3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Abbey Donnell of Work & Mother, Blair Garrou of Mercury Fund, and Randa Duncan Williams. Courtesy photos

Editor's note: In the first weekly roundup of Houston innovators of 2021, I'm introducing you to three innovators across the city — one of the richest people in Houston, a venture capital expert, and a female founder with big plans for 2021.

Abbey Donnell, founder of Work & Mother

Abbey Donnell is looking forward to growing Work & Mother in 2021. Courtesy of Work & Mother

Abbey Donnell is making sure that when new moms go back to work in downtown Houston in 2021, they'll have a suite of professional, spa-like rooms to pump in. Work & Mother has recently opened its latest location in Three Allen Center and designed it with comfort and safety in mind.

"Pumping at work has always been incredibly hard for mothers. Now, with the pandemic, there are the added complications of germ spread, closed community spaces, and repurposed wellness rooms, which makes pumping at work nearly impossible. Yet, most employers still have a legal obligation to provide a proper space for nursing mothers," says Abbey Donnell, founder and CEO of Work & Mother, in a news release. Click here to read more.

Blair Garrou, managing director of Mercury Fund

Blair Garrou joined the Houston Innovators Podcast this week. Photo via MercuryFund.com

Despite the rollercoaster of a year 2020 has been for venture capital, Blair Garrou says he's never been busier. One thing he's seen increased is an interest in early stage investing — this, he says, is happening as the pandemic has shown a spotlight on the importance of tech and ramped up digitization in business.

"People are realizing that money is in innovation and tech — especially in software," Garrou says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "I can't tell you how many individual investors who call interested in investing in Mercury as a fund or our companies. People are not getting the return they desire from the markets and they are seeing tech companies do great things." Click here to read more and stream the podcast episode.

Randa Duncan Williams, owner of Texas Monthly

One of the four richest people in Houston, Randa Duncan Williams owns Texas Monthly. Photo courtesy of Texas Monthly

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the richest of them all? Nevermind, mirror. Forbes just told us. Houston's Duncan family, with a net worth of $22 billion, who once again appear on the annual Forbes ranking of America's richest families. (The Duncans come in at No. 11 on the Forbes list.)

The four children of pipeline mogul Dan Duncan — Randa Duncan Williams, Milane Frantz, Dannine Duncan Avara, and Scott Duncan — inherited a $10 billion estate from their father when he died in 2010. The net worth of each heir exceeds $5 billion.

Randa enjoys the highest profile among the four Duncan siblings. She is chairwoman of Houston-based Enterprise Products Partners, the pipeline giant founded by her father, and owns Austin-based Texas Monthly magazine. Click here to read more.

Randa Williams Duncan has the highest profile among Houston's richest family. Photo courtesy of Texas Monthly

These 4 Houstonians cash in on Forbes' list of richest American families

family fortune

While 2020 has been a nightmare financially for many, some locals have cashed in. One example is Houston's Duncan family, with a net worth of $22 billion, who once again appear on the annual Forbes ranking of America's richest families. (The Duncans come in at No. 11 on the Forbes list.)

The four children of pipeline mogul Dan Duncan — Randa Duncan Williams, Milane Frantz, Dannine Duncan Avara, and Scott Duncan — inherited a $10 billion estate from their father when he died in 2010. The net worth of each heir exceeds $5 billion.

Randa enjoys the highest profile among the four Duncan siblings. She is chairwoman of Houston-based Enterprise Products Partners, the pipeline giant founded by her father, and owns Austin-based Texas Monthly magazine.

Elsewhere in Texas, The Walton family once again reigns as the richest family in the U.S., according Forbes. Their net worth: $247 billion. In its 2020 budget year, Walmart racked up revenue of $524 billion — and the company continues to rack up riches for heirs of the retail giant's founders.

That $247 billion sum represents close to half of Walmart's annual revenue and is equivalent to the size of Chile's economy.

The net worth of Fort Worth billionaire Alice Walton, the only daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton, accounts for a little over one-fourth of the family fortune. Forbes estimates she's worth about $68 billion, making her the richest resident of Texas and the richest Walton heir. If Alice Walton were a family unto herself, she'd rank as the fourth wealthiest clan in the country.

Descendants of Sam Walton and brother Bud Walton own about half of Walmart's stock. Forbes says the stock generates more than $700 million in annual dividend income for the family.

Alice Walton isn't the only Texan who's a member of the Walton dynasty. Ann Walton Kroenke, one of the two daughters of Bud Walton, lives on a 535,000-acre ranch about 50 miles northwest of Wichita Falls. She is worth about $9.1 billion and is married to sports and entertainment titan Stan Kroenke, who's worth an estimated $8.3 billion.

While all of the Waltons don't live in the Lone Star State, members of four of the country's other wealthiest families do.

At No. 15 among the country's wealthiest families is the Butt family, with a net worth of $17.8 billion. Charles Butt is chairman and CEO of the H-E-B grocery chain, based in San Antonio and parent company of Dallas-based Central Market. Butt, grandson of H-E-B founder Florence Butt, and three relatives — sister Mary Butt Crook and two nephews — own H-E-B. The company's annual sales are around $28 billion.

The Hunt family, whose members are descendants of oil wildcatter H.L. Hunt, sit at No. 18 on the Forbes list with a net worth of $15.5 billion. The richest among them are billionaires Ray Lee Hunt and W. Herbert Hunt, both of Dallas.

Rounding out the Texas contingent on the Forbes list are members of Fort Worth's Bass family. The Basses hold down the No. 30 spot with a net worth of $10.8 billion. The four Bass brothers — Sid, Edward, Robert, and Lee — each inherited $2.8 billion from their oil tycoon uncle Sid Richardson after his death in 1959. Robert is the wealthiest of the foursome.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Rich Kinder, and his wife, Nancy, join an impressive list of Texans on the 2020 edition of the Forbes 400. Photo by Michelle Watson/Catchlight Group

10 Houston billionaires bank spots on Forbes' 2020 list of richest Americans

show me the money

In a booming, opportunity city full of tycoons, which billionaire reigns supreme? That honor goes to Richard Kinder, the pipeline mogul worth $6.2 billion — who is also a familiar name in philanthropic circles as a chief benefactor of Memorial Park. Locals may also recognize his name on the new Museum of Fine Arts, Houston building.

Kinder, and his wife, Nancy, join an impressive list of Texans on the 2020 edition of the Forbes 400, which ranks the 400 richest Americans and was released September 8. (See their methodology here.) "Pandemic be damned: America's 400 richest are worth a record $3.2 trillion, up $240 billion from a year ago, aided by a stock market that has defied the virus," Forbes writes.

Around Houston, the richest-of-the-rich list looks similar to recent years. Here's how local billionaires rank nationally in 2020 and how their wealth has fared:

Houston:

  • Richard Kinder — $6.2 billion, No. 103. Last year: $7.5 billion.
  • Pipeline heirs Dannine Avara, Scott Duncan, Milane Frantz, and Randa Duncan Williams — $4.8 billion each, No. 139. Last year: $6.3 billion.
  • Houston Rockets owner and restaurant kingpin Tilman Fertitta — $4.1 billion, No. 181. Last year: $4.9 billion.
  • Toyota titan Dan Friedkin of Houston — $4.1 billion, No. 181. Last year: $4 billion.
  • Houston Texans co-founder Janice McNair — $3.9 billion, No. 197. Last year: $4 billion.
  • Houston energy executive Jeffery Hildebrand — $3.6 billion, No. 222. Last year: $3.8 billion.
  • Former hedge fund manager John Arnold — $3.3 billion, No. 249. Last year: $3.3 billion.

Meanwhile, Walmart heiress Alice Walton of Fort Worth has retained her status as the richest Texan and America's richest woman in 2020, with a net worth estimated this year at $62.3 billion. That compares with $51.4 billion in 2019.

Walton moved up from No. 11 last year to No. 10 this year in the Forbes ranking of the richest Americans.

From 2019 to 2020, Walton's net worth jumped by $10.9 billion. To give you an idea of how much money that is, the size of the economy in Africa's Republic of Congo totaled $10.8 billion in 2019. Walton's entire net worth is slightly more than the size of the Costa Rican economy (nearly $61.8 billion in 2019).

Here's the regional breakdown for Texas' remaining Forbes 400 billionaires.

Dallas-Fort Worth:

  • Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones — $8.6 billion, No. 56. Last year: $8.6 billion.
  • Dallas banker and real estate investor Andy Beal — $7.6 billion, No. 67. Last year: $9.8 billion.
  • Fort Worth oil and gas heir Robert Bass — $4.8 billion, No. 139. Last year: $4.9 billion.
  • Dallas oil and gas heir Ray Lee Hunt — $4.6 billion, No. 154. Last year: $5.2 billion.
  • Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban — $4.2 billion, No. 177. Last year: $4.1 billion.
  • Margot Birmingham Perot, widow of Dallas tech entrepreneur Ross Perot — $4 billion, No. 186. Last year: $4.2 billion.
  • Fort Worth private equity titan David Bonderman — $4 billion, No. 186. Last year: $3.7 billion.
  • Omni Hotels and Gold's Gym king Robert Rowling of Dallas — $3.9 billion, No. 197. Last year: $5.5 billion.
  • Oil and gas chief Trevor Rees-Jones of Dallas — $3.5 billion, No. 228. Last year: $3.7 billion.
  • Dallas pipeline executive Kelcy Warren — $2.8 billion, No. 299. Last year: $4.3 billion.
  • Dallas real estate honcho H. Ross Perot Jr. — $2.5 billion, No. 339. Last year: $2.2 billion.
  • Fort Worth oil heir Sid Bass — $2.3 billion, No. 359. Last year: $3.1 billion.
  • Dallas banker Gerald Ford — $2.1 billion, No. 391. Last year: $2.3 billion.

Austin:

  • Michael Dell, tech magnate — $35.6 billion, No. 18. Last year: $32.3 billion.
  • Robert Smith, private equity entrepreneur — $6.2 billion, No. 125. Last year: $5 billion.
  • Bert "Tito" Beveridge, vodka tycoon — $4.6 billion, No. 154. Last year: $4.2 billion.
  • Thai Lee, tech entrepreneur — $3.1 billion, No. 268. Last year: $3 billion.
  • Joe Liemandt, software entrepreneur — $3 billion, No. 278. Last year: $3 billion.
  • John Paul DeJoria, hair care and tequila mogul — $2.7 billion, No. 319. Last year: $3.1 billion.
  • Jim Breyer, venture capitalist — $2.4 billion, No. 353. Last year: $2.5 billion. (Breyer recently relocated from Silicon Valley to Austin).
  • Brian Sheth, private equity entrepreneur — $2.3 billion, No. 359. Last year: $2.2 billion.

Of note, in just one year, Dell's net worth soared by $3.3 billion — more than the entire net worth of fellow Austin billionaire Thai Lee. The chairman and CEO of the Round Rock-based tech company that bears his name is Austin's richest resident.

Elsewhere in Texas:

  • Walmart heiress Ann Walton Kroenke — $8.4 billion, No. 58. Last year: $7.5 billion.
  • Real estate, sports, and entertainment big shot Stan Kroenke — $8.3 billion, No. 59. Last year: $9.7 billion. (The Kroenkes live on a massive ranch near the North Texas town of Vernon.)
  • Investor and former grocery distributor Drayton McLane Jr. of Temple — $2.8 billion, No. 299. Last year: $2.6 billion. McLane is former owner of the Houston Astros.
  • Hearing-aid mogul Bill Austin of Brownsville — $2.2 billion, No. 378. Last year: $2.4 billion.
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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Pipeline mogul and Memorial Park benefactor Richard Kinder (pictured with his wife, Nancy) leads the Houston billionaires. Photo by Michelle Watson/Catchlight Group

Houston billionaires named to Forbes' list of richest Americans for 2019

Seeing dollar signs

Who's the richest person in Texas? That title once again goes to Walmart heiress Alice Walton, of Fort Worth, according to the newly released Forbes 400 ranking. But seven very wealthy Houstonians also appear on the list of the 400 richest people in the country right now.

The top Houstonian on the list is Houston pipeline mogul Richard Kinder, who is tied with another Walmart heiress, Ann Walton Kroenke, for sixth place in Texas and No. 67 nationally. Forbes estimates they're each worth $7.5 billion.

The other Houston billionaires on the list are:

  • Randa Duncan Williams and her siblings Dannine Avara, Scott Duncan, and Milane Frantz, all of whom live in Houston. Each boasts an estimated net worth of $6.3 billion, tying them for the eighth place in Texas and 100th place nationally.
  • Restaurant mogul and Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, $4.9 billion. Tied for 15th in Texas and No. 140 in U.S.
  • Toyota titan Dan Friedkin, $4 billion. Tied for No. 21 in Texas. Tied for No. 187 in U.S.
  • Houston Texans co-founder Janice McNair, widow of businessman and Texans co-founder Bob McNair, $4 billion. Tied for No. 21 in Texas and No. 187 in U.S.
  • Energy executive Jeffery Hildebrand, $3.8 billion. No. 23 in Texas. Tied for No. 207 in U.S.
  • Former hedge fund manager John Arnold, $3.3 billion. No. 26 in Texas. No. 261 in U.S.
  • Energy mogul George Bishop of The Woodlands, $2.4 billion. Tied for No. 33 in Texas and No. 355 in U.S.

With an estimated net worth at $51.4 billion, Walton is the 11th richest person in the country (and the richest person in the Lone Star State). Second in line is Austin's Michael Dell, founder, chairman, and CEO of Round Rock-based Dell Technologies, who notches a net worth of $32.3 billion, which puts him at No. 18 on the list of America's billionaires. Holding down third place in Texas and 48th in the U.S. is Dallas banker and real estate titan Andy Beal, with an estimated net worth of $9.8 billion.

This year, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones got muscled out of the No. 4 spot in Texas by Stan Kroenke, whose professional sports holdings include the NFL's Los Angeles Rams. The estimated net worth of Kroenke, who owns a 520,000-acre ranch west of Wichita Falls, is $9.7 billion, compared with $8.6 billion for Jones. That puts Kroenke in 49th place and Jones in 56th place among the richest Americans.

Here are the other Texans who made it onto this year's Forbes 400, in order of ranking:

  • Omni Hotels and Gold's Gym king Robert Rowling of Dallas. $5.5 billion. No. 12 in Texas. Tied for No. 119 in U.S.
  • Oil and gas heir Ray Lee Hunt of Dallas. $5.2 billion No. 13 in Texas. No. 127 in U.S.
  • Venture capital entrepreneur Robert Smith of Austin. $5 billion. No. 14 in Texas. Tied for No. 131 in U.S.
  • Oil heir Robert Bass of Fort Worth. $4.9 billion. Tied for No. 15 in Texas and No. 140 in U.S.
  • Pipeline executive Kelcy Warren of Dallas. $4.3 billion. No. 17 in Texas. Tied for No. 159 in U.S.
  • Vodka tycoon Bert "Tito" Beveridge of Austin. $4.2 billion. Tied for No. 18 in Texas and No. 168 in U.S.
  • Margot Birmingham Perot of Dallas, widow of tech entrepreneur H. Ross Perot. $4.2 billion. Tied for No. 18 in Texas and No. 168 in U.S.
  • Tech entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban of Dallas. $4.1 billion. No. 20 in Texas. Tied for No. 179 in U.S.
  • Private equity giant David Bonderman of Fort Worth. $3.7 billion. Tied for No. 24 in Texas and No. 217 in U.S.
  • Oil and gas chief Trevor Rees-Jones of Dallas. $3.7 billion. Tied for No. 24 in Texas and No. 217 in U.S.
  • Investor and oil heir Sid Bass of Fort Worth. $3.1 billion. Tied for No. 27 in Texas and No. 275 in U.S.
  • John Paul DeJoria of Austin. $3.1 billion. Tied for No. 27 in Texas and No. 275 in U.S.
  • Tech entrepreneur Thai Lee of Austin. $3 billion. Tied for No. 29 in Texas and No. 287 in U.S.
  • Software entrepreneur Joe Liemandt of Austin. $3 billion. Tied for No. 29 in Texas and No. 287 in U.S.
  • Oil heir W. Herbert Hunt of Dallas. $2.6 billion. Tied for No. 31 in Texas and No. 333 in U.S.
  • Investor and former grocery distributor Drayton McLane Jr. of Temple. $2.6 million. Tied for No. 31 in Texas and No. 333 in U.S.
  • Hearing-aid titan Bill Austin of Brownsville. $2.4 billion. Tied for No. 33 in Texas and No. 355 in U.S.
  • Energy entrepreneur and Texas Rangers co-owner Ray Davis of Dallas. $2.3 billion. Tied for No. 35 in Texas and No. 363 in U.S.
  • Big-time banker Gerald Ford of Dallas. $2.3 billion. Tied for No. 35 in Texas and No. 363 in U.S.
  • Oil heir Edward Bass of Fort Worth. $2.2 billion. Tied for No. 37 in Texas and No. 370 in U.S.
  • Oil heir Lee Bass of Fort Worth. $2.2 billion. Tied for No. 37 in Texas and No. 370 in U.S.
  • Real estate developer H. Ross Perot Jr. of Dallas. $2.2 billion. Tied for No. 37 in Texas and No. 370 in U.S.
  • Private equity entrepreneur Brian Sheth of Austin. $2.2 billion. Tied for No. 37 in Texas and No. 370 in U.S.
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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Randa Williams is the high-profile heir of the Duncan family. Photo courtesy of Texas Monthly

Houston pipeline heirs strike it rich as wealthiest family in Texas

AMERICA'S WEALTHIEST FAMILIES

Missouri has the Busches. Nebraska has the Buffetts. New York has the Hearsts. These are among the best-known wealthy families in the U.S.

Lesser-known nationally but well-known in Texas is the Duncan family of Houston, identified by FamilyMinded.com as the richest family in Texas. The website, which rounded up a list of the richest family in each state, pegs the family's estimated net worth at $26 billion; Forbes puts it at $25.6 billion.

The Duncan family comprises the four children of the late pipeline mogul Dan Duncan.

The children — Dannine Avara, Scott Duncan, Milane Frantz, and Randa Williams — inherited a tax-free $10 billion share of their father's estate following his death in 2010, when the so-called "death tax" had temporarily been repealed, according to Forbes. Each of them has an estimated net worth of $6.4 billion, Forbes says.

Williams is perhaps the most visible of the four Duncan heirs.

Williams is the only Duncan sibling who's involved in running the family business. She is chairwoman of Houston-based Enterprise Products Partners LP, the pipeline company that her father founded in 1968. Last year, the company posted revenue of $36.5 billion. In June, Williams made a big splash with her purchase of Austin-based Texas Monthly magazine.

While the Duncans are worth close to $26 billion, their wealth doesn't come close to that of Alice Walton of Fort Worth, the richest person in Texas. Forbes estimates her net worth at $52.4 billion.

FamilyMinded.com lists Alice Walton and her fellow heirs to the Walmart fortune as the richest family in Arkansas (where Walmart is based), with an estimated net worth of $163 billion. They're also the richest family in the U.S.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Here's who you need to know this week in Houston innovation. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

This group of innovators to know this week are passionate people. From starting companies to making acquisitions, here's what they are up to and why you need to know their names.

Kelly McCormick, director of RED Labs

Photo courtesy of UH

Kelly McCormick is in the business of making University of Houston's entrepreneurs' dreams into realities. The RED Labs director wrote a guest article for InnovationMap about side hustles — what they are and how to make them worth their while.

"A side hustle has a science to it, and more importantly, it has an art," she writes. Read her full article here.

Randa Duncan Williams, chairman of Enterprise Products Partners LP

Photo courtesy of Texas Monthly

For the second time in three years, Texas Monthly has a new owner. But if Randa Duncan Williams — energy exec and heiress worth over $6 billion — has anything to say about it, she'll be the last new owner of the magazine. Duncan Williams — who acquired the magazine by way of a privately held company, Enterprise Products Company, that's a subsidiary of Enterprise Products Partners, the company her late father founded — says she wants to own the magazine "forever." Read the full story here.

Cody Gremminger, system engineer at Cyber One Solutions

Cody Gremminger

Photo courtesy of Cyber One Solutions

Cody Gremminger is running a booming tech services business with his fiance, Brian Carrico. The company is called Cyber One Solutions and provides management, service and IT support services to the greater Houston area with satellite offices in Austin, Dallas, Lufkin, Brenham, and Beaumont.

While business couldn't be better, the entrepreneur wants to make sure Houston takes this month to remember the losses and challenges that the LGBT community has endured to get where it is today. Read the full story here.

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2 Houston startups make strategic C-suite hires

short stories

A couple of Houston tech startups have recently announced new appointments to their C-suites. A med tech company with its national headquarters in Houston has a new leader, and a Houston software has a new exec focused on strategy.

Optellum names new CEO

Jason Pesterfield will lead United States operations for Optellum. Photo courtesy of Optellum

Optellum, a medical software startup based in the United Kingdom and has its United States HQ in Houston, has appointed Jason Pesterfield as CEO to lead growth in the U.S. clinical market. Optellum AI-based software enhances early lung cancer diagnosis and therapy with its medical device software platform, Virtual Nodule Clinic.

Pesterfield was previously the president and CEO of Veran Medical Technologies, a leader in image-guided lung cancer diagnosis. He brings 25 years of leadership experience in the medtech sector. Optellum was founded by Václav Potěšil, Lyndsey Pickup, Timor Kadir, Professor Sir Mike Brady, and Jérôme Declerck.

"It took us almost a year to find the right successor who shares our vision and has the right expertise to take Optellum on to the next stage of growth," says Potěšil in a news release. "I am really excited to work with Jason, to make Optellum's platform available to every clinician in the USA and around the world, and to help them diagnose their lung cancer patients as early as possible. With Jason on board, I can focus on advancing Optellum's vision to transform early lung cancer therapy through partnerships that harness the power of AI software combined with molecular diagnostics, robotics and interventional devices, and drugs."

Liongard announces chief strategy officer

Patrick Schneidau is the chief strategy officer for Liongard. Photo courtesy

​Houston software-as-a-service company, Liongard, has named Patrick Schneidau as chief strategy officer. The company, founded in 2015, was a 2021 InnovationMap Awards finalist and reported that the team was looking to expand by around 70 new hires over the next year.

"Liongard is an incredible Houston growth story," Schneidau tells InnovationMap. "Our founders, Joe Alapat and Vincent Tran, have built a first-class team that allow technology service providers to operate at 10x by providing unprecedented insight and data into the systems deployed in the modern IT stack. In a rapidly growing market, they are quickly becoming 'must have' technology. I'm excited to join to team to accelerate their growth into new markets and with new products."

Schneidau spent over a decade at Houston-based PROS before serving in C-level positions at two other Houston startups — Commtrex and Truss. He's also previously served as talent committee chair for Houston Exponential.

Houston startup raises $1.75M round with support from local female-focused investor

future of work

A Houston-based startup focused on upskilling young professionals has closed its latest round of funding with support from a local investor.

Ampersand Professionals Inc. raised $1.75 million in pre-seed funding led by Curate Capital, a Houston-based, female-focused venture capital fund. Carrie Colbert, Curate's founding and general partner, will join Ampersand's advisory board.

Ampersand — founded in 2020 by Allie Danziger with Co-Founders Kathrin Applebaum and Scott Greenberg — has developed a platform for businesses to easily implement internship programs. The program also upskills and educates young professionals, providing them career development and job skills training.

"Ampersand's mission to democratize access to career-building opportunities for young professionals, ties in nicely with Curate's mission to empower women, says Colbert in a news release. "The company's platform will have a direct positive impact on young women (and others) as they begin their professional careers."

Both the female founders are personally driven by motivating and inspiring women and driving future of work solutions. The fresh funding will go toward expanding the Ampersand platform and network.

"The shift to remote work during the pandemic not only completely changed the way we all work, but also made it even more difficult for so many recent, and soon-to-be graduates, to make the connections needed to land their first internship and then gain the meaningful training to excel in those roles," says Danziger in the release. "This infusion of capital allows Ampersand to expand our e-learning platform, matching algorithm capabilities, ensure our training matches the needs of our business partners, and expand our university partnerships around the country."

Since September 2020, the Ampersand team has developed its training and career development platform with over 100 hours of job skills training content, according to the release, and has placed over 200 driven professionals in remote internships. (InnovationMap has been a business partner in Ampersand's program.)

Curate Capital was founded in 2020 by Carrie Colbert and Mark Latham. The firm, and its initial $10 million fund, is focused on funding early-stage, female-founded companies.

Houston startup with AI-optimized surgical scheduling technology is ready to scale

houston innovators podcast episode 101

With so many moving parts in the health care industry, Pamela Singh says patients can go through all the pre-operation steps up to literally arriving to the hospital, only to find out their surgery has been canceled due to an admin error.

Singh's startup, which she founded with her husband and surgeon Dr. Ashvin Dewan, CaseCTRL is looking to prevent these surgical scheduling inefficiencies. On this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, Singh explains how the idea for the company came from an organic need Dr. Dewan saw in his practice.

"We decided there needs to be a better way to help surgeons, schedulers, and patients to have a better experience," Singh, who serves the company as CEO, says on the show. "Surgery is the highest revenue-generating event for any hospital, clinic, or private practice. And your patients are essentially your customers, so you need to give them the best patient experience."

CaseCTRL started with this patient-focused goal, but throughout development, Singh says she realized the overall effect of optimization. Especially, she says, when it came to COVID-19's effect on surgery scheduling. The company got its start amid the pandemic, and wasn't sure how the cancelation of elective surgeries was going to impact the startup's journey. But really, with the backlog of surgeries building up over different periods of stopping and restarting surgeries, a rising need for optimization emerged.

"COVID has had some sort of silver lining for us," Singh says, explaining that surgical facilities were looking for a way to catch up. "They realized the need for automating and streamlining their practice. And they realized that, instead of spending another four hours coordinating with patients and vendors, they could literally do it with the click of a button."

Now, in light of this growing need and awareness, Singh and her team is ready to scale. She says she is working with her team on integration opportunities and building out the tech to make it even more convenient to use.

Currently, the company is in the process of completing its Techstars accelerator and raising pre-seed funding. CaseCTRL was a member of gBETA Houston's second cohort and has pitched at several Houston innovation ecosystem events. Singh was even an inaugural finalist for the 2021 InnovationMap Awards. She says she's been surprised by how supportive Houston has been.

"The community here is diverse and, most importantly, supportive," Singh says, adding that at first they wondered if Houston had too much health care innovation and competition. "We realized the community in Houston ... really wants to see you succeed. The biggest pro is that entrepreneurial spirit here in Houston."

Singh shares more about her entrepreneurial journey and what's on the horizon for CaseCTRL, as well as her advice for fellow female founders in the podcast. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.