This Houston expert describes the main phases central to any innovation journey. Photo courtesy of Slalom

As a technologist, one thing I learned early in my career about the technology landscape is its constant improvements and I understood that companies who kept up with those changes remain successful and competitive. However, only companies mastering a disciplined innovation framework are truly able to harness the power of emerging tech to help them solve their most complex business challenges.

Innovative solutions come in all shapes and sizes, but not all of them should come to life. Specifically, when considering digital solutions, there are a few widely accepted innovation approaches in the product engineering field. This quick guide describes the main phases central to any innovation journey.

Feasibility Study

Ideating can be fun but executing a feasibility study will ground you on what will work and what may still be science fiction. The thought here is to spend two to four weeks doing research and talking to experts to answer a few key questions that will help you determine the feasibility of your idea or concept. Through the study, you will learn how to look at it from both a technology and a business perspective. More importantly, to answer the question 'Is it even possible to accomplish your goal with this technology?'

A subject matter expert (SME) will quickly tell you yes or no and why. If you find the technology is indeed suitable, then you will move on to evaluate the business feasibility. Does it make financial sense? Does it work within established business policies? Will there be a healthy Return On Investment (ROI) within an acceptable timeline? If you find positive responses to those questions, then you should feel confident to move on to a Proof of Concept (PoC) or even jump to a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). On the other hand, if either the technology is not feasible or the solution doesn't make business sense, then you've just saved yourself a lot of time, budget, and possibly headaches.

Proof of Concept

This phase is about testing the theory and proving the hypothesis, technically speaking. You'll need to go through a Proof of Concept if the technology solution you have in mind hasn't been tested in either a lab setting or in the field. Thinking outside of the box and innovating is all about trying new approaches and solving problems in a novel way, so you'll have to spend the time and budget ensuring it will work as expected. However, you must be very careful to not get carried away.

A proper PoC should take four to six weeks, max. It should help you quickly determine whether the technology will live up to its promise or if you need to pivot to another approach. Building a team with the right skillset is vital to this process because they are the ones evaluating the proposed solution and comparing it to the expected outcomes. Any signs of discord should empower the team to stop the project, saving further investment, and should help you decide if another approach is even possible. If all criteria has been met, then move on to the MVP stage.

Minimum Viable Product

At this point, you have confirmed the solution you imagined works and you are ready to unlock its potential. But you must start small. You must prioritize all the features you want this product to have and decide what the core functionality should be. This is important because if you choose too many features to start with, you may initially spend too much money and time and may even miss a window of business opportunity you may have lined up. Hence the name of the MVP, it is a product that employs the minimum time, money, and features while still being a viable product.

In summary, if you have an innovative idea for a technology solution, I recommend you first determine whether it's feasible, both technology and business wise, through a short and focused study. If feasible, then you can put that concept to the test through a PoC and determine its desirability. If this product is indeed desirable, then moving into building an MVP will help you understand its viability – and that is how you can successfully innovate while keeping risks at bay.


------

Alfredo Arvide is the director for the products and innovation practice at Slalom Consulting in Houston, where he helps clients solve their most complex business challenges by leveraging emerging technologies and applying innovative technology solutions.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Alfredo Arvide of Slalom Consulting, Allison Post of the Texas Heart Institute, and Jeff Price of Pronto Pay. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — tech consulting, health care, and fintech — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Alfredo Arvide, senior principal within product engineering at Slalom Consulting

Should you launch an app? Or just a web page? This consultant weighs in with his advice. Photo courtesy of Slalom

Tech founders have a lot of decisions to make, and Alfredo Arvide of Slalom Consulting wrote a guest column for InnovationMap to help advise on a big one.

"One of the biggest decisions you'll have to make as an entrepreneur is whether you should host your product or service on the web, via an app, or through a webapp," he writes. "Product development has a million intricacies that will dictate – and sometimes demand – a specific route to market." Read more.

Allison Post, manager of innovation partnerships at the Texas Heart Institute

Allison Post joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share what she's focused on in cardiac innovation. Photo courtesy of THI

In a perfect world, Houston's health care institutions work collaboratively on innovative health care solutions and the city soars as a major hub for life science innovation. That perfect world is Allison Post's goal. As Texas Heart Institute's manager of innovation partnerships, she is in charge of supporting THI innovators and connecting the institute with the rest of the city.

"I only see just phenomenal things for Houston, and what I really want is for the Texas Medical Center to become even more interconnected. We've got to be able to transfer ideas and thoughts and intentions seamlessly between these institutions and right now there are a lot of barriers," Post says. "And I really think Texas Heart is hopefully going to serve as an example of how to take down those barriers." Read more and stream the episode.

Jeff Price, founder and CEO of Pronto Pay

This Houston startup has an app for helping employees get a portion of their paychecks before payday. Photo via Pexels

So much of the country lives paycheck to paycheck, and Jeff Price saw a business opportunity to help out employees who need an advance on their wages. He founded Pronto Pay in the first quarter of 2021. The software aims to connect hourly works with transparent access to wages earned before pay day without disrupting the employers' books.

"When you think about it, payroll hasn't changed in nearly two centuries. As far as we can remember, you get paid weekly or bi-weekly. And that's precisely the point we're trying to solve," Price says. Read more.

Should you launch an app? Or just a web page? This consultant weighs in with his advice. Photo courtesy of Slalom

Web page or app? Houston expert shares his tips for launching your online platform

guest column

One of the biggest decisions you'll have to make as an entrepreneur is whether you should host your product or service on the web, via an app, or through a webapp. In this quick guide, I'll go over a few tips to help you narrow down the options and make an informed decision.

First, allow me to explain each of these terms. In this context, I am assuming your big idea is either a product or service which your customer base will consume in a digital format. The question is, do you deliver your product or service via a regular webpage (web), does it require robust native application functionality (app), or can it be a hybrid model where the app runs on browser (webapp).

Certainly, if you can sell your product or services through a simple online store, then the debate is over: you should just web. If you are just selling a new gadget, for example, you don't need an app nor a webapp. E-Commerce has come such a long way that a simple webpage will suffice.

However, if that is not your situation, then here's three main considerations to help you decide between building an app or a webapp.

Native hardware required

If your product or service will use a hardware component from your audience's mobile device or tablet, such as the GPS, the Camera, the Microphone, or the Gyroscope, then you should heavily lean towards building a native app.

There are web frameworks that will allow you to gain access to a devices' camera or GPS via a webapp, but none are as stable, reliable, or robust as using a native app framework.

The question then becomes, what operating system do you develop your native app in: Apple's iOS, Google's Android, Microsoft's Windows, other or all of them?

Keep in mind there are platforms – such as Xamarin – that enable you to develop in multiple native app ecosystems simultaneously, however, deciding the platform(s) will affect your timeline, budget and audience reach. Also know that if your product or service can or should be accessible offline, then that reinforces your native app decision and eliminates a webapp given they require connectivity to run on a browser.

Universal adoption expected

In contrast, if you are looking to sign-up a broad audience then you should lean towards building a webapp.

All devices, whether mobile, tablets or laptops, have sophisticated and modern web browsers that can easily run webapps. Therefore, if you don't want to worry about deciding between different platforms, then by building a universal webapp that is compatible with all popular browsers all your users will have immediate access.

This route also bypasses all the requirements you must meet and the policies you must comply with to publish your native app to communities such as Apple's App Store or Google Play.

Even better you can update and maintain your webapp at your own pace, not having to rely on Apple's or Google's approval and publish/update schedules.

Investment tolerance 

Now, if you gathered major seed funding or hit it big in a series A round giving you a higher upfront investment tolerance, then I'd advise you to go the native app route.

The aforementioned Apple and Google native app marketplaces, albeit strict, offer amazing features that you would not be able to leverage going the webapp route. Your customer experience will almost certainly be higher going native app, which will increase your ROI, promote repeat subscribers and overall success.

But this route will be more expensive than webapp, especially if you do decide to offer it on multiple major platforms. Hence, if you have the budget, go for it and launch natively. If your investment tolerance is more reserved, then start with a webapp, and simply iterate until you are forced to go native.

Table Description automatically generated

This quick guide is by no means an exhaustive list of considerations. Product development has a million intricacies that will dictate – and sometimes demand – a specific route to market. Yet, if you ask yourself a few of the questions I laid out, you will be able to make an informed decision guiding your commercialization strategy as you kick off your startup journey.

------

Alfredo Arvide is a senior principal within product engineering at Slalom Consulting in Houston, where he helps clients tackle their most complex business challenges by applying innovative technology solutions.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston company premieres new platform for gig economy workforce

tech support

As the independent workforce continues to grow, a Houston-based company is aiming to connect these workers with companies that match their specific needs with a new digital platform.

FlexTek, a 14-year old recruiting and staffing company, launched a first gig site tailored to the needs of the individual worker. The platform, Workz360, is built to be able to manage projects, maintain quality control, and manage billing and year-end financial reporting.The company is also working to expanding the platform to provide infrastructure to assist independent workers with education, access to savings programs, tax compliance through vetted third-party CPA firms, and hopes in the future to assist with access to liability and medical insurance.

With a younger workforce and a shifting economy, the “gig economy,” which is another way to describe how people can earn a living as a 1099 worker, offers an alternative option to the corporate grind in a post-pandemic workscape. Chief Marketing Officer Bill Penczak of Workz360 calls this era “Gig 2.0,” and attributes the success of this type of workforce to how during the COVID-19 pandemic people learned how to work, and thrive in non-traditional work environments. The site also boasts the fact it won’t take a bite out of the worker’s pay, which could be an attractive sell for many since other sites can take up to 65 percent of profit.

“In the past few years, with the advent of gig job platforms, the Independent workers have been squeezed by gig work platforms taking a disproportionate amount of the workers’ income,” said FlexTek CEO and founder Stephen Morel in a news release. “As a result, there has been what we refer to as ‘pay padding,’ a phenomenon in which workers are raising their hourly or project rates to compensate for the bite taken by other platforms.

"Workz360 is designed to promote greater transparency, and we believe the net result will be for workers to thrive and companies to save money by using the platform,” he continues.

As the workforce has continued to change over the years, a third of the current U.S. workforce are independent workers according to FlexTek, workers have gained the ability to have more freedom where and how they work. Workz360 aims to cater to this workforce by believing in a simple mantra of treating your workers well.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations about this, but we like the Southwest Airlines model,” Penczak tells InnovationMap. “Southwest Airlines treats their people very well, and as a result those employees treat the passengers really well. We believe the same thing holds true. If we can provide resources, and transparency, and not take a bite out of what the gig worker is charging, then we will get the best and the brightest people since they feel like they won’t be taken advantage of. We think there is an opportunity to be a little different and put the people first.”

NASA launches new research projects toward astronauts on ISS

ready to research

For the 26th time, SpaceX has sent up supplies to the International Space Station, facilitating several new research projects that will bring valuable information to the future of space.

On Saturday at 1:20 pm, the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft launched on the Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida — bringing with it more than 7,700 pounds of science experiments, crew supplies, and other cargo. The anticipated docking time is Sunday morning, and the cargo spacecraft will remain aboard the ISS for 45 days, according to a news release from NASA.

Among the supplies delivered to the seven international astronauts residing on the ISS are six research experiments — from health tech to vegetation. Here's a glimpse of the new projects sent up to the scientists in orbit:

Moon Microscope

Image via NASA.gov

Seeing as astronauts are 254 miles away from a hospital on Earth — and astronauts on the moon would be almost 1,000 times further — the need for health technology in space is top of mind for researchers. One new device, the Moon Microscope, has just been sent up to provide in-flight medical diagnosis. The device includes a portable hand-held microscope and a small self-contained blood sample staining tool, which can communicate information to Earth for diagnosis.

"The kit could provide diagnostic capabilities for crew members in space or on the surface of the Moon or Mars," reads a news release. "The hardware also may provide a variety of other capabilities, such as testing water, food, and surfaces for contamination and imaging lunar surface samples."

Fresh produce production

Salads simply aren't on the ISS menu, but fresh technology might be changing that. Researchers have been testing a plant growth unit on station known as Veggie, which has successfully grown a variety of leafy greens, and the latest addition is Veg-05 — focused on growing dwarf tomatoes.

Expanded solar panels

Thanks to SpaceX's 22nd commercial resupply mission in 2021, the ISS installed Roll-Out Solar Arrays. Headed to the ISS is the second of three packages to complete the panels that will increase power for the station by 20 to 30 percent. This technology was first tested in space in 2017 and is a key ingredient in future ISS and lunar development.

Construction innovation

Image via NASA.gov

Due to the difference of gravity — and lack thereof — astronauts have had to rethink constructing structures in space. Through a process called extrusion, liquid resin is used to create shapes and forms that cannot be created on Earth. Photocurable resin, which uses light to harden the material into its final form, is injected into pre-made flexible forms and a camera captures footage of the process, per the news release.

"The capability for using these forms could enable in-space construction of structures such as space stations, solar arrays, and equipment," reads the release. "The experiment is packed inside a Nanoracks Black Box with several other experiments from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab and is sponsored by the ISS National Lab."

Transition goggles

It's a bizarre transition to go from one gravity field to another — and one that can affect spatial orientation, head-eye and hand-eye coordination, balance, and locomotion, and cause some crew members to experience space motion sickness, according to the release.

"The Falcon Goggles hardware captures high-speed video of a subject’s eyes, providing precise data on ocular alignment and balance," reads the release.

On-demand nutrients

Image via NASA.gov

NASA is already thinking about long-term space missions, and vitamins, nutrients, and pharmaceuticals have limited shelf-life. The latest installment in the five-year BioNutrients program is BioNutrients-2 , which tests a system for producing key nutrients from yogurt, a fermented milk product known as kefir, and a yeast-based beverage, per the release.

"The researchers also are working to find efficient ways to use local resources to make bulk products such as plastics, construction binders, and feedstock chemicals. Such technologies are designed to reduce launch costs and increase self-sufficiency, extending the horizons of human exploration," reads the release.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from esports to biomaterials — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Zimri Hinshaw, CEO of BUCHA BIO

Zimri T. Hinshaw, CEO of BUCHA BIO, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how he's planning to scale his biomaterials startup to reduce plastic waste. Photo courtesy of BUCHA BIO

After raising a seed round of funding, BUCHA BIO is gearing up to move into its new facility. The biomaterials company was founded in New York City in 2020, but CEO Zimri T. Hinshaw shares how he started looking for a new headquarters for the company — one that was more affordable, had a solid talent pool, and offered a better quality of life for employees. He narrowed it down from over 20 cities to two — San Diego and Houston — before ultimately deciding on the Bayou City.

Since officially relocating, Hinshaw says he's fully committed to the city's innovation ecosystem. BUCHA BIO has a presence at the University of Houston, Greentown Labs, and the East End Maker Hub — where the startup is building out a new space to fit the growing team.

"By the end of this month, our laboratories will be up and running, we'll have office space adjacent, as well as chemical storage," Hinshaw says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. Listen to the episode and read more.

Kelly Klein, development director of Easter Seals Greater Houston

A nonprofit organization has rolled out an esports platform and event to raise awareness and funding for those with disabilities. Photo via Easter Seals

For many video games is getaway from reality, but for those with disabilities — thanks to a nonprofit organization —gaming can mean a lot more. On Saturday Dec. 3 — International Day of Persons with Disabilities — from 1 to 9 pm, Easter Seals Greater Houston will be joining forces with ES Gaming for the inaugural Game4Access Streamathon.

Gaming helps enhance cognitive skills, motor skills, improve mental well-being, and can help reduce feelings of social isolation due to the interactive nature of playing with others.

“This is really a unique way for (people) to form a community without having to leave their house, and being part of an inclusive environment,” says Kelly Klein, development director of Easter Seals Greater Houston. ”The adaptive equipment and specialized technology just does so many miraculous things for people with disabilities on so many levels — not just gaming. With gaming, it is an entrance into a whole new world.” Read more.

John Mooz, senior managing director at Hines

Levit Green has announced its latest to-be tenant. Photo courtesy

Levit Green, a 53-acre mixed-use life science district next to the Texas Medical Center and expected to deliver this year, has leased approximately 10,000 square feet of commercial lab and office space to Sino Biological Inc. The Bejing-based company is an international reagent supplier and service provider. Houston-based real estate investor, development, and property manager Hines announced the new lease in partnership with 2ML Real Estate Interests and Harrison Street.

“Levit Green was meticulously designed to provide best-in-class life science space that can accommodate a multitude of uses. Welcoming Sino Biological is a testament to the market need for sophisticated, flexible space that allows diversified firms to perform a variety of research,” says John Mooz, senior managing director at Hines, in a press release. “Sino is an excellent addition to the district’s growing life science ecosystem, and we look forward to supporting their continued growth and success.” Read more.Read more.