3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Alfredo Arvide of Slalom Consulting, Allison Post of the Texas Heart Institute, and Jeff Price of Pronto Pay. Courtesy photos

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — tech consulting, health care, and fintech — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Alfredo Arvide, senior principal within product engineering at Slalom Consulting

Should you launch an app? Or just a web page? This consultant weighs in with his advice. Photo courtesy of Slalom

Tech founders have a lot of decisions to make, and Alfredo Arvide of Slalom Consulting wrote a guest column for InnovationMap to help advise on a big one.

"One of the biggest decisions you'll have to make as an entrepreneur is whether you should host your product or service on the web, via an app, or through a webapp," he writes. "Product development has a million intricacies that will dictate – and sometimes demand – a specific route to market." Read more.

Allison Post, manager of innovation partnerships at the Texas Heart Institute

Allison Post joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share what she's focused on in cardiac innovation. Photo courtesy of THI

In a perfect world, Houston's health care institutions work collaboratively on innovative health care solutions and the city soars as a major hub for life science innovation. That perfect world is Allison Post's goal. As Texas Heart Institute's manager of innovation partnerships, she is in charge of supporting THI innovators and connecting the institute with the rest of the city.

"I only see just phenomenal things for Houston, and what I really want is for the Texas Medical Center to become even more interconnected. We've got to be able to transfer ideas and thoughts and intentions seamlessly between these institutions and right now there are a lot of barriers," Post says. "And I really think Texas Heart is hopefully going to serve as an example of how to take down those barriers." Read more and stream the episode.

Jeff Price, founder and CEO of Pronto Pay

This Houston startup has an app for helping employees get a portion of their paychecks before payday. Photo via Pexels

So much of the country lives paycheck to paycheck, and Jeff Price saw a business opportunity to help out employees who need an advance on their wages. He founded Pronto Pay in the first quarter of 2021. The software aims to connect hourly works with transparent access to wages earned before pay day without disrupting the employers' books.

"When you think about it, payroll hasn't changed in nearly two centuries. As far as we can remember, you get paid weekly or bi-weekly. And that's precisely the point we're trying to solve," Price says. Read more.

This Houston startup has an app for helping employees get a portion of their paychecks before payday. Photo via Pexels

Houston-based software startup aims to connect workers with wages in real time

there's an app for that

Could you incur an unexpected $400 expense if it hit your bank account today? According to Jeff Price, founder and CEO of Houston-based Pronto Pay, many hourly workers could not. He's set out to change that.

"When you think about it, payroll hasn't changed in nearly two centuries. As far as we can remember, you get paid weekly or bi-weekly. And that's precisely the point we're trying to solve," Price says.

A recent graduate from Rice University's Jones Graduate School of Business, Price founded Pronto Pay in the first quarter of 2021. The software aims to connect hourly works with transparent access to wages earned before pay day without disrupting the employers' books. Currently the company has seven staff members, is actively hiring and is looking to expand outside of Houston soon.

Pronto Pay partners with the employers to seamlessly build out connections with their time and attendance system and payroll processor. After the company signs up, ProntoPay automatically creates an account for each employee, which allows them to view their accrued wages and withdraw their earnings instantly from the app or next-day for automated clearing house payments — all via the Pronto Pay App. When an employee wishes to withdraw funds prior to their normal pay cycle, Pronto Pay applies a small fixed fee — $2.99 — for completing the transaction. .

Come pay day, the employer's system will automatically balance the difference and route the withdrawn money back to Pronto Pay. As Price describes it, Pronto Pay aims to compete "directly with (while severely undercutting the price of) payday and other predatory lenders."

The idea was born out of a series of simple questions Price started to ask himself when he envisioned what his newborn son's first job would be earlier this year.

"My wife and I were having our son and it challenged me to ask questions like, 'Hey, why do we get paid bi-weekly? If I can Venmo 100 bucks in real time, why can't a company do that?'" Price recalls.

Apart from the impact of advanced pay, Price envisions that earned wages access will improve workplace culture and retention, too. Pronto Pay has already on-boarded users in the local staffing and warehousing markets, in the janitorial and security guard fields, and at call centers. As Price describes, Pronto Pay's clients "typically have a lot of hourly employees that struggle with employee retention and keeping folks at the same job for longer than three to 12 months."

"We're hoping that we can permanently change that employee-employer relationship," he adds. "And help those employees."

Jeff Price is the founder and CEO of Pronto Pay.

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Pitch perfect: What investors are looking for, according to Houston research

houston voices

Pitching to a venture capitalist is not only the most challenging part of building a startup, it’s also the most important. You can have the next pet rock idea, but nobody will ever experience it and you’ll never make a dime if the genius of this product cannot be expressed in an investor pitch. Okay, so pet rock isn’t the best example.

Let’s say you have a product that gets rid of stretch marks overnight. Great idea, right? Of course. But if you’re in front of an investor and they ask you how your product works, and you can’t answer them, your idea will forever remain just that: an idea. It’ll never manifest itself materially, which is your goal.

Did you know that the average venture capitalist holds around 500 in-person meetings per year? Further, did you know that only one in every 10 startups will make it past the first meeting?

With so many meetings with startup founders, you better believe that investors are virtually looking for reasons to pass on you and your cordless extension cord. Or whatever fakakta contraption you’ve developed in your garage.

Well, with so much importance placed on first impressions, here are some of the most important things investors look for and notice when you pitch to them:

Value proposition

This is what separates you from the pack. This is what makes your startup a standout. A value proposition shows an investor your company’s competitive advantage. If you can explain to your potential investor why it would be their folly if they invested in a competitor over your startup, then you’ll be that much closer to rolling out your product to market. Investors want to see a product or service that is unique because that means less competition, and less risk involved.

Entrepreneurship

Sure, you might be a brilliant scientist. You may have developed nanotechnology that eviscerates dirt and bacteria so you don’t have to shower anymore. But have you put together a team that can make your company a successful business? Do you have team members with experience in whatever it is your startup does? Do you have people with credibility congruent with your startup? Your pitch is a way for investors to find these things out. If you can show them that your team has experience, passion, insightfulness, and expertise, investors will feel much better about taking a chance on you.

Confidence is key

Investors can tell if a founder is confident, but not overconfident about how far they’ve come and how far they know they can go. During a pitch, investors can tell if your team is a cohesive unit or parts of a fractured whole.

Anatomy of an investor pitch

Your potential investor will notice if your pitch is structured well. He or she will take not of whether or not your pitch is designed well. They’ll ask themselves if it’s authentic. Does it cover business metrics? Is it concise and to the point? Is the founder communicating something complex in a simple way? Doing so shows absolute understanding and a total grasp of your product and the science behind it, plus the business aspect of it.


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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Rene Cantu was the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

Houston area robotics tech company announces European expansion

growing strong

A Webster-based tech company has officially launched operations in two European countries — and it's only the beginning.

Nauticus Robotics Inc. (NASDAQ: KITT), which went public a few months ago, opened operations in Norway and the United Kingdom, "beginning the company’s international expansion strategy for 2023 and beyond," according to a release from Nauticus. The company develops underwater robots, software, and services to the marine industries.

“The ocean touches nearly every aspect of our lives, yet paradoxically seems to receive less attention and innovation when compared to other sectors,” says Nicolaus Radford, founder and CEO of Nauticus, in the release. “As we expand our operations to these strategic locales and beyond, our core mission remains the same: to become the most impactful ocean robotics company and realize a future where autonomous robotic technologies are commonplace and enable the blue economy for the better."

The two new operating bases are in Stavanger, Norway, and Aberdeen, Scotland. The two outposts will serve the North Sea offshore market. According to the release, Nauticus will work with local partners to service the region’s offshore wind and oil and gas markets. The company will also expand Nauticus Fleet, a "robotic navy of surface and subsea robots," which was established in April of 2022.

These two new regional offices are just the first examples of international growth Nauticus has planned, according to the release. Established to serve as logistics operation centers, the company's expansion plan includes new remote operation centers and service teams around the world in growth markets. The company did not announce any specific expansion plans.

"We are eager to ramp up activities in these international markets as our growing team contributes to our mission," Radford adds.

In October, shortly after its IPO, Nauticus announced that it has been awarded a second multimillion-dollar contract from the U.S. Defense Innovation Unit, part of the U.S. Defense Department, for development of a self-piloted amphibious robot system powered by the company’s ToolKITT command-and-control software.

The company was originally founded in 2014 as Houston Mechatronics Inc. before rebranding in 2021.

UH launches hydrogen economy program for energy professionals, students

say hi to hydrogen

The University of Houston will launch a new micro-credential program titled “The Hydrogen Economy” starting Feb. 20 and running through May 8.

The program is designed for industry professionals, rising seniors, and graduate students. It aims to present the "opportunities and challenges offered by the growing hydrogen sector," according to a statement from UH.

“The energy field is evolving rapidly, and energy professionals need to do the same," Ramanan Krishnamoorti, vice president of energy and innovation at UH, said in a statement. "What we’re seeing is that the people the companies are going to value are those who can contribute to this transformation.”

The program consists of three badges that are earned via 15-hour modules held over three-week periods. Courses and lectures are held via Zoom weekly with recorded sessions to be viewed independently twice a week.

Participants can complete the entire program (earning all three badges) for $2,000, or earn individual badges for $750 each.

According to UH, the program aims to give participants a solid understanding of:

  • Key characteristics and drivers for hydrogen as the decarbonization fuel of choice
  • Fundamentals for the existing hydrogen market, and how it is poised to change
  • Policy and strategy: Critical factors in building The Hydrogen Economy
  • Hydrogen as a means for transporting and storing renewable energy
  • Current and emerging options for producing hydrogen, including offshore options
  • Basics of hydrogen safety
  • Technical options for storing and transporting hydrogen, including decision factors
  • Fuel cells and their roles in transportation, in the electric grid, and in domestic and commercial power supply
  • Hydrogen fueled vehicles – from forklifts, trains and ships to aircraft
  • Hydrogen as a fuel to decarbonize industry
  • Trade-offs for use of hydrogen vs. electrification vs. advanced renewable hydrocarbon fuels as vectors for decarbonization

The new offering from UH is one of several micro-credential programs UH Energy has launched since 2020. Other programs include:

  • Upstream Energy Data Analytics Program
  • CCUS Executive Education Program
  • Data Analytics for the Process Industries Program
  • Sustainable Energy Development Program
  • Environmental, Social and Governance in Energy
  • Rubbers in Extreme Environments

For more specifics about the Hydrogen Economy Program, click here

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