The Postage is a new company that uses technology to help ease the experience of afterlife responsibilities for family members. Photo courtesy of The Postage

Three years ago, Emily Cisek was struck with immense grief when she lost three family members back to back. She says she learned first-hand how arduous the process of wrapping up someone's life is and how it can take away from the grieving process.

"I saw the frustrations in my family," she explains, as she grappled with the passing of both her grandmothers and her cousin's young child.

Cisek says in that moment she thought, "Wow, there's got to be a better way so that people have a resource to get a plan and walk through the process so that when you do lose someone, there is a really easy way to manage that."

Cisek's realization planted a seed and she has the idea for The Postage, a digital platform that helps collect information and digital assets in one place to ease with affair planning.

She sought out to build an online platform that provides an easy path for people to plan their affairs and leave behind wishes for loved ones, making affairs management after death easier and less time-consuming. The features include document storage and organization, password management, funeral and last wishes planning, and the option to create after-life messages to posthumously share with loved ones.

Up until now, death care has been a predominantly business-to-business model. Prior to becoming the co-founder and CEO of The Postage, Emily was the Director of Sales at Integrate Agency, a full-service digital and traditional marketing agency in Texas. Her years of launching robust marketing initiatives and developing communications programs, made bringing The Postage to consumers that much easier.

She partnered with her former boss and serial entrepreneur, Robbie Wright, to build The Postage and make her vision a reality to help loved ones deal with loss.

The Postage completed funding in April of 2020, surpassing its initial fundraising goal. In total, Cisek raised $925,000 in a three month span. The platform officially launched in September, bringing a new, accessible contender to the estate planning industry.

Making death a conversation point

Everything you need on one digital platform. Photo courtesy of The Postage

According to The Institute for Healthcare Improvement, 92 percent of Americans say it's important to discuss their wishes for end-of-life care, but only 32 percent have actually had the conversation. Talking about your death plans is never an easy conversation, Cisek remarks. Her goal is to provide a methodical process that "makes it simpler."

"Until the last 100 years, death was just a part of life. Right now with technology and healthcare, it almost is seen as a weakness versus as you know, something we all experienced together," says Cisek.

Knowing how arduous these conversations are, she feels The Postage is like a "guidebook" that provides "clear-eyed compassion" to start the conversation. The site's planning options, password and document storage, and ability to share final wishes aims to make the process less emotional and difficult for users.

Accessibility for all ages

The Postage is something anyone can use. Photo courtesy of The Postage

While creating a death plan may feel like something reserved for later in life, Vox reports that millennials are becoming a "death positive" generation. More people in their 20s and 30s are planning their own funerals, donating their body to science, and contemplating how they want to pass peacefully.

From YouTube channels like "Ask a Mortician" to apps that remind you that — sorry to break it to you — you will eventually die, young creators are coping with death online. Despite the online vote of confidence in passing to the other side, dying is, well, expensive.

According to data from The Postage, estate planning and legal services can cost an average of $6,500. Cisek's company allows a monthly subscription with prices ranging from $5.99 to $9.99 a month, depending on storage space and features.

"I think the way The Postage has [made planning more available] it's provided a price point, an understanding and steps involved that are more easily accessible; no matter what age group, what race, what your background is, your religion, anything like that, you're able to sign up," says Cisek.

Digital options like password management and storage also make the site a more cost effective, approachable option for young people born into the digital era.

Saving time

Founder Emily Cisek prioritized convenience in her design. Photo courtesy of The Postage

Death puts into perspective just how valuable time can be. According to The Postage, families can expect to spend nearly 500 hours on completing end-of-life details if there is no planning done in advance. If every moment matters, 500 hours can sound like an exorbitant amount of time spent on paperwork.

From knowing who your loved one's electricity provider is to ensuring you have the key to their safety deposit box, the process can be a nightmare, says Cisek. She believes that should be spent "celebrating [their life] and processing the loss versus getting frustrated and trying to dig through things that you don't understand, and frankly, don't know what the wishes were of that person you lost."

The Postage's features allow you to drop in documents and passwords at your own pace to provide your loved ones with a smooth transition and instructions. To Cisek, she minds the site to be a guidebook that says, "This is what we need to do, and here is how I'm leaving the best gift I can for my loved ones."

National growth

The Postage went live nationally. Photo courtesy of The Postage

The Postage is a Houston-based company, but Cisek and her team want it to reach Americans everywhere.

"When we went live nationally, we actually launched over 100 new enhancements — even small, little things in the customer experience that would make it better and easier," she explains.

During its summer launch the website received 60 percent engagement and over 43 percent in new referrals. The Postage plans to continue enhancing the user experience and expanding the app with new technologies.

Cisek, bright-eyed with entrepreneurial spirit, has big hopes for the future as she imagines the opportunities. She hopes to change the way her generation plans for the future, contributing to a shift in sharing your legacy and wishes with loved ones.

"I think that technology, in recent times, has really focused on the consumer being the product versus the technology being the product," remarks Cisek. "If we're able to take that back and provide a product that truly makes our users' lives easier, the sky's the limit on what that could look like," she continues.

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Report: Houston secures spot on list of top 50 startup cities

by the numbers

A new ranking signals great promise for the growth of Houston’s startup network.

Houston ranks among the world’s top 50 startup cities on a new list from PitchBook, a provider of data and research about capital markets. In fact, Houston comes in at No. 50 in the ranking. But if you dig deeper into the data, Houston comes out on top in one key category.

The city earns a growth score of 63.8 out of 100 — the highest growth score of any U.S. city and the seventh highest growth score in the world. In the growth bucket, Houston sits between between Paris (64.4) and Washington, D.C. (61.7).

The PitchBook growth score reflects short-term, midterm, and long-term growth momentum for activity surrounding venture capital deals, exits, and fundraising for the past six years.

PitchBook’s highest growth score (86.5) goes to Hefei, a Chinese manufacturing hub for electric vehicles, solar panels, liquid crystal displays, home appliances, and Lenovo computers.

The overall ranking is based on a scoring system that relies on proprietary PitchBook data about private companies. The system’s growth and development scores are based on data related to deals, exits, fundraising and other factors.

Houston earns a development score of 34.1 out of 100, which puts it in 50th place globally in that regard. This score measures the size and maturity of a city’s startup network.

Topping the overall list is San Francisco, followed by New York City and Beijing. Elsewhere in Texas, Austin appears at No. 16 and Dallas at No. 36.

The ranking “helps founders, operators, and investors assess locations when deciding where to expand or invest,” says PitchBook.

“Network effects matter in venture capital: Investors get more than half of their deals through referrals, according to research led by Harvard professor Paul Gompers,” PitchBook goes on to say. “So it stands to reason that dealmakers should seek these networks out when deciding where to do business.”

4 Houston universities earn top spots for graduate programs in Texas

top schools

Houston's top-tier universities have done it again. U.S. News and World Report has four Houston-area universities among the best grad schools in the state, with some departments landing among the top 100 in the country.

U.S. News publishes its annual national "Best Graduate Schools" rankings, which look at several programs including business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, and many others. For the 2024 report, the publication decided to withhold its rankings for engineering and medical schools. It also changed the methodology for ranking business schools by adding a new "salary indicator" based on a graduate's profession.

U.S. News also added new rankings for doctoral and master's programs in several medical fields for the first time in four years, or even longer in some cases. New specialty program rankings include audiology, occupational therapy, physical therapy, pharmacy, nurse midwifery, speech-language pathology, nurse anesthesia, and social work.

"Depending on the job or field, earning a graduate degree may lead to higher earnings, career advancement and specialized skill development," wrote Sarah Wood, a U.S. News Education reporter. "But with several types of degrees and hundreds of graduate schools, it can be difficult to narrow down the options."

Without further ado, here's how the local schools ranked:

Rice University's Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business maintained its position as No. 2 in Texas, but slipped from its former No. 24 spot in the 2023 report to No. 29 overall in the nation in 2024. Its entrepreneurship program tied for No. 8 in the U.S, while its part-time MBA program ranked No. 15 overall.

Houston's University of Texas Health Science Centerearned the No. 3 spots in Texas for its masters and doctorate nursing programs, with the programs earning the No. 31 and No. 45 spots overall in the nation. The school ranked No. 25 nationally in the ranking of Best Public Health schools, and No. 36 for its nursing-anesthesia program.

Prairie View A&M University's Northwest Houston Center ranked No. 5 in Texas and No. 117 in the nation for its master's nursing program. Its Doctor of Nursing Practice program ranked No. 8 statewide, and No. 139 nationally.

The University of Houstonmoved up one spot to claim No. 4 spot in Texas for its graduate education program, and improved by seven spots to claim No. 63 nationally. Its graduate business school also performed better than last year to claim No. 56 in the nation, according to the report. The University of Houston Law Center is the fifth best in Texas, and 68th best in the U.S. Most notably, its health care law program earned top nods for being the seventh best in the country.

Among the new specialty program rankings, UH's pharmacy school ranked No. 41 nationally, while the speech-language pathology program earned No. 44 overall. The graduate social work and public affairs programs ranked No. 67 and No. 76, respectively, in the nation.

The full list of best graduate schools can be found on usnews.com.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Op-Ed: Removing barriers is critical for the future of Houston's health care workforce

guest column

Houston houses one of the most renowned medical communities in the world. However, Texas' current health care workforce shortage has severely impacted the city, with large swaths of the Gulf Coast Region deemed medically underserved. Thousands of Houstonians are impacted year after year due to the lack of access to life-saving medical care.

The obvious solution to this problem is to form a pipeline of health care workers by equipping students with the necessary skills and education to fill this gap. Sadly, many individuals who lack opportunity yet aspire to pursue a career in the health care industry face barriers related to childcare, transportation, mentorship gaps and life's unexpected circumstances.

Dwyer Workforce Development (DWD), a national health care training nonprofit, has recently expanded its footprint to Texas and has joined Houston Community College (HCC), one of the largest community colleges in the country, to provide life-changing support and create a pipeline of new health care workers, many who come from underserved areas.

Last year, our organizations launched the Dwyer Scholar Apprenticeship program, which is actively enrolling to combat the health care shortage and bring opportunities to those lacking. Working together, we are supporting apprentices each year to earn their Certified Nurse Aide (CNA) certificates, where students can choose a Phlebotomy or EKG specialization, helping our city meet the demand for one of the most essential and in-demand jobs in health care each year. Our program will help address Texas' loss of 36 percent of its CNAs over the past decade while providing gateways for highly motivated students—Dwyer Scholars—to thrive in long-term health care careers.

We know financial barriers prevent many potential health care workers from obtaining the certifications needed to enter the workforce. That's why we are bringing our innovative programs together, enabling Scholars to earn while they learn and opening doors for those who do not have the financial luxury of completing their training in a traditional educational atmosphere.

After enrollment, DWD continues to provide case management and additional financial support for pressures like housing, childcare, and transportation so Scholars don't have to put their work before their education. Scholars are placed with employers during the program, where they complete their apprenticeships and begin full-time employment following graduation.

The Texas Workforce Commission has identified apprenticeship programs as a key area for expansion to meet employer demand for skilled workers. Through our partnership, we are doing just that – and the model is proven. More than 85 percent of DWD Scholars in Maryland, where the program was established, have earned their certificates and are now employed or on track to begin their careers.

Our work doesn't end here. Over the next decade, Texas will face a shortage of 57,000 skilled nurses. Texas must continue to expand awareness and access to key workforce training programs to improve outcomes for diverse needs. Our organizations are working to vastly expand our reach, making the unattainable attainable and helping to improve the lives and health of our community.

No one's past or present should dictate their future. Everyone deserves access to health care, the ability to further their education and the chance to set and achieve life goals. The opportunities to reach and empower underserved populations to participate in the health care workforce are limitless.

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Barb Clapp is CEO of Dwyer Workforce Development, a nonprofit that supports individuals who aspire to pursue a career in the health care industry. Christina Robinson is the executive director for work-based learning and industry partnerships at Houston Community College.