Forbes has identified 1,000 entrepreneurs as rising stars in the business world. And three of them call Houston home. Photos via Forbes

Three Houston entrepreneurs are basking in the national spotlight.

The trio — Vernee Hines, Carolyn Rodz, and Siddhartha Sachdeva — were just named to Forbes' Next 1000 list of the country's up-and-coming entrepreneurs. They're among the 250 standouts who make up the second installment of this year's Next 1000 class.

Forbes says the year-round Next 1000 initiative "showcases the ambitious sole proprietors, self-funded shops, and pre-revenue startups in every region of the country — all with under $10 million in revenue or funding and infinite drive and hustle."

Forbes accepts nominees for Next 1000, and then "top business minds and entrepreneurial superstars" pick those who make the final cut. Among those minds are LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman; baseball legend Alex Rodriguez; Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook; and Carla Harris, managing director of Morgan Stanley.

"Americans are launching new companies at a historic rate, aided by the accelerated shift in the way we live and work and an influx of technological tools that made it easier for anyone to start their own business from anywhere," Maneet Ahuja, senior editor of Forbes, says in a news release. "The latest class of Next 1000 entrepreneurial heroes offer hope for the future as we emerge from the pandemic on the path towards economic recovery."

Hines, Rodz, and Sachdeva are the initiative's three Houston representatives in the summer 2021 group.

Hines co-founded UpBrainery Technologies with Ghazal Qureshi in 2020. UpBrainery operates a tech ecosystem aimed at disrupting educational and classroom norms through the use of proprietary technology, according to Forbes.

UpBrainery's marketplace provides an AI-driven software platform and research-based, results-driven curriculum to students, parents, teachers, and organizations. So far, UpBrainery has helped more than 5,000 students. Clients include Whataburger, Nasdaq, the Houston Rockets, the Girl Scouts of America, and Girls Inc.

"Because I deeply understand curriculum and the theory of education, I understand the biases marginalized students face every day, and I co-founded UpBrainery with the goal of eliminating historical education biases, leveling the playing field for underrepresented students, and providing a technology solution that reaches even the most disconnected student," Hines says on her company's website.

Rodz co-founded Hello Alice with Elizabeth Gore in 2017 as an accelerator for women-owned businesses. Today, the Hello Alice online platform serves as a one-stop shop for all aspiring entrepreneurs, connecting them with funders, services, and professional networks, Forbes explains. To date, it has raised $8.5 million in funding.

"Hello Alice is what I wish I had when I started my first business 15 years ago," Rodz told the Golden Seeds website in 2020. "After a career in investment banking, I made a long, hard, expensive transition into entrepreneurship. It wasn't until I sold that company that I realized how much I learned."

"When I started a second business, I discovered networks and opportunities I didn't know about the first time, and doors opened up," she added. "With Hello Alice, our goal was to put all entrepreneurs on an equal footing, giving them the knowledge, opportunities, and connections they need to thrive from day one."

Sachdeva founded Innowatts in 2014. The company offers an AI-powered SaaS platform that helps electricity providers operate more efficiently and transition toward sustainable energy, Forbes says. Innowatts has raised nearly $27 million in funding.

"The COVID-19 crisis has brought challenges for the energy sector, but there will always be a need for accurate forecasting and real-time intelligence," Sachdeva says in a recent news release. "Innowatts has flourished by using its groundbreaking AI technologies to help customers build resilience and cope with the unprecedented shifts in power consumption caused by the pandemic."

Houston-based Innowatts closed its Series B funding round — a $18.2 million commitment from the likes of Energy Impact Partners, Shell Ventures, and more. Photo via innowattts.com

Houston AI-enabled retail energy platform receives $18.2M investment

Follow the money

Houston-based Innowatts has closed its Series B funding round lead by Energy Impact Partners. The company, which enables artificial intelligence through its retail energy technology platform, secured a $18.2 million investment. Current funders also include Shell Ventures, Iberdrola, and Energy and Environment Investment (EEI Japan) — which all three supported the company in its Series A — along with new investor Evergy Ventures.

The funds will be used to grow the company's eUtilityTMplatform technology — a B2B cloud-based software tool to help retail energy providers better deliver quality energy services and insights to clients. The eUtilityTM platform already processes meter data from over 21 million customers globally and across 13 regional energy markets, according to the release.

"Competing in today's complex and evolving marketplace requires utility companies use data and intelligence to drive business and customer value," says Siddhartha Sachdeva, founder and CEO of Innowatts, in a release. "Energy Impact Partners, along with its coalition of innovative utility investors, appreciates the role that the eUtilityTM platform can play in creating a smarter, more efficient energy value chain. We're excited to have EIP join us on the next phase of our journey in building the digital utility of the future."

The company is "poised to become a key building block in the software-driven, intelligent grid of the future," says Michael Donnelly, partner and chief risk officer at EIP in the release.

"We invest in companies driving the transformation of the energy sector towards an increasingly decarbonized, digitized, and electrified future – solutions that our utility partners can commercialize at scale and have the greatest impact," Donnelly continues.

Innowatts' $6 million Series A round closed in August 2017. Shell Ventures lead that round.

"Utilities have the opportunity to deliver more value to customers, at lower costs and with greater personalization than ever before, while helping streamline the complex energy marketplace," says Geert van de Wouw, vice president Shell Ventures, in a release. "The predictive customer intelligence and digital solutions provided by Innowatts' eUtilityTM platform is central to executing that vision."

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Impact-driven Houston fintech startup emerges to streamline international remittance

money transfer tech

Africans living abroad send over $40 billion back to their home country annually — yet the process continues to be expensive, fraud-ridden, and complicated. A new Houston-area startup has a solution.

AiDEMONEY, based in Katy, has launched a money transfer app for mobile devices. The app enables digital transfers from the United States to five African countries: Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria

"International remittance has always been about people living in diaspora wanting to share their success with people back home," says Uzoma Eze, AiDEMONEY co-founder and CEO, in a news release. "By replacing profit as the point of the spear, we're helping Africans fund Africa and, ultimately, rewriting our motherland's story."

Eze co-founded the company with Felix Akompi, a fellow member of Houston's African diaspora community and the company's COO

The app, which is already available on the App Store and Google Play, focuses on blockchain-powered security and instant transfers. The company also designed the platform with a "give back" model that builds a stronger Africa.

With every transaction fee, users are funding progress in Africa. A portion of customer transaction fees to nonprofits in education and literacy, women's empowerment, and healthcare. Currently, AiDEMONEY partners with the Lagos Food Bank Initiative, Shalom Sickle Cell Foundation, Sharing Smiles Initiative, and Jenny Uzo Foundation.

"We're creating a superhighway for tens of billions in USD to flow from one part of the world to another," Eze says. "When you have the right people with the right vision, that capital tills the ground—tilling out profit, social advancement and a stronger Africa."

Doing Money Remittance Better | AiDEMONEY, The African Diaspora's Money Transfer App www.youtube.com

New Pearland healthcare training center will raise the bar for nursing in Houston

Training for More

As if those in the healthcare field needed another reason to relocate to Pearland: the HCA Healthcare Center for Clinical Advancement opened its doors on July 27.

Located at the Pearland Town Center at 11200 Broadway St., building 200, the two-story, 48,400-square-foot training center houses hospital simulation labs, virtually-connected classrooms, and debriefing rooms.

The center provides ongoing education for HCA Houston Healthcare's 7,000 nurses and will help standardize training across the system's 13 Greater Houston-area hospitals, outpatient surgery centers, emergency centers, and imaging facilities.

The utilization of simulcast technology will also facilitate education and training opportunities for colleagues working in locations across the HCA Healthcare Gulf Coast Division, which includes facilities in Corpus Christi and South Texas.

"The HCA Healthcare Center for Clinical Advancement is a significant part of our strategic nursing plan to support and grow our nurses as the differentiator at our hospitals and other facilities," says Kelli Nations, chief nurse executive at HCA Houston Healthcare, one of the city's largest healthcare systems. "It certainly helps us raise the bar for nursing care in Houston."

The first floor is designated for nurse training, which can last up to 22 weeks, depending on their specialty. Additional classroom and conference room space on the second floor will serve as a hub for new-hire orientations and the system's leadership and organizational development training for up to 250 employees at a time.

"Bringing the latest teaching technologies under one roof in a new, advanced facility is a major step in preparing our nurses to provide the highest level of care," says Nations.

Additional facility features include a simulated hospital supply room, a large break room, a mother's room for employees who are nursing, and several lounge areas.

Upcoming energy conference adds innovation focus for Houston-based event

innovating energy

The World Petroleum Congress, which plans to return to in-person status in December, is adding a new wrinkle — a pitch competition — to this year's event.

On August 4, the World Petroleum Congress announced the launch this year of the Innovation Zone, which will enable energy pioneers to showcase their offerings. The 2021 World Petroleum Congress — hosted in Houston this time around — is set for December 5-9 at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

Houston-based energy giant ConocoPhillips is sponsoring the Innovation Zone.

"For more than a century, innovation has enabled our industry to keep pace with the growing demand for safe and reliable energy," Bill Bullock, executive vice president and chief financial officer of ConocoPhillips, says in a news release. He adds that the Innovation Zone will highlight "innovations that can propel our industry's purposeful journey through the energy transition and into the future."

In all, 32 startups and individuals will pitch their products or practices on the World Petroleum Congress stage. One winner will be honored with the inaugural Energy Innovator Award.

The Innovation Zone is open to energy companies, private entities, and individuals working as independent contractors. Proposals will be evaluated on seven criteria:

  • Innovation
  • Creativity
  • Potential or actual technical or business success
  • Environmental impact
  • Stakeholder impact
  • Scalability
  • Broad-based uses

Applications for the Innovation Zone are due Aug. 20. To obtain an application, visit the World Petroleum Congress website. Representatives of ConocoPhillips and the World Petroleum Congress will sift through the applications and pick 32 finalists, who will be notified in early September.

"Startups, with their innovative business models, will play a decisive role in shaping a sustainable energy future, and for participating companies, this is a good opportunity to present and forge new links with key stakeholders and investors," says Serafina Lalany, interim executive director of entrepreneurship and innovation nonprofit Houston Exponential.

Aside from ConocoPhillips, sponsors of this year's World Petroleum Congress include Chevron, Halliburton, Accenture, Hess, ExxonMobil, BP, Qatar Petroleum, Baker Hughes, and Saudi Aramco.

The 23rd World Petroleum Congress was supposed to happen last year in Houston but was shifted to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 10,000 people are expected to attend this year's event. It's been estimated that the World Petroleum Congress will pump $60 million to $80 million into the Houston economy.

Staged by the World Petroleum Council, the event hasn't been held in North America since 1987, when Houston hosted it. It's known as the "Olympics" of the oil and gas sector.

The 24th World Petroleum Congress will be held in 2023 in Calgary, Canada. The event traditionally takes place every three years.