3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

These three innovators are ones to look out for. Courtesy photos

From venture capital funding to nap research, these Houston innovators are leading the way in their industries. This week's innovators to know are a finance expert, LGBT leader and productivity expert, and a Houston expat making big moves in real estate.

Remington Tonar, managing director at The Cannon Houston

Courtesy of Remington Tonar

A banker, a crowdfunding specialist, and a venture capital expert walk into a room. It might be the beginning of a joke, or it might just be how Remington Tonar and a few other panelists contributed to Houston Community College's Small Business Summit.

The panel discussed different avenues for funding startups have. Tonar represented the venture capital firms — a type of funding that's currently. changing.

"There's a new phenomenon in venture where a lot of early stage investors and angel investors are looking at social impact investing," Tonar says. "They want to invest in women- or minority-owned businesses or companies that have a sustainability or social impact component to them. For those investors, the return demands are much more flexible." Read the full story here.

Khaliah Guillory, founder of Nap Bar

Courtesy of Khaliah Guillory

Khaliah Guillory needed a place to nap one day when commuting with her wife into the city from their home in Richmond, Texas. She usually resorted to a quick car nap to get her back to 100 percent, but it was weird to do that with someone else in the car. So, she created it, and Nap Bar was born.

Guillory, who also specializes in diversity and inclusion with her consulting company, KOG & Company, serves on the city's LGBT Advisory Board. She's the third installment of InnovationMap's Innovating Pride feature. Read the full interview here.

Jonathan Wasserstrum, founder and CEO of SquareFoot

Courtesy of SquareFoot

Houston native Jonathan Wasserstrum started a company and took it to New York City. He now has over 10 years of real estate experience and still runs that company — SquareFoot. But even he remembers the days of startup life that consisted of never knowing where your office might be in a year or even in a few months.

Wasserstrum wrote a guest article for InnovationMap about the things to consider before you take the leap and move to a coworking space. Click here to read the guest column.

From opening Nap Bar and consulting corporations on diversity and inclusion to serving the city as an LGBT adviser, Khaliah Guillory is focused on productivity. Courtesy of Khaliah Guillory

From nap research to diversity and inclusion, this entrepreneur is making Houston workers more productive

Featured Innovator

Khaliah Guillory is an avid napper — and she's had to be. A multiple hat wearer and big proponent of side hustles, she's always piled responsibilities high on her plate.

Earlier this year left a corporate leadership position to open Nap Bar in Rice Village, but for years before that, she had her diversity and inclusion side hustle, KOG & Company. She works with companies — big and small — to integrate the best diversity and inclusion initiatives into the workplace.

"The intersection between KOG and Nap Bar and the common denominator is productivity and performance," Guillory says. "From a corporate standpoint — even when you think about diversity and inclusion — it all boils down to we want people who don't look like us or don't come from where we come from to be productive and perform well."

Guillory, who is this week's Pride Month Featured Innovator on InnovationMap, also serves on Mayor Sylvester Turner's LGBT Advisory Board.

InnovationMap: When did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

Khaliah Guillory: I was 8 or 9 years old, and my family drank a lot of soda. Where I grew up in Port Arthur, Texas, you could go and trade in cans for change. I would go outside, line up all the cans, and step on them to crush them. I saw an infomercial about a can crusher. It made my business more efficient. That's when my entrepreneurial journey started.

IM: How did The Nap Bar come about? 

KG: I have always been an avid napper. When I was in Kindergarten, and the teacher would say go grab your red or blue mat, I did it and I was out. I enjoyed naptime. In high school, I played basketball and I napped at the end of school. When I got into college, I played basketball at the University of Central Florida. My days would start at 5 am and wouldn't end until midnight. The only way I was able to graduate on time and maintain my grades for my scholarships was napping. It just continued throughout my professional career, and I started napping in my car.

One day, my wife and I commuted into the city — we live in the Sugar Land/Richmond area. We had about an hour and a half to spare. It was nap time, but it would be awkward with her in the car. She suggested Googling naps in Houston. She says, "We live in Houston, there's got to be a place where you could take a quick nap." There was no such place. She told me I should create it. That was April of last year.

IM: Then what did you do to get the ball rolling?

KG: The next day I surveyed all my friends and asked them if I was the only one out here napping. I quickly realized that I wasn't. Specifically, 52 percent of Americans, according to Amerisleep, admitted to napping at work. I committed to doing more research. I've committed 10,000 plus hours to researching the benefits to napping and the indicators of sleep exhaustion. Fast forward to November of last year, I transitioned away from my C-level position at a Fortune 500 company to really pursue Nap Bar.

IM: How’s business been?

KG: We just celebrated our 30th day of business a couple of weeks ago. We are already generating revenue. We are excited for what's to come. June is shaping up to be a real opportunity for us to be in the black, and July is shaping up to have a lot of events. We found that our biggest challenge is educating the masses on the benefits of taking a chill session in the middle of the day, and also educating on the indicators of what it's like to be sleep deprived.

IM: With KOG & Company, your other company, you’ve worked for years with large companies to help incorporate diversity and inclusion. How does that tie into your nap research?

KG: The intersection between KOG and Nap Bar and the common denominator is productivity and performance. From a corporate standpoint — even when you think about diversity and inclusion — it all boils down to we want people who don't look like us or don't come from where we come from to be productive and perform well. The best place for any corporation that has a philosophy or a vision of values and embraces corporate social responsibility is to acknowledge that people are going to be the heartbeat of their company.

IM: What do organizations — from startups to Fortune 500 companies — need to know about diversity and inclusion?

KG: The biggest thing is that from a culture standpoint, just simply hiring people to check a box isn't going to provide the desired ROI. It really, truly has to be embraced by the culture. If I am a business owner or corporation, and my goal is to have a diversity of talent, then I need to go where those people are. If I create and curate an environment with diversity and inclusivity, then going to recruit and then ask them what type of organization they want to work for and what it would look like — then go out and build that. And if they don't know where to start, they can hire me and I can hold their hand and give some real life experience. I've lived it as a banker, as a supervisor, and as a C-level executive.

IM: What’s surprised you about being on Mayor Sylvester Turner’s LGBT Advisory Board?

KG: I think what surprised me most about is that the city of Houston is really progressing and striving. It just makes sense. We're the most diverse city in the country, and I applaud Mayor Sylvester Turner for assembling the LGBT Advisory Board and for appointing me.

The city of Houston — and all the entities that fall under it from a government landscape — is desiring a journey to get more training and education. How do we educate on how to report a hate crime. How do we make sure that city employees are showing up to work and are 100 percent comfortable in their own skin. The biggest surprise I'd have to say is that the city has done an incredible job with the training. I walked away from the meeting learning things that I didn't even know about the LGBTQ community.

IM: What does Pride Month mean to you?

KG: Pride means to me being comfortable in my skin as I am, who I am. The month is a pleasant reminder to be "me" every day, all day. Pride month means my uniqueness is celebrated, not tolerated which should be the norm everyday; not just a month. Pride means being secure in the community — workplace, networking event, the gym, basically everywhere — and confidently say "my wife."

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Portions of this interview have been edited.

The Nap Bar offers "pay-by-snooze" rest. Photo by Dominique Monday

New Rice Village nap bar refreshes sleep-deprived Houstonians

Stay woke

Khaliah Guillory wants to put you to sleep. To clarify: She wants you to nap. And the power nap is all the rage right now. Busy workers, executives and entrepreneurs in New York, Europe, and Japan are all napping during the day — taking a short snooze that not only helps them be more productive in their daily tasks, but allows them to be healthier.

"Americans lose 1.2 million work days because of sleep deprivation," Guillory tells CultureMap. "That costs the economy $411 billion. And the Centers for Disease Control estimate that driving while you're sleep deprived is the equivalent of driving under the influence."

To counter the trends, Guillory will open Nap Bar in Rice Village. Slated for a late April unveiling, a pay-by-the-snooze napping facility will be at the back of New Living. Guillory has partnered with the company, already known for its commitment to sustainability. Nap Bar's custom-patented napping pods are designed with sound-proof materials and contain organic, nontoxic Bungaloom mattresses and bedding.

A Comfort Concierge will greet visitors and lead them to a private suite surrounded with T.L.C. There are also two shared nap pods with twin mattresses available. Naps are scheduled 20 to 26 minutes for short-term alertness, or longer, if needed. A 20-minute snooze will set you back $25, while 26 minutes run $32. (If you're looking for a full hour, that's available for $69). Sleeping pods have blackout curtains and are soundproof.

Guillory has also made the napping experience into a luxury one so Nap Bar nappers receive complimentary aromatherapy and custom brain wave therapy with every siesta. Other add-ons include, lymphatic massages, hot showers, espressos, and EarthCraft Juicery blends that are crafted from raw, healing ingredients. The all-organic experience all designed to provide gentle healing and peaceful rest.

"Our culture tells us that if you're napping during the day, you're either a kid or you're lazy," says Guillory. "But that's not true. If you take as little as 20 minutes to nap, you'll feel revitalized."

A snooze story
Guillory didn't intend to become a nap guru. Like many things in life, however, necessity became the mother of invention. While working as an executive for a Fortune 500 company, Guillory was traveling heavily, catching brief bits of shut-eye in airport lounges or her car. At one point she found herself in Richmond, with an hour and a half to kill before her next meeting in Houston. Driving straight into town would make her far too early for her appointment. There wasn't time to go home. And checking into a hotel seemed silly.

"That's when my wife said to me, Google nap spaces in Houston," she recalls. She did. There were none. And that's why she created her own. "I wanted a safe haven for people to unplug," Guillory says. "It doesn't have to be full-on sleep. It can be relaxation, meditation, whatever you need."

And far from resting on her own laurels with her business on the cusp of opening, Guillory is pursuing other nap-centric opportunities. She's looking to partner with area businesses to incorporate nap pods into their space for employees, and is planning a Nap Bar Snooze Unit, a mobile tour bus that will "roll through downtown and let people take power naps," she explains.

She generated a great deal of interest when she took her concept on the road to Bush Intercontinental Airport earlier this week, displaying the nap pod and sharing the feedback she'd received from Nap Bar's beta testers. That input is something she takes seriously; when Nap Bar debuts, it'll be with products that her testers recommended — and they had opinions on everything from the bedding to the materials used in the pod.

"I want to turn sustainable rest into sustained productivity," says Guillory. "And I think this is just what Houston needs."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Oils and scents help you relax. Photo by Dominique Monday

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Energy giant makes Houston sole headquarters in massive move

HQ move

Power player NRG Energy is laser focused on Houston. The Bayou City will be the energy giant's new sole headquarters; the company will no longer split between Houston and Princeton, New Jersey.

The move to a single headquarters simplifies business operations, as a large number of the company's employees and customers reside in Texas, the company noted in a press release and report.

The company, having recently acquired Direct Energy, will maintain regional offices in the markets that it serves and "evaluate real estate needs and consolidate as appropriate," the report adds.

Mayor Sylvester Turner welcomed the news in a statement, relaying that he and his team have had "substantive conversations" with NRG president and CEO Mauricio Gutierrez. "I believe the decision is confirmation that Houston is a smart city for business," said Turner.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also chimed in, adding in part:

With this move, NRG joins 50 other Fortune 500 companies headquartered in Texas, including 22 in the Houston area alone. America's leading businesses continue to invest in Texas — and grow jobs in Texas — because of our welcoming business climate, low taxes, reasonable regulations, and our young, growing, and skilled workforce.
I thank NRG Energy for designating Texas — the energy capital of the world — as their corporate headquarters, and I look forward to our continued partnership as we ensure a more prosperous future for all who call the Lone Star State home.

Turner noted that more than a year ago, the City of Houston committed to purchasing 100 percent renewable energy through a renewed partnership with NRG Energy as the City's retail electric provider. "The plan is helping us build a more sustainable future, save over $9 million on our electric bill, and reduce emissions," he said.

NRG Energy boasts some 3,000 employees in Houston alone. In its report, the company reported a net loss of $83 million due the impact of Winter Storm Uri.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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 — tech, health care, and more — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.


Emily Cisek, founder of The Postage

The Postage — a Houston-based company that's streamlining afterlife planning — has rolled out a new app. Photo courtesy of The Postage

Emily Cisek had a mission when she founded The Postage. She wanted to make afterlife planning simpler — and she's taken one giant step toward that goal with the company's new app.

"What we wanted to do [with the app] is make it so easy to plan your life and the end of your life using one click — as easy as it was for posting and commenting on social media," explains Cisek. "People are so used to reflecting on those behaviors and clicking one button to add a picture ... we wanted to make it that simple."

Though The Postage's website had mobile functionality, the app includes the ability to record and upload content. Whether snapping a picture of their insurance policy or recording a video to share with loved ones, The Postage app allows users to capture photos and videos directly within the app. Click here to read more.

Kevin Coker, CEO of Proxima Clinical Research

Kevin Coker, CEO of Proxima Clinical Research, say his company transform from uncertainty to almost uncontrollable growth in just 12 months. He shares what happened on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of Proxima

After a huge dip in business due to the pandemic, a Houston company focused on supporting innovative life science companies saw 12 months of unprecedented growth. Kevin Coker, CEO of Proxima Clinical Research, says that's not only a good sign for the future of his business — but also of the future of Houston's life science sector.

"We're a good barometer for what's happening not only locally but across the country," Coker says. "As Proxima has grown, it's really show how the Houston life science market is growing."

Coker shares more about Proxima's growth and Houston's potential of being a major life science hub on the episode. Click here to read more and stream the episode.

Sylvia Kampshoff, founder of Kanthaka

Sylvia Kampshoff has launched Kanthaka's first crowdfunding campaign. Photo courtesy of Kanthaka

Sylvia Kampshoff has lofty goals for her company Kanthaka, a platform for connecting users to personal trainers across over a dozen cities. With the launch of a new $1 million crowdfunding raise, Kampshoff is one step closer to growing her business according to these goals.

"Our vision is to become Amazon for health & fitness and the go-to provider to live a longer, happier and healthier life," Kampshoff says. "We couldn't be more excited about this journey." Click here to read more.

Houston SaaS startup closes $12M series A funding round with support from local VC

money moves

A Houston startup with a software-as-a-service platform for the energy transition has announced it closed a funding round with participation from a local venture capital.

Molecule closed its $12 million series A, and Houston-based Mercury Fund was among the company's investors. The company has a cloud-based energy trading and risk management solution for the energy industry and supports power, natural gas, crude/refined products, chemicals, agricultural commodities, softs, metals, cryptocurrencies, and more.

"We led the seed round of Molecule upon their formation and are excited to participate in their series A," says Blair Garrou, co-founder and managing director of Mercury, in a news release. "Molecule's success in the ETRM/CTRM industry, especially in relation to electricity and renewables, positions them as the company to beat for the energy transition in the 2020s."

The company will use its new funds to further build out its product as well as introduce offerings to manage renewables credits, according to the release.

"In 2020, we realized that electricity — the growth commodity of the 2020s — represented over half of Molecule's customer base, and we decided to double down," says Sameer Soleja, founder and CEO of Molecule, in the release. "We were also rated the No. 1 SaaS ETRM/CTRM vendor. With this fundraise, we have the fuel to become No. 1 SaaS platform for power and renewables, and then the market leader overall.

"Molecule is ready to power the energy transition," Soleja continues.

Molecule's last round of funding closed in November 2014. The $1.1 million seed round was supported by Mercury Fund and the Houston Angel Network.