3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Stephanie Tsuru of SheSpace, Fareed Zein of Unytag, and Libby Covington of The Craig Group. Photos courtesy

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

Stephanie Tsuru, founder of SheSpace

Stephanie Tsuru joins this week's Houston Innovators Podcast to share her growth plans for 2023. Photo via LinkedIn

SheSpace opened with a splash, Founder Stephanie Tsure tells InnovationMap on last week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. After surviving through the pandemic, the female-focused coworking hub expanded — with a new type of membership as well as physically.

"We had so many people who wanted to be a part of the community — so we started a social networking group," she says.

Now, the entrepreneur is looking to expand this year to open satellite locations. She shares more on the show. Read more.

Fareed Zein, founder of Unytag

Unytag celebrated a big win at the Ion recently — and has taking its prizes into the new year. Photo via LinkedIn

As the father of four competitive-tennis-playing daughters, Fareed Zein spent years driving “from California to Florida,” he says. Throughout those years, he and his wife racked up toll violation after toll violation. “I thought, there’s got to be an easier way,” he recalls.

Fortunately, Zein wasn’t just any sports dad with thousands of miles on his car. The University of Texas grad put in 26 years developing IT systems at Shell. He retired from that role in 2015, which allowed him to spend more time on the road with his youngest daughter, now playing for UT Austin. In 2019, he used his technology expertise to start Unytag, a company focused on making it easier to drive around the country as the Zein family had so many times.

Unytag is a system that allows users to trash their multiple toll tags in favor of just one RFID (radio-frequency identification) sticker and an app. The app, which Zein says is currently in its testing phase, will be available on both IOS and Android phones in the second half of the year.

“A phone is a device everyone has nowadays, right?” says Zein. “Just like you use your phone to pay for a latte at Starbucks, we are going to simplify how you pay tolls.” Read more.

Libby Covington, partner at The Craig Group

It's undeniable that businesses are facing economic uncertainty in 2023. Here's what marketing tools to tap into to navigate the challenges ahead. Photo via LinkedIn

Make 2023 the year of optimized marketing for your startup — that's Libby Covington's advice. Partner at The Craig Group, she outlined her tips in a guest column for InnovationMap.

"Continued growth starts with goal setting and coming up with a marketing and business development strategy that fits the unique needs of a business," she writes. "This works most effectively when a company’s management team ensures that marketing and sales are working in lockstep. They are two sides of the same coin and need to see themselves that way to maximize results and therefore profit." Read more.

Stephanie Tsuru joins this week's Houston Innovators Podcast to share her growth plans for 2023. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston founder shares expansion plans for female-focused coworking

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Stephanie Tsuru didn't know much about coworking when she decided to jump headfirst into creating SheSpace.

On this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, Tsuru, founder and CEO of SheSpace, explains that she saw an need for a place for women — entrepreneurs, independent contractors, remote workers, etc. — to congregate and collaborate. So, she filled that need.

"The idea wasn't about coworking — it was a place to bring women together so that they didn't have to sit by themselves in a coffee shop," she says on the show.

Tsuru opened the membership-based space with her daughter-in-law Katie in November of 2020, and has already expanded to support its growing membership. In August 2021, SheSpace added an additional 1,500 square feet. Now, the company has 250 women in its network, whether they rent a private office, hotdesk, or just attend for events — something Tsuru says was created based on interest from potential members.

"We had so many people who wanted to be a part of the community — so we started a social networking group," she says.

SheSpace was designed very intentionally, Tsuru explains on the podcast. Everything from the colors on the walls to the parking and surrounding retail access was intentional.

"Women have a lot of stuff on their plate," she says, explaining how SheSpace has a gas station, a grocery store, a nail salon, and more within the same retail property. "We don't get our stuff done in an office complex."

SheSpace has a busy year ahead. While the Heights-area location will be SheSpace's flagship and where programming will continue to be held, Tsuru says she has plans to open a satellite location to accommodate a growing membership and Houston's sprawl.

"We are looking at satellite areas for more offices, workspace, and meeting rooms," she says. "We'll make a decision and have a location this year."

She shares more about what she's accomplished with SheSpace in its first two years — as well as what's next on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


SheSpace is planning to open in a new mixed-use facility just south of Interstate 10 near downtown. Image via shespacehtx.com

For women by women: New coworking space to open in Houston

new to hou

To Stephanie Tsuru, there is strength in numbers — especially, when women are involved.

"Women coming together is powerful," explains Tsuru, the founder of SheSpace, an all-women coworking space coming soon to The Heights that seeks to build a collective community of entrepreneurs and business professionals.

Mentorship and motivation were always part of Tsuru's purpose since the start of her career. Her background in healthcare and rehab gave her insight into how powerful mindset can be in a person's growth.

"I have always been involved and really driven by motivational psychology," she says.

Her affinity for mentorship continued as she went on to coach women in her own life. With her 35 years of life experience, Tsuru feels there is "no substitute for wisdom." Her passion for cultivating relationships and inspiring other women led her to want to create an environment where women could network and learn from mentors and peers.

"I really was passionate about leveraging mentoring on a big scale," she says.

From idea to innovation

SheSpace is run by Stephanie Tsuru and her daughter-in-law Katie. Photo courtesy of SheSpace

After a trip to Israel, Tsuru met two best friends — an Israeli woman and Palestinian woman — who teamed up to help at a local women's center. After touring the space and witnessing the collaboration, she left inspired.

"I was so blown away by what was happening in the center," she muses, "I knew I had to have a space for women."

She partnered with her daughter-in-law, Katie, who has assumed the role of CFO. She compares their relationship to the "Old Masters and Young Geniuses" model, first written about by David Galenson. While Tsuru brings the "life experience and wisdom," her daughter-in-law is the young innovator.

"She just looks at the world a little bit fresher," she admits, "This is the perfect combination."

For women, by women

The space was designed and set up by female professionals. Image via shespacehtx.com

Browse through architectural renderings and you'll find a chic industrial space with pops of color at every turn. An energizing palette of green, pink, orange and yellow effervescently leap from the walls. The space is donned with graphic patterns and motivational virtues that preach collaboration and empowerment. Behind every piece of drywall and design is the work of a woman.

"I started enlisting the best and the brightest females I could find. Now there's a team of about 23 women that have all come together in their various domains to put this together," she explains. From the architect to the drywall company, the soon-to-open space is entirely built by women-led companies.

Finding women in some industries was no easy feat for Tsuru, who was committed to her mission of empowering and collaborating with women for SheSpace's production. From the IT networking to the construction manager, every external and internal working of the company is female.

"I set out doing this not having any idea how hard it is to find women in some of these areas," she explains, "We are so proud to say that it's all women."

Intentionality in design

SheSpace will have a cafe for refueling. Image via shespacehtx.com

Female intentionality doesn't mean an all-pink space—it's designs focused on women to help excel their productivity. From a lactation room to the artwork, women are at the center of the design.

According to the Office on Women's Health, no employer is required to have a lactation room, which is an issue that can plague working moms. From bathrooms to storage closets, women in some companies have had to be creative while the workforce catches up to design needs.

SheSpace created a lactation room, designed with a lock for privacy and individual, portable fridges available for nursing women to store breast milk.

"It's the prettiest room, it's beautiful, calming it's very serene. Women can go in there and just kind of catch their breath and use their breast pump," says Tsuru.

Personal and professional branding has become a central role in business ownership. The influencer space is 77 percent women, and continues to grow with the emergence of platforms like TikTok. SheSpace is equipped with a professional podcast recording room as well as an influencer nook.

The space also exhibits the talents of women by incorporating an book niche featuring all-female authors as well as a "SheShop," a pop-up shop where female-business owners can showcase and sell their products.

The power of female collaboration

SheSpace will have several rooms for different purposes — meetings, podcasting, privacy, etc. Image via shespacehtx.com

Coworking spaces have been on the rise in Houston over the last several years. From popular global brands like WeWork to small startups, the trend has consistently been on the rise.

Rather than compete with to co-ed spaces, Tsuru has kept women in mind from the beginning. "Women tend to dream smaller than men. While we strenuously support small businesses, the trend we see is women often do not aim high enough. When networking with women in positions of power we see a measurable shift in goals," she explains.

The comradery of women working alongside each other is a huge asset in Tsuru's eyes.

"Women understand women. There is an implicit understanding that already exists that you don't have to explain," she explains, noting that shared experienced bring women together.

There's also an understanding that women can be themselves without having to face the judgment of their male peers.

"It's also a comfort level that women can be themselves, that they can act [like] themselves. They don't have to talk a certain way. They don't have to sit a certain way. They find their voice when they're surrounded by women," shares Tsuru.

Tapping into collaboration, Tsuru is most excited for the educational workshops and networking opportunities that will come to the space. From public speaking to organizing finances, the space has an agenda planned for its upcoming launch.

"It's all about building confidence and you're in a nice supported environment. It's the perfect place to do that," explains Tsuru. "With that comes everything else, the networking and the flow of ideas...it's a huge resource center. No matter who you're looking for, we have a resource directory," she continues.

Transitioning amid COVID-19

SheSpace will be opening in Lower Heights, a 24-acre mixed-use district. Image courtesy of Gulf Coast Commercial Group

One of the benefits of being built during a pandemic, is the ability to keep new social distancing rules and considerations in mind. While Tsuru and her team have been able to anticipate life in a COVID-19 world, they've adjusted the space to include features like a lock on the lactation room door and individualized amenities.

As SheSpace has transitioned, so are women going through the pandemic and other phases of their lives. "There are all these women that are now office-less. They couldn't afford the overhead of the big office and where were they going to go?" says Tsuru. Women who want a space outside of their home five days a week can also utilize the vibrant, collaborative space and make it their own.

Above all, Tsuru hopes the space can be an aid to the women of Houston. "We're just in a moment of interruption, just the entire nation. I do think this is going to be a big place of healing for women," she shares.

SheSpace will be located at 2799 Katy Freeway in the Lower Heights district. Follow SheSpace to stay updated on the details of its launch.

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10 can't-miss Houston business and innovation events for February

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It's time to look at what's on the agenda for February for Houston innovators — from pitch competitions to networking events.

Here's a roundup of events not to miss this month. Mark your calendars and register accordingly.

Note: This post might be updated to add more events.

Feb. 8 — Digital Marketing Luncheon

Join Insperity, a partner of The Cannon, and digital marketing expert, Danny Gavin, at The Cannon Downtown for a lunch and learn.

The event is Wednesday, February 8, at noon, at The Cannon Downtown. Click here to register.

Feb. 9 — Innovation on Tap: Fred Higgs, Engineering at Rice University

Discuss research in the speaker’s engineering lab at Rice University on key Industry 4.0 technologies, namely additive manufacturing.

The event is Thursday, February 9, at 4 pm, at the Ion. Click here to register.

February 10 — Women in Leadership Conference 

The 23rd annual Women in Leadership Conference will be held in-person at Rice University. The conference has been a beacon of inspiration in the Houston community, empowering women to accomplish their career goals. In panel discussions and interactive workshops, attendees hear from leaders across different industries, explore various approaches to leadership, and discuss future opportunities for success.

The event is Friday, February 10, at 8 am, at McNair Hall at Rice University. Click here to register.

Feb. 15 — Real Talk from Real VCs

Join this event for a candid fireside chat on venture capital and its role in supporting and growing innovative startups.

The event is Wednesday, February 15, at 5:30 pm, at the Ion. Click here to register.

Feb. 16 — Engage VC: Lerer Hippeau

Lerer Hippeau is an early-stage venture capital firm founded and operated in New York City. Since 2010, they have invested in entrepreneurs who embody audacity, endurance, and winning mindset – good people with great ideas who aren't afraid to do hard things. Join the HX Venture Fund to hear Caitlin Strandberg, Partner at Lerer Hippeau discuss her perspective on how to build and scale a great company, what early-stage investors are looking for, why Houston, and market trends among other topics.

The event is Thursday, February 16, at 8:30 am, at the Ion. Click here to register.

Feb. 16 — Female Founders and Funders

Calling all rockstar female founders and investors in the Houston area. Mark your calendars for this month's Female Founders and Funders meetup. Coffee and breakfast is provided and the event is free to attend.

The event is Thursday, February 16, at 9 am, at Sesh Coworking. Click here to register.

Feb. 21 — Web3 & HOU: Demystifying the Web3 Space Panel I

Join us to learn more about Web3 and its numerous applications.

The event is Tuesday, February 21, at 6 pm, at the Ion. Click here to register.

Feb. 22 — The Trailblazer’s Guide to Cultivating Authenticity

In this fun and interactive workshop presented by Erica D’Eramo of Two Peirs Consulting, we’ll look at how to foster a leadership style that works for you, even in the absence of role models.

The event is Wednesday, February 22, at 2 pm, at Sesh Coworking. Click here to register.

Feb. 22 — Houston Startup Showcase

The Houston Startup Showcase is a year-long series of monthly pitch competitions. Founders will pitch at the Ion and compete for the grand prize package. Watch the startups pitch their company and see who the judges will name the champion of the Houston Startup Showcase 2023.

The event is Wednesday, February 22, at 6 pm, at the Ion. Click here to register.

Feb. 23 — Navigating Innovation in the Corporate World

Join us for a fireside chat with leaders from Houston's largest employers, including Microsoft and Chevron to discuss how they have navigated successful careers in technology and innovation.

The event is Thursday, February 23, at 11:30 am, at the Ion. Click here to register.

Feb. 27-March 2 — Houston Tech Rodeo

The Houston Tech Rodeo is a conference showcasing the best and brightest of the Houston startup community in the region and beyond by putting investors, entrepreneurs, industry leaders, and creative minds in a room to talk about the biggest innovations and the future of tech sandwiched by some happy hours and friendly competition.

The events run Monday, February 27, through Thursday, March 2, at various locations in Houston. Click here to register.

Note: This post might be updated to add more events.


Houston innovator aims to connect the dots between data science and phenomena

eyes to the sky

As artificial intelligence continues to expand its sphere of influence, Spring-based expert Joe Schurman is looking to take this technology to an out-of-this-world space.

With his background includes working with advising defense and aerospace organizations like NASA, Schurman's latest venture PhenomAInon is perfectly aligned with what he’s been working towards since 2019. The company aims to be a multi-tiered subscription service and application that will be the world’s first cloud native data and AI platform for phenomenon-based data analysis that can analyze data from any source for space domain awareness and threat detection, according to Schurman.

The platform aims to provide end-to-end data and AI analysis, publish insights, build community, and provide cloud, data, and software consulting. PhenomAInon deploys data and AI services alongside modern data and AI engineering, per the website, to surface insights to explorers, researchers, organizations, publications, and communities through advanced data and AI analysis. Schurman has worked with the U.S. government's task force for unidentified anomalous phenomenon — any perceived aerial phenomenon that cannot be immediately identified or explained — known as UAPTF. The tool will run sensitive information and then get back custom video analysis. The public version of the tool will give the public the option to view videos and cases, and form their own analysis.

“We are working together with multiple teams both public and private to continue to curate the data sets, clear documents for public review, and provide advanced analytics and AI capabilities never seen before to the public,” Schurman tells InnovationMap. “From a data and analytics perspective, we are applying machine learning and advanced analytics to find correlations and anomalies in the incident reports across multiple data sets.

"Some of these are public, some are private, and some we are clearing for public review," he continues. "The analytics will go far beyond incident reporting and showcase heat maps, correlative incident maps to key private and public sector facilities, and trends analysis never reported — e.g. incident reporting correlated with time, weather, FAA, and drone flight data, etc. We also have a new content analysis platform where users will be able to eventually run their own AI and ML analysis on their own videos.”

Schurman was first able to show this to the world in 2019, when as an adviser for To The Stars Academy of Arts and Science, or TTSA. He also appeared on History Channel’s “Unidentified: Inside America's UFO Investigation” to show the Pentagon’s former Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program head and TTSA Director of Special Programs Luis Elizondo how the AI platform could be helpful in tracking data related to Unidentified Aerial Phenomena.

Now, PhenomAInon's app is a work-in-progress. While it soft launched in May of 2022, Schurman says they have several data sets that are awaiting clearing from the U.S. government, as well as the content analysis tool in development to launch possibly by the summer. Schurman also hopes they will curate the largest library of incident videos, images, and audio recordings.

The subject of UAP continues to attract new discussions from government officials and industry professions across aerospace, academia, and more. In Houston, Rice University's Woodson Research Center and its humanities department host one of the largest archives of UAP and paranormal data, notes, and research that include documents from CIA programs on remote viewing.

Schurman says he's looking to provide even more data and information in this space.

“This phenomenon, it’s implications to multiple aspects of our lives and possible security threats, all come down to a data problem and the organizations that have been in place to-date just have not had the level of cloud, data and AI engineering capabilities we take for granted and have access to in the private sector,” says Schurman. “My goal is to bring this all together, starting with PhenomAInon.”

Houston expert: Build workforce resiliency by investing in a long-term, low-cost internship strategy

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Short-term talent shortages can feel overwhelming, especially if your company is navigating staff shortages, while also planning for future growth.

While internship programs can get a bad rap, there are many benefits to providing opportunities for early career professionals in any organization. By building a pipeline of eager, talented employees, and embedding institutional knowledge in your organization, you can reduce the burden of extra work on remaining employees and reinvigorate your business.

Get more engagement and develop champions at your company by incorporating three vital ingredients into your internship program strategy:

  1. Hire based on core values & interns’ ability to thrive at your company
  2. Invest in training
  3. Provide meaningful work

Build a strong team: hire based on ability to thrive 

To ensure your organization’s growth is coming from a diverse talent pool, build a hiring process around employees' future ability and core values, instead of what they have done in the past. Oftentimes, you’ll find that an intern’s coachability, willingness to learn and growth mindset are better determining factors towards future success than past experience.

During the recruitment and hiring process, ask your interns questions to probe values, interests, and passions. To determine if they have a growth mindset, you can ask, “What do you read in your time off to stay up to date with the latest trends in the industry? What did you learn yesterday?” or “Tell me about a time you received feedback. What did you do with this?”

Make sure that each intern that comes on board feels like a part of the team. Let them immerse themselves into your company’s culture, work environment, and industry by inviting them to your employee team-building activities, monthly company-wide conference calls, and other events that provide them with more context about your culture. Schedule weekly touchpoints with each intern to regularly check in on goals, their progress on tasks, and overall concerns. Not only will these meetings strengthen trust, but they will also position interns to succeed at your company.

Build resilience: invest in training

When you invest in a thoughtful, effective training experience, your interns will be more committed to the role because they’ll see the added effort you’re making towards their career.

Consider how your current training is structured and implemented so that your internship training experience is up to speed with the expectations of Gen-Z. Explore out-of-the-box training options, including coaching, virtual learning, and assessments that they will actually use.

In addition to the hard skills that are essential to supporting any company, ensure that you are training interns on core competencies. The National Association of Colleges and Employers identifies eight core competencies that are vital to career readiness: career & self-development, communication, critical thinking, equity & inclusion, leadership, professionalism, teamwork, and technology. When you teach interns these core competencies as soon as they join your organization, you will see an immediate boost in productivity, and you can objectively assess for future full-time employment.

Build momentum: provide meaningful work

After you’ve clearly mapped out your internship training experience, clearly outline projects from each of your company’s departments before you onboard interns. By planning ahead, and having a running list of projects that don’t require much explanation, you can give your interns a sense of purpose as soon as they join, which in turn will prevent bored interns from disengaging.

Ask interns what their goals are for their internship so you can not only help them make those goals a reality, but also tie their goals back to your company’s overall goals. As you offer meaningful enrichment opportunities, you will land top talent through your internship programs, and word will spread to bring in better talent for future internships.

Come out on top with a strong team

Businesses that take advantage of bringing on interns during a talent shortage can come out of hard times better prepared for the future. Once you have a strong and sustainable internship program, it will only grow and gain momentum.

Weather any storm that’s ahead by continuing to attract the best talent. Your company deserves it.

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Allie Danziger is the co-founder of Ampersand, an online training platform for businesses and professionals looking to level up their talent.