3 Houston innovators to know this week

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This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Sameer Soleja of Molecule, Gabriela Gerhart of The Motherhood center, and 50 Cent. Courtesy photos

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — software, education, and more — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Sameer Soleja, CEO of Molecule

Sameer Soleja, CEO of Molecule, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss his startup's recent fundraise — and how he's planning on being at the forefront of the evolving electricity commodities industry. Photo courtesy of Molecule

A 9-year-old software startup has been reinvigorated by fresh funds and a new opportunity to emerge as a leader in enterprise software for commodities — especially for electricity traders. Sameer Soleja, CEO of Molecule, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the company's latest funding round — a $12 million series A.

"The commodities industry is looking really hard at electricity as the growth commodity of the 2020s — renewables and conventionally generated electricity," Soleja says. "Everybody in our client base and in the market is looking at electricity. Well, we happen to have more than have of our customer base be in electricity."

Click here to listen to the podcast and read more.

Gabriela Gerhart, founder of The Motherhood Center

Houston entrepreneur recounts journey from communism to U.S. success in new book

Gabriela Gerhart recounts her journey from communism to American success in her new book. Photo courtesy of Gabriela Gerhart

Gabriela Gerhart remembers that day, back in 1989, when her teacher walked into her classroom in Czechoslovakia and announced that communism was over. Further, she told the group that everything she'd been teaching them was a lie.

Gerhart was stunned.

"It was confusing," she tells CultureMap. "You think to yourself, 'was I fooled? Was I indoctrinated? 'You have to understand, I had no idea there was another world out there."

Gerhart, founder of The Motherhood Center on West Alabama Street unpacks those feelings and others in her new autobiography, After The Fall, a story of growing up in Central Europe under communism and following her own wanderlust to the States, where she fell in love, got married, and built a successful business.

Click here to read more.

Rapper 50 Cent really means business. 50 Cent/Twitter

Rap star and Newstonian 50 Cent is giving back to area schools in need of help. The recently relocated rapper/producer/entrepreneur/rodeo wine bidder is teaming up with the Houston Independent School District and Horizon United Group to bolster entrepreneurship programs at Kashmere, Worthing, and Wheatley high schools.

He has funded the project with a $600,000 donation, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced on May 17.

Dubbed the G-Unity Business Lab, the new program will encourage students to engage in MBA-level lessons that represent the full lifecycle of a product or concept, from idea creation, to market branding, to even running a company, a press release notes.

Click here to read more.

Gabriela Gerhart recounts her journey from communism to American success in her new book. Photo courtesy of Gabriela Gerhart

Houston entrepreneur recounts journey from communism to U.S. success in new book

RISING FROM THE FALL

Gabriela Gerhart remembers that day, back in 1989, when her teacher walked into her classroom in Czechoslovakia and announced that communism was over. Further, she told the group that everything she'd been teaching them was a lie.

Gerhart was stunned.

"It was confusing," she tells CultureMap. "You think to yourself, 'was I fooled? Was I indoctrinated? 'You have to understand, I had no idea there was another world out there."

Gerhart, founder of The Motherhood Center on West Alabama Street unpacks those feelings and others in her new autobiography, After The Fall, a story of growing up in Central Europe under communism and following her own wanderlust to the States, where she fell in love, got married, and built a successful business.

The Houston launch for the book is Wednesday, May 19 at The Motherhood Center from 4 pm to 6 pm. The official Austin launch happens on Thursday, May 20 at Central Machine Works from 4 pm to 6 pm. Both events are free, but audiences are asked to register. After the Fall is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, at Brazos Bookstore, and online.

In many ways, Gerhart's journey is like many other immigrant stories of coming to a new land and rebuilding a life. For Gerhart, though, it wasn't just about building a new life, it was learning that she had choices.

Before the fall
In her homeland, she'd been involved with a communist youth group, and had plans to rise through the communist party. When communism fell, her sense of how she saw herself was battered. All of a sudden, though, there were opportunities.

"Growing up, my friends and I all wore the same clothes," she says. "But it was because you would go into a store and there might be only three kinds of winter jacket."

With the fall of communism, Gerhart could travel far beyond her Czech roots, and discover all sorts of new things: new foods, new styles, new ideas.

"I was hungry for adventures and experiences," she remembers.

After the fall
She came to the U.S. in 1998, where she became an au pair. While she didn't have a choice of where she was sent, she says that she loved that she landed in Houston. The Bayou City would open her eyes to all the possibilities of what she could do and what she could be.

Gerhart describes herself as someone who is always challenging herself, so being an entrepreneur was a natural fit. She's also always been nurturing, which is what led her to study nursing and become a pediatric nurse. Combining her love of mothers and babies with her grit and determination, she built The Motherhood Center in 2000 to provide expectant and early post-natal moms with a supportive network and educational resources to raise healthy children, while not neglecting themselves.

All of it is outlined in After the Fall, in triumph and tragedy. Gerhart outlines her inability to have children, even as she was building her business into the premier destination for moms and babies. A stepmother and grandmother now, she says she has found great happiness in her life, chasing her dreams and adventures across continents and political changes.

An American dream
"My favorite thing about America is that there are so many opportunities," she says. "I am so grateful. It's really amazing how young America is. People don't realize, the basement in my house in the Czech Republic is 300 years older than this country," she jokes.

Writing her autobiography gave her the chance to reflect on that, as well as unpack her own feelings about communism and its fall. Growing up, she says, her parents never discussed their feelings about the subject; it was far too dangerous.

"A parent might say something to their child and the child could go to school and repeat it and all of a sudden, there would be a knock on the door from the police," she says. "Writing this book meant my parents and I could speak more openly about it, and I was able to see things from their perspective."

She hopes the book will inspire others to embrace their potential and pursue their own dreams. Maybe they'll be encouraged to start their own business. Maybe they'll re-discover gratitude for being Americans. Maybe they'll set off on their own adventures.

As for Gerhart, now that the book is finished, she's looking ahead to what's next. She'll keep expanding The Motherhood Center and its programming, and she's taking on speaking engagements in the coming months.

"I have a need to share," she explains. "And I'll keep doing that.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

This Mother's Day, The Motherhood Center's founder is looking back on 20 years of care for Houston's new and expecting mothers. Getty Images

Houston specialist reflects on innovation and technology's effect on pregnancy care

Guest column

Mother's Day this Sunday will be a very different kind of day for mothers across the world, and I found myself reflecting on the innovation and evolution of pregnancy care and the different options women have nowadays.

When I founded The Motherhood Center in 2000, I had one simple goal, which was to provide Houston's new and expecting moms with unparalleled support and guidance. Now, 20 years later, we provide a full range of services for parents across every stage of parenthood. My team and I have held true to this mission, and, as new technologies and schools of thought emerged, so too have we evolved.

The evolution of family planning

One of the biggest changes we have witnessed over the past two decades is people's approach to family planning. We are seeing a lot more women choosing to have children later in life. With all the wonderful technological advancements — such as IVF, fertility treatments and egg freezing — we have seen women focus on their careers and start a family at an older age. One unexpected result of this is kind of funny – we are seeing a lot more twins and triplets.

We've also seen an increase in involvement from fathers. More and more dads are taking paternity leave these days – we hope to see that trend continue to grow. They are also coming to classes and getting involved in the pregnancies. Often, they are the ones who call us to learn more about our services.

New technologies and products

Technology has prompted some of the biggest changes in pregnancy. There are a lot of devices that new parents can use these days — from baby monitors, breathing and movement monitors, and much more. All this technology routes directly to parent's smartphones so they can know in real time what is always happening with their baby. While we love that parents can be more informed, we also don't want them to become so dependent on technology that they stop trusting their instincts. It is our job to encourage them to trust themselves (along with technology) so they can be the best parents they can be.

Another way technology has affected our business is that we are now able to reach our clients 24 hours a day, seven days a week through our website. We get a lot of form submissions late at night – particularly for support with breastfeeding and sleep training. We might not be able to answer the phone at 2 a.m., but our website has the resources to support new parents no matter the time of day.

For better or for worse, we have seen a huge increase in the number of products that are available for baby and mom. While there are some products that we absolutely love, many of the new products that have flooded the market are not needed. Because of this, we created a boutique at our center to help parents purchase only the items they will use. We also provide in-person support for purchasing some of the more personal products like nursing bras.

An increased access to information

Just as there are more and more products out there for new or expecting parents, there is also a wealth of information available – sometimes too much. We have seen a lot of parents using apps and reading blogs that might have inaccurate information, since many of these platforms are not regulated. For instance, these blogs don't account for the parents' medical and personal history. Because of this, we often see parents with a lot of anxiety and information overload. We find our in-person and virtual classes taught by professionals using unbiased, medically approved information brings our clients a lot of peace.

This has been a difficult year for everyone — especially expecting moms and new parents. People can't go out and attend classes and many hospitals have had to cancel their pregnancy courses. We have taken this as an opportunity to launch Motherhood Center into the next 20 years.

We now offer virtual educational courses and fitness classes. These classes are available to support parents anywhere — more information is available online. We are excited about the potential to expand our reach outside of Houston.

With The Motherhood Center celebrating its anniversary in May, we are so thankful we have been able to support Houston's mothers for 20 years, and we can't wait to see what the next 20 years hold.

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Gabriela Gerhart is the founder of The Motherhood Center.

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Houston SaaS startup raises $10M to keep up with customer growth

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A Houston software company has announced its latest funding.

Liongard, an IT software provider, has raised an additional $10 million led by Updata Partners with contribution from TDF Ventures — both existing investors in the company. The funding, according to a news release, will go toward providing the best customer service for Liongard's growing customer base.

The technology is providing managed service providers, or MSPs, improved visibility across the IT stack and an optimized user experience.

“Since working with our first MSP partners, we’ve seen time and again the power of visibility into IT data, reducing the time they spend researching customer issues and allowing them to respond faster than their peers,” says Joe Alapat, CEO and co-founder of Liongard, in the release. “This investment enables us to continue to achieve our vision of delivering visibility into each element of the IT stack.”

The company has about 2,000 partners in support of more than 60,000 end customers. And has been recognized as a top employer by Forbes and Inc. magazine earlier this year.

“We are excited to deepen our commitment with Liongard,“ says Carter Griffin, general partner at Updata, in the release. “With its leading data platform for MSPs we expect continued fast-paced growth.”

Liongard's last funding round was in May of 2020 and was a $17 million series B round. Both Updata Partners and TDF ventures were involved in that round. The company's total funding now sits at over $30 million.

Rice University rises to No. 1 spot in new ranking of best college investments

money moves

By one measure, earning a degree at Rice University is the smartest move in the Lone Star State.

In its eighth annual ranking of colleges and university that give students the best return on their educational investment, personal finance website SmartAsset places Rice at No. 1 in Texas and No. 10 in the U.S. It’s the only Texas school to break into the national top 10.

To determine the best-value colleges and universities in each state, SmartAsset crunched data in these categories: scholarships and grants, starting salary for new graduates, tuition, living costs, and retention rate.

While the tuition ($47,350) and student living costs ($17,800) at Rice are the highest among the top 10 Texas schools on the list, the average amount of scholarships and grants ($43,615), average starting salary ($77,900), and retention rate (97 percent) also are among the highest.

According to Rice, tuition, fees, on-campus room and board, books, and personal expenses for the 2022-23 academic year add up to $74,110. That figure, which excludes financial aid, applies to a full-time, degree-seeking student living on campus.

“Rice University is consistently ranked as a best value in higher education and is one of America’s leading teaching and research universities,” the school’s Office of Financial Aid says. “By attending Rice, you will not only receive a superior education at a reasonable cost, you also will benefit from having a Rice degree long after graduation.”

Three other schools in or near the Houston metro area appear on SmartAsset’s list of the biggest-bang-for-your-buck schools in Texas:

  • Prairie View A&M University, No. 4. The university posted the lowest retention rate (74 percent) among the 10 schools. The remaining figures sit roughly in the middle of the pack.
  • University of Houston, No. 5. The university’s tuition ($8,913) was the lowest in the top 10, as was the average amount of scholarships and grants ($6,544).
  • Texas A&M University-College Station, No. 6. The university’s living costs are the second highest among the top 10 ($17,636), while its average starting salary for new grads lands at No. 3 ($64,400).

Other schools in the state’s top 10 are:

  • University of Texas at Austin, No. 2.
  • University of Texas at Dallas (Richardson), No. 3.
  • Texas Tech University in Lubbock, No. 7.
  • LeTourneau University in Longview, No. 8.
  • University of North Texas in Denton, No. 9.
  • Texas State University in San Marcos, No. 10.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston expert addresses the growing labor shortage within health care

guest column

Long before COVID-19 became a part of our new normal, the concerns around shortages in health care staffing were present.

To put this in real terms, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the latest projection of employment through the end of this decade is an increase of nearly 12 million jobs. A fourth of those — 3.3 million to be exact — are expected to go towards health care and social assistance roles.

Before the pandemic, the concerns centered around managing a growing retired population and a slowing in higher education nurse enrollment. Then amid the growing shortage concerns surrounding the support for aging baby boomers, we were all thrusted into a pandemic.

The stressors on health care professional staffing have doubled down and what the increased shortage has shown us is the need to intervene and change the traditional hiring practices. Speed to place a nurse on assignment doesn’t just ensure productivity — it is a matter of life or death.

Over the past several years, the evolution of technology has drastically changed how health care facilities operate and interact with their employees as well as patients. There was a point in time where the structure in health care staffing was rigid without flexibility or varieties of employment type. Conversations around travel positions, per diem, and permanent are all now commonplace as the recent shortages caused us to normalize the discussion around role type and use of technology to influence speed to hire.

This whole evolution was put to test when April 2020 came, and the initial brunt of the pandemic was in full swing. The entire world was in panic mode. During these quarantine times, we were in a state of a health care emergency with thousands of patients seeking health care. Unfortunately, hospitals could not keep up with this demand with their existing nurse professionals, and became severely overloaded and dangerous. Due to this the United States saw unprecedented labor shortages, impacting a large number of nurses and health care workers as it pertains to both their physical and mental health.

What we are seeing now is a period classified as the “The Great Rethinking,” where nurses and health care workers alike are speaking up for what they believe in and deserve. Salary transparency and flexibility are just the tip of the iceberg for this movement.

SkillGigs is unique in that we are giving the power back to registered nurses and health care professionals, while meeting the demand created by the pandemic. Our team has been fortunate to be a catalyst to direct the change in the future of work, and we look forward to continuing to innovate.

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Bryan Groom is the division president of health care at Houston-based SkillGigs.