3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Veronica Wu of First Bight Ventures, BJ Schaknowski of symplr, and Mikyoung Jun of the University of Houston. Courtesy photos

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know — the first of this new year — I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from health care innovation to energy — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Veronica Wu, founder of First Bight Ventures

Veronica Wu, who moved to Houston from Silicon Valley last year, has launched a new venture capital firm to help accelerate synthetic biology startups. Photo courtesy of First Bight Ventures

Veronica Wu is a relative newcomer to Houston. She made the move from Silicon Valley to the Bayou City in the middle of 2021. Wu has announced the launch of First Bight Ventures, a new VC firm focused exclusively on early-stage synthetic biology startups, and based right here in Houston. She plans to leverage the local market to incubate these startups locally, according to the release.

“Houston is well positioned to become a major center for synthetic biology with its existing talent, industries, and capital," she says.

Wu has over 20 years of experience in managerial positions at tech companies like Apple, Tesla, and Motorola, and she served as a founding team member of McKinsey & Company’s Greater China office's business technology practice. Click here to read more.

BJ Schaknowski, CEO of symplr

Houston-based symplr has made another strategic acquisition as it grows its software offerings to its health care clients. Image via symplr.com

Houston-based symplr, which provides software solutions for governance, risk management, and compliance and is backed by California-based Clearlake Capital Group L.P. and Massachusetts-based Charlesbank Capital Partners, announced last week that it will acquire Midas Health Analytics Solutions.

Symplr will acquire the Midas platform, which provides users with operations efficiency via data analytics, from New Jersey-based Conduent Incorporated (Nasdaq: CNDT). The deal, valued at $340 million, is expected to close in the first quarter of 2022.

"Midas Health Analytics Solutions brings actionable data and insights to help symplr's health system clients improve patient care and deliver better outcomes," says BJ Schaknowski, CEO of symplr, in a news release. "With integrated quality outcomes and machine learning-based advanced analytics, our combined compliance, quality and safety software portfolio can better predict patient specific risks, deliver population health insights, and proactively improve and support business intelligence performance further advancing symplr's mission of transforming healthcare operations." Click here to read more.

Mikyoung Jun, ConocoPhillips professor of data science at the UH College of Natural Science and Mathematics

A new UH-led program will work with energy corporations to prepare the sector's future workforce. Photo via UH.edu

The Data Science for Energy Transition project, which is funded through 2024 by a $1.49 million grant from the National Science Foundation, includes participation from UH, the University of Houston-Downtown, the University of Houston-Victoria, the University of Houston-Clear Lake, and Sam Houston State University.

At the helm of the initiative is principal investigator Mikyoung Jun, ConocoPhillips professor of data science at the UH College of Natural Science and Mathematics.

“It’s obvious that the Houston area is the capital for the energy field. We are supporting our local industries by presenting talented students from the five sponsoring universities and other Texas state universities with the essential skills to match the growing needs within those data science workforces,” Jun says in the release. “We’re planning all functions in a hybrid format so students located outside of Houston, too, can join in.” Click here to read more.

Houston-based symplr has made another strategic acquisition as it grows its software offerings to its health care clients. Image via symplr.com

Houston health tech company makes $340M deal to acquire analytics biz​​

m&a moves

A tech-enabled Houston health care operations business has announced another strategic acquisition that would close before the end of the quarter.

Houston-based symplr, which provides software solutions for governance, risk management, and compliance and is backed by California-based Clearlake Capital Group L.P. and Massachusetts-based Charlesbank Capital Partners, announced this week that it will acquire Midas Health Analytics Solutions. Symplr will acquire the Midas platform, which provides users with operations efficiency via data analytics, from New Jersey-based Conduent Incorporated (Nasdaq: CNDT). The deal, valued at $340 million, is expected to close in the first quarter of 2022.

"Midas Health Analytics Solutions brings actionable data and insights to help symplr's health system clients improve patient care and deliver better outcomes," says BJ Schaknowski, CEO of symplr, in a news release. "With integrated quality outcomes and machine learning-based advanced analytics, our combined compliance, quality and safety software portfolio can better predict patient specific risks, deliver population health insights, and proactively improve and support business intelligence performance further advancing symplr's mission of transforming healthcare operations."

Midas brings to the table a vast data warehouse with over 100 million claims and 30,000 indicators, according to the release, and comparative data from an estimated 800 hospitals.

"As part of our strategy to streamline our portfolio, we consider divestitures of select businesses in order to enhance shareholder and client value." says Cliff Skelton, Conduent president and CEO, in the release. "We believe this is a mutually beneficial transaction and we are focused on providing a seamless transition for our clients. We are committed to delivering robust business process solutions to all industries, including the healthcare industry."

Symplr has been on a bit of a roll when it comes to acquisitions. In March, InnovationMap reported that the SaaS company acquired Phynd Technologies, and symplr went on to acquire another handful of companies throughout 2021. Looking back, symplr has made over a dozen acquisitions and was recognized among the fastest-growing tech companies by Deloitte in 2020.

"The Midas acquisition further strengthens symplr's comprehensive healthcare operations SaaS solutions that enable hospitals and health systems to efficiently navigate the complexities of integrating critical business operations," says Behdad Eghbali, co-founder and managing partner of Clearlake, which acquired symplr in 2018. "We look forward to supporting the company as it continues driving industry consolidation and accelerating organic growth through our O.P.S. value creation framework."

Houston-based symplr has acquired a Dallas SaaS company as it grows its software offerings to its health care clients. Image via symplr.com

Houston health care SaaS company makes strategic acquisition

keep it symplr

A Houston-based health tech company is on an acquisition roll — it's latest deal marks the 11th acquisition in six years.

Software-as-a-service company symplr, which makes health care governance, risk management, and compliance software, has acquired Dallas-based data management SaaS company, Phynd Technologies. Symplr, which is backed by Clearlake Capital Group L.P. and SkyKnight Capital, did not disclose the terms of the transaction.

Symplr's burst of M&A activity spurs from the growing company's mission of providing end-to-end healthcare GRC portfolio, according to a news release. Phynd's platform manages data to provider profiles, locations, clinical expertise, availability, and health plan and network participation.

"Delivering new and significant ongoing value to our customers is integral to symplr's mission. Bringing Phynd into the symplr family helps us further deliver on that promise," says BJ Schaknowski, CEO of symplr, in the news release. "Phynd will integrate with our existing provider software solutions to create an end-to-end provider data management platform for hospitals, health systems, and payers that is unmatched in the healthcare industry today. We're excited to continue leading the healthcare GRC industry with innovative solutions that drive meaningful change."

Phynd was founded in 2012 and raised its $8 million series B in January 2019, according to Crunchbase.

"In the digital healthcare era, organizations must manage their providers and locations as searchable products that are accessible by consumers, referring providers and staff, and care delivery and revenue cycle teams. The combination of symplr and Phynd offers a unique, holistic provider data management offering that includes all providers, locations and virtual visits, helping healthcare organizations become more efficient and competitive," says Tom White, CEO of Phynd, in the release.

"symplr now offers the most robust and scalable central hub of continuously-curated credentialed and referring provider data. We are enthusiastic about executing as one organization and jointly expanding symplr's market leadership," he continues.

The Phynd acquisition is the sixth since symplr formed its partnership with private equity firms Clearlake and SkyKnight in 2018. Based in Santa Monica and Dallas, Clearlake is focused on software solutions across industries and currently has approximately $30 billion of assets under management. San Francisco-based SkyKnight Capital manages over $1.5 billion of PE capital and invests in healthcare, insurance, and business services.

Last year, symplr was named to Deloitte's 26th annual North America Technology Fast 500.The companies on the list were selected based on percentage fiscal year revenue growth from 2016 to 2019. The company came in at No. 426 on the national list with 221 percent growth.

Four Houston-based companies have been ranked among the country's fastest growing tech businesses. Photo via Getty Images

4 Houston companies make fastest-growing tech biz list

H-town representing

In a newly released annual ranking, four Houston-based technology companies scored spots.

Deloitte's 26th annual North America Technology Fast 500 is an annual ranking of the fastest-growing North American companies across tech sectors. The companies on the list were selected based on percentage fiscal year revenue growth from 2016 to 2019. The Houston companies that made the top 500 were:

  • No. 37 (5,881 percent growth): Enercross — An oil and gas logistics software company.
  • No. 190 (641 percent growth): Onit — A B2B software company that designs streamlining solutions.
  • No. 328 (306 percent growth): Lexicon Pharmaceuticals Inc. — A biopharmaceutical company developing treatments for diseases.
  • No. 426 (221 percent growth): Vendor Credentialing Services (aka symplr)— A tech platform that simplifies vendor services, compliance, and more for health professionals.

"The varied industries represented in this year's local Fast 500 winners is evidence of Houston's positive momentum in diversifying its core competencies beyond the energy sector," says Amy Chronis, Houston managing partner at Deloitte, in the release. "Innovation continues to be the driving force behind our city's evolution, and the Fast 500 winners are helping spur its progress. They inspire and provide a glimpse into our future."

According to the release, the 2020 Technology Fast 500 companies achieved revenue growth ranging from 175 percent to 106,508 percent over the three-year time frame, with a median growth rate of 450 percent.

Silicon Valley-based companies dominated the list, accounting for the top three companies as well as 20 percent of the entire list. The second largest region represented was New York, with 13 percent of the list.

In terms of sector, software has the biggest hold on the ranking with 71 percent of the companies being categorized in that realm, which is the highest percentage Deloitte has ever seen in this study.

The report also looked ate venture backing and found that this year 81 percent of the 500 fastest-growing tech companies received venture funding, which includes, according to the release, 26 of the top 30 companies.

"Each year the Technology Fast 500 listing validates how important technology innovation is to our daily lives. It was interesting to see this year that while software companies continued to dominate, biotech companies rose to the top of the winners list for the first time, demonstrating that new categories of innovation are accelerating in the pursuit of making life easier, safer and more productive," says Mohana Dissanayake, partner at Deloitte, in the release. "We extend our congratulations to these well-deserved winners — who all embody a spirit of curiosity, and a never-ending commitment to making technology advancements possible."

The East End Maker Hub receives a huge grant, Chevron commits to two tech companies, and more in this Houston innovation news roundup. Courtesy of The East End Maker Hub

City council approves $24M for East End hub, TMCx opens apps, and more Houston innovation news

Short stories

Houston is busting at the seams with innovation news as the ecosystem prepares to wrap up its year of growth. From grants and M&A activity to expansions and awards, there's a lot of news you may have missed.

In this latest news roundup, millions of federal funds are doled out, a female networking app commits to Houston, an accelerator launches applications, and more.

Makerspace in the East End to receive $24 million in federal funds

The East End Maker Hub

The East End Maker Hub plans to move tenants in next summer. Courtesy of TXRX

Last week, the Houston City Council voted in approval of $24 million in federal funds going toward a makerspace in the East End. The renovated 307,000-square-foot East End Maker Hub will be a place for education, training, and small-batch manufacturing.

The project is a collaboration between Urban Partnerships Community Development Corp., or UP CDC, and TXRX Lab, which will occupy around 60,000 square feet in the facility. The rest of the space will be leased out to startups.

The $37 million project is also being funded by a $5 million grant from the Economic Development Association, $7 million from New Market Tax Credits, and around $1.25 of TXRX's funds, including funds the nonprofit raised in donations.

The new facility is expected to create over 400 jobs, reach 14,000 young people annually, and support 100 small urban manufacturers, including 20 startups. The purchase close is planned for this month, and construction will begin next month. The first tenants are slated to move in next summer.

TMCx opens applications for redesigned accelerator program

The revamped TMCx program is accepting applications until December 13. Courtesy of TMC

Applications for the Texas Medical Center Innovation Institute's new and improved accelerator program are open for the spring 2020 cohort. Life science startups from around the world can apply online.

After celebrating five years of digital health and medical device startup acceleration, TMCx announced its team had been working to rethink the program to make it more something TMC's member institutions can benefit from.

Themes for the upcoming cohort include remote monitoring, virtual care, hospital efficiency, accessibility, and ideating for the clinics and operating rooms of the future.

Applications close on December 13, and finalists for an in-person bootcamp will be announced by the end of January for the two-week program from February 24 to March 6. After the program, TMCx will select the cohort members on March 20. The program then will run five sessions from April to August before a showcase slated for September.

Chevron Technology Ventures makes two strategic investments

Chevron Technology Ventures, lead by CEO Barbara Burger, has committed to two California-based companies. Courtesy of CTV

Chevron's Houston-based tech investment arm, Chevron Technology Ventures, made two moves recently. Silicon Valley-based NovoNutrients was invited to join the CTV Catalyst Program and Palo Alto, California-based Orbital Insight closed a recent round with help from CTV.

NuroNutrients, which has developed a way to create proteins through carbon capture, is the first biotech company to join CTV's Catalyst Program. The program will help advance the company's technology through market validating opportunities like pilot programs.

Orbital Insight, a geospatial analytics software company, closed its series D funding round at $50 million. The round was led by Sequoia Capital and Clearvision Ventures with contribution from CTV, as well as from Invicta Growth, Bunge Ventures Ltd, Goldman Sachs, Tech Pioneers Fund, and others. The company has raised over $125 million of funding since its founding in 2013.

Houston SaaS company makes acquisition

Coworking Space

A Houston company specializing in digital workplace software solutions has made a strategic acquisition following an exit to private equity. Getty Images

Houston-based iOFFICE, a software-as-a-service company providing solutions in the digital workplace experience, recently acquired Canadian management software entity, Hippo CMMS.

"Incorporating Hippo's solution into iOFFICE's broader application suite is a logical next stage in our company's evolution," says Mark Peterson, CEO of iOFFICE, in a news release. "As one of the leading native SaaS, asset management systems on the market today, Hippo is an ideal fit to join our brand. Their culture is very much like our own - they're strong and they move fast. Their offerings are robust, agile and they share our passion for disrupting the market with solutions that are unlike any other."

iOFFICE was recently acquired by Chicago-based private equity, Waud Capital, which has opened doors for the company to grow at a rapid pace.

Two Houston companies rank on Deloitte's annual Technology Fast 500 list

Two Houston companies made Deloitte's international list of growing tech companies. Shobeir Ansari/Getty Images

Two Houston companies have secured spots on Deloitte's annual Technology Fast 500 annual Technology Fast 500. Onit came in at No. 249, and symplr just made the list at No. 495. In its 25th year, the list represents the fastest-growing tech, media, life science, energy tech, and telecommunications companies from around the world.

The top company on the list was New York-based UiPath, which also has a large office in Houston. The company reported 37,458 percent growth. The 500 companies represent 41 states and provinces in North America, and Silicon Valley companies made up 19 percent of the list. New York City companies held on to 12 percent of the list, the New England region comprised 8 percent of the list, Washington D.C. companies were 7 percent of the list, and Los Angeles companies represented 5 percent of the 500 companies.


HerHeadquarters app plans to launch in Houston ahead of relocation

herheadquarters

HerHeadquarters is rolling out its app locally ahead of relocating to Houston. Courtesy of HerHeadquarters

Female-founded, female-focused tech company, HerHeadquarters, has plans to relocate its business operations to Houston — but first, it's rolling out its app to local female executives. The app plans to go live for the over 103,000 female CEOs in Houston on November 25.

The app's user experience is focused on making digital connections between women-run organizations. The app is live in Los Angeles, Miami, and New York City and is expected to launch simultaneously in San Francisco.

"These collaborations give them the power to increase revenue, company exposure, and expand their territory. We're excited Houston women entrepreneurs get to experience a faster and easier way to secure powerful partnerships, " says founder and CEO of HerHeadquarters, Carina Glover, in a news release.

HighRadius expands to Amsterdam

The Houston-based SaaS company is opening its fourth office to support its growth in Europe. Photo via highradius.com

Houston-based HighRadius Corp., a growing fintech software-as-a-service company, has announced a new office in Amsterdam just three years after opening its London office. Since entering the European market, the region has seen a 400 percent increase in bookings. The company, which has its headquarters in West Houston, also has an office in India.

"Automating order-to-cash and treasury management is a problem that transcends borders," says Sashi Narahari, founder and CEO of HighRadius, in a news release. "Building on the recent addition of Jon Keating as our general manager for EMEA, we continue to invest aggressively in the European market with the opening of our Amsterdam office."

Fannin Innovation Studio granted $2 million for new study

microscope

Getty Images

Houston-based Fannin Innovation Studio has received a $2,000,000 Phase II Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Institute of Health. The grant is for the development of the ChorioAnchor device, which is designed to reduce preterm birth and infections in fetal surgery.

The device is being developed in partnership with Fannin, Texas Children's Hospital, Baylor College of Medicine, and Texas A&M University. The grant will be delivered over the next two years to devlop the device for pre-clinical and clinical testing.

"The ChorioAnchor has the potential to reduce these complications by providing mechanical support to the chorioamniotic membranes following fetal surgery, thus reducing the risk for chorioamniotic separation and PPROM," says Dr. Jimmy Espinoza of Texas Children's and BCM in a news release. "The additional support from the NICHD in the form of a Phase II SBIR grant will significantly help in refining the ChorioAnchor device with the objective of obtaining an investigational device exemption from the FDA to evaluate the efficacy and safety of the device in fetal surgeries."

Zibrio named honoree at CES Innovation Awards

The Zibrio SmartScale received national recognition at CES this year. Courtesy of Zibrio

Houston-based Zibrio, which developed a scale for measuring balance, has been named an honoree for CES Innovation Awards. The company has been invited to exhibit in the 2020 showcase.

Zibrio, founded in 2015 by Katharine Forth and Erez Lieberman Aiden, has a technology that came out of the founders' research at NASA. The medical device allows users to keep track of their balancing abilities as its convenient for them, and is especially helpful for the aging population.

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Early-stage startup accelerator names latest Houston cohort, new local leader

new to Hou

A national startup accelerator has announced its fifth local cohort, which includes five Houston companies participating in the spring 2022 class.

Madison, Wisconsin-based gener8tor has announced today the five participating startups in gBETA Houston. The program will be led by Muriel Foster, the newly named director of gBETA Houston, which originally launched in Houston in 2020 thanks to a grant from from the Downtown Redevelopment Authority.

The program, which is designed to help guide early-stage startups find early customer traction, connect with mentors, and more, is based in the Downtown Launchpad, and is free and does not take equity in the participating companies. The cohort kicked off on April 21 and concludes on June 10.

The new cohort includes:

  • Founded by CEO Steffie Thomson a year ago, Getaway Sticks has designed a shoe that gives women the painless support they need using athletic foam to create a shoe that gives women the painless support they need. Getaway Sticks provides the solutions to women’s #1 wardrobe complaint of high heel pain. Since launch, the company has earned over $35,000 in revenue from over 150 customers.
  • Through a combination of software and hardware technology, LocBox is rethinking the shopping experience for online and local purchases. If you shop, ship, or have food delivered to your house, LocBox will make your life easier. Led by CEO Sterling Sansing, LocBox has previously participated in the Texas A&M MBA Venture Challenge.
  • SpeakHaus is focused on equipping young professionals and entrepreneurs with public speaking skills through its on-demand training platform and group coaching program. Since launching in October 2021, SpeakHaus has facilitated 6 corporate trainings and coached 61 business leaders generating over $49,000 in revenue. The company is led by CEO Christa Clarke.
  • Led by CEO LaGina Harris, The Us Space is creating spaces intentionally for women of color, women-led businesses, and women-centric organizations. Since launching in June 2021, The Us Space has created partnerships with more than a dozen community organizations, sustainable businesses, and organizations creating positive economic impact in the City of Houston.
  • Founded in August 2021, Urban Eatz Delivery is a food delivery service app that caters to the overlooked and underrepresented restaurants, food trucks, and home-based food vendors. Urban Eatz Delivery has earned over $88,000 in revenue, delivered to over 2,000 users, and worked with 36 restaurant and food vendors on the app. The company is led by CEO D’Andre Good.

“The five companies selected for the Spring 2022 cohort tackle unique problems that have propelled them to create a business that solves the issues they once faced," Foster says in a news release. "From public speaking, apparel comfort, and food delivery from underrepresented restaurant owners, these founders have found their niche and are ready to continue to make an enormous impact on the Houston ecosystem."

it's Foster's first cohort at the helm of the program. A Houston native, she has her master’s in public administration from Texas Southern University and a bachelor’s in marketing from Oklahoma State University. Her background includes work in the nonprofit sector and international business consulting in Cape Town, South Africa, and she's worked within programming at organizations such as MassChallenge, BLCK VC, and now gener8tor.

The program is housed at the Downtown Launchpad. The five startups will have access to the space to meet with mentors, attend events, and run their companies.

"Creating (the hub) was a little like a moonshot, but it’s paying off and contributing enormous impact to the city’s economy. The five startups selected for the gBETA Houston Spring cohort will continue that legacy,” says Robert Pieroni, director of economic development at Central Houston Inc., in the release. “As these entrepreneurs chase their dreams and create something epic, they will know Downtown Houston is standing behind them. I am so proud of what Downtown Launchpad is already, and what it will become.”

Muriel Foster, a native Houstonian, is the new director of gBETA Houston. Image via LinkedIn

Vote now for your favorite 2022 Houston science teacher

Rewarding the Spark

Since 2019, alliantgroup and the Houston Independent School District have been partnering for the SPARK Award, a program that rewards outstanding HISD science teachers who are increasing student engagement and achievement through innovative lesson plans that emphasize both the importance and fun aspects of science.

The overall winner receives a $3,500 personal award plus $500 for their classroom, and the other five finalists receive $1,300 each plus another $500 to spend on their classrooms.

Get to know this year's crop of nominees below, then be sure to cast your vote once a day here until May 25.

After working for three years as an accountant, Lynell Dillard taught a weekly finance class where her students became her inspiration to pursue a full-time career in the classroom.

She secured her first teaching position in 2002 and hasn’t looked back. For three years now, she has been teaching science and giving her students hands-on learning opportunities they may not experience outside of the classroom.

Dillard explains that for many of her students, her role as a teacher is to give them as many opportunities to interact with the natural environment as possible. She knows many of her students and their families would not have access to these resources if it were not for the school district.

"We all learn in a different way, so we have to be willing to help that other person if they don’t get what I get, and there’s no criticism in it," Dillard says. "I tell them they are my future. Every single part of your education is important."


"Before I went to foster care, I was not doing well in my education," Ruth Giles says. "My foster mom, Nancy, took the time to figure out how I learned. She figured out I’m good with memorization, flashcards, and practicing. I would not be here without her today."

Sadly, Nancy passed away in January from COVID-19. Now, more than ever, it’s important to Giles that she continue sharing her experiences with her students to keep Nancy’s legacy alive.

Giles says the best part of teaching fifth-grade science is helping her students view the world in a different way, just like Nancy did for her.


Melanie Jenkins has been a fifth grade ESL teacher at Katherine Smith Elementary School for three years, but first got started in substitute teaching. She then went on to fulfill her childhood dream of working in finance, but found it wasn’t all she thought it would be.

"I still had in the back of my mind these kids whose lives I touched and who remembered me and understood what I was trying to teach them," she says.

Now she can't imagine doing anything else. It's challenging that many of her students are learning English for the first time, but she focuses on vocabulary and giving them resources in both English and Spanish is key, along with truly forming relationships with them.

“I try to figure out who likes what and how I can bring that into the classroom,” says Jenkins. “If you are a hands-on learner, we have the opportunities to put our hands on things. If you are a project-based learner, you have the opportunity to do projects. So there’s no one size fits all.”


According to science teacher Mimi Muñoz, STEM education is important but learning to be kind should be first in any classroom environment.

She also works hard to get her fifth-grade students engaged in their lessons and understand why science is important to their everyday lives.

“They get so excited to do hands-on activities, experiments, and projects,” Muñoz explains. “One thing I really want them to understand is that you need learning every day of your life. And learning science, as well as the world around us, is their real life. The things I’m teaching you [in the classroom] are important.”

Muñoz has been teaching for three years and spent her entire career at Seguin Elementary. She says the last two years were very tough on her students because of the pandemic, but despite virtual learning, it has only strengthened the way she connects to her students.


An educator of 17 years, Gerjuan O’Neal is following in her family’s footsteps.

"My maternal grandmother was a second and third grade teacher, and my maternal grandfather was a high school government teacher," she says. "My great-aunt was an elementary teacher and then a homebound teacher. My favorite thing is that I teach kindergarten through fifth grade, so every day is different."

She loves teaching STEM to her students because they can see how it applies to the other subjects they are also learning in school.

"I really like for my students to be creative problem solvers, and I like to show them all the different components of STEM," O’Neal explains. "If we are doing a science technology map, everything fits together. If we do a Lego build, we’re doing estimating with numbers. If we are coding, they get to see where math is involved and where they must be critical thinkers."


Although this is her first year teaching at Bonner Elementary School, Leticia Sifuentes is a veteran of the classroom with 24 years of experience.

Her favorite part about teaching is seeing her students become just as passionate about science as she is.

“I tell my students I’m a science nerd. We watch a movie — where’s the science? We go somewhere — where’s the science? They’re able to bring science to everything they talk about. It’s in reading, it’s in math, it’s just the way we can incorporate science in everyday life.”

Sifuentes was named an honorable mention teacher for alliantgroup’s 2019 SPARK Award, but three years later she says she is a better educator after working through the challenges of a pandemic and virtual learning. She now realizes that as an educator it is not only her responsibility to ensure her students are performing well academically but also emotionally, socially, and mentally.

CAST YOUR VOTE ONCE A DAY HERE before May 25.

Houston ranks as No. 3 city for Asian American entrepreneurs

diverse city

Known for its diversity, Houston ranks as the third best major metro area in the U.S. for Asian American entrepreneurs, according to a new study.

Personal finance website SmartAsset analyzed data for 52 of the largest metro areas to come up with the ranking. The analysis looked at nine metrics in three categories: prevalence of Asian-owned businesses, success of new businesses, and income and job security.

About 9 percent of the Houston metro area’s residents identify as Asian.

The SmartAsset study puts Houston in fifth place for the number of Asian-owned businesses (nearly 19,900) and in fourth place for the share of Asian-owned businesses (almost 17.9 percent) among all businesses. Furthermore, Houston ranks 14th for the increase (nearly 9.6 percent) in the number of Asian-owned businesses from 2017 to 2019.

Leading the SmartAsset list is the San Francisco metro area, followed by Dallas-Fort Worth. Austin comes in at No. 11 and San Antonio at No. 14.

The largest minority-owned business in the Houston area, as ranked by annual revenue, is Asian-owned private equity firm ZT Corporate.

Founded in 1997 by Chairman and CEO Taseer Bada, who was born in Pakistan, ZT Corporate is valued at more than $1 billion. ZT Corporate generates more than $600 million in annual revenue and employs over 3,000 people.

“As we look ahead, the vision for ZT Corporate is limitless. Our team will continue pushing boundaries and finding the bright spots in the economy that produce consistent financial gains for our investors,” Bada says in a news release marking his company’s 25th anniversary.

ZT Corporate’s flagship businesses are:

  • Altus Community Healthcare, a provider of health care services.
  • ZT Financial Services, a wealth management firm.
  • ZT Motors, which owns and operates auto dealerships. Last year, ZT Motors bought three Ron Carter dealerships in the Houston area.

“ZT Corporate is a vital asset to our citizens as a longtime local employer,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says, “and has positively affected many lives through their health care organizations and philanthropic efforts.”