3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Austin Rolling, Gabriella Rowe, and Aaron Knape are this week's Houston innovators to know. Photos courtesy

In this weekly roundup of Houston innovators, we find an entrepreneur who created the tech solution he wished he'd had as a salesman, an innovation leader with big goals for The Ion, and a startup founder who's in for a very busy March.

Here are this week's Houston innovators to know.

Austin Rolling, CEO and co-founder of Outfield

austin rolling

Photo courtesy of Outfield

As an experienced salesman, Austin Rolling knows the challenges salespeople face on a daily basis. Rolling, who worked in a number of positions in both inside and outside sales with such big name companies as Whirlpool and Beats by Dre. He tells InnovationMap about how he wished he had better tools for communication and keeping organized.

"Fast forward some years later, my co-founder and I decided to work on a solution that could help support outside sales agents and I was able to use my domain expertise as an outside sales rep to ID the realm of solutions for various customer segments," Rolling says.

Rolling runs Outfield, a Houston-based software company gives field reps an intuitive interface to manage their territory and accounts on-the-go as well as instantly communicate with the rest of their team effortlessly across all devices. Click here to read more.

Gabriella Rowe, executive director of The Ion

Courtesy of Station Houston

Now that Station Houston has merged with Capital Factory, Gabriella Rowe, who previously served Station as CEO, has completely transitioned into her role as executive director of The Ion. On last week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, Rowe discussed the merger and how her goal for The Ion is to make the facility a vehicle for innovation development, but also create a diverse and inclusive environment reflective of Houston's own diversity.

"We're creating an opportunity for Houstonians," Rowe says on the episode, explaining why she's focused on bringing in a wide range of programming and education into The Ion.

In the episode, Rowe also discusses the Ion Smart Cities Accelerators, which has 10 companies from its inaugural cohort in pilot mode across Houston and has launched applications for its second cohort, as well as why she thinks Houston's innovation ecosystem is sure to succeed this time around. Click here to read more and stream the podcast.

Aaron Knape, co-founder and CEO of sEATz

Courtesy of sEATz

Like most lifelong Houstonians, Aaron Knape has a long history with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. But this season, he'll be involved in a whole new way. Knape's startup, sEATz, an in-seat delivery app, will be live in certain sections of the rodeo at NRG Stadium.

"It's really great to be able to be a part of the rodeo as far as a provider to help enhance that experience in the stadium," Knape says. "It goes back to our model of we want to serve a venue and the fans in that venue — not necessarily a specific sport or concert."

SEATz had a busy football season, servicing the likes of The Texans, the University of Houston Cougars, and more, but turns out, football is not over. Through its partnership with Delaware North, the food and beverage provider for UH's TDECU Stadium, sEATz has added the XFL's Houston Roughnecks fans to its roster of users. Click here to read more.

Houston-based Outfield, a sales management app, wants to gamify the sales process for its users. Photo via outfieldapp.com

Growing Houston startup is gamifying professional sales with management tools for sellers

Always be gaming

Actor Alec Baldwin's "always be closing" monologue is not only the most popular scene in David Mamet's 1992 film, "Glengarry Glen Ross," it has become the unofficial mantra for sales professionals worldwide.

While that ABC line, the art of persuasion and strong product offerings are necessary pillars in sales, the ability to centralize data and foster accountability, productivity and drive revenue is just as vital. That's where Outfield, a web and mobile-based CRM, comes in. The app specializes in data driven revenue and efficiency solutions for companies with a burgeoning outside sales force.

"Outfield is a software solution designed specifically to support organizations to drive revenue, generate efficiencies and build operational structures via outside sales, field marketing efforts and field merchandising efforts," says Austin Rolling, CEO and co-founder of Outfield.

"For example, the merchandising that seen in a grocery store where sales reps are taking pictures of displays, dropping off marketing collateral, setting up demos and setting up tastings, those are the types of programs where individuals will likely use our software solutions in order to manage their workflow operations," Rolling adds.

How it works

Outfield's selling point revolves around helping organizations discover valuable insights about their market vertical, track and verify their sales team's activity and manage their field operations.

Simply put, it gives field reps an intuitive interface to manage their territory and accounts on-the-go as well as instantly communicate with the rest of their team effortlessly across all devices.

Outfield makes it easier for sales teams to keep track of projects and clients. Photo via outfieldapp.com

"Prior to starting Outfield, I worked in a number of sales positions, both outside and inside sales positions," says Rolling, who worked in sales with such big name companies as Whirlpool and Beats by Dre. "When I was in outside sales, I was always underwhelmed with the amount of support and solutions we were provided while we were out in the field. I always knew there was an opportunity there because the tools that we had were lacking in terms of capabilities.

"Fast forward some years later, my co-founder and I decided to work on a solution that could help support outside sales agents and I was able to use my domain expertise as an outside sales rep to ID the realm of solutions for various customer segments."

Rolling founded Outfield with co-founder Adam Steele in 2015 and operates out of The Cannon, an entrepreneurial co-working space specifically designed to house Houston-based startups and small businesses.

Management tools for sellers

The company began as a solution for a nutraceutical and supplement company called Cellucor.

Cellucor needed an efficient way to manage its legion of outside sales reps, which were servicing stores like Vitamin Shoppe and GNC where they worked with the in-store representatives to promote their brand products.

The company also wanted to track the whereabouts of its sales reps, monitor their touch points in the field and centralize the teams' reports and call forms.

"Sales reps are able to manage their relationships and interactions with their customers through the tool," says Rolling. "We can also integrate with our customers' inside sales tool if they have one. We can send our data over to other systems. It depends on whether or not the system that we are looking to integrate with actually has an open API that we can transmit data from our system to theirs.

"In terms of sales numbers and touch points that you have with customers, there's a report that outside sales reps need to fill out while out in the field. They can record all of the information then sync that data into the cloud, so the sales manager or sales director can see all of that data from the web-based version of Outfield."

Rolling's intimate understanding of the needs of outside sales reps and knowledge of the industry vertical has been immeasurable in growing Outfield's client base, which has expanded to over 200 customers in 75 countries.

Gamifying sales

Over the next five years, the burgeoning startup plans to build on its momentum as a disruptor in the space by incubating and releasing a new suite of products that will ultimately have a number of synergies with Outfield.

The most pressing product is League Play, a built-in game for salespeople within the Outfield CRM platform that allows sales reps the opportunity to compete and collaborate with one another similar to popular video games such as MLB The Show 20 or NBA 2K20.

"League Play essentially allows reps to build reputations of being star performers based on their utilization and activity of their Outfield account," says Rolling. "They're able to leverage that data and this will be good for comparison purposes for upper management. Therefore, if a sales manager or sales director wants to know who their star player is, they can go into League Play see how their sales reps are performing. We designed it to be very reminiscent of sports."

The tool has leaderboards and signature player cards, which is similar to Topps baseball cards. The player cards features the sales reps' profile, including all of the statistics of their individual performance and offer attributes.

"Like Madden, you can go in and see how their ratings are," says Rolling. "This is something that's going to be groundbreaking. This is something that has not been done before. The idea is to be sales as a sport to take advantage of sales reps' competitive nature. It should boost their overall productivity, which managers should be able to reap the benefits of, while reps will be able to build their own brand and personal reputation. It's a great way to boost performance overall."

All sales reps that utilize Outfield will be automatically entered into League Play. While the platform allows sales reps the chance to feel like they're athletes, it also helps them build reputations for themselves as top tier sales professionals and give them more of a vested interest in utilizing the application.

Moving forward, Outfield wants to further permeate the market in its widespread use of advanced analytics with the help of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

"We want to be able to think about KPI's and metrics that can tell the story of outside sales in a very specific way," says Rolling. "We think that we can infuse and generate an appetite for people who want to think more intelligently about their go-to-market activities because one thing we're learning and know for sure is that our customers aren't getting less competitive, they're getting more competitive."

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2 COVID-19-focused research projects happening in Houston

research roundup

While it might seem like the COVID-19 pandemic has settled down for the time being, there's plenty of innovative research ongoing to create solutions for affordable vaccines and tech-enabled protection against the spread of the virus.

Some of that research is happening right here in Houston. Here are two innovative projects in the works at local institutions.

UH researcher designs app to monitor best times to shop

A UH professor is putting safe shopping at your fingertips. Photo via UH.edu

When is the best time to run an errand in the pandemic era we currently reside? There might be an app for that. Albert Cheng, professor of computer science and electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston, is working on a real-time COVID-19 infection risk assessment and mitigation system. He presented his plans at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers conference HPC for Urgent Decision Making and will publish the work in IEEE Xplore.

Cheng's work analyzes up-to-date data from multiple open sources to see when is the best time to avoid crowds and accomplish activities outside the home.

"Preliminary work has been performed to determine the usability of a number of COVID-19 data websites and other websites such as grocery stores and restaurants' popular times and traffic," Cheng says in a UH release. "Other data, such as vaccination rates and cultural factors (for example, the percentage of people willing to wear facial coverings or masks in an area), are also used to determine the best grocery store to shop in within a time frame."

To use the app, a user would input their intended destinations and the farthest distance willing to go, as well as the time frame of the trip. The risk assessment and mitigation system, or RT-CIRAM, then "provides as output the target location and the time interval to reach there that would reduce the chance of infections," said Cheng.

There's a lot to it, says Cheng, and the process is highly reliant on technology.

"We are leveraging urgent high-performance cloud computing, coupled with time-critical scheduling and routing techniques, along with our expertise in real-time embedded systems and cyber-physical systems, machine learning, medical devices, real-time knowledge/rule-based decision systems, formal verification, functional reactive systems, virtualization and intrusion detection," says Cheng.

2 Houston hospitals team up with immunotherapy company for new vaccine for Africa

The new vaccine will hopefully help mitigate spread of the disease in Sub-Saharan Africa. Photo via bcm.edu

Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital have teamed up with ImmunityBio Inc. — a clinical-stage immunotherapy company — under a licensing agreement to develop a safe, effective and affordable COVID-19 vaccine.

BCM has licensed out a recombinant protein COVID-19 vaccine candidate that was developed at the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development to ImmunityBio. According to the release, the company engaged in license negotiations with the BCM Ventures team, about the vaccine that could address the current pandemic needs in South Africa.

"We hope that our COVID-19 vaccine for global health might become an important step towards advancing vaccine development capacity in South Africa, and ultimately for all of Sub-Saharan Africa," says Dr. Peter Hotez, professor and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor and co-director of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development.

ImmunityBio, which was founded in 2014 by Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, is working on innovative immunotherapies that address serious unmet needs in infectious diseases, according to a news release from BCM.

"There is a great need for second-generation vaccines, which are accessible, durable and offer broad protection against the emerging variants," says Soon-Shiong. "ImmunityBio has executed on a heterologous ("mix-and-match") strategy to develop a universal COVID-19 vaccine. To accomplish this, we have embarked upon large-scale good manufacturing practices and development of DNA (adenovirus), RNA (self-amplifying mRNA) and subunit protein (yeast) vaccine platforms. This comprehensive approach will leverage our expertise in these platforms for both infectious disease and cancer therapies."

Elon Musk taps into Texas workforce for out-of-this-world bartender gig

DRINKING ON THE JOB

Can you mix a mean margarita? Are you capable of slinging a superb Aperol spritz? If so, Elon Musk wants you to become a "spaceport mixologist."

Musk's SpaceX, which builds and launches rockets, is hiring a "passionate, experienced" mixologist for its "spaceport" near Brownsville. The ideal candidate possesses at least two years of "superior" mixology experience at resorts, bars, and full-service restaurants, including the ability to pair drinks with themed menus.

Among other duties, the mixologist will prepare drinks, including handcrafted cocktails, and will ensure "consistency and compliance with the restaurant's recipes, portioning, and waste control guidelines."

The new mixologist will concoct alcoholic beverages for SpaceX's launch facility in Boca Chica, a Texas Gulf Coast community about 20 miles east of Brownsville. The job posting indicates the mixologist will work on the culinary team serving the SpaceX workforce.

According to Austin-based job website Indeed, the average mixologist in the U.S. earns $13.53 an hour. The SpaceX job posting doesn't list a salary, but you've got to imagine Musk — by far the richest person in Texas — would fork over more than $13.53 an hour for a spaceport mixologist.

By the way, in case you're not a master mixologist, SpaceX also is looking for a sous chef in Boca Chica. The sous chef will be tasked with cooking up menus that emphasize seasonal items and "creative" options. The chef's duties will include sourcing high-quality ingredients "with a focus on local, sustainable, and organic items."

Musk, who spends much of his time in Austin, is developing what the Bloomberg news service describes as an "empire" in Texas. Aside from the SpaceX facility, Musk-led Tesla is building a vehicle manufacturing plant just east of Austin and is moving its headquarters here. If that weren't enough, the Musk-founded Boring Co., which specializes in developing underground tunnels, lists 20 job openings in Austin on its website. In addition, SpaceX tests rocket engines at a site in McGregor, about 17 miles southwest of Waco.

"Texas has had its share of characters over the years, and many have been larger-than-life, wealthy risk-takers who came from elsewhere," Waco economist Ray Perryman tells Bloomberg. "There's still a wildcatting mentality here, and there's still a mystique about Texas that Elon Musk fits well."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.