Texas cities dominate list of best places to work in tech, a startup contest is accepting applications, Amazon invests in Houston community, and more local innovation news. Getty Images

Just like Houston's temperatures, the Bayou City's innovation news is heating up for the summer. From a new startup competition and a big donation from Amazon to Texas cities dominating a list of best places to work in technology, here's a roundup of innovation news happening in town.

Study finds greater Houston area ranks as best place to work in tech

Four Texas metros appear on the ranking. Chart via SmartAsset

A new study from SmartAsset identified the best places to work in technology, and Houston ranked at No. 15. The researchers looked into the country's top 50 populated areas across five metrics: percentage of workers employed in tech, average salary for tech workers, ratio of average tech salary to average salary across all fields, percentage of currently listed bachelor's jobs that are in tech and cost of living.

Texas was well represented on the list, and three Lone Star State metroplexes landed on the list ahead of Houston. Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington tied for the No. 3 position with Raleigh, North Carolina. Meanwhile, central Texas' Austin-Round Rock and San Antonio-New Braunfels tied for No. 7.

The study found that most of these top cities reside in the south, and the northeastern part of the country ranked poorly on these metrics.

Capital Factory launches $100,000 startup competition

Calling all cognitive tech startups. Photo via austinstartups.com

Austin-based Capital Factory, which has a presence across the state, has opened applications for a $100,000 contest for tech startups. The Human Performance Investment Challenge is looking for hardware and/or software solutions that enhance physical or cognitive capabilities, according to an article the organization posted.

The challenge will conclude at Fed Supernova, a virtual event on July 15. The event is in collaboration with the Army Futures Command's Innovation Combine and xTechSearch programs. Applications are open now and close June 28.

Amazon teams up with Houston Food Bank to feed at-risk seniors

The Houston Food Bank is working with Amazon to feed senior citizens. Photo courtesy of Houston Food Bank

Last month, Amazon made a strategic donation focused on providing food to senior citizens disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. The tech giant's Amazon Flex sent drivers around town to make contactless deliveries to residents' doors, and, in just two days after launching, Amazon has delivered over 3,000 pounds of food — representing more than 2,000 meals.

"For so many of our senior citizens, the pandemic is especially troubling as they have health concerns, limited mobility and need assistance for such regular tasks as grocery shopping," says Brian Greene, president and CEO of Houston Food Bank, in a news release. "Because this population needs help, we wanted to add direct food deliveries for them, and we are so thankful to Amazon for stepping up to make this happen for our beloved senior citizens."

Amazon's efforts within the Bayou City are just one part of its commitment to deliver millions of meals across the country. In addition to the donated delivery service, Amazon has gifted a $50,000 COVID-19 response grant to the local organization to go to operational needs and food supplies.

"Communities around the world are facing the COVID-19 pandemic together, and in Houston we're proud to be doing our part to support our local community," says Bri Tye, general manager at Amazon's Fulfillment Centre in Katy, in the release. "The donation of $50,000 to the Houston Food Bank, and Amazon's Flex deliveries will go directly to helping feed seniors and families who need it most."

Houston fintech startup launches new product

HighRadius has premiered a new software product. Photo via highradius.com

Houston-based fintech startup, HighRadius, which provides software solutions and automation technology, announced its new RadiusOne A/R Suite for mid-sized businesses.

"We launched the RadiusOne B2B Network to facilitate suppliers and A/R teams to digitally connect with their buyers and A/P teams for faster processing of receivables and payments. Currently, the network has millions of active businesses," says Sashi Narahari, founder and CEO of HighRadius, in a news release. "The RadiusOne A/R Suite will provide the essential apps for A/R teams at mid-sized businesses to instantly plug their ERPs and A/R processes into this network and digitally connect with their buyers across the globe."

The new product is especially key in today's work-from-home environment in order to prevent slowdowns in accounts receivable departments.

"COVID-19 is putting a lot of working capital strain on businesses globally," Narahari says. "We are hoping to help by automating clerical A/R processes for mid-sized businesses and by reducing the friction for supplier A/R teams to digitally collaborate with their buyers and A/P teams."

The Cannon partners with minority-focused angel investment group

The Business Angel Minority Association launched at a breakfast event in March. Photo by Nijalon Dunn

The Cannon — an entrepreneurial hub — has joined forces with The Business Angel Minority Association, or baMa, to prioritize diversity within angel investing in Houston.

"Diversity plays an important role in early-stage investment decisions. The existing Business Angel associations are not diverse enough and this translates to a lack of pre-seed and seed angel investment in Minority-led startups", says Maria Maso, founder and CEO of baMa, in a news release.

The organization launched earlier this year to connect angel investors to minority-led startups. This partnership is in line with The Cannon's commitment to diversity, says the Cannon's CEO, Jon Lambert.

"baMa's mission to fill the glaring need for an early-stage investment focus on minority-led startups and/or startups targeting minority-driven markets is fundamental to The Cannon's vision to deliver every entrepreneur access to the startup resources needed to thrive," Lamber says in the release.

"For us, community is diversity – our partnership with baMa will extend and enhance the support system we are passionately growing and will provide baMa with access to our expanding community of startups and partners. We're excited to see where this partnership takes us – there is so much alignment in our desire to help the entire entrepreneurial community, we are expecting to accomplish big things together."

UH program addresses need for technology teachers

UH's teachHOUSTON program is preparing the next generation of technology educators. Photo courtesy of Chris Watts/uh.edu

With the number of jobs within technology expected to grow, the University of Houston has geared up to train the future's tech educators. UH's teachHOUSTON program, which trains STEM teachers who work in economically disadvantaged high schools within Houston, recently received $1.2 million from the National Science Foundation to continue its mission.

The funding will go toward a new program called UH-ACCESS — short for Advancing Cultural and Computational Engagement in STEM Scholars. The program, which begins this fall, will train 30 UH students from varying disciplines to teach computer science, physics and technology at the high school level.

"Our goal is to prepare a diverse group of teachers who will inspire students to become the country's next technologically advanced, highly-skilled workforce," says Paige Evans, associate director of teachHOUSTON and principal investigator on the project, in a news release.

The selected UH-ACCESS scholars will receive a $12,000 scholarship per year for two years, and they will work in the field across Houston, Alvin, Pasadena, Spring Branch, and Cy-Fair Independent School Districts.

"We are trying to find potential teachers who already exhibit a sociocultural awareness," continues Evans. "Research has shown that students do better in science, technology, engineering and math if the content is connected to their community and culture."

HCC launches tech tool for job hunters

HCC is helping job hunters across the city. VioletaStoimenova/Getty Images

Houston Community College has launched a new tool for job hunters that identifies occupations and the accelerated certificate programs within the higher educational system. JobsNowHouston.org will help Houston's unemployed gain key skills and certifications to make them a more marketable employee.

"COVID-19 has challenged us all, forcing us to rethink every facet of education and community responsiveness," says Dr. Cesar Maldonado, chancellor of Houston Community College, in a news release. "JobsNowHouston.org will connect people with the resources they need to gain the skills and knowledge necessary to compete in our new workforce and is a great example of how everyone at Houston Community College is working even harder to provide training and education to fill in- demand jobs."

According to the release, COVID-19 pushed over 1.5 million Texas residents into unemployment but — at the same time — nearly 481,000 job openings have been posted recently. HCC hopes its JobsNowHouston.org initiative can connect the dots to more easily facilitate retainings and upskilling for these unemployed.

The Cannon has announced plans to acquire Houston-based crowdfunding startup LetsLaunch. Courtesy of Quy Tran/The Cannon

Exclusive: Houston entrepreneurial hub set to acquire local fintech startup

growth stage

The Cannon, a Houston startup development organization with a network of coworking hubs, has announced its plans to acquire a Houston fintech startup.

LetsLaunch, an online investment platform that allows for smaller investments from non-accredited investors, has been connected with The Cannon in the past, and the two entities have even had a partnership arrangement. Now, The Cannon has plans to acquire LetsLaunch in order to provide Cannon member companies with the fundraising option.

"The Cannon and LetsLaunch have a shared vision for enabling and optimizing the innovation ecosystem," says Jon Lambert, CEO of The Cannon, in a news release. "LetsLaunch has passionately developed a technology platform that will deliver significant value to the entrepreneurial community by bringing together start-ups and investors of all kinds. By integrating the LetsLaunch platform into The Cannon's digital offerings, we will enhance the fundraising and strategic connection value we offer to our innovation community."

Lambert says the opportunity to provide The Cannon's members this opportunity to fundraise comes at an important time.

"Fundraising in the COVID-19/Post COVID-19 era is, and is likely to remain, a bit of an unknown," he continues in the release. "Adding another viable funding channel for the startups in our community who are ready for investment will be a valued benefit for our members and will provide us exposure to a whole new group of entrepreneurial investors."

The terms of the deal haven't been disclosed, but it is expected to close in June 2020. The transaction remains subject to customary closing conditions and approvals.

"We built LetsLaunch to provide broad segments of the population with a mechanism to invest in startups, while giving startups another source of capital," says Nick Carnrite, who co-founded LetsLaunch in 2018, in the release. "Crowdfunding will always remain at LetsLaunch's core, but it also became clear we had a role to play in connecting the innovation community, including startups, investors, advisors, mentors and service providers, based on their location, interests and preferences."

According to the release, the acquisition falls in line with both companies' missions to help develop an ecosystem of resources for startups.

"[LetsLaunch's] vision is completely complementary to The Cannon's goal to develop a tightly integrated innovation ecosystem," adds Brian Coyle, co-founder of LetsLaunch. "There is no better time to work together to help support private businesses."

Innovation leaders have worked hard to advance its innovation infrastructure, and Lawson Gow doesn't want to see COVID-19 hold Houston back. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

Houston's innovation ecosystem can't lose momentum amid COVID-19, entrepreneur says

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 28

If you would have asked Lawson Gow a few weeks ago how he was feeling about the coronavirus closing down all three of his company's coworking spaces, his answer would have been pretty bleak. But now, as The Cannon has turned its attention to creating crisis-focused programming and digital resources and support for startups, he has a much more optimistic outlook on the future of his company.

What he's worried about now is the city as a whole losing its traction in developing its innovation ecosystem. Pre-COVID-19, the city was on a path to a robust and developing environment for startups and technology. Now, the city's innovation leaders need to stick together to keep from backtracking.

"We've got more momentum than we've ever had before," Gow says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "What keeps me up at night is trying to consider how we don't lose any of this momentum. We're in a good, exciting spot. It's not an option for us as a city to lose this momentum right now."

While Gow — who is the son of David Gow, owner of InnovationMap's parent company, Gow Media — is optimistic about Houston's future, he notes how there will be a significant shift in the city's developing innovation districts present themselves.

"What's interesting is if you read the academic literature on innovation districts, it talks about density, collisions, interactions, and an ecosystem of swirling hustle and bustle of people interacting with each other," Gow says. "It reads like a how-to manual for how to spread disease."

When it comes to the future of coworking, Gow observes that, after companies have downsized and even let go of some physical space they have, shareable spaces — with the proper precautions — might be even more in demand.

"I think coming out of this, there's going to be a real place in the world for coworking. It's not going away, and, in fact, it's going to be even more necessary than ever," he says. "There's going to need to be policies and procedures that are much more mindful of health and wellness and the spread of infection."

There's still a lot to be determined on how The Cannon will emerge from the shutdown and what sort of new methods of keeping members safe and healthy they will implement — but Gow says knows those days are coming.

"There's a resiliency to the human spirit — and also an insistence on living life uninterrupted," Gow says on the episode. "We will get back to normalcy. I think it'll be gradual."

Gow shares his thoughts on the pandemic, as well as his advice for struggling startups on the podcast. Listen to the full episode below — or wherever you get your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


It's a busy month in Houston. Luis Alvarez/Getty Images

10+ can't-miss Houston business and innovation events for March

Where to be

Editor's note: SXSW has been canceled due to the coronavirus since the publishing on this events roundup. The original version of this article is below.

March is a busy month for Houston in general — but especially when it comes to innovation. The inaugural Houston Tech Rodeo starts out the month and the Rice Business Plan Competition closes out March in a few weeks — and the interactive weekend at SXSW falls right in the middle of the month for those planning the trip to Austin.

But for the Houston innovators in the energy industry, March got a little less busy when CERAWeek by IHS Markit was canceled due to the growing threat of the coronavirus, or COVID19.

Should any other events below have that same fate, this article will be updated.

March 2-6 — Houston Tech Rodeo

A week full of events, the Tech Rodeo is made up of over 30 innovation events across Houston. These are InnovationMap's picks for what to attend during the week. For a complete list of the events (most of which are free), head to the website.

Details: The event is from Monday, March 2, to Friday, March 6 across Houston. Learn more.

March 5 — Space Center Houston's Thought Leader Series: Designing for Human Performance

Learn how human factors engineering relates to spacecraft and spacesuit design while celebrating Women's History Month and the 20th anniversary of the International Space Station. Speakers include Celena Dopart, human factors engineer for Starliner at Boeing, and Katie Spira, NASA flight controller.

Details: The event is at 7 pm on Thursday, March 5, at Space Center Houston (1601 E NASA Pkwy). Learn more.

March 6 — Premier Talks: Women in Innovation & Technology 

Join this panel of accomplished women as they discuss the importance of being a woman in the current workforce and leading among your peers. Be empowered to self-evaluate, inspire those around you, and raise the bar on your professional goals. Discuss the challenges women face in a male dominated technology workforce and why it is important to take the limits off of your thinking.

Details: The event is from 9:15 to 11 am on Friday, March 6, at GA Houston (1301 Fannin St, Floor 21). Learn more.

March 6 — The Greater Houston Partnership’s Rise to the Top

Celebrating International Women's Day, the Greater Houston Partnership and the Partnership's Women's Business Alliance brings the Rise to the Top event. Expect a keynote address from Gretchen Watkins, president atShell Oil Company and executive vice president at Global Unconventionals, Shell Oil Company, and candid conversations from a panel of female executives discussing the challenges and triumphs of succeeding as a woman in today's business environment.

Details: The event is from 10:30 am to 1:30 pm on Friday, March 6, at Hilton Americas (1600 Lamar St.). Learn more.

March 10 — Equinor & Techstars Energy Accelerator Meet & Greet

If you're an energy-focused startup, don't miss this info session with the Equinor & Techstars Energy Accelerator, which is visiting Houston and looking for the 10 best energy companies for its next cohort.

Details: The event is from 6 to 9 pm on Monday, March 10, at The Ion (1301 Fannin Street, Suite 2440). Learn more.

March 10-11 — Energy 2.0: Equality, Environment, and the New Economy

Join over 100,000 people taking part in Energy 2.0 2020; an innovative experience that addresses new frontiers in the energy industry where business, workforce, environment, innovation, and policy intersect. Spread across multiple locations and continents, corporate watch sites around the globe, and simulcast online, Energy 2.0 brings energy professionals and a diverse mix of experts across various disciplines together for learning and networking opportunities.

Details: The event is from Monday, March 10, to Tuesday, March 11, online and at The Westin Houston, Memorial City (945 Gessner Rd.). Learn more.

March 12 — Lunch n' Learn: In Today's Market - Do Patents Even Matter?

Inventors and business professionals are asked to review the claims of their patent application before it is filed. This step is THE critical step that is supposed to ensure that the claims will protect their invention. The decision you make here determines if you will be part of the 97 percent of all patents that never recoup the cost of filing them.

Details: The event is from noon to 1:30 pm on Wednesday, March 12, at The Ion (1301 Fannin Street, Suite 2440). Learn more.

March 19 — Science First: How 3D Printing is Reshaping the Future of Healthcare

Technology is evolving faster than ever – and advancements in 3D printing could revolutionize the delivery of healthcare products and solutions to change the trajectory of health for humanity.

Details: The event is from 11:30 am to 2 pm on Wednesday, March 19, at JLABS @ TMC (2450 Holcombe Blvd.). Learn more.

March 24 — How to Form a Micro VC Fund Workshop at Mercury Fund

Welcoming all angels, previous founders, MBA students, aspiring and current venture capitalists that are interested in learning more about the basic essentials for starting a small venture fund. Speakers are Blair Garrou of Mercury Fund and Justin LaPoten of BADR Investments.

Details: The event is from 10 to 11 am on Tuesday, March 24, at Mercury Fund (3737 Buffalo Speedway, #Suite 1750). Learn more.

March 25 — 2020 H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge - Startup Competition

The H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge Startup Competition is Rice's newest entrepreneurship competition, awarding over $60,000 in prize money to Rice-affiliated teams. Students and alumni enter business ideas (high growth ventures or small business ideas) to compete.

Details: The event is from 6 to 9 pm on Wednesday, March 25, at Liu Idea Lab For Innovation & Entrepreneurship (Rice University - Cambridge Office Building). Learn more.

March 26 — T3CH Workshop: Grow With Google "Using Data to Drive Business Growth"

In this T3CH workshop, you'll learn best practices on data-driven decision making; and get practical guidance on how to find and analyze trends regarding online customer engagement with your business, so you can turn those insights into well-informed, actionable decisions.

Details: The event is from noon to 1 pm on Thursday, March 26, at Impact Hub Houston @ The Cannon Post Oak (675 Bering Drive, #200). Learn more.

March 26-28 — Rice Business Plan Competition

The event — dubbed the "world's richest and largest student startup competition" — begins later this month. The Rice Business Plan Competition will host 42 student teams from all over the world. The three-day contest consists of pitches, judging, and a closing banquet where the winners are revealed.

Details: The event is from Thursday, March 26, to Saturday, March 28, at Rice University and the Hilton Americas. Learn more.

Houston is hosting a bit of a tech takeover week during the first week of March. Photo by Zview/Getty Images

These are the events to attend each day during the Houston Tech Rodeo

Where to be

Houston Exponential has tapped into the Houston innovation ecosystem to coordinate a week of events to speak to the city's startups, investors, and startup development organizations.

The week, called the Houston Tech Rodeo, will take place March 2 to 6 — in coordination with the start of the Houston Livestock Show And Rodeo — all across town. From panels and meetups to office hours and pitch events, there's a lot to navigate in the inaugural week. For a complete list of Tech Rodeo events (most of which are free and all over town), head to the website.

Here are the events you should make sure not to miss. Each featured event is free and open to the public.

Monday: Houston Tech Rodeo Kickoff Event

Launching the week is a happy hour event with a networking opportunity and a panel brought to you by InnovationMap, KPMG, and Houston Exponential. The event is on Monday, March 2, from 4 to 6:30 pm at Karbach Brewing Co. (2032 Karbach St.). After a short introduction from KPMG and HX, Blair Garrou, managing director at Mercury Fund; Leslie Goldman, general partner at The Artemis Fund; and Samantha Lewis, director of GOOSE, will discuss the VC culture in Houston vs. the world. Click here to register.

Tuesday: The Founders Round Up at The Cannon

Why attend one event when you can attend a day full of constructive events geared at entrepreneurs? From 9 am to 5 pm on Tuesday, March 3, at The Cannon, catch workshops and panels ranging from startup failure reasons to revenue tips. From 3 to 5 pm, there's a lean startup meet-up workshop to attend. Click here to register.

Additional events:

  • HX will also be hosting its "Conventional Financing for your Tech Business" workshop at 9 am at their office (410 Pierce St.) to help startups navigate their financial options. Click here to register.
  • DivInc. will be hosting an evening event to address "Diversity's Impact on Innovation" at The Ion (1301 Fannin St. Suite 2100). This event runs from 5:30 to 9 pm. Click here to register.

Wednesday: Jason Calacanis Founder Office Hours

Seven Houston entrepreneurs will join investor Jason Calacanis onstage for office hours — but with an audience. The event, which is on Wednesday, March 4, from 9:30 to 11 am with networking to follow, is at Rice University - McNair Hall McNair Hall, Loop Road Shell Auditorium. Click here to register.

Additional event: The University of Houston's Office of Research is hosting a "Women in Science and Beyond" panel of successful female scientists. The event will take place at 5 pm at UH Technology Bridge Innovation Center, Building 4 (5000 Gulf Freeway). Click here to register.

Thursday: Reverse Pitch, Accelerators and Funds with the Ask

The tables have turned. Rather than Houston entrepreneurs pitching, accelerators and startup development organizations are taking the stage to pitch their programs to potential startup members. The event, which is at 9 am at Sesh Coworking (1210 West Clay St. #Suite 18) on Thursday, March 5, will be hosted by Brittany Barreto of Capital Factory. Click here to register.

Additional events:

  • Learn from the leading ladies of Houston innovation in The Ion's EmpowerHER event at 11 am at 1301 Fannin St. Suite 2100. Click here to register.
  • Wrap up your day with a networking opportunity from MassChallenge Texas at the C. Baldwin, Curio Collection by Hilton (400 Dallas Street). Click here to register.

Friday: BAMA Houston Launch Event

Celebrate the launch of the Business Angel Minority Association — a new organization looking to increase investments for minority-run startups. The networking and pitch event is on Friday, March 6, from 8 to 10 am at The Cannon Tower - Amegy Conference Center (1810 Main St, Suite 1300). Click here to register.

Additional event: Wrap up your week with networking hosted by HX. The event is from 5 to 7 pm at Saint Arnold Brewing Company (2000 Lyons Ave.) Click here to register.

Houston-based Corva, an AI-optimized analytics company, is in the process of hiring — a lot. Photo via corva.ai

Growing Houston energy tech company plans to hire 150 new employees this year

growing gains

While the oil and gas industry may be in store for sluggish growth in 2020, that's hardly the case for Houston-based energy tech startup Corva AI LLC.

Corva — which offers a real-time data analytics platform for drilling and completion (the stage when a well is prepared for production) — added 85 employees last year, mostly in Houston. And it's on track to make 150 new hires in 2020, including software developers, researchers, drilling engineers, and data analysts, says Courtney Diezi, the company's general manager. Two-thirds of this year's new hires will work in Houston, she says.

Diezi says the company's headcount currently stands at 120, with 100 employees in Houston and 20 in Ukraine.

Corva has expanded so much and so quickly that it outgrew its previous 11,000-square-foot office and is now at The Cannon, a coworking space and innovation hub in the Energy Corridor. It's set to move later this year to a new 40,000-square-foot space at The Cannon.

Founded in 2014 by CEO Ryan Dawson, Corva has raised just $3 million in outside funding to propel its growth.

"Our business has grown exponentially at the same pace as companies raising hundreds of millions in funding," Dawson says. "While the startup world has chased endless rounds of funding with the notion of either becoming a unicorn — or dying — we have focused on creating a company that cares deeply about our employees and a business that lasts 100 years."

Dawson describes Corva as the "modern brains" of drillings and completions. Oil and gas equipment sends millions of datapoints to Corva to help make complex decisions about drilling operations, she says. About 40 customers use Corva's technology.

In a 2019 news release, Dawson said Corva gauges its success "by the number of days we save on rigs, the costs we can quantifiably cut, and the number of catastrophic events we prevent." Corva's technology has saved millions of dollars for its customers and reduced the length of drilling projects by as many as three days, he said.

"Corva's challenge is to change the behavior of drillers who work for somebody else," the Journal of Petroleum Technology reported in 2019. "The fast-growing company has no shortage of users. Retaining those customers will require convincing oil companies that the real-time drilling data and analysis is creating enough value to justify the cost."

Corva's user-focused approach to developing technology helps attract and retain customers. Executives say they consider Corva a tech company that operates in the oil and gas sector rather than an oil and gas company that happens to develop software.

"Our software platform rivals Netflix and Twitter in terms of giant datasets and real-time processing," Diezi says. "Without a core expertise and founding team in software, we wouldn't be able to provide the amazing technology we do — it's too central to what we do. Corva is the perfect mixture of oil industry veterans and software whiz kids. Our customers love to work with us because we speak their language but provide world-class products solving hard problems."

As it continues to enlarge its workforce, Corva seeks to foster a workplace that embraces both oil industry veterans and software whiz kids.

"We want to be the most admired workplace in Houston, with a Google-like status both for our amazing products and our company culture," Diezi says.

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Overheard: Fintech company with Houston ties sees opportunity for growth in new work-from-home age

Eavesdropping in Houston

From esports to telemedicine, some technologies are having a major moment during the COVID-19 crisis. As many businesses are operating remotely with work-from-home policies in place indefinitely, payments automation is another technology that's seen an opportunity amid the pandemic.

AvidXchange, which has invoice and payment processes automation software for mid-market businesses, is one of the companies in this payment automation space that's seen growth in spite of the economic downturn caused by the virus. The Charlotte, North Carolina-based company was founded in 2000 and went on to acquire Houston-founded Strongroom Solutions Inc. in 2015.

Since the acquisition, AvidXchange has quadrupled its presence in Houston and does a good deal of business locally. Equipping companies with tools for remote work is crucial — now and especially in light of Houston's propensity for challenges. Tyler Gill, vice president of sales for AvidXchange based in the Houston office and former CEO of Strongroom, joined Houston Exponential on a virtual panel to discuss this topic.

"We've had a history of disasters in Houston. Any time we can help businesses move to a more cloud-based infrastructure is going to be better," Gill says on the livestream. "I think working from home is maybe the new normal for a lot of employees — so how do we enable this?"

Gill and his colleague, Chris Elmore, senior sales performance director at AvidXchange, joined Joey Sanchez of HX for the talk about the acquisition, the pandemic, and growth for the company. If you missed it or don't have time to stream the whole conversation, here are some impactful moments of the chat.

“Economic downturns have a tendency to put a very bright light on a feature set or a product or a service that’s underperforming."

— Elmore says on how the pandemic affects innovation and startups. "My hope is that entrepreneurs will see this as a real time to get focused on their business — what's working well and what's not working well — and my hope is that they'll say, 'I need to fix that,' not 'I wish this was better,'" he says.

“For a young entrepreneur looking to build a business, make sure you’re looking for the people who are germane to your business.”

— Gill says about starting his business in Houston. At first, he was trying to find investors in oil and gas, but he found more success working with companies with a background in finance technology. "Houston has a history and density in fintech — I just had to find it."

“The fact that Strongroom owned the automated payment process in HOA that made them so attractive to AvidXchange because we didn’t.”

— Elmore says on the 2015 acquisition. He explains that AvidXchange had set up a presence in multifamily and commercial real estate, while Strongroom had a hold on homeowner's association, or HOA, business. The two companies competed for a while, and if Strongroom hadn't had their HOA specialty that made the company ideal for acquisition, Elmore says the two companies would still be competing today.

“When Strongroom was added to AvidXchange, our culture improved. By the way, we went from 40 employees to 1,000 within 14 months, and Strongroom was right at the beginning of that.”

— Elmore says on growth following the acquisition. The company now has 1,500 employees across seven offices and just closed a $128 million round of fundraising in April.

“Customers don’t care how big you get or how much money you raise from investors. They care about if your service is still doing the things they need to operate their business.”

— Gill says, reminding entrepreneurs to always prioritize and be focused on the client experience — through mergers or acquisitions, fundraising rounds, growth, etc.

“When you replace human interaction with technology, what you have to do, is to now move that person on to something more impactful and more important for the business. I don’t like tech for tech’s sake.”

— Elmore says on the importance of automation. "When you automate something, the output of automation is time," he adds.

“Houston couldn’t be a better place to build a business — I found great investors and employees here. It’s a city that’s used to risk. But it’s got to be you, the entrepreneur, that’s got something festering — that’s how you know it’s a great idea.”

— Gill says on inspiring future innovators. "What kept me motivated was I wanted to win. I felt like we had a great product, and we had a big market to serve. … I wanted to build something lasting and build a great team."

“We continue to be a great Houston story — some of my angel investors in Houston are still benefiting."

— Gill says on AvidXchange's presence in Houston. He adds that he's proud of how his former Strongroom team members have risen through the ranks of the company following the acquisition and that he sees the company, which is still privately held, moving toward IPO.

Houston startup teams up with Austin company on medical device amid COVID-19 crisis

texans teaming up

Two Texas companies with NASA roots are joining forces on a technology that can be used to monitor vital signs of seniors or others that are at-risk of contracting COVID-19.

Houston-based Galen Data Inc., which has developed a cloud platform for medical devices, and Austin-based Advanced TeleSensors Inc., the creator of the Cardi/o touchless monitor. Together, the two health tech companies are collaborating to take ATS's device and adding Galen Data's cloud technology.

"We wish we had found Galen Data sooner. We had been building our own cloud for six months, thinking a custom solution would best meet our needs," says Sajol Ghoshal, CEO and president of ATS, in a news release. "Getting up-and-running with them was very easy, and it allowed us to focus on our core competency — which is data-signal processing."

ATS's technology uses radio frequency in its remote, touchless monitoring. The company's founders developed the core technology at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab. Initially, the technology was intended for assisted living facilities. Now, amid the COVID-19 crisis, monitoring isolated seniors or at-risk patients is even more relevant.

Galen Data, which launched in 2016, also has NASA roots as the founders met as software contractors working on NASA's safety systems. The company has developed and marketed its cloud-based platform for connecting medical devices to the internet, including pacemakers and glucose monitors.

Chris DuPont, co-founder and CEO, has led the company to meet compliance standards set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA), cybersecurity organizations, and others.

"We knew that our platform would be a great fit for Cardi/o," Chris DuPont, CEO of Galen Data, says. "Speed was critical, accentuated by the COVID-19 crisis. We were well positioned to address ATS' needs, and help those at-risk in the process."

Sajol Ghoshal (left), CEO and president of ATS, and Chris Dupont, (CEO of Galen Data), are bringing together their technologies. Photos courtesy

These are the risks and rewards of prototyping, according to Houston expert

Guest column

We live in a digital world. Music, movies, and even family photos have become primarily digital. Computer software offers us a range of comfort and efficiency and has become part of our daily routine. So, why would anyone want to build a career around physical product development?

Simple, almost every software product or next big thing relies on a well-executed physical product development project. Apps need a place to run, games need a console to be played, and pictures need a camera to be taken.

Physical product development means dreaming of something that does not yet exist and solves an existing problem. It means taking an intangible idea and making it into a physical item that people can see, touch, and use.

The journey from ideation to creation, and then manufacturing can be difficult, but rewarding. By understanding the process, you'll find that not only is your inspiration worth pursuing, but it may be one of the most fulfilling things you will ever do.

From inspiration to perspiration

Every product development project begins with a vision, the identification of a problem and a solution for that problem. That initial spark of inspiration is what drives the entire project.

Look for a problem that hasn't been solved and solve that problem, or try the reverse. Think of a product idea, and then work backwards to find the need. Regardless, one cannot be successful without the other.

Projects require this problem, or need, because it embodies the product's target market. A product idea without a well-defined need has no reason to exist, and if it did, it would be downright perplexing.

Once you identify your need and idea, start your research.

Test the validity of your idea. How much of a market exists for your problem-solving miracle? Send out surveys, look at various markets, conduct data analyses, and generally, do everything in your power to ensure that your product should be made.

Then, start making something.

From concept to reality

The design, prototype and manufacturing stages are what bring your inspiration closer to reality. Turning it into a concrete product means letting go, and that can be scary.

Initial concept designs can be done in a variety of different ways. Detailed sketches and blueprints could be drawn up, or CAD drawings can be created. This concept design can help you explain your idea to others, including partners and investors. What works even better, though, are prototypes.

A prototype is a preliminary model of your product that can help you determine the feasibility of different aspects of your design. You can make a functional prototype, which acts as a proof-of-concept for your idea, or you may create aesthetic prototypes that will test the look and feel of your product.

Once you nail down the ideal appearance and physicality of your product, you will need to combine the two disciplines as seamlessly as possible. This performance prototype will effectively demo your final product.

Finally, you can prepare your product for production. Designing for manufacturability (DFM) means ensuring that your product can be made efficiently and cost-effectively. DFM allows you to mistake-proof your product by choosing the best manufacturing materials and methods, while keeping in mind the appropriate regulations for your desired market.

From nothing into something

The product development process often changes. Trends like crowdsourcing and innovative fast-to-market solutions constantly upend the process and make it new again. Some automakers, for example, want to innovate the design process using existing customer data — similar to how companies like Microsoft and Apple create iterative versions of their software product development projects.

Getting your product to market can be tough, but certain approaches can ease the burden. Create a simpler product. Fail fast and fail cheap with lean development, meaning limit your risk to maximize your return. Also, never underestimate the importance of customer feedback and intellectual property protection throughout the process.

With that said, invest in yourself and your inspiration, and you will avoid that nagging what if-mentality that drives regret. Great reward always requires risk, but there are also ways to invest smarter. Use available resources and give your dream the best chance for success.

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Onega Ulanova is the founder of OKGlobal.