BBVA group executive chairman Carlos Torres Vila outside of BBVA Stadium in Houston. Photo courtesy of BBVA

Rebranding is no easy feat for any company, much less one with 75.5 million customers and a presence in over 30 countries. BBVA, formerly BBVA Compass in the United States, recently began the lofty endeavor of rebranding worldwide.

It launched its public rebranding efforts in Houston at an exclusive stadium event on June 13, during which the home of the Houston Dynamo, Houston Dash, and Texas Southern University football was renamed BBVA Stadium.

BBVA group executive chairman Carlos Torres Vila noted that with more than 160 years of history, this was a huge transition for BBVA, but a worthwhile one, as it would help the company live out its three key tenets: the customer comes first, think big, and we are one team.

"Our purpose at the bank is to bring the age of opportunity to everyone," says Vila.

BBVA USA president and CEO Javier Rodríguez Soler cited unity and technology as the two reasons for BBVA's worldwide rebranding.

"Having employees across the globe working under a single brand identity makes it very clear that we are indeed one team," says Soler. "It also underscores for all of us the importance of our commitment to provide our customers with global products and services, the best user experience, and the solutions that help our customers make the best decisions in their lives and in their businesses."

There are many parallels between BBVA and the stadium which shares its name. BBVA is an international company which desires to provide all its customers worldwide with the same level of service. It also tailors its community involvement to each location.

Similarly, BBVA Stadium itself has an international footprint. Per John Walker, Houston Dynamo president of business operations, the stadium is the most internationally programmed soccer stadium in the United States, yet it also maintains a focus on the city of Houston itself — East Downtown and the Greater East End in particular.

Former Houston Dynamo defender Bobby Boswell was on hand to applaud the stadium's impact on the city. Boswell noted that having a stadium contributes greatly to team and civic pride for both pro athletes and young kids who visit the stadium and may be inspired to one day play there.

"I chose to live back in Houston because of the community," says Boswell.

BBVA and the Dynamo and Dash's commitments to the neighborhood were on full display at the stadium renaming. Soler announced that a portion of the proceeds from the inaugural BBVA Classic, to be held on July 24 at 7:30 pm, will benefit the Tejano Center for Community Concerns. The Tejano Center works to develop education, social, health, and community institutions that empower families to transform their lives.

Among other programs, the center runs the Raul Yzaguirre Schools for Success (RYSS). At the stadium unveiling, students from the RYSS STEM Primary Academy's soccer teams stood onstage and helped count down to the official unveiling. When the countdown reached zero, blue confetti filled the room, while outside blue powder exploded in the air and a curtain was dropped to reveal the stadium's new logo.

Vila pointed out that the "A" in the logo is higher than the other three letters, standing for "aspirational." What better image to symbolize the city of Houston, a place of opportunity?

Photo courtesy of BBVA

Vila (left), former Dynamo player Bobby Boswell (center), and Soler (right) at the BBVA Stadium press conference.

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Houston startup raises $25M, biz plan competition opens apps, and more local innovation news

Short stories

We're on the other side of the hill that is Houston's summer, but the Bayou City's still hot in terms of innovation news, and there might be some headlines you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, a Houston venture capital fund has made its latest investment, a hydrogen startup has raised fresh funding, accelerators open apps, and more.

Houston hydrogen startup closes $25M series B

This hydrogen company has fresh funding. Photo via utility.global

Utility Global, a Houston-based sustainable hydrogen company, has closed its series B round of funding to the tune of $25 million, Axios reports.

Houston-based private equity firm Ara Partners led the round. Other participating investors included: Samsung Ventures, NOVA, and Aramco.

Utility Global, founded in 2018, has developed a clean hydrogen solution. The proprietary tech — called the eXERO Technology Platform — includes a zero electricity process that converts sustainable waste streams into high-purity hydrogen. Additionally, the company developed its H2Gen Product Line that delivers customers reliable, low carbon, and high purity hydrogen, which offers unparalleled feedstock flexibility and highly competitive economics.

"Leveraging our industry-first eXERO™ Process, Utility Global is expanding into numerous industrial sectors," reads the company's website. "Whether it's next-gen fueling, green chemicals, or sustainable steel, Utility Global's products can meet your needs. Our ultra-high-purity hydrogen is also ideal for the electronics, food, and glass industries. In the steel industry, our waste-to-hydrogen offering converts waste-gases into pure hydrogen, enabling decarbonization of the steel making process.

Houston female-focused VC fund leads round of fintech company

The Artemis Fund — led by Diana Murakhovskaya, Leslie Goldman, and Stephanie Campbell — has announced its latest investment. Courtesy photos

Houston-based Artemis Fund — a women-led, female-focused venture capital fund, has released information on its latest investment. The firm announced it has led the seed funding round for Los Angeles-based Payverse, a payment processor focusing on enabling global commerce via emerging technologies.

The round also saw participation from Alpha Ascent Ventures, Frank Mastrangelo, Mary Wieler, and Jonathan Palmer. Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP represented Artemis in the deal.

“The Artemis Fund invests in phenomenal female talent modernizing and diversifying wealth. Payverse is poised to transform the payments industry by making it easier and more cost-effective for businesses and consumers to transact globally," says Stephanie Campbell, general partner at The Artemis Fund, in a news release. "We are proud to lead the company’s seed round which includes other top FinTech experts and industry leaders."

Houston public service professional accelerator opens applications for its second cohort

HTXelerator is gearing up for its second cohort. Photo via HoustonTX.gov

With its mission to identify and prepare future-focused leaders for public service, specifically boards, commissions, and city council, HTXelerator, a nonprofit that launched last fall, has opened applications for the second cohort. The three-month program trains class members on the nuts and bolts of city government and ends with a competition known as The Pitch, which enables each participant to put forward a policy platform for a hypothetical race.

“The Houston region continues to grow and subsequently so does the need for public leadership to reflect the city’s dynamic diversity," says Renee Cross, senior director at the University of Houston's Hobby School of Public Affairs, in a news release. "HTXelerator will allow people with an interest in public service to learn from experts in government, non-profit organizations, academia and the private sector. Whether pursuing a leadership position or running for office, HTXelerator graduates will be ahead of the game.”

Applications are due by August 22, and the cohort members will be announced by August 29. There is no fee to apply, but the program costs $250 per participant. Scholarships are available for those that need assistance. The program kicks off with a weekend retreat September 10 and 11 and ends with The Pitch competition on December 7.

Houston startup partners with pet tech giant

Wag, Robinhood, and DonateStock have teamed up on a new initiative. Photo by Jason Briscoe on Unsplash

Houston-based DonateStock, a fintech platform that easily enables stock-based donations, has been adopted by Wag, a mobile-first marketplace for pet services. The company, which also struck a deal with Robinhood. Through these partnerships, the company has launched its Wag! Community Shares Program, a new method of charitable giving for the community of pet caregivers and for domestic pet nonprofit organizations, according to a news release.

Through its SPAC, CHW Acquisition Corp., Wag! will reserve up to 300,000 shares of common stock for the program, to be arranged through and administered by Robinhood. The company goes into more details — including information on how to participate — in the release.

“We are excited to play a key role in this ground-breaking initiative to use common stock to support domestic pet nonprofits at scale,” says Steve Latham, CEO and co-founder of DonateStock, in the release. “Our mission is to democratize charitable stock gifting. By allocating stock to more than 500 pet nonprofits, Wag! is expanding the definition of what that means.”

Annual business competition lifts off

Houston business competition opens applications

Small businesses in Houston can apply for the annual Liftoff Houston competition. Photo via liftoffhouston.smapply.org

The city of Houston's annual business plan competition has kicked off. Liftoff Houston is an entrepreneurial initiative aimed at empowering Houston entrepreneurs mentorship and business support and education.The program's sponsor, Capital One Bank, provides cash prizes totaling $30,000.

To be eligible for the startup program, the applicant:

  • Must be in the start-up phase of your business, which means you either must have a business idea or have a business in operation for less than one year
  • Must have revenue of less than $10,000
  • Must live within the city of Houston limits. Also, if you have a business location, it must be within the city of Houston limits.

Participants can also apply for the 2022 Liftoff Houston Educational Pathway. There are no eligibility requirements for that program, which will support small businesses and provide access to workshops and the final competition event.

There will be three award categories: product, service, and innovation.

  • $10,000 – Awarded for top “Product” Based Business Plan (Retail, resale, merchandise, etc.)
  • $10,000 – Awarded for top “Service” Based Business Plan (Food, labor, consulting, etc.)
  • $10,000 – Awarded for top “Innovation” Based Business Plan (Software, Hardware, inventions, new market businesses, etc.)

The competition will open applications online on July 27 and close August 19. The full schedule is online.

Houston robotics company announces partnership with Shell

subsea agreement

A Houston tech company that has developed subsea and surface robotic services using autonomy software has announced an agreement with Shell.

The partnership will provide technology from Nauticus Robotics Inc. to Shell in order to enhance and optimize subsea integrity data collection via the company's robotic platforms, according to a news release. Nauticus has two robotic vessels — fully electric subsea robot, Aquanaut, which is deployed from Nauticus’ small surface vessel, and Hydronaut, which is used to transport, recharge, and communicate with Aquanaut, among other tasks.

This collaboration comes following the completion of an initial feasibility study for the phase-gated project. The next step is this operational qualification phase, per the release, which will focus on remote operations of the robotics. The collaboration is targeting the preliminary work required for an offshore pilot project.

“Working with a leading company such as Shell marks an exciting milestone for Nauticus, and this collaboration further validates the superior capabilities and extensive use cases of our robots across the energy sector,” says Todd Newell, senior vice president of business development at Nauticus, in the release. “Implementing our supervised autonomous method – one that has proven more robust and dynamic than most of its kind – is expected to provide our partner and future customers more than 50 percent cost savings compared to today’s methods of operation.”

A robotics-as-a-service company, Nauticus's technology — a mix of hardware and software — optimizes and automates subsea data collection for its partners, like Shell.

“An exciting aspect of this project is the opportunity to combine the strengths of advanced inspection tooling with the advanced marine robotic capabilities developed by Nauticus Robotics,” says Shell's Deepwater Robotics Engineer Ross Doak in the release. “This project aims to fundamentally improve how we collect subsea facility data, through the combination of ‘AUV native’ tooling design, supervised autonomy, and recent improvements in remote communications.”

Founded in 2014 as Houston Mechatronics by Nicolaus Radford, the company rebranded to Nauticus in 2021. Earlier this year, the company announced a partnership with Wood, a Houston-based energy company.

You shouldn't be just trusting your gut when hiring, says this Houston expert

guest column

If your startup has gotten to the point of being able to hire in new team members – congratulations! Your hard work and innovative ideas have been recognized, and you are now able to bring in others to help achieve your vision. While you may have specific ideas about the types of individuals you want on your team, interviewing candidates is not an easy feat, and deserves the same amount of strategy and organization you have dedicated to other critical company decisions. It can be tempting to rely on gut instinct when interviewing, but the science suggests there is a better way.

Organizations, regardless of company size or tenure, most commonly conduct unstructured interviews — those in which applicants meet with a bundle of organizational stakeholders and are asked a variety of questions deemed valuable for that interviewer. Questions typically cover topics such as interest in the role, experience in the field, specifics about their application, or anything else intended to develop rapport with the candidate. Interviewers may even utilize brainteaser questions intended to put applicants on the spot or try to gauge their ability to think on their feet.

Despite the fact that interviewers often feel they are a great judge of candidates during these interviews, interviewers actually obtain little usable information from them. Unstructured interviews limit the ability to gather specific, competency-based data on each applicant, create difficulty in comparing candidates along the same dimensions, and do not ensure that rating forms, if they exist at all, are being used in the same way among interviewers. The literature supports these limitations, showing that unstructured interviews can lead interviewers to focus on irrelevant information and increase susceptibility to biases, are highly unreliable are poor predictors of job performance, and can actually hurt predictive accuracy compared to not even interviewing at all. And those brainteaser questions? After years of studying their effectiveness, even Google has admitted they are worthless at predicting future job performance.

The alternative then is to adopt a structured interview. Structured interviews have four key characteristics:The first is that all questions are created prior to the interview, and are based upon a thorough job analysis — a rigorous, multi-method competency modeling process to help organizations identify key competencies required for success in the role. These data are used to develop role-specific interview questions and rating forms. Structured interviews also require that all candidates are asked the exact same questions, and in the same order to provide an equitable opportunity for applicants and reduce any primacy, recency, or contrast effects. Finally, structured interviews require that interviewers are trained not only on how to conduct interviews to maximize utility and minimize bias, but that they are also trained to use the competency rating forms in the same way.

As a result of this structure, these types of interviews have a strong evidence-base behind them. They demonstrate higher levels of reliability between raters, are better able to predict later job performance, and minimize opportunities for racial and gender bias to emerge. Importantly, structured interviews are also more efficient. Studies have shown that it would take three to four unstructured interviews to reach the same levels of accuracy as just one structured interview conducted by one interview. In summary, the structure and standardization embedded within structured interviews is important from the validity, reliability, fairness, and practicality perspectives. For all of these reasons, structured interviews meet best practice and legal standards for a high-stakes assessment method.

When building the team for your startup, it is imperative that you can accurately assess all job candidates and their alignment with your company’s goals, vision, and needs. Informal conversations are unlikely to help achieve this aim. Despite how great a judge of character you think you are, the data are clear — structured interviews are the most efficient and effective way to evaluate candidates for your positions.

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Aimee Gardner is the co-founder of SurgWise, a tech-enabled consulting firm for hiring surgeons, and associate dean at Baylor College of Medicine.