3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Joy M. Hutton of Joy of Consulting, Michael T. Suffredini of Axiom Space, and Kim Raath of Topl. Courtesy photos

Editor's note: In the last weekly roundup of Houston innovators of 2020, I'm introducing you to three innovators across the city — the new local leader of a new Google program, the CEO of a space tech company, and a startup founder with fresh funds.

Joy M. Hutton, local leader of Grow with Google's Digital Coach program

Joy M. Hutton leads the Grow with Google in Houston. Photo courtesy of Google

Joy M. Hutton is a serial entrepreneur and has just signed on to help guide other startup founders as the local leader of the Grow with Google Digital Coach program in Houston. Just like any other entrepreneur this year, Hutton, who was planning to launch her company On the Go Glam in March, was challenged to pivot her own startup amid COVID-19 and its accompanying obstacles.

On this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, Hutton shares how the pandemic caused her to rethink the timeline on some of the features she had in mind for the company.

"The pandemic was kind of a good thing, because it allowed me to take a step back and add additional services for men," Hutton says, adding that expanding into offering barbershop services was always a plan, but the new need pushed her to quickly pivot. Read more and stream the episode.

Michael T. Suffredini, president and CEO of Axiom Space

Michael T. Suffredini co-founded Houston-based Axiom Space. Photo via AxiomSpace.com

A veteran of the space business, Michael T. Suffredini now leads Axiom Space, which just announced a partnership with the Houston Spaceport. Mayor Sylvester Turner announced that Axiom Space will construct a 14-acre headquarters.

The headquarters "will be the world's first free-flying internationally available private space station that will serve as humanity's central hub for research, manufacturing, and commerce," Turner said.

The partnership is expected to bring more than 1,000 high-paying jobs, from engineers to scientists, mathematicians, and machinists. Read more.

Kim Raath, CEO of Topl

Kim Raath is ending her year with news of a VC deal. Courtesy of Topl

Unfortunately, the pandemic has had its detrimental effect on venture capital — especially when it comes to female-founded companies. Crunchbase reported a 27 percent decrease in funding for female-founded companies.

In light of this statistic, Kim Raath, CEO and co-founder of Houston-based Topl, is feeling pretty proud of leading her company to closing a $3 million round with support from investors both locally and across the country.

"We're grateful to have closed an oversubscribed venture round during a pandemic, especially given the unfortunate truth that many women-led startups are getting much less investment during this time," says Kim Raath, CEO of Topl, in a press release. "Bringing transparency to causes dedicated to environmental and social good has never been more important. We are building a modern blockchain for a world where purpose and profit go hand in hand." Read more.

Joy M. Hutton leads the Grow with Google in Houston. Photo courtesy of Google

Houston innovator to help minority entrepreneurs get access to resources she wished she had

Houston Innovators Podcast episode 63

Joy M. Hutton is used to wearing multiple hats. A consultant for nonprofits and small businesses at her own firm, Joy of Consulting, and the founder of On the Go Glam, an on-demand beauty platform, Hutton recently added another hat into rotation.

In November, when Google announced it was expanding its Grow with Google Digital Coach program to Houston, Hutton was named the local leader. Now, she's hoping to help provide important business resources to entrepreneurs just like herself.

"In Houston, you have a lot of different resources that weren't available to startups before just within the past few years, and I think that's huge," Hutton says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Being more inclusive with people who need the resources who haven't traditionally had access to those resources is a big initiative. I personally am proud to be a part of that."

Hutton specifically calls out resources like MassChallenge and Founder's Institute — both of which she serves as a mentor for — as well as DivInc, gBeta, and of course the Grow with Google program. To get involved, Houston entrepreneurs can head online to learn more and keep an eye out for monthly classes online — and hopefully, in the future, in person events as well.

Just like any other entrepreneur this year, Hutton was challenged to pivot her own startup amid COVID-19 and its accompanying challenges. On the podcast, Hutton shares how the pandemic caused her to rethink the timeline on some of the features she had in mind for the company.

Originally expecting to launch at SXSW in March, On the Go Glam was focused on providing a tech platform for on-demand makeup and hair service for women. But with barber shops being closed, Hutton saw an opportunity to pivot to provide at-home services for men too.

"The pandemic was kind of a good thing, because it allowed me to take a step back and add those additional services for men," Hutton says, adding that expanding into this part of the beauty industry was always a plan, but the new need pushed her to quickly pivot to provide this service.

Hutton shares more about the new program and her observations on how Houston has evolved as a startup ecosystem in the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


The Grow with Google Digital Coaches program has expanded to Houston. Photo via Unsplash

Google launches new program to serve Houston's minority small business owners

new to hou

A new Google initiative is expanding its Texas presence this month. The Grow with Google's Digital Coaches program, which has already launched in Austin, has expanded to the Bayou City — making the Lone Star State the only state to have two locations of this entrepreneur-centric tool.

The program aims to provide digital skills training and coaching to Black and LatinX small business owners and create economic opportunity. Houston is one of eight new cities the program has recently expanded into.

"Houston has a vibrant and growing Black and LatinX small business community," says Lucy Pinto, Google's Digital Coach program manager, in a news release. "The Digital Coaches program will provide business owners in these communities with ongoing workshops and hands-on coaching sessions focused on techniques and digital tools to reach new customers, thrive online and grow."

Houston entrepreneur Joy M. Hutton, founder of Joy of Consulting, will serve as the Grow with Google Digital Coach for Houston. Hutton also runs a restaurant-focused consulting business called The Restaurant Girl and founded go GLAM, a beauty on demand platform.

"The Grow with Google team is making an effort to close the gap in resources that Black and LatinX small business owners have not generally had access to — in Houston and beyond," Hutton says in the release. "I live and breathe entrepreneurship, so I'm honored to participate in the Google Digital Coaches program and excited to work with Houston entrepreneurs who are traditionally underrepresented."

Joy M. Hutton will lead Grow with Google in Houston. Photo courtesy

According to the release, the program is expanding with inclusion in mind. This year, the program will grow to 20 mentors.

"As the representative of Houston's 18th District, a diverse and historic district, I know firsthand the importance and positive impact that investing in diverse communities and their residents can have on the entire population," says Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee in the release. "As Houston continues to prosper and grow, it is critical that we continue to invest in our minority-owned and small businesses to ensure an even brighter economic future for our city."

The program's first free workshop is called Connect with Customers and Manage Your Business Remotely and will be held virtually tomorrow, Friday, November 20, at 5:30 p.m. Moving forward, Grow with Google workshops will be hosted by Hutton on a regular basis, including the following sessions:

    • Dec. 3 at 5 p.m. CDT - Get Your Local Business on Google Search and Maps
    • Dec. 10 at 5 p.m. CDT - Reach Customers Online with Google
    • Dec. 17 at 5 p.m. CDT - Digital Skills for Everyday Tasks

    Both Google as well as local leadership are excited for the opportunities this program will provide Houstonians.

    "As a 'majority-minority' city that is the fourth-largest in the U.S., it is critical that our Black and LatinX business owners have the tools and knowledge to reach new customers, grow their businesses and help continue to make Houston a prosperous, skilled and inclusive city," Mayor Sylvester Turner says in the release. "The city of Houston is appreciative for the opportunity to provide invaluable resources and opportunities to our city's Black and LatinX small business owners."

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    Houston startup secures big contract, coworking company acquired, and more local innovation news

    short stories

    Houston is starting 2022 strong in terms of innovation news, and there might be some headlines you may have missed.

    In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, the Bayou City is ranked based on its opportunities for STEM jobs, a Houston blockchain startup scores a major contract, Rice University opens applications for its veteran-owned busineess competition, and more.

    Data Gumbo announces contract with Equinor

    After a successful pilot, Equinor has signed off on a contract with Data Gumbo.. Courtesy of Data Gumbo

    Houston-based Data Gumbo, an industrial blockchain-software-as-a-service company, announced that it has signed a contract with Equinor. The global energy company's venture arm, Equinor Ventures, supported the startup's $7.7 million series B round, which closed last year.

    The company's technology features smart contract automation and execution, which reduces contract leakage, frees up working capital, enables real-time cash and financial management, and delivers provenance with unprecedented speed, accuracy, visibility and transparency, per the release.

    “Equinor is an industry trailblazer, demonstrating the true value of our international smart contract network to improve and automate manual processes, and bring trust to all parties,” says Andrew Bruce, founder and CEO of Data Gumbo, in a news release. “Smart contracts are playing a critical role in driving the energy industry forward. Our work with Equinor clearly demonstrates the benefits that supermajors and their supply chain customers, partners and vendors experience by automating commercial transactions. We are proud to continue our work with Equinor to help them realize the savings, efficiencies and new levels of transparency available through our smart contract network.”

    Equinor opted into a pilot with the company a few years ago.

    “Since piloting Data Gumbo’s smart contracts for offshore drilling services in 2019, we have worked with the company to continually refine and improve use cases. We now have the potential to expand Data Gumbo’s smart contract network to enable transactional certainty across our portfolio from the Norwegian Continental Shelf to our Brazilian operated assets and beyond,” says Erik Kirkemo, senior vice president at Equinor. “GumboNet reduces inefficiencies and processing time around contract execution in complex supply chains, which is a problem in the broader industry, and we look forward to realizing the streamlined process and cost savings of its rapidly expanding smart contract network.”

    WeWork acquires Dallas coworking brand with 6 Houston locations

    Common Desk, which has six locations in Houston including in The Ion, has been acquired. Photo courtesy of Common Desk

    Dallas-based Common Desk, which has six locations in Houston, announced its acquisition by WeWork. The company's office spaces will be branded as “Common Desk, a WeWork Company,” according to a news release.

    “Similar to WeWork, Common Desk is a company built on the concept of bringing people together to have their best day at work," says Nick Clark, CEO at Common Desk, in the release. "With the added support from WeWork, Common Desk will be able to not only leverage WeWork’s decade of experience in member services to improve the experience of our own members but also leverage WeWork’s impressive client roster to further build out our member base.”

    Here are the six Common Desk spaces in Houston:

    Here's how Houston ranks as a metro for STEM jobs

    Source: WalletHub

    When it comes to the best cities for jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math, Houston ranks in the middle of the pack. The greater Houston area ranked at No. 37 among the 100 largest metros across 19 key metrics on the list compiled by personal finance website, WalletHub. Here's how Houston fared on the report's metrics:

    • No. 36 – percent of Workforce in STEM
    • No. 74 – STEM Employment Growth
    • No. 43 – Math Performance
    • No. 16 – Quality of Engineering Universities
    • No. 2 – Annual Median Wage for STEM Workers (Adjusted for Cost of Living)
    • No. 90 – Median Wage Growth for STEM Workers
    • No. 75 – Job Openings for STEM Graduates per Capita
    • No. 88 – Unemployment Rate for Adults with at Least a Bachelor’s Degree

    Elsewhere in Texas, Austin ranked at No. 2 overall, and Dallas just outranked Houston coming in at No. 34. San Antonio, El Paso, and McAllen ranked No. 51, No. 65, and No. 88, respectively.

    Rice University calls for contestants for its 8th annual startup pitch competition for veterans

    Calling all veteran and active duty startup founders and business owners. Photo courtesy of Rice University

    Rice University is now accepting applications from Houston veterans for its annual business competition. To apply for the 2022 Veterans Business Battle, honorably discharged veterans or active duty founders can head online to learn more and submit their business plan by Feb. 15.

    “We’re looking forward to giving veterans the opportunity not just to share their ideas and get financing, but learn from other past winners the lessons about entrepreneurship they’ve lived through while growing their businesses,” event co-chair Reid Schrodel says in a news release.

    Over the past few years, finalists have received more than $4 million of investments through the program. This year's monetary prizes add up to $30,000 — $15,000 prize for first place, $10,000 for second place, and $5,000 for third place.

    Finalists will be invited to make their business pitch April 22 and 23 at Rice University. Click here to register for the event.

    City of Houston receives grant to stimulate STEM opportunities

    Houston's youth population is getting a leg up on STEM opportunities. Photo via Getty Images

    Thanks to a $150,000 grant from the National League of Cities, the city of Houston has been awarded a chance to provide quality education and career opportunities to at-risk young adults and students. The city is one of five cities also selected to receive specialized assistance from NLC’s staff and other national experts.

    “This award is a big win for young people. They will benefit from significant career development opportunities made possible by this grant,” says Mayor Sylvester Turner in a news release. “These are children who would otherwise go without, now having experiences and connections they never thought possible. I commend the National League of Cities for their continued commitment to the future leaders of this country.”

    According to the release, the grant money will support the Hire Houston Youth program by connecting diverse opportunity youth to the unique STEM and technology-focused workforce development.

    "Our youth deserve educational opportunities that connect them to the local workforce and career exploration, so they can make informed choices about their future career path in Houston’s dynamic economy. Houston youth will only further the amazing things they will accomplish, thanks to this grant," says Olivera Jankovska, director of the Mayor's Office of Education.

    Houston software startup raises $12.5M series B

    money moves

    Houston-based Codenotary, whose technology helps secure software supply chains, has raised $12.5 million in a series B round. Investors in the round include Swiss venture capital firm Bluwat and French venture capital firm Elaia.

    The $12.5 million round follows a series A round that was announced in 2020, with total funding now at $18 million.

    Codenotary, formely known as vChain, says the fresh round of money will be used to accelerate product development, and expand marketing and sales worldwide. Today, the startup has 100-plus customers, including some of the world’s largest banks.

    Codenotary’s co-founders are CEO Moshe Bar and CTO Dennis Zimmer. They started the company in 2018.

    Bar co-founded Qumranet, which developed the Linux KVM hypervisor. A hypervisor creates and runs virtual machines. Software provider Red Hat purchased Qumranet in 2008 for $127 million. Before that, he founded hypervisor company XenSource, which cloud computing company Citrix Systems bought in 2007 for $500 million.

    “Codenotary offers a solution which allows organizations to quickly identify and track all components in their DevOps cycle and therefore restore trust and integrity in all their myriad applications,” Pascal Blum, senior partner at Bluwat, says in a news release.

    The SolarWinds software supply chain hack in 2020 and the more recent emergence of Log4j vulnerabilities have brought the dangers of software lifecycle attacks to the forefront, Bar says. Now, he says, more and more companies are looking for ways to prove the legitimacy of the software that they produce.

    Codenotary is the primary contributor to immudb, the an open-source, enterprise-class database with data immutability, or stability, designed to meet the demands of highly used applications.

    Dallas-based ridesharing app gears up for expansion across Houston and beyond

    HOUSTON INNOVATOR PODCAST EPISODE 118

    Before he started his current job, Winston Wright would have thought a startup attempting to compete with the likes of Uber and Lyft was going to fight an uphill battle. Now, he sees how much opportunity there is in the rideshare market.

    Wright is the Houston general manager for Alto, a Dallas-based company that's grown its driving service platform into five markets — first from Dallas into Houston and then to Los Angeles, Miami, and, most recently, Washington D.C. Alto's whole goal is to provide reliability and improve user experience.

    "We're elevating ridesharing," Wright says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "With Alto, you get a consistent, safe experience with. a high level of hospitality. And that's a key differentiator for us in the market, and we're able to replicate that time and time again."

    Wright, whose background is in sales and operations in hospitality, says his vision for alto in Houston is to expand the service — which operates in the central and western parts of the city — throughout the greater Houston area.

    "The vision I have for this market is that, as we move forward and continue to expand, that we're covering all of Houston," he says.

    This will mean expanding the company's physical presence too. Alto recently announced its larger space in Dallas, and now the Houston operations facility will grow its footprint too.

    Wright says he's also focused on growing his team. Over the past two years, pandemic notwithstanding, the company has maintained hiring growth. Alto's drivers are hired as actual employees, not contractors, so they have access to benefits and paid time off.

    The company, which raised $45 million in its last round of investment, is expanding next to the Silicon Valley area, followed by three to five more markets in 2022. Then, by the end of 2023, it's Alto's mission to have a completely electronic fleet of vehicles.

    "Our goal is to have over 3,000 EV cars and be the first company with a 100 percent electric fleet by 2023," Wright says.

    Wright shares more on Alto's future in Texas and beyond, as well as what's challenging him most as he grows the team locally. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.