The three Houston innovators to know this week represent new, exciting things for the innovation ecosystem. Courtesy photos

The movers and shakers within the Houston innovation ecosystem come from all kinds of industries — from private equity to supercomputing. This week's innovators to know reflect that industry diversity and are bringing something new to the table.

Jon Nordby, managing director of Houston's MassChallenge Texas chapter

Jon Nordby, former exec at Houston Exponential, will lead the inaugural Houston MassChallenge cohort. Courtesy of MassChallenge

Jon Nordby, who recently served as Houston Exponential's director of strategy since its launch, was named as the managing director of MassChallenge Texas in Houston, a zero-equity startup accelerator.

"MassChallenge's not-for-profit, no equity model is uniquely suited to accelerate the development of Houston's innovation ecosystem and is the foundation early-stage startups need to get to the point of disruption or pivot as fast as possible," says Nordby in a release.

Before HX, Nordby served as vice president of talent and innovation at the Greater Houston Partnership, and was essential in creating the organization's Innovation Initiative. Click here to learn more about the appointment.

Matthew Lamont, managing director at DownUnder GeoSolutions

Matthew Lamont is managing director at DownUnder GeoSolutions which just opened its new, powerful data center west of Houston. Courtesy of DUG

Matthew Lamont isn't technically a Houstonian, but the managing director of Perth, Australia-based DownUnder GeoSolutions gets the honorary title for bringing one of the world's most powerful supercomputers, nicknamed Bubba, to the Houston area. In fact, perhaps Lamont accepts the recognition on behalf of Bubba, who — while inanimate — is definitely a Houstonian.

DUG is heavily investing in Houston, and Bubba is just the start. The company plans to start on a friend for Bubba later this year and bring an even more powerful supercomputer to the market by 2021. Read more about Lamont, Bubba, and all that DUG is doing in Houston here.

Taseer Badar, founder and CEO of ZT Corporate

Taseer Badar is in the business of making money. Courtesy of ZT Corporate

Taseer Badar will shoot it to you straight: Houston startups struggling to find capital might need to look nationally or globally.

"Investors in Houston want positive earnings before interest, tax, and amortization," he says. "But that doesn't mean it's not possible in New York, Dallas, Austin, or other cities. There are technology conferences everywhere, that's a great way to get known as a startup."

As CEO and founder of ZT Corporate with 1,000 investors to manage, he knows private equity, and what it takes to invest. Read more about Badar here.

Matthew Lamont is managing director at DownUnder GeoSolutions' which just opened its new, powerful data center west of Houston. Courtesy of DUG

Massive data center officially opens just west of Houston

Now online

DownUnder GeoSolutions has officially opened its new data centre in Skybox Houston in Katy, Texas. It's being billed as one of the most powerful supercomputers on earth.

The center, which houses DUG's geophysical cloud service, DUG McCloud, celebrated its grand opening on Thursday, May 16. The company's data hall has 15 megawatts of power and resides in a building designed to withstand hurricane-force winds up to 190 mph.

A second, identical hall is already planned to be built out later this year. Together, the two machines will have a capacity of 650 petaflop, which is a measurement of computing speed that's equal to one thousand million million floating-point operations per second.

In addition to the second hall, DUG is working to build another giant computing system with exaflop capacity — a billion billion calculations per second — by 2021.

"We are in a race to build the first exascale supercomputing system," says Phil Schwan, CTO for DUG, in a news release.

Australia-based DUG first started construction on Bubba, the nickname for the machine, last year and chose Skybox Datacenters as the facility to put Bubba in after a global search. The supercomputer landing in Houston represented the largest data center transaction in the Houston area's history. Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, and San Antonio have long overshadowed Houston as hotspots for data center activity in Texas.

An differentiating asset of Bubba is the cooling process, which reduces energy usage and costs. Thirteen miles of pipes connect the hard drives to 20-foot cooling towers. Bubba uses "its own patented immersion system that submerges the computer nodes in more than 700 specially-designed tanks filled with polyalphaolefin dielectric fluid," according to the release.

"The complete DUG Insight software suite is available, and is fully-optimised to run on the cloud," says DUG's managing director, Matthew Lamont.

DUG's device is based on Intel® Xeon® processors, and the company uses Intel's technology to enhance its services, and there are more than 40,000 Intel Xeon processor nodes within the DUG McCloud network.

"The close collaboration between our two companies ensures DUG customers have access to the compute resources needed to obtain more meaningful insights from the geophysical landscapes they are exploring," says Trish Damkroger, vice president and general manager of Intel's Extreme Computing Organization, in a release.

"The Bubba supercomputer is a tremendous addition to the DUG McCloud network, and we look forward to our continued collaboration to build even more powerful systems to help accelerate this research and development."

Super-sized supercomputer

Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Bubba, as the machine is called, has 15 megawatts of power and resides in a building designed to withstand hurricane-force winds up to 190 mph.

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Gowing femtech company chooses Houston for first out-of-state expansion

A startup dedicated to comprehensive pregnancy, birth and postpartum care has expanded from its Chicago birthplace to Houston.

Last summer, Partum Health raised $3.1 million in seed funding, which makes it possible for the company to begin a nationwide expansion. That begins in Space City.

“We looked at states where there is work to do on outcomes for maternal health. Texas rose to the top and Houston, in many ways is fairly close to Chicago, our home city. The really thriving healthcare ecosystem attracted us as well,” CEO and Co-Founder Meghan Doyle tells InnovationMap.

As a mom of a seven-year-old and a nine-year-old herself, Doyle says that she experienced the gap firsthand in what’s available to women beyond what her obstetrician or midwife does.

“You had to work really hard to cobble together the care you needed. It was a matter of putting together my personal experiences of realizing it’s not just me, it’s systematic,” says Doyle. “I couldn’t get that problem out of my head.”

Neither could her co-founder and head of operations, Matt Rogers, a father of twins whose family had to navigate the NICU and life-threatening complications. They started working together on the business in earnest during the COVID shutdown and debuted Partum Health at the beginning of 2021.

Partum has begun partnering with obstetricians and midwives to help select complementary care that includes lactation support, pelvic floor physical therapy, mental health services, nutrition counseling and doula care. What’s unique about the plan is that, from aiding in behavioral health problems to addressing nutritional issues, the user’s team is distributed around the Houston area and are fully virtual. Physical therapy and other services that must be done in-person may take place either in-home or at third-party locations.

“We’re still in the process of credentialing with insurance companies,” says Doyle.

In Illinois, Partum is already working with BlueCross BlueShield, United Healthcare, Aetna and Cigna for clinical care, so Doyle says she is confident that those companies will soon follow suit in Texas.

While hiring a team in Houston that includes a client care lead, Doyle says that Partum is simultaneously providing services and getting to know the market better. They’re also building more bundled models of care to better assist users in their new landscape.

Doyle and Partum Healthcare participated in the Ignite Healthcare Network’s 2023 program, which concluded last week with a pitch competition. Ignite helps female healthcare founders to connect with mentors and other industry experts that will help them navigate the health tech ecosystem. Doyle was one of nine finalists, but did not place in the top three. But she says the program has helped prepare her for success nonetheless.

“In our world, you’re always pitching,” she admits.

The next steps for Partum include a 2024 rife with expansion. Because building relationships with insurance happens on a state-by-state basis, the company will be able to help women around Texas soon after the company is comfortably established in Houston. The Dallas-Fort Worth area will likely be first, followed by Austin and San Antonio.

“We know there’s a huge gap in access to care that may mean evolving a little bit and reaching out across the state,” Doyle says.

Last month, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission reported that 90 percent of the state’s pregnancy-related deaths are preventable. With access to care like what Partum provides, those complications could become a thing of the past.

University of Houston lines up entrepreneurship course featuring Taylor Swift's billion-dollar career

Cougar Red (Taylor's Version)

By any measure, Taylor Swift put on a masterclass with her Eras Tour this year — her Houston stop was a study in three-hours of pop-culture-perfect brand execution and fan frenzy.

Now, University of Houston is taking Tay studies to the next level with a new biz class.

Appropriately dubbed “The Entrepreneurial Genius of Taylor Swift,” the new class is part of the curriculum at coming to the C. T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston next spring. Swfities who’re super “ready for it,” however, can get a jump on enrollment now.

Study “the 1” at a No. 1 institution

Though Swifties and Tay (and Travis) fiends will surely soak up every class hour, the program isn’t just for fans, the prof notes in a press statement. And Bauer College offers serious cred for current and new students, as its Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship has long ranked No. 1 in the U.S.

“You definitely don’t have to be a hardcore fan — a Swiftie — to learn and appreciate the entrepreneurial genius that has made Taylor Swift an international phenomenon,” notes Kelly McCormick, the Professor of Practice leading the course, citing Swift’s expertise in marketing, fan engagement, community building, and brand strategies.

Don’t hate, hate, hate, hate, hate on this Tay tutorial

Sure, Swift haters night hate on a Taylor course. But before they do, they should consider that at age 33, Swift boasts an estimated net worth of $1 billion, according to Forbes. And her aforementioned Eras Tour? Swift earned more than $780 million on the U.S. leg alone this year on the tour, which — by current estimates — cues her up to become the highest-grossing female touring artist of all time.

Her Eras Tour concert film also just became the highest-grossing concert film in North America, raking between $95 million to $97 million in ticket sales during its opening weekend — alone.

Taylor Swift Houston 2023 Eras Tour
Swift can flex a $1 billion net worth, per Forbes. Photo by Marco Torres/Marco from Houston


And then of course, her music acumen and savvy. In 2021, Swift smartly re-recorded a version of her album Fearless and launched a series of releases of her back catalog, in order to secure ownership of her first six albums.That move came after the masters (the original recordings) sold for a reported $300 million in 2019.

Here in Houston, as CultureMap reported, the Post-Tay Effect (we’re making that a thing) had a lasting economic effect, notbaly for areas pet and food nonprofits.

Hardcore business aside, the class Still, the course will be Taylor-made for Swifties. McCormick, who also serves as managing director for the university’s startup accelerator RED Labs, has themed each session around a different album — or Era, obvi for fans — of Swift’s career.

What to expect on the “mornin' of your very first day”

So, when students take a deep breath and walk through the door of their very first day (obligatory “Fifteen,” callout) they will score friendship bracelet gifts — a huge Swiftie phenomenon — and will be treated to surprise songs during breaks and even Easter eggs hidden in class content. (That’s a clever nod to Swift, who regularly hides clues, callbacks, and “oh yeaaahhhh” moments for fans in her music videos, album artwork, and social media posts).

As for the Tay inspo, McCormick says she has been a Swift fan since the early days of mega-hits “Our Song” and “Love Story.” But like so many who were blown away by the sheer Tay Machine during the Houston Eras Tour stop in April, the professor quickly noted entrepreneurship lessons to be learned over Swift’s in her 17-year career.

Taylor Swift Houston
The professor says Swift's dazzling Eras Tour stop in Houston inspired the class. Photo: Bob Levey/Getty Images/Taylor Swift Twitter


“I saw the show and loved it,” McCormick adds. “And I realized I actually didn’t know that much about her career. I became absolutely enamored basically overnight and started getting into her whole discography. Taylor is truly impressive!”

She added: “Never have I ever — like ever — been so engrossed in someone’s career after so little time.” (Should anyone doubt all the Tay references, McCormick’s “never have I ever — like ever” comments is shoutout to Swift’s most popular singles, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” Very clever.)

Travis-Tay included?

But perhaps the top Tay lesson is how to ensure satisfied customers.

“The number one business lesson students can learn from Taylor is the way she treats her fans,” McCormick notes. “She is beloved because she truly does so much to make sure they are happy, appreciated and feel like they are important to her. If every company acted that way about their customers — they’d have way more customers.”

Oh, and, no word — and we didn’t ask, for the record — if Kansas City Chiefs tight end/Swift squeeze Travis Kelce is part of the curriculum. Also no word if, to quote “Fifteen,” students will “sit in class next to a redhead named Abigail.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.