Divorce is never easy, but here's how to navigate it with your business in mind. Photo via Pexels

We all hoped that, once the pandemic had waned, we would return to a more normal, predictable economy, but it seems that we are confronted now with even more unpredictability in what economists have dubbed the “uncertainty economy.” Very few people are able to choose the best time to divorce on the basis of finances, but the current environment can make evaluating the worth of stock options, a closely held business or even real estate highly challenging.

For one thing, the pandemic itself lingers. Some businesses—bicycle manufacturers and bicycle shops, for instance—experienced boom times during the pandemic. Other businesses—restaurants and businesses at tourist locations, for instance—suffered greatly, limped along, or even closed for good. Now, instead of settling into a steady hum again, our economy is coping with inflation, the rising cost of labor, supply chain tangles, and the ripple effects of the war in Ukraine and sanctions against Russia. The situation is still fluid. What works today may not work well tomorrow. What doesn’t look promising today may be much more successful tomorrow.

In a divorce case in which significant financial assets are involved that are community property, a family lawyer will bring in a trusted professional business or property evaluator—whatever is appropriate for the particular situation. Evaluating a closely held business is often the most difficult issue—more difficult than, say, dividing the value of real estate or stock in a publicly traded company. Three different methods can be applied to a business valuation: the market approach, the income approach, and the asset approach. The business evaluator will judge which to use, singly or in combination.

Much will depend on the ownership agreement as expressed in formation documents, whether the owners be investors, business partners or family members. These documents generally provide in some way for what will occur in the case of a divorce or a death. Generally, co-owners do not want to have to deal with an inexperienced ex-spouse or widow/widower who abruptly becomes part-owner of the business or practice (in the case of a doctor or lawyer in a partnership). The spouse who is in the business also has to consider tax issues and his or her fiduciary duty to other owners. And courts are not allowed to simply give corporate assets or debts to one party or the other in a divorce.

Generally the spouse involved in the closely held business will have three choices available: continue to own the business with the ex-spouse (maybe they already work together and have a decent working relationship), sell the business and divide the profits, or offset the value of the business ownership with other property if other assets are available. In Texas, “personal goodwill” as part of a business is not community property. It attaches to the person who created it. But the business may have “enterprise goodwill”--the value of the business apart from the individual owner--which may be community property.

None of this addresses the issue of the fluidity in the current economy. Divorce agreements can allow for that in the form of contingency agreements. For example, a business owner may be dealing with a specific potential liability. The divorce agreement may provide that, for a given period of time, the business owner is allowed to set aside a certain amount of money to address the liability if it arises. If it does not arise, after a certain period of time, the money will be divided between the two former spouses. Or let’s say a business asset with limited liability or future involvement that is part of community property may be sold in the future. A divorce agreement can provide that, if the asset is sold, the profits will be shared. Clawback provisions can be included, as well, to provide for future adjustments. This will require extraordinary drafting skill.

There is another option as well and that is to wait for more settled times. But the two spouses may have radically opposed views as to the “best” time for the divorce. The spouse who earns less may want to divorce when community property values are at their highest; the other spouse will want to split when community property values are at their lowest. In either case, they would do well to consult experts in family law and business valuation experts before deciding on when to set a divorce in motion.

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Susan Myres is a Houston-based, board-certified family law attorney at Myres & Associates and has over 35 years of experience.

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Early-stage accelerator returns to Houston, announces finalists

prepare for take-off

CodeLaunch, a traveling seed-stage accelerator, is returning to Houston for its latest cohort.

The startup competition sponsored by software development company Improving will have its ultimate showdown on February 28. The final competition pairs six startups with six startup consulting companies.

Jason W. Taylor, CodeLaunch president and founder, says CodeLaunch isn’t your typical startup showcase, as it incorporates music acts, comedy, and crowd networking. Mirroring the set-up of a TV show, the six finalists all present their working products in front of an audience amid these performances.

“I would describe CodeLaunch as the next generation of venture-tainment in North America and the greatest startup show on earth,” Taylor explains.

The 2024 Houston CodeLaunch participant startups — and their mentor partners — are as follows:

Prior to pitch day, all six teams will receive hands-on instruction from CodeLaunch mentors on how to construct their pitches and free professional software development from their partners. Taylor says the strong relationships between CodeLaunch and these developers played a major role in setting the competition in Houston.

“We love Houston and we’re back for a third year in a row because the Houston startup ecosystem works together better than other major startup ecosystems I’ve seen,” Taylor says. “We have some great software development partners in Houston that are building code for those startups.”

Last year, Houston-based startup Energy360, with the mentorship and help of Honeycomb Software, took home the Championship belt and a $100,000 investment offer from Cyrannus VC fund for their energy management system Matt Bonasera, Energy360’s enterprise architect, says he is grateful for the entrepreneurial community CodeLaunch provides, in particular the team’s mentor Oleg Lysiak, Honeycomb VP of Partnerships and Business Development.

“I happened along this great community of people who are really passionate about supporting each other,” Bonasera says.

Lysiak agrees that CodeLaunch is an ideal opportunity for young entrepreneurs looking to hone their skills and expand their product capabilities. Lysiak says he is looking forward to defending Honeycomb’s title as top consultant development team.

“My whole philosophy is to connect people and have different collisions and collaborations,” Lysiak says.

Houston startup completes testing, prepares biosimilar insulin drug for clinical trials

next steps

A Houston biotech startup is one step closer to releasing its marquee drug for the global insulin market, which is projected to break the $90 billion threshold by 2029.

rBIO says it recently completed testing of the properties of R-biolin, an insulin drug that’s biologically identical to Novo Nordisk’s Novolin drug. The patent for Novolin about two decades ago. In March 2023, the Dutch drugmaker announced it was slashing the list price of Novolin by 65 percent to $48.20 per vial and $91.09 per FlexPen.

Executives at rBIO are now pursuing a partnership with a contract research organization to manage clinical trials of R-biolin. If those trials go well, R-biolin will seek approval to supply its insulin therapy to diabetes patients around the world.

Washington University in St. Louis is rBIO’s academic partner for the R-biolin project.

The rBIO platform produces insulin at greater yields that traditional manufacturing techniques do. The company is striving to drive down the cost of insulin by 30 percent.

About 38 million Americans have diabetes, with the vast majority being treated for type 2 diabetes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many people with diabetes must take insulin to control their blood sugar levels.

Research company iHealthcareAnalyst predicts the global market for insulin will surpass the $90 billion mark in 2029.

“There has been a lot of talk in the media about reducing the cost of insulin for diabetic patients, but what is often overlooked is that the domestic demand for insulin will soon outpace the supply, leading to a new host of issues,” Cameron Owen, co-founder and CEO of rBIO, says in a news release.

“We’re dedicated to addressing the growing demand for accessible insulin therapies, and … we’re thrilled to announce the viability of our highly scalable manufacturing process.”

Professionals from the University of California San Diego and Johns Hopkins University established rBIO in 2020. The startup moved its headquarters from San Diego to Houston in 2022.

CEO Cameron Owen and Chief Scientific Officer Deenadayalan Bakthavatsalam work on insulin purification in the Houston lab. Photo courtesy

How AI is changing product management and what you need to know

guest column

For the past 14 months, everyone has been talking about ways artificial intelligence is changing the world, and product management is not an exception. The challenge, as with every new technology, is not only adopting it but understanding what old habits, workflows, and processes are affected by it.

Product managers — as well as startup founders leading a product function — more than any other role, face a challenge of bringing new life-changing products to market that may or may not be received well by their users. A product manager’s goal is complex — bring value, stay ahead of the competition, be innovative. Yet, the "behind the scenes" grind requires endless decision making and trade offs to inspire stakeholders to move forward and deliver.

As we dive into 2024, it is obvious that AI tools do not only transform the way we work but also help product managers create products that exceed customer expectation and drive businesses forward.

Market research and trends analysis

As product managers, we process enormous amounts of market data — from reviewing global and industry trend analysis, to social media posts, predictions, competition, and company goals. AI, however, can now replace hours, if not days, of analyzing massive amounts of data in an instant, revealing market trends, anticipating needs, and foreseeing what's coming next. As a result, it is easier to make effective product decisions and identify new market opportunities.

Competitive analysis

Constantly following competitors, reviewing their new releases, product updates, or monitoring reviews to identify competitor strengths and weaknesses is an overwhelming and time consuming task. With AI, you can quickly analyze competitors’ products, pricing, promotions, and feedback. You can easily compare multiple attributes, including metrics, and identify gaps and areas for improvement — all the insights that are otherwise much harder to reveal quickly and efficiently.

Customer and product discovery

Of course, the most intuitive use case that comes to mind is the adoption of AI in product and customer discovery. For example:

  • Use AI for customer segmentation and persona creation to help visualize personas, prioritize user motivations and expectations, and uncover hidden behavior and needs. You can then create and simplify customer questionnaires for interviews and user groups and target customers more accurately.
  • Analyze quantitative and qualitative data from surveys, support tickets, reviews, and in-person interviews to identify pain points and unmet user needs and help prioritize features for future updates and releases.

Roadmap and sprint management

AI provides value in simplifying roadmap planning and sprint management. Resource optimization is often a gruesome task and AI can help with feature prioritization and resource allocation. It helps teams focus on critical work and increase their productivity. You can even analyze and manage dependencies and improve results across multiple sprints months in advance.

Prototyping and mockup generation

There is no product manager’s routine without multiple mockups, wireframes, and prototypes that explain concepts and collect feedback among stakeholders. AI has become a critical tool in simplifying this process and bringing ideas to life from concept to visualization.

Today, you can use textual or voice descriptions to instantly create multiple visuals with slight variations, run A/B tests and gather valuable feedback at the earliest stage of a product life cycle.

Job search and job interviews

Consider it as a bonus but one of the less obvious but crucial advantages of AI is using it in job search. With the vulnerable and unstable job market, especially for product roles, AI is a valuable assistant. From getting the latest news and updates on a company you want to join, to summarizing insights on the executive team, or company goals, compiling lists of interview questions, and running mock interviews, AI has become a non-judgmental assistant in a distressing and often discouraging job search process.

Use AI to draft cold emails to recruiters and hiring managers, compare your skills to open positions’ requirements, identify gaps, and outline ideas for test assignments.

We already know that AI is not a hype; it is here to stay. However, remember that customers do not consume AI, they consume your product for its value. Customers care whether your product gets their need, solves their problem, and makes their lives easier. The goal of a product manager is to create magic combining human brain capabilities and latest technology. And the best result is with a human at the core of any product.

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Natasha Gorodetsky is the founder and CEO of Product Pursuits, a Houston company that helps early stage and venture-backed startups build products and create impact.