This week's Houston innovators to know includes Juliana Garaizar of Greentown Labs, Derek Armstrong of Armstrong Innovations, and Megan Siliainoff of Med Meg Creative Services. Courtesy photos

It's a new month and Houston's innovation ecosystem is continuing to grow amid the coronavirus pandemic. This week's Houston innovators to know roundup reflects that growth with a new-to-town incubator's newly names leader — plus an entrepreneur creating an virtual reality app to escape and a communications expert's advice on navigating COVID-19.

Juliana Garaizar, launch director of Greentown Houston

Juliana Garaizar is working to help set up Houston's Greentown Labs incubator with diversity and inclusion in mind. Courtesy photo

Juliana Garaizar has had to keep a huge secret for a while. The launch director of new-to-Houston Greentown Labs has known about the cleantech incubator's plan to expand to the Bayou City for a while, and now the news is out. Of course, launching amid a pandemic isn't ideal, but Garaizar says its allowed a strong relationship with the original group based in Boston to form.

"I think the silver lining of this COVID-19 experience is that we are much more integrated with the Boston team, and we're learning at a much faster rate," she says. "That's why we decided to also open Houston for virtual memberships before we open our building in Q1 of 2021."

Garaizar joined the Houston Innovators Podcast last week to share her experience with the organization and how she'll be setting up Houston operations with diversity and inclusion in mind. Read more and stream the episode.

Derek Armstrong, CEO and founder of Armstrong Innovations

Derek Armstrong, a Houston native, founded his design company, Armstrong Innovations. Photo courtesy of Oculus Go

Derek Armstrong had been working on a new virtual reality app for relaxation and meditation that users can enter into for an opportunity to escape reality for a bit — little did he know that was something more people than ever would want to do.

His company, a Houston-area industrial design startup, Armstrong Innovations, just launched two Oculus Go app games, aptly named 'Escape'. The VR app was designed with relaxation and meditation in mind but has doubled as a new way to relax and sightsee without leaving your home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The sights and sounds of our new app assist with mindfulness and meditation," says CEO and founder Derek Armstrong. "It's about focusing on the sights and sounds, especially with the virus growing. It's a quick getaway without having to physically go anywhere." Read more.

Megan Silianoff, founder and creative director of Mad Meg Creative Services

Megan Silianoff has been helping clients navigate communications during a pandemic. Courtesy photo

The worst part of contracting COVID-19 — aside from suffering from the disease itself — is diligently communicating the risk of exposure to people you've been around especially to coworkers, employees, clients, etc. In a guest article for InnovationMap, Megan Silianoff of Mad Meg Creative Services, sets the scene for you to be prepared should you find yourself in this situation,

"We understand as communication experts, informing a client, boss, or anyone that you've potentially exposed them is scary messaging to share," she writes. "Guilt is the number one emotion people report experiencing when they realize they've potentially exposed someone or a group of people, even though the respective exposure was inadvertent. Nevertheless it's crucial to communicate the exposure quickly and effectively as that's how Houston can hinder the spread of this disease through our city." Read more.

It's important to craft an informative and considerate message when sharing news of a COVID-19 exposure. Getty Images

4 COVID-19 messaging tips from Houston communications expert

guest column

Houston is undoubtedly hitting critical mass with COVID-19. The common sentiment has transitioned from "knowing someone who knows someone that has COVID-19" to more frequent first-hand, anecdotal experiences. When a potential exposure happens in the workplace it's vital that employees and companies alike quickly, professionally, and responsibly inform any parties that could have been indirectly exposed including vendors, clients, or meeting participants of any kind.

We understand as communication experts, informing a client, boss, or anyone that you've potentially exposed them is scary messaging to share. Guilt is the number one emotion people report experiencing when they realize they've potentially exposed someone or a group of people, even though the respective exposure was inadvertent. Nevertheless it's crucial to communicate the exposure quickly and effectively as that's how Houston can hinder the spread of this disease through our city.

So, how have we been counseling our clients as these potential exposures arise? Here are some notes and even an email template that Houstonians can use to help get them started.

Respond quickly

This is not a time to wait for certainty. Do not wait for tangible test results or any type of certitude (such as you experiencing symptoms first-hand) before notifying a person or company that you've potentially exposed them. Remember: you aren't telling someone you gave them COVID-19, you are simply telling them that you have been exposed and therefore inadvertently exposed them.

Be honest and forthcoming with information

This is not a time to offload or dwell on your feelings of guilt, albeit that's a natural emotion. A simple apology for the situation you collectively find yourself is appropriate but a deep into your own feelings and context for the situation is neither necessary nor helpful. Remember, during times of crisis, people don't remember what you said, but that you said something at all when it would have been easier not to and that you're someone of high morals and character.

Be detailed, but not too detailed

Again, you want to share concrete information versus your own personal emotions and feelings surrounding the incident. Pertinent information includes the following;

  • When and where you were exposed
  • When and where you exposed others
  • If you're currently experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms
  • Pertinent test results (if any) in regards to how you were exposed

Work from a template

Salutation:


It has come to my attention on date that I was exposed to COVID-19 through home, work, office, etc.

Because of this, it's a possibility that I unknowingly exposed you at date and place of interaction.

Though I am not currently not experiencing any symptoms and feel healthy, I wanted to let you know about this and err on the side of caution.*OR*I currently am experiencing symptoms of Covid-19 including X,Y, Z. I plan to get tested and can let you know the results when I receive them.

I apologize for this situation and am here to answer any further questions that might help you determine how to proceed accordingly.

Sincerely,
Name

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Megan Silianoff is the founder and creative director of Mad Meg Creative Services, a Houston-based firm specializing in public relations, social media management, web design, and branding.

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Houston innovator bets on humanoid robotics with new startup

back in the founder seat

For his next act, Houston entrepreneur Nicolaus Radford has started — in what he describes as an "anti-stealth" capacity — a new company that hopes to bring humanoid robotics out of science fiction novels and into manufacturing floors.

Radford, who saw his last company, Nauticus Robotics, from founding to IPO, left the company in January. He tells InnovationMap that he started receiving some compelling offers at other robotics companies, but none of them felt like a fit. However, he just couldn't get the idea of advancing humanoid robotics out of his head.

"Humanoids are the holy grail of all of robotics," Radford says. "It's what every science fiction writer's always dreamed about.

"It is the future," he continues. "And now with this generative AI moment of 2022 where these machines look a lot more capable, flexible, reprogrammable — they can reason in real time. That's a huge deal."

Radford says he got a call from his friend, Jerry Pratt, who was the CTO at humanoid robotics company Figure AI. Pratt and Radford both worked in robotics at NASA and each have decades of experience in the tech world. The conversation really sealed the deal for Radford, and the two officially launched Persona AI in a LinkedIn post that Radford says shocked him with how much interest the community had.

Radford says that with all this interest, he wants to open up the company to more co-founders than just himself and Pratt, who's based in Florida.

"We're going to give a significant amount of the company out to the early joiners, more so than is probably typical," Radford says. "And it's because we know it takes a village, and we want to highlight that to everybody."

"We're trying to crowdsource the company," he continues. "We've coined that we're anti stealth."

Specifically, Radford says he's looking at growing the team to about 25 people in the next year, alongside raising early funding. He's looking for people with a diverse tech background with well-rounded experience.

"Robotics and humanoids in particular are just so multidisciplinary," Radford says. "Humanoids are a hundred-thousand-piece puzzle, and you're trying to put this puzzle together."

And for Radford, assembling that puzzle in Houston is of utmost importance. The company is headquartered here, and Radford is currently working with The Ion to set up an office there.

"We're exceptionally excited to put (the company) in Houston," he says. "It would be incredible for the city — there's a lot of industrial manufacturing here and a lot of warehousing. ... I still have this desire to shine a light on Houston's tech scene because I believe it is unsung, underappreciated, and quite capable."

The potential for this technology is huge — Radford estimates it as a $3 trillion market — but the first industry he plans on tackling is automotive, but he also sees promise in the medical, energy, and home industries.

"We think automotive is going to be a first-mover market. There's a lot of publicly announced partnerships between advanced robotics companies and humanoid companies and automotive," he says. "These folks are showing a willingness to put something out in the press that says they're developing a humanoid or piloting a humanoid. That's huge.

With this expressed interest, technology advancement, and large labor shortage, Radford is convinced now is the time for humanoid robotics — and for Persona AI.

"We're at a technology tipping point where it makes sense that these machines can do this, and there's an investment community willing to finance it," Radford says. "I think the first time in all of robotic history we're closer than we've ever been to making this a reality."

Here's how far Houston's robust population of 'super commuters' drive to and from work every day

on the road again

If you’re a workday commuter in the Houston metro area, you may be among the many motorists who’ve cursed the snarled traffic on I-610/West Loop Freeway. This route routinely takes the crown as the most clogged roadway in Texas.

But imagine if you were one of the nearly 80,000 workers in the Houston area who travel at least 90 minutes each way for their jobs. That’s an even more gripe-worthy commuting scenario.

U.S. Census Bureau data gathered by Apartment List shows that as of 2022 in the Houston area, 79,645 workers were tagged as “super commuters.” These workers represent three percent of all commuters in the region.

The Houston area’s 2022 number is down slightly from the pre-pandemic year of 2019, when 82,878 workers across the region were super commuters, according to Apartment List.

Igor Popov, chief economist at Apartment List, says 3.7 million American workers spent at least 90 minutes traveling each way for their jobs in 2022. These extreme commutes are becoming more commonplace as suburban populations rise and employers pull back on remote work, he says.

Nationally, the number of super commuters jumped by 593,000 in 2022 compared with 2021, when the pandemic caused the figure to plummet by more than 1.5 million.

“Generally, super commuting is most common for transit users, workers who live on the fringes of the metropolitan area, or those who commute to separate metros entirely,” Popov says.

Super commuting is also common among high-income workers who are willing to travel longer distances for higher-wage jobs, according to Popov.

A recent study by Stanford University and travel data provider INRIX mostly aligns with the Census Bureau data cited by Apartment List.

Since the pandemic, the study says, the share of one-way commutes covering at least 40 miles has gone up in the country’s 10 largest metros, including Houston. In the Houston area, the share of one-way super commutes, which the study defines as those over 75 miles, grew 18 percent from 2019-20 to 2023-24.

Among the 10 areas examined in the study, a typical two-way super commute lasts nearly four hours and 40 minutes.

Experts: What Houston startup founders need to know about conducting a successful IPO

guest column

Home to a wealth of world-changing innovations and a highly skilled labor pool, Houston has attracted startups and digital tech firms for years. Today, the city stands at the forefront of a promising era with seven Houston startups beginning the year strong with more than $380 million in venture funding, and the city ranked among the top emerging startup ecosystems in North America

Houston-based startups planning their exit strategies have good reason to be optimistic about an initial public offering, or IPO, market that is expected to grow in 2024. After a two-year slump in startup investing, some market watchers are predicting that the IPO window may reopen as the economy improves and inflation and interest rates cool.

But good timing requires good readiness. The window of opportunity for preparation now appears to be a microwindow. As any company that went public at the peak of the dot-com or post-COVID booms can attest, preparation is essential to quickly take action when the time is right. Hitting that microwindow will require that IPO-bound Houston companies be strategic about their IPO readiness planning. A lack of planning can result in an IPO experience that is not well planned, and potentially a missed opportunity altogether.

It’s unclear when the next IPO window will open, or for how long the window will remain open, but it could happen quicker than expected. This unpredictability suggests that Houston startups seeking to go public should start their legal, financial, and regulatory planning now. The important period for many companies planning an IPO begins six to 18 months prior to listing and lasts until the six months post-IPO.

Readying an IPO

We gained several insights from our discussions with CEOs and CFOs who have effectively navigated IPOs recently to provide insights for companies contemplating going public when the next microwindow opens. A company’s comprehensive readiness plan can be key to performing well in the market, whether it is up or down. Summarized below are common key areas that challenged many C-Suite executives in being a public company and, in hindsight, areas they wished they had addressed earlier in the process.

  1. Internal forecasting. Internal forecasting is paramount. In fact, it’s one of the primary takeaways cited in our conversations with the C-suite execs who went through the IPO process. Houston companies on an IPO track should be prepared to provide accurate forecasting and timely fulfillment of projections. Missing projections can result in significant regulatory repercussions.
  1. Key performance indicators and non-GAAPmeasures. Take reasonable steps towards performing a comprehensive benchmarking study to determine relevant KPIs and non-GAAP measures and metrics to report upon; be ready with the frameworks in place to report upon during quarterly and annual reporting.
  1. Growth story. The ability to communicate the company’s growth story can be essential to an effective IPO. Company leaders should be able to clearly convey topics such as the company’s growth, vision and strategy, its plans for improving performance metrics, the market opportunity, its competitive edge, and how its product or services will meet market demand. Meetings with analysts and other market influencers are also necessary to gain investor support. The executives we talked to said that when they did not invest time in this awareness-building step, they often found themselves rushing to get the word out as the offering date closed in.
  1. Finance infrastructure and human capital. Understand the infrastructure and operating model required to operate as a public company, along with the human capital necessary to sustain operations. Identifying the necessary skillsets and bandwidth within the team supports a smoother IPO process. Collaborating with experienced, independent advisors is also vital. These advisors assist in organizing the process, outlining SEC reporting requirements, updating SEC-compliant financial reporting, preparing Management Discussion and Analysis (MD&A) and pro forma financial information, and offering guidance throughout the pre-IPO preparation.
  1. Governance. IPO-bound companies need to anticipate new corporate governance requirements as a publicly traded entity, particularly in terms of their board of directors. Proper governance and board oversight can be essential to support the quality of financial statements produced by management. Executives told us that recruiting the right board members is often a significant pre-IPO challenge. Identifying these members early is crucial, as the right resources may not be available later.

Closing thoughts

If you are among those companies looking to go public in the near future, now is the time to get your house in order. Companies are often surprised to discover how much preparation it truly takes to operate as a public company. In fact, we typically recommend starting the preparation journey 18 to 24 months before the anticipated public listing date. Simply stated, if you wait until the IPO window opens before gearing up, you likely will be gearing up for the next window.

Deloitte’s complimentary IPO

SelfAssess tool can help you gauge your ability to go public with a tailored assessment. The tool provides you with useful insights and identifies potential areas for improvement based on the feedback you provide.

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Will Braeutigam is the U.S. capital markets transactions leader at Deloitte & Touche LLP. Laura Evans is audit and assurance partner at Deloitte & Touche LLP.