3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Tammi Wallace of the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce, Adam Putterman of OURS, and Ghazal Qureshi of UpBrainery. Courtesy photos

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from edtech to mental health — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Tammi Wallace, co-founder of the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce

Tammi Wallace of the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce was a panelist on The Ion's Pride in Tech event. Photo via LinkedIn

There are a few days left in Pride Month, and Houston's tech community came together last week to celebrate — but also discuss some of the challenges within the ecosystem for LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs.

In a Q&A with InnovationMap, Tammi Wallace, co-founder of the Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce, shared her advice for LGBTQIA+ innovators and allies.

"Get involved with the Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce," she says. "Since 2016, the chamber has been working to build a strong community to support LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs and get them access to resources to help their businesses grow and thrive." Click here to read more.

Adam Putterman, co-founder of OURS

Adam Putterman, co-founder of OURS, shares how he jumped on the opportunity that is innovating the future of relationship health. Photo courtesy of OURS

More than ever before, people are warming up to the idea of seeking professional health care for more than just their bodies, Adam Putterman, co-founder of OURS says on the most recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"We've seen a massive shift in the perception of counseling and therapy — and, more importantly, all the aspects of health that are not just your body," he explains. "It's no longer just going to the gym, it's meditating, coaching for a professional field. We've found that people are taking that mindset and applying it to their relationship as well."

After launching its beta in 2020, OURS worked in stealth to develop its product, which officially launched in May. The platform costs $400 for a four-week program that includes six personalized interactive sessions with an OURS guide at the helm of the experience. These one-hour technology-powered sessions are based around an innovative new technology, called Loveware, and include dynamic and meaningful conversations between a couple that are built around the magic that comes from being in the room with an expert. Click here to listen to the full episode and read more.

Ghazal Qureshi, founder and CEO of UpBrainery

Innovations like artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and machine learning certainly have advantages in the edtech sector. Photo courtesy

The education community is facing big changes thanks to technology and new innovations. In a guest column for InnovationMap, Ghazal Qureshi — founder and CEO of UpBrainery, a Houston-based immersive educational technology platform — shares how things like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and more have the potential to impact the sector.

"AI has created benefits for educators as well, such as it has created a task automation system in which all kinds of daily mundane tasks including grading papers, admin work, replying to queries, etc. have been directly automated," she writes. "Although adopting cutting-edge technology in the educational industry for most institutions is certainly not a piece of cake as it is time-consuming and very costly." Click here to read more.

Tammi Wallace of the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce is a panelist on The Ion's Pride in Tech event. Photo via LinkedIn

Q&A: How the Houston tech community can support LGBTQIA+ innovators

pride month

It's Pride Month, and the Houston tech community is celebrating its LGBTQIA+ community — as well as addressing some challenges faced within the business arena.

The Ion Houston, Austin-based Pride.VC, and Houston-based Sesh Coworking are collaborating on a Pride in Tech event, tomorrow, June 24, at noon at the Ion. It's free to attend and all is welcome. The Ion is also encouraging attendees to come early for a cup of coffee at Common Bond for the weekly Cup of Joey networking happy hour from 8:30 to 10:30 am.

The event will feature a panel moderated by Sesh's Maggie Segrich and Meredith Wheeler, and will tackle topics around how Houston can do more to build a truly inclusive business community. The panelists include

Wallace, who co-founded the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce in 2016, joined InnovationMap for a quick Q&A ahead of the event.

InnovationMap: What kind of challenges do LGBTQIA+ founders in Houston face these days?

Tammi Wallace: First, LGBTQIA+ founders need to be at the table and have a voice. When we launched the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce in 2016, our primary goal was to make sure we were seen, heard and engaged.

A seat and a voice at the table matters because LGBTQIA+ founders often lack visibility in the broader economic ecosystem and continue to experience discrimination. This means they cannot engage with their full and authentic selves as entrepreneurs and experience unique challenges. More specifically, they face challenges with access to venture capital and angel investment funds and these entrepreneurs lack strong LGBTQIA+ role models and mentors.

In fact, some LGBTQIA+ business owners never come out because they fear losing customers or clients. We hear stories all the time about LGBTQIA+ founders not seeking either traditional or non-traditional funding because they fear that they will have to out themselves in the process and fear discrimination and a lack of acceptance in the process. Disclosing personal information, such as financial information, in some cases, can effectively out them as an LGBTQIA+ person. Funding paths must be fully inclusive and ensure that the process is viewed from the lens of the LGBTQIA+ entrepreneur and how that can impact their access to capital.


    IM: How would you recommend these founders find the community and support they are looking for? 

    TW: Definitely get involved with the Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce. Since 2016, the chamber has been working to build a strong community to support LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs and get them access to resources to help their businesses grow and thrive.

    We create connections and give LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs a space and place to walk through the door as their full and authentic selves. Through the Chamber, LGBTQIA+ founders can find support, whether from other entrepreneurs, mentors and Corporate Partners. We collaborate with the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) as well as the other LGBTQIA+ chambers in Texas to drive connections and build a strong LGBTQIA+ business network across the country and the state.

    We encourage LGBTQIA+ businesses to get LGBTBE® Certified as well which offers even more connection with other certified businesses, major corporations and other key stakeholders and mentoring opportunities with major companies. We can help these founders get started with the LGBTBE® certification process and tap into national, regional and statewide resources.

    IM: How do you recommend startup development organizations, investors, and other businesses become better allies to the LGBTQIA+ startup community? 

    TW: Ensure that LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs and business and community leaders are engaged with your organization. Organizations like the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce and the Ion are working "boots on the ground" to support the LGBTQIA+ business community and can offer the opportunity for meaningful collaboration. We also recommend advocating for others -- when you are around a table, look around and if the LGBTQIA+ community is not being represented, ask why.

    If representation is around the table, be intentional to ensure that we have a voice. As organizations that are involved in Houston's economic ecosystem, be strong and visible advocates for the LGBTQIA+ business community through engagement of businesses and the Chamber throughout the year. Be engaged -- not just during Pride Month, but twelve months out of the year.

    Whether a startup, investor or a business, you can help raise the profile for LGBTQIA+ businesses and the LGBTQIA+ business movement.

    Supporting LGBT-founded startups is crucial to Houston business success. Ylanite Koppens/Pexels

    Houston business leader on the importance of engaging the LGBTQ community

    Pride Month

    When we think about different groups within the business ecosystem in our region, the LGBTQ business community historically has not been at the table. As we close this year's Pride Month, it's time to reflect on the the importance the LGBTQ population has within Houston and local businesses.

    While the LGBTQ community has realized historic gains, such as marriage equality, serious gaps in legal protections remain, resulting in discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. In fact, there are twenty-nine states where a person can be fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity. That kind of job insecurity coupled with an entrepreneurial spirit has driven many in the LGBTQ community to start their own businesses.

    Many LGBTQ-owned businesses in the region are obtaining the LGBTBE® certification, opening the door for these business owners to participate in corporate supplier diversity programs such as those offered by Fortune 500 corporations like Bank of America, Chevron, Shell. and United. These and many other companies greatly value diverse suppliers as part of their supply chain inclusivity goals and they embrace the diversity that LGBTQ businesses bring as part of that inclusion equation. The LGBTBE® certification is part of supplier diversity and inclusion programs that typically include participation of businesses owned by minorities, veterans, and women as examples.

    The Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce is hosting its annual Pride in Business Celebration on Friday, June 28, at 5:30 pm at the Hyatt Regency Houston. Click here for more information.

    Why get certified?

    Traditionally, LGBTQ business owners have been excluded from these opportunities within the broader business community and many have stayed in the closet because of the fear of losing clients, employees, and revenue. In fact, many LGBTQ business owners can experience a coming out process in their professional life that is entirely different from the one they have experienced in their personal life. The LGBTBE® certification gives LGBTQ owned businesses an opportunity to participate in contracting opportunities and to be valued for the service or product they provide, as well as because of who they are as LGBTQ suppliers and as part of an ecosystem of diverse entrepreneurs.

    How does a business qualify for the certification?

    A company must be at least 51 percent LGBTQ-owned, operated, managed, and controlled along with other criteria comparable to similar certification programs. The certifying body for the LGBTBE® certification is the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC). In order to get certified, a business owner should complete the application through the NGLCC.

    Greater Houston LGBT Chamber members are eligible for a fee waiver, as part of the Houston chamber's affiliate relationship with the NGLCC. This is a "win-win" for businesses with the waiver of the fee and the opportunity to take advantage of the many benefits and support offered to LGBTQ entrepreneurs through the Chamber.

    What's the impact?

    Making sure that the LGBTQ business community has access to economic opportunity is good for business and good our region. Looking forward to the goal of full and equal rights for the LGBTQ community, economic opportunity is a key milestone for LGBTQ entrepreneurs and the community as a whole. The LGBTQ business community is part of the economic fabric in our region and key to Houston's economic success.

    While the LGBTQ business community is poised for tremendous growth in the region as corporations and consumers seek out LGBTQ-supportive businesses, the traditional barriers for LGBTQ-owned businesses must be removed and economic opportunity a priority whether through the LGBTBE® certification or actively engaging LGBTQ entrepreneurs with the broader business community.


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    Tammi Wallace is the co-founder and board chair of the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce. She is also the founder and principal consultant of EnFocus Group, which connects organizations to the power of LGBTQ diversity and inclusion through training and consulting.

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    Amazon rolls out hundreds of new electric vans for Houston's holiday delivery season

    Electric avenue

    Amazon CEO/occasional space traveler Jeff Bezos is doing his best to supplant a certain jolly fellow from the North Pole as tops for holiday gift delivery.

    His latest move: Amazon is rolling out more than 1,000 electric delivery vehicles, designed by electric vehicle manufacturer Rivian, ready to make deliveries in more than 100 cities across the U.S. On the Texas good list: Houston, Austin, and Dallas. Bezos' juggernaut began deliveries in Dallas in July, along with Baltimore, Chicago, Kansas City, Nashville, Phoenix, San Diego, Seattle, and St. Louis.

    These zero-emissions vans have delivered more than 5 million packages to customers in the U.S., according to Amazon. The latest boost in vehicles now includes Houston and Austin; Boston; Denver; Indianapolis; Las Vegas; Madison, Wisconsin; Newark, New Jersey; New York, Oakland, California; Pittsburgh, Portland, Oregon; Provo, Utah; and Salt Lake City.

    Plans for the Amazon and Rivian partnership call for thousands of vehicles on the road by the end of the year and 100,000 vehicles by 2030.

    “We’re always excited for the holiday season, but making deliveries to customers across the country with our new zero-emission vehicles for the first time makes this year unique,” said Udit Madan, vice president of Amazon Transportation, in a statement. “We’ve already delivered over 5 million packages with our vehicles produced by Rivian, and this is still just the beginning—that figure will grow exponentially as we continue to make progress toward our 100,000-vehicle goal.”

    This all comes as part of Amazon's commitment to reaching net-zero carbon by 2040, as a part of its The Climate Pledge; Amazon promises to eliminate millions of metric tons of carbon per year with it s commitment to 100,000 electric delivery vehicles by 2030, press materials note.

    Additionally, Amazon announced plans to invest more than $1 billion over the next five years to further electrify and decarbonize its transportation network across Europe. This investment is meant to spark innovation and encourage more public charging infrastructure across the continent.

    “Fleet electrification is essential to reaching the world’s zero-emissions goal,” said Jiten Behl, chief growth officer at Rivian, in a statement. “So, to see our ramp up in production supporting Amazon’s rollout in cities across the country is amazing. Not just for the environment, but also for our teams working hard to get tens of thousands of electric delivery vehicles on the road. They continue to be motivated by our combined mission and the great feedback about the vehicle’s performance and quality.”

    A little about the vans: Drivers’ favorite features include a spacious cabin and cargo area, superior visibility with a large windshield and 360-degree cameras, and ventilated seats for fast heating and cooling — a must for Bayou City summers ... or winters, for that matter.

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    This article originally ran on CultureMap.

    Houston low-carbon fuel company scores United investment, plans to IPO via spac

    big moves

    It’s been a momentous month for Houston-based NEXT Renewable Fuels Inc.

    On November 15, United Airlines Ventures announced an investment of up to $37.5 million in the next-generation, low-carbon fuel producing company.

    Just a week later, the company revealed it’s going public through a SPAC merger with Industrial Tech Acquisitions II Inc. The deal, expected to close in the second quarter of 2023, assigns a $666 million equity value to NEXT. The publicly traded company will be named NXTCLEAN Fuels Inc.

    NEXT, founded in 2016, produces low-carbon fuels from organic feedstock. The company plans to open a biofuel refinery in Port Westward, Oregon, that’s set to start production in 2026. The refinery could produce up to 50,000 barrels per day of sustainable aviation fuel, renewable diesel, and other renewable fuels.

    “West Coast states are demanding a clean fuels conversion of the transportation and aviation industries with aggressive targets necessitating rapid increases in clean fuel supplies,” Christopher Efird, executive chairman and CEO of NEXT, says in a news release. “[The company] is advancing toward becoming one of the largest U.S.-based suppliers of clean fuels for these markets, and is investigating and pursuing potential vertical expansion into other clean fuels.”

    The proposed public listing of NEXT’s stock on the Nasdaq market and United’s investment are poised to help NEXT reach its goal of becoming a leader in the clean fuel sector. United’s investment appears to be the first equity funding for NEXT.

    “Right now, one of the biggest barriers to increasing supply and lowering costs of sustainable fuel is that we don’t have the infrastructure in place to transport it efficiently, but NEXT’s strategic location and assets solve that problem and provide a blueprint for future facilities that need to be built,” Michael Leskinen, president of United Airline Ventures, says in a news release.

    United’s investment arm, launched in 2021, targets ventures that will complement the airline’s goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.