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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Early-stage accelerator returns to Houston, announces finalists

prepare for take-off

CodeLaunch, a traveling seed-stage accelerator, is returning to Houston for its latest cohort.

The startup competition sponsored by software development company Improving will have its ultimate showdown on February 28. The final competition pairs six startups with six startup consulting companies.

Jason W. Taylor, CodeLaunch president and founder, says CodeLaunch isn’t your typical startup showcase, as it incorporates music acts, comedy, and crowd networking. Mirroring the set-up of a TV show, the six finalists all present their working products in front of an audience amid these performances.

“I would describe CodeLaunch as the next generation of venture-tainment in North America and the greatest startup show on earth,” Taylor explains.

The 2024 Houston CodeLaunch participant startups — and their mentor partners — are as follows:

Prior to pitch day, all six teams will receive hands-on instruction from CodeLaunch mentors on how to construct their pitches and free professional software development from their partners. Taylor says the strong relationships between CodeLaunch and these developers played a major role in setting the competition in Houston.

“We love Houston and we’re back for a third year in a row because the Houston startup ecosystem works together better than other major startup ecosystems I’ve seen,” Taylor says. “We have some great software development partners in Houston that are building code for those startups.”

Last year, Houston-based startup Energy360, with the mentorship and help of Honeycomb Software, took home the Championship belt and a $100,000 investment offer from Cyrannus VC fund for their energy management system Matt Bonasera, Energy360’s enterprise architect, says he is grateful for the entrepreneurial community CodeLaunch provides, in particular the team’s mentor Oleg Lysiak, Honeycomb VP of Partnerships and Business Development.

“I happened along this great community of people who are really passionate about supporting each other,” Bonasera says.

Lysiak agrees that CodeLaunch is an ideal opportunity for young entrepreneurs looking to hone their skills and expand their product capabilities. Lysiak says he is looking forward to defending Honeycomb’s title as top consultant development team.

“My whole philosophy is to connect people and have different collisions and collaborations,” Lysiak says.

Houston startup completes testing, prepares biosimilar insulin drug for clinical trials

next steps

A Houston biotech startup is one step closer to releasing its marquee drug for the global insulin market, which is projected to break the $90 billion threshold by 2029.

rBIO says it recently completed testing of the properties of R-biolin, an insulin drug that’s biologically identical to Novo Nordisk’s Novolin drug. The patent for Novolin about two decades ago. In March 2023, the Dutch drugmaker announced it was slashing the list price of Novolin by 65 percent to $48.20 per vial and $91.09 per FlexPen.

Executives at rBIO are now pursuing a partnership with a contract research organization to manage clinical trials of R-biolin. If those trials go well, R-biolin will seek approval to supply its insulin therapy to diabetes patients around the world.

Washington University in St. Louis is rBIO’s academic partner for the R-biolin project.

The rBIO platform produces insulin at greater yields that traditional manufacturing techniques do. The company is striving to drive down the cost of insulin by 30 percent.

About 38 million Americans have diabetes, with the vast majority being treated for type 2 diabetes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many people with diabetes must take insulin to control their blood sugar levels.

Research company iHealthcareAnalyst predicts the global market for insulin will surpass the $90 billion mark in 2029.

“There has been a lot of talk in the media about reducing the cost of insulin for diabetic patients, but what is often overlooked is that the domestic demand for insulin will soon outpace the supply, leading to a new host of issues,” Cameron Owen, co-founder and CEO of rBIO, says in a news release.

“We’re dedicated to addressing the growing demand for accessible insulin therapies, and … we’re thrilled to announce the viability of our highly scalable manufacturing process.”

Professionals from the University of California San Diego and Johns Hopkins University established rBIO in 2020. The startup moved its headquarters from San Diego to Houston in 2022.

CEO Cameron Owen and Chief Scientific Officer Deenadayalan Bakthavatsalam work on insulin purification in the Houston lab. Photo courtesy

How AI is changing product management and what you need to know

guest column

For the past 14 months, everyone has been talking about ways artificial intelligence is changing the world, and product management is not an exception. The challenge, as with every new technology, is not only adopting it but understanding what old habits, workflows, and processes are affected by it.

Product managers — as well as startup founders leading a product function — more than any other role, face a challenge of bringing new life-changing products to market that may or may not be received well by their users. A product manager’s goal is complex — bring value, stay ahead of the competition, be innovative. Yet, the "behind the scenes" grind requires endless decision making and trade offs to inspire stakeholders to move forward and deliver.

As we dive into 2024, it is obvious that AI tools do not only transform the way we work but also help product managers create products that exceed customer expectation and drive businesses forward.

Market research and trends analysis

As product managers, we process enormous amounts of market data — from reviewing global and industry trend analysis, to social media posts, predictions, competition, and company goals. AI, however, can now replace hours, if not days, of analyzing massive amounts of data in an instant, revealing market trends, anticipating needs, and foreseeing what's coming next. As a result, it is easier to make effective product decisions and identify new market opportunities.

Competitive analysis

Constantly following competitors, reviewing their new releases, product updates, or monitoring reviews to identify competitor strengths and weaknesses is an overwhelming and time consuming task. With AI, you can quickly analyze competitors’ products, pricing, promotions, and feedback. You can easily compare multiple attributes, including metrics, and identify gaps and areas for improvement — all the insights that are otherwise much harder to reveal quickly and efficiently.

Customer and product discovery

Of course, the most intuitive use case that comes to mind is the adoption of AI in product and customer discovery. For example:

  • Use AI for customer segmentation and persona creation to help visualize personas, prioritize user motivations and expectations, and uncover hidden behavior and needs. You can then create and simplify customer questionnaires for interviews and user groups and target customers more accurately.
  • Analyze quantitative and qualitative data from surveys, support tickets, reviews, and in-person interviews to identify pain points and unmet user needs and help prioritize features for future updates and releases.

Roadmap and sprint management

AI provides value in simplifying roadmap planning and sprint management. Resource optimization is often a gruesome task and AI can help with feature prioritization and resource allocation. It helps teams focus on critical work and increase their productivity. You can even analyze and manage dependencies and improve results across multiple sprints months in advance.

Prototyping and mockup generation

There is no product manager’s routine without multiple mockups, wireframes, and prototypes that explain concepts and collect feedback among stakeholders. AI has become a critical tool in simplifying this process and bringing ideas to life from concept to visualization.

Today, you can use textual or voice descriptions to instantly create multiple visuals with slight variations, run A/B tests and gather valuable feedback at the earliest stage of a product life cycle.

Job search and job interviews

Consider it as a bonus but one of the less obvious but crucial advantages of AI is using it in job search. With the vulnerable and unstable job market, especially for product roles, AI is a valuable assistant. From getting the latest news and updates on a company you want to join, to summarizing insights on the executive team, or company goals, compiling lists of interview questions, and running mock interviews, AI has become a non-judgmental assistant in a distressing and often discouraging job search process.

Use AI to draft cold emails to recruiters and hiring managers, compare your skills to open positions’ requirements, identify gaps, and outline ideas for test assignments.

We already know that AI is not a hype; it is here to stay. However, remember that customers do not consume AI, they consume your product for its value. Customers care whether your product gets their need, solves their problem, and makes their lives easier. The goal of a product manager is to create magic combining human brain capabilities and latest technology. And the best result is with a human at the core of any product.

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Natasha Gorodetsky is the founder and CEO of Product Pursuits, a Houston company that helps early stage and venture-backed startups build products and create impact.