This week's innovators to know include University of Houston business school Dean Paul Pavlou, the PR Boutique's Karen Henry, and SecurityGate Founder Ted Gutierrez. Photos courtesy

As another week begins, there's a few people you should know within the business and innovation world of Houston.

This week's Houston innovators to know includes a quick-thinking business school dean leading a college virtually, a public relations expert with the reasons you need to focus on social media for your business, and an entrepreneur who's providing key resources for business owners looking to safely get workers back in the office.

Paul Pavlou, dean of the C.T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston

Courtesy of The University of Houston

The University of Houston's C.T. Bauer College of Business is going to remain completely online only through the summer. And, while that might present some challenges for students and staff, Dean Paul Pavlou says he's actually seeing an increase in enrollment. Plus, the virtual platforms allow faculty to support more classes.

"One advantage of online learning is it's very flexible — we aren't confined to the classroom," Pavlou says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We've opened up more sections and seats to make it easier for students to sign up." Read more and stream the episode.

Karen Henry, founding partner of The PR Boutique

Photo courtesy of the PR Boutique

Public relations expert Karen Henry, who founded the PR Boutique based in Houston, shared in a guest column for InnovationMap how key — especially in times like these — your company's online pressence is.

"We cannot work in silos; instead, we need to have a comprehensive approach, including tactics such as media relations, community partnerships, unique events, influencer collaborations, digital and traditional advertising, email marketing and social media," Henry writes.

Social media, she argues, can be a powerful, cost-effective tool. Read more.

Ted Gutierrez, CEO and founder of SecurityGate

Courtesy of Security Gate

Houston-based software startup SecurityGate Inc. specializes in cyber-risk management for companies, but this spring, SecurityGate shifted to a different type of risk management — keeping workplaces healthy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The company launched a cloud-based wellness technology, available through an online platform and a mobile app.

"The biggest thing that I want people to know is you don't have to come up with your own workflow and you don't have to spend tons of money to get your people back to work," says Ted Gutierrez, co-founder and CEO of the three-year-old startup. "There's a company out there that is already doing this for a living, so this is the least we could do to help out." Read more.

Cybersecurity startup, SecurityGate, has developed a new feature in its technology to help support companies safely bring back employees into the office. Luis Alvarez/Getty Images

Houston startup releases new tool to help companies get employees safely back into work

tech tool

Houston-based software startup SecurityGate Inc. focuses on cyber-risk management for major energy, chemical, transportation, and defense companies. But this spring, SecurityGate shifted to a different type of risk management — keeping workplaces healthy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

When SecurityGate recently started reopening the gates, so to speak, for its 15 employees to go back to the office after working remotely, the company wanted to track their health. So SecurityGate turned to Excel spreadsheets for employees to fill out a 10-point questionnaire aimed at gauging their health. It didn't take long, though, for the company to realize it could ditch the spreadsheets and layer the wellness questionnaire on top of its cyber-risk management software.

Now, SecurityGate is inviting companies inside and outside its core sectors to sign up for its cloud-based wellness technology, available through an online platform and a mobile app. The goal: Help employers incorporate health screenings into their return-to-work initiatives. Employers in North America and Europe can install the technology.

"The biggest thing that I want people to know is you don't have to come up with your own workflow and you don't have to spend tons of money to get your people back to work," says Ted Gutierrez, co-founder and CEO of the three-year-old startup. "There's a company out there that is already doing this for a living, so this is the least we could do to help out."

The wellness technology is a free add-on for customers of SecurityGate's existing products, a software-as-a-service platform and a mobile app for managing cybersecurity risks that threaten critical infrastructure. Gutierrez says those products help protect nearly 30 global facilities valued at $300 billion.

Companies that aren't customers of SecurityGate can take advantage of the wellness platform and app at no cost through at least July 31, Gutierrez says. Among the soon-to-be users of the coronavirus-inspired technology is a residential real estate firm in Houston with nearly 100 employees. While SecurityGate's current customers are big companies, the wellness technology should appeal to small, midsize, and large employers, he says.

"This is going to be opened up to any company that needs help. We believe that the majority of users that are going to sign up are companies ranging between 50 and 500 employees and in any industry," Gutierrez says.

By May 15, about 15 to 20 companies are expected to have signed up for the wellness technology, Gutierrez says. He envisions that number rising to 200 to 300 by June 1. The online platform should be ready in late May, while the mobile app should be available by June 1.

Each user of the wellness tool will receive a COVID-19 care package that includes items like face masks, gloves, and sanitizers.

Gutierrez says the technology can help monitor the health of not only on-site and off-site employees, but also contractors and office visitors. Any user of the technology can submit a coronavirus assessment without being directed to complete one, he says. It takes less than 90 seconds to fill out the wellness assessment.

"Traditionally with SecurityGate, the 'owner' of the SecurityGate platform has to assign [cyber-risk] assessments to facility owners," Gutierrez says. "This app is going to be able to get used at any given time by any user."

All of this data is funneled into a central database so that an employer can, for instance, order in-house coronavirus testing or ask employees to stay at home if they're exhibiting coronavirus symptoms, Gutierrez says. The data isn't automatically supplied to public health agencies, he says, although an employer could decide on its own to publicly report the data.

"This is purely a workforce management option," Gutierrez says. "It's still to be determined whether this turns into a revenue generator for us. The most important thing that we can do is to help whatever ecosystem needs help right now and get them back to work."

Gutierrez credits Cherise Esparza, co-founder and chief technology officer of SecurityGate, with being the primary driver of the return-to-work wellness effort.

"We are the risk management folks," Gutierrez explains, "and getting back to work safely is just as important as making sure that all your critical systems are working from a cyber perspective."

The Digital Fight Club made its Houston debut on November 20 at White Oak Music Hall. Emily Jaschke/InnovationMap

Photos: Houston innovation leaders weigh in on cybersecurity, tech, and more at inaugural event

total knock out

What do you get when you cross the information of an innovation panel with the ferocity of a boxing match? A verbal sprawling among innovation leaders that can only be known as the Digital Fight Club.

Houston's DFC came about with the help of Accenture, which had been a partner at the Dallas events, and InnovationMap, who teamed up as presenting sponsors for the event. DFC's founder, Michael Pratt, came up with the idea for Digital Fight Club as a way to liven up technology-focused events and networking opportunities.

The setup of the event is five fights, 10 fighters, and five judges. Each fighter has just a couple minutes to take their stand before the event moves on.

"This is Digital Fight Club," says Pratt, CEO of the company. "You get subject matter experts, and serious founders and CEOs on the stage and make them make their case. You learn something, it's a lot of fun, and it's a lot better than a panel."

The hour of fighting is coupled with a VIP event ahead of the showdown and an after party where further networking can continue on. At Houston's VIP event, InnovationMap got to check in with partners, fighters, and referees about how they thought the event was going to pan out. Check out the VIP event video here.

The panel of referees included GabriellaRowe, CEO of Station Houston; DeniseHamilton, CEO of Watch Her Work; TimKopra, partner at Blue Bear Capital; LanceBlack, Director at TMCx; and BarbaraBurger, president of Chevron Technology Ventures.

The refs asked two questions per fight, and were able to vote on the winners of each round — as was the audience through an interactive web-based application. The break down of the fights, topics, and winners are as follows:

Fight #1: Future Workforce of Robotics/AI. Matt Hager, CEO of Poetic Systems, vs Pablo Marin, senior AI Leader, Microsoft. Hager took the win with 77 percent of the vote.
Fight #2: Whose responsibility is cybersecurity. Ted Gutierrez, CEO of SecurityGate vs Tara Khanna, managing director and Security Lead at Accenture. Khanna won this round, snagging 66 percent of the votes.
Fight #3: Oil & Gas Industry and the Environment. Michael Szafron - commercial adviser for Cemvita Factory, vs Steven Taylor, co-founder of AR for Everyone. Szafron received 76 percent of the voites, securing the win.
Fight #4: Digital in our personal lives. Grace Rodriguez, CEO of ImpactHub, vs Javier Fadul, chief innovation officer at HTX Labs. Rodriguez won with the largest margin of the night — 85 percent.
Fight #5: Future of Primary Care Geetinder Goyal, CEO of First Primary Care, vs Nick Desai, chief medical information officer at Houston Methodist. Goyal received 72 percent of the votes to take home the win.

The fights were heated, and some of the fighters had knockout quotes, from Hager's "AI is mostly bullshit" to Khanna's "Compliance doesn't mean you're secure." For more of the knockout quotes, click here.

The fight is on

Emily Jaschke/InnovationMap

Mike Pratt, who hosted the event, founded the Digital Fight Club in 2016.

Ten Houston innovators took the stage for five fights on the role technology plays in the future of industry. Emily Jaschke/InnovationMap

Overheard: Local fighters land knockout statements at Houston's first Digital Fight Club

Eavesdropping in houston

On Wednesday, Houston's innovation ecosystem hosted the rowdiest crowd at a professional business event that the city has ever seen.

Digital Fight Club, a Dallas-based event company, had its first Houston event at White Oak Music Hall on November 20 thanks to presenting sponsors Accenture and InnovationMap. The event featured 10 fighters and five referees across five fights that discussed cybersecurity, the future of primary care, and more.

"This is Digital Fight Club," says Michael Pratt, CEO of the company. "You get subject matter experts, and serious founders and CEOs on the stage and make them make their case. You learn something, it's a lot of fun, and it's a lot better than a panel."

If you missed the showdown, here are some of the nights zingers made by the entrepreneurs and subject matter experts that were the fighters of the evening.

"I believe that computers can get a lot of information to create [something new]. That's my job, that's what I do, and I see it done."

Pablo Marin, senior AI leader at Microsoft, during the fight on robotics and AI in the workforce. Marin's argument was that artificial intelligence and robotics can and will replace all repetitive jobs. However, he also believes that computers have the ability to create, as well, based on their ability to see the whole world and have access to all the world's information.

"AI is mostly bullshit."

Matthew Hager, CEO of Poetic Systems. Hager, who won the first fight of the night, responded to Marin that, while businesses like to believe that AI is actually able to deliver results so that they can sell more, the technology hasn't actually arrived yet. Plus, Hager says AI will never be creative without the human element. "Creativity is about who created it. It's about the photographer, not the camera," he says.

"What if the seatbelt laws and the speed limits were defined by Dodge, Ford, or Chrysler?"

Ted Gutierrez, CEO and co-founder of Security Gate, who argued for government to take the reigns of cybersecurity. He adds that companies are never going to be able to agree to one set of rules. "We gotta get one group to set the standard, and it's up to everyone else to refine that and innovate for it," he says.

"Compliance doesn't mean you're secure."

Tara Khanna, managing director and security lead at Accenture, who won the fight on cybersecurity needing to be figured out by the business industry. She argues that the private sector wins the war on talent and recruiting, so it has the money and resources to dedicate to the issue in more ways than the government ever will.

"I was born, I'm going to die, and there is nothing like earth in the universe as we know it. It is worth preserving and protecting."

Steven Taylor, co-founder of AR for Everyone, in the fight over the oil and gas industry's responsibility to the environment. He argued that it's going to be a mix of policy and corporate initiatives that changes the industry.

"I think the free market is going to get there if the consumer has the choice to pick what they want to do."

Michael Szafron, commercial adviser for Cemvita Factory, who took home the win for the oil and gas and the environment fight. Szafron's argument was that corporations are going to do what their consumers want, so that's who would drive them to action. "Let's look at California —very regulated environmentalists, and a million of those people get moved to Texas," he says.

"Disconnecting our personal lives from technology would not only limit ourselves, but it would also limit our capacity to adopt those tools to the needs of our society." 

Javier Fadul, chief innovation officer at HTX Labs, during the fight on digital in our personal lives. Fadul argues that not only does technology allow us to connect worldwide, but disconnecting would prevent that technology from developing further.

"I love tech, but now that it's on all the time everywhere, we need to make time to unplug."

GraceRodriguez, CEO of Impact Hub Houston, who won the fight on personal technology. She says that yes, technology can help international connectivity, but it does more harm than good as people use personal tech as a default or distraction from humans right in front of them. "When your with people, be present," she says.

"Part of our innovation to redesign primary care is really to deploy technology out there to seamlessly provide care."

Nick Desai, chief medical information officer at Houston Methodist, who argued that the future of primary care is new innovations within traditional medicine. He adds that virtual care, which is something Methodist is working on, can help improve accessibility.

"The future of primary care is here. It's called direct primary care." 

Geetinder Goyal, CEO of First Primary Care, who won the fight on the future of primary care with his argument for a new, free market approach to medicine. Direct primary care opens up treatment and access to physicians with a monthly fee for patients to work outside of health care plans.

These three innovators are using their technology to provide solutions across industries. Courtesy photos

3 Houston tech innovators to know this week

who's who

Innovation isn't always about being the first to create a technology. Sometimes, innovation is seeing the potential an existing technology has to impact a different industry. That's what all three of this week's innovators to know have done across industries. And, they are are only just getting started.

Sidd Gupta, founder of Nesh

Courtesy of Nesh

Sidd Gupta wanted to know what would happen if you took Siri or Alexa, sent her to college, made her an oil and gas industry expert, and allowed energy employees access to her information via a chat room. And that's pretty much what he's done with Nesh, a smart assistant for the energy industry. Read the full story here.

Kim Raath, CFO of Topl

Courtesy of Topl

When Kim Raath was backpacking around the world, she realize the social inequalities of entrepreneurs in struggling companies. Potential business owners couldn't get a loan for their businesses because banks didn't have the time to evaluate business plans. Topl uses blockchain technology to track the impact of money spent — from investments to donations and beyond. Read the full story here.

Ted Gutierrez, co-founder and CEO of Security Gate

Courtesy of Security Gate

According to Ted Gutierrez, an Army special forces vet, the startup life isn't too unfamiliar to his days in an Army reconnaissance unit.

"I love high-conflict, low-impact settings," he says. "It's you and a few guys and you're in a place for a week and you don't know what you'll find. I love that chaos of jumping out of a plane and right into the job."

Instead of protecting our country, Gutierrez's goal is protecting company's cyber security threats with his company, Security Gate. Read the full story here.

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3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a logistics startup founder, a marketing expert, and a solar energy innovator.

Matthew Costello, CEO and co-founder of Voyager Portal

Houston logistics SaaS innovator is making waves with its expanded maritime shipping platform. Photo courtesy of Voyager

For several years now, Matthew Costello has been navigating the maritime shipping industry looking for problems to solve for customers with his company, Voyager Portal.

Initially, that meant designing a software platform to enhance communications and organization of the many massive and intricate global shipments happening every day. Founded in 2018 by Costello and COO Bret Smart, Voyager Portal became a integral tool for the industry that helps users manage the full lifecycle of their voyages — from planning to delivery.

"The software landscape has changed tremendously in the maritime space. Back in 2018, we were one of a small handful of technology startups in this space," Costello, who serves as CEO of Voyager, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Now that's changed. ... There's really a huge wave of innovation happening in maritime right now." Read more.

Arielle Rogg, principal and founder of Rogg Enterprises

Arielle Rogg writes in a guest column for InnovationMap about AI in the workforce. Photo via LinkedIn

Arielle Rogg isn't worried about artificial intelligence coming for her job. In fact, she has three reasons why, and she outlines them in a guest column for InnovationMap.

"The advent of AI pushes us humans to acquire new skills and hone our existing abilities so we can work alongside these evolving technologies in a collaborative fashion. AI augments human capabilities rather than replacing us. I believe it will help our society embrace lifelong learning, creating new industries and jobs that have never existed before," she writes in the piece. Read more.

Nathan Childress, founder of Solar Slice

Solar Slice Founder Nathan Childress says his new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet. Photo via LinkedIn

Nuclear engineer and entrepreneur Nathan Childress wants consumers to capture their own ray of sunlight to brighten the prospect of making clean energy a bigger part of the power grid. That's why he founded Solar Slice. The new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet.

Although trained in nuclear power plant design, solar power drew his interest as a cheaper and more accessible alternative, and Childress tells InnovationMap that he thinks that the transition to cleaner energy, in Texas especially, needs to step up.

Recent studies show that 80 to 90 percent of the money invested into fighting climate change “aren’t going to things that people actually consider helpful,” Childress says, adding that “they’re more just projects that sound good, that are not actually taking any action." Read more.

Report: Amid difficult market, Houston sees uptick in VC funding

seeing green

Houston-area startups saw a healthy increase in venture capital funding during the first half of 2024 compared with the same period last year, new data shows.

In the first six months of this year, Houston-area startups attracted $760.55 million in VC funding, according to the latest PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor. That’s up 17.7 percent from the $645.99 million collected in the first six months of 2023.

Keep in mind that these figures might not match previously reported numbers. That’s because PitchBook regularly adjusts data as new information becomes available.

In light of various factors, such as the ongoing hype over artificial intelligence, fundraising will likely continue to be challenging for U.S. startups as a whole, according to Nizar Tarhuni, vice president of institutional research and editorial at PitchBook, a provider of VC data.

Nonetheless, Bobby Franklin, president and CEO of the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA), points out that American venture capital “is finding its footing in 2024.”

Across the country, VC funding for startups in the first half of 2024 totaled $93.4 billion, up 6.5 percent from the $87.7 billion raised during the same period last year, according to the PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor.

“With steadily increasing deal values, especially across early-stage investments, more first-time financings, and increased crossover investor participation, [the second quarter of 2024] was a good one for VC,” says Franklin. “Now it’s up to founders, investors, and regulators to support, rather than stifle, these green shoots as the market heads toward a recovery.”

In the second quarter alone, VC funding in the U.S. jumped from $35.4 billion in 2023 to $55.6 billion in 2024. That’s an increase of 57 percent.

By contrast, the Houston area’s VC funding went in the opposite direction. Startups in the region scored $231.79 million in VC during the second quarter of 2024 vs. $333.17 million during the same period a year earlier. That’s a drop of 30 percent.

So far in 2024, Houston-based Fervo Energy dominates VC hauls for startups in the metro area. In March, the provider of geothermal power announced it had secured $244 million in funding, with Oklahoma City-based oil and gas company Devon Energy leading the round.

Fervo’s latest pot of VC represents more than 30 percent of all Houston-area VC funding during the first six months of 2024.

Tim Latimer, co-founder and CEO of Fervo, says the $244 million investment enables his company “to continue to position geothermal at the heart of 24/7 carbon-free energy production.”

Fervo says the latest VC round will support development of its 400-megawatt geothermal project in Beaver County, Utah. The Cape Station facility is expected to start generating power for the grid in 2026.

High-tech Formula 1 cars rev engines toward Houston for unique event

lights out and away we go

Houstonians with a passion for Formula 1 racing have to drive to Austin — and spend a lot of money — to get up close to the innovative cars that reach speeds over 200 miles per hour. That’s all going to change in September.

The Bayou City will be the next host of a Red Bull Showrun. Held on Saturday, September 7 at Discovery Green in downtown Houston, the free event will feature one of Red Bull’s championship-winning RB7 car flying down the streets around the park.

Best of all, it’s completely free to attend. Of course, those who want a great view of the action may purchase $50 grandstand tickets that went on sale this morning.

Held previously in other cities without F1 races such as New York, Dallas, and Washington, D.C., Red Bull uses the Showrun to bring the sport to new fans. Although the sport traces its history to the ‘50s, it has seen a boost in popularity thanks to Formula 1: Drive to Survive, a Netflix show that offers a behind-the-scenes look at key people on each of the 10 teams.

Red Bull’s Formula 1 team is riding particularly high at the moment, having won the Constructors Championship in both 2022 and 2023 on the strength of its car and driver Max Verstappen, who has won three consecutive Drivers’ Championship titles and currently leads the championship this year, too.

"The best part about any Red Bull Showrun is being able to bring Formula One to some fans that have already seen it, but more importantly to some who have never seen Formula One before," David Coulthard, a former Red Bull Racing Grand Prix driver who won 13 races during his 15-year career, said in a statement.

Held from noon to 2 pm, the RB7 car will make a number of trips on the streets, doing doughnuts and burnouts and generally being very fast and loud. In between those runs, the Showrun will feature appearances by other Red Bull athletes and a DJ battle between local legends DJ Mr. Rogers and Chase B, who is the longtime DJ for hip hop star Travis Scott. A complete lineup of appearances will be released at a later date, according to a release.

Fans will also have access to a fan zone with food vendors, F1 racing simulators, Oracle Red Bull Racing merchandise, and other free activities.

For more information, including how to purchase grandstand tickets, visit the event’s website.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.