Here's your latest roundup of Houston startup and innovation news you may have missed. Photo via Getty Images

We're on the other side of the hill that is Houston's summer, but the Bayou City's still hot in terms of innovation news, and there might be some headlines you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, a Houston venture capital fund has made its latest investment, a hydrogen startup has raised fresh funding, accelerators open apps, and more.

Houston hydrogen startup closes $25M series B

This hydrogen company has fresh funding. Photo via utility.global

Utility Global, a Houston-based sustainable hydrogen company, has closed its series B round of funding to the tune of $25 million, Axios reports.

Houston-based private equity firm Ara Partners led the round. Other participating investors included: Samsung Ventures, NOVA, and Aramco.

Utility Global, founded in 2018, has developed a clean hydrogen solution. The proprietary tech — called the eXERO Technology Platform — includes a zero electricity process that converts sustainable waste streams into high-purity hydrogen. Additionally, the company developed its H2Gen Product Line that delivers customers reliable, low carbon, and high purity hydrogen, which offers unparalleled feedstock flexibility and highly competitive economics.

"Leveraging our industry-first eXERO™ Process, Utility Global is expanding into numerous industrial sectors," reads the company's website. "Whether it's next-gen fueling, green chemicals, or sustainable steel, Utility Global's products can meet your needs. Our ultra-high-purity hydrogen is also ideal for the electronics, food, and glass industries. In the steel industry, our waste-to-hydrogen offering converts waste-gases into pure hydrogen, enabling decarbonization of the steel making process.

Houston female-focused VC fund leads round of fintech company

The Artemis Fund — led by Diana Murakhovskaya, Leslie Goldman, and Stephanie Campbell — has announced its latest investment. Courtesy photos

Houston-based Artemis Fund — a women-led, female-focused venture capital fund, has released information on its latest investment. The firm announced it has led the seed funding round for Los Angeles-based Payverse, a payment processor focusing on enabling global commerce via emerging technologies.

The round also saw participation from Alpha Ascent Ventures, Frank Mastrangelo, Mary Wieler, and Jonathan Palmer. Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP represented Artemis in the deal.

“The Artemis Fund invests in phenomenal female talent modernizing and diversifying wealth. Payverse is poised to transform the payments industry by making it easier and more cost-effective for businesses and consumers to transact globally," says Stephanie Campbell, general partner at The Artemis Fund, in a news release. "We are proud to lead the company’s seed round which includes other top FinTech experts and industry leaders."

Houston public service professional accelerator opens applications for its second cohort

HTXelerator is gearing up for its second cohort. Photo via HoustonTX.gov

With its mission to identify and prepare future-focused leaders for public service, specifically boards, commissions, and city council, HTXelerator, a nonprofit that launched last fall, has opened applications for the second cohort. The three-month program trains class members on the nuts and bolts of city government and ends with a competition known as The Pitch, which enables each participant to put forward a policy platform for a hypothetical race.

“The Houston region continues to grow and subsequently so does the need for public leadership to reflect the city’s dynamic diversity," says Renee Cross, senior director at the University of Houston's Hobby School of Public Affairs, in a news release. "HTXelerator will allow people with an interest in public service to learn from experts in government, non-profit organizations, academia and the private sector. Whether pursuing a leadership position or running for office, HTXelerator graduates will be ahead of the game.”

Applications are due by August 22, and the cohort members will be announced by August 29. There is no fee to apply, but the program costs $250 per participant. Scholarships are available for those that need assistance. The program kicks off with a weekend retreat September 10 and 11 and ends with The Pitch competition on December 7.

Houston startup partners with pet tech giant

Wag, Robinhood, and DonateStock have teamed up on a new initiative. Photo by Jason Briscoe on Unsplash

Houston-based DonateStock, a fintech platform that easily enables stock-based donations, has been adopted by Wag, a mobile-first marketplace for pet services. The company, which also struck a deal with Robinhood. Through these partnerships, the company has launched its Wag! Community Shares Program, a new method of charitable giving for the community of pet caregivers and for domestic pet nonprofit organizations, according to a news release.

Through its SPAC, CHW Acquisition Corp., Wag! will reserve up to 300,000 shares of common stock for the program, to be arranged through and administered by Robinhood. The company goes into more details — including information on how to participate — in the release.

“We are excited to play a key role in this ground-breaking initiative to use common stock to support domestic pet nonprofits at scale,” says Steve Latham, CEO and co-founder of DonateStock, in the release. “Our mission is to democratize charitable stock gifting. By allocating stock to more than 500 pet nonprofits, Wag! is expanding the definition of what that means.”

Annual business competition lifts off

Houston business competition opens applications

Small businesses in Houston can apply for the annual Liftoff Houston competition. Photo via liftoffhouston.smapply.org

The city of Houston's annual business plan competition has kicked off. Liftoff Houston is an entrepreneurial initiative aimed at empowering Houston entrepreneurs mentorship and business support and education.The program's sponsor, Capital One Bank, provides cash prizes totaling $30,000.

To be eligible for the startup program, the applicant:

  • Must be in the start-up phase of your business, which means you either must have a business idea or have a business in operation for less than one year
  • Must have revenue of less than $10,000
  • Must live within the city of Houston limits. Also, if you have a business location, it must be within the city of Houston limits.

Participants can also apply for the 2022 Liftoff Houston Educational Pathway. There are no eligibility requirements for that program, which will support small businesses and provide access to workshops and the final competition event.

There will be three award categories: product, service, and innovation.

  • $10,000 – Awarded for top “Product” Based Business Plan (Retail, resale, merchandise, etc.)
  • $10,000 – Awarded for top “Service” Based Business Plan (Food, labor, consulting, etc.)
  • $10,000 – Awarded for top “Innovation” Based Business Plan (Software, Hardware, inventions, new market businesses, etc.)

The competition will open applications online on July 27 and close August 19. The full schedule is online.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Scott Schneider of HTX Labs, Adrienne Mangual of The Artemis Fund, and Derrick Morse of Rugged Robotics. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

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

Scott Schneider, CEO and founder of HTX Labs

Scott Schneider of HTX Labs joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how his VR software is helping to train Department of Defense pilots. Photo via htxlabs.com

Over the past few years, HTX Labs — a software development startup focusing on enterprise virtual reality training software — has tripled its team and is looking to hire another 20 people to support its growth — specifically looking for sales, business development, and operational positions. All this growth is to support its work with the military, which makes up about 95 percent of the startup's focus now, says Scott Schneider, CEO and founder, on last week's Houston Innovators Podcast episode.

"In 2021, we were all about building capability and building our platform," Schneider says, "and 2022 is all about adoption. It's a land grab out there for doing what we're doing. We're trying to drive adoption within the government and outside in the commercial and private sector."

Schneider shares more on what he's focused on this year and how HTX Labs has grown alongside the Houston innovation ecosystem on the podcast episode. Click here to listen to the episode and read more.

Adrienne Mangual, vice president of finance and operations at The Artemis Fund

Adrienne Mangual has a background in finance and consulting. Photo courtesy of Artemis

The Artemis Fund is celebrating a new member of its small, but mighty team focused on funding female founders within fintech, e-commerce tech, and care-tech.

Adrienne Mangual is the new vice president of finance and operations at the firm. She has her MBA from Rice University and has worked for 15 years in finance roles at J.P. Morgan and Key Energy Services. Over the past few years, she's worked in consulting positions with startups and technology.

"This is an exciting time to join The Artemis Fund as the fund is growing and our reach is expanding and continuing to make an impact on female founders," Mangual tells InnovationMap. "I am looking forward to supporting existing and future female founders and working with Diana, Stephanie, and Leslie as part of the team making investment decisions for the fund." Click here to read more recent new hires in Houston tech.

Derrick Morse, CEO and co-founder of Rugged Robotics

Rugged Robotics has created a solution that provides construction customers with an automated layout-as-a-service tool. Image via LinkedIn

Rugged Robotics, a Houston-based robotics startup working in the commercial construction field, has closed its latest round of funding. The $9.4 million series A round was led by BOLD Capital Partners and Brick & Mortar Ventures.

“We’re building better,” says Morse, who serves as CEO, in the release. “We set out to modernize the construction industry, and to build practical solutions that solve the pain points contractors struggle with every day. We believe that layout is the ideal starting point. Layout is the beachhead for construction automation. It sits at the intersection of the digital and physical world, solves a huge problem, and unlocks the ability to deploy robotics onto job sites in a very meaningful way.” Click here to read more.

Here are three of the latest updates on new execs and advisory appointments from two Houston startups and a local venture group. Photo via Getty Images

3 Houston organizations announce strategic appointments across biotech and VC

short stories

Five Houston innovators have new roles they're excited about this spring. From new advisory board members to c-level execs, here's who's moving and shaking in Houston innovation.

The Artemis Fund names new vice president of finance and operations

Adrienne Mangual has a background in finance and consulting. Photo courtesy of Artemis

The Artemis Fund, a venture capital firm that funds female-founded startups with technology solutions in fintech, e-commerce tech, and care-tech, has announced a new member of its leadership.

Adrienne Mangual is the new vice president of finance and operations at the firm, joining Artemis's co-founders and general partners, Stephanie Campbell, Leslie Goldman, and Diana Murakhovskaya, along with Austin-based Juliette Richert, a senior analyst.

Mangual received her MBA from Rice University in 2019 after working 15 years in finance roles at J.P. Morgan and Key Energy Services. Over the past few years, she's worked in consulting positions with startups and technology.

"This is an exciting time to join The Artemis Fund as the fund is growing and our reach is expanding and continuing to make an impact on female founders," Mangual tells InnovationMap. "I am looking forward to supporting existing and future female founders and working with Diana, Stephanie, and Leslie as part of the team making investment decisions for the fund."

FibroBiologics appoints scientific advisory board member

Former astronaut Kate Rubins, who's spent a total of 300 days in space, has joined the a Houston company's scientific advisory board. Photo courtesy of FibroBiologics

Houston-based clinical-stage therapeutics company FibroBiologics announced the appointment of Kathleen “Kate” Rubins, Ph.D., to its scientific advisory board. A microbiologist and NASA astronaut, Rubins has conducted medical research on earth at academic institutions as well as on board the International Space Station.

“We are honored to welcome Dr. Rubins to our SAB,” says Pete O’Heeron, CEO and chairman of FibroBiologics, in a news release. “She has distinguished herself in both terrestrial research at the Salk and Whitehead Institutes and through her ethereal work on the International Space Station.

"It’s rare to have such a unique perspective on microbiology," he continues. "Dr. Rubins joins a board of world-renowned scientists who will help to guide us as we advance fibroblast cell-based therapeutics through preclinical and clinical development. We are the only company focused on this unique opportunity in leveraging fibroblasts as treatments for chronic diseases and Dr. Rubins will be a key advisor in our pursuit to bring relief to the patients.”

In 2016, Rubins completed her first spaceflight on Expedition 48/49, where she became the first person to sequence DNA in space. Most recently, she served on the ISS as a flight engineer for Expedition 63/64. Across her two flights, she has spent a total of 300 days in space, the fourth most days in space by a U.S. female astronaut, according to the release.

Cemvita Factory hires, promotes within its leadership team

Tara Karimi, co-founder and CTO, stands with Cemvita Factory's two new hires and recently promoted employee. Photo courtesy of Cemvita

Cemvita Factory has made big moves in its leadership team. The low-carbon biotech and synthetic biology solution provider has recently made three strategic appointments: Charles Nelson was hired as chief business officer, Roger A. Harris was promoted to chief commercial officer, and Alex Juminaga was recruited as head of strain development.

“Scaling to meet market demand requires the right team at the right time,” says Tara Karimi, co-founder and CTO of Cemvita, in a news release. “With Charlie, Roger, and Alex’s leadership, we’re well-positioned for growth at a time when the demand for decarbonization solutions is greater than ever.”

With over 10 years in product development, engineering, and technology commercialization experience, Nelson will oversee all aspects of sales, business development, and customer success.

“At Cemvita, we create sustainable solutions to challenges across heavy industries,” says Nelson in the release. “Our goal is to reinvent heavy industries in ways that speak to the future, reduce companies’ carbon footprints, and even create jobs; I’m delighted to help lead the charge.”

Harris originally joined Cemvita as vice president of technology commercialization a year ago and has over two decades of experience in research and development, and engineering. In his new role, he is responsible for scaling and commercializing the startup's technology.

“Cemvita is positioned incredibly well to support heavy industry in efforts to innovate, and to help oil and gas diversify offerings and reduce dependency on carbon-intensive products,” says Harris in the release. “It is an exciting time and I’m thrilled to be with Cemvita.”

Lastly, Alex Juminaga will lead the Cemvita biofoundry’s production of novel biomolecules. He brings over a decade of laboratory experience — specializing in metabolic engineering, protein expression/purification, enzyme kinetics and binding assays, analytical chemistry, and more.

“The field of synthetic biology is just getting started, with thousands of microbes yet to be discovered,” says Juminaga. “I’m excited to work alongside the brilliant scientists at Cemvita as we uncover new microbiomes and new uses for these tiny treasures.”

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Stephanie Campbell of HAN and The Artemis Fund, Larry Lawson of Proxima Clinical Research, and Vanessa Wyche of the Johnson Space Center. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

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

Stephanie Campbell, managing director of the Houston Angel Network and general partner at The Artemis Fund

Local investment leader talks trends in Houston venture capital activity

Stephanie Campbell joins the Houston Innovators Podcast last week to share some trends in early-stage investing. Photo courtesy of HAN

There were so many question marks at the beginning of the pandemic, especially for startup funding. Stephanie Campbell, who manages the most active angel network as well as a venture capital fund, says no one was sure how anything was going to pan out. Now, looking back on last year, VC did ok, she says on the Houston Innovators Podcast, and the Houston Angel Network saw membership growth.

"I think that given the markets with quite a bit of liquidity, people were looking for new and interesting ways to invest and make a return," Campbell says on the podcast. "In 2020, we actually grew by 30 percent and are up to 130 members of the Houston Angel Network and are continuing to grow through 2021."

Campbell shares more of her observations on the show and what she's focused on next. Click here to read more and stream the episode.

Larry Lawson, co-founder of Proxima Clinical Research

Larry Lawson joined InnovationMap for a Q&A about his startup's recent exit, his role on the boards of five med device companies, his investment activity, and more. Photo courtesy of Larry Lawson

When Larry Lawson started his career in the medical device industry, it was hard to get funding. The health tech founder and investor says if it wasn't oil or real estate, banks couldn't understand well enough to make a loan. So, he bootstrapped, raised from friends and family, and found venture capital support for his business endeavors over the years. Now, he's celebrating a $1.4 billion exit of his last business, Preventice Solutions, a deal that closed earlier this year.

The ecosystem in Houston has changed, he says, and he's seen it evolve as the Texas Medical Center grew and the Rice Business Plan Competition brought impressive student innovators from all around the globe.

"The health science community here in Houston is now known all over the world," he tells InnovationMap. "It's gonna just continue to grow and develop, and I hope to be a part of continue to be a part of it." Click here to read more.

Vanessa Wyche, director of Johnson Space Center

Vanessa Wyche is the first Black woman to lead a NASA center. Photo courtesy of NASA

For the first time, NASA has a Black woman at the helm of a space center. Vanessa Wyche has been named director of Johnson Space Center in Houston after serving as acting director since May 3.

"Vanessa is a tenacious leader who has broken down barriers throughout her career," Pam Melroy, deputy administrator of NASA, says in a news release. "Vanessa's more than three decades at NASA and program experience in almost all of the human spaceflight programs at Johnson is an incredible asset to the agency. In the years to come, I'm confident that Houston will continue to lead the way in human spaceflight."

As director of Johnson Space Center, Wyche now leads more than 10,000 NASA employees and contractors. Click here to read more.

Stephanie Campbell joins the Houston Innovators Podcast this week to share some trends in early-stage investing. Photo courtesy of HAN

Local investment leader talks trends in Houston venture capital activity

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 91

Backed by fresh funding from limited partners, The Artemis Fund is growing its portfolio at a time when funding female founders is more important than ever.

Stephanie Campbell — general partner and co-founder of The Artemis Fund, a Houston-based venture fund focused on supporting female founders — joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss Artemis's first $15 million fund, which closed earlier this year.

"We raised more than half of the fund during the pandemic, so we know what it was like to be a founder raising funds in a pandemic," Campbell says on the episode. "Running a fund, I don't think a lot of people realize, is a lot like starting a startup, except we're raising money and backing startups at the same time."

The Artemis Fund invested in 10 startups — two in Houston — since its launch in 2019 and it was raising its fund I. Now, for 2021, Campbell and her partners — Leslie Goldman and Diana Murakhovskaya — are on the hunt for five more early-stage female-led companies to back.

"We're laser focused on finding the final five awesome women to add to our portfolio and then we'll start thinking seriously about launching fund II, probably at the end of the year," she explains.

Campbell says Artemis looks for seed-stage companies with a product already developed and ready to scale.

"We're really good at finding companies that have essentially bootstrapped, have a product in market with revenue, and we're usually that first institutional check," she says.

Within the companies that already make up the portfolio, a trend has emerged. Campbell says they are targeting fintech and e-commerce companies, as well as startups within caretech.

"These founders — all 10 of them — are in our mind creating a technology that helps people build wealth and care for their families and communities more sustainably," she says.

Speaking on VC trends, Campbell, who's also the managing director of the Houston Angel Network, says that despite the problems the pandemic provided the innovation ecosystem, HAN actually saw sizeable growth in membership and interest.

"I think that given the markets with quite a bit of liquidity, people were looking for new and interesting ways to invest and make a return," Campbell says on the podcast. "In 2020, we actually grew by 30 percent and are up to 130 members of the Houston Angel Network and are continuing to grow through 2021."

The organization pivoted to virtual pitches right off the bat and didn't slow down at all at the emergence of COVID-19. In fact, pitching at HAN has only gotten more competitive, Campbell says, and the membership is looking for early-stage companies that are out of just idea stage.

"It's getting harder and harder to get pre-seed funding in that first check for an idea stage," Campbell says on trends in the industry. "There are just so many deals that have done so much with so little to prove that they have product-market fit — and those tend to be the deals that pitch at our monthly meetings."

Campbell shares more about the trends in VC in Houston on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Two Houston venture capitalists — Heath Butler and Stephanie Campbell — discussed how diversity and inclusion are force multipliers for investors and factoring that in is increasingly important. Photos courtesy

Houston experts: Diversity is key to venture capital success

force multiplying investments

Venture capital firms across the board have a goal of driving a return on their investments, but getting a good ROI and factoring in diversity and inclusion into the equation are not mutually exclusive.

In fact, on a panel at the HX Venture Fund's recent conference, Venture Houston, two investors focused on diversity and inclusion made the point that diversity is a key ingredient to successful investing. The panel, hosted by Michael Lipe, managing director at Insperity, consisted of Stephanie Campbell of The Artemis Fund and the Houston Angel Network and Heath Butler of Urban Capital Network and Mercury Fund.

"If you don't believe that diversity outperforms or that having diverse perspectives coming to the table helps your business outperform, then you probably have not been exposed to diverse thought," Campbell says on the panel.

And, as she continues, the proof is in the data "that diversity does outperform and can be a real force multiplier for your portfolio."

"In terms of returns, the Kauffman Fellows found that women-led teams generate 35 percent higher returns on investment than all-male-led teams," Campbell sites. "Pitchbook and All Raise found that women-led teams exit faster and at higher multiples than their all-male counterparts."

Butler recognizes that there's an emotional side of the discussion of diversity and inclusion — especially in this day and age — and that's nothing to disregard. But, he says, building onto that, VC is about discovering new opportunities — it's what VC funds' limited partners are expecting.

"From a more tangible perspective, we are in the business of finding untapped markets and opportunities to invest in and I believe our LPs expect us to leave no stone unturned," he says. "Ultimately you have to recognize that the hockey puck is moving in a direction where your LPs will require you to be looking under every stone to deliver a superior return."

Butler gives Mercury Fund as an example. At its founding, the team saw the middle of America as an untapped opportunity. The challenge is that investors tend to gravitate to ideas and people they know.

"So much of investing in early-stage innovation is intuitive, and investors will usually invest in what they know and resonates with them," Butler says. "But we have to recognize that there's a natural inefficiency in trying to relate intuitively to someone who's different from you."

The key is creating a team and mission with a clear intent and focus on measuring the impact. This goes down to hiring the right people with in your VC team as well as setting up a culture for diversity to succeed.

"If two hiring managers with similar needs," Butler says, "and one has a naturally inclusive mindset and the other feels pressure to meet a diversity quota — in the long run, which team will truly leverage and profit from a diverse perspective?"

Campbell says now is the time to invest in diversity — especially in Houston. During the pandemic, overall seed funding went up but funding for female founders reached a three-year low. Houston has a population doesn't have a racial majority — and that's what the entire country will look like in 2055, Campbell says.

"The opportunity we have in Houston to capitalize on diverse talent can really be a great opportunity to show the nation what can be done with that diverse talent pool," she says.

Houston also has an opportunity to support and invest in women or people of color who have been overlooked but have innovative solutions for society's most urgent problems.

"The more that we invest in diverse perspectives and diverse founders the more solutions, products, and services are going to come into the market for a broader populations and empower those economies to solve some of our deepest problems," Campbell says.

Both experts end on a call to action for their fellow investors: take inventory of the impact you have now and make intentional moves toward inclusion and equity — otherwise you're leaving money and talent on the table.

"If you don't have a diverse team, you don't have a diverse perspective, which means you have an incomplete perspective," Butler says. "You're missing out on opportunity to connect with people, purchasing power, and ultimately profits."

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Houston energy storage startup secures $10M in federal funding

seeing green

A Houston-based company that's got a solution to renewable energy storage has just secured funding from a federal entity.

The U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, is granting Quidnet Energy $10 million in funding, the Houston company announced this week. The funding is a part of the ARPA-E Seeding Critical Advances for Leading Energy technologies with Untapped Potential, the SCALEUP program. This initiative is aimed at providing funding to previous ARPA-E teams "that have been determined to be feasible for widespread deployment and commercialization domestically," per a news release.

“We’re honored that ARPA-E has selected Quidnet Energy as an awardee of the SCALEUP program,” says Joe Zhou, CEO of Quidnet Energy, in the release. “This funding will support continued work on our Geomechanical Pumped Storage (GPS) project with CPS Energy, which will demonstrate the benefits of using proven pumped hydro technology to create a long-duration energy storage resource that doesn’t require mountainous terrain. We look forward to continuing our partnership with CPS Energy and thank ARPA-E for acknowledging the potential of GPS for long-duration storage.”

The company's technology can store renewable energy for long periods of time in large quantities. The process includes storing pressurized water underground and, when the stored energy is needed, the water propels hydroelectric turbines and produces the electricity to support the grid at a fraction of the cost, per the news release. The concept is similar to existing gravity-powered pumped storage, but with less land required.

The fresh funding will be used toward Quidnet Energy’s ongoing project with San Antonio-based utilitary provider CPS Energy. This collaboration is scaling the company's GPS to a 1 MW/10 MWh commercial system, per the release, that will provide CPS Energy with over 10 hour long-duration energy storage system.

In 2020, Quidnet closed its $10 million series B financing round and secured a major contract with the New York State Energy Development Authority. The series B round included participation from Bill Gates-backed Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Canada-based Evok Innovations, which both previously invested in the company, as well as new investors Trafigura and The Jeremy and Hannelore Grantham Environmental Trust.

New Texas-based mental health subscription box plans national launch at SXSW 2023

speak now and hold your peace

Mental health apps are so alluring, but once you’ve recorded your two-week streak and things are feeling a little more organized, it can be hard to keep going. It’s hard enough to keep up with journaling and a great bedtime routine, and many lovely self-help tools also lose their effectiveness when the novelty wears off.

A smart company might harness that novelty as its hook — and an easily distracted self-helper won’t fall off the wagon. Like many other companies in the mental health space, Speak As One will work on a subscription model, but this one won’t languish, unused on a credit card statement. The service, which plans to launch during SXSW 2023, delivers boxes of tangible mental health tools, inspiration, games, and even sensory objects that act as a monthly nudge to try something new, and curiosity takes care of the rest.

A sample box included:

  • Stress balls with short inspirational phrases by MindPanda
  • An Emotional First Aid Kit containing advice for situations as they come up, like sleeplessness and feelings of inadequacy
  • Tiny colorful putties at different resistances by Flint Rehab
  • A notebook, and two books: Athlete Mental Health Playbook and 1000 Unique Questions About Me
  • Other small items

It’s more than packing and shipping out a few toys each month. The boxes are curated with help from a licensed therapist, who leaves a personal note along with tips on how to use the items inside and additional resources. There is one type of box right now that aims to “reduce anxiety, increase mindfulness, and promote peace and balance,” but for further customization (for $10 more), the team is working on boxes tailored to first responders, veterans, athletes, and people in “recovery.”

Speak As One emphasizes community stories in its branding outside the delivery box, and uses inspiration from “influencers” (less content creators and more so people who can embody a relatable story) to build the specialty boxes. The company’s YouTube channel shares dozens of interviews with founder Julie Korioth, a former board member for Austin’s SIMS Foundation, a well-respected mental health resource for members of the local music industry.

“With hundreds of millions of people struggling with mental health, and COVID making the issue much worse, society continues to ostracize those who openly discuss mental health issues,” said Korioth in a release. “I founded this company so we can change the way the world sees, discusses, and supports mental health. Our goal is to promote empathy, connectedness, acceptance, and thoughtfulness with an innovative toolkit that caters to specific needs."

In addition to offering a nudge, these boxes could make great care packages for a loved one who is feeling introspective or going through a significant life event. It is possible to buy gift boxes, if presentation is your thing, but it’d be just as easy to repackage a box that comes before the receiver ready to appreciate the items at home.

The cost of one box is manageable at $49.99 (especially considering the retail value of products included, which the sample box far exceed), but for many subscribers this adds up fast. Luckily, there is no pressure to continue a lengthy commitment — subscriptions last between one and six months, so users have plenty of time to reconsider and sit with the items that have already been delivered.“

The goal is to meet our audience at any phase of their mental health journey,” said Korioth. “We’re creating change and a global life-long support system for children and adults dealing with mental health challenges. We simultaneously highlight businesses, the tech community, athletes, and artists doing wonderful work in this space.”

The company plans to partner with corporations to connect with employees and provide boxes to individuals the company chooses, and will turn some content into session albums with sales proceeds dedicated to mental health research.

More information and links to preorder are available at speakasone.com.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston expert shares tips for navigating cybersecurity challenges amid the holiday season

guest column

It’s a grinch's cyber-playground, and this holiday season, you’re at risk — even if you think it won’t happen to you.

The good news is you can protect yourself from scams and fraud. Just remember that cybercriminals don’t discriminate, they can prey on anyone.

These statistics may surprise you:

  • Anxiety about having a mobile device hacked differs by demographic; low-income Black women rank mobile security as their number one concern, while the general population ranks mobile security as their third largest concern, according to a recent Recon Analytics survey of more than 3,297 U.S. consumers.
  • 44 percent of millennials have been victims of online crime in the last year and 31 percent admit they share their passwords with others.
  • Romance scams resulted in the most financial losses for adults aged 60 and over
  • Younger consumers took fewest actions after being notified of a data breach affecting their identity/online accounts in Q1 2022
  • Nearly 50 percent of American gamers have experienced a cyberattack on their gaming account or device
  • 47 percent of women who live in cities say their identities and/or data has been compromised in the past 6 months due to lack of home internet protections, compared with 53 percent of city men who say the same thing, according to a recent Recon Analytics survey.

People everywhere, regardless of gender, race, income level, education, or age, deserve to feel safe online. And yet, many aren’t aware how to protect themselves, don’t make it a priority, or wait to act until they are alerted to suspicious activity.

With words like malware, phishing, spoofing, and encryption, learning to protect yourself can feel like a college-level course. But it doesn’t have to be that complicated.

Top 5 ways to guard against cyberthreats

By following five simple steps, you can start to protect your network, devices and data from many digital threats.

  1. Understand cyberattacks are real. One of the first hacks was documented in 1963 and today, nearly 60 years later, hackers are attacking phones and computers every 39 seconds. Cyberattacks continue to grow in number every year.
  2. Be proactive. Don’t wait for an attack to happen. Monitor your accounts daily so you are the first to know if suspicious activity is occurring. Check with your wireless carrier to see if they have tools to help. AT&T customers can download the free ActiveArmor mobile security app to help block spam calls and secure their personal data. And ask your internet provider about extra layers of security available to you at home. AT&T Fiber customers can access AT&T ActiveArmor internet security features at no additional cost to them.
  3. Step up your mobile security. Mobile devices now account for more than 60 percent of digital fraud. Mobile banking, online shopping, streaming videos and storing documents make our phones a central location for sensitive information. Your wireless carrier may be able to help. AT&T offers advanced security like Public Wi-Fi Protection, Identity Monitoring and Safe Browsing for no extra charge with some of our plans. Check with your carrier to make sure they’re doing what they can to keep you safe.
  4. Protect your passwords. We all know it’s necessary, but not all of us take steps to do it. 68 percent of people admit to using the same password across multiple logins. Using a strong password that differs from site-to-site will help decrease your chances of being hacked. If you struggle with passwords, consider getting a password manager.
  5. Report suspicious text messages. As mobile operators have more success blocking illegal robocalls, scammers have turned to text messages. But now it’s easier than ever to report spam texts to help block and control them. The latest iOS and Android operating systems have a simple reporting feature in their Apple and Google messaging apps.
Dedicate some time to safeguard your information this holiday season. For more cybersecurity resources (regardless of your carrier), visit att.com/CyberAware. If you or someone you know is new to computers or mobile devices, click here for more information on our free digital literacy courses.

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Luis Silva is vice president and general manager at AT&T.