Houston-based Kare Technologies has raised fresh funds to spur its national expansion. Image courtesy of Kare

A Houston-based health tech company has scored fresh funds from a Houston venture group to fuel its growth and to expand nationally.

KARE Technologies, a digital labor marketplace for health care workers, raised a $7.85 million series A investment round led by Houston-based Golden Section Ventures.

"The KARE team are well known in senior care and the caring industry at large," says Dougal Cameron, general partner at GSV, in a news release. "They are experts in their field and know this problem well. Their care for the industry and knowledge in the space clearly shows in the company's rapid adoption. They are providing a needed solution to an extremely important industry for our society."

The digital platform offers senior facilities and qualified caregivers a platform to post and accept work for hire. The company's founder Charles Turner had the idea for the technology after seeing hospitals struggle to get care workers during the 2017 hurricanes. Again, with the rise of COVID-19, that need for health care staff became even more apparent.

"The biggest issue we're facing — and this is even a non-COVID world — is staffing," Turner previously told InnovationMap. According to the release, 82 percent of caring communities that face chronic staffing challenges.

The growing company will use the funds to support its growth and national expansion.

"It feels good when you build something that the marketplace loves and helps alleviate a major crisis that so many of our operator customers are dealing with," says Turner, who serves as KARE's CEO, in the release. "We are eternally grateful that GSV has understood our vision from our very first day and has been such a committed partner to help fuel our growth."

Golden Section Ventures supports early-stage software startups with B2B applications. The VC fund recently launched its venture studio concept.

"We partner with founders who have built creative solutions that solve real customer pain points. Charles Turner, Bridget Kaselak and their team are great examples of this," says Adam Day, general partner at GSV, says in the release. "They lived the customer problem then pioneered a set of solutions that help their clients address the chronic and widespread issue of labor shortages in the caring industry."

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Jim Havelka of InformAI, Christa Westheimer of New Stack Ventures, and Charles Turner of Kare Technologies. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In the week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three innovators recently making headlines — from health tech founders to a venture capital rising star.

Jim Havelka, founder and CEO of InformAI

Jim Havelka, founder and CEO of InformAI, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the difference his technology can make on the health care industry. Photo courtesy of InformAI

InformAI is providing solutions for data optimizations in health care — something that'll allow for better diagnoses and treatment. Jim Havelka shares on the Houston Innovators Podcast last week that his company's success is due to being headquartered in Houston and tied to the Texas Medical Center. The company's team works out of JLABS @ TMC as well as TMC Innovation Institute.

"Those relationships have been very helpful in getting data to build these particular products," Havelka says. "Just the Texas Medical Center alone has roughly 10 million patient encounters every year. The ability to get access to data and, equally important, the medical experts has been a tremendous benefit to InformAI." Click here to read more and stream the podcast.

Christa Westheimer, venture fellow at New Stack Ventures

Need an in with a venture capital firm? This Houstonian has an idea. Photo courtesy

As a venture fellow, Christa Westheimer — who's a student at Rice University — works hard to find startups working on the next great thing. And she realizes there are so many Houston startups seeking funding, so she has some advice: get in touch.

"During my tenure as a venture fellow, I have been sifting through online resources — from Crunchbase and AngelList to LinkedIn — with the hopes of finding a really neat startup that would earn an investment from New Stack Ventures," she writes in a guest column for InnovationMap. Click here to read more.

Charles Turner, founder of Kare Technologies

Charles Turner founded Kare Technologies on the heels of a crisis — and the pandemic has accelerated the company's growth. Photo courtesy of Kare

Charles Turner saw an inefficiency in senior health care staffing — even before the industry was rocked by a pandemic. He founded Kare Technologies to use software to address this problem. In light of COVID-19, the need for better staffing solutions grew across industries and Kare expanded its features to reach hotel and restaurant workers.

"We'd always plan on doing this, and with the advent of COVID we accelerate our development on the hospitality side," Turner says. Click here to read more.

Houston-based Kare Technologies optimizes staffing for caregivers, and COVID-19 has allowed them to grow faster than they expected. Image courtesy of Kare

Houston-based senior care startup accelerates gameplan amid pandemic

startup that kares

Houston-based acute care startup Kare Technologies has yet to waste a good crisis.

The company, which offers senior facilities and qualified caregivers a platform to post and accept work for hire, was born out of founder Charles Turner's experience in Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma in 2017.

Turner first entered the senior care industry as a facilities developer and watched in 2017 as staff in Houston and Florida struggled through the storms.

"In both of those situations, my buildings were fine but my employees were [flooded in] and they couldn't get to work. We had to rely on the staff — especially in Harvey — that was in the building when the hurricane hit. We had to rely on them for four days straight and they didn't sleep for four days," Turner says. " We were by ourselves."

In 2019, Turner launched Kare as a way for facilities to work through everyday staffing challenges and natural disasters alike. The platform matches senior-care facilities with vetted and credentialed staff who are eager to pick up extra shifts in the industry with growing demand.

"The biggest issue we're facing — and this is even a non-COVID world — is staffing," Turner says about his industry.

Charles Turner founded Kare Technologies on the heels of a crisis — and the pandemic has accelerated the company's growth. Photo courtesy of Kare

According to Turner, many frontline workers (which include certified nursing assistants, certified medication aides, licensed vocational nurses, licensed professional nurses, and the likes) are required to take on a second job to make ends meet. However, those jobs are often not in the senior-care field.

"They are very missional, they do love caring for seniors," he says of senior caregivers. "And so there's tension. 'I can stay in working senior care, or I can make $5 more an hour working at Amazon or something like that.' But they don't love that."

Too, the platform allows facilities to pay a fee for using the marketplace, instead of paying an expensive staffing agency that takes a cut from every placement or hire.

Amid the pandemic, the company expanded its features to reach hotel and restaurant workers.

"We'd always plan on doing this, and with the advent of COVID we accelerate our development on the hospitality side," Turner says.

Thanks to Houston-based Golden Section Financial's $1 million in-kind software services grant program, Kare was able to onboard a new team of senior developers to add the features and functionality that would allow recently laid off or furloughed hospitality workers to put their skills to use. Just as caregivers could use the platform to find jobs that fit their skill sets, these workers could find work they were qualified for as cooks, receptionists, waiters, and housekeepers at senior facilities.

The grant also allowed the company to add important features to the platform to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in hard-hit senior care facilities. These features would limit the number of buildings workers could bounce around from and encouraged workers to stay within a smaller network.

Currently the Kare is being used by several thousand workers and hundreds of senior care facilities, Turner says. He anticipates that the platform will be available in all major U.S. cities by the end of the year, and will be exploring international opportunities by 2022.

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Houston logistics software startup secures $8.4M series A from international investors

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A Houston-based software company that's reducing cost and risk in the marine supply chain has closed its latest round of funding.

Voyager Portal, a software-as-a-service platform closed an $8.4 million series A investment round this week. The round was led by Phaze Ventures, a VC fund based in the Middle East, and included new investors — ScOp Venture Capital, Waybury Capital and Flexport. Additionally, all of Voyager's existing investors contributed to this round.

Voyager has reported significant growth over the past two years since its $1.5 million seed round. Between Q3 2020 to Q3 2021, the company's revenue has increased 13 times and was up 40 percent from Q2 2021. Voyager now manages over $1 billion in freight on the platform, according to a news release.

“Voyager Portal was created to significantly reduce cost, risk, and complexity when transporting bulk materials around the world,” says Matthew Costello, CEO and co-founder of Voyager, in the release. “The last two years have demonstrated just how critical shipping bulk commodities is to global markets – freight rates have increased and port congestion is at an all-time high – accelerating the demand for Voyager’s solution.”

Costello says the fresh funds will be used to support Voyager's continued growth.

“With our Series A funding, we’ll be able to expedite our product roadmap to support an international client base whilst expanding our engineering, development, marketing and sales teams internationally," he adds.

Matthew Costello Voyager Matthew Costello is the CEO and co-founder of Voyager.

Built from the ground up, Voyager's software was created to replace the antiquated and complex legacy systems the market has seen for decades. The platform allows companies to seamlessly collaborate in real time over a single shipment.

“Voyager's implementation has been hugely impressive,” says Adam Panni, operations manager at OMV, a multinational energy company based in Austria, in the release. “The low-code functionality allows almost real-time modifications to the developing workflows and reporting capabilities with no lengthy development and minimal testing prior to implementation. By digitizing data capture across all our physical movements, we are able to analyze our business much better, enabling faster and smarter decisions driven by data. This, in turn, will provide significant, quantifiable cost reductions for our business.”

Abdullah Al-Shaksy, co-founder and CEO of Phaze Ventures says the platform is evolving the industry as a whole at an important moment.

“Voyager is changing the way companies are thinking of their global shipping operations,” he says. “Global supply chains are becoming increasingly complex and strained, and there is an incredible treasure trove of data that organizations are underutilizing in their decision-making process. We believe what Voyager has created for their customers across the globe will revolutionize this space forever.”

H-E-B leader gifts $5 million to historic Houston-area university for future students

HEB and PVAMU

The leader of the Lone Star State’s beloved H-E-B has bestowed a monumental gift upon a historic Houston-area university.

On November 17, Prairie View A&M University announced that H-E-B chairman Charles Butt — one of America’s favorite CEOs and member of one of Texas’ richest families — has donated $5 million to create Founders Scholarships for incoming PVAMU students.

“The $5 million gift will provide a permanent endowment to support students today and in the coming years,” a release notes. “Initially generating approximately $200,000 a year for scholarships, the fund will grow significantly in coming years, making even more available to support students.”

The scholarships will be available to students from public high schools in Texas graduating in the top quartile of their class, the release says. They must be incoming first-year students, enrolled in a full-time course load, and as scholarship recipients, they will benefit from “enrichment opportunities unique to their [Founders Scholarships] cohort.”

Scholarship disbursements will begin in fall 2022, a spokesperson confirms; the number of initial scholarships available has not been revealed.

“Charles Butt has been amazingly generous to our university. He has shown time and time again that he genuinely cares about the opportunities afforded to students at PV. We are indebted to him for his grace and his humanity,” says Ruth Simmons, president of PVAMU, in the release.

Prairie View A&M University is the second-oldest public institution of higher learning in the state and is one of Texas’ historically Black universities. It is located approximately 50 miles northwest of Houston and has a current enrollment of more than 8,000 undergraduate and graduate students.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Rice research: Revisiting the merits of nondigital data collecting

houston voices

Academics are learning quickly that investigations based on data from online research agencies have their drawbacks. Thousands of such studies are released every year – and if the data is compromised, so too are the studies themselves.

So it’s natural for researchers, and the managers who rely on their findings, to be concerned about potential problems with the samples they’re studying. Among them: participants who aren’t in the lab and researchers who can’t see who is taking their survey, what they are doing while answering questions or even if they are who they claim to be online. In the wake of a 2018 media piece about Amazon’s Mechanical Turks Service, “Bots on Amazon’s MTurk Are Ruining Psychology Studies,” one psychology professor even mused, “I wonder if this is the end of MTurk research?” (It wasn’t).

To tackle this problem, Rice Business professor Mikki Hebl joined colleagues Carlos Moreno and Christy Nittrouer of Rice University along with several other colleagues to highlight the value of other research methods. Four alternatives – field experiments, archival data, observations and big data – represent smart alternatives to overreliance on online surveys. These methods also have the advantage of challenging academics to venture outside of their laboratories and examine real people and real data in the real world.

Field experiments have been around for decades. But their value is hard to overestimate. Unlike online studies, field experiments enhance the role of context, especially in settings that are largely uncontrolled. It’s hard to fake a field experiment in order to create positive results since each one costs a considerable time and money.

And field experiments can yield real-life results with remarkable implications for society at large. Consider one experiment among 56 middle schools in New Jersey, which found that spreading anti-conflict norms was hugely successful in reducing the need for disciplinary action. Such studies have an impact well beyond what could be achieved with a simple online survey.

The best way to get started with a good field experiment, Hebl and her colleagues wrote, is for researchers to think about natural field settings to which they have access, either personally or by leveraging their networks. Then, researchers should think about starting with the variables critical for any given setting and which they would most like to manipulate to observe the outcome. When choosing variables, it’s helpful to start by thinking about what variable might have conditions leading to the greatest degree of behavior change if introduced into the setting.

Archival data is another excellent way to work around the limitations of online surveys, the researchers argue. These data get around some of the critical drawbacks of field research, including problems around how findings apply in a more general way. Archival data, especially in the form of state or national level data sets, provide information and insight into a large, diverse set of samples that are more representative of the general population than online studies.

Archival data can also help answer questions that are either longitudinal or multilevel in nature, which can be particularly tricky or even impossible to capture with data collected by any single research team. As people spend increasing amounts of time on social media, the internet also serves as a source of newer forms of archival data that can lend unique insights into individuals’ thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors over time.

With every passing year, technology becomes increasingly robust and adept at collecting massive amounts of data on an endless variety of human behavior. For the scientists who research social and personality psychology, the term “big data” refers not only to very large sets of data but also to the tools and techniques that are used to analyze it. The three defining properties of Big Data in this context include the speed of data processing and collection, the vast amount of data being analyzed and the sheer variety of data available.

By using big data, social scientists can generate research based on various conditions, as well as collect data in natural settings. Big data also offers the opportunity to consolidate information from huge and highly diverse stores of data. This technology has many applications, including psychological assessments and improving security in airports and other transportation hubs. In future research, Hebl and her team noted, researchers will likely leverage big data and its applications to detect our unconscious emotions.

Big data, archival information and field studies can all be used in conjunction with each other to maximize the fidelity of research. But researchers shouldn’t forget even more old-fashioned techniques, including the oldest: keen observation. With observation, there are often very few, if any, manipulations and the goal is simply to systematically record the way people behave.

Researchers – and the managers who make decisions based on their findings – should consider the advantages of old-style, often underused methodologies, Hebl and her colleagues argue. Moving beyond the college laboratory and digital data survey-collection platforms and into the real world offers some unparalleled advantages to science. For the managers whose stock prices may hinge on this science, it’s worth knowing – and understanding – how your all-important data was gathered.

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This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom and is based on research from Mikki Hebl, the Martha and Henry Malcolm Lovett Professor of psychology at Rice University, and Carlos Moreno and Christy Nittrouer, who are graduate students at Rice University. Additional researchers include Ho Kwan Cheung, Eden B. King, and Hannah Markellis of George Mason University.