3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Alex Robart, Lindsay Huelse, and Joel Cowley are this week's Houston innovators to know. Courtesy photos

This week's roundup of Houston innovators couldn't be more varied. Among the movers and shakers in tech in Houston are a serial energy tech entrepreneur, a fitness leader taking her empire mobile, and the leader of a decades old organization looking for the technology of the future.

Alex Robart, CEO of Ambyint

Photo courtesy of Ambyint

Alex Robart was on the lookout for a new tech startup to get involved with when he found Canada-based Ambyint a few years ago. He saw the potential of the artificial intelligence software had on optimizing oil and gas rigs. Now, he's lead the company as CEO and recently oversaw the startup's $15 million series B round.

"We're seeing our customers spend a little more time understanding AI," Robart says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "More and more boards of mid-sized [exploration and production companies] are challenging their executive teams to do something with AI."

Click here to read more and to listen to the episode.

Lindsay Huelse, founder of The FITT Cycle

Photo courtesy of The FITT Cycle

Houstonian Lindsay Huelse has created a all-in-one approach to fitness and health within her new mobile app, The FITT Cycle , which incorporates fitness routines, nutrition plans, accountability, community, and entrepreneurship.

"Historically, fitness apps are great for memberships," Huelse tells CultureMap. "I wanted to create a platform for returning clients where they could have stability and ditch the diets."

Since its launch in December 2019, Huelse says she has seen a membership growth of almost 2,000 percent, noting that there is no other app with The FITT Cycle's features. She calls it a hybrid of My Fitness Pal, the Peloton App, Facebook communities, and more.

Click here to read more about Huelse and her app.

Joel Cowley, CEO of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

Image via rodeohouston.com

Joel Cowley, CEO of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, speaks very candidly about the rodeo's future technology upgrades. He realizes that there are rodeo goers who won't appreciate the digitization of tickets, carnival passes, etc. or the temporary inconvenience the transition might bring. But he also knows it's necessary and will be worth it to patrons.

"Anytime you do something new, you have to be on guard," Cowley tells InnovationMap. "You have to make sure you are stacked up on capacity — whether that be personnel, scanners, server capacity — because if you're not, it could create a situation from that."

Click here to read more about new tech coming to the rodeo.

From digital carnival tickets to gamification on a revamped app, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is prepared for its 2020 season with new technologies. Photo courtesy of Rodeo Houston

Houston rodeo prepares for 2020 season with new technology on the grounds

rodeo ready

When the 2018 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo opened the gates to its first show of the season with headliner Garth Brooks, the nearly 90-year-old organization had just switched to digital ticketing. Around the time to enter the stadium, the BHP Billiton entrance, which welcomes in 51 percent of rodeo goers each night, was backed up with impatient rodeo fans.

For whatever reason, the roll out of the technology didn't go as planned, says Joel Cowley, CEO of the rodeo. But, after some damage control, the rodeo made some adjustments to the gate and ensured that those inefficient lines never happened again.

It was a lesson to learn for the rodeo, which isn't shying away from any other technology upgrades that will benefit rodeo goers and the organizations staff and volunteers.

"Anytime you do something new, you have to be on guard," Cowley tells InnovationMap. "You have to make sure you are stacked up on capacity — whether that be personnel, scanners, server capacity — because if you're not, it could create a situation from that."

A few months ago, the rodeo announced a slew of c-suite changes to its team following a reorganization led by McKinsey & Co. Among the changes was changing Andy Sloan's responsibilities from chief information officer to chief technology officer.

"As part of that reorganization, there was some focus on improving the technology that we utilize — and that's everything from our customer management system to what the consumer sees," Cowley says. "Andy is a great resource when we're trying to integrate those things."

The study prompted big ideas for new tech-driven initiatives for the rodeo, like a wristband that acts as your ticket but is also synced to your credit card for all purchases on rodeo grounds. But while that's an initiative for the future, 2020 rodeo attendees can expect to see new technologies this season.

Digital carnival packs

This year, the rodeo's carnival has began selling digital carnival ticket packs in an effort to transform the carnival experience to 100 percent digital. To prepare for this transition, the carnival volunteers have received extensive training — especially on how to communicate the process during the sales encounter.

Cowley says he expects to receive some negativity from longtime carnival ticket buyers, but also knows many people will appreciate the upgrade.

"The convenience for the users once they get used to it is going to be really great," Cowley says.

Gamification

Around two years ago, the rodeo conducted a study to understand its market. The study found that there are seven types of consumers for the rodeo. Cowley says they learned that there was a particular consumer type that they realized the rodeo could improve on attracting.

One of the ideas to attract this segment within the market was gamification. Cowley explains that according to the rodeo's survey data, rodeo goers' primary reason for attending is the show is the musical performer. The data also shows that when they get here, they enjoy their overall experience — not just the concert, Cowley says.

"Gamification is something that we are adding this year to engage the younger tech-savvy segment to give them something to do on the grounds," Cowley says.

The new tool, which is available on the rodeo's app, prompts users to check in around the grounds and complete tasks to earn buckles that can be redeemed for prizes.

"We think the more they see of the grounds, the better chance we have of making them lifelong fans," Cowley says.

There's also a new lounge called the Social Spur just north of the stadium where visitors can charge their devices and learn more about the app and the game.

Updated app

When it came to exploring gamification, Cowley says the rodeo looked into its app developer's capacity, as well as other app development companies. This process resulted in a new app provider and an overhaul of the rodeo's mobile app. The app, which syncs to the user's Facebook, is run by Canada-based Greencopper.

"It has been completely rebuilt from the ground up," Coweley says. "I think appearance-wise and functionality-wise — even though there was nothing wrong with the last one — this one is better."

Over the years, the rodeo's app has become more and more key in the rodeo experience. Users can find maps, buy tickets, view schedule information, and even receive up-to-date parking information.

Cowley says connectivity hasn't been a huge issue for the rodeo, but this year they've extended their WiFi service within NRG Stadium to cover just outside the gates so that users with digital tickets on the app can have that access.

In-seat food ordering

Also new for rodeo attendees is sEATz, a Houston-based startup that has developed an app that allows sporting event or concert attendees to order food to their seats. The app — through its partnership with the rodeo's food and beverage provider, Aramark —will be servicing the 100-level seats.

"It's really great to be able to be a part of the rodeo as far as a provider to help enhance that experience in the stadium," says Aaron Knape, CEO and co-founder of sEATz. "It goes back to our model of we want to serve a venue and the fans in that venue — not necessarily a specific sport or concert."

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

How universities can help equip Houston with a skilled cybersecurity workforce

guest column

With an increasing number of data breaches, a high job growth rate, and a persistent skills gap, cybersecurity professionals will be some of the most in-demand workers in 2022. It’s more important than ever to have people that are properly trained to protect individuals, corporations, and communities.

Demand for cybersecurity talent in Texas is high. According to Burning Glass Labor Insights, employers in the Houston metro area have posted over 24,000 cybersecurity jobs since the beginning of 2021. But the pipeline of cybersecurity workers is very low, which means many local and national companies don’t have enough people on the front lines defending against these attacks.

Unfortunately, it looks like the cybersecurity skills gap is far from over. An annual industry report from the Information Systems Security Association shows that the global demand for cybersecurity skills still far exceeds the current supply of traditionally qualified individuals, with 38 percent of cybersecurity roles currently unfilled. This shortage has real-life, real-world consequences that can result in misconfigured systems and improper risk assessment and management.

How can companies help close the cybersecurity skills gap within their own organizations? We believe it will become increasingly important to look beyond “traditionally qualified” candidates and view hands-on experience as the same, or even more important than, the certifications or bachelor degree requirements often found in cybersecurity job descriptions.

The top open cybersecurity roles in the Houston area include analysts, managers, engineers, and developers. Employees in these positions are essential to the everyday monitoring, troubleshooting, testing and analyzing that helps companies protect data and stay one step ahead of hackers. When looking to fill these roles, hiring managers should be looking for candidates with both the knowledge and experience to take on these critical positions.

Fortunately, Houston-based companies looking to establish, grow, or upskill their cybersecurity teams don’t have to go far to find top-tier talent and training programs. More local colleges and universities are offering alternative credential programs, like boot camps, that provide students with the deep understanding and hands-on learning they need to excel in the roles that companies need to fill.

2U, Inc. and Rice University have partnered to power a data-driven, market-responsive cybersecurity boot camp that provides students with hands-on training in networking, systems, web technologies, databases, and defensive and offensive cybersecurity. Over 40 percent of the students didn’t have bachelor degrees prior to enrolling in the program. Since launching in 2019, the program has produced more than 140 graduates, some of whom have gone on to work in cybersecurity roles at local companies such as CenterPoint Energy, Fulcrum Technology Solutions, and Hewlett Packard.

Recognizing programs like university boot camps as local workforce generators not only gives companies a larger talent pool to recruit from, but also increases the opportunity for cybersecurity teams to diversify and include professionals with different experiences and backgrounds. We’re living in a security-first world, and the right mix of cybersecurity talent is essential to keeping us protected wherever we are.

------

David Vassar is assistant dean of professional and corporate programs at Rice University. Bret Fund is vice president overseeing cybersecurity programs at 2U.

Houston's billionaire benefactors gift another $1 million to citywide charity

a united front

Arguably Houston’s most recognizable benefactors, Rich and Nancy Kinder have done it again. The billionaire couple, known for mammoth donations throughout the city, have just donated $1 million to the United Way of Greater Houston, the organization announced.

According to the United Way, the Kinders’ gift addresses the impact of the pandemic on the local economy, and how it has raised unemployment, drained household finances, and strained nonprofit basic needs resources.

“Lifting up the many hard-working families and individuals in our community and supporting their pathway to self-sufficiency is an effective and critically important approach,” said Nancy Kinder, president and CEO of the Kinder Foundation. “We support United Way of Greater Houston’s new strategic vision because we recognize the impact it can have on those seeking a sustainable quality of life.”

As CultureMap has previously reported, the Kinders are longtime donors to the United Way; this is the third consecutive year the couple has made a $1 million campaign gift at the nonprofit’s Luminary Leadership Giving level.

That Luminary Leadership Giving level is the highest within United Way of Greater Houston’s Alexis de Tocqueville Society, which is a group of generous individuals currently numbering more than 700. The group is noted for making gifts of $10,000 or more annually to United Way of Greater Houston. The group contributed more than $17 million to United Way last year, per a press release.

This year, the Kinders landed on the annual Forbes list of the wealthiest Americans. Houstonians will no doubt recognize the couple from other hefty local allotments, including the game-changing, $70 million donation to Memorial Park.

They are also behind the stunning and newly opened Nancy and Rich Kinder Building at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

------

This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston med device company secures first patient for clinical trial

health care tech

The first patient has been enrolled in a nationwide clinical trial that will evaluate the safety of Houston-based Saranas’ device for early detection of bleeding during minimally invasive heart procedures.

The initial patient was enrolled earlier this month at Morristown Medical Center in Morristown, New Jersey. The trial will eventually enroll up to 265 patients across the U.S.

Saranas’ Early Bird Bleed Monitoring System aids the detection of bleeding during high-risk percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) procedures using mechanical circulatory support (MCS). In the clinical trial, the MCS will be the Impella heart pump.

PCI refers to minimally invasive procedures for opening clogged coronary arteries. MCS boosts heart function when the organ can’t perform at its best. The trial will test the ability of the Early Bird Bleed Monitoring System to detect serious or potentially fatal bleeding.

“As the field of minimally invasive, catheter-based procedures continues to advance, patient safety is paramount,” Dr. Babar Basir, director of acute mechanical circulatory support at Detroit’s Henry Ford Health System and co-principal investigator of SAFE-MCS, says in a news release. “This study will collect comprehensive procedural data in patients undergoing PCI with MCS.”

The data then will be reviewed to determine how real-time monitoring of bleeding can improve a patient’s health, Basir says.

Dr. Philippe Généreux, co-director of the Structural Heart Program at Morristown Medical Center, is the other co-principal investigator for the clinical trial.

“SAFE-MCS is the first prospective trial focused exclusively on the impact of integrating bleed monitoring in large-bore access for high-risk protected PCI patients,” says James Reinstein, president and CEO of Saranas, a medical device startup.

About one-fifth of patients will experience bleeding complications during “large bore” blood vessel procedures such as percutaneous MCS, transcatheter aortic valve replacement, and endovascular aneurysm repair. The estimated cost of one bleeding complication during these large-bore procedures is $18,000, adding up to an annual cost of $729 million for health care providers.

The Early Bird Bleed Monitoring System is the first and only device approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for real-time monitoring of bleeding problems during endovascular procedures for repair of blood vessels.

Saranas’ collaborators in the clinical trial are Proxima Clinical Research, a Houston-based contract research organization, and South Korea’s CardioVascular Research Foundation. The Early Bird study is expected to be completed by January 2023.

Since being founded in 2013, Saranas has collected $31.5 million in funding. This includes a $12.8 million Series B round that Saranas received this summer from Chicago-based Baird Capital and Austin-based S3 Ventures.

The Early Bird device was developed at Houston’s Texas Heart Institute. The FDA approved the device in 2019.