As medicine and technology both advance, these Houston startups are at the forefront of the industry. Getty Images

With the Texas Medical Center at the heart of Houston, health advancement opportunities are endless. Medical breakthroughs are happening across town, but as technology advances, the industry is seeing more and more startups popping up to take new tech tools and applying them to traditional medical devices and procedures.

These five Houston startups are developing the future of the industry — one device at a time.

Portable Therapeutix

For years, Squid Compression has helped ease the pain of patients in doctor's offices. Now, anyone can get the treatment on the go. Photo via squidgo.com

The country is currently in an opiod crisis, and one solution is making pain-relieving devices more accessible to patients. That's what Houston-based startup Portable Therapeutix LLC is trying to do with its drug-free solution to pain called Squid Go. The portable device is designed to ease the pain and swelling of sore joints and muscles using cold therapy and compression therapy. It's a follow-up to the company's Squid Compression, a pain management device launched in 2013 for patients at rehabilitation centers, hospitals, doctor's offices, and the like.

To reap the benefits of Squid Go, a consumer uses the device for just 15 minutes. Squid Go — which combines a cold gel pack with proprietary compression technology — features special air pockets that inflate and deflate, gently massaging the body part needing treatment. That massaging boosts circulation and reduces swelling.

"Increased circulation brings more nutrient- and oxygen-rich blood to the area, promoting recovery," says Sam Stolbun, co-founder of Portable Therapeutix. "Meanwhile, [the] gentle compression also drives the pain-relieving cold from the gel pack deeper into the tissues to alleviate soreness and discomfort." Read more about Squid Go here.

Zibrio

Balancing is important throughout your life, and Zibrio has the tools and tips for you to use to stay centered. Pexels

From NASA to your bathroom floor — Katharine Forth has found a new way to track balance. With her company, Zibrio, people can have the everyday ability to figure out how balanced they are.

"The machines typically used for balance measurement can be as large as a telephone booth, so we invented a new way to measure postural control using a much smaller mechanism that fit inside a moon boot," Forth says.

Zibrio is a health company that aims to be the gold standard of measuring balance. The Zibrio scale calculates users' weight like a typical scale and rates their balance on scale of 1 to 10.

The scale gathers data from your weight, your postural control, your muscles and other factors to calculate the rating. Andrea Case-Rogers, chief experience officer at Zibrio, describes a perfect rating of 10 as elusive for most, or "Simone Biles on a good day." Read more about Zibrio here.

Saranas Inc.

Saranas Inc. is testing its technology that can detect and track internal bleeding complications. Getty Images

A Houston-based medical device startup is on a twofold mission to reduce healthcare costs and improve the safety of complex medical procedures involving blood vessels. Saranas Inc. currently in clinical trials for its Early Bird Bleed Monitoring System, which is designed to detect and track bleeding complications related to endovascular procedures. If all goes well, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will approve Early Bird in 2019, Syed says. Then, the device would be made widely available to medical facilities across the country.

"What attracted me to Saranas is that our solution has the potential to meaningfully reduce serious bleeding complications that worsen clinical outcomes and drive up healthcare costs," says Zaffer Syed, president and CEO of Saranas. "In addition, our device may support access of important minimally invasive cardiac procedures by allowing them to be performed more safely."

Dr. Mehdi Razavi, a cardiologist with the Texas Heart Institute at Houston's Texas Medical Center, invented the device. It's being tested by the institute and other medical facilities in the U.S. As many as 100 patients will participate in the clinical trial, which is expected to last several months. Read more about Saranas and the Early Bird here.

EllieGrid

Courtesy of EllieGrid

Talking the right vitamins and medications at the right times shouldn't seem like more trouble than it's worth. Houston-based EllieGrid is a smart pill box that is easy to organize and stylish to use on the go. Plus, with a growing volume of users, the company is able to use its customer data to track medication compliance.

"What's really neat about EllieGrid is that we are starting to learn users' habits as days go by, so that we can trigger alarms at optimal times," says co-founder and CEO Abe Matamoros at The Cannon's female entrepreneurs pitch night.

For co-founder, Regina Vatterott, the company is about reinventing traditional medical devices that can be clunky or inefficient for daily use.

"We want to do more and more with medical devices because we think that people are always people before they are patients," Vatterott says. Read more about EllieGrid here — as well as more about the founder here.

Intelligent Implants

Intelligent Implant's co-founder, Juan Pardo, told the crowd at Demo Day that his company's device allows for 50 percent faster bone growth in patients. Photo by Cody Duty/TMC

Chronic lower back pain can result in a need for spinal fusion surgery — and 40 percent of those surgeries fail, says Juan Pardo, co-founder of Intelligent Implants, which has an office in Houston. Pardo and his team have come up with an implant that tracks post-op healing and introduces electronic stimulation wirelessly.

The device is the same size and shape as the spacer that surgeons currently use, but contains a technology that can deliver electronic stimulation therapy and monitor progress without needing batteries. The doctor is able to adjust treatment remotely, and the device can heal the patient 50 percent faster than the standard care.

Intelligent Implants was announced as the first in-residence company at the Center for Device Innovation by Johnson and Johnson and also launched its large animal studies. The company has a goal to raise $1.6 million, and has already secured $900,000 — $250,000 of which came from the new TMC Venture Fund. Read more about Intelligent Implants and the other Texas companies in its TMC cohort here.

EllieGrid, the smart pillbox, is using user data to ensure medicine compliance. EllieGrid/Instagram

Houston's smart pillbox startup gets even smarter about its users with data tracking technology

update available

What if your pillbox was enabled to use technology to not only notify you to take your medicine, but also predict when you might be likely to miss a dosage. For Houston-based EllieGrid, this hypothetical situation isn't too far from reality.

EllieGrid reimagines the normal pillbox. Rather than sorting your medicine into days and times, which can take a good amount of time, you sort your medicine in its own compartments. Then, once you've programmed the free app with your medicine schedule, you get notifications to your phone when it's time to take your pills. EllieGrid's compartments light up to indicate which medicine to take and how many pills.

"What's really neat about EllieGrid is that we are starting to learn users' habits as days go by, so that we can trigger alarms at optimal times," says co-founder and CEO Abe Matamoros at The Cannon's female entrepreneurs pitch night.

If a user needs to take their medicine between 8 and 10 a.m. every day, the alarm might go off earlier during the week, and later in that bracket of time on the weekends, according to when the user tends to wake up.

While convenient, EllieGrid's ability to track users' compliance actually adds even more value to the company's product — as do the monthly surveys users are invited to take, which helps the company get to know their user and their medical profile.

"We realize that most people go to the doctor once every six months, but a lot can happen during that time," Matamoros says. "But if they get used to this monthly dialogue, that's extremely valuable. And by combining these things, we can really decrease the probability that they stop taking their medicine."

Insurance companies pay pharmacists up to $60 to call patients who haven't picked up their medicine within 30 to 60 days, Matamoros says. But EllieGrid can tell if users failed to take their medication the day of and can notify the user or their family members — and even insurance companies — with much more immediacy.

The startup has seen a growing interest from major players in the retail sector. At the Consumer Technology Association's Consumer Electronics Show in early January, EllieGrid co-founder, Regina Vatterott, says the company received market validation and interest from a few international health-related retail companies. Now, the Houston-based team, which has in the past focused on direct-to-consumer sales, is looking to solidify its infrastructure and supply chain to make sure it can fulfill potential B-to-B orders.

In an interview last year, Vatterott told InnovationMap that the bigger picture that her and her co-founders are trying to do is transform traditional medical devices into consumer-focused health accessories.

"We want to do more and more with medical devices because we think that people are always people before they are patients," Vatterott says.

Three female-founded companies pitched to potential investors at The Cannon. Here's why they are ones to watch. Courtesy photos

3 female Houston startup founders to watch in 2019

Leading ladies

The Lone Star State has been deemed a great place for female entrepreneurs to get their feet wet, and Houston's ecosystem is full of these leading ladies. At a pitch party at The Cannon, a coworking space in West Houston, over 100 guests, including Cannon Ventures investors and Cannon members, gathered to hear three of these female founders pitch their companies.

From DNA dating and smart pillboxes to an educational franchise company, these three female-led institutions are ones to watch this year. Here's why.

X&Y Technologies

Brittany Barreto wants X&Y Technologies to be known for its science-based dating expertise. Karla Martin/Pheramor

Now is the time to have a DNA-based technology company, says Brittany Barreto, CEO and co-founder of X&Y Technologies. She launched her genetics-based data app over two years ago, and now she's expanding the brand to include a couples compatibility test and B-to-B software-as-a-service feature, so that other dating apps can utilize her technology.

"Our traction with the dating app was a fantastic way to prove that we are the thought leaders, we have the infrastructure, and we have the algorithm and we've proven that the market is ready to buy a DNA kit to find love," she says in her pitch.

With fundraising plans in 2019, Barreto hopes to launch the expanded company, and says she has already seen a lot of interest in both of the new DNA-based products. Read more about Pheramor's national growth, the X&Y expansion, and how Barreto got her start.

IDEA Lab Kids

Ghazal Qureshi pitched her education franchise company, IDEA Lab Kids, and discussed her plans to double its presence in 2019. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Six years ago, when Ghazal Qureshi wanted an after school program for her kid and their diverse interests, she created it. Now, the interactive programming that focuses on the science, technology, engineering, arts and math activities for kids is a growing franchise opportunity. After launching the franchise model in February 2017, IDEA Lab Kids already has 10 locations, with seven coming on board within the next few months — including a location in Ecuador.

"In 2019, we're looking to double the number of campuses," Qureshi says in her pitch.

What makes IDEA Lab different from its competitors, she says, is the interactive and diversified curriculum that engages all children.

"We know that kids have limited attention spans theses days," Qureshi says. "New technologies and methods are needed every day in order to grasp that attention span, and that is what we are really good at. At any given day, there are drones flying, augmented reality, cooking classes, and more are happening under the roof of an IDEA Lab campus."

In addition to expanding its presence, Qurshi has worked to roll our new products, such as a coding club, updated website registration tools

EllieGrid

Regina Vatterott is thinking outside the pillbox with her startup, EllieGrid. Courtesy of EllieGrid

When she was in college, Regina Vatterott fainted on her way to lunch. She had lapsed on taking her medicine and vitamins, which caused an imbalance in her health. She was using a traditional pillbox that was tacky and a pain to organize and starting thinking about a product that was more stylish and used smart technology. She and her cofounders created EllieGrid, a sleek pillbox that syncs to your phone to send you messages when its time to take your meds and allows for an easier organization process.

EllieGrid's reception has been great, and the company is expanding to provide users new tools and technology. For instance, EllieGrid is starting to learn more about when its users take its medicine, which can translate to partnerships with insurence companies that currently pay pharmacies to check in with patients who haven't picked up their medicine.

"For us, Ellie is just the start," Vatterott says in an interview with InnovationMap. "We want to develop more health and wellness accessories that are traditionally known to be medical devices."

Large companies are taking interest in the Houston-based startup. Over the past three weeks, Best Buy, Walmart, CVS Health, and Pelion all reached out and expressed interest in the company, some actually placing orders and setting up trials.

Whether you're pitching your startup in a competition or for capital, here are some expert tips. Getty Images

4 secrets to being pitch perfect from a startup founder

Down pat

One of the things our team at EllieGrid is most famous for is pitching. We have pitched our smart pill box in over 20 business plan competitions, on television, radio, and to so many investors that I have lost count. I can't remember what our first pitch was like but I know it has certainly evolved overtime. You could even say that we A/B tested some of our methods.

When you first organize your thoughts, you want to consider the basics, so before I give my advice, consider these tried-and-true tips.

  • Get to the point — say what your company is in the first 10 seconds
  • Know your audience
  • Shorter usually means better
  • Keep numbers to a minimum
  • Have a clear ask

In order to save you a little time, here are some of the of the lessons I learned the hard way to help you perfect your pitch.

Don't pitch. Tell a story.
I am going to let you in on a little secret: most people don't want to hear your pitch, especially if yours is not the first they have heard that day. Put yourself in their shoes, do you really want to listen to someone ramble on about facts and figures? Chances are, no. Instead, tell a story. Use engaging voices and set the scene. Recall your creative writing classes from high school and how you should mention what it was like in terms of feel, smell, taste, etc. and don't use generic adjectives such as "too small" or "the old way was hard."

People remember how you made them feel
What is in it for your audience? Is it wealth, power, fame, praise or glory, and/or pleasure? It might sound obvious to make this point when pitching, but I suggest you write out your pitch and highlight exactly where you say what is in it for them, maybe even more than once. Making the audience feel like you are caring about their desires and engaging them in conversation will help you be more memorable.

Come full circle
My favorite technique in any pitch or speech is if the speaker can connect the closing back to something they said at the beginning of their pitch. I enjoy this because sometimes the speaker will leave a question unanswered and then reveal how their solution is the answer in a creative way. This keeps your listeners engaged and connects the pain to your solution. Watch a few TED talks and you will see what I mean.

Pitch to a kid
This is probably the best advice I can give because it is a surefire way to make sure your pitch makes sense to a wide range of listeners. This also forces you to leave out jargon and filler words that you think might make you sound fancy like "innovative" or "disruptive" but actually make you sound like everyone else.

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Regina Vatterott is the COO and co-founder of Ellie Grid, a Houston-based company reinventing medical devices. Read more about Regina here.

From smart pillboxes to innovation incubators, here are three people you need to know this week in innovation. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

One of the cornerstones of InnovationMap is shining a spotlight on the individuals who are leading innovation in Houston, which is why we created a section dedicated to this. Our Featured Innovators section will have a Q&A with a startup owner, entrepreneur, or thought leader every week.

Another weekly article on InnovationMap that's geared toward introducing the city to prominent innovators is a roundup of who's who in the industry — not just the forces to be reckoned with in town, but people whose names you need not forget. Why? Because they've got big plans up their sleeves.

Here are this week's innovators to know, who, it just so happens, are our inaugural Featured Innovators.

Gabriella Rowe, CEO of Station Houston

Courtesy of Gabriella Rowe

It's been a winding road for Gabriella Rowe, but she's finally made it to a city she adores and in a position she says is her dream job. The New York native has worked in consulting, banking, education, tech, and more, and she has learned a lot of valuable lessons on the way.

Rowe accepted her position as CEO of Station Houston in August — a decision she says took her all of four seconds to make. The acceleration hub has a lot going on ahead of Houston's Innovation District launch, including announcing Station 3.0 in January. Read more about that — and why Rowe says wild horses couldn't drag her out of Houston —in her Featured Innovator piece.

Brian Richards, managing partner at Accenture

Courtesy of Accenture

Brian Richards is in the business of being lightyears ahead of everyone else. His job is to start thinking of solutions for tomorrow's problems, from consulting clients on innovative technologies to serving on the board of Houston Exponential.

In fact, Richards came up with the vision for Accenture's innovation hub before clients even knew they needed it. He also moved to Houston against the advice of many colleagues because he sees the potential this city has as a mecca for innovation. Read more about the hub and his career here.

Regina Vatterott, COO and co-founder of EllieGrid

Courtesy of Regina Vatterott

The idea for Regina Vatterott's smart pillbox, called EllieGrid, hit her in one fell swoop — literally. She fainted on the way to lunch and decided it was time to start taking her health seriously. She created EllieGrid shortly after and realized that medical devices don't have to be clunky or purely functional.

Now, she's got big plans to reinvent the wheel on a few other medical devices by focusing on the user experience, because, as she likes to say, people are always people first, before they are patients. Learn more about EllieGrid here.

Regina Vatterott is thinking outside the traditional pillbox. Courtesy of Regina Vatterott

Houston startup founder is reinventing medical devices by thinking outside the pillbox

What's Poppin'

One day in college on her way to lunch with some friends, Regina Vatterott fainted on the sidewalk. It wasn't anything serious, but she had a few vitamin deficiencies and hadn't eaten in a while. After that, she started taking her daily supplements more seriously.

She tried using the traditional pillbox, but it would take her forever to organize. And she hated how her friends would call it, in a loving, playful way, her "old people pillbox."

She joined forces with a few like-minded individuals at her school to create a health and wellness accessory, rather than a medical device. They bought craft supplies and hand-glued LED lights to the first prototype of what would become EllieGrid, a smart pillbox that syncs with an app on your phone so that you can easily program your medicinal schedule and receive alerts of when to take what.


EllieGrid is a smart pillbox that syncs with your phone.Courtesy of Regina Vatterott

Vatterott, who was interning at a company that did social media marketing for independent pharmacies nationwide, saw an underserved market of adults who have a need for a product like this. EllieGrid targets the Baby Boomer age and younger, usually between ages 35 and 55.

Now, EllieGrid is growing from its initial presale phase to setting a system in place where Houstonians can find EllieGrid in stores or online.

InnovationMap: You and your team were only college students when you started. How did you get funding?

Regina Vatterott: We started pitching business plan competitions all over the country — even as far as Barcelona. We raised money — and some of it wasn't even money, but resources, like access to 3D printers or free office space. It was an amazing tool for us, and it helped validate us and helped us perfect our business plan. We ended up raising like $200,000 just in business plan competitions.

After that, we knew we had to prove it in market. Last year, we ran a crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo. Our goal was to raise $40,000, and we raised around $167,000. In January of this year, we shipped all the products that were preordered on IndieGoGo to 37 different countries.

IM: What's been the biggest challenge?

RV: The very beginning, the challenge was affording our legal fees — it's not something you want to skimp on, but was incredibly expensive. After that, it was simply manufacturing. It's never easy. It's always going to cost three times as much and take three times as long as you expect. With our plastics, we use a process called injection molding, and if the temperature is off, the plastics will dry in a different way and the pieces won't fit together. It's an obnoxious challenge that we're still facing today.

IM: What's next for you or your company?

RV: Right now, we are making that transition from pre-selling products to just regular sales. It's easier said than done because we are making sure that supply chain is efficient and on time. We are finishing up a batch of 1,000 units to work with that we'll just sell on our website. Once we have information on how we can sell these units, we want to work with distributors, so we are working on creating those relationships now.

IM: How has being headquartered in Houston been?

RV: This is a very affordable place and has a lot of resources for startups. I will say our one struggle is there's not a lot of funding for hardware startups — especially for consumers — like ours. That's more in California or New York.

IM: Thinking more long term, what do you have in mind for EllieGrid and your team?

RV: For EllieGrid, we want to implement artificial intelligence. We want to be able to take the data of how the user is interacting with the device and be able to predict when people will forget to take their meds to prevent any issues with medication.

For us, Ellie is just the start. We want to develop more health and wellness accessories that are traditionally known to be medical devices. One example we give is how eyeglasses used to be medical devices, and now glasses are a fashion accessory. We want to do more and more with medical devices because we think that people are always people before they are patients.

IM: What's the worst piece of advice you've received?

RV: In the beginning when we'd pitch this idea to doctors, they would tell us we were wasting our time because patients don't care what a product looks like as long as it works. I don't really get that anymore, because we're proving that wrong now.

The product is available online on the EllieGrid website, and the app is available for download. Courtesy of Regina Vatterott

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Portions of this interview have been edited.

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3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

Houston is still — but most accounts — emerging as a tech and innovation hub, which could seem to mean that the startups that make up the innovation ecosystem reside in early stages of business scale.

However, this week's sampling of Houston innovators to know demonstrate the scope in scale of Houston's companies — from a CEO to a newly public company and recently hired CEO of a rapidly scaling software company to a health tech leader fresh out of the gates.

John Berger, CEO of Sunnova

Photo courtesy of Sunnova

Taking a company public brings on a slew of changes. One that might be overlooked is the change for the leader of that company. John Berger —CEO of Sunnova, a Houston-based solar energy company that went public last summer — joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the changes and where his company is headed.

Transitioning from a private company CEO to a public company CEO has been eye opening, Berger says on the podcast, joking that he now has to watch what he says. But change is ultimately something Berger says he embraces.

"I really look at myself and how I can change myself," Berger says. "I'm a different CEO today than I was 12 months ago, and hopefully I'll be a different CEO in 12 months, because the company demands it." Read more and stream the episode here.

Mary Beth Snodgrass, co-founder of Healthiby

Mary Beth Snodgrass is convinced she can help people make life-enhancing changes that affect health and financial situations because, well, science.

The co-founder of Healthiby created the platform to use financial incentives to drive positive health and wellness decisions. The Houston company is in pilot mode but has plans to expand.

"What we're really focused on this year is, in addition to our incentives, digital content and coach guidance, is making sure that participants are engaging among themselves," Snodgrass tells InnovationMap. "Science shows there are benefits to surrounding yourself with other people who share similar health goals." Read more.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software

Photo courtesy of Quorum

A new CEO is tasked with exponential growth at a Houston-based software company. Gene Austin joined Houston-based Quorum Software last year at a time of rapid M&A activity.

The energy industry software solutions provider, which is a portfolio company of California-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo LLC since 2018, has big plans to continue the exponential growth with more acquisitions that diversify their portfolio of services and a Houston office expansion later this year. According to Austin, he expects this growth spurred by M&A activity to double Quorum's revenue of $200 million in the next 3 to 5 years.

"We are always thinking about how to best serve our customers," Austin says. "We've made millions of dollars of investments in our support organization and cloud team services that are foundational to reinvigorate innovation and help our customers see how the future can unfold for them." Read more.

Houston listed among top cities expected to see office job growth

new hires

Texas cities — including the Houston area — will see a slew of new office jobs this year, according to a new projection.

Commercial real estate services company CBRE predicts Houston will see a 1.9 percent rise in office jobs this year compared to last year. That ranks Houston as the No. 4 spot for anticipated office-job growth in 2020 among U.S. markets with at least 37.5 million square feet of office space. Office jobs include those in the tech, professional services, and legal sectors.

"Tech, talent, and low taxes continue to fuel Texas' rising status as an inevitable, leading force in the U.S. economy," Ian Anderson, Americas head of office research at CBRE, says in the release. "2020 will be another year where companies and people from around the country relocate to the Lone Star State, leaving most of the rest of the country in envy of the growth in Dallas, Houston, and Austin."

Dallas only narrowly outpaced Houston in the ranking coming in at No. 3 with 2.1 percent expected growth. Austin, however, is the big Texas winner with an expected 2.6 percent rise in office jobs this year compared with last year. That puts Austin in first place on the ranking, edging out San Francisco for the top spot in CBRE's forecast, published January 9. The company predicts a 2.5 percent increase in San Francisco office jobs this year versus last year.

Personal finance website WalletHub recently ranked San Francisco and Austin third and fourth, respectively, on its list of the U.S. best cities to find a job.

"It's not surprising that the forecast for Austin is extremely bright, and we expect that technology companies and professional firms will still drive the demand for more [offices]," Troy Holme, executive vice president in the Austin office of CBRE, says in a January 22 release.

In November, Austin's unemployment rate decreased to 2.5 percent from 2.6 percent in October and 2.7 percent in September, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. Austin's jobless rate in November was the third lowest among the state's metro areas; Dallas-Fort Worth's rate was at 3 percent, while Houston's was at 3.6 percent.

CBRE says the growth of office jobs was more robust in the top U.S. markets last year than it is estimating for 2020. Dallas (5.7 percent) leads the 2019 list, followed by San Francisco (5.2 percent), Seattle (4.2 percent), Houston (3.7 percent), and Charlotte, North Carolina (3.6 percent).

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston-based energy logistics software prepares to hire, raise funds as it scales up

now hiring

Many startups turn to offshore outsourcing to fuel their growth. The Now Network, a Houston-based energy tech startup, is doing just the opposite — relying on stateside in-sourcing.

The SaaS company is in the midst of building out its in-house development team, including full stack developers and UX/UI designers. This year, The Now Network plans to add another four to six developers, on top of the six who already are on board. Stacey McCroskey, the company's director of product since September 2019, leads the team.

Previously, the development team consisted of more than a dozen contract workers in Ukraine and India, says Mush Khan, president of The Now Network. Khan assumed the president's role in May 2019.

"We believe that having our own in-house team drives a sense of ownership over the product. We have to eat our own cooking. because what we build, we have to support," Khan says.

Compared with the outsourcing model, the in-house team enables the company to more quickly release higher-quality products and more quickly respond to customers' needs, he says.

"Over the years, The Now Network has seen immense growth, consistently advancing its technology framework to drive faster payments, increased driver retention, an expanded 3PL network, and increased business revenue," Sam Simon, the company's founder, chairman, and CEO, says in a release. "The addition of an in-house development team will only amplify this growth, promoting more opportunities for cross-collaboration and customer feedback, to expand upon and refine existing features."

Members of the in-house development team are working on expansion of The Now Network's last-mile logistics platform for wholesalers, third-party logistics (3PL) carriers, drivers, and users of fuel. Khan says the platform offers "complete visibility and accuracy" throughout the fuel delivery process.

Competition for tech talent in Houston industries like energy and manufacturing is ramping up as the region evolves as "a fast-paced, innovative environment," he says.

"We believe companies like ours offer an opportunity to build a product from the ground up," Khan says, "and in an environment that allows them to express themselves creatively."

In June 2019, staffing firm Robert Half Technology put Houston in fourth place for the anticipated volume of IT hiring in U.S. cities during the second half of the year.

"The technology market in Houston remains strong as more companies are investing in systems upgrades, focusing on security, and taking on digital projects," Robert Vaughn, Robert Half Technology's regional vice president in Houston, said in a release. "The candidate market remains tight, and companies that prolong the interview process or don't make competitive offers tend to have the hardest time staffing open roles."

Today, The Now Network employs 15 people, all but one of whom works in Houston. The company expects to grow its workforce to around 30 by the end of 2020, Khan says. To accommodate the larger headcount, The Now Network is moving this month from WeWork at the Galleria to a 6,000-square-foot office in the Upper Kirby neighborhood.

To help finance its growth, The Now Network will soon launch its first-ever fundraising effort. Khan says the company will seek more than $5 million in investment capital.

Founded in 2015, The Now Network strives to simplify the last mile of the "energy ecosystem," which Khan describes as "slow, opaque, and expensive." Its SaaS platform automates delivery functions in the energy supply chain, doing away with manual labor and tedious paperwork, he says.

Since early 2018, the startup has handled more than 180,000 customer transactions involving over 1.8 billion gallons of fuel.

The Now Network is a portfolio company of Simon Group Holdings, a private equity firm based in Birmingham, Michigan. One of its key areas of focus is the energy sector.

In 2017, The Now Network (previously known as FuelNow Network) entered a strategic partnership with Houston-based Motiva Enterprises LLC, a fuel refiner, distributor, and retailer owned by Saudi Refining Inc. Khan says his company is collaborating with Motiva to roll out The Now Network platform to U.S. fuel wholesalers.

"As of now, Motiva doesn't have a stake in our company," he says.

Motiva owns East Texas' 3,600-acre Port Arthur Refinery, the largest oil refinery in North America, with a daily capacity of more than 600,000 barrels. State-controlled Saudi Aramco — which went public last year in an IPO valued at $2 trillion — owns Saudi Refining.