In the latest round up of Houston innovation news you may have missed, student startups selected for a summer program, Texas might be among the best states for nurses, and more. Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

It's been a busy season for the Houston innovation ecosystem, and for this reason, local startup and tech news may have fallen through some of the cracks.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, a software startup is focusing on diversity and inclusion, an angel network has a new partner organization, a Houston innovator is playing a major role in ESG, and more.

GoCo hosts its first-ever DEI Hackathon

GoCo is hosting its first hackathon. Photo via Getty Images

GoCo.io, a Houston-based human resources software-as-a-service company, is hosting its first hackathon for diversity, equity, and inclusion begining today, May 6, and continuing through tomorrow, May 7.

GoCo's entire staff is going to work for over 36 hours to build solutions aimed at promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion for small businesses.

"Building technology to help HR make a difference in the workplace is what we're all about at GoCo," says Allie Collins, head of GoCo's DEI Task Force, in a news release. "HR professionals are being called upon to make profound and meaningful changes to combat racism and inequities. We're hosting this event because our whole team is passionate about creating apps and resources to facilitate that change."

The competitors will be on teams and will present their projects on Monday, May 10, for a panel of judges.

Rice Alliance backs diversity-focused angel investment network

Maria Maso, CEO of baMa, has announced Rice Alliance as a partner organization. Photo courtesy of Nijalon Dunn

The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship has become a baMa champion of diversity for angel network baMa, or the Business Angel Minority Association.

"Rice Alliance aims to foster an innovative and entrepreneurial culture that not only values differences, but also elevates them as sources of strength and innovation," says Rice Alliance's managing director, Brad Burke, in a news release.

According to the release, baMa will help to introduce Rice to more diverse businesses. The angel network has already tapped into Rice's ecosystem with the $50,000 investment prize baMa awarded during the Rice Business Plan Competition in March.

"Diversity and education go hand by hand so counting with the support of Rice Alliance is a huge step in order to accomplish baMa's goal: close the investment gap in minority-led startups," says baMa CEO, Maria Maso.

Topl named to ESG council

Kim Raath will serve on CNBC's ESG Council. Photo courtesy of Topl

Kim Raath, CEO of Houston-based blockchain company, Topl, has announced that she has been invited to join the CNBC's ESG Council. She was selected among execs from large corporations like companies such as The HEINEKEN Company, Nestlé, IHG Hotels & Resorts, Nissan Motor Corporation, Bain & Company, Credit Suisse, and more.

"As a young startup, this is one of our most exciting milestones. Sitting at the table with industry leaders is great momentum for both Topl's success and our larger ESG mission," Raath writes in Topl's newsletter. "Traceable transparency in supply chains is a game changer for global commerce, and now Topl can learn from and collaborate with multinational corporations. This opportunity will help position our purpose-built blockchain as a solution to solve some of the biggest and most critical problems our world faces, and as we strive to build a more sustainable future for all."

The council is a roundtable of 30 business leaders across industries focused on the challenges posed by sustainability — and the strategies needed to overcome them, according to Raath.

Is Texas a good state for nurses?

A new report ranks states based on their opportunities and friendly environment for nurses. Photo via Getty Images

The Lone Star State's nursing industry was put to the test for a new report from WalletHub, a personal financial website. The study compared all 50 states based on opportunity and competition and work environment. Texas ranked No. 12 overall.

Ranked solely on opportunity and competition — which included evaluating salary, schools, nurses per 1,000 residents, and more — Texas came in at No. 11.

The top states on the list were Arizona, Washington, and Nevada, respectively.

Rice University announces OwlSpark's ninth cohort

Meet the 10 student startups that are joining the OwlSpark family this summer. Photo courtesy of OwlSpark

Rice University's student startup accelerator has named 10 startup teams to its ninth cohort, which kicks off later this month. OwlSpark's 2021 cohort includes teams from across industries — hospitality, sports, oil and gas, consumer, staffing, automotive and more. According to a release from Rice, these are the companies selected:

  • Capybara - a networked platform that facilitates the company-to-company transfer of IT employees with similar skill sets (for example, software developers)
  • ChckMate – a data-driven platform designed to improve customer dining experiences, drive loyalty and increase revenue
  • GatherX Analytics – an AI software platform that predicts location and quantity of hydrocarbon liquid dropout for use by the upstream oil and gas industry
  • HARK – an easy-to-use app designed to significantly enhance the way in which neurodivergent or cognitively impaired individuals communicate real-time with caregivers and loved ones
  • Home Maintainer - a comprehensive solution for homeowners to manage and simplify home maintenance and efficiency
  • OneLab - a robust cloud-based repository designed for effective organization and easy access to a body of data on a specific area of research
  • Oversox– waterproof, durable, sock-like coverings designed to easily slip over the outside of a shoe for use by the serious hiker
  • rutd – an enterprise software and mobile application that provides immediate, actionable, suicide prevention resources to military veterans and family members
  • Tailer – a training platform and sales tool for electric vehicle dealerships and sales personnel
  • Yellow Saffron Labs – a risk analysis platform that gathers datasets from peer-reviewed scientific publications for use by organizations to observe industry trends or upcoming scientific disruptions or discoveries

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Greentown Labs appoints Houston founder among 4 new board members

All a-board

Greentown Labs, a Massachusetts-based climatetech startup incubator with its secondary location in Houston, has appointed four new board members.

Of the new appointees, two community board members have been named in order to act as liaisons between startups and Greentown Labs. Greentown Houston's appointed representation is Nisha Desai, founder and CEO of Intention, and community member. The other new board members are Gilda A. Barabino, president of Olin College of Engineering and professor of biomedical and chemical engineering; Nidhi Thakar, senior director of resource and regulatory strategy and external engagement for Portland General Electric; and Leah Ellis, co-founder and CEO of Sublime Systems, who is the Sommerville location's community board member).

"It is important for a startup incubator to have leadership and insight from stakeholders including the public and private sector, academic and university communities," says Greentown Labs CEO Dr. Emily Reichert in a news release. "These leaders bring a wealth of knowledge relevant to not only climatetech but to our continued growth as an organization. Their voices will be important to have at the table as Greentown charts its course for the next decade of climate action."

Desai's current startup, Intention, is climate impact platform for retail investors, and she has previously worked at six energy-related startups including Ridge Energy Storage, Tessera Solar, and ActualSun, where she was co-founder and CEO. She's also worked in a leadership role at NRG Energy and spent several years as a management consultant with the energy practice of Booz Allen Hamilton — now Strategy&, a PWC company.

"I'm honored to join the board of Greentown Labs as a representative of the startup community," she says in the release. "This is a pivotal time for climate and energy transition. I look forward to working with the rest of the board to expand the collective impact of the Greentown Labs ecosystem."

The four new appointees join seven existing board members:

  • Alicia Barton, CEO of FirstLight Power (Board Chair)
  • Katherine Hamilton, Chair of 38 North Solutions
  • Dawn James, Director of US Sustainability Strategy and Environmental Science at Microsoft
  • Matthew Nordan, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Prime Impact Fund and General Partner at Azolla Ventures
  • Kathleen Theoharides, Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Commonwealth of Massachusetts
  • Mitch Tyson, Principal at Tyson Associates and Co-Founder of the Northeast Clean Energy Council
  • Dr. Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs

Houston fund makes first local investment in $8M deal

money moves

A Houston-based investment fund has announced its its latest deal that includes an investment into a local direct-to-consumer supplement company.

GP Capital Partners has invested in Qualitas Health, known as iwi, which produces plant-based omega-3 and protein products that's sold directly to consumers as well as retailers across the United States. Iwi's nutrition supplement is sustainably sourced from the company's cultivation pond systems, which are the size of football fields and located in New Mexico and Texas.

“We are excited about our investment in iwi. They have a proprietary and scalable process to create in-demand products in a sustainable manner," says Gina Luna, principal of the fund, in the news release. "We look forward to working with iwi’s management team as they pursue this transformative opportunity.”

The $8 million deal — $5.5 million in senior secured term debt and a $2.5 million direct equity investment — will help iwi accelerate sales of its existing products and ramp up development, marketing, and growth of new protein-based product, according to the release. Iwi will also enter new international markets.

“The iwi team looks forward to working with GP Capital Partners following their investment in our growing company. We have big plans for accelerating our growth, and are pleased to partner with this team that brings both expertise and relationships to support us in this new stage of the company," says Miguel Calatayud, CEO of iwi, in the release.

Outside of GP, the Houston company's other investors include Grupo Indukern, Gullspång Re:food VC, PeakBridge VC, , Arancia Group, Trucent, SASA, and Minrav. GP launched its $275 million fund last year. It's structured as a Small Business Investment Company and will deploy funding into 20 to 25 companies within the Gulf Coast region.

The supplement company is based in Houston. Photo via Instagram

How company behavior guides activists’ choices, according to this Houston researcher

houston voices

It’s been more than 100 years since Pavlov’s dog showed the world that behavior is often guided by forces we don’t comprehend.

The same is true of the interaction between companies and protestors, according to Rice Business professor Alessandro Piazza and Fabrizio Perretti of Bocconi University in Milan. In a recent study, the scholars show that when protestors fight to change a company’s policy, their future choices of where and how much to protest are shaped by the company’s response.

Moreover, the outcome may not be what either group has planned for. Companies that meet protestor demand often inadvertently spur the protestors to demonstrate further; conversely, companies that refuse to give in tend to propel protestors to redirect their energies toward related but different issues.

The researchers based their conclusions on a deep dive into the anti-nuclear movement of the 1970s and 1980s, and a close analysis of protests and company responses in specific locations.

During the time period studied, the researchers found, public sentiment toward nuclear energy changed from mild support to open hostility in the form of an organized protest movement. To quantify this movement’s impact on nuclear power plant construction, the researchers studied the aftermath of protestors’ local victories.

In Massachusetts, for example, the first nuclear power protest in 1974 persuaded Northeast Utilities to postpone, and then permanently cancel, its plant. This reaction, Piazza and Perretti found, catalyzed local protestors. In the years that followed, the region became one of the United States’ strongest bastions of anti-nuclear activism.

In order to quantify how company actions affected protests, the researchers first measured the number of U.S. protest events by geographic location from 1970 to 1995. They then compared this number to the number of nuclear facilities either completed or cancelled over a one-year time period within 100 miles of a given demonstration. They included controls to account for local economic and political differences upon local activism, and for any geographic bias of the newspaper sources used to identify protest events.

The patterns they found were intriguing. Proposing a new plant for construction boosted anti-nuclear protests by 18 percent in a 100-mile radius. Cancelling construction of a plant drove a 27 percent increase in anti-nuclear protests. And when a new nuclear plant was completed and connected to the grid, the researchers witnessed a 2.3 percent increase in the number of protests not directly aimed at nuclear power plants.

The reason for the increase in other protests when a company prevailed and built a power plant? The researchers hypothesize that each time a plant was completed, demoralized activists attached themselves to other movements.

These results raised a related question. Did company decisions on one type of controversy, such as a nuclear power plant, lead to greater support for related protest movements or for unrelated ones? The former, it turns out.

To measure this, the researchers again looked at protests within given regions and categorized them into anti-nuclear weapon protests, environmental protests, public policy protests, anti-war protests and protests against the proximity of a given plant to a specific property, that is, “not in my backyard” protests.

Nuclear power opponents, they found, were most likely to turn to adjacent issues such as protests against nuclear weapons. Protest activities, in other words, have a domino effect.

While most research tracks the effects of activism on companies, Piazza and Perretti’s study shows that the way companies act is also a critical event driver. Company choices can actually drive the evolution of activism, triggering activist mobilization in other causes.

The research represents a challenge to traditional explanations of activism, which usually assume that mobilization and protests are most effective early on then dwindle over time, regardless of the behavior of the organization.

Piazza and Perretti’s findings suggest a valuable lesson for companies, especially those operating in more than one location: Their decisions in one place may actually escalate activism elsewhere. Pacific Gas & Electric successfully acted on this insight in the 1980s. Working with the Sierra Club, the company swapped the cancellation of one site at Bodega Bay, California — the target of frequent protests — for support of a plant at a second site elsewhere in the state at Diablo Canyon.

The findings also offer important insight for activists choosing a company on which to focus. These activists should keep in mind that the companies most likely to capitulate are also the ones most likely to feed a movement going forward — providing, in effect, the possibility of a double win.

Meanwhile, even if they fail in one effort, activists can take heart that their energy isn’t necessarily wasted. Only a little further afield, a similar movement may gain momentum from demoralized protestors looking for a new cause.

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This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom and is based on research from Alessandro Piazza, an assistant professor of strategic management at Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University.