Common Desk, which has locations across Houston, has been acquired — and other innovation news. Rendering courtesy of Common Desk

Houston is starting 2022 strong 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, the Bayou City is ranked based on its opportunities for STEM jobs, a Houston blockchain startup scores a major contract, Rice University opens applications for its veteran-owned business competition, and more.

Data Gumbo announces contract with Equinor

After a successful pilot, Equinor has signed off on a contract with Data Gumbo.. Courtesy of Data Gumbo

Houston-based Data Gumbo, an industrial blockchain-software-as-a-service company, announced that it has signed a contract with Equinor. The global energy company's venture arm, Equinor Ventures, supported the startup's $7.7 million series B round, which closed last year.

The company's technology features smart contract automation and execution, which reduces contract leakage, frees up working capital, enables real-time cash and financial management, and delivers provenance with unprecedented speed, accuracy, visibility and transparency, per the release.

“Equinor is an industry trailblazer, demonstrating the true value of our international smart contract network to improve and automate manual processes, and bring trust to all parties,” says Andrew Bruce, founder and CEO of Data Gumbo, in a news release. “Smart contracts are playing a critical role in driving the energy industry forward. Our work with Equinor clearly demonstrates the benefits that supermajors and their supply chain customers, partners and vendors experience by automating commercial transactions. We are proud to continue our work with Equinor to help them realize the savings, efficiencies and new levels of transparency available through our smart contract network.”

Equinor opted into a pilot with the company a few years ago.

“Since piloting Data Gumbo’s smart contracts for offshore drilling services in 2019, we have worked with the company to continually refine and improve use cases. We now have the potential to expand Data Gumbo’s smart contract network to enable transactional certainty across our portfolio from the Norwegian Continental Shelf to our Brazilian operated assets and beyond,” says Erik Kirkemo, senior vice president at Equinor. “GumboNet reduces inefficiencies and processing time around contract execution in complex supply chains, which is a problem in the broader industry, and we look forward to realizing the streamlined process and cost savings of its rapidly expanding smart contract network.”

WeWork acquires Dallas coworking brand with 6 Houston locations

Common Desk, which has six locations in Houston including in The Ion, has been acquired. Photo courtesy of Common Desk

Dallas-based Common Desk, which has six locations in Houston, announced its acquisition by WeWork. The company's office spaces will be branded as “Common Desk, a WeWork Company,” according to a news release.

“Similar to WeWork, Common Desk is a company built on the concept of bringing people together to have their best day at work," says Nick Clark, CEO at Common Desk, in the release. "With the added support from WeWork, Common Desk will be able to not only leverage WeWork’s decade of experience in member services to improve the experience of our own members but also leverage WeWork’s impressive client roster to further build out our member base.”

Here are the six Common Desk spaces in Houston:

Here's how Houston ranks as a metro for STEM jobs

Source: WalletHub

When it comes to the best cities for jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math, Houston ranks in the middle of the pack. The greater Houston area ranked at No. 37 among the 100 largest metros across 19 key metrics on the list compiled by personal finance website, WalletHub. Here's how Houston fared on the report's metrics:

  • No. 36 – percent of Workforce in STEM
  • No. 74 – STEM Employment Growth
  • No. 43 – Math Performance
  • No. 16 – Quality of Engineering Universities
  • No. 2 – Annual Median Wage for STEM Workers (Adjusted for Cost of Living)
  • No. 90 – Median Wage Growth for STEM Workers
  • No. 75 – Job Openings for STEM Graduates per Capita
  • No. 88 – Unemployment Rate for Adults with at Least a Bachelor’s Degree

Elsewhere in Texas, Austin ranked at No. 2 overall, and Dallas just outranked Houston coming in at No. 34. San Antonio, El Paso, and McAllen ranked No. 51, No. 65, and No. 88, respectively.

Rice University calls for contestants for its 8th annual startup pitch competition for veterans

Calling all veteran and active duty startup founders and business owners. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Rice University is now accepting applications from Houston veterans for its annual business competition. To apply for the 2022 Veterans Business Battle, honorably discharged veterans or active duty founders can head online to learn more and submit their business plan by Feb. 15.

“We’re looking forward to giving veterans the opportunity not just to share their ideas and get financing, but learn from other past winners the lessons about entrepreneurship they’ve lived through while growing their businesses,” event co-chair Reid Schrodel says in a news release.

Over the past few years, finalists have received more than $4 million of investments through the program. This year's monetary prizes add up to $30,000 — $15,000 prize for first place, $10,000 for second place, and $5,000 for third place.

Finalists will be invited to make their business pitch April 22 and 23 at Rice University. Click here to register for the event.

City of Houston receives grant to stimulate STEM opportunities

Houston's youth population is getting a leg up on STEM opportunities. Photo via Getty Images

Thanks to a $150,000 grant from the National League of Cities, the city of Houston has been awarded a chance to provide quality education and career opportunities to at-risk young adults and students. The city is one of five cities also selected to receive specialized assistance from NLC’s staff and other national experts.

“This award is a big win for young people. They will benefit from significant career development opportunities made possible by this grant,” says Mayor Sylvester Turner in a news release. “These are children who would otherwise go without, now having experiences and connections they never thought possible. I commend the National League of Cities for their continued commitment to the future leaders of this country.”

According to the release, the grant money will support the Hire Houston Youth program by connecting diverse opportunity youth to the unique STEM and technology-focused workforce development.

"Our youth deserve educational opportunities that connect them to the local workforce and career exploration, so they can make informed choices about their future career path in Houston’s dynamic economy. Houston youth will only further the amazing things they will accomplish, thanks to this grant," says Olivera Jankovska, director of the Mayor's Office of Education.

Local kids can pursue STEM and space dreams thanks to the generous gift. Photo courtesy of Space Center Houston

Jeff Bezos' foundation gifts Space Center Houston with $1 million grant

space funds

Billionaires such as Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos may be blasting off into the beyond, but for now, space travel is still primarily relegated to the expert astronauts who train here in Houston.

Now, a new $1 million grant to our beloved hub of all things cosmic may just inspire local kids to rocket towards a career in space exploration or STEM careers. Space Center Houston has just received the generous, two-comma grant from Blue Origin, Bezos' company.

Blue Origin auctioned off seats on first crew New Shepard suborbital flight, which yielded an impressive $28 million. Bezos, his brother Mark, and Wally Funk, one of the Mercury 13 women will join the auction winner on the upcoming trip.

With the $28 million proceeds, Blue Origin then awarded $1 million to 19 organizations (each) through its foundation, Club for the Future.

"This donation is enabling Club for the Future to rapidly expand its reach by partnering with 19 organizations to develop and inspire the next generation of space professionals," said Bob Smith, Blue Origin CEO, in a statement. "Our generation will build the road to space and these efforts will ensure the next generation is ready to go even further."

The $1 million Space Center Houston received will go towards the center's Title 1 school field trip program, enabling students with access to the center's extensive space artifact collection, per a press release. Space Center Houston's Girls STEM Pathway initiative, which promotes learning experiences for girls in STEM careers, will also receive funds. The comprehensive, six-phase initiative includes an introductory elementary school experience, a middle school project-based STEM experience, a summer bridge program with mentoring support, and a program for high school girls to engage in scientific research, the center notes.

"Blue Origin's grant will further enable Space Center Houston to provide immersive science learning experiences for underserved Houston area youth," said the center's president and CEO, William T. Harris, in a release. "We are very thankful to Blue Origin for helping us inspire and prepare students for future STEM careers. With Blue Origin's support, we can empower students with hands-on STEM learning opportunities through the wonders of space exploration."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston isn't very attractive of an ecosystem for STEM professionals, according to a new report. Getty Images

​​Report finds Houston has room to grow as an attractive city for STEM professionals​​

Needs improvement

Houston has been heralded as a great place to find a job in many instances, so it may come as some surprise that when it comes to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, the Bayou City isn't primed for professionals.

The city ranked No. 33 out of the 100 largest metros in the United States in a study conducted by WalletHub. The 17 metrics corresponded to professional opportunities, STEM friendliness, or quality of life. Within those categories, Houston ranked No. 47, No. 20, and No. 54, respectively.

Some of the areas where the Houston area stood out is wage, engineering educational opportunities, and projected demand for STEM jobs in 2020. Houston had the highest annual median wage for STEM workers, which was adjusted for cost of living.

While Houston seems to be predicted to need STEM professionals, the city currently has among the worst STEM employment growth and among the highest unemployment rate for STEM professionals with a Bachelor's degree or higher.

Austin, which ranked at No. 4, was the only Texas city to rank higher than Houston, and Dallas followed close behind Houston at No. 38. Dallas actually performed similar to Houston across the categories, while Austin's scores reflected that the city provided the 8th best STEM professional opportunities in the country.

Rounding out the top five on the list was Seattle at No. 1, Boston at No. 2, Pittsburgh at No. 3, and San Francisco at No.5.

In November, Accenture's Brian Richards wrote a guest column for InnovationMap on how Houston could advance as a premier city for tech and innovation. He proffered that STEM talent is a key component the city needs — both coming into the ecosystem as well as remaining here.

"Houston already has tremendous amounts of STEM talent but doesn't produce enough talent or retain enough of the locally-grown talent," he writes. "To jumpstart, we are going to have to import it initially."

Apparently, this isn't an issue unique to Houston. According to Martin Storksdieck, director for the Center for Research on Lifelong STEM Learning in Oregon, while the U.S. has been successfully attracting outsiders to STEM higher education roles, there's a growing need for specific STEM jobs like nurses and computer scientists.

"The US is neither creating, attracting nor retaining middle-skilled STEM professionals in any competitive fashion," Storksdieck says in the report. "[Meanwhile], about half of academic STEM graduate students in the US are foreign born."

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Houston startup rolls out B2B program for onboarding new hires

job training

After seeing success with her internship training and matchmaking platform, Allie Danziger, founder and CEO of Ampersand Professionals, has expanded the concept to include a new hire training service that allows employers to better optimize the onboarding process and have a well-trained new staff member from day one.

In just over a year, Ampersand has worked with over 7,000 professionals through its original concept of upskilling and matching young professionals to internship programs. A few months ago, Danziger and her team expanded to include career development training for students first entering the workforce with the City of Houston's Hire Houston Youth program. Danziger says it was developing out the platform for this program that proved there was a need for this type of training.

"While we have focused on matching professionals with businesses for paid internships, we recognized a further gap with employers that have their own recruiting/talent acquisition teams, or just their own preferred way of bringing on entry-level talent, and didn’t have a need for our matching platform," Danziger tells InnovationMap. "But, they recognized the benefit of our proven training platform that pre-vets and de-risks their hires, and still wanted access to the training for their own hires."

The new program has evolved from training interns to new hires, so parts of the program that focuses on interviewing or applying for a job have been removed. Instead, the 8.5 hours of training focuses on networking, best practices for working with a manager and team, performance reviews, common software training, and more.

Danziger says usually new hires need the most experienced mentor or manager, but they don't usually get that support — especially when it comes to businesses that don't have their own built-out mentorship or training program.

"Ampersand’s new training product fills that gap — it gives employers of any size any easy solution to provide basic job readiness training to employees, access to our team of dedicated coaches, and a detailed report at the end of their training summarizing how their new hire did in the training and any trends recognized and tips for managing this employee based on what the platform uncovered," she says. "Businesses can also sign up for additional coaching sessions and customize training materials, as an add-on if interested."

The program costs the employer $100 per new employee, and checkout online takes less than a minute. Through both this program and the original internship program, Ampersand is constantly evolving its training content.

"These professionals are going through the same training experience that we have proven out over the last year, and we are constantly adding to based on data we see in the user experience," Danziger says.

Danziger recently joined the Houston Innovators Podcast discuss some of the benchmarks she's met with Ampersand, as well as the importance of investing in Gen Z hires. Listen to that episode below.


Houston thought leaders look for extraterrestrial intelligence at Future Focus event

Out of This World

The latest Future Focus discussion held by alliantgroup was out of this world! The company teamed up with InnovationMap to host Dr. Seth Shostak from the SETI Institute at alliantgroup headquarters in the Galleria area. The conversation focused on how new technology is helping in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

Dr. Robert Ambrose, alliantgroup strategic advisory board member, was the moderator for the night. He recently retired from NASA as the chief of software, robotics, and the simulation division, and clarified why it is crucial we have these conversations with Dr. Shostak about space and ask the question: Do aliens exist?

“We should be looking up. We should be thinking about what is coming and how we are going to be a part of it. It is an exciting time in space,” said Dr. Ambrose.

Dr. Shostak has been the senior astronomer and director at the SETI Institute in San Francisco for the past 20 years. He explained to the audience there is a difference between the search for aliens and the search for life in the universe.

“SETI stands for Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, but it's not the same as the search for life, which it's often confused with,” explained Dr. Shostak. “You might find life on Mars, but it's not going to be very clever. But when you look for extraterrestrial intelligence, you are looking for the kind of aliens you might see on television or in the movies. Are they intelligent, can they communicate with us, and can they hold a conversation?”

Dr. Shostak believes we can infer aliens exist because of the number of planets and stars there are in the universe. But he also believes the search is heating up thanks to new technology and satellites currently being developed.

“Do I think we probably will find them in our lifetime? I honestly do," he said. "You could say that's just wishful thinking and perhaps it is, but it's more than that. It is the fact that the equipment is getting better very quickly."

He bets that by 2035 we will have found and communicated with extraterrestrial intelligence. Both Dr. Shostak and Dr. Ambrose agree, once we have found this life, our world will change for the better.

“We are going to learn all sorts of things about physics and the rules of the universe that we’ve never uncovered,” explained Dr. Ambrose. “Imagine everything we could have taught humans about the universe a couple hundred years ago. What if we can find someone who could teach us those lessons today? What an acceleration we would have.”

This was just the second Future Focus discussion alliantgroup has hosted, and CEO Dhaval Jadav said he hopes to continue to lead these innovative conversations around technology.

“We started this future focus series of roundtables to engage thought leaders and industry experts on topics related to the development of new technologies," Jadav said. "We are living in a most exciting and heady time, with the adoption of new technologies and platforms accelerating at an unprecedented rate.

"In order for us to stay abreast of all these exciting innovations — from web 3 to sportstech, blockchain, AI/quantum computing, the metaverse and our ever-expanding universe, including the search for extraterrestrial intelligence – we must continue to hold thought-provoking dialogues to further explore and chart our path to the future."

You can click here to learn more about alliantgroup’s previous event and what’s to come.

Courtesy photo

Houston hospital ranked best in state according to recent report

top health care

It’s a three-peat for Houston Methodist Hospital.

For the third in a row, Healthgrades has named Houston Methodist the best hospital in Texas and one of the 50 best hospitals in the country. It’s the only Texas hospital in the top 50. Houston Methodist, a 907-bed facility at the Texas Medical Center, earned the same recognition in 2020 and 2021.

Four other hospitals in the Houston area made Healthgrades’ list of the top 250 hospitals in the U.S.:

  • Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center
  • Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital
  • Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital
  • Memorial Hermann – Texas Medical Center

Four Houston hospitals also excelled in several of Healthgrades’ specialty categories:

  • Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center, No. 3 in the state for heart surgery.
  • Memorial Hermann – Texas Medical Center, No. 1 in the state for stroke care and No. 2 for coronary intervention.
  • Houston Methodist Hospital, No. 2 in the state for critical care and No. 2 for pulmonary care.
  • Texas Orthopedic Hospital, No. 1 in the state for joint replacement.

Healthgrades, an online platform for finding physicians, hospitals, and other health care providers, rates hospitals based on clinical outcomes such as rates for patient deaths and treatment complications. For this year’s list, Healthgrades evaluated clinical performance at nearly 4,500 hospitals.

“For almost 25 years, our mission has been to provide consumers with clear and accessible information to make more informed health care decisions,” Dr. Brad Bowman, chief medical officer and head of data science at Healthgrades, says in a news release.

The Healthgrades rankings “provide consumers with increased transparency regarding the care in their areas, and empowers them to make more confident care decisions for themselves and their families,” Bowman adds.

For Houston Methodist, kudos like those from Healthgrades are common. For instance, the hospital last year landed at No. 16 on U.S. News & World Report’s national honor roll for the best hospitals, up from No. 20 the previous year. It was the top-rated Texas hospital on the list.

“These national accolades are something to be proud of, but most important, our patients are benefiting from all of our hard work. Ultimately, they are the reason we need to be one of the best hospital systems in the country,” Dr. Marc Boom, president and CEO of Houston Methodist, said last year in a news release about the U.S. News award.

The Healthgrades honor is one of several pieces of good news for Houston Methodist this year.

The hospital recently unveiled plans for the 26-story Centennial Tower. Scheduled to open in 2027, the $1.4 billion tower will include a larger emergency department and hundreds of patient beds, among other features. The new tower will replace the Houston Main building and West Pavilion.

Shortly after that announcement, the Houston Methodist system said it had received an anonymous $50 million gift. It’s the second largest donation in the system’s 102-year history.

Joining Houston Methodist Hospital in Healthgrades’ national top 250 this year are:

  • Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – McKinney
  • Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Temple
  • Doctors Hospital at Renaissance in Edinburg
  • Hendrick Medical Center in Abilene
  • Medical City Arlington
  • Medical City McKinney
  • Methodist Hospital in San Antonio
  • St. David’s Medical Center in Austin
  • St. David’s South Austin Medical Center
  • William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital in Dallas