Houston's ready for the artificial intelligence revolution. Yuichiro Chino/Getty Images

How ready is Houston for the rise of artificial intelligence? More ready than you might think.

In the recently released Global Cities' AI Readiness Index, Houston ranks ninth in the world among large cities (those with 5 million to million residents). Singapore topped the large-city list; Dallas appeared at No. 8.

"The age of technology is here, and we cannot afford to sit idle," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says in a recent release. "We must leap, not stroll, into the future."

The Oliver Wyman Forum, part of management consulting firm Oliver Wyman, based its AI ranking on surveys of residents and leaders in 105 global cities, along with a review of publicly available socioeconomic data. The group says its goal in compiling the ranking was to "start a data-informed conversation about how to address the very real opportunities and challenges of AI disruption."

"Houston has been working diligently over the past several years to grow a robust digital tech ecosystem," says Susan Davenport, senior vice president of economic development at the Greater Houston Partnership. "Previously, most surveys ranked Houston in the 30s in this area. When we see ourselves ranked ninth among large global cities and U.S. metros in AI readiness, it's a positive signal of our trajectory."

Signs of Houston's trajectory in the AI universe abound:

"When you think about Houston's core industries like energy, life sciences, and manufacturing, these are all data-intensive businesses that are ripe for disruption by AI and other digital technologies," Davenport says. "There is significant activity with AI already happening in the market, but I think we're still early on the growth curve, with a great deal of upside potential."

A recent search of job website LinkedIn found more than 200 AI-focused jobs available in the Houston area at employers like Shell, Accenture, Deloitte, Capgemini, HP, and EY.

Over the past year, the Greater Houston Partnership has led several trips to Silicon Valley to meet with companies involved in AI, cloud computing, and other technologies that enable businesses to harness the power of data.

"We are finding these innovative companies are very interested in tapping into the customer base here in Houston," Davenport says, "and we expect to see growth in this sector to continue over the next few years."

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This Houston virtual health care platform makes it easier to get answers

digital check up

As hard as he tried, Brigham Buhler couldn't achieve the weight-loss and fitness goals he'd set in his mid-20s. Plus, he constantly felt tired and stressed out. On top of that, Brigham's entire immediate family has diabetes, and he was exhibiting the warning signs.

Buhler's nutritionist recommended he get his hormones checked. It wound up taking three months to get an initial appointment with a urologist, who then recommended a comprehensive blood test.

The blood work revealed that he did, indeed, have a hormone deficiency. Subsequent hormone treatment, in addition to taking vitamins and supplements to combat various risk factors, got Buhler's endocrine system back on track.

Born out of that frustrating situation and spurred by his more than 15 years in the medical-device industry, Buhler launched Houston-based Ways2Well in 2018. Propelled by a virtual health care platform, the company envisions a better way to treat patients by challenging the traditional health care model.

"While most virtual health care providers focus on sick care — treating patients experiencing symptoms that indicate sickness — Ways2Well is focused on preventative health care," says Buhler, a graduate of the University of Houston.

Through his own patient journey, Brigham Buhler saw a need for Ways2Well to exist. Photo via ways2well.com

Here's how Ways2Well works.

A patient visits the company's website to schedule a blood analysis at a Houston-area location of Quest Diagnostics. (Each year, Quest Diagnostics serves one-third of American adults and half of U.S. physicians and hospitals.)

Before the lab work, the patient discusses health concerns and wellness goals through a virtual appointment with a Ways2Well nurse practitioner.

Once the blood analysis is done, the nurse practitioner reviews the test results during a virtual appointment. The practitioner pinpoints underlying causes of chronic symptoms and potential risks for major conditions like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Those three ailments are the main drivers of the $3.5 trillion in annual health care costs racked up in the U.S. Ways2Well strives to reverse the symptoms of these and other chronic illnesses.

Finally, the nurse practitioner shares lifestyle or dietary changes that can reduce the likelihood of developing chronic diseases.

"Our online platform allows you to manage your health care journey from the convenience of your home or office, as long as you have access to a computer or phone and internet," Ways2Well says on its website.

Ways2Well charges nothing for a patient's initial 15-minute consultation. The blood analysis costs $299; Buhler says it goes well beyond what primary care doctors normally offer. The review of the blood analysis costs $120. Follow-up appointments cost $60 each. Neither Ways2Well nor ReviveRx accepts health insurance. However, an insurer might reimburse some out-of-pocket expenses.

The Ways2Well clinical team can prescribe medication, hormone therapy, prescription-grade vitamins and supplements, and other remedies through Ways2Well's partner pharmacy, ReviveRX. Ways2Well and ReviveRx occupy offices in the same building.

Typically, health care providers and pharmacies don't collaborate that closely on patient care. "Ways2Well is bridging that gap to offer better treatment to our patients," Buhler says.

Although ReviveRx is a full-service pharmacy, it doesn't operate like retail pharmacies such as Walgreens and CVS. Rather, patients are referred directly to ReviveRx by Ways2Well or Houston health care providers.

Today, Ways2Well focuses on the Houston market. But Buhler says the 12-employee, self-funded startup aims to expand to other Texas markets, such as Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, and San Antonio.

"Because Ways2Well is a virtual health care provider that offers appointments via video conferences and leverages the Quest Diagnostics network for blood analysis, Ways2Well can treat patients from anywhere in Texas," he says. "Ultimately, the goal is to make Ways2Well available nationwide, with a team of clinical experts across the U.S."

5 Houston entrepreneurs to know this Veterans Day

American heroes

Over a quarter of a million United States military veterans call Houston home, and that number is growing.

"Houston has the second largest and fastest growing veteran population in the country," says Reda Hicks, a Houston entrepreneur and military spouse herself. "That's a very significant chunk of our city to share an affinity, and it's not something Houston has talked about."

For its large veteran population, Houston was selected in January 2018 as the third location to set up a chapter of Bunker Labs, an acceleration and incubation organization for military-affiliated entrepreneurs.

"Our whole goal is to help empower military-affiliated people to start and grow businesses," says Hicks, who is one of the Houston leads for the program, a lawyer, and the founder of GotSpot Inc.

The program provides resources for veterans, military spouses, or anyone whose lives were affected by a family member in the military. Bunker Labs provides a digital platform for early-stage ideas called Launch Lab that's used by hundreds annually, and also has face-to-face programming through its Veterans in Business program hosted through WeWork.

"It can be the case that veterans can feel siloed, and it's wonderful to have those people around you who can really understand you, but for businesses to grow, they have to really understand the ecosystem they live in," Hicks says.

In honor of Veterans Day, here are a few Houston veteran entrepreneurs to know.

Dyan Gibbens, founder and CEO of Trumbull Unmanned

Dyan Gibbons

Dyan Gibbons translated her Air Force experience with unmanned missiles into a drone services company. Courtesy of Alice

Dyan Gibbons found her dream career in the United States Air Force Academy. She served as engineering acquisitions officer managing stealth nuclear cruise missiles, and even went on to supported Air Force One and Global Hawk UAS engineering and logistics. After her years of service, she transitioned into the reserves, when she discovered she was ineligible to serve again. She went back to the drawing board to recreate herself — this time, as an entrepreneur.

She went into a doctorate program — she already had her MBA — and was close to finishing up when her drone startup took flight. Trumbull Unmanned provides drone services to the energy sector for various purposes. With her experience as a pilot and managing unmanned missiles, she knew the demand for drones was only growing — and, being from Texas, she knew what industry to focus on.

"I wanted to start a company that uses unmanned systems or drones to improve safety and improve the environment and support energy," Gibbons tells InnovationMap in a previous interview.

Nicole Baldwin, chief visionary officer and founder of Biao Skincare

Nicole Baldwin

Photo via toryburchfoundation.org

Before founding her tech-enabled, all-natural skincare line, Biao, Nicole Baldwin served in the Army Civil Affairs Units and was deployed to Bagram, Afghanistan. In honor of Veterans Day, she shared on Facebook an image of her with young girls outside the compound she lived in.

"I often tell people not to thank me for my service, because I don't feel like I should be thanked for doing something I genuinely wanted to do," she writes in the post. "I am grateful every moment of my life knowing that I did all the things in and out of uniform that was felt from the heart."

Baldwin's company, which uses a skin-scanning technology has taken off, and she's participated in Houston's Bunker Labs programming, and she has also been a Tory Burch fellow and appeared on Shark Tank.

Brett Rosenberg, founder of Semper Fi Systems

Photo via LinkedIn.com

Brett Rosenberg spent a few years in the U.S. Air Force before he took his experience from national security to a different kind of security.

Rosenberg's startup is another one utilizing the resources of Houston's Bunker Labs. Semper Fi Systems takes information security experts' knowledge and machine learning solutions to optimize cybersecurity and avoid regulatory financial exclusion.

Nathan Wilkes, CEO of Guidon Holdings

Photo via LinkedIn.com

After four years in the U.S. Army based in Georgia, Nathan Wilkes enrolled in business school at Texas A&M University. It was during the program when he founded Guidon Holdings, a Cypress-based aggregates company that — through screening, washing, separating, clarifying, and much more — can turn a natural resource that is considered waste into something of value.

Wilkes is also a West Point Academy graduate and a member of the 2019 Bunker Labs Houston cohort.

Tim Kopra, partner at Blue Bear Capital

An U.S. Army vet, Tim Kopra spent over 244 days in space, and now he's using his tech background to invest in emerging energy companies. Courtesy of Tim Kopra

Before he spent a career total of 244 days in space, Tim Kopra first served his country in the United States Army. Nowadays, he serves the Houston innovation ecosystem as an investor and adviser to startups and entrepreneurs in the energy tech industry.

As a partner at venture fund Blue Bear Capital, Kopra uses his experience in the Army and in space to do figure out if entrepreneurs have what it takes to go the distance and if their technology is worth investing in.

"On face value, it may sound like an odd match, taking someone with a tech and operational background and putting them in venture, but quite frankly it feels very familiar to me because my career has really been focused on working on complex technology and operations with very small teams," tells InnovationMap in a previous interview. "It's not just a theoretical understanding of the technology, but understanding how to use the technology and how it works."

Here's how Houston hospitals stack up when it comes to safety, according to a national study

Best in class

Close to half of the Houston area's general acute-care hospitals are at the top of their class, according to new safety grades assigned to U.S. hospitals. But one hospital in the region is failing on the safety front, the grades show.

In its fall 2019 report card for acute-care hospitals, The Leapfrog Group gives letter grades of A, B, C, D, and F based on the hospitals' ability to shield patients from avoidable errors, injuries, accidents, and infections. The nonprofit represents hundreds of public and private employers that buy healthcare benefits.

In the Houston area, 19 hospitals earned an A, with 14 receiving a B, seven getting a C, one picking up a D and one being slapped with an F.

Chris Skisak, executive director of the Houston Business Coalition on Health, notes that 23 percent of hospitals in the Houston areas saw their Leapfrog grades go up while just 11 percent saw their grades go down. The coalition is a regional leader for The Leapfrog Group.

"Houston-area hospitals do care about their grades," Skisak says, "and going back to 2016, most obtained a higher grade after receiving a lower grade the previous assessment period. Houston is fortunate to have [about] 50 percent of its hospitals earn consistent A grades."

For the first time in at least four years, The Leapfrog Group did hit one Houston-area hospital — Huntsville Memorial Hospital — with an F. On the spring 2019 report card, the hospital received a D. In the fall of 2018, the mark was a C.

Huntsville Memorial Hospital currently is combating what's been described as a "dire financial situation."

In a November 1 statement, the Walker County Hospital District, which owns the Huntsville hospital, said the separate nonprofit entity that runs the hospital — Walker County Hospital Corp. — was beset by monetary woes and was on the verge of declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy. As a result, the district warned, the hospital might close.

According to The Huntsville Item, a proposed rescue of the hospital would place ownership and management in the hands of a joint venture between the hospital district and Plano-based Community Hospital Corp., a hospital management company. The nonprofit Plano company provides supply-chain services to a Huntsville medical practice, Huntsville Orthopedic Surgery and Sports Medicine PLLC.

In the statement, the district's board says it "remains committed to maintaining a viable hospital for the community and to improving hospital operations and services."

The Leapfrog Group graded a total of 42 hospitals in the Houston area. The nonprofit released its fall 2019 report card on November 7.

Houston-area hospitals that earned an A were:

  • Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital
  • HCA Houston Healthcare Conroe
  • HCA Houston Healthcare West
  • Houston Methodist Hospital
  • Houston Methodist West Hospital
  • Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital
  • Memorial Hermann Southeast
  • Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital
  • Memorial Hermann Northeast, Humble
  • Memorial Hermann Katy Hospital
  • HCA Houston Healthcare Kingwood
  • CHI St. Luke's Health Memorial Livingston
  • Houston Methodist Clear Lake Hospital in Nassau Bay
  • HCA Houston Healthcare Pearland
  • Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital
  • CHI St. Luke's Health The Woodlands Hospital
  • Houston Methodist The Woodlands Hospital
  • Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Hospital
  • HCA Houston Healthcare Clear Lake in Webster

Skisak says the Leapfrog report card "is a valuable resource for employers to share with their employees so that they can self-navigate to the safest and highest quality hospitals."

"The Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade offers critical patient safety information to consumers, in an easily digestible way, so that they can make informed decisions about where they seek care in the Houston area," he says in a release.

The Leapfrog Group bases its twice-a-year grades for hospital safety on 28 sets of publicly available data from more than 2,600 U.S. hospitals.