Houston House at SXSW 2024 featured conversations about startup scaling, tips from CEOs, and more. Photo via Allie Danziger/LinkedIn

Houston innovators talked big topics at SXSW 2024 — from the startup scaling and converging industries to the future of work.

Houston House, which was put on by the Greater Houston Partnership on March 11, hosted four panels full of experts from Houston. If you missed the day-long activation, here are some highlights from the experts who each commented on the future of the Bayou City when it comes to startups, technology, innovation, and the next generation's workforce.

"When we think about Houston, we think about access to at-scale infrastructure, amenities, and workforce and talent pools."

— Remington Tonar, co-founder and chief growth officer at Cart.com, says about why the company chose to return its headquarters back to Houston last year. One of these amenities, Tonar explained, is Houston's global airports.

"If New York and Austin had a baby, it would be Houston, because you have friendly people with a big-city culture."

— Mitra Miller, vice president and board member of Houston Angel Network, says, adding that Houston has a cost efficiency to it, which should be at the forefront of founders' minds when considering where to locate.

"We are not only attracting global talents, we are also attracting global wealth and foreign investments because we are the rising city of the future. We are the global launch pad where you can scale internationally very quickly."

— Sunny Zhang, founder of TrueLeap, says adding how there's a redistribution of global workforce happening when you consider ongoing global affairs.

"We overwhelmingly as a company, and my co-founder would agree, knew we had to go the Houston path. And we started funneling a lot more resources here."

— Carolyn Rodz, co-founder and CEO of Hello Alice, says, explaining that the pandemic helped equalize the talent across the country, and this has been to the benefit of cities like Houston.

"Houston is here with arms open, welcoming people and actively recruiting."

— Sean Kelly, co-founder and CEO of Amperon, says, emphasizing how Texas has made moves to being business friendly. Amperon was founded in New York, before moving to Houston a couple years ago.

"There is a revolution starting to happen in Houston right now."

— Trevor Best, co-founder and CEO of Syzygy Plasmonics, says, first commenting on the momentum from Rice University, where his company's technology originates from. But, as he adds, when you compare the ecosystem when the startup was founded in 2019 to where it's at now, "there is so much more happening."

"Houston has a critical mass in terms of aerospace."

— Stephanie Munez Murphy of Aegus Aerospace says, saying specifically that NASA's Johnson Space Center holds some responsibility for that. "JSC is the home of opening up space commercialization."

"There's diversity in industries people are coming from, but also in terms of experience and expertise that (Houstonians) have."

— Robyn Cardwell of Omniscience says, adding that Houston's diversity goes further than just where people originate from. "Houston has all these pieces put together ... for growing and scaling organizations," she adds.

"I've worked with thousands of students in Houston who are actively looking to better themselves and grow their career post college or post high school and go into the workforce."

— Allie Danziger of Ascent Funding says, adding that Gen Z, which is already entering the workforce, is entrepreneurial and ready to change the world. "Seeing the energy of Houstonians is just thrilling," she adds.

"We're working together in the Houston community. ... There are so many opportunities to collaborate but we need conveners." 

— Stacy Putman of INEOS says, adding that within industry there has been a lack of discussion and collaboration because of competition. But, as she's observing, that's changing thanks to conveners at colleges or at the Greater Houston Partnership.

"The opportunity for Houston is that everybody has to step up to be in some way, shape, or form helping us with this."

— Raj Salhotra of Momentum Education says about supporting the future workforce of Houston, including low-income household students.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Angela Holmes of Omniscience, David Pruner of TEX-E, and Jessica Traver of IntuiTap. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Welcome to another Monday edition of Innovators to Know. Today I'm introducing you to three Houstonians to read up about — three individuals behind recent innovation and startup news stories in Houston as reported by InnovationMap. Learn more about them and their recent news below by clicking on each article.

Angela Holmes, CEO of OmniScience

Angela Holmes is the CEO of OmniScience. Photo via omniscience.com

A Houston organization established to provide critical data science support to its clients has rebranded and entered into its latest era.

Mercury Data Science has officially rebranded as OmniScience. Founded in 2017 as a spin off of Mercury, a local venture capital group, the data science-focused software company is led by CEO Angela Holmes, who was named to the position in 2022.

"OmniScience signifies our commitment to being a force of innovation in data science and life sciences," Holmes says in the release. "The new brand mirrors our vision for the future, where data science is a driving force for positive change in life sciences." Read more.

David Pruner, executive director of TEX-E

David Pruner, executive director of TEX-E, joins the Houston Innovator Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

Collaboration is the name of the game for David Pruner, executive director of the Texas Entrepreneurship Exchange for Energy, known as TEX-E, a nonprofit housed out of Greentown Labs that was established to support energy transition innovation at Texas universities.

TEX-E launched in 2022 in collaboration with Greentown Labs, MIT’s Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship, and five university partners — Rice University, Texas A&M University, Prairie View A&M University, University of Houston, and The University of Texas at Austin.

Pruner was officially named to his role earlier this year, but he's been working behind the scenes for months now getting to know the organization and already expanding its opportunities from students across the state at the five institutions.

"In the end, we have five different family members who need to be coordinated differently," Pruner says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "There's plenty of bright students at each of these schools, and there's plenty of innovation going on, it's whether it can grow, prosper, and be sustainable." Read more.

Houston health tech startup revolutionizing spinal taps receives FDA clearance

Co-founded by CEO Jessica Traver, IntuiTap says it plans to roll out the device at U.S. hospitals within the next year. Photo courtesy of IntuiTap

Houston startup IntuiTap Medical has gained clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its VerTouch medical device.

The company says VerTouch is designed to make spinal punctures more accurate and consistent. The handheld imaging tool helps health care providers perform spinal punctures at a patient’s bedside.

IntuiTap says it plans to roll out the device at U.S. hospitals within the next year. The company is mulling global partnerships to help launch VerTouch.

Jessica Traver, co-founder and CEO of IntuiTap, says the FDA clearance “marks a crucial milestone in our team’s journey to making epidurals, spinals, and lumbar punctures more accurate and efficient.” Read more.

Mercury Data Science has officially rebranded as OmniScience. Photo via Getty Images

Houston data science firm rebrands to focus on the intersection of AI and life science

introducing OmniScience

A Houston organization established to provide critical data science support to its clients has rebranded and entered into its latest era.

Mercury Data Science has officially rebranded as OmniScience. Founded in 2017 as a spin off of Mercury, a local venture capital group, the data science-focused software company is led by CEO Angela Holmes, who was named to the position in 2022.

"OmniScience signifies our commitment to being a force of innovation in data science and life sciences," Holmes says in the release. "The new brand mirrors our vision for the future, where data science is a driving force for positive change in life sciences."

Angela Holmes is the CEO of OmniScience. Photo via mercuryds.com

Per the news release, the rebranding aligns the company with its mission of supporting innovation at the intersection of biology and data science. The new name reflects the combination of "omniscient" and "science," according to the company.

OmniScience's technology helps its customers across the life science spectrum with navigating key data insights for clinical trials, purpose-built AI development, and other data science services, according to its website.

"This rebrand represents more than just a name change; it signals a bold step into the future, where OmniScience will play a pivotal role in shaping the data science landscape in life sciences," reads the release.

The firm is based out of Texas Medical Center Innovation and has over 20 employees listed on the website.

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New platform launches in Houston to invest in clean energy endeavors

eyes on energy transition

Houston-based EnCap Energy Transition Fund has launched a platform that will take minority equity stakes in battery storage systems, solar energy systems, and other energy transition projects in the U.S.

With its new Bildmore arm, the EnCap fund aims to fuel development of renewable energy projects that can’t attract traditional tax equity financing. Bildmore expects to invest in 10 to 15 third-party, utility-scale clean energy projects each year.

Bildmore seeks to capitalize on clean energy incentives tucked into the federal Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, including the ability of projects to sell tax credits. Specifically, the platform says it hopes to address “a chronic short supply” of tax equity deals due to heightened demand triggered by the inflation reduction law.

EnCap is no stranger to utility-scale solar power and battery storage systems. The fund backs Houston-based Broad Reach Power and Austin-based Jupiter Power, two of the largest players in the U.S. market for battery storage.

David Haug leads Bildmore as its CEO. He is co-founder and senior managing director of Houston-based Arctas Capital Group, which invests in energy infrastructure projects.

“Bildmore will focus on … battery storage and solar projects, particularly those which have chosen to leave all or part of their energy output available for ‘merchant’ sale rather than be sold under long-term contracts,” Haug says in a news release. “We want to help those development teams lacking the deep balance sheets typically required by tax equity providers.”

EnCap Investments, sponsor of the EnCap Energy Transition Fund, manages capital from more than 350 U.S. and international investors. Since its founding in 2019, EnCap Investments has raised 25 institutional investment funds totaling about $41 billion to support independent energy businesses in the U.S.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

Houston research on asset valuation reveals importance of 'opinion shopping'

Houston voices

Firms often have to estimate the “fair value” of their investments, meaning they have to declare what an asset is worth on the market. To avoid the potential for bias and manipulation, companies will use third-party services to provide an objective estimate of their assets’ fair value.

But nothing prevents a company from seeking multiple third-party estimates and choosing whichever one suits their purpose.

In a recent study, Shiva Sivaramakrishnan (Rice Business) and co-authors Minjae Koo (The Chinese University of Hong Kong) and Yuping Zhao (University of Houston) examine two motives for switching third-party evaluators: “opinion shopping” and “objective valuation.”

Firms that opinion shop are looking for a third-party source to make their investments look better on paper. For example, if Service A says an asset is worth $80 — and that means the company would have to take an accounting loss — the company might switch to Service B, which says the asset is worth $90. By using the higher estimate from Service B, the company avoids a loss.

Opinion shopping can be a dangerous practice, both on a macro level and for the specific firms that engage in it. Not only does it reduce the quality of fair value estimates for everyone, it means some company assets are potentially overvalued. And if those assets ever decline in value for real, the company will eventually take a loss.

Moreover, opinion shopping opens the door to managerial opportunism. If assets are valued more highly, managers are likely to receive credit and potentially use that perceived accomplishment to advance their careers.

There are reasons for companies to go the other way. In the hypothetical scenario above, our company might switch from Service B ($90) to Service A ($80) to receive a more accurate and objective estimate. The “objective valuation” motive helps companies meet regulatory requirements and ensure estimates reflect true market value. What’s more, the objective valuation motive helps curb managerial buccaneering.

The study looks at when and why life insurance companies will switch their third-party review service. The team finds that both motives — opinion shopping and objective valuation — are common. Sometimes companies want to better align their fair value estimates with what similar assets are trading for in the market. Other times, they want assets to look better on paper.

Of the two motives, opinion shopping is the more dominant, particularly when they are in conflict with each other. On the whole, evidence suggests that companies switch price sources strategically to inflate estimates and avoid losses, rather than to get more accurate estimates.

The study has implications for investors, regulators and researchers. “Opinion shopping” could be prevalent in non-financial industries, as well — especially public firms with capital market incentives. More disclosure around price sources could improve estimate reliability.

Future research could examine asset valuation practices and motives in other sectors such as banking, real estate and equity investments. Are some industries more prone to opinion shopping than others? What factors make opinion shopping or objective valuation more likely? Are there certain signals or patterns that indicate when a company is opinion shopping versus seeking objectivity?

Answers to these questions could help discern acceptable from unacceptable third-party source switching. And understanding if certain types of companies are more at risk could help regulators and auditors focus their efforts.

The bottom line:

Accurate accounting matters. While external sources are better for measuring the fair value of any given asset, companies can distort the very concept of fair value estimates by changing their source. More rigor, transparency and auditing around price sources could curb manipulation and improve estimate reliability.

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This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom and was based on research from Shiva Sivaramakrishnan, the Henry Gardiner Symonds Professor of Accounting at Rice Business.

Houston health tech company announces $10M in fresh funding to bolster customer care

cha-ching

Roshal Health, a Katy-based provider of ultrasound and echocardiogram services for health care facilities, has secured $10 million in structured equity financing.

New York City-based investment firm Catalio Capital Management led the financing, with participation from Austin-based investment firm Green Street Impact Partners.

“This is an important next step in our journey and will further bolster our ability to meet customer care delivery targets with cost-efficient and high-quality diagnostic services,” Michael Hall, CEO of Roshal Health, says in a news release.

Roshal Health provides on-site and on-demand ultrasound and echocardiogram services to ERs, micro-hospitals, rural hospitals, and offsite health care facilities. The company, founded in 2005, employs more than 300 people.

John Henry Iucker, general partner and head of credit at Catalio, says the Roshal Health financing deal “demonstrates alternative financing models as an attractive solution for dynamic and fast-growing companies in a challenging fundraising environment.”

Health care professionals use ultrasound to evaluate, diagnose, and treat medical conditions. For example, a doctor might order an ultrasound to find out whether a lump in someone’s breast is cancerous. Or an obstetrician-gynecologist might order an ultrasound to monitor the health of a fetus.

Meanwhile, health care providers most commonly use electrocardiograms, which are ultrasound procedures, to capture images of a patient’s heart and heart valves.