This week's innovators to know roundup includes Fiona Mack of JLABS, Grace Rodriguez of Impact Hub Houston, and Emily Cisek of The Postage. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: In today's Monday roundup of Houston innovators, I'm introducing you to three female innovators across industries — from life science to impact innovation.

Fiona Mack, head of JLABS @ TMC

Fiona Mack has joined JLABS @ TMC as head of the incubator. She shares her vision for the lab on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of JLABS

Fiona Mack is among the latest additions to the Houston innovation ecosystem, as she joined JLABS @ TMC just a few months ago. On her plate right now is assessing the needs of the incubator's 49 member companies in the portfolio and understanding the needs of the Texas innovation ecosystem.

"As I learn more about the history of life science sector in Texas, over the past 20 years there has been an impetuous to build up this critical mass of companies here to really make it a strong hub that competes with the energy sector to make it a pillar of the economy here," Mack says. Read more and stream the podcast interview.

Grace Rodriguez, executive director and CEO of Impact Hub Houston

Grace Rodriguez and her team at Impact Hub Houston is in for a busy week. Courtesy of Impact Hub Houston

Grace Rodriguez has a marathon of a week ahead of her — but it's an exciting one. The fourth annual Houston Innovation Summit is going on now, and she's really passionate about the theme.

"The focus on education and policy is really interesting to me — it's not just about tech and business anymore," Rodriguez says. "It's really about how we are supporting businesses in the face of the pandemic, climate change crises — floods, fires, hurricanes — the entire world is being affected by these crises. ... [We need to focus on] how we are making sure that people are aware of everything that's happening and how we can innovate solutions." Read more about the latest from Impact Hub and what THIS events not to miss.

Emily Cisek, founder of The Postage

The Postage is a new company that uses technology to help ease the experience of afterlife responsibilities for family members. Photo courtesy of The Postage

Three years ago, Emily Cisek was struck with immense grief when she lost three family members back to back. She says she learned first-hand how arduous the process of wrapping up someone's life is and how it can take away from the grieving process.

Cisek's grief planted a seed and she has the idea for The Postage, a digital platform that helps collect information and digital assets in one place to ease with affair planning.

"I think the way The Postage has [made planning more available] it's provided a price point, an understanding and steps involved that are more easily accessible; no matter what age group, what race, what your background is, your religion, anything like that, you're able to sign up," says Cisek. Read more.

The Postage is a new company that uses technology to help ease the experience of afterlife responsibilities for family members. Photo courtesy of The Postage

New Houston tech startup launches to streamline afterlife planning

smooth transitions

Three years ago, Emily Cisek was struck with immense grief when she lost three family members back to back. She says she learned first-hand how arduous the process of wrapping up someone's life is and how it can take away from the grieving process.

"I saw the frustrations in my family," she explains, as she grappled with the passing of both her grandmothers and her cousin's young child.

Cisek says in that moment she thought, "Wow, there's got to be a better way so that people have a resource to get a plan and walk through the process so that when you do lose someone, there is a really easy way to manage that."

Cisek's realization planted a seed and she has the idea for The Postage, a digital platform that helps collect information and digital assets in one place to ease with affair planning.

She sought out to build an online platform that provides an easy path for people to plan their affairs and leave behind wishes for loved ones, making affairs management after death easier and less time-consuming. The features include document storage and organization, password management, funeral and last wishes planning, and the option to create after-life messages to posthumously share with loved ones.

Up until now, death care has been a predominantly business-to-business model. Prior to becoming the co-founder and CEO of The Postage, Emily was the Director of Sales at Integrate Agency, a full-service digital and traditional marketing agency in Texas. Her years of launching robust marketing initiatives and developing communications programs, made bringing The Postage to consumers that much easier.

She partnered with her former boss and serial entrepreneur, Robbie Wright, to build The Postage and make her vision a reality to help loved ones deal with loss.

The Postage completed funding in April of 2020, surpassing its initial fundraising goal. In total, Cisek raised $925,000 in a three month span. The platform officially launched in September, bringing a new, accessible contender to the estate planning industry.

Making death a conversation point

Everything you need on one digital platform. Photo courtesy of The Postage

According to The Institute for Healthcare Improvement, 92 percent of Americans say it's important to discuss their wishes for end-of-life care, but only 32 percent have actually had the conversation. Talking about your death plans is never an easy conversation, Cisek remarks. Her goal is to provide a methodical process that "makes it simpler."

"Until the last 100 years, death was just a part of life. Right now with technology and healthcare, it almost is seen as a weakness versus as you know, something we all experienced together," says Cisek.

Knowing how arduous these conversations are, she feels The Postage is like a "guidebook" that provides "clear-eyed compassion" to start the conversation. The site's planning options, password and document storage, and ability to share final wishes aims to make the process less emotional and difficult for users.

Accessibility for all ages

The Postage is something anyone can use. Photo courtesy of The Postage

While creating a death plan may feel like something reserved for later in life, Vox reports that millennials are becoming a "death positive" generation. More people in their 20s and 30s are planning their own funerals, donating their body to science, and contemplating how they want to pass peacefully.

From YouTube channels like "Ask a Mortician" to apps that remind you that — sorry to break it to you — you will eventually die, young creators are coping with death online. Despite the online vote of confidence in passing to the other side, dying is, well, expensive.

According to data from The Postage, estate planning and legal services can cost an average of $6,500. Cisek's company allows a monthly subscription with prices ranging from $5.99 to $9.99 a month, depending on storage space and features.

"I think the way The Postage has [made planning more available] it's provided a price point, an understanding and steps involved that are more easily accessible; no matter what age group, what race, what your background is, your religion, anything like that, you're able to sign up," says Cisek.

Digital options like password management and storage also make the site a more cost effective, approachable option for young people born into the digital era.

Saving time

Founder Emily Cisek prioritized convenience in her design. Photo courtesy of The Postage

Death puts into perspective just how valuable time can be. According to The Postage, families can expect to spend nearly 500 hours on completing end-of-life details if there is no planning done in advance. If every moment matters, 500 hours can sound like an exorbitant amount of time spent on paperwork.

From knowing who your loved one's electricity provider is to ensuring you have the key to their safety deposit box, the process can be a nightmare, says Cisek. She believes that should be spent "celebrating [their life] and processing the loss versus getting frustrated and trying to dig through things that you don't understand, and frankly, don't know what the wishes were of that person you lost."

The Postage's features allow you to drop in documents and passwords at your own pace to provide your loved ones with a smooth transition and instructions. To Cisek, she minds the site to be a guidebook that says, "This is what we need to do, and here is how I'm leaving the best gift I can for my loved ones."

National growth

The Postage went live nationally. Photo courtesy of The Postage

The Postage is a Houston-based company, but Cisek and her team want it to reach Americans everywhere.

"When we went live nationally, we actually launched over 100 new enhancements — even small, little things in the customer experience that would make it better and easier," she explains.

During its summer launch the website received 60 percent engagement and over 43 percent in new referrals. The Postage plans to continue enhancing the user experience and expanding the app with new technologies.

Cisek, bright-eyed with entrepreneurial spirit, has big hopes for the future as she imagines the opportunities. She hopes to change the way her generation plans for the future, contributing to a shift in sharing your legacy and wishes with loved ones.

"I think that technology, in recent times, has really focused on the consumer being the product versus the technology being the product," remarks Cisek. "If we're able to take that back and provide a product that truly makes our users' lives easier, the sky's the limit on what that could look like," she continues.

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Houston hospital introduces first-of-its-kind voice technology into its operating rooms

Hey, MIA

Hey, MIA. Start surgery.

These are the words Houston doctors are learning to say in the operating rooms, thanks to a first-of-its-kind voice technology developed by the Houston Methodist's Center for Innovation in collaboration with Amazon Web Services. In the same way we use programs like Alexa or Siri to make our everyday tasks easier, the Methodist Intelligent Automation, or MIA, is allowing medical professionals to improve the way they interact both with technology and patients alike.

"There's been a push in the industry for a long time that people sitting behind computers and typing and staring at a computer screen is inadequate," says Houston Methodist Chief Innovation Officer Roberta Schwartz. "There's been a desire to return people back to each other rather than physicians and look at a screen and patients look at a doctor looking at a screen."

Currently in its pilot phase, MIA is working to do just that through two key functions that shift the way medical professionals work in what Schwartz calls the "era of electronic medical records."

The first is through operating room voice commands. Here medical professionals can run through a series or checklists and initiate important actions, such as starting timers or reviewing time of anesthesia, through voice instead of by typing or clicking, which can become cumbersome during lengthy and highly detailed surgeries. Information is displayed on a large 80-inch TV in the operating suite and following surgery all of the data captured is imported into the traditional EMR program. The technology has been prototyped in two Houston Methodist O.R. suites so far and the hub aims to trial it in a simulation surgery by the end of the year.

Additionally, the hub is developing ambient listening technology to be used in a clinical setting with the same goal. Houston Methodist and AWS have partnered with Dallas-based Pariveda to create specialized hardware that (after gaining patient permission) will listen into doctor-patient conversations, transcribe the interaction, and draft a note that is then coded and imported directly into the EMR.

"For EMR the feedback is that it's clunky, it's click-heavy, it's very task oriented," says Josh Sol, who leads digital and clinical innovation for Houston Methodist. "Our goal with the Center for Innovation and this technology hub is to really transform that terminology and bring back this collaboration and the patient-physician relationship by removing the computer but still capturing all the pertinent information."

The ambient listening technology is further off and is currently in user acceptance testing with clinicians.

"They've had some great feedback, whether it's changing how the note is created, changing the look and feel of the application itself," Sol adds. "All feedback is good feedback at this point. So we've taken it in, we prioritize the work, and we continue to improve the application."

And the hub doesn't plan to stop there. Schwartz and Sol agree that the next step for this type of medical technology will be patient facing. They envision that in the near future appointment or surgery prep can be done through Alexa push notifications and medication reminders or follow up assessments could be done via voice applications.

"It's all going to be of tremendous value and it's coming," Schwartz says. "We may be taking the first baby steps, but each one of these voice technologies for our patients is out there on the horizon."

Chevron to launch makerspace at The Cannon, Houston a top city for STEM, and more innovation news

Short stories

Houston's innovation ecosystem has been booming with news, and it's likely some might have fallen through the cracks.

For this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, a startup snags a win at a pitch competition, Chevron announces a new makerspace, a software company makes an acquisition, and more.

Houston named a best city for STEM

Image via SmartAsset

For the fifth year, personal finance website, SmartAsset, analyzed data for the 35 cities in the county with the largest STEM workforces. The study looked at the racial diversity index as well as the gender diversity index. The data for both metrics comes from the Census Bureau's 2019 1-year American Community Survey.

Houston ranked No. 7 on the list, and according to the report, the total number of STEM workers in Houston, Texas exceeds 79,500. Around 70 percent of the total STEM workers there are men, and more than 30 percent are women. Additionally, Houston has the third-best race/ethnicity index score in the study with more than 19 percent of STEM workers are Hispanic or Latino, almost 20 percent are Asian, and more than 8 percent are Black.

Texas makes up about a third of the top 10 list with Dallas and Fort Worth coming in at No. 9 and No.10, respectively.

Chevron announces digital makerspace in The Cannon

Photo courtesy of The Cannon

The Cannon and its surrounding Founders District in West Houston has announced the addition of Chevron's digital makerspace, which will be dedicated to startup partnerships and community organizations.

"Chevron's support for The Founders District and The Cannon expands our commitment to Houston's growing innovation ecosystem," says Barbara Burger, Chevron vice president, Innovation and president of Chevron Technology Ventures, in a news release. "We look forward to utilizing this new space to collaborate with other Chevron organizations, such as our Wells group, as we work to deliver more reliable, affordable, ever-cleaner energy."

While Chevron has been a key partner for The Cannon since 2018 and even had branded office space within the hub, this new space represents a new lease agreement for a significantly larger footprint.

"We are thrilled to partner with Chevron Technology Ventures in developing this exciting makerspace at The Founders District," says Mark Toon, CEO of Puma Development, the company developing The Founders District and founder of Work America Capital, a venture capital firm dedicated to investing in Houston-based businesses. "CTV is the paradigm for meaningful innovation in Houston. By investing in emerging technologies in energy, they are paving the way for innovation to remain at the heart of Houston's most prominent industry."

Lazarus 3D wins The Ion's pitch competition

Photo via Laz3d.com

After months of pitching events, The Ion's Startup Demo Day for 2020 concluded on November 18 with four final pitches from Lazarus 3D, Skylark Wireless, HelloWoofy, and Swoovy.

After each of the four founders presented at the virtual event, which was powered by Dell Technologies, Lazarus 3D, a startup that produces 3D-printed organs and tissues for surgical practice, took home the win and the cash prize.

"I'm so grateful to Ion Houston — I've met so many people and made so many connections," says Smriti Zaneveld, co-founder and president. "All of the companies that present at these events are doing something so meaningful."

Applications are now open for the next series. Apply online by clicking here.

Houston tech co. acquires New Zealand business

Photo via Onit.com

Houston-based Onit Inc., a legal software provider, announced that the company has acquired McCarthyFinch and its artificial intelligence platform.

"Our vision is to build AI into our workflow platform and every product across the Onit and SimpleLegal product portfolios," says Eric M. Elfman, Onit CEO and co-founder, in a news release. "AI will have an active role in everything from enterprise legal management to legal spend management and contract lifecycle management, resulting in continuous efficiencies and cost savings for corporate legal departments.

"Historically, legal departments have been thought of as black boxes where requests go in and information, decisions or contracts come out with no real transparency," Elfman continues. "AI has the potential to enhance transparency and contribute to stronger enterprise-wide business collaboration in a way that conserves a lawyer's valuable time."

The newly acquired software has the capacity to accelerate contract processing by up to 70 percent and increase productivity by over 50 percent. With the acquisition, Onit is enhancing its new artificial intelligence platform Precedent and the company's first release on the platform will be ReviewAI.

New sustainability-focused app launches at Climathon

Photo courtesy of Footprint

Houston-based Footprint App Inc. launched its latest carbon footprint education and action software during the Houston Climathon that was hosted earlier this month by Impact Hub Houston.

By tracking the user's sustainable habits, the student-focused tool allows users to compete to reduce their environmental impact. Footprint has launched in over 50 classrooms across the nation and is also being used by several corporations.

"With the state of Texas recently receiving an 'F' in climate education from the National Science Foundation, we see Footprint as the perfect tool for K-12 and beyond to help Texas students engage with climate science in a fun, competitive way," says Dakota Stormer, Footprint App, Inc. CEO and co-founder, in a news release.