems

    3. Market adoption

    "Market adoption by convincing partners and government about WHP as a solution, which is resource-intensive. Making strides by finding the correct contacts to educate." — Janice Tran, CEO and co-founder of Kanin Energy

    "We are creating a brand new financial instrument at the intersection of carbon markets and power markets, both of which are complicated and esoteric. Our biggest challenge has been the cold-start problem associated with launching a new product that has effectively no adoption. We tackled this problem by leading the Energy Storage Solutions Consortium (a group of corporates and battery developers looking for sustainability solutions in the power space), which has opened up access to customers on both sides of our marketplace. We have also leveraged our deep networks within corporate power procurement and energy storage development to talk to key decision-makers at innovative companies with aggressive climate goals to become early adopters of our products and services." — Emma Konet, CTO and co-founder of Tierra Climate

    4. Long scale timelines

    "Scaling and commercializing industrial technologies takes time. We realized this early on and designed the eXERO technology to be scalable from the onset. We developed the technology at the nexus of traditional electrolysis and conventional gas processing, taking the best of both worlds while avoiding their main pitfalls." — Claus Nussgruber, CEO of Utility Global

    ------

    This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

    Want to work for one of the top startups in Houston? Some of the best in Houston are hiring. Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

    Looking for a job? These 2023 Houston Innovation Awards finalists are hiring

    calling all applicants

    More than half of this year's startup finalists in the Houston Innovation Awards are hiring — who's looking for a job at one of the best startups in Houston?

    When submitting their applications for the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards, which is taking place November 8 at Silver Street Studios, every startup was asked if it's hiring. Twenty-seven of the 35 startup honorees said yes, ranging from over 20 to just one positions open at each company.

    Click here to secure your tickets to see which of these growing startups win.

    Here's a look at which of the top startups in Houston are seeking new team members.

    Double-digit growth

    When it comes to the awards finalists looking to scale their team by 10 or more new hires, five finalists are growing rapidly.

    Medical practice software platform RepeatMD, fresh off a $40 million raise — which included participation from Houston-based Mercury — is reportedly growing its team. The company, which has 115 employees already, is looking for over 20 new hires.

    Female-owned business Feelit Technologies, which is using nanotechnology for preventive maintenance to eliminate leaks, fires and explosions, increase safety and reduce downtime, has 50 employees, and only three of which are in Houston – for now. The company hopes to grow its team by 12 to 15 employees in Houston alone.

    Square Robot, an energy industry-focused robotics company that recently grew its presence in Houston, is hiring 10 to 30 new team members. It has 24 employees already in Houston.

    Solugen, an alternative chemicals business, has around 140 of its 200 employees in Houston. The company, which has raised over $600 million to date, is hiring an additional 10 to 15 new hires.

    Additionally, Blue People, also a finalist in last year's awards, is hiring 25 new employees. The company was founded in 2015 in Mexico and relocated its primary operations to Houston in 2020. Blue People, which develops software innovation for its clients, has over 150 employees — 10 of whom, including C-level executives, are based in Houston. Some of the company's new hires will be based in town.

    Steady growth

    Four Houston startups are hiring within the six to 10 team member range — all with fairly significant employee counts already.

    A finalist in last year's awards too, Venus Aerospace, a hypersonics company on track to fly reusable hypersonic flight platforms by 2024, is again growing its team. With 48 on-site employees and 23 working remotely, Venus's team will add another five to 10 employees.

    Syzygy Plasmonics, a deep decarbonization company that builds chemical reactors designed to use light instead of combustion to produce valuable chemicals like hydrogen and sustainable fuels, has 112 employees in Houston and plans to hire another eight to its team.

    Lastly, Fervo Energy, which recently raised $10 million, has 63 full-time employees (34 in Houston, 29 outside of Houston) and looking to hire seven more.

    Seeking selectively

    The following awards finalists are looking to grow their teams by just a handful or so — between one and five — of new hires:

    • ALLY Energy, helping energy companies and climate startups find, develop, and retain great talent.
    • CaseCTRL, an AI-powered surgery scheduling and coordination software for optimized procedures.
    • CellChorus, using AI to evaluate immune cell function and performance to improve the development and delivery of therapeutics.
    • FluxWorks, making frictionless gearboxes for missions in any environment.
    • Helix Earth Technologies, decarbonizing the built environment and heavy industry.
    • Hope Biosciences, a clinical stage biotechnology company focused on the development and delivery of adult stem cell based therapeutics.
    • Innovapptive, empowering the deskless workers in operations, maintenance and warehouses by unlocking the power of SAP through mobility.
    • INOVUES, re-energizing building facades through its non-invasive window retrofit innovations, making building smarter, greener, and healthier for a better and sustainable future.
    • Koda Health, , a tech-enabled care coordination service to improve serious illness care planning and drive savings for value-based care at scale.
    • Molecule, an energy/commodity trading risk management software that provides users with an efficient, reliable, responsive platform for managing trade risk.
    • Rhythm Energy, 100 percent renewable electricity service for residential customers in Texas.
    • Starling Medical, bringing the future of a proactive and predictive home-based healthcare system to patients today through passive AI powered at home urine screening.
    • Taurus Vascular, pioneering a new era of aortic aneurysm treatment by developing minimally invasive catheter solutions to drive better long-term patient outcomes.
    • Tierra Climate, decarbonizing the power grid faster by helping grid-scale batteries monetize their environmental benefits and change their operational behavior to abate more carbon.
    • UpBrainery Technologies, an innovative educational technology company that provides personalized and adaptive learning experiences to learners
    • Utility Global, a technology company converting a range of waste gases into sustainable hydrogen and syngas.
    • Voyager Portal, helping commodity shippers identify root causes of demurrage, reduce risk and streamline the entire fixture process.

    Here's your latest roundup of innovation news you may have missed. Photo via Getty Images

    Houston startup scores on TV, medical entrepreneurs land new gigs, and more innovation news

    short stories

    It's been a busy month so far with plenty of Houston startup news, new hires, and more — and there might be some headlines you may have missed.

    In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, a startup snags investment from two sharks, two medical professionals take on new roles, and more.

    Milkify lures in two sharks on TV debut

    Berkley Luck and Pedro Silva, the wife and husband team behind Milkify, appeared on Shark Tank. Photo courtesy of Milkify

    Milkify, a Houston startup that's created a breastmilk freeze-drying business, appeared on ABC's Shark Tank on April 7 and got two investors to bite. Gwyneth Paltrow and Lori Greiner agreed to a $400,000 convertible note for 20 percent equity in the company.

    “It’s a dream team — Lori and Gwyneth — to help us grow this company and help us take it and make it more available to moms," says Berkley Luck, COO and co-founder, on the show.

    Luck founded the company with her husband, Pedro Silva, and told InnovationMap the company has freeze-dried and powdered more than half a million ounces of breast milk since founding in 2019.

    On the show, the duo explained that some of the customers' employers paid for the process.

    “It gives such agency to working moms, it empowers them,” Paltrow says on the show. “I work at a company with so many women and nursing mothers. Breastfeeding really factors in for women. This makes working less of a guilty experience for mothers.”

    Coya Therapeutics onboards new C-suite exec

    Arun Swaminathan was named chief business officer at Coya Therapeutics. Photo courtesy of Coya

    Coya Therapeutics, a clinical-stage biotechnology company with multiple therapeutic platforms, announced Arun Swaminathan will be taking on the role of chief business officer. He will be responsible for new business development partnerships, including licensing opportunities, across the company. Swaminathan has over 20 years of hands-on health care business executive experience.

    “Our team is excited to welcome Arun to Coya at such an exciting time in our evolution. We look forward to working with him as we leverage his extensive experience and successful track record in corporate strategy and business development,” says Howard H. Berman, CEO of Coya, in a news release. “This is an opportune time for Arun to join our team on the heels of recent positive data and as we accelerate the clinical development of our biologic and cell therapy Treg immunomodulatory assets. We are confident that Arun’s contributions will prove to be impactful for Coya and our shareholders.”

    Prior to Coya, Swaminathan served in the same role for Actinium Pharmaceuticals.

    “Coya has an innovative pipeline, and its multiple therapeutic platforms provide a strong base for potential value-creating partnerships,” says Swaminathan in the release. “I look forward to working with Howard and the Coya team to realize the promise of Coya’s portfolio and deliver new therapies for patients.”

    INOVUES named to accelerator

    Window-retrofitting climatetech company has joined a new startup accelerator. Photo via inovues.com

    A Houston company that is retrofitting commercial buildings for energy efficiency has joined a brand new Maryland-based accelerator. INOVUES has been named to the Montgomery County Economic Development Corp.'s inaugural cohort for its Hospitality Tech Accelerator.

    The six selected companies are focusing on some of the hospitality industry’s top sustainability challenges, according to a news release, including energy, water, and waste reduction and management. The cohort will be supported by experts in the sustainability, travel, foodservice, and hospitality industries from Growth Advisors International Network and Bethesda Green’s Innovation Lab mentor network, per the release.

    “We were particularly impressed by the caliber of applicants for this inaugural program,” says Bill Tompkins, president and CEO of MCEDC, in a statement. “The selected companies have developed innovative solutions that can be implemented today to reduce food and material waste, detect water loss, and provide fast and convenient energy savings through high-performance insulation, AI and machine learning, and smart glass retrofits."

    In a recent interview with InnovationMap, founder Anas Al Kassas says commercial building energy efficiency is a major contributor to energy consumption.

    “If you look at buildings today, they are the largest energy-consuming sector — more than industrial and more than transportation,” Kassas said in December. “They account for up to 40 percent of energy consumption and carbon emissions.”

    3 female founders named to prestigious list

    Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby, Ghazal Qureshi, and Robin Scott were named to Inc. magazine's list of female founders. Photos courtesy

    Earlier this month, Inc. magazine revealed its list of the top 200 female founders, and three Houston-area women made the cut.

    Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby, co-founder and CEO of Venus Aerospace, and Robin Scott, co-founder of CEO of Segment HR, were recognized as trailblazers in male-dominated industries. Ghazal Qureshi, CEO and founder of UpBrainery, was honored on the list of innovators using tech to impact the world.

    "These 200 female founders have identified solutions to difficult problems and created valuable, industry-changing companies out of them. We congratulate this year's list on their achievements and look forward to their continued success," says Scott Omelianuk, Inc. editor in chief, in a news release.

    The full list is available online and in the April edition of the magazine.

    TMC Innovation names cancer program's entrepreneur in residence

    TMC has welcomed Dr. Tinashe Chandauka to its innovation team. Photo via TMC.edu

    The Texas Medical Center's Innovation Factory has again expanded its team with the addition of another entrepreneur in residence — this time to support the Accelerator for Cancer Therapeutics, or ACT.

    Dr. Tinashe Chandauka, according to TMC, is a "life science company builder. He has both a MD and PhD, and has a background in venture capital and business development. Prior to this role, he was director of early pipeline development at Tarsus Pharmaceuticals, an Irvine-based ophthalmology company.

    Chandauka joins Zaffer Syed, entrepreneur in residence for medtech, who was announced earlier this year.

    This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Emma Fauss of Medical Informatics Corp., Anas Al Kassas of INOVUES, and Scott Blair of Popable. Photos courtesy

    3 Houston innovators to know this week

    who's who

    Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from health tech to energy efficiency — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

    Emma Fauss, CEO and co-founder of Medical Informatics Corp.

    A Houston startup that created a remote monitoring and care platform has raised millions in financing. Image via michealthcare.com

    Houston-based Medical Informatics Corp. closed a $17 million series B co-led by Maryland-based Catalio Capital Management and California-based Intel Capital. The financing also includes an additional $10 million in debt led by Catalio through Catalio’s structured equity strategy, according to a news release.

    “We are excited to have had this round co-led by Catalio and Intel Capital," says Emma Fauss, CEO and co-founder of MIC, in the release. "Catalio brings significant financial and technical resources, while Intel Capital possesses strong operational and industry experience, and we look forward to continuing to leverage both firms’ expertise as we continue to scale.”

    MIC created an FDA-cleared virtual care platform, called Sickbay, that gives health care providers and hospitals away to remotely monitor patients in any setting with vendor-neutral real-time medical device integration, workflow automation and standardization. Click here to read more.

    Anas Al Kassas, founder and CEO of INOVUES

    INOVUES Founder and CEO Anas Al Kassas joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how he’s moving the needle on the energy transition within the construction and architectural industries. Photo courtesy of INOVUES

    An architect by trade, Anas Al Kassas says he was used to solving problems in his line of work. Each project architects take on requires building designers to be innovative and creative. A few years ago, Kassas took his problem-solving background into the entrepreneurship world to scale a process that allows for retrofitting window facades for energy efficiency.

    “If you look at buildings today, they are the largest energy-consuming sector — more than industrial and more than transportation,” Kassas, founder and CEO of INOVUES, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. “They account for up to 40 percent of energy consumption and carbon emissions.”

    To meet their climate goals, companies within the built environment are making moves to transition to electric systems. This has to be done with energy efficiency in mind, otherwise it will result in grid instability.

    "Energy efficiency goes hand in hand with energy transition," he explains. Read more.

    Scott Blair, CEO and co-founder of Popable

    Walmart and Popable are teaming up just in time for the holiday shopping season. Image courtesy of Popable

    With the holidays in full swing, and small businesses looking to gain back revenues lost during the COVID-19 pandemic, Walmart and Houston-based Popable are providing the opportunity to display and sell their products at Walmart can be highly beneficial to recoup profits, and unload new and extra products to a larger audience.

    “Going into the holidays the timing is pretty good for a lot of brands looking to move some access inventory that they have loaded up from last year, but this (hopefully with Walmart) will be a year-round thing,” says Popable CEO and co-founder Scott Blair. “The pop-up opportunities we’ve been seeing with brands doing reach outs so far, a lot of them are looking for stuff into January and February too.”

    Popable has assisted brands secure qualified spaces, get education and resources, and build community, and connections that are vital to helping small businesses expand their visibility in the marketplace. The platform simultaneously helps retail landlords find qualified retailers from a directory of tens of thousands of brands to fill vacancies and drive traffic to their shopping centers. Read more.

    INOVUES Founder and CEO Anas Al Kassas joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how he’s moving the needle on the energy transition within the construction and architectural industries. Photo courtesy of INOVUES

    Houston innovator on seeing a greener future on built environment

    HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 163

    An architect by trade, Anas Al Kassas says he was used to solving problems in his line of work. Each project architects take on requires building designers to be innovative and creative. A few years ago, Kassas took his problem-solving background into the entrepreneurship world to scale a process that allows for retrofitting window facades for energy efficiency.

    “If you look at buildings today, they are the largest energy-consuming sector — more than industrial and more than transportation,” Kassas, founder and CEO of INOVUES, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. “They account for up to 40 percent of energy consumption and carbon emissions.”

    To meet their climate goals, companies within the built environment are making moves to transition to electric systems. This has to be done with energy efficiency in mind, otherwise it will result in grid instability.

    "Energy efficiency goes hand in hand with energy transition," he explains.

    Kassas says that he first had the idea for his company when he was living in Boston. He chose to start the business in Houston, attracted to the city by its central location, affordable labor market, and manufacturing opportunities here.

    Last year, INOVUES raised its first round of funding — a $2.75 million seed round — to scale up the team and identify the best markets to target customers. Kassas says he was looking for regions with rising energy rates and sizable incentives for companies making energy efficient changes.

    "We were able to now implement our technology in over 4 million square feet of building space — from Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York City, Portland, and very soon in Canada," he says.

    Notably missing from that list is any Texas cities. Kassas says that he believes Houston is a great city for startups and he has his operations and manufacturing is based here, but he's not yet seen the right opportunity and adaption

    "Unfortunately most of our customers are not in Texas," he says. "A lot of work can be done here to incentivize building owners. There are a lot of existing buildings and construction happening here, but there has to be more incentives."

    Kassas shares more about his growth over the past year, as well as what he has planned for 2023 on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

    Window-retrofitting climatetech company has raised its first round of funding. Photo via inovues.com

    Houston startup raises $2.75M to make buildings more energy efficient

    seeing green

    A Houston startup that retrofits windows with smart glass innovations to reduce energy use has raised its first round of funding.

    INOVUES closed its seed round at $2.75 million last month. The oversubscribed round was led by Dallas-based Paulos Holdings with participation from new and existing investors, including Houston-based VC Fuel, Saint-Gobain NOVA, Fund4SE, Momentum Glass, Lateral Capital, E8 Angels, and the Central Texas Angel Network.

    "Our mission is to help cities achieve their energy efficiency and emissions-reduction targets by increasing the rate of window upgrades in existing buildings," says INOVUES founder and CEO, Anas Al Kassas, in a news release. "To achieve that, we have developed a low-carbon, high-ROI retrofit solution that makes upgrading building windows a financially attractive energy conservation measure instead of a massive capital upgrade associated with business disruptions and prohibitive payback periods."

    Up to 40 percent of the energy loss in buildings comes from windows, per the release, and buildings as a whole represent the largest energy-consuming sector. The climatech company's patented Glazing Shield system provides a lower cost and less intrusive solution to complete window replacement.

    "INOVUES is a game-changer in the energy efficiency market because it has developed an innovative, patented building retrofit solution that significantly reduces the energy usage and carbon emissions of existing buildings at a fraction of the cost of more expensive standard building retrofit options," says Ahmad Atwan, founder and CEO of VC Fuel, in the release. "We are excited that INOVUES has been recognized as the industry leader by winning prestigious green building awards on both domestic and international levels. At a time when cities are encouraging, and sometimes mandating, building owners to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions, INOVUES has become the logical solution to such challenges."

    The fresh funding will go toward growing the INOVUES team, expanding commercialization efforts, and scaling its technology.

    "INOVUES' technology can radically shrink the carbon footprint of 20th-century buildings and help commercial real estate owners meet their sustainability and ESG goals with no tenant disruption and in many cases with payback periods of less than five years plus incentives," says John Paulos, vice president of Paulos Holdings, in the release. "It is exciting for us to be a part of the journey INOVUES is taking to mitigate climate change and accelerate the transition to a sustainable cleaner world."

    Ad Placement 300x100
    Ad Placement 300x600

    CultureMap Emails are Awesome

    Early-stage accelerator returns to Houston, announces finalists

    prepare for take-off

    CodeLaunch, a traveling seed-stage accelerator, is returning to Houston for its latest cohort.

    The startup competition sponsored by software development company Improving will have its ultimate showdown on February 28. The final competition pairs six startups with six startup consulting companies.

    Jason W. Taylor, CodeLaunch president and founder, says CodeLaunch isn’t your typical startup showcase, as it incorporates music acts, comedy, and crowd networking. Mirroring the set-up of a TV show, the six finalists all present their working products in front of an audience amid these performances.

    “I would describe CodeLaunch as the next generation of venture-tainment in North America and the greatest startup show on earth,” Taylor explains.

    The 2024 Houston CodeLaunch participant startups — and their mentor partners — are as follows:

    Prior to pitch day, all six teams will receive hands-on instruction from CodeLaunch mentors on how to construct their pitches and free professional software development from their partners. Taylor says the strong relationships between CodeLaunch and these developers played a major role in setting the competition in Houston.

    “We love Houston and we’re back for a third year in a row because the Houston startup ecosystem works together better than other major startup ecosystems I’ve seen,” Taylor says. “We have some great software development partners in Houston that are building code for those startups.”

    Last year, Houston-based startup Energy360, with the mentorship and help of Honeycomb Software, took home the Championship belt and a $100,000 investment offer from Cyrannus VC fund for their energy management system Matt Bonasera, Energy360’s enterprise architect, says he is grateful for the entrepreneurial community CodeLaunch provides, in particular the team’s mentor Oleg Lysiak, Honeycomb VP of Partnerships and Business Development.

    “I happened along this great community of people who are really passionate about supporting each other,” Bonasera says.

    Lysiak agrees that CodeLaunch is an ideal opportunity for young entrepreneurs looking to hone their skills and expand their product capabilities. Lysiak says he is looking forward to defending Honeycomb’s title as top consultant development team.

    “My whole philosophy is to connect people and have different collisions and collaborations,” Lysiak says.

    Houston startup completes testing, prepares biosimilar insulin drug for clinical trials

    next steps

    A Houston biotech startup is one step closer to releasing its marquee drug for the global insulin market, which is projected to break the $90 billion threshold by 2029.

    rBIO says it recently completed testing of the properties of R-biolin, an insulin drug that’s biologically identical to Novo Nordisk’s Novolin drug. The patent for Novolin about two decades ago. In March 2023, the Dutch drugmaker announced it was slashing the list price of Novolin by 65 percent to $48.20 per vial and $91.09 per FlexPen.

    Executives at rBIO are now pursuing a partnership with a contract research organization to manage clinical trials of R-biolin. If those trials go well, R-biolin will seek approval to supply its insulin therapy to diabetes patients around the world.

    Washington University in St. Louis is rBIO’s academic partner for the R-biolin project.

    The rBIO platform produces insulin at greater yields that traditional manufacturing techniques do. The company is striving to drive down the cost of insulin by 30 percent.

    About 38 million Americans have diabetes, with the vast majority being treated for type 2 diabetes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many people with diabetes must take insulin to control their blood sugar levels.

    Research company iHealthcareAnalyst predicts the global market for insulin will surpass the $90 billion mark in 2029.

    “There has been a lot of talk in the media about reducing the cost of insulin for diabetic patients, but what is often overlooked is that the domestic demand for insulin will soon outpace the supply, leading to a new host of issues,” Cameron Owen, co-founder and CEO of rBIO, says in a news release.

    “We’re dedicated to addressing the growing demand for accessible insulin therapies, and … we’re thrilled to announce the viability of our highly scalable manufacturing process.”

    Professionals from the University of California San Diego and Johns Hopkins University established rBIO in 2020. The startup moved its headquarters from San Diego to Houston in 2022.

    CEO Cameron Owen and Chief Scientific Officer Deenadayalan Bakthavatsalam work on insulin purification in the Houston lab. Photo courtesy

    How AI is changing product management and what you need to know

    guest column

    For the past 14 months, everyone has been talking about ways artificial intelligence is changing the world, and product management is not an exception. The challenge, as with every new technology, is not only adopting it but understanding what old habits, workflows, and processes are affected by it.

    Product managers — as well as startup founders leading a product function — more than any other role, face a challenge of bringing new life-changing products to market that may or may not be received well by their users. A product manager’s goal is complex — bring value, stay ahead of the competition, be innovative. Yet, the "behind the scenes" grind requires endless decision making and trade offs to inspire stakeholders to move forward and deliver.

    As we dive into 2024, it is obvious that AI tools do not only transform the way we work but also help product managers create products that exceed customer expectation and drive businesses forward.

    Market research and trends analysis

    As product managers, we process enormous amounts of market data — from reviewing global and industry trend analysis, to social media posts, predictions, competition, and company goals. AI, however, can now replace hours, if not days, of analyzing massive amounts of data in an instant, revealing market trends, anticipating needs, and foreseeing what's coming next. As a result, it is easier to make effective product decisions and identify new market opportunities.

    Competitive analysis

    Constantly following competitors, reviewing their new releases, product updates, or monitoring reviews to identify competitor strengths and weaknesses is an overwhelming and time consuming task. With AI, you can quickly analyze competitors’ products, pricing, promotions, and feedback. You can easily compare multiple attributes, including metrics, and identify gaps and areas for improvement — all the insights that are otherwise much harder to reveal quickly and efficiently.

    Customer and product discovery

    Of course, the most intuitive use case that comes to mind is the adoption of AI in product and customer discovery. For example:

    • Use AI for customer segmentation and persona creation to help visualize personas, prioritize user motivations and expectations, and uncover hidden behavior and needs. You can then create and simplify customer questionnaires for interviews and user groups and target customers more accurately.
    • Analyze quantitative and qualitative data from surveys, support tickets, reviews, and in-person interviews to identify pain points and unmet user needs and help prioritize features for future updates and releases.

    Roadmap and sprint management

    AI provides value in simplifying roadmap planning and sprint management. Resource optimization is often a gruesome task and AI can help with feature prioritization and resource allocation. It helps teams focus on critical work and increase their productivity. You can even analyze and manage dependencies and improve results across multiple sprints months in advance.

    Prototyping and mockup generation

    There is no product manager’s routine without multiple mockups, wireframes, and prototypes that explain concepts and collect feedback among stakeholders. AI has become a critical tool in simplifying this process and bringing ideas to life from concept to visualization.

    Today, you can use textual or voice descriptions to instantly create multiple visuals with slight variations, run A/B tests and gather valuable feedback at the earliest stage of a product life cycle.

    Job search and job interviews

    Consider it as a bonus but one of the less obvious but crucial advantages of AI is using it in job search. With the vulnerable and unstable job market, especially for product roles, AI is a valuable assistant. From getting the latest news and updates on a company you want to join, to summarizing insights on the executive team, or company goals, compiling lists of interview questions, and running mock interviews, AI has become a non-judgmental assistant in a distressing and often discouraging job search process.

    Use AI to draft cold emails to recruiters and hiring managers, compare your skills to open positions’ requirements, identify gaps, and outline ideas for test assignments.

    We already know that AI is not a hype; it is here to stay. However, remember that customers do not consume AI, they consume your product for its value. Customers care whether your product gets their need, solves their problem, and makes their lives easier. The goal of a product manager is to create magic combining human brain capabilities and latest technology. And the best result is with a human at the core of any product.

    ------

    Natasha Gorodetsky is the founder and CEO of Product Pursuits, a Houston company that helps early stage and venture-backed startups build products and create impact.