The HTX TechList — launching August 13 — will help connect the dots in Houston's sprawled and burgeoning innovation ecosystem. Getty Images

With a city as diverse and sprawling as Houston, the local innovation ecosystem could stand to benefit from a platform that connects all the dots virtually. So, that's exactly what Houston Exponential created.

HX — a nonprofit dedicated to promoting innovation in Houston — is launching HTX TechList August 13, and the platform will consist of profiles for startups, investors, startup development organizations, and corporations and will act as both a database as well as a forum for innovators to interact.

"The problem we've been solving for such a long time has been [not having] dependable data that you can rely on," says Serafina Lalany, chief of staff at HX. "We're taking responsibility for the curation for it and the quality assurance of it."

The fact of the matter is there's no one source for data and information on startups in Houston. While platforms like Crunchbase and Pitch Book exist — and the HTX TechList will factor in their data — they can have costly memberships and be far from complete, since they only represent venture capital-backed startups.

"For the first time ever, you're pulling up a startup page and you're seeing all their fundraising history, the SDOs they're a part of, a blurb of what they're working on, and, the thing I'm most excited about is, their tags," Lalany says, adding that there's over 2,000 tags. "It makes the whole thing super searchable."

Lalany emphasizes that accuracy is HX's goal, and the organization has a data team to help to ensure validity. After launch, the emphasis will be on calling Houston innovators to create accounts for themselves and their companies. HX's next hire will likely be for a marketing person, Lalany mentions.

The technology has been white labeled from Israel's Startup Nation Central, which launched Israel Startup Finder in 2017.

"Israel, a couple years ago, was also an emerging ecosystem," says Lalany, explaining that the country wanted to work toward global attention. Meanwhile, she continues, "Houston has access to global markets, but there's been an misconception that innovation wasn't happening here."

The HX team has been working with Startup Nation Central for a while and been training on the platform since January, which has included a buildout of 300 profiles for the site. The TechList will launch on August 13 with a free virtual event featuring Mayor Sylvester Turner, Israel's Startup Finder team, and several. Houston innovators. (Note: InnovationMap is a media partner for the event.)

"When we were thinking about the launch event and just the sheer number of virtual events that happen now, we wanted to be sure that whatever we produce is of absolute value to our audience — the founders," Lalany says.

The event, which has registration open online, will feature breakout rooms focused on topics that are important to Houston founders:

  • Early stage investment
  • Building your team
  • How to pitch to the press
  • Landing an enterprise customer
  • Opportunity in Houston
  • Resources for founders of color

While the idea for the platform has been considered for years at HX — even in its early days, the need for the HTX TechList has been enhanced in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lalany says.

"The world changed in March, and our mission has become realized even more profoundly than before. Our mission has always been to help connect the dots in Houston — it's such a large city, and outsiders are always overwhelmed," she says. "Once we went digital, we were able to do 10 times as much of the curation function that we did pre-pandemic. It's increased a lot of our efficiency."

One-stop shop

Screenshot courtesy of HX

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The HTX TechList has launched — here's why you should get involved

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Houston Exponential has hit launch on the HTX TechList, and now startups, investors, entrepreneurial hubs, and corporations can officially opt into the data-focused and networking-enabled platform.

The HTX TechList went live yesterday, August 13, at a virtual event hosted by HX. (Note: InnovationMap was the media partner for the event.) The platform acts as a one-stop shop for Houston's innovation ecosystem. Mayor Sylvester Turner joined the stream to explain the role the platform will play in connecting the various players within the industry.

"The HTX TechList is our city's leading resource for in-depth information about Houston startups, investors, hubs, and corporations," Mayor Turner said at the event. "Within the Houston region, the HTX TechList will build the connections and density that were never before possible in such a huge spread-out city."

Another benefit to the new platform, as HX Chief of Staff Serafina Lalany says, is the data it is going to be able to provide about the ecosystem.

"We needed a centralized datasource classifying startups, investors, startup development organizations, and corporate innovators," she says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "There was not any good resource on the internet that was verified, centralized, and adhered to a data standard."

The platform, which has derived from an initiative from Startup Nation Central in Israel, has already proven its usefulness abroad and has over 70,000 monthly users. In a panel at the event, Eran Levy of Enel Innovation Hub Israel described how the tool has benefitted him and his work in scouting startups.

"The ability to have a tool to map, in our case, 8,000 startups, when we look for specific categories or a specific tech area, it helps us a lot," he says. "It saves a lot of time and effort, and, more importantly, it makes it much more effective because I reach out to the right startups."

On the panel, Barbara Burger, president of Chevron Technology Ventures and chair of Houston Exponential, echoed the opportunity for connectivity the platform will enable — but in a specific way for her organization as an investor.

"I view the TechList as the tool that's going to enable a couple of things. One is the scouts to access even more opportunities, but I think the other piece is also for co-investors in startups to be able to find us," she says, adding that while CTV has been around for a couple decades, visibility is always something they'd like to improve on.

Now that the platform is launched, anyone can join to make a profile on the site. Startups, investors, hubs, and corporations can also launch profiles that will be vetted by HX's data team.

Nonprofit pivots to telemedical treatments and therapies amid pandemic

telehealth

Naomi West has been homebound since COVID-19 became a threat in February. Sitting in front of her computer screen, much of her time is spent pursuing her graduate degree in physics from Rice University and teaching courses through Zoom. Most of her virtual meetings are the same except for one recurring appointment. Every 90 days, West logs on her computer to sit with a Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast (PPGC) nurse practitioner and check-in on her gender-affirming hormone therapy.

West, a Houston transwoman, made her first appointment to receive hormone therapy in October, prior to the pandemic. As she embarked on her transition, she saw an immediate change within herself.

"There was absolutely no going back...it was a night and day difference within 24 hours," she explains.

West has been receiving treatment for ten months at Planned Parenthood. After being hospitalized for depression and drowning in hundred-hour work weeks, West was feeling hopeless. Inspired by her best friend's journey with hormone therapy at Planned Parenthood, West felt motivated to change her life.

"The difference [tran scare] makes is immeasurable to say the least," she says, "I couldn't imagine having it any other way. I couldn't imagine being without it."

Trans care is offered at two Houston-area Planned Parenthood locations—Prevention Park and Northville. Since the coronavirus, Planned Parenthood's services have gone virtual, allowing Texans outside of Houston to experience the service.

"COVID-19 has really changed the way we approach patient care," says Dr. Bhavik Kumar, medical director of Primary and Trans Care at PPGC.

The centers first rolled out virtual appointments on April 1, allowing them to safely serve 5,539 patients in four months.

"We've moved a lot of our care towards telehealth, which has allowed people to access care in a way that is safer for them and also protects our frontline workers," explains Dr. Kumar.

The healthcare provider has six centers in the Houston area, as well as two in Louisiana, that are providing virtual appointments with experts as well as access to curbside birth control. Trans care first became available at Planned Parenthood in 2019, and includes gender-affirming hormone therapy for patients over 18.

"We went into providing trans care knowing that a lot of folks have bad experiences accessing healthcare and perhaps bad experiences with providers," says Dr. Kumar. "There's a lot of fear and anxiety in accessing care for trans communities, whether it's being misgendered, having their dead name used, or having a number of different things that can lead to traumatic experiences," he explains.

To a transgender person, access to health isn't just a hot button political issue but a lifeline. Like West, many transgender Americans struggle with depression and feelings of hopelessness.

In a 2019 survey from The Trevor Project, 29 percent of trans and non-binary youth reported that they'd attempted suicide while 54 percent considered it. The striking statistics are a glimpse into the struggles trans and nonbinary people face daily as they experience discrimination, violence, and cohersion due to their gender identity.

West, like many in the trans community, shared the same fears prior to her first appointment.

"I've always come down with what I say is white coat syndrome, but within 10 minutes I realized it was all completely unfounded," she explains.

PPGC follows an informed consent treatment model, meaning patients are not required to receive an approval letter from a therapist to begin treatment. After speaking with a patient to explain the risks and benefits of hormone therapy, patients can make the decision to move forward.

"It was just a conversation," explained West, "I felt no judgement. It was just support for my decision to begin hormone therapy and suggestions for how to go about it, when to go about it—they were nothing if not accommodating.

Telehealth lends itself as a suitable substitution for in person care, according to West. Many of the appointments are spent discussing her psychological state and feelings regarding the treatment, and she goes for a blood test every 90 days. West, who has been very careful to prevent exposure to COVID-19, has felt at ease meeting virtually with her nurse practitioner.

Thanks to the ability telehealth has to connect us with people regardless of distance, transgender Texans have access to care at any distance. One of the core benefits of trans telehealth is that "folks who are further away from our health centers, perhaps in rural communities, don't have to make the several hour drive to the health center and then back," says Dr. Kumar.

The convenience has allowed PPGC to accommodate 240 gender-affirming hormone therapy appointments and serve 176 transgender patients.

More than cut travel time, the emergence of telemedicine also welcomes comfort. "They get to be in the safety and the comfort of their home or wherever they do feel safe," explains Dr. Kumar, "They can have other folks around them if they want, whether it's family or friends."

"We are constantly analyzing the way we provide care, but even more so in a different way during the pandemic," shares Dr. Kumar. Telehealth services include birth control consultation, emergency contraception, long-acting birth control implant consultations, PrEP follow-ups, primary care, STI treatment, and other healful visits to address problems like pelvic pain or bleeding.

Of the many services that are now remote, Depo birth control shots and oral contraceptives, are available curbside.

"Patients don't have to get out of the car; they don't have to worry about touching the door handle or anything else they have anxiety around," explains Dr. Kumar, "They're able to access the care they need without having to deal with potential exposure."

Will telehealth at PPGC become a permanent staple? Only time will tell, but Dr. Kumar has found that patients have found the service to be helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We always strive to provide as many options for our patients so that they can get the healthcare that's best for them," shares Dr. Kumar.