Trivie has closed a $5 million investment round led by Houston-based Cottonwood Venture Partners. Photo via Trivie.com

A Texas-based tech startup that has created an artificial intelligence-enabled tool that gamifies corporate training and education has closed its most recent funding round thanks to a Houston investor.

Trivie as announced its $5 million series A investment round led by Houston-based Cottonwood Venture Partners, an investment firm that has a portfolio of technology companies that are providing digital solutions within the energy industry. Trivie will use the new funds to scale its product and expand across industries, from energy and manufacturing to hospitality, healthcare, consumer goods, and more.

"The Trivie team's success to date has been remarkable and we are humbled to partner with them to expand Trivie's reach as organizations increasingly look to maximize knowledge retention, particularly as it relates to health and safety," says Jeremy Arendt, managing partner of CVP, in a news release.

Now, as more employees are working from home than ever before, relevant training is crucial and at the top of mind for business leaders. Trivie's clients include Subway, Phillips66, Anheuser-Busch, to name a few.

"At Trivie, our mission is to ensure that every employee at every organization can be at their very best because what they have been taught, they remember, and what they have said is understood," says Lawrence Schwartz, CEO, and co-founder at Trivie, in a news release. "We are extremely excited to partner with Cottonwood Venture Partners to help us expand our footprint in the Fortune 1000 and to continue to execute on that mission."

One of Trivie's founders, Leland Putterman, who is based in Houston, first had the idea for a consumer-facing trivia game 18 years ago. When the app rolled out in 2013, it garnered more than three million downloads. As COVID-19 has brought new compliance guidelines to the forefront of every industry, Trivie was quick to make the CDC's coronavirus guidelines available to all of its clients for no additional charge to be used across their entire employment bases.

Additionally, Trivie prioritizing its user's ability to connect in a time of social distancing and working from home.

"The only way to maintain that company culture and close communication with confidence is to use something like Trivie," Putterman previously tells InnovationMap. "There's no feedback loop right now. The only way to bridge that gap is to have something like Trivie that's the glue."

This week's Houston innovators to know includes Aleece Hobson of HX Venture Fund, Leland Putterman of Trivie, and Eleonore Cluzel of gBETA Houston. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of who's who in Houston innovation include the HX Venture Fund's newest team member, a startup founder whose app is gamifying corporate training, and a Houston accelerator leader who's pivoted to digital.

Aleece Hobson, venture partner at the HX Venture Fund

Aleece Hobson joined the HX Venture Fund as venture partner. Photo courtesy of HXVF

The HX Venture Fund has expanded its portfolio of venture capital finds its invested in, and with that came a new team member for the fund of funds. Managing director Sandy Guitar — who runs the fund with Guillermo Borda — brought on Houston native Aleece Hobson as venture partner.

"Aleece joining is a phenomenal step for us — a dedicated resource and venture partner on activation," says Guitar on the hire. "I think it speaks to the seriousness of purpose we have to make this not just an investment platform, but one that moves the needle on Houston." Read more.

Leland Putterman, co-founder of Trivie Inc.

Trivie, which gamifies corporate training, has launched a new way for employees to connect with remote learning amid the pandemic. Photo via Trivie.com

Texas-based corporate training tool Trivie already had many clients with needs for safety training, COVID-19 has brought new compliance guidelines to the forefront of every industry. Currently, Trivie has made the CDC's coronavirus guidelines available to all of its clients for no additional charge to be used across their entire employment bases.

Additionally, with most of America's workforce working from home, Putterman expressed that it's common for employees to feel disconnected.

"The only way to maintain that company culture and close communication with confidence is to use something like Trivie," he says. "There's no feedback loop right now. The only way to bridge that gap is to have something like Trivie that's the glue." Read more.

Eléonore Cluzel, director of gBETA Houston

Eléonore Cluzel, director of gBETA Houston, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share how the cohort has been going — and to introduce each member of the inaugural cohort. Photo courtesy of gBETA

Things aren't going according to plan for Eléonor Cluzel, who is running the inaugural gBETA Houston cohort virtually. While it isn't ideal, Cluzel shares on the Houston Innovator's Podcast how she's adapted the program for digital — as well as introduces the five Houston companies in the program.

"Going virtual was a really good pivot on our end. I think that the cohort has adjusted very well," Cluzel says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It is tough. They put tremendous effort into it and I'm proud to be working with them." Read more.

Trivie, which gamifies corporate training, has launched a new way for employees to connect with remote learning amid the pandemic. Photo via Trivie.com

Houston founder's corporate training app shifts to enhance remote learning for employees

there's an app for that

How much of corporate training do employees actually remember? Texas-based Trivie, a training reinforcement app, sought to not only answer that question, but change the results entirely. Using adaptive learning and gamification, the Trivie app is reshaping online learning while the world adapts to remote working in a global pandemic.

According to Gallup Panel data, 62 percent of Americans currently say they have worked from home during the coronavirus pandemic. In a connected yet socially distanced environment, corporations are choosing to automate remote learning and disseminate critical COVID-19 guidelines with the help of Trivie.

One of Trivie's founders, Leland Putterman, who is based in Houston, first had the idea for a consumer-facing trivia game 18 years ago. When the app rolled out in 2013, it garnered more than three million downloads. Like anything in technology, App Store games were diversifying. Competing applications were deviating into in-app purchases — a move Putterman's app hadn't planned.

Rather than sink under the pressures of an unfit revenue model, the founders pivoted to a more fruitful investment in an untapped space: corporate training. After receiving multiple emails from users asking if developers had ever thought of using the app for company training, Putterman jumped into research on information retention and learned that trivia vastly benefits human memory.

With a new business plan and research backed by neuroscientists, the Trivie app launched in 2016. Reaching a broad list of organizations with five to over 40,000 users, Trivie has generated the praise and trust of business goliaths such as Subway, Unilever, and Anheuser-Busch. The app has been used to roll out onboarding, marketing training, safety protocols, sales information, remote learning and more.

"The vast majority of companies and organizations do nothing after a training event," he says, adding that, according to Trivie's own research, the app has found 50 to 75 percent of people had forgotten workplace education within a month. "It makes training one of the least effective business processes out there because everybody knows people don't remember their training unless it gets reinforced."

What if the secret to remembering is forgetting? Studies have shown that re-learning information over time strengthens memory recall.

"The way our solution works is very unique in that we want you to forget so you can re-remember again. The process of re-remembering is what pushes things into durable memory," explains Putterman.

When a company sets up a training on the Trivie app, the program serves each employee personalized training refreshers over time that are balanced with the retention levels of each unique learner. Using adaptive learning, the app prompts employees to remember previous facts until they master the subject.

"The AI [artificial intelligence] on the backend predicts when you're going to forget again, and it automates the whole thing," Putterman says.

In a Trivie control group, half of the test subjects used Trivie and half received basic employee training. Putterman stated the Trivie users typically have 95 percent retention after a month while non-Trivie users show less than 60 percent retention.

Employers can see the results of each Trivie assessment, pinpointed down to individual questions — a feature that is especially crucial for compliance and safety protocol. One of Trivie's university clients published a training on Title IX, where students passed yet 65 percent missed the question: "Whose responsibility is it to gain consent during a sexual encounter?"

When the university received the results, "they were able to see down to that level of detail—and that knowledge gap is pretty darn important," explains Putterman.

"Training is important but nowadays it's mission-critical," he says.

While Trivie already had many clients with needs for safety training, COVID-19 has brought new compliance guidelines to the forefront of every industry. Currently, Trivie has made the CDC's coronavirus guidelines available to all of its clients for no additional charge to be used across their entire employment bases.

Putterman acknowledges the pitfalls of sending out a corporate memo only to hear crickets.

"In a Trivie platform you would send a video, PDF, or word document via Trivie. You'd know people opened it up and after they're required to take a quiz so you know they understand what was in the message," Putterman explains.

An internal discussion board also allows company employees to discuss why the communication is essential to the organization. Another prominent feature of the app is a customizable survey.

"You know as well as I do that there's a ton of anxiety out there [about the coronavirus]. Wouldn't it be nice to push out a survey and then have a discussion around how people are dealing with it?" he questions.

With most of America's workforce working from home, Putterman expressed that it's common for employees to feel disconnected.

"The only way to maintain that company culture and close communication with confidence is to use something like Trivie," he says. "There's no feedback loop right now. The only way to bridge that gap is to have something like Trivie that's the glue."

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.