California-based Sidecar Health has rolled out its health insurance tech services in Texas. Images via sidecarhealth.com

The health insurance situation in Texas is anemic.

Last year, 17.7 percent of Texans lacked health insurance, according to newly released data from the U.S. Census Bureau. That's the highest rate of uninsured residents among all of the states.

The problem is even more acute in the Houston metro area. In 2018, nearly 1 in 5 residents of the region (18.6 percent) had no health insurance, the Census Bureau says. That's the highest rate of uninsured residents among the country's 25 most populous metro areas.

If you do the math, that translates into more than 5 million residents of Texas, including more than 1.3 million in the Houston area, who have no health-insurance safety net. A startup called Sidecar Health is setting out to reduce those numbers.

Texas recently became the first market for Sidecar Health's insurance plans, which it promotes as being "personalized" and "affordable." By the end of this year, the El Segundo, California-based company hopes to enroll at least 5,000 Texans.

Just as with subscription services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, a consumer can sign up for or cancel their Sidecar Health plan at any time. A member can lock in their Sidecar Health rate for three years.

Technically, Sidecar Health isn't an insurance company. Rather, it manages the insurance plans that it sells.

"Sidecar Health is different from traditional insurance in that we pay a fixed amount for any medically necessary service or prescription drug that you buy," the company explains on its website. "That means if your provider charges more than that fixed amount, you pay the difference. And if your provider charges less, you keep the difference."

Through Sidecar Health, a consumer can visit any healthcare provider, healthcare facility, or pharmacy they choose, as long as self-paying patients with credit cards or debit cards are accepted. This setup allows "complete transparency and control over healthcare costs," says Patrick Quigley, the startup's CEO.

"We make this possible by enabling our members to pay for care when they get it using the Sidecar Health payment card. Because doctors get paid immediately, they offer huge discounts. On average, it is 33 percent or more cheaper than what they charge big insurance companies," Quigley tells InnovationMap. "And because our members are doing the buying by swiping the card, they know what things cost. So you get true transparency and affordability — the way health insurance should be."

Through the Sidecar Health app, a member can see how much healthcare providers in their area charge, enabling them to compare prices.

"Our approach results in a truly affordable option for the millions of people left behind by the traditional model — those who don't qualify for a government subsidy but can't afford the cost of traditional plans," Quigley says in a release.

Sidecar Health is operating throughout Texas without any employees or offices in the state. The company sells its product directly through its website. On the website, consumers can educate themselves on available insurance plans before signing up online. Its Texas insurance plans are underwritten by Eatontown, New Jersey-based United States Fire Insurance Co., part of insurance conglomerate Crum & Forster.

Since its founding in 2018, Sidecar Health has raised $18 million in funding, led by San Francisco-based GreatPoint Ventures and Los Angeles-based Morpheus Ventures.

The startup's offering "is a great example of taking an otherwise complex process and making it simple, which is why Sidecar Health is such a game changer in health insurance," says Joseph Miller, managing partner of Morpheus Ventures.

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Growing Houston-based drone software company snags government contract

ready for liftoff

Ty Audronis quite literally grew up in Paradise. But the Northern California town was destroyed by wildfire in 2018, including Audronis’ childhood home.

“That’s why it’s called the Campfire Region,” says the founder, who explains that the flames were started by a spark off a 97-year-old transmission line.

But Audronis, who has literally written the book on designing purpose-built drones — actually, more than one — wasn’t going to sit back and let it happen again. Currently, wildfire prevention is limited to the “medieval technology” of using towers miles apart to check for smoke signals.

“By the time you see smoke signals, you’ve already got a big problem,” Audronis says.

His idea? To replace that system with real-time, three-dimensional, multi-spectral mapping, which exactly where his company, Tempest Droneworx, comes in.

When asked how he connected with co-founder Dana Abramowitz, Audronis admits that it was Match.com — the pair not only share duties at Tempest, they are engaged to be married. It was a 2021 pre-SXSW brainstorming session at their home that inspired the pair to start Tempest.

When Audronis mentioned his vision of drone battalions, where each is doing a specialized task, Abramowitz, a serial entrepreneur and founder who prefers to leave the spotlight to her partner, told him that he shouldn’t give the idea away at a conference, they should start a company. After all, Audronis is a pioneer in the drone industry.

“Since 1997, I’ve been building multicopters,” he says.

Besides publishing industry-standard tomes, he took his expertise to the film business. But despite its name, Tempest is a software company and does not make drones.

That software is called Harbinger. Audronis explains that the real-time management and visualization solution is viewable on practically any device, including mobile or augmented reality. The system uses a video game engine for viewing, but as Audronis puts it, “the magic happens” on the back end.

Harbinger is not just drone-agnostic, but can use crowd-sourced data as well as static sensors. With the example of wildfires in mind, battalions can swarm an affected area to inform officials, stopping a fire before it gets out of hand. But fires are far from Harbinger’s only intended use.

The civilian version of Harbinger will be available for sale at the end of 2023 or beginning of 2024. For military use, Navy vet Audronis says that the product just entered Technical Readiness Level (TRL) 5, which means that they are about 18 months away from a full demo. The latest news for Tempest is that earlier this month, it was awarded a “Direct to Phase II” SBIR (Government Small Business Innovation Research) contract with the United States Department of the Air Force.

Not bad for a company that was, until recently, fully bootstrapped. He credits his time with the Houston Founder Institute, from which he graduated last February, and for which he now mentors, with many of the connections he’s made, including SBIR Advisors, who helped handle the complex process of getting their SBIR contract.

And he and Abramowitz have no plans to end their collaborations now that they’re seeing growth.

“Our philosophy behind [our business] isn’t keeping our cards close to our vest,” says Audronis. “Any potential competitors, we want to become partners.”

The company was just the two founders until five weeks ago, when Tempest’s size doubled, including a full-time developer. Once Tempest receives its SIBR check, the team will grow again to include more developers. They are currently looking for offices in the city. As Audronis says, Tempest Droneworx is “100-percent made in Houston.” Paradise may have been lost, but with Harbinger soon to be available, such a disaster need never happen again.

Dana Abramowitz and Ty Audronis co-founded Tempest Droneworks. Photo courtesy of Tempest Droneworx

Report: Houstonians lose days-worth of time each year due to rush hour

not in the fast lane

Traffic is a part of life in Houston. But a new study quantifies just how much time the average Bayou City dweller spends sitting in rush hour gridlock every year—and the results are eye opening.

According to a study released this month by CoPilot, Houstonians lose nearly four days of time each year due to rush hour commuting.

The report found that rush hour extends Houstonians' commute by an extra 22 minutes per day. Annually, that totaled an additional 91.6 hours commuting due to rush hour.

This earned the Houston area (including the Woodlands and Sugar Land) a No. 8 spot on CoPilot's list of cities where commuters lose the most time to rush hour.

Evening commutes saw the highest increase in time in Houston, with the average commuter spending 14 additional minutes on roadways due to rush hour. Morning rush hour in Houston added about eight minutes to commuters' daily drives.

Houston was the only Texas city to make CoPilot's list of the top 15 cities that lost the most time to rush hour traffic. New York drivers lost the most time to rush hour, which adds about 32 minutes to daily commutes and 132 hours a year, according to the report. Los Angeles drivers lost the second-most time, followed by urban Honolulu, Miami, Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Birmingham, Alabama.

The report found that drivers in Houston spend about eight more minutes commuting during rush hour than the average driver in the county. That totals to about 30 more hours per year than the average U.S. driver.

Commute times have been dropping nationally, reaching a low of 25.6 minutes in 2021 compared to 27.6 minutes in 2019, as more workers have transitioned to hybrid schedules or working from home, according to CoPilot

In 2020, Houston drivers even witnessed a 33 percent drop in traffic compared to in 2019, according to a study from Rice.

Still, Houston roadways are consistently ranked among the most congested in the country. Last year, a similar study found that the typical Houston driver wasted 46 hours due to traffic congestion.

Portions of the 610 West Loop are notorious for being ranked as the state's most congested roadways, and other stretches of roads are known as some of the worst bottlenecks in Texas.