Houston-based Roovy Technologies has created a mobile app where people can control their dining experience completely from their phones. Photo via roovy.io

Imagine going into a popular restaurant, sitting down at an open table and controlling the entire dining experience from a smartphone.

That's food, drinks, and even dessert all ordered and paid for on a phone.

Prolific Houston-area restaurateur Ken Bridge had the vision to converge dining with technology by creating a digital solution to combat chronic wait times in restaurants.

That vision became the Roovy Technologies mobile app, a platform designed to create the ultimate convenience for gastronauts everywhere.

"Roovy was birthed out of frustration," says Bridge, the serial entrepreneur behind the Delicious Concepts restaurant group. "Years ago, we would typically have lines out the door, so I thought to myself, that with technology, there should be a way for a guest to come in and manage their experience entirely from their phone.

"I felt like guests could go in, get sat at a table and order their food from their phone and pay from their phone and call it a day. That's how the idea of Roovy was conceived."

Three years ago, after putting mock pages together, Bridge started attending South by Southwest Interactive in Austin for research and inspiration. That led to commissioning a local boutique development agency in Houston to build out Roovy's Minimum Viable Product or road map before creating a fully functional platform.

"Roovy is a platform that allows the user to order and pay entirely from their phone," says Bridge. "We will soon be the first company to have all three categories of this type of app: dine-in, take out and delivery."

Bridge deployed Roovy in his Japanese concept restaurant, Blackbird Izakaya, at 1221 W. 11th St. in the Heights several months ago to test out the app before rolling it out to several other restaurants.

"It's a work in progress like everything else," says Bridge, who hopes for Roovy to be deployed in 20 restaurants very soon, then 40. "Everyday we're going to have issues that we need to resolve. But for now, we'll build it, we'll test it, we'll learn and we'll continue to go back and work out the kinks and keep pushing forward from there."

Convenience — on both sides of the transaction

For users, the value proposition is to be able to order and pay from their phone.

"Even a really good server can be impeding at the same time, over-qualifying or checking too much on a table that it becomes a distraction," says Bridge. "With Roovy, when the user is ready to order they can. It's convenience-based technology."

For operators, it streamlines the entire process, up to and including payment.

"We built this as a native solution, so restaurants can technically operate their entire restaurant on one single iPad, while cutting out all hardware," says Bridge.

The restaurant's menu is fully interactive and constantly updated in the app.

When a user places an order, they can add notes to alert the kitchen or bar with their allergies or substitutions and the kitchen or bar receives the notice on the Kitchen Display Side.

That order is then colored and timed, depending on the restaurant's flow and the user then receives a page when the order is ready.

"When restaurant's not packed, they can prepare orders in four minutes, but when packed, it may take eight minutes," says Bridge. "So through the machine learning, they can input a flow time, but then the system intuitively will become more and more intelligent based on the number of tickets and how frequently the operator is stocking and selling a particular item."

Bridge funded Roovy with his own money, so running the cloud-based platform in his own restaurants provided another distinct advantage for his startup's bottom line. And, with operators running the Roovy platform, it has officially entered post-revenue valuation. Roovy's revenue, like other payments facilitators, comes from its restaurant clients.

With the method of payment tied into the app, users pay from their phone and Roovy processes that payment transaction between the user, operator and bank tied to that payment method for a processing fee, much like a point-of-sale provider would with traditional POS devices.

Increasing opportunities for sales

What separates Roovy from other processors, though, is more than just the disruption of bulky hardware, printers and other equipment that can be very expensive for the operator.

It's the ability to maximize sales through convenience.

Case in point: in a busy restaurant, customers who have finished their meal, but possibly have cravings for another drink or a dessert might choose to eschew the urge based on the availability of their wait staff or the line at the bar.

But with Roovy, they could simply add the additional food item or drink to their cart, and have it at their table in no time.

"A lot of restaurants are not taking advantage of opportunities to maximize their sales," says Bridge. "If the per person average for a particular restaurant is $20, the likelihood that there are customers that want one more beer but don't want to go through the motions of ordering it based on service not being around is high. They're going to just leave and the restaurant just missed out on a potential $6.

"That would have been a 30 percent increase in sales," Bridge continues. "So, because of Roovy's ease of use, restaurants can increase their per person revenue and we guarantee an increase of 19 or 20 percent for operators that use our platform."

An additional revenue stream for Roovy centers on its pinpointed marketing campaigns designed to push promotions to its users based on user data and analytics.

"We can help operators run promotions for our users that can be very specific to the demographic of their choice," says Bridge. "They can be very direct and specific push notifications that go out to users based on location, vicinity or proximity, for example. We could also push notifications to a restaurant's repeat customers."

More features to come

For users that want take out, Roovy will be working with predictive arrival technology to estimate better execution times for orders so that they will be as fresh as possible for customer pickup.

Roovy will also be adding "Roovy Coin," a loyalty and rewards programs, as well as a social component for those users that like to share their experience with their friends.

"Beyond this super unique emerging technology, we are building heavily on the sociability aspects of it," says Bridge. "For example, users will be able to check in with friends, plan potential meetups, share video clips with their friends and the community on the platform and be able to review restaurants.

"I kid about this all the time, but most of us remember two things: the first kiss we had and the first time we used Uber. We'll never forget that. Our goal is to come in with that same kind of impact and convince users and operators that Roovy is not just a great technology, it's the inevitable technology that will be adopted on mass levels."

Houston-based VineSleuth created a custom algorithm to match you with new wines based on wines you've had in the past. Courtesy of VineSleuth

Houston entrepreneur makes a splash with wine-selecting technology

Sip, sip, hooray

Amy Gross wants to find you the perfect wine. In fact, she wants it so much, she built her company, VineSleuth, around the concept that technology and machine learning could find the best wine to match individual palates.

VineSleuth's custom algorithm is backed by research from sensory scientists at Cornell University, and relies on both data collection and machine learning to determine specific wines that will match an individual customer's tastes. Flavor profiles from thousands of wines are incorporated into her database, and none of those are based on the typical wine scores you'll see in magazines or reviews of wines.

"We have a team that tastes and analyzes wines and inputs their findings. Then, we have a team that codes all of that data," she says.

VineSleuth's technology can be easily overlaid on a restaurant, grocery store, or other vendor's existing web platform or app to provide a tailor-made experience for customers.

"Take a grocery store setting for example," says Gross. "A customer logs into the store using their loyalty card, and their past wine purchases come up. Our technology can analyze those and point to different selections in the store's inventory they'll enjoy."

Think of it as using big data and machine learning to deliver big returns for wine drinkers.

Gross has been deliberate and incremental in how she's grown her company, and she just got a major boost: back in September, she won the 2018 Start Here Now competition, a combination business pitch event and incubator aimed at encouraging women entrepreneurs. She took home the $10,000 Silicon Valley Bank Grand Prize, as well as an app-design concept prize to help her improve the app she created, and a media and PR consultation.

"It was such an affirmation," she says. "To have them validate our work and my future plans."

Planting the seed
It was a slow and steady growth for Gross, who started work on VineSleuth in 2011. But her wine journey started before that.

"My now-husband asked me out on a date, and I'd just graduated college," she says. "I wanted to be sophisticated, so I ordered the house chardonnay. Well, after four or five dates, I started paying attention to what I was drinking, and I developed my palate."

She and her husband and friends of theirs enjoyed exploring wine together, and on a trip to Napa in 2009, Gross noticed something. All six of them were drinking the same wines — mostly Cabernet Sauvignons from Oakville — but they had remarkably different reactions to them.

"I thought, wouldn't it be great if there were an app that told me what I wanted, not what was 'good?'" Gross says.

While she wasn't sure then how to create such an app, she knew she needed to build up her wine knowledge. She started learning about wine in earnest and launched a wine blog. That gave her access to wine vendors and wine makers.

And then, several things happened in steps. Her brother-in-law wrote a basic algorithm that would collect taste profiles and other details from wines, but Gross needed something more. A neighbor who was an applied mathematician took that original algorithm and built on it.

"When I felt brave enough to show it, I shared it with the owners of some wineries I'd developed a business relationship with in the Finger Lakes," says Gross. "They loved the idea, and it turns out one of the winemaker's wife was a sensory scientist at Cornell. At every key place along building this business, it's been about relationships."

Still fermenting
Gross did create an app, but she admits it's not quite where she wants it to be, so she'll likely tweak it over the coming year. In the meantime, she's focused on the B2B future of VineSleuth. While she says the technology her team has created is currently being used for wine, she knows it's possible to take it and expand its capabilities to beer, chocolate, spirits and other consumables.

Building the business has been both an adventure and a learning curve for Gross, whose background is in journalism and PR. But even though she doesn't come from the technology or STEM side, she says her journalism work made her a great researcher – which is exactly what she needed to build VineSleuth. She's also a driven and detail-oriented project manager.

"My team once called me the den mother, keeping everyone on track," she laughed. "And in a way, I am. But I'm also watching the future of AI happening in front me and I really love hanging out with the brilliant people on my team. This is a blast."


Amy Gross is also working on a consumer-facing app, called Wine4Me, that helps users keep track of their favorite wines and gives recommendations for new wines. Courtesy of VineSleuth

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New Houston venture studio emerges to target early-stage hardtech, energy transition startups

funding the future

The way Doug Lee looks at it, there are two areas within the energy transition attracting capital. With his new venture studio, he hopes to target an often overlooked area that's critical for driving forward net-zero goals.

Lee describes investment activity taking place in the digital and software world — early stage technology that's looking to make the industry smarter. But, on the other end of the spectrum, investment activity can be found on massive infrastructure projects.

While both areas need funding, Lee has started his new venture studio, Flathead Forge, to target early-stage hardtech technologies.

“We are really getting at the early stage companies that are trying to develop technologies at the intersection of legacy industries that we believe can become more sustainable and the energy transition — where we are going. It’s not an ‘if’ or ‘or’ — we believe these things intersect,” he tells EnergyCapital.

Specifically, Lee's expertise is within the water and industrial gas space. For around 15 years, he's made investments in this area, which he describes as crucial to the energy transition.

“Almost every energy transition technology that you can point to has some critical dependency on water or gas,” he says. “We believe that if we don’t solve for those things, the other projects won’t survive.”

Lee, and his brother, Dave, are evolving their family office to adopt a venture studio model. They also sold off Azoto Energy, a Canadian oilfield nitrogen cryogenic services business, in December.

“We ourselves are going through a transition like our energy is going through a transition,” he says. “We are transitioning into a single family office into a venture studio. By doing so, we want to focus all of our access and resources into this focus.”

At this point, Flathead Forge has seven portfolio companies and around 15 corporations they are working with to identify their needs and potential opportunities. Lee says he's gearing up to secure a $100 million fund.

Flathead also has 40 advisers and mentors, which Lee calls sherpas — a nod to the Flathead Valley region in Montana, which inspired the firm's name.

“We’re going to help you carry up, we’re going to tie ourselves to the same rope as you, and if you fall off the mountain, we’re falling off with you,” Lee says of his hands-on approach, which he says sets Flathead apart from other studios.

Another thing that's differentiating Flathead Forge from its competition — it's dedication to giving back.

“We’ve set aside a quarter of our carried interest for scholarships and grants,” Lee says.

The funds will go to scholarships for future engineers interested in the energy transition, as well as grants for researchers studying high-potential technologies.

“We’re putting our own money where our mouth is,” Lee says of his thesis for Flathead Forge.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Houston-based lunar mission's rocky landing and what it means for America's return to the moon

houston, we have a problem

A private U.S. lunar lander tipped over at touchdown and ended up on its side near the moon’s south pole, hampering communications, company officials said Friday.

Intuitive Machines initially believed its six-footed lander, Odysseus, was upright after Thursday's touchdown. But CEO Steve Altemus said Friday the craft “caught a foot in the surface," falling onto its side and, quite possibly, leaning against a rock. He said it was coming in too fast and may have snapped a leg.

“So far, we have quite a bit of operational capability even though we’re tipped over," he told reporters.

But some antennas were pointed toward the surface, limiting flight controllers' ability to get data down, Altemus said. The antennas were stationed high on the 14-foot (4.3-meter) lander to facilitate communications at the hilly, cratered and shadowed south polar region.

Odysseus — the first U.S. lander in more than 50 years — is thought to be within a few miles (kilometers) of its intended landing site near the Malapert A crater, less than 200 miles (300 kilometers) from the south pole. NASA, the main customer, wanted to get as close as possible to the pole to scout out the area before astronauts show up later this decade.

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will attempt to pinpoint the lander's location, as it flies overhead this weekend.

With Thursday’s touchdown, Intuitive Machines became the first private business to pull off a moon landing, a feat previously achieved by only five countries. Japan was the latest country to score a landing, but its lander also ended up on its side last month.

Odysseus' mission was sponsored in large part by NASA, whose experiments were on board. NASA paid $118 million for the delivery under a program meant to jump-start the lunar economy.

One of the NASA experiments was pressed into service when the lander's navigation system did not kick in. Intuitive Machines caught the problem in advance when it tried to use its lasers to improve the lander's orbit. Otherwise, flight controllers would not have discovered the failure until it was too late, just five minutes before touchdown.

“Serendipity is absolutely the right word,” mission director Tim Crain said.

It turns out that a switch was not flipped before flight, preventing the system's activation in space.

Launched last week from Florida, Odysseus took an extra lap around the moon Thursday to allow time for the last-minute switch to NASA's laser system, which saved the day, officials noted.

Another experiment, a cube with four cameras, was supposed to pop off 30 seconds before touchdown to capture pictures of Odysseus’ landing. But Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s EagleCam was deliberately powered off during the final descent because of the navigation switch and stayed attached to the lander.

Embry-Riddle's Troy Henderson said his team will try to release EagleCam in the coming days, so it can photograph the lander from roughly 26 feet (8 meters) away.

"Getting that final picture of the lander on the surface is still an incredibly important task for us,” Henderson told The Associated Press.

Intuitive Machines anticipates just another week of operations on the moon for the solar-powered lander — nine or 10 days at most — before lunar nightfall hits.

The company was the second business to aim for the moon under NASA's commercial lunar services program. Last month, Pittsburgh's Astrobotic Technology gave it a shot, but a fuel leak on the lander cut the mission short and the craft ended up crashing back to Earth.

Until Thursday, the U.S. had not landed on the moon since Apollo 17's Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt closed out NASA's famed moon-landing program in December 1972. NASA's new effort to return astronauts to the moon is named Artemis after Apollo's mythological twin sister. The first Artemis crew landing is planned for 2026 at the earliest.

3 female Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Welcome to another Monday edition of Innovators to Know. Today I'm introducing you to three Houstonians to read up about — three individuals behind recent innovation and startup news stories in Houston as reported by InnovationMap. Learn more about them and their recent news below by clicking on each article.

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

If the energy transition is going to be successful, the energy storage space needs to be equipped to support both the increased volume of energy needed and new energies. And Emma Konet and her software company, Tierra Climate, are targeting one part of the equation: the market.

"To me, it's very clear that we need to build a lot of energy storage in order to transition the grid," Konet says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The problems that I saw were really on the market side of things." Read more.

Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. Photo courtesy of Sage

A Houston geothermal startup has announced the close of its series A round of funding.

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. The proceeds aim to fund its first commercial geopressured geothermal system facility, which will be built in Texas in Q4 of 2024. According to the company, the facility will be the first of its kind.

“The first close of our Series A funding and our commercial facility are significant milestones in our mission to make geopressured geothermal system technologies a reality,” Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems, says. Read more.

Clemmie Martin, chief of staff at The Cannon

With seven locations across the Houston area, The Cannon's digital technology allows its members a streamlined connection. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

After collaborating over the years, The Cannon has acquired a Houston startup's digital platform technology to become a "physical-digital hybrid" community.

Village Insights, a Houston startup, worked with The Cannon to create and launch its digital community platform Cannon Connect. Now, The Cannon has officially acquired the business. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“The integration of a world-class onsite member experience and Cannon Connect’s superior virtual resource network creates a seamless, streamlined environment for member organizations,” Clemmie Martin, The Cannon’s newly appointed chief of staff, says in the release. “Cannon Connect and this acquisition have paved new pathways to access and success for all.” Read more.