Looking back on the past few days of low temperatures, ice, snow, power and water outages, and more, it's time to focus on innovation for resilience. Photo courtesy of ABC13

Greater Houston and all of Texas have faced enough persistent challenges over the past seven years that communities and businesses are at a breaking point. Not just financially and economically, but at societal and emotional levels expected from repeated natural and man-made disasters.

Increasingly, the focus on "resilience" as a call to action has become a buzzword rather than measure of performance by public and private sector decision-makers. Simply, our version of resilience is defined as pre-disaster risk mitigation and investment, not recovery and rebuilding after the fact, which is precisely what is being debated across traditional and social media.

As families, small businesses, larger corporations, neighborhoods, and communities require stability, predictability, and frankly reliability, there is now disappointment and disillusion across party lines for our public agencies, programs, officials. When the last major freeze and snowfall hit Texas, the state's power grid ERCOT and the legislature were warned that unless immediate steps were taken to invest in our electrical grid, an expected collapse of the entire system would leave entire cities and potentially the state in darkness with life-threatening consequences. Review any of the published recommendations from previous disasters and each conclusion identifies necessary and urgent investment, re-engineering, and technological innovation. And yet many of those findings are but another can kicked down the road.

While finger-pointing, investigations, hearings, reports, studies can be the actions of our elected and appointed officials, we turn to entrepreneurs, inventors, innovators, and investors as the path forward. Want to add to your blood pressure? Read all the After-Action Reports and Lessons-Learned Analyses — from as far back as Hurricane Andrew to the most recent disasters, including snowstorms, derechos, wildfires, and now COVID-19. Very little changes in these documents regarding the failures of government and/or the significant gaps between alerts, warnings, preparation, response, recovery, rebuilding. More recently, analysis and assessments provided by Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania and the Insurance Information Institute suggest a 1:4+ return on investment for pre-disaster resilience.

Communities often are asked to rely upon hydrological engineering and science as the holy grails in response to our floods, storms, hurricanes. And yet, there is a new "class" of data scientists, analytic tools, curated information, and significant user interfaces that have changed how government, industry, civic, academia and philanthropy can allocate their resources in more efficient and effective ways to unleash innovative resilience. Emerging enterprises and organizations to watch that are driving the "new resilience data science" for entrepreneurs and innovators alike to develop the next generation of insight include Jupiter Intelligence, HazardHub, ResilientGrid, and EcoMetrics.

What is rarely captured in the post-incident studies and gatherings is the powerful impact of the "GSD" networks — "The Get Shit Done" relationships, partnerships, tools and resources mobilized by unleashing innovation! And the good news is that Greater Houston as well as across the nation, a number of companies, products, integrated data-equipment, digital platforms, and best practices have emerged from several innovation ecosystems that should be brought to the forefront of any next steps for community and civic leaders seeking to address a 21st century resilience agenda.

There are the data and platform folks — Umanity, FoodBot, GotSpot, Crowd Source Rescue (all based in Houston) along with Harbor, R3Water, and a host of other national firms — for example that have addressed the speed by which needs, resources, information and actionable intelligence can align to assist volunteers, neighborhoods, philanthropy, and small businesses. As previous senior leadership of FEMA have admitted, the public sector can no longer be the go-to resource during every disaster, incident, and threat.If we are to democratize resilience because no one entity can afford continued losses — such as the insurance and reinsurance sector — nor is there enough taxpayer dollars to fix our critical infrastructure, then we must spark private-philanthropic-public partnerships through innovation.

If COVID -19 taught us anything, it's that we continue to face inventory management supply-chain, and resilient inventory problems that have been identified during and after previous disasters. With blockchain, advanced sensors and monitors, robotics and remote screening, reopening Greater Houston and the US can be done with innovative health technologies such as San Antonio-based Xenex.

In regards to the challenge before us, we must recall that the demand and intersection for an energy, water and data "nexus" began to take off in response to the Texas and California droughts, rose again to the forefront during multiple hurricanes in the US, and are a now the latest critical infrastructure focus in the post snowstorms of 2021.

Why is having Elon Musk's GigaFactory in Texas so vital to resilience innovation? Because the research and product development of batteries to retain solar and wind produced power can directly impact the load-demands in advance of an oncoming weather or worse a cybersecurity threat to the grid. Sunnova — another Houston brand — has been proving the benefit of storage capacity from its work in Puerto Rico and now exhibits the unique performance for future off-grid resilience of homes, medical offices, and vital services.

Until and unless the public sector opens the doors for these and other innovators through immediate and permanent changes in procurement and contracting, strategic partnerships, incentives and credits — while frankly sharing the leadership function with entrepreneurs, inventors, and investors — we will all pay the price for the failure to act.

There is still work to be done from a legislative and governmental perspective, but more and more innovators — especially in Houston — are proving to be essential in creating a better future for the next historic disaster we will face. The Insurance Information Institute's National Resilience Accelerator Initiative and Resilience Innovation Hub Collaboratory (with its flagship in Houston) is working to unleash the best of Texas', the Nation's and the World's best ideas, resources, information and investments.

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Richard Seline is the co-founder of the Houston-based Resilience Innovation Hub.

The innovations and Houston startups that came out of Hurricane Harvey are no coincidence. Richard Seline of ResilientH2O Partners explains how he's helping foster new hurricane and flood prevention technologies in the Bayou City. Photo courtesy of ResilientH20

New Houston hub calls for collaboration for flood and hurricane prevention innovation

Houston innovators podcast episode 43

When it comes to insurance, most people's interaction is pretty limited buying a plan, filing claims when need be, and paying the monthly bill. However, unbeknownst to most of their insured clients, insurance companies are investing in insuratech and new innovations within the natural disaster space.

Richard Seline, managing director of ResilientH20, along with the Insurance Information Institute and The Cannon, to launch the Gulf Coast & Southwest Resilience Innovation Hub to foster this type of technology and bring insuratech startups and the big insurance players to the table — something that's not often done.

"It's two different languages," Seline says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "There's a whole language and a whole mindset within the insurance industry that is not real well known."

The hub, which is based in downtown Houston's Cannon Tower, has been hard at work hosting virtual pitch events and networking opportunities since it launched in June just as the 2020 hurricane season commenced. Seline explains the mission is threefold: allow for reverse pitching where insurance companies tell innovators what their challenges are in hopes of inspiring new technology, introducing insuratech companies to potential investors or clients, and fostering innovation for new natural disaster prevention innovations.

On the podcast, Seline discusses new endeavors he's working on within his organization and explains the role his feels the new hub has in Houston's innovation ecosystem. To him, the city must work collaboratively to move the needle on growth of its innovation ecosystem.

"The good news is there is a lot of great activity underway in Houston right now — no questions asked," Seline says. "What we are doing can be seen as complimentary and not competitive with anyone else."

From game-changing startups to watch out for to upcoming events and partnerships for the Gulf Coast & Southwest Resilience Innovation Hub, check out the podcast. You can listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.



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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston SPAC announces merger with Beaumont-based tech company in deal valued at $100M

speaking of spacs

A Houston SPAC, or special purpose acquisition company, has announced the company it plans to merge with in the new year.

Beaumont-based Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc., a provider of thermal imaging platforms, and Houston-based SportsMap Tech Acquisition Corp. (NASDAQ: SMAP), a publicly-traded SPAC with $117 million held in trust, announced their agreement for ICI to IPO via SPAC.

Originally announced in the fall of last year, the blank-check company is led by David Gow, CEO and chairman. Gow is also chairman and CEO of Gow Media, which owns digital media outlets SportsMap, CultureMap, and InnovationMap, as well as the SportsMap Radio Network, ESPN 97.5 and 92.5.

The deal will close in the first half of 2023, according to a news release, and the combined company will be renamed Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc. and will be listed on NASDAQ under a new ticker symbol.

“ICI is extremely excited to partner with David Gow and SportsMap as we continue to deliver our innovative software and hardware solutions," says Gary Strahan, founder and CEO of ICI, in the release. "We believe our software and sensor technology can change the way companies across industries perform predictive maintenance to ensure reliability, environmental integrity, and safety through AI and machine learning.”

Strahan will continue to serve as CEO of the combined company, and Gow will become chairman of the board. The transaction values the combined company at a pre-money equity valuation of $100 million, according to the release, and existing ICI shareholders will roll 100 percent of their equity into the combined company as part of the transaction.

“We believe ICI is poised for strong growth," Gow says in the release. "The company has a strong value proposition, detecting the overheating of equipment in industrial settings. ICI also has assembled a strong management team to execute on the opportunity. We are delighted to combine our SPAC with ICI.”

Founded in 1995, ICI provides infrared and imaging technology — as well as service, training, and equipment repairs — to various businesses and individuals across industries.

Report: Federal funding, increased life science space drive industry growth in Houston

by the numbers

Federal funding, not venture capital, continues to be the main driver of growth in Houston’s life sciences sector, a new report suggests.

The new Houston Life Science Insight report from commercial real estate services company JLL shows Houston accounted for more than half (52.7 percent) of total funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) across major Texas markets through the third quarter of this year. NIH funding in the Houston area totaled $769.6 million for the first nine months of 2022, exceeding the five-year average by 19.3 percent.

VC funding for Houston’s life sciences sector pales in comparison.

For the first nine months of this year, companies in life sciences raised $147.3 million in VC, according to the report. Based on that figure, Houston is on pace in 2022 to meet or surpass recent life sciences VC totals for most other years except 2021. JLL describes 2021 as an “outlier” when it comes to annual VC hauls for the region’s life sciences companies.

JLL notes that “limited venture capital interest in private industry has remained a challenge for the city’s life sciences sector. Furthermore, it may persist as venture capital strategies are reevaluated and investment strategies shift toward near-term profits.”

While life sciences VC funding has a lot of ground to cover to catch up with NIH funding, there are other bright spots for the sector.

One of those bright spots is the region’s rising amount of life sciences space.

The Houston area boasts more than 2.4 million square feet of space for life sciences operations, with another 1.1 million under construction and an additional 1.5 million square feet on the drawing board, the report says. This includes a soon-to-open lab spanning 25,000 square feet in the first phase of Levit Green.

A second bright spot is the migration of life sciences companies to the region. Two Southern California-based life sciences companies, Cellipoint Bioservices and Obagi Cosmeceuticals, plan to move their headquarters and relocate more than half of their employees to The Woodlands by the first half of 2023, according to the report.

“Houston’s low tax rate and cost of living were primary drivers for the decisions, supported by a strong labor pool that creates advantages for companies’ expansion and relocation considerations,” JLL says.

Here's what Houston startups need to know about internal communications

guest column

Startup founders often focus on outward victories. However, if they look inward and get internal communications right, this can prioritize, inspire, and retain talent, which is the heart of the company.

Consistent internal communication helps employees to understand the company's core values and mission and the evolving internal policies and procedures — health care benefits, reorganizations, remote work — that accompany a young business. Investing in internal communications also supports external public relations efforts because the best company storytellers are well-informed employees.

Consider these tactics for effective internal communications.

Prioritize messaging

In any startup, internal procedures evolve as the company grows. Take control of the narrative while easing employees' minds by prioritizing internal messaging.

Whether transitioning to a more flexible work schedule, updating healthcare benefits, or rolling out a performance review process, planning messages in advance can help team members understand the change, the impact, and how they can contribute positively to the development.

Well-informed employees help mitigate uneasiness and tend to achieve business goals more quickly. Make sure to allow the employees time to reflect and react.

Support managers

Leaders and mid-level managers play an integral role in internal communications by cascading information throughout the organization. They regularly engage with their employees, so it is important that managers feel confident and supported in their communication skills.

Managers can benefit from a common company language, talking points, or communications training for more effective and productive conversations. By identifying, clarifying, and reinforcing common goals and key objectives for managers, companies can strengthen productivity and eliminate confusion, especially if the company changes teams' roles and responsibilities.

Be consistent

Make sure that the drumbeat remains steady, whether this includes a monthly town hall meeting or weekly CEO emails. Since communication is not necessarily one-size-fits-all, use a communication approach tailored to the workforce.

For example, there might be more effective communication methods than email for employees not behind a desk. As a smaller company, take that time to connect with the team directly because as the company swells, that one-on-one experience will become increasingly difficult to manage.

Listen to employees

Delivering top-down messaging that resonates with the workforce remains critical. However, internal communication is a two-way street.

Allow team members to give valuable feedback. Encourage team members to share their thoughts about the company, concerns, and how to improve communications. Issue internal surveys or hold face-to-face meetings to gain useful insight.

Understanding these critical proof points will enable more effective communication and quick action on any issues.

Be a human

Keep humanity at the heart of internal communications. Amid the company's transition, maintain transparency and recognize the emotional toll some changes can have on teammates. The best talent will remain when they feel connected, informed and listened to.

Greater employee engagement can help build a strong company culture of accountability, authenticity and communication, setting up the business for bigger success.

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Melanie Taplett is a communications and public relations consultant for the technology, energy, and manufacturing industries.