Tech companies located in Houston should consider creating ambassador programs to leverage the deep bench of talent and experience locally. Photo via Getty Images

Innovation isn't born in a vacuum nor is the adoption of a new technology. Often the broader path to tech disruption is through groundwork and that's a system best laid by a well-connected network.

The urban megaregion that spans from Austin to San Antonio and Houston to Dallas comprises the largest single regional economy in the world. Furthermore, it is projected to expand its population density 65 percent to an astounding 10 million in the next two decades. In recent years, Houston's reputation has earned numerous nods as a growing tech hub, with many local startups employing entrenched talent from the specialized sectors a startup serves — for example, the digitization of oil and gas or maritime shipping.

Invigorated by its depth of industries including energy, the medical complex, transportation, real estate and education, Houston and its nearby economies are home to a vibrant presence of spirited entrepreneurs and tech-focused universities that are expected to keep pace with much anticipated growth. With nearly 3,000 startups and as the hub of major industries including oil and gas, health care and aerospace among others, the cross-pollinating capabilities of the city is nearly unlimited. Tech companies located here should consider creating ambassador programs to leverage the deep bench of talent and experience in Houston, and tap networking capabilities to drive value and adoption of their offerings.

All changes start small

Ambassador programs undertake the formalization of relationships with respective influencers in target industries to develop deep understanding and engagements with a company's product or service. Depending on the aim, an ambassador program can function similarly to an executive referral program with underpinnings to educate, promote, connect and incentivize adoption.

While each company's process may be unique, the general outcomes of ambassadorship can be shared. According to HubSpot, 90 percent of individuals believe brand recommendations from friends, 70 percent trust recommendations from other consumers, while a reported 71 percent are likely to make purchases based on social media referrals. By providing independent validation, a company's ambassadors can synergistically generate instant credibility that proliferates as an ecosystem expands. And therein lies the magic.

The first step in implementing an ambassador program is to identify relevant industry-specific enthusiasts to form initial connections or tap existing individuals that are particularly helpful or influential. Then create ongoing educational initiatives and offer certifications that reflect company objectives; as a company scales, it's offerings to an ambassador audience should mature to accommodate the company's growth.

Ambassador programs are often built atop reward referral programs to further incentivize knowledge transfership within a community and to galvanize opportunities. With the quality and quantity of companies and industries in the Houston area, a robust intercompany ambassadorship presence can create an enriching environment, generating a breadth of advocates who can spread the word and play an integral role in achieving wider success for the company.

Value begets value

Collectively, startup culture has a history of competition but also of coopetition. While evangelizing tech solutions, the bigger play at hand for ambassadors is to create a robust network that embodies passion, positivity, adoption of valuable technology and the most critical aspect: community.

Change needs a channel to cut its new grooves on, and a knowledgeable ambassador network primed to mutually drive engagement and community around a startups' brand is one of the fastest methods to do just that while also building fruitful relationships for now and into the future.

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Andrew Bruce is the founder and CEO of Data Gumbo.

Houston is hosting a bit of a tech takeover week during the first week of March. Photo by Zview/Getty Images

These are the events to attend each day during the Houston Tech Rodeo

Where to be

Houston Exponential has tapped into the Houston innovation ecosystem to coordinate a week of events to speak to the city's startups, investors, and startup development organizations.

The week, called the Houston Tech Rodeo, will take place March 2 to 6 — in coordination with the start of the Houston Livestock Show And Rodeo — all across town. From panels and meetups to office hours and pitch events, there's a lot to navigate in the inaugural week. For a complete list of Tech Rodeo events (most of which are free and all over town), head to the website.

Here are the events you should make sure not to miss. Each featured event is free and open to the public.

Monday: Houston Tech Rodeo Kickoff Event

Launching the week is a happy hour event with a networking opportunity and a panel brought to you by InnovationMap, KPMG, and Houston Exponential. The event is on Monday, March 2, from 4 to 6:30 pm at Karbach Brewing Co. (2032 Karbach St.). After a short introduction from KPMG and HX, Blair Garrou, managing director at Mercury Fund; Leslie Goldman, general partner at The Artemis Fund; and Samantha Lewis, director of GOOSE, will discuss the VC culture in Houston vs. the world. Click here to register.

Tuesday: The Founders Round Up at The Cannon

Why attend one event when you can attend a day full of constructive events geared at entrepreneurs? From 9 am to 5 pm on Tuesday, March 3, at The Cannon, catch workshops and panels ranging from startup failure reasons to revenue tips. From 3 to 5 pm, there's a lean startup meet-up workshop to attend. Click here to register.

Additional events:

  • HX will also be hosting its "Conventional Financing for your Tech Business" workshop at 9 am at their office (410 Pierce St.) to help startups navigate their financial options. Click here to register.
  • DivInc. will be hosting an evening event to address "Diversity's Impact on Innovation" at The Ion (1301 Fannin St. Suite 2100). This event runs from 5:30 to 9 pm. Click here to register.

Wednesday: Jason Calacanis Founder Office Hours

Seven Houston entrepreneurs will join investor Jason Calacanis onstage for office hours — but with an audience. The event, which is on Wednesday, March 4, from 9:30 to 11 am with networking to follow, is at Rice University - McNair Hall McNair Hall, Loop Road Shell Auditorium. Click here to register.

Additional event: The University of Houston's Office of Research is hosting a "Women in Science and Beyond" panel of successful female scientists. The event will take place at 5 pm at UH Technology Bridge Innovation Center, Building 4 (5000 Gulf Freeway). Click here to register.

Thursday: Reverse Pitch, Accelerators and Funds with the Ask

The tables have turned. Rather than Houston entrepreneurs pitching, accelerators and startup development organizations are taking the stage to pitch their programs to potential startup members. The event, which is at 9 am at Sesh Coworking (1210 West Clay St. #Suite 18) on Thursday, March 5, will be hosted by Brittany Barreto of Capital Factory. Click here to register.

Additional events:

  • Learn from the leading ladies of Houston innovation in The Ion's EmpowerHER event at 11 am at 1301 Fannin St. Suite 2100. Click here to register.
  • Wrap up your day with a networking opportunity from MassChallenge Texas at the C. Baldwin, Curio Collection by Hilton (400 Dallas Street). Click here to register.

Friday: BAMA Houston Launch Event

Celebrate the launch of the Business Angel Minority Association — a new organization looking to increase investments for minority-run startups. The networking and pitch event is on Friday, March 6, from 8 to 10 am at The Cannon Tower - Amegy Conference Center (1810 Main St, Suite 1300). Click here to register.

Additional event: Wrap up your week with networking hosted by HX. The event is from 5 to 7 pm at Saint Arnold Brewing Company (2000 Lyons Ave.) Click here to register.

Early and effective stakeholder outreach is a key part of a successful project. Getty Images

Identifying and engaging community stakeholders from the start is key to a success startup

Support systems

Often times we think of technology as innovation. But innovation and the success derived from it is not always about technological advances.

Technological advances have driven innovation in all sectors of our economy. Technology and social media have driven social change and changed how stakeholders— the public and outside influencers — impact infrastructure and construction projects, and how they advocate with policy leaders. This includes the energy, utilities, infrastructure, real estate projects, and manufacturing industries.

Often times the innovation from technology is about a new way of thinking and how one adapts to, works with, and embraces technology and how it impacts a business or an industry. It is about a willingness to do things differently because technology now drives us to think creatively and differently than in the past. It is taking a new approach to how one manages risk, solves problems and meets the challenges facing a business or an industry.

Technology has changed how we communicate as a culture. It has changed how the public communicates with business and how business has to communicate with the public. Because of the growth and influence of social media in our culture, business must now mange a new kind of risk in the risk register of a project. It has to change how it interacts and communicates with stakeholders. It has to be more attentive and listen actively compared to how it operated in the past. Gone are the days when a project manager, private equity firm/investor or company developing a project can "keep their head down so they don't get shot at."

I listed the many industries that are impacted by social media. There is no better example of an industry that has had to change and use innovative and new ways of communicating due to technology. Regardless of the energy project, the development of oil & gas, building a pipeline, new utility lines, a refinery or chemical facility the industry now has to assess who their stakeholders are, listen to them attentively, and develop a strategic plan for outreach. If a company changes how they interact with stakeholders the associated risks will be minimized, mitigated and/or reduced.

There are a plethora of energy projects I can list that highlight how a business failed to innovate in response to how they failed to adapt to, work with and embrace the technology of social media and how it impacts them. One project sums it up, Keystone.

Effective stakeholder outreach has four parts: identification, analysis, prioritization and engagement.

Identification
The first step is to identify the stakeholders. This includes those who will be directly or indirectly impacted such as local, state and federal political leaders, NGOs, media, faith-based groups, landowners, civic leaders, nearby businesses and advocacy groups.

Analysis
The analysis is an evaluation of possible risks related to the stakeholders and the community where the project is planned such as stakeholders who might be opposed to the project, have concerns or be able to influence the process in any way. Have there been issues in the community or legislative bodies that might have a negative impact?

Prioritization
Prioritization is the process of taking the results from the analysis of stakeholders and determining what risks or issues exist. These risks are ranked. Strategies and tactics are developed to address and mitigate them. Finally, a determination is made regarding how and when to communicate with stakeholders.

Engagement
Engagement is the final part of stakeholder outreach. This is the process of communicating with stakeholders to explain the project and how they will be impacted. It will also serve as an opportunity to solicit feedback and insight as well as to continue analyzing risks from stakeholders.

Early and effective stakeholder outreach is a key part of a successful project. It is a new and innovative way of thinking about how to understand and mitigate project risk. It is a willingness to change because technology has shifted how our culture communicates, advocates and engages with business, policy leaders and one another.

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Andrew Biar is founder and president of Strategic Public Affairs, a government relations and PR/communications firm based in Houston.
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Houston cleantech company sees shining success with gold hydrogen

bling, bling

Houston-based cleantech startup Cemvita Factory is kicking things into high gear with its Gold Hydrogen product.

After successfully completing a pilot test of Gold Hydrogen in the oil-rich Permian Basin of West Texas, Cemvita has raised an undisclosed amount of funding through its new Gold H2 LLC spin-out. The lead investors are Georgia-based equipment manufacturer Chart Industries and 8090 Industries, an investment consortium with offices in New York City and Los Angeles.

Gold Hydrogen provides carbon-neutral hydrogen obtained from depleted oil and gas wells. This is achieved through bioengineering subsurface microbes in the wells to consume carbon and generate clean hydrogen.

Cemvita says it set up Gold H2 to commercialize the business via licensing, joint ventures, and outright ownership of hydrogen assets.

“We have incredible conviction in next-generation clean hydrogen production methods that leverage the vast and sprawling existing infrastructure and know-how of the oil and gas industry,” Rayyan Islam, co-founder and general partner of 8090 Industries, says in a news release.

Traditional methods of producing hydrogen without greenhouse gas emissions include electrolysis powered by renewable sources like wind, solar or water, according to Cemvita. However, production of green hydrogen through normal avenues eats up a lot of energy and money, the startup says.

By contrast, Cemvita relies on depleted oil and gas wells to cheaply produce carbon-free hydrogen.

“The commercialization and economics of the hydrogen economy will require technologies that produce the hydrogen molecule at a meaningful scale with no carbon emissions. Gold H2 is leading the charge … ,” says Jill Evanko, president and CEO of Chart Industries.

Investors in Cemvita include Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based Occidental Petroleum, as well as BHP Group, Mitsubishi, and United Airlines Ventures.

Oxy Low Carbon Ventures and United Airlines Ventures are financing Cemvita’s work on sustainable jet fuel. United Airlines operates a hub at George Bush Intercontinental Airport Houston.

Founded by brother-and-sister team Moji and Tara Karimi in 2017, Cemvita uses synthetic biology to turn carbon dioxide into chemicals and alternative fuels.

Houston named best city in Texas and No. 11 in U.S. in prestigious report

best in tx

At least according to one new report, Houston is not only the Energy Capital of the World but also the livability capital of Texas.

A new study from Best Cities, powered by Resonance Consultancy, puts Houston at No. 11 among the best cities in the U.S. That’s the top showing among the six Texas cities included in the ranking. Houston appeared at No. 17 on last year’s list.

“Educated, diverse and hard-working, Houston is America’s stealthy powerhouse on the rise,” Best Cities proclaims.

Best Cities notes that while Austin grabs much of the best-city attention, “the promise of the Lone Star State drawing Californians and New Yorkers is quietly being fulfilled in Houston.” The website points out that the Houston metro area has gained nearly 300,000 residents in the past year, thanks to both domestic and international migration.

Here are some of the individual rankings that contribute to Houston’s 11th-place finish:

  • No. 4 for restaurants
  • No. 7 for culture
  • No. 8 for foreign-born population

“Houston is a diverse and vibrant metro where individuals can start a family, grow their business, attend world-class institutions and universities, or be immersed in the 145 languages that are spoken by our residents,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says in a news release. “The quality of life we have in Houston is second to none, and the data we receive from placements such as … Best Cities further reaffirm the strength and resiliency that has come to define this great city of ours.”

A few spots behind Houston on the Best Cities list are No. 14 Dallas and No. 15 Austin.

What lifts Dallas to the No. 14 spot? These are some of the factors cited by Best Cities:

  • Location of more than 10,000 corporate headquarters
  • Strong showing (No. 2) in the airport connectivity category
  • Kudos for the soon-to-be-expanded Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center Dallas
  • Home of the country’s sixth largest LGBTQ+ community
  • Presence of the 28-block, 68-acre Dallas Arts District

Austin comes in at No. 15, one notch behind Dallas.

Best Cities praises Austin as “a place that’s incredibly livable. Talk to any entrepreneur leaving Silicon Valley or Seattle and chances are they’ve considered Austin.”

The website points to a number of Austin’s assets, such as:

  • Growing presence of Fortune 500 headquarters
  • Comparatively low unemployment rate
  • Location of the University of Texas’ flagship campus
  • Status as the Live Music Capital of the World
  • Home of the annual SXSW gathering

Two other Texas cities make the Best Cities list: No. 34 San Antonio and No. 94 McAllen.

Best Cities bases its list of the best U.S. cities on Resonance Consultancy’s combination of statistical performance plus qualitative evaluations by locals and visitors. Those figures are grouped into six main categories. This year’s ranking features 100 U.S. cities. To come up with the ranking, Resonance Consultancy assessed all U.S. metro areas with at least 500,000 residents.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

How a Houston med device startup pivoted to impact global health and diagnostics

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 153

In the span of a couple years, a Houston startup went from innovating a way for patients with degenerative eye diseases to see better to creating a portable and affordable breath-based diagnostics tool worthy of a prestigious grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.

Steradian Technologies, founded in 2018, set out to create human super-sight via proprietary optics. In early 2020, the company was getting ready to start testing the device and fundraising. Then, the pandemic hit, knocking the company completely off course.

Co-founder and CEO of the company, Asma Mirza, says on this week's Houston Innovators Podcast that the Steradian co-founders discussed how their optic technology could detect diseases. Something just clicked, and the RUMI device was born.

"We are from Houston, Texas, which is one of the most diverse and accessible cities in the country, and we were having trouble with basic diagnostic accessibility. It was taking too long, it was complicated, and people were getting sick and didn't know if they were positive or negative," Mirza says on the show. "That's when we pivoted the company and decided we were going to pivot the company and use optics to detect diseases in breath."

Fast forward two years and the company has been recognized by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with a grant to sport the development of the tool — which costs about the same price as a latte to make. The impact for global health is huge, Mirza says, allowing for people to test their breath for diseases from their own homes in the same time it takes to take your temperature.

"You blow into a cartrige and we're able to take the air from your breath into a liquid sample," Mirza says, explaining how the device uses photons to produce quick results. "It's wild that we still don't have something like that yet."

She shares more details about the grant and the future applications for the technology — as well as the role Houston and local organizations have had on the company — on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.