There's no quick fix to getting back to where you were, but a keen eye and sensible decision-making will ensure you're more prepared than your competitors. Photo via Unsplash

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a cash flow disaster for many businesses, whether it's small restaurants forced to close their doors for months on end or commercial rental properties unable to fill their office space in light of widespread remote working.

Houston, much like many major US cities is facing a big recovery job as the country looks to move on from the worst of the pandemic. While much is to be determined when it comes to what the Delta varient's effect is, businesses are open and the time to think creatively about recovering cash flow is here.

In this article, we'll look at how Houston businesses can get over what was a huge shock and re-evaluate for a post-COVID world.

First things first: Assess the financial damage

Before you can begin to work on a strategy for recovery, your business first needs to assess the financial damage COVID-19 inflicted on it.

There are many different layers to this, which will become more important depending on the size of your business. Start by looking at the hard numbers that define your business (both pre and during the pandemic), such as:

  • Year profit
  • Yearly spend
  • Yearly losses (and expected losses)
  • Employee salaries

There's a chance things aren't quite as bad as you expected. You might have saved on office space through working remotely or have seen an uptick in online customers that represents a revenue shift. This may seem like basic business management, but in a situation such as this, it's easy to ignore the forest for the trees.

Once you've got these numbers in line, you can start to develop a rebuilding plan that relates entirely to your business, rather than cutting and pasting one from another business that is unlikely to have experienced the same issues.

Re-assess your business plan

Chances are, you didn't include a contingency option for a global pandemic in your business plan. No need to panic. If you made it this far, you were obviously a well-structured and organized business. However, to ensure you survive future challenges, it's worth re-assessing your business plan.

Specifically, you need to look at how ready your business is to pivot to the idea of the 'new normal'.

There are many decisions to be made, from top-level finances to employee management to customer service. You may be forced to implement new systems to keep track of your newly remote team, offer subsidies for utility bills to your staff or implement new quality control tests to keep your customers safe and comfortable with your business.

A wider analysis of your industry can be a more effective exercise than looking directly at your plan. Competitors may have innovated in ways you didn't initially think possible. Pay attention to trends and emerging opportunities to mark yourself as a business worth shopping for and working with. Find that profitable niche and see if your business plan can be re-worked around it.

Your business plan will lay bare your business model's strengths and weaknesses in the new world. Don't try and plough through difficult weather with the wrong tyres. Make a simple change, even if it means hard decisions, for the good of your company.

Optimize daily processes and cut out wasteful tasks 

So you've analyzed the damage and re-assessed your business plan for a new set of challenges. Now you can get into the gritty details of making a change.

One of the simplest and most cost-effective ways of getting your business running with a positive cash flow again is to optimize those wasteful daily processes and tasks you and your team get stuck on every day.

Of course, many of these will be unique to your industry and way of doing business, but from invoicing to daily admin tasks, there's so much wasted time every day that could be better spent getting your business back on track.

A few immediate suggestions include:

  • Cutting down on business travel by prioritising virtual meetings and re-thinking how your sales and executive staff travel. Even company cars can become less of a money burden if you take the time to know how to how to save gas (and the money you spend on it)
  • Going paperless and using that printer money to operate through cloud software won't just bring your business into the 21st century, but make daily meetings and employee collaboration more most-effective
  • Using financial trackers to assess your financial situation regularly and automate invoicing, making sure you're always getting paid on time

Monitoring all of this excess spend spillage and ensuring you're on top of emerging problems can be made very simple through time tracking tools. Rather than just a way to keep an eye on remote employees and cut out excessive slacking, Houston businesses can spot which needless tasks are making key employee's life difficult and where budget is being wasted through these (as of March 2020) essential digital tools

.

Consider outside funding options

Last year, we covered how creative thinking in terms of financing can be Houston businesses' path out of COVID financial burden. Since then, much has changed, but many of the methods remain realistic ways businesses of all sizes can recover cash flow.

Unless you went into the pandemic with significant cash to burn, you're likely playing things quite close to the line right now. Without customers through the door and big contracts, you might need working capital to jump-start your recovery.

Fortunately, some great financing options for small businesses have sprung up or gone from strength to strength throughout the COVID rebuilding period. Some of these options include:

Now, not all of these options will work for your business, particularly the ones aimed at small businesses. However, they're all reasonable ways of getting a short-term boost to buy remote office equipment, re-work your business for social distancing to avoid closures or bring in new employees.

The key is not to become reliant on these revenue streams. They should be short jabs to get your business going again, not a consistent fix you should turn to in the event of financial challenges. Borrowing can be both an unhealthy attitude to have and a competitive venture.

Completing these tasks will help you establish a timeline for recovery. No one is quite sure what their business will look like once COVID-19 is completely a thing of the past, but the pandemic should be a lesson that no business can be caught slacking.

The journey to recovery, particularly sorting out your cash flow is full of tiny steps. There's no quick fix to getting back to where you were, but a keen eye and sensible decision-making will ensure you're more prepared than your competitors.

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Kayleigh Alexandra is an entrepreneur and writer at WriterZone and Micro Startups based in the United Kingdom.

What are health tech investors looking for these days? Thes VC experts weigh in. Photo via Getty Images

Here's what venture capital investors look for in Houston health tech

money talks

It's been a tumultuous year for health technology — and venture capital investment activity has definitely been affected. Looking toward the future, a group of panelists discussed how they are investing — and what they are looking for.

The panel, which was presented in partnership with the Houston Angel Network and Cooley for Houston Tech Rodeo, featured three investors:

  • Dennis McWilliams, partner at Santé
  • Terri Burke, venture partner at Epidarex Capital
  • Farzad Soleimani, health care partner at 1984 Ventures
Here's what these professionals consider when evaluating a potential deal.

A unique idea

The idea and solution of the med tech device or digital health company is of course of high importance for the investors.

"We really look for that unmet need. What is the innovative technology or med tech that's doing something different?" Burke says. "We try to find things that are breakthrough or disruptive that aren't one of six going after the same thing."

In light of COVID-19, the panelists discussed the advancement of remote care and telehealth. Another concern amid population growth is access to primary care doctors.

"Five years from now, we're going to be short like 60,000 to 70,000 primary care doctors," Soleimani says. "The only way we can close the gap is either to turn regular doctors into super doctors, and that's going to be driven by AI and data. ... Or, enabling other providers to act more like primary care doctors."

This type of innovation is top of mind for investors. What technology can help experts like pharmacists to provide care of this sort?

"We've seen a lot of investment going into enabling other providers to act as primary care doctors," Soleimani says. "They have the training."

A strong team

Much like startups, the people power the product growth. The panelists emphasized the importance of the potential team they'd be investing in, and it's something you learn over the diligence process.

​"You want to work with people you enjoy working with, so finding the right mix of people — whether we build it ourselves and help scale up a new company or a seasoned teams comes to us," Burke says.

For Soleimani, he is specific about making sure companies have someone in the CTO role — not just a part-time developer or contract worker.

"You need to have somebody who can build the technology — I cannot stress that enough," he says. "The process is arduous, and you're not going to get there overnight."

IP and regulatory process

Investors are looking to support protected technology, the panelists say, and most of the times they want an entrepreneur to start that process earlier than you might think.

"Investors actually care and care a lot and go pretty deep to make sure that something in the idea is protectable," Burke says.

The panelists also say they want a team that understands the regulatory process that will get the technology to scale. And investors aren't scared of investing in companies going down these paths.

"The regulatory process is often times misinterpreted — it can be your ally," Soleimani says. "Just because something needs to go through the regulatory process doesn't mean it is less attractive. It just has to be the right process for it."

McWilliams says a few years ago, maybe the process was more confusing, but nowadays companies are familiar with their options.

"For the most part, most devices know what the pathway is going to be," he explains. "If a team is telling you they don't really know what their regulatory strategy is, they probably don't know what they are doing or they don't want to tell you."

The panelists acknowledged that these regulatory processes can be costly, so factoring that into the equation is important. It's also a space where surrounding yourself with the right people is important.

"I think it's important to not only know your pathway, but also what it will take to prove that out," Burke says. "That's where physician advisers can be really valuable, as well as regulatory consultants."

The right valuation

Valuation is another factor investors consider — both valuations that are too high and too low.

"There's always this question of valuation and there's always this desire to maximize your pre-money valuation on a deal, and I would say that this can often times get you in really big trouble," McWilliams says.

Consider the market and where your company capitalization stands, McWilliams adds, and make sure there's always room on either side.

Ultimately, it depends on the investor

The panelists left the audience with advice for entrepreneurs to do their homework when reaching out to potential investors. Both what kind of companies investors fund as well as what stage they contribute to.

"It's important to know what type of investor you're speaking to," Burke says.

Starting those relationships with plenty of time is also important.

"It's hard to build a meaningful, lasting relationship with an investor if you're running of cash in two months and need a decision right away," McWilliams says.

Annabel Fowler Gatto launched her women's workwear company ahead of the pandemic. Here's how it went. Photo via Pexels

5 things this Houston-born entrepreneur learned from launching a biz during a pandemic

guest column

I realized a huge problem professional women were facing, and I launched a company to address it. But then, a pandemic hit.

Eight out of 10 women say they're frustrated and unsupported by traditional workwear brands and their offerings. For many, quality women's workwear means hefty price tags for clothes than, often, have unflattering silhouettes and difficult-to-maintain pieces. It's not a great experience.

Enter Suitably, a professional womenswear brand that offers seasonless staples—all machine washable and under $100. We launched in February 2020 with sky-high momentum. Then, six weeks later, COVID-19 shut down offices worldwide. Overnight, we saw a dip in traffic and the launch momentum slow. But we kept going — reinventing, reimaging, and engineering new ways to serve our customers during a pandemic who were, suddenly, working and interviewing from home. And, now, we're coming out the other side, a stronger, more dynamic and more customer-centric brand than ever. Here's what I learned from launching a workwear brand in a pandemic.

#1 — Be what your customers want and need 

Suitably isn't solely about fashion — it's about helping women be the best versions of themselves, personally and professionally. When COVID-19 struck, that need amplified among our core audience. From our interactions and proactive outreach we heard them loud and clear — they need help, support and guidance now.

We immediately shifted our focus from promoting the collection to doing everything we could to help our community. I made myself available for virtual coffee sessions and hosted over 100 of them during the pandemic. Next, we partnered with a good friend — a psychologist — and churned out free resources on everything from staying positive in a crisis to professional advice, life hacks and everything related to Zoom, from how to dress for a Zoom meeting in every industry to basic Zoom etiquette. The groundswell was immediate and powerful — women craved this information and this connection.

#2 — Be a voice for change

Weeks into the shutdowns when the global workforce was isolated and sweatpants-clad, we launched our next campaign, #GetUpGetDressed. So many women had shared their stories and told us they could barely get out of bed in the morning let alone get dressed and get motivated.

By encouraging women to #GetUpGetDressed — and to share their work-from-home style with Suitably's community — we knew we were doing more than promoting style. We were powering them to shake off the stress and fear, put on something that made them feel good and connect with other women in the Suitably community. Hundreds of women participated and the positive feedback we received was unparallelled. With that, our social footprint grew even more.

#3 — Be careful whose advice you take

Despite the positivity from our community, we still had the naysayers — people eager to share their unsolicited commentary on what we should be doing. The general consensus? Shut down or pivot Suitably ASAP — that a business like ours would likely never be relevant again. We were told to make "Zoom tops." We were told to explore athleisure and masks. We were told to wait for a vaccine then start over — to abandon everything we'd done, the brand equity we worked so hard to build and achieved or pause until the "world is normal".

The reality? None of those people were part of Suitably — and, like us, none of them knew how to navigate a global pandemic. Even so, it would have been easy to fall in line and let a knee-jerk moment of panic destroy everything we'd built. But, instead, we took a breath, took a beat and promised to drown out the noise and the negativity so we could move the business forward, putting the needs of our community first.

#4 — Be confident in yourself

Without the noise we were better able to reassess where we were and what came next — to go back to our roots and to the customer listening we'd been doing for the last few months and use that to set a new course. We knew there was light out there somewhere, and that if we just kept moving towards it, we'd find success.

Admittedly, that was hard sometimes. Even though I knew we had our finger on the pulse of our customers' wants and needs, every day brought a new learning. Despite the chaos, we pushed ahead, following our customers' lead. By the end of June, we had significant data to show that many women in our community, especially those outside of the tri-state area, were returning to the workplace or shopping in anticipation of returning to the workplace. We started to get customer chat's every day asking when new products would be launched, when our restock for sold out pieces was going to occur and we knew it was time to ramp Suitably 100 percent back up.

#5 — Be there for every step of the journey

While the customer journey is rarely linear, the pandemic brought new levels of uncertainty and disconnect. Based on the success of our support and engagement initiatives, we continued to follow our audience on their path — a path that, for many, led right back to the office. We immediately ramped up our messaging, with an eye on helping women get ready to go back — and to feel confident and ready for action the minute they walked through the office doors.

Because of the foundation we'd laid during those first few months — a foundation anchored in trust, understanding and support — our audience leaned in, ready to take that next step into the Suitably experience. Quickly, we were just about back to where we were before COVID-19, not just providing actionable content and a friendly ear but, also, amazing wardrobe pieces that made her feel empowered whether she was back in the office of working from home.

No one knows how to navigate a pandemic — but we all know how to build relationships. That, ultimately, was our strategy. And that, ultimately, is what helped us steer Suitably through the peak of the crisis so we could come out the other side a better, stronger, more dynamic brand than I ever could have imagined with a loyal audience who knows we're truly committed to them and to their success.

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Born and raised in Houston, Annabel Fowler Gatto is the co-founder and CEO of New York-based Suitably.

Plug and Play, an international accelerator and investment group with a presence in Houston, joined a panel to discuss startup investment, networking, and more during the pandemic. Photo by Zview/Getty Images

Overheard: International startup accelerator shares advice for Houston companies navigating COVID-19 era

Eavesdropping online

It's no secret that the spread of COVID-19 has greatly affected startup ecosystems by shutting down coworking and accelerator spaces and providing economic uncertainty in the venture capital world. However, organizations focused on investment and acceleration are still working to virtually guide startups virtually.

Plug and Play Tech Center, an accelerator and investment group based in Silicon Valley that recently launched its Houston presence, is still offering support and even investments to startups as the pandemic continues on. One way they've recently done so is through Houston Exponential on a virtual panel to answer questions from Houston entrepreneurs.

On the panel, Neda Amidi, partner and global head of health at Plug and Play Tech Center, Milad Malek, associate at Plug and Play Ventures, and Payal Patel, director at Plug and Play Houston, discussed concerns and questions about the organization's dedication to Houston, advice amid the pandemic, and more. If you missed it or don't have time to stream the whole conversation, here are some impactful moments of the chat.

“Timing and opportunity set up the Plug and Play Houston office. The mayor and other business leaders in Houston had seen what happens in our Silicon Valley office and with all the things that are going on in the burgeoning startup community in Houston, we saw the opportunity.”

— Patel says on how Houston snagged its very own Plug and Play location. "Given the high concentration of large companies here — as well as the growing number of investment opportunities — we moved quite quickly to open the office here," she adds.

“There’s a number of great entrepreneurs here in this city. I think a missing ingredient has been the number of early stage investments — especially in that Seed or series A stage. So, we hope to make an impact in that. Our CEO has publicly stated that he’d like to make five investments in Houston a year.”

— Patel shares about Plug and Play's investment strategy in Houston. She adds that five investments in Houston a year is the bare minimum, and they actually are striving for more.

“[Investing virtually is] kind of the same process, but we definitely try to make sure we have cameras on and distractions are away, really giving that entrepreneur that same experience as we can in a face-to-face meeting."

— Amidi says on how Plug and Play's investment team approaches investment meetings and pitches during this time. She explains that during the beginning of the pandemic, most of their investments were with companies that had existing relationships with or follow on deals. Now they have made investments in companies they've never met in person. She says Plug and Play has relied on its network to give feedback on these potential deals.

“During COVID, we’ve recommended to a lot of our portfolio companies to raise more than what they needed at the time to be able to power through what’s happening now and what will happen on the economy side as well."

— Amidi says about investment advice they've given to Plug and Play startups.

“A lot of hardware companies get too intense in terms of thinking about one avenue of fundraising. Spend a lot more time thinking about fundraising strategy.”

Malek says on fundraising for hardware startups specifically. He adds that there are other options for generating cash flow, like grants. "Don't forget the business side of things" he adds. "I know early on, a lot of founders are focused on the technology and prototyping, but it's important as well to think about a compelling narrative for potential investors — even if you're pre-revenue."

"For SaaS, it’s important to have a unique differentiation. There are a lot of copy cats in this realm. It’s ok to be doing something that has competitors — every startup has competitors."

— Malek says about software-as-a-service startups pitching to investors. "It's a red flag when we're talking to a startup — especially one with a SaaS product — that says we don't have competitors," he adds, saying it's usually not true.

“A lot of investors out there prefer teams with multiple founders and not just one founder. It never hurts, at least in an investor’s eyes, to have two or three founders.”

— Malek explains, responding to a question about how to begin the process of bringing another co-founder on board. Investors, he says, value a team with diverse backgrounds and expertise.

“Take your time — it’s kind of like picking a spouse or partner. You want to make sure you’re compatible.”

Amidi adds, saying it's an exceptionally difficult process nowadays. She recommends reaching out to your network for leads on a potential co-founder or even looking into sites like AngelList or LinkedIn.

Budgeting your startup is one of the most important aspects of ensuring success. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

What you need to know about budgeting for your Houston startup

Houston Voices

According to Jean Murray, a business professor at Palmer College where she taught business startup and finance, the most important thing an entrepreneur must meet head on is budgeting. Startup budgeting is important because it allows you to make an educated guess as to what your expected income and expenses will be.

Murray recommends planning for the first day of your startup.

"You have to start by determining what you'll require on the first day of your business in order to open the doors and start accepting customers or having your website go live," she says.

Your first day budget

Murray says it's best to break down your "day-one startup budget" into four distinct categories:

Facilities cost. This is the cost of your startup location. Your office. Your company building or office or warehouse.

Fixed assets. These are expenditures for furniture, equipment, or company cars that you'll need to establish your company on the first day.

Materials and supplies. This is pretty straightforward. It includes office supplies and promotional stuff. In order to get your company started, you'll need these materials on the first day.

Other expenditures. This can range from paying an accountant to help you build a reliable and efficient HR system, licenses and permits, deposits, legal fees, or any other fees needed on the first day.

Monthly expense "guesstimate"

Murray recommends that you estimate monthly expenses, too. Both of the fixed and variable variety.

"Fixed expenses are expenditures that don't rely on how many customers or subscribers you have. We're talking expenses like rent, utilities, office supplies, insurance, loan payments and utilities," Murray says.

Variable expenses, on the other hand, are expenses that actually DO change with how many customers and subscribers you have monthly.

"Variable expenses range from production costs, commissions, postage and shipping, packaging, and wholesale price of items," Murray explains.

Estimating monthly sales is the hardest aspect of startup budgeting. Nobody can forecast what sales for a new startup will be.

"You'll have to take an educated guess. What are your best and worst case scenarios? Then come up with something in the middle," she advises.

For realistic budgeting, you have to understand that not every sale will be counted. It will depend on what kind of business you are running and how your customers and subscribers pay.

"It's wise to include a collections percentage with your monthly sales estimate. If you estimate sales for February to be $100,000 and your collection percentage is 70%, then you should show that your cash for February is $70,000," Murray suggests.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

Rene Cantu is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

A panel for women by women highlighted key things to keep in mind when starting a company. Getty Images

4 corporate housekeeping tips for female founders from Houston experts

women to women

Laying the proper foundation of a startup might be one of the most important parts of starting a company — right behind the innovative solution your startup aims to provide.

At a female-founder focused panel at Baker Botts cohosted by The Artemis Fund earlier this month, a group of experts gave their advice from managing contracts and hiring to salary and investment.

The panel was moderated by Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston, and featured an investor, a founder, and a legal representative — Leslie Goldman, general partner and co-founder of The Artemis Fund; Emma Fauss, CEO of Medical Informatics Corp.; and Katie Belleville, associate at Baker Botts L.L.P, respectively.

If you missed the event, here are four pieces of advice from the panelists.

Be aware of an investor's founder red flags

When asked about what she looks for in a potential investment opportunity, Goldman, who's fund invests in female-led startups, looks at a myriad of things, but the big one is the founder herself.

"Ninety percent of it is about the founder," Goldman says on the panel. "The founder is key."

She goes on to say that her founder red flags include lack of transparency, not knowing her numbers, and not having the proper legal paperwork in order.

Representing the legal side, Belleville echoed the importance of getting the proper legal paperwork together from day one.

"It is important to get you organizational documents in order in the beginning to avoid a problem later down the line," Belleville says. "Going to a lawyer to help you set up your company and what documents you need."

She adds that startup founders can expect to pay lawyers by the hour like most legal exchanges, but a lot of legal professionals will offer a preliminary meeting to understand each other for free.

Be smart about who's giving you money

For Fauss, who closed an $11.9 million round in January, and most entrepreneurs, finding investors is a huge challenge and commitment.

"Raising money is probably my least favorite activity. It's a brutal process," Fauss tells the audience. "You are getting married to someone for 20-plus years. And it's easier to get a divorce from your husband than it is to get a divorce from your board members."

She explains how keeping that in mind really led her to be picky about her investors and find ones that were right for her and her company.

When it comes to hiring and salary — get it on paper

Every founder will eventually get to a point when they'll need to hire as their company grows. Fauss says she was fortunate to find her early team members organically — through networking opportunities. When it comes to listing jobs online, she recommends being specific to what expertise you're looking for.

In tandem with hiring, founders must decide how they plan to compensate their employees and whether they offer equity — something Goldman says impresses her.

"If a founder convinced other people to join their team based on a promise of getting a part of the company, it means that they are a charismatic entrepreneur and it means that the people who join them believe strongly and passionately about the company," Goldman says.

Belleville adds that founders should be aware of employment agreements, which she doesn't think is necessary in every situation, and confidentiality agreements, which she highly recommends when it comes to protecting the company's intellectual property.

"If you make it part of the [on boarding] process, then everyone has one and you've got that security at the point when they're leaving," Belleville says.

At one point in the panel, Fauss brings up a salary issue she's passionate about.

"Don't forget to budget in your own salary," Fauss says. "Your sweat equity, your worth does have a cost."

She adds that even if you're not getting paid a full salary when you're starting out, it's important to keep in the budget especially when factoring VC money.

Keep your paperwork in order

This might be a no-brainer, but the panelists all echoed the need for properly organized paperwork, especially when it comes to contracts and letters of intent with clients, for general bookkeeping reasons but also for review of potential investors.

"I'm going to want to see that there's actually a binding contract there," Goldman says, adding that the legality and terms of those types of agreements are crucial for her role as an investor.

Belleville says that one way for founders to keep track is by making a detailed spreadsheet with all that's in the contracts — terms, renewal, and termination details, for example.

The panelists — and even some founders in the audience — recommended digital filing systems like Carta, or its free version called captable.io. DocSend was also recommended for sharing your pitch deck because it offers stats so you can see how much time was spent on each page. At the very least, founders should keep files backed up online in Google Docs or DropBox.

When it comes to issuing contacts, Fauss recommends working with a legal team to streamline that process. Ninety percent of contracts will stay the same between clients, she says, so put together a playbook to know which variables to use and when.

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Houston named a market to watch within the life science sector

h-town on the rise

Houston is receiving more kudos for its robust life sciences sector.

Bayou City lands at No. 13 in JLL’s 2022 ranking of the country’s top 15 metro areas for life sciences. JLL says Houston “is poised for further growth” in life sciences.

Here’s how Houston fares in each of the ranking’s three categories:

  • No. 12 for supply of life sciences-oriented commercial real estate
  • No. 14 for access to life sciences talent
  • No. 15 for life sciences grant funding and venture capital

Earlier this year, Houston scored a 13th-place ranking on a list released by JLL competitor CBRE of the country’s top 25 life sciences markets. Meanwhile, commercial real estate platform CommercialCafe recently placed Houston at No. 10 among the top U.S. metros for life sciences.

JLL applauds Houston for strong growth in the amount of life sciences talent along with “an impressive base of research institutions and medical centers.” But it faults Houston for limited VC interest in life sciences startups and a small inventory of lab space.

“Houston is getting a boost [in life sciences] from the growing Texas Medical Center and an influx of venture capital earmarked for life sciences research,” the Greater Houston Partnership recently noted.

Boston appears at No. 1 in this year’s JLL ranking, followed by the San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego, Washington, D.C./Baltimore, and Philadelphia.

Last year’s JLL list included only 10 life sciences markets; Houston wasn’t among them.

“The long-term potential of the sector remains materially unchanged since 2021,” Travis McCready, head of life sciences for JLL’s Americas markets, says in a news release.

“Innovation is happening at a more rapid pace than ever before, the fruits of research into cell and gene therapy are just now being harvested, and revenue growth has taken off in the past five years as the sector becomes larger, an atypical growth track.”

Texas startup developing lab-grown brisket earns national spotlight

futuristic food

Brisket, a barbecue staple in Texas, is as synonymous with the Lone Star State as the Alamo and oil wells. A Texas company recently recognized as the state’s most innovative startup wants to elevate this barbecue staple to a new high-tech level.

BioBQ is working on technology to bring its lab-created, cell-cultured brisket to the market in 2023. The Austin-based company made the Bloomberg news service’s new list of the 50 startups to watch in the U.S. — one startup for each state.

The co-founders of BioBQ are Austin native Katie Kam, a vegan with five college degrees (four from the University of Texas and one from Texas A&M University), and Janet Zoldan, a “hardcore carnivore” who’s a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. Kam is the CEO, and Zoldan is the chief science officer.

This kind of meat is genuine animal meat that’s produced by cultivating animal cells in a lab, according to the Good Food Institute.

“This production method eliminates the need to raise and farm animals for food. Cultivated meat is made of the same cell types arranged in the same or similar structure as animal tissues, thus replicating the sensory and nutritional profiles of conventional meat,” the institute says.

It turns that before becoming a vegan, Kam worked at the now-closed BB’s Smokehouse in Northwest Austin as a high school student. She’d chow down on sauce-slathered brisket and banana pudding during on-the-job breaks.

“But then over time, as I learned more about factory farming and could no longer make the distinction between my dogs and cats I loved and the animals that were on my plate, I decided to become vegan,” Kam writes on the BioBQ website.

Hearing about the 2013 rollout of the first cell-cultured hamburger set Kam off on her path toward starting BioBQ in 2018. Zoldan joined the startup as co-founder the following year.

Now, BioBQ aims to be the first company in the world to sell brisket and other barbecue meats, such as jerky, made from cultured cells rather than slaughtered animals.

According to BioBQ’s profile on the Crunchbase website, the startup relies on proprietary technology to efficiently produce meat products in weeks rather than the year or more it takes to raise and slaughter cattle. This process “allows control of meat content and taste, reduces environmental impacts of meat production, and takes BBQ to the next tasty, sustainable level consumers want,” the profile says.

In 2020, Texas Monthly writer Daniel Vaughn questioned BioBQ’s premise.

He wrote that “there is something about the idea of lab-grown brisket that keeps bothering me, and it has nothing to do with science fiction. If you could design any cut of beef from scratch, why choose one that’s so difficult to make delicious? Why not a whole steer’s worth of ribeyes?”

Kam offered a very entrepreneur-like response.

“I’m from Austin, and I know that brisket’s kind of a big deal here,” Kam told Vaughn. “It seemed like a great, challenging meat to demonstrate this technology working.”

Meanwhile, Zoldan came up with a more marketing-slanted reaction to Vaughn’s bewilderment.

“I don’t think cell-based meats will take over the market, but I think there’s a place for it on the market,” Zoldan she told Vaughn.

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This article originally ran on CultureMapCultureMap.

Why the banking biz is ripe for innovation, according to this Houston founder

guest column

After our doctor and our child’s school, a bank is an institution with which we share the relationship that is most personal and vital to our well-being in this world. Some might put a good vet third, but other than that, no private entity is more responsible for escorting us to a healthier and happier outcome over the course of our lives.

The bank vault is a traditional symbol of security and prosperity, and not just for our pennies. We safeguard possessions in banks that are so important we don’t even trust keeping them in our own houses. Wills, birth certificates, and the precious family heirlooms of countless families are held in safety deposit boxes behind those giant vault doors, and banks have been the traditional guardians not only of our wealth but our identity and future as well.

The importance of relationship banking

Faith and confidence in our banks is so fundamental to the customer relationship that it has evolved into a unique and otherwise unthinkable arrangement for any good capitalist in a healthy marketplace: banks pay us to be their customers. Imagine a doctor offering you $20 for trusting them to give you a colonoscopy and you’re on the road to understanding the sacrosanct union between bank and customer.

In fact, this trust is so deeply anchored in the American psyche that a new generation of digital banking companies has sprung up on the idea that it doesn’t need to exist in physical reality. The fintech industry has exploded in the last decade, and today, over 75 percent of Americans are engaged in online banking in one form or another. Every single one of those 200 million customers are taking for granted that they will be well served, despite having no personal guidance through any of the financial products and services that these online entities provide.

Benefits of fostering relationships with banking customers

In the late 90s and early 2000s brick-and-mortar banks realized that greater personalized care for their customers was going to be a critical point of competition. The in-person experience is an opportunity to offer advice and incentives for a wide range of products and financial management assistance. It’s rooted in an incredibly simple axiom that is taking hold in every aspect of modern society: everyone benefits if we all get along better.

There’s a lot of statistical traction behind this theory. Customers who report they are “financially healthy” are down 20 percent over the last year, which means people are looking for guidance. 73 percent of customers who visit a local bank branch report having a personal relationship with their bank, while only 53 percent say the same of their digital institution. Most importantly, although many digital banks are offering similar products and services to their real-world counterparts, customer engagement remains very low.

It starts with your products

The truth is, today’s bank customers still want that same personal relationship their great-grandparents had before they engage with deeper financial products and services. They believe it makes them more financially successful, and confirm that human connections and economic prosperity go hand-in-hand.

Products that are Challenging for Digital Markets

Residential mortgages, for example, are an $18 trillion dollar industry that deals in durations longer than most digital banking services have even existed. The perception of continuity and stability is highly valued by clients in the mortgage relationship. Today, most customers feel that only comes with a handshake and a smile from an employee who has to fit in a meeting before they pick their kids up from school.

While digital firms have proven themselves capable of offering savings and checking services, most have fallen flat on the mortgage front because of the premium on personal relationships. Loyalty is the reward for time, service, and shared experience, and financial institutions that cannot provide that package for their customers are never going to access a deeper and more meaningful portfolio of services.

Finding Well-suited Products for Digital Finance

The message for the digital finance world is as clear as it is pressing. The future of the industry will revolve around more personalized experiences, interactions, and long-term products. At the same time, the American public has embraced digital banking, and we are looking at a new generation of bank users who may never walk through a branch door in their life.

In order to compete, the digital industry will need to identify and develop a range of long-term products and services that make sense for customers in today’s environment. Mortgages may be out of the question, but the safety deposit box holds great promise for industry in-roads. Optimal services for deeper, more personal customer engagement include things like:

  • Legacy and estate planning
  • Will preparation and safeguarding
  • Preservation of cherished photos and videos
  • Important personal data storage


Because these things are product-based, they are well suited to the digital ecosystem. The cryptocurrency industry and modern online banking have solidified consumer confidence in the digital bank vault, and there is a great deal of faith in the perpetuity of electronic documents and storage.

The IRS estimates that upwards of 90 percent of Americans are E-filing their taxes and that only comes with a widespread belief that our highly sensitive information can and will be preserved and protected by digital architecture.

Secure your future

Digital banking firms that want to thrive in the upcoming decades are going to need to innovate in long-term financial planning products that bring their customers into a closer, more personal relationship with them.

The finance world will continue to change and develop, but the hopes, fears, and dreams of people trying to build and secure a better future for themselves and their children will remain the same for tomorrow’s customers as they were for their parents and grandparents.

It is up to the digital finance industry to adapt and develop to provide the customers of today—and tomorrow— with these invaluable services and securities.

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Emily Cisek is the founder and CEO of The Postage, a tech-enabled, easy-to-use estate planning tool.