Launched in Houston, Umanity's new tool aims to better connect nonprofits with supplies and volunteers amid the COVID-19 crisis. Photos via umanity.io

A Houston startup that has been working in a pilot program capacity with the city of Houston has accelerated the rollout of its platform to help connect and coordinate people's needs to resources in real-time during the coronavirus outbreak.

Umanity, which is a part of the Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator's first cohort, has created a philanthropic supply chain tool that's now available as an app or through desktop. The software can match and map local individual or nonprofit needs to organizations or volunteers, plus provide real-time analytics. During the coronavirus outbreak, they have mobilized its resources connecting supplies with nonprofits and volunteers with safe ways to help organizations that need it most during this crisis.

The Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator launched in 2019 to provide technology-driven solutions to Houston's most prevalent challenges. The accelerator is backed by Intel and Microsoft and partnered with the city of Houston and Station Houston.

"Our first cohort focused on transportation, resiliency, and connectivity," says senior director of the Ion Smart Cities Accelerator, Christine Galib. "It was tightening much of the ways in which a vast and expansive city like Houston can come together and feel connected and supported as a city."

These themes are exemplified by Umanity, who is working with several city of Houston officials to direct citizens the resources they need during the crisis, and creating a network of communities to efficiently provide them the resources they need. The centralized platform shows a complete picture of who needs help and who can help all on the same platform while measuring the real-time economic impact of donations and every volunteer hour.

"I started this company because I wanted to transition everyday acts of service into actual data-driven solutions," says Ryan-Alexander Thomas, CEO and founder of Umanity. "My goal is that during the next crisis, for example, hurricane season, if somebody needs something they have access to get it when they need it, not two years later or after the crisis."

The platform has already rolled out in other cities such as Hyattsville, Maryland, to help connect their network of nonprofits with individuals as part of their crisis response as a result of supply shortages due to the coronavirus pandemic.

With the help of their accelerator, Umanity is currently working with a number of the city of Houston's mayor's directors, including education and health leaders to create a broader coalition designed to collaborate and coordinate more efficiently by aggregating information from these sources.

"Having some of the mentors in the accelerator put us in touch with decision-makers in the city has really given us the boost we need to get a chance to show that we can do something good for the people and the community," says Thomas.

Thomas says Umanity is ready to be implemented in a dozen cities in the next few months. Their team is already close to signing partnerships with additional municipalities across the country.

"Our platform is available right now for download and we're growing," says Thomas. "We've tripled the number of organizations in the past week and we are always looking for new nonprofits, churches, and organizations to partner with to help those in need."

Coronavirus likely will affect your supply chain — here's what to keep in mind. Getty Images

Houston expert: Here are 3 tips for a resilient supply chain during the coronavirus outbreak

Guest column

Consumers rarely consider the intricacies of managing a cohesive supply chain when the process needed to deliver product to market is free of disruptors. In short, engineering and design work is completed, a bill of materials is established, material is sourced, and product is manufactured.

Manufacturers often expect to easily purchase product off the shelves or online. When external factors come into play that have the potential to disrupt supply chains and the quick availability of product, proper management is even more critical for businesses and their customers.

During my 23 years at Smith, the world's largest open-market distributor of electronic components, I've witnessed various market disruptions and shifting supply chain dynamics. I can confidently say that the coronavirus outbreak is heavily uncharted territory for the technology industry. Mitigating supply chain disruptions during troubling times, however, is familiar to us. Even through uncertainty, I want companies to know that there are many options to keep their supply chains active.

Here are my top three tips for properly managing your supply chain during the coronavirus outbreak:

Assess inventory levels and run outages scenarios

It is important to not only assess your on-hand inventory levels but to quickly gauge the impact and availability of product from key suppliers. As a precaution and to prevent further spread of the virus, many electronic component manufacturing plants in China were shut down for weeks, and some are still running at limited capacity with prominent labor shortages.

Finding out which manufacturers have been shut down or are affected by the virus will help determine lead times and availability requirements. Surveying suppliers is an efficient way to gauge manufacturers' levels of impact and determine your own needs. Bear in mind what possible logistics delays you may encounter when assessing your material levels.

Build contingency plans with alternative sources.

With supply constraints from traditional sources being almost an inevitability, having flexible sourcing options and relationships with key suppliers is a prime strategy for contingency planning.

On top of that, make sure your sourcing partner has put stringent quality procedures in place and is certified to the highest industry standards. Expanding your AVL (approved vendor list) and qualifying other manufacturers will help keep lines running according to forecast.

Ensuring heightened supplier screenings with end-to-end evaluation transparency is even more essential during times of disruption. Trusted, multichannel sourcing capabilities are prime options in the face of the consistently evolving global situation.

Stay vigilant, and work closely with your emergency response team.

Uncertainty will continue to play a major role throughout the outbreak situation. From my experience, staying up to date with the latest news and maintaining frequent communication with both internal and external parties is one of the most proactive approaches to disruptive situations.

Smith's shipping and logistics hubs have mirrored capabilities and are located in Houston, Hong Kong, and Amsterdam, so we have been able to keep our operations running throughout the outbreak. Although Smith's business operations have continued without any shutdowns, the electronics supply chain has been significantly impacted, and disruptions will be felt for some time. The effects of the coronavirus are expected to trickle down to end consumers, as new product introductions for some consumer electronics have been delayed. Reports are even indicating that the supply and availability of technology products during the peak holiday season may be disrupted.

With the millions of components that go into everything from consumer electronics to oil and gas and medical equipment, our industry could see notable shortages in supply throughout the year. I encourage all companies and especially our friends here in Houston to thoroughly evaluate their supply chains. Utilizing these tips to implement a resilient supply chain will help build a strategic business outlook.

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Todd Burke is president at Houston-based Smith and Associates.

GoExpedi's innovative platform makes it easier for oil and gas companies to find important parts and tools. Getty Images

Houston oil and gas startup closes $25M series B round

Money moves

Following its most recent funding round, a Houston e-commerce startup specializing in the oil and gas industry has big plans for growth.

GoExpedi has closed its $25 million series B funding round that was San Francisco-based Top Tier Capital Partners, with Houston-based Blue Bear Capital, Houston-based CSL Ventures, San Francisco-based Crosslink Capital, New York-based Bowery Capital, and other investors contributing too.

Founded in 2017, the e-commerce, supply chain, and analytics company, which closed its $8 million series A in January, is using the funds to up the ante on its growth plans.

"This round of funding allows us to significantly accelerate our geographic expansion across North America as well as globally, further build out our technology platform, and expand our reach from the land drilling market to the offshore, midstream and downstream markets," says Tim Neal, CEO of GoExpedi, in a news release.

"Since announcing our Series A round of financing in January 2019, we have signed several major customers and are expanding to meet their needs across the globe. This also positions us to take on other significant customers as we build out and deliver our unique capabilities as well as a value proposition that is revolutionizing the industry."

The company has over 200,000 parts and supplies on its e-commerce platform for oil and gas companies to have easy access to along with price transparency and supplier choice.

"It is clear that GoExpedi is onto something very unique," says Garth A.L. Timoll, Sr., managing director at Top Tier Capital Partners, in the release. "In our conversations with GoExpedi's customers, they made clear that the significant cost savings, combined with the platform's capability to provide spend transparency, order accuracy and speed, all customized to their workflow processes are providing major benefits to their businesses."

GoExpedi's clients, according to the release, includes over 20 companies with two if the top five drilling contractors in the United States. The platform operates with Amazon-like transparency, optimizing technology to provide tracking and timely delivery.

Photo via goexpedi.com

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Houston startup uses AI and data to predict energy usage across sectors

crystal ball

Among the many complications presented by the coronavirus pandemic is coping with power needs. Movie theaters, malls, schools, and stadiums are among the places where energy use has been uneven at best. And the unevenness promises to continue as a lot of locations turn the lights back on but their operating hours remain in flux.

Houston-based Adapt2 Solutions Inc. believes its software can help energy companies power their way through the pandemic-driven haziness of power demand from commercial and residential customers.

"Today's energy companies need the speed and flexibility that cloud-native technology provides to fully leverage the massive amounts of data available to them," Jason Kram, executive vice president of Adapt2 Solutions, said in a December 2019 release.

Kram says that by capitalizing on artificial intelligence, machine learning, and cloud computing, his company's predictive analytics models forecast unexpected fluctuations in power capacity. Amid the pandemic, this technology enables energy companies to map out demand at a time when they're balancing strained revenue and squeezed spending is paramount, according to Kram.

Armed with this forecast data, Adapt2 Solutions' customers — including utility companies, energy traders, and power generators — can more easily plot power production, sales, and purchases, Kram tells InnovationMap. This data can be applied to conventional power, renewable energy, and battery-stored power.

"In times of disruption, big data can inform decision-making for energy companies to optimize energy-market operations with timely and reliable data," Kram says.

Adapt2 Solutions' load forecasting feature generates the predictive analytics models. This feature is embedded within the company's Adapt2 Bid-to-Bill flagship product, which helps energy companies manage front-office and back-office operations. Its other products are Adapt2 Green, designed for the renewable energy market, and Adapt2 Trade-to-Tag, aimed at improving management of energy trades.

"With Adapt2's AI-enabled solutions, we strive to help more customers focus on their core operations and bring business units together on a single platform to create an integrated approach," Kram says.

The company's customers include Consolidated Edison Inc. (ConEd), Duke Energy Corp., the East Kentucky Electric Cooperative, Exelon Corp., Invenergy LLC, Sempra Energy, the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Tyr Energy LLC, and Vistra Energy Corp.

Adapt2 Solutions employs about 40 people, Kram says, and plans to grow its revenue and headcount by 25 percent to 40 percent this year. He says Adapt2 Solutions has managed to turn a profit even though it hasn't taken any outside funding since Francisco Diaz founded the company in 2008.

In March, Inc. magazine placed Adapt2 Solutions at No. 222 on its inaugural list of the fastest-growing private companies in Texas. The company's revenue shot up 72 percent from 2016 to 2018.

"The growth in our business reflects a growth in our customers' business, further validating that we have taken the right steps to help energy enterprises better respond to market and technology changes," Diaz said in a March release.


Jason Kram is the executive vice president of Adapt2 Solutions. Photo courtesy of Adapt2 Solutions

Here's what challenges — and opportunities — Houston startups are facing amid COVID-19

Houston voices

There are startups struggling to keep their heads above the deluge of a pandemic-induced depression.

Between 2016 and 2018, the global startup economy generated over $3 trillion — a far cry from today's economic value. Today, startups struggle to keep operations running during the pandemic. Web companies throughout Europe have lost close to 400 billion euros during the coronavirus pandemic. Chinese venture capital investing has dipped 50 percent compared to everyone else.

"Startups that are supported by venture capital funds are merely a small part of the startup ecosystem. Startups that don't have venture capital funding, which is the majority of them, stand to lose substantial money during this pandemic-caused shutdown," says Dane Stangler, a business writer for Forbes.

"All across the country, there are startups that, while they may not have hefty venture capital funding, are still significant to the ecosystem because of their job creation," he continues.

These startups face serious setbacks and are expected to see a giant decline of growth during this pandemic. Small businesses are already in a bind because of forced closures and rapidly waning sales.

Far-reaching effects

Startups supported by venture capital have far-reaching effects on the rest of the economy. These high-tech companies generate up to five jobs for every one job they directly create.

"That means that the inevitable economic bodyslam they're about to receive or have already received will be felt by almost every other facet of the job market," explains Stangler.

According to the Startup Genome report, the pandemic will damage startups that were in the process of raising capital and will likely kill the majority of them.

What can be done?

"Federal emergency support for small businesses is certainly the right play here. The deli down the street, the local mechanic, the mom and pop burger joint; they all need help right now," Stangler says.

Tech and science startups need help too — and many of which were in the middle of getting off the ground when the corona crisis crashed the economy.

"Pumping money into them right now is the best thing that can be done to help them in the now."

The low-interest rate climate that has helped boost venture funds has also pushed many startups to survive on debt. We'll have to come to terms with this for now.

"Market momentum isn't necessarily ideal for the time being. Moreover, the "reallocation" forces that you hear entrepreneurs mention a lot has been kiboshed for now," explains Stangler.

Startups struggling to put the pieces of their company back together might see a glimmer of hope on the horizon, though.

Hope is on the horizon

Recessions breed good businesses. Don't believe me? According to the Startup Genome report, over 50 billion dollar tech startups were created during the recession of 2007 to 2009. Fun fact: more than 50 percent of the companies on the Fortune 500 list to date were founded during a recession.

Sure, startups struggling during a national pandemic can paint a demoralizing picture. But there might be some good news peaking through the dark clouds. It's clear that venture capital funding is at a standstill right now. But it could mean that more startups will get funded when things return to somewhat-normal.

The Startup Genome report shows us that during the 2001 and 2009 recessions, the number of companies that were funded by venture capitalists exploded and fast. For example, in the four years after the 2009 recession, the number of venture capital deals spiked by 25 percent every year.

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

Rene Cantu, the author of this piece, is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

Houston accelerator leader shares how the cohort has seen success through virtual programming

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 34

In January, when Eléonore Cluzel was named the director of gBETA Houston, she had no clue Houston's first cohort of the international, early-stage accelerator would be conducted virtually. Now, five weeks in, the program and its five startups have adapted to provide programming and mentorship online only.

"Going virtual was a really good pivot on our end. I think that the cohort has adjusted very well," Cluzel says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It is tough. They put tremendous effort into it and I'm proud to be working with them."

Last week, gBETA Houston announced the five companies currently in the program. And, Cluzel is already excited about the second cohort, which opens applications after the first cohort's virtual pitch night on June 18. Cluzel says in light of how many applications she got for the first time around, she knows there's a lot of impact gBETA can make in Houston,

"I was really quite surprised — in a good way — how the first application round was really competitive," Cluzel says, "which shows that there is a lot of room to grow for accelerators in town."

Cluzel shares some of the challenges and opportunities gBETA Houston has seen throughout this time, and introduces each of the companies in the cohort, which represents sports tech, consumer tech, and more. Listen to the full interview with Cluzel below — or wherever you get your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.