Here's what to attend at virtual SXSW this year. Photo via SXSW.com

Many Houstonians were hoping to be able head out to Austin next week for SXSW 2021, but now they don't have to venture out from behind their computer screens.

SXSW has pivoted to virtual this year, but the online schedule still features all the thought leadership as previous years. If you're looking to hop into innovation and tech conversations featuring Houstonians, check out these events across space, health care, energy, and more.

Tuesday — Leading the Global Energy Transition

The Greater Houston Partnership is hosting a series of thought-leadership discussions focused on the global energy transition. Join Houston House for interviews with some of the brightest minds in energy who are leading the global energy transition through corporate innovation, energy technology, ESG, and the future of workforce.

Editor's note: InnovationMap was the facilitator for some of the interviews.

Catch the event Tuesday, March 16, from 10 am to 1 pm.

Tuesday — The Climate Crisis & American Cities

Cities are succumbing the ravages of a rapidly changing climate more and more often. Once in a lifetime flooding events are more frequent, wildfires are raging with greater intensity, droughts are being prolonged, and the rising seas levels are imperiling coastal communities. Aside from the ecological and economic impact of climate change, the effects of climate change are being disproportionately felt by low-income communities of color.

Hear from mayors of America's largest cities — including Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner — on how they are approaching this crisis and what you can do to help fight climate change in your community.

Catch the event Tuesday, March 16, from 10:15 am to 11:10 am.

Tuesday — The Health Trust Gap and How to Fix It

While the term "Infodemic" has circulated widely during the pandemic, the spread of health related misinformation is not a new phenomenon rather one that has been exacerbated. Now more than ever before we are seeing a divide in behaviors and in humanity. So how do we begin to build trust in this breakdown of communication? What steps can and should individuals, governments, media and businesses play?

Moderator Dr. Natalia Peart of Houston-based Catalyst Innovation Group will explore these questions and more with her panel of experts.

Catch the event Tuesday, March 16, from 10:15 am to 11:10 am.

Wednesday — Building a Thriving and Diverse Innovation Ecosystem

The Greater Houston Partnership is hosting a series of thought-leadership discussions focused on the global energy transition. Join Houston House for interviews with leaders from across the region's startup ecosystem discuss how Houston has become a thriving hub for digital technology while fostering a culture of inclusive innovation.

Editor's note: InnovationMap was the facilitator for some of the interviews.

Catch the event Wednesday, March 17, from 10 am to 1 pm.

Wednesday: Digital Access: A New Social Determinant of Health

Children's hospitals and T-Mobile are partnering to discuss the growing digital divide and the emergence of a new social determinant of health; digital access. Technology and digital access can now play a significant role in a patient's ability to have equitable access to healthcare, education and many other areas of their life.

Jackie Ward, chief nursing officer at Texas Children's Hospital joins this discussion.

Catch the event Wednesday, March 17, from 3:30 to 3:55 pm.

Thursday — Who on Earth should Govern Space?

Who will make the rules once out of the Earth's orbit? Can any commercial space company attempt to colonize Mars? These are just the start-off questions for those with insatiable curiosity. Texas A&M University's president, the director of space flight policy at SpaceX and an expert on who owns artifacts discovered in space confer with an award-winning science journalist.

Catch the event Thursday, March 18, from 9 to 9:55 pm.

Friday — Pushing our Bodies and Minds Beyond the Limits

In 2020 people across the globe experienced extreme isolation and mental health challenges. A source of empathy and education was found beyond the globe, in the small group that have spent time in space. An astronaut and sports psychologist discuss similarities and challenges of keeping mental and physical health in top shape while in isolation.

Houston-based former astronaut Bonnie Dunbar will be in on the discussion.

Catch the event Friday, March 19, from from 3:30 to 3:55 pm or at the encore Saturday, March 20, at 10 to 10:55 am.

Front-line and health care workers will get the vaccine first. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

7 Houston-area hospitals receive first doses of COVID-19 vaccine

CORONAVIRUS NEWS

Four sites in Texas received the COVID-19 vaccine on December 14, part of a rollout of doses being shipped out across the U.S.

Texas received 19,500 doses, with another 250,000 doses being distributed to 109 facilities in Texas this week.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, the first four sites to get it were:

  • MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston
  • Methodist Dallas Medical Center
  • Wellness 360 at UT Health San Antonio
  • UT Health Austin's Dell Medical School

Another 75,000 doses will be delivered on December 15 to 19 sites in Texas:

  • Houston, Texas Children's Hospital Main
  • Houston, LBJ Hospital
  • Houston, CHI St. Luke's Health
  • Houston, Memorial Hermann Texas Medical Center
  • Houston, Houston Methodist Hospital
  • Houston, Ben Taub General Hospital
  • Galveston, University of Texas Medical Branch Hospital
  • Amarillo, Texas Tech Univ. Health Science Center Amarillo
  • Corpus Christi, Christus Spohn Health System Shoreline
  • Dallas, Parkland Hospital
  • Dallas, UT Southwestern
  • Edinburg, Doctors Hospital at Renaissance
  • Edinburg, UT Health RGV Edinburg
  • El Paso, University Medical Center El Paso
  • Fort Worth, Texas Health Resources Medical Support
  • Lubbock, Covenant Medical Center
  • San Angelo, Shannon Pharmacy
  • Temple, Baylor Scott and White Medical Center

Health care and front-line workers will receive the vaccine first. Officials are still working out the timeline but the general public is not expected to get the vaccine until spring 2021 at the earliest.

Dr. Paul Klotman, president of the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, said in a press conference that getting vaccinated is helpful to both individuals and their communities.

"The thing about everyone pitching in, do it for yourself because it will help protect you, but when you get the herd immunity it will help protect people who are unable medically to get the vaccine," Klotman said.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston Methodist stood out yet again on an annual best hospitals report, but several other Houston institutions were recognized as well. Courtesy of Methodist Hospital/Facebook

New report recognizes best hospitals in Houston

better than all the rest

Hospitals across Houston were ranked by their patient care, patient safety, outcomes, nursing, advanced technology and reputation in an annual report that identifies the top medical facilities in the country.

U.S. News & World Report released its 31st annual best hospital rankings this week, which included both adult and children's hospital tracks across several categories. The report released both overall and local rankings after evaluating over 4,500 medical centers nationwide in 16 specialties, and 134 hospitals were ranked in at least one specialty.

For the ninth year in a row, the top hospital in Houston and Texas, according to the report, is Houston Methodist, which ranked at No. 20 nationally and made the report's Honor Roll.

"Our U.S. News rankings are especially meaningful right now as this has been an exceptionally difficult time for our health care workers," says Marc Boom, M.D., president and CEO of Houston Methodist, in a news release. "We have always served our community by providing exceptional care — during the COVID-19 pandemic and before. It's a true testament to our commitment to being unparalleled."

Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital tied for No. 4 in Houston and No. 6 (three-way tie) in Texas. Additionally, the hospital was recognized on the top lists for 11 specialties:

  • No. 12 for cardiology/heart surgery
  • No. 13 for orthopedics
  • No. 14 for gastroenterology/GI surgery
  • No. 17 for cancer
  • No. 19 (tie) for nephrology
  • No. 20 for pulmonology and lung surgery
  • No. 23 for neurology/neurosurgery
  • No. 26 for geriatrics
  • No. 26 (tie) for gynecology
  • No. 28 for diabetes and endocrinology
  • No. 49 for ear, nose and throat

The second-best hospital in Houston on this year's ranking was Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center, which was also named the No. 3 hospital in the state.

"At Baylor St. Luke's, we are transforming the way we deliver care for our patients through groundbreaking technologies and a multidisciplinary approach that allows us to give the best possible care to patients and their families," says Doug Lawson, CEO of St. Luke's Health, in a news release. "I praise our dedicated staff and physicians for helping us achieve this recognition."

Baylor St. Luke's also made an appearance across five specialties:

  • No. 17 for cardiology/heart surgery
  • No. 21 for gastroenterology/GI surgery
  • No. 21 for neurology/neurosurgery
  • No. 27 for cancer
  • No. 47 for geriatrics

"This is a great report that confirms the efforts of our partnership at Baylor St. Luke's and our affiliated hospitals to provide unsurpassed care to patients, conduct research that will change lives and train the next generation of physicians", says Dr. Paul Klotman, president, CEO, and executive dean at Baylor College of Medicine. "Baylor St. Luke's high ranking in Texas is in parallel with Baylor College of Medicine being the highest ranked medical school in Texas. Together, we are an outstanding academic medical center and learning health system."

Memorial Hermann - Texas Medical Center came in No. 3 in Houston and No. 5 in Texas. The hospital ranked in one adult specialty and two children's specialties.

  • No. 43 for ear, nose and throat (adult)
  • No. 22 for cardiology/heart surgery (pediatric)
  • No. 31 for neurology/neurosurgery (pediatric)

On the children's hospital track, Houston's Texas Children's Hospital ranked as No. 4 nationally and was recognized in all 10 pediatric specialties, which included:

  • No. 1 for pediatric cardiology/heart surgery
  • No. 2 for pediatric nephrology
  • No. 2 for pediatric neurology/neurosurgery
  • No. 3 for pediatric pulmonology and lung surgery
  • No. 4 for pediatric cancer
  • No. 5 for pediatric diabetes and endocrinology
  • No. 5 for pediatric gastroenterology/GI surgery
  • No. 6 for pediatric urology
  • No. 10 for neonatology
  • No. 15 for pediatric orthopedics

Zooming in on the specific specialties, several other Houston hospitals in addition to these top tier hospitals, secured spots in the top 10 rankings.

University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center was ranked No. 1 nationally for adult cancer treatment. Additionally, the hospital made an appearance in six other adult specialties and one pediatric specialty.

  • No. 4 for ear, nose and throat
  • No. 6 for urology
  • No. 14 for gynecology
  • No. 27 for diabetes and endocrinology
  • No. 41 for geriatrics
  • No. 46 for gastroenterology/GI surgery
  • No. 38 for cancer (pediatric)
TIRR Memorial Hermann in Houston ranked No. 3 nationally for rehabilitation.
For all 31 years, The Menninger Clinic has been recognized as a top hospital in the psychiatric speciality. This year, the clinic ranked at No. 9 nationally.

"Our clinical teams provide personalized care with the right blend of art and science. We have pioneered measuring the effectiveness of this treatment, and the results consistently demonstrate that patients sustain their well-being for at least a year after they leave Menninger," says Armando Colombo, president and CEO, in a news release. "Going forward, we will improve access to make it easier for more Texans to access these life-changing results."

Texas Children's is making a major move to battle COVID-19. Courtesy photo

Renowned Houston children's hospital now admitting adult patients due to COVID-19

COVID news in TMC

With Harris County's current confirmed COVID-19 cases at more than 23,000 according to the latest data from the county, a prominent children's hospital has initiated a crucial pivot to fight the aggressive growth of local infections.

The vaunted Texas Children's Hospital is now admitting adult patients, the hospital announced late Monday, June 22, as Houston's numbers rise and Texas Medical Center hospitals' ICU beds near capacity, according to some reports.

The hospital released a statement to the media which included the following:

Texas Children's Hospital, our employees, medical staff and leadership team continue to carefully monitor the ongoing active transmission and increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the greater Houston area and across the State. We are committed to doing our part to assist the city as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise. Specifically, Texas Children's is committed to providing additional capacity through ICU and acute care beds across our hospital campuses to take on both pediatric and adult patients.

We know COVID-19 has not gone away. We implore you to take responsible actions – practice appropriate social distancing, wear a mask or face covering anytime you leave your home, wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds, and avoid touching your face.

A representative for the hospital confirms to CultureMap that adults have already been admitted and will be situated in a different section of the hospital.

The move comes after Mayor Sylvester Turner expressed concern in regards to virus-related hospitalizations. "We are moving very fast in the wrong direction," said Turner. During a briefing on Monday, June 22, Turner reported 1,789 new COVID-19 cases, adding to Houston's total of 14,322. Monday's total is the most the city has reported in one day so far.

Meanwhile, as CultureMap reported, Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, says if the spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue, the city of Houston could become the worst-impacted city in the U.S.

"We are potentially facing a very serious public health threat," says Hotez.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Hyundai has revealed the 11 hospitals that are receiving donations — and a Houston hospital made the list. Photo by Getty Images

Automaker's donation to make drive-thru coronavirus testing available at Houston hospital

in-car testing

As major corporations continue to react to the COVID-19 pandemic with relief and aid efforts, one automaker has decided to help fund testing in 11 children's hospital — and Houston-based Texas Children's Hospital has been named a beneficiary of the donation.

Last week, Hyundai Hope On Wheels and Hyundai Motor America announced that they were donating $2 million to 10 hospitals across the U.S. to aid with the operation of drive-thru coronavirus testing centers. This week, the two revealed that they upped the commitment, now offering help to 11 children's hospitals totaling $2.2 million.

"The Hyundai COVID-19 Drive-thru testing grants are designed to get urgent financial support to institutions on the front-line in the fight against the coronavirus," says José Muñoz, president and CEO of Hyundai Motor North America. "Children who are diagnosed with cancer are particularly at higher risk. That's why it was important to us to join forces with several children's hospitals around the nation to company this threat to the health and well-being of children. We are pleased to expand to 11 institutions nationwide, each with a $200,000 grant."

The other 10 hospitals receiving Hyundai COVID-19 Drive-Thru Testing grants are:

  • The Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC Children's, Orange, CA
  • UH Rainbow Babies and Children's, Cleveland, OH
  • Children's National Hospital, Washington, D.C.
  • Dana Farber / Boston Children's Hospital, Boston, MA
  • Seattle Children's Hospital, Seattle, WA
  • Columbia Medical Center, New York, NY
  • Joseph's Children's Hospital, Tampa, FL
  • Children's Hospital of Colorado, Aurora, CO
  • Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA
  • University of Alabama Children's, Birmingham, AL

The Centers for Disease Control has built a website that offers resources to individuals who have questions about COVID-19, including how to identify symptoms, get tested, and decontaminate your home at www.cdc.gov.

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This article originally ran on AutomotiveMap.

Through a $4 million grant, the city of Houston will be able to provide mental health treatment to at-risk students. Educational First Steps/Facebook

City of Houston and local health care organizations receive $4M to treat mental health in students

Help granted

The city of Houston just received a major opportunity to help grow access to mental health treatment in children.

Thanks to a four-year $4 million grant from the United States Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the city and its partner, Baylor College of Medicine, are launching the Be-Well Be-Connected program that provides at-risk students age six to 17 years old with mental health treatment.

The program will be led by Dr. Laurel Williams, associate professor of psychiatry at Baylor, division head for child and adolescent psychiatry and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital. The treatment will include cognitive behavioral intervention for students with bipolar disorder and first episode psychosis, according to the release. The services will be provided in the child's home, which will ensure compliance.

"We do not have many places in Houston that have this capability to provide this level of intensity of services," Williams says in the release. "Having in-home therapy can allow the young person to stay engaged in their community and in their schools, which can promote wellness and reduction in symptoms burden more quickly."

Other Houston health centers, including Texas Children's Hospital, Harris Health System, Menninger Clinic, Harris Center, Veteran's Mental Health Care Line, Legacy Community Health Services, and DePelchin's Children's Center, will be involved with the program and the Mayor's Office of Education is the program manager of the grant.

"I created the Office of Education to support school districts in Houston because they are doing the essential work of guaranteeing that our next generation of adults is educated and ready for the future," says Mayor Sylvester Turner in the release. "The grant validates our efforts and more importantly will provide care on the frontlines of a key health issue involving young people."

Five independent school districts will also receive first level screening services and telemedical care. Families of the students receiving care will also receive support from the newly developed Texas State Child Mental Health Consortium.

"Houston and our surrounding area is primed to really take children's mental health care to the next needed level," says Williams in the release. "This SAMHSA grant opportunity coupled with the State Consortium will allow better coordination amongst services and an overall increase in available services — services that are desperately needed."

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston startup grows C-suite, Deloitte opens awards apps, SDO names leader, and more innovation news

short stories

The Houston innovation ecosystem has been especially busy this year, and for this reason, local startup and tech news may have fallen through some of the cracks.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, local organizations announce new innovators, Deloitte opens apps for its annual tech awards, Houston Tech Rodeo prepares for its annual events, and more.

Early stage accelerator names new Houston leader

Kate Evinger will lead gBETA Houston. Photo via LinkedIn

A Houston early-stage startup accelerator has named its new director. Kate Evinger has joined gener8tor's gBETA Houston as director. She will run the third gBETA cohort in Houston, adding to the 10 alumni from the two cohorts held in 2020.

Evinger has replaced Anu Pansare, who was previously named director in February. Pansare, who replaced the accelerator's inaugural director Eléonore Cluzel, moved on to another opportunity, Evinger says.

Based in Houston's Downtown Launchpad, gBETA's third cohort of early stage startups will soon start its free 7-week program, which is designed to help participating companies gain early customer traction and develop key metrics that will make them more marketable for future investment.

Evinger has been a part of the gener8tor family since 2016 when she joined the team as associate for gBETA Madison. She was promoted to program manager in 2019 when she graduated from Indiana University with degrees in finance, entrepreneurship and corporate innovation, according to a news release.

"Downtown Launchpad's inclusive set of tools, resources and opportunities empower Houston founders to accelerate and scale their businesses to solve humankind's boldest challenges," says Robert Pieroni, director of economic development at Central Houston, in a news release. "Kate Evinger brings experience and valuable insights to the gBETA Houston program and will help us continue to support founders, Houston-based partners and the community."

Houston Tech Rodeo launches registration and names headliner

Master P will be the headlining guest for Houston Tech Rodeo. Photo courtesy of HTR

Houston Tech Rodeo, a week-long collaboration of events hosted by Houston Exponential, has opened registration and announced Percy Miller, also known as musical artist Master P, as the headliner.

Miller, who began his career as an international rap artist, later became a CEO, investor, and founder of Nemesis RR.

"I'll be sharing my journey, my secrets, my success, my feelings, and my rebuilding. Transitioning from international artist to CEO to investing in philanthropy, I want to educate you and give you that gain," says Miller in a news release. "I want to add diversity into technology and the automotive industry."

HTR kicks off May 16 at Saint Arnold Brewing Company with live music, beer, and swag bag pick ups with registration. The week concludes on May 23. Registration is free and available online.

Houston industrial blockchain company expands C-suite

Data Gumbo has a new C-level executive. Photo courtesy of Data Gumbo

Data Gumbo, a Houston-based industrial smart contract network powered by blockchain — announced that it has brought on Robin Macmillan as chief corporate development officer to lead the company's corporate development team.

"The sheer breadth of Macmillan's experience will serve as an invaluable asset to Data Gumbo as we continue to exponentially grow and mature our company into new industrial markets and further solidify our leadership in energy," says Andrew Bruce, CEO and founder of Data Gumbo, in a news release. "Macmillan has the experience to expand Data Gumbo's commercial market penetration to aid companies in undertaking digital transformation with smart contracts to reveal streamlined efficiencies and cost savings, sustainability insights across supply chains and transactional certainty in any commercial relationship."

Macmillan has over 40 years of experience in the energy industry, most recently at National Oilwell Varco and is the vice president of drilling services at the International Association of Drilling Contractors,

"There is tremendous opportunity right now to change how business is executed," says Macmillan in the release. "Data Gumbo is poised to deliver trust through automated, auditable blockchain-backed smart contracts that execute transactions in real-time. I am thrilled to be a part of the Data Gumbo executive team as the company is in a period of hyper growth into new industries, serving as a harbinger for significant digital transformation across commercial relationships and transparent, accurate sustainability impact data."

Deloitte opens annual tech awards nominations

Calling all fast-growing tech companies. Image via Deloitte

Deloitte's Technology Fast 500 awards — which celebrate the fastest growing, most innovative technology, media, telecommunications, life sciences and energy tech companies in the country — has opened applications for its 2021 program.

Applications opened online on April 9 and will remain open until June 29. Winners will be announced on November 15. The program ranks applicants based on percentage of fiscal year revenue growth and the list is compiled from applications. For more information, visit the Technology Fast 500 website.

"Each year, we are excited to see the variety of Houston's Fast 500 applicants, which represent the city's positive momentum in both diversifying its core competencies and highlighting the boom in technology innovations coming to market," says Amy Chronis, vice chair and Houston managing partner at Deloitte LLP. "We look forward to seeing what Houston's innovators will bring in 2021."

Energy incubator announces latest cohort

Fifteen energy startups are joining the Plug and Play family. Gif courtesy of Plug and Play

Plug and Play Tech Center has announced 154 startups into its 2021 summer program — 15 of which were named to the Houston-based Batch 8 Energy Program. During the course of the next three months, these companies will receive access to our corporate, venture capital, and mentor network.

The new energy cohort consists of the following companies:

Texas expert: Energy reliability and climate sustainability are not mutually exclusive

Guest Column

It's no secret that Texas has long been a leader in energy production, but it may surprise you to learn that Texas leads the nation in wind-powered generation, producing 28 percent of all US wind-powered electricity in 2019.

We're not just producing a lot of renewable energy, we're increasingly consuming it.

Contrary to the caricaturistic portrayal of Texans in mainstream culture, a recent study by the University of Houston revealed that 4 out of 5 Texans believe the climate crisis is real.

In an effort to reduce their carbon footprint, more and more households are making the decision to switch to 100 percent renewable energy. And this adoption isn't isolated to core urban areas. We're witnessing a diverse spread in smaller, more rural markets.

These reasons and more are why Bulb, one of Europe's fastest growing company that provides 100 percent renewable energy, chose Texas as its first home in the U.S. Less than a year after launching here, it's safe to say we made the right choice as we're experiencing even faster growth in Texas than we did in our early stages in the United Kingdom.

One of the many reasons Texans have rapidly adopted our simpler, cheaper and greener energy is because they no longer have to choose between being budget and climate conscious. Sadly, the progress the state has made could be knocked back following the recent winter storm.

After the nation witnessed Texas' massive outages during the winter storm, our state leaders understandably feel the pressure to "do something," quickly.

We share our leaders' determination in avoiding another crisis of this magnitude, but we fear that Texas may be heading in the wrong direction. In the mad rush to avoid another catastrophe, some regulators and politicians wrongly and disproportionately blamed renewable energy sources for the outages.

Numerous media outlets and energy experts have overwhelmingly refuted these claims. An AP fact check described the efforts to blame renewable energy sources as "false narratives." And, they're not alone in their conclusion.

According to Reuters' fact check, "These claims are misleading, as they shift blame for the crisis away from what appears, so far, to be the root cause...The state's woes mainly stem from issues surrounding its independent power grid. The cold weather affected all fuel types, not just renewables."

Determining what went wrong isn't a blame game. A proper diagnosis is essential to any problem solving. And a failure to conduct a thorough analysis could have serious consequences. Currently, a number of legislative solutions are floating around the state Capitol that would shift the blame and consequences to renewable energy.

These proposals would increase the financial burden on Texas consumers, many of whom are still recovering from the storm, and hamper new investments in renewable energy. Additionally, and perhaps even more concerning, they don't adequately address the root cause of the winter storm energy crisis, further exposing Texans to another meltdown.

Texas' leadership on renewable energy production is no small feat, and it didn't happen by chance. For two decades, our lawmakers have made strategic decisions that led to the advancement of renewable energy production, and it has paid dividends in terms of jobs, economic growth, energy reliability, sustainability and even the state's reputation.

We are at a critical juncture, but Texas doesn't have to choose between reliability, affordability and sustainability. We can offer reliable energy and green energy, stop another crisis before it happens again and move forward with renewable energy investments.

Continuing to promote policies that pushed Texas to its leadership position will unleash even more investments and innovation, which is good for Texas, good for Texans and good for the planet.

As we observe Earth Day, we would urge our leaders to consider the possibilities. Rather than turn the clock back, let's use this storm as an opportunity to innovate further.

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Vinnie Campo is the general manager for Bulb U.S., a new type of energy company that aims to make energy simpler, cheaper, and greener by providing renewable electricity to its members from Texas wind and solar. He is based in Texas.

Houston-based software startup aims to connect workers with wages in real time

there's an app for that

Could you incur an unexpected $400 expense if it hit your bank account today? According to Jeff Price, founder and CEO of Houston-based Pronto Pay, many hourly workers could not. He's set out to change that.

"When you think about it, payroll hasn't changed in nearly two centuries. As far as we can remember, you get paid weekly or bi-weekly. And that's precisely the point we're trying to solve," Price says.

A recent graduate from Rice University's Jones Graduate School of Business, Price founded Pronto Pay in the first quarter of 2021. The software aims to connect hourly works with transparent access to wages earned before pay day without disrupting the employers' books. Currently the company has seven staff members, is actively hiring and is looking to expand outside of Houston soon.

Pronto Pay partners with the employers to seamlessly build out connections with their time and attendance system and payroll processor. After the company signs up, ProntoPay automatically creates an account for each employee, which allows them to view their accrued wages and withdraw their earnings instantly from the app or next-day for automated clearing house payments — all via the Pronto Pay App. When an employee wishes to withdraw funds prior to their normal pay cycle, Pronto Pay applies a small fixed fee — $2.99 — for completing the transaction. .

Come pay day, the employer's system will automatically balance the difference and route the withdrawn money back to Pronto Pay. As Price describes it, Pronto Pay aims to compete "directly with (while severely undercutting the price of) payday and other predatory lenders."

The idea was born out of a series of simple questions Price started to ask himself when he envisioned what his newborn son's first job would be earlier this year.

"My wife and I were having our son and it challenged me to ask questions like, 'Hey, why do we get paid bi-weekly? If I can Venmo 100 bucks in real time, why can't a company do that?'" Price recalls.

Apart from the impact of advanced pay, Price envisions that earned wages access will improve workplace culture and retention, too. Pronto Pay has already on-boarded users in the local staffing and warehousing markets, in the janitorial and security guard fields, and at call centers. As Price describes, Pronto Pay's clients "typically have a lot of hourly employees that struggle with employee retention and keeping folks at the same job for longer than three to 12 months."

"We're hoping that we can permanently change that employee-employer relationship," he adds. "And help those employees."

Jeff Price is the founder and CEO of Pronto Pay.