A local church deploying handwashing stations across town was one of this year's top social impact stories on InnovationMap. Photo by Nijalon Dunn

Editor's note: As 2020 comes to a close, InnovationMap is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston innovation. InnovationMap's most read articles regarding social impact innovation include a new incubator program from impactful startups, a church providing handwashing stations for Houston's homeless, and more.

Local organization creates handwashing stations for Houston's homeless communities

A local church is deploying handwashing stations across town. Photo by Nijalon Dunn

When the coronavirus forced the closure of restaurants, stores, and community centers, it disproportionally affected the health of a population of people: The homeless.

Homeless individuals are acutely vulnerable amid the public health and hygiene concerns due to the coronavirus pandemic, says Houstonian Nijalon Dunn. These communities of people have been left without immediate access to soap and clean water, especially with the closure of local businesses whose restrooms sometimes served as individuals' only sources of clean water.

"[Local businesses are] where people were able to use the restroom, wash their hands and have access to soap and water," Dunn says. "Take public restrooms away, now you have an increase in public urination and people using the restroom outside. Not only that, but people aren't washing their hands because of a lack of education and awareness about social distancing and hygiene practices."

Observing this effect of the virus, a group of Houstonians pulled together their skills and resources to provide handwashing stations across the city for Houston's homeless population.

Rise Houston Church, a local organization servicing inner-city Houston, is behind the initiative. Eager to help the community during the coronavirus pandemic, Rise Houston's pastor Stan DePue proposed the idea of building and distributing handwashing stations that would provide clean water and soap to homeless communities. Click here to continue reading.

Houston area high school students develop innovations to help  in coronavirus crisis response

Teens at a local school took initiative to create entrepreneurial solutions amid the COVID-19 crisis. Photo courtesy of The Village School

Some Houston-area high school students have stepped up to help their community during the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. The students have worked on two separate teams to create an intubation box to reduce the spread of COVID-19 from patients to healthcare workers and SpeeDelivery, an app that delivers food for at-risk individuals.

The students from The Village School in the Energy Corridor, known for its unique and enriching IB diploma, are getting support from school educators. The two projects grew naturally from the interests of the high school juniors, who wanted to do anything that could help others during this crisis.

"Our teachers have been very supportive have really enjoyed having the opportunity to see the students," says TeKedra Pierre, director of experiential learning at The Village School. "It's hard enough to teach virtually but with platforms like Zoom, Google classroom, and other platforms that they have been using to communicate and make sure that our students are still doing well."

The students created the intubation box out of clear plastic with two areas of access so that doctors can put their hands through it and intubate a patient who needs a ventilator. The box prevents exposure to the virus which can be passed in microdroplets from patients to healthcare workers. Click here to continue reading.

Houston nonprofit introduces new startup incubator ahead of impact-focused innovation week

Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston, introduced a new program for startups. Courtesy of Grace Rodriguez

Impact Hub Houston — the local chapter of a nonprofit focused on supporting startups in the social impact space — has a lot on its plate this month.

Not only is next week The Houston Innovation Summit — the fourth annual week of entrepreneurship programming — as well as the second annual Climathon, but the organization has also just launched a new business incubator program.

Accelerate is a program that Impact Hub has offered across 17 international markets. Houston's new chapter already has a few Houston startups involved — including Potentia Workforce and McMac CX. Structured as an ongoing accelerator with mentorship, education, and support, the program is currently accepting new members.

"We actually sit down with each new Accelerate member and then go through a diagnostic interview to help them understand what stage they're at," says Grace Rodriquez, CEO and executive director of Houston Impact Hub. "And then we create a development strategy with them."

Whether the Accelerate member needs one-on-one mentorship, specialized education, or more, the program match makes each member's needs. EY is a network partner and — since everything is virtual — member companies have access to international experts through Impact Hub and its partners' networks.

"The ideal entrepreneur for the Accelerate membership is somebody who has already developed a solution — at least an MVP — for their social venture, whether it's a product or a service," Rodriguez says. Click here to continue reading.

Growing Houston thrift startup aims to impact the unsustainability of the fashion industry

Houston-based Goodfair takes clothing that would otherwise end up in landfills and turns it into a "mystery shopping" thrift experience. Photo courtesy of Goodfair

A Houston-based online retailer for second-hand clothing is quickly growing, aiming to make "No New Things" the mantra of the fashion world.

As the popularity of "Fast Fashion," or cheap clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers, begins to decline, brands are refocusing on upcycled, recycled, and sustainable clothing — and Goodfair has bet its business plan on this movement.

"I realized that there was too much stuff out there," says Topper Luciani, founder and CEO of Goodfair, "and there is an environmental crisis being caused by the clothing industry. They're manufacturing so many items, they're using slave labor, they're pumping dyes and other chemicals into rivers. It's absolutely wild."

The fashion industry contributes 10 percent of the world's carbon emissions, is the second-largest user of the earth's water supply, and pollutes the oceans with microplastics according to a report from Business Insider in October 2019. Additionally, the outlet reports that 85 percent of all textiles go to the dump every year.

"Still, we have an enormous demand for these clothes that are being thrown away and that demand is just being filled by more cheap new clothes at malls and things like that, instead of reintroducing second-hand clothes," says Luciani. "I've been working really hard on creating a way to make a frictionless process for reintroducing those clothes." Click here to continue reading.

New program at Rice University to educate corporate leaders on innovation

A new program within Rice University's Executive Education school will foster education for corporate innovation. Photo courtesy of Rice

As important as it is to foster innovation among startups, there's another side of the equation that needs to be addressed, and a new program at Rice University plans to do exactly that.

Executive Education at Rice University's Jones Graduate School of Business, which creates peer-based learning and professional programs for business leaders, has created a new program called Corporate Innovation. The program came about as Executive Education, which has existed since the '70s, has evolved over the past few years to create courses and programs that equip business leaders with key management tools in a holistic way.

"We realized we need to open the innovation box," says Zoran Perunovic, director of Executive Education and is also a member of the Innovation Corridor committee and a mentor at TMCx.

The program, which is open for registration and will take place September 28-30, will flip the script on how innovation is normally discussed and observed and instead take a holistic approach to innovation in a corporate setting.

"In the innovation space, you have two lines — one is the entrepreneurial and the other is happening in large, established organizations," Perunovic tells InnovationMap. "The mechanisms of innovation within in those companies are different than the entrepreneurial." Click here to continue reading.

Teens at a local school took initiative to create entrepreneurial solutions amid the COVID-19 crisis. Photo courtesy of The Village School

Houston area high school students develop innovations to help  in coronavirus crisis response

COVID heroes

Some Houston-area high school students have stepped up to help their community during the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. The students have worked on two separate teams to create an intubation box to reduce the spread of COVID-19 from patients to healthcare workers and SpeeDelivery, an app that delivers food for at-risk individuals.

The students from The Village School in the Energy Corridor, known for its unique and enriching IB diploma, are getting support from school educators. The two projects grew naturally from the interests of the high school juniors, who wanted to do anything that could help others during this crisis.

"Our teachers have been very supportive have really enjoyed having the opportunity to see the students," says TeKedra Pierre, director of experiential learning at The Village School. "It's hard enough to teach virtually but with platforms like Zoom, Google classroom, and other platforms that they have been using to communicate and make sure that our students are still doing well."

The students created the intubation box out of clear plastic with two areas of access so that doctors can put their hands through it and intubate a patient who needs a ventilator. The box prevents exposure to the virus which can be passed in microdroplets from patients to healthcare workers.

"It's extremely easy to build and effective, most importantly affordable so anyone could use it," says Varun Agarwal, one of the students who created the intubation box. "Our catalyst was reading about the shortage of N-95 masks, so we made the box essentially open-source design in our website so that anyone can take the design and send it to a hospital."

Agarwal's website is a youth engagement initiative that he started with his older brother and some friends, called Do Your Bit. The intubation box is only one of many projects. The box has already been used by doctors in the Princeton Hospital System with significant positive results due to their reusable nature.

The SpeeDelivery students were also inspired to lend a helping hand due to the hardship senior citizens were experiencing not being able to go grocery shopping for their own safety. The app allows students to safely do grocery runs for older citizens in Houston, Katy, and Sugarland.

"We came up with the idea of SpeeDelivery because we wanted to help the community who could not afford to go out," said Omar Abouelazm, web developer for the project. "Village students have this tradition to help as much as possible."

The students have currently done 15 deliveries, using appropriate personal protective equipment. They are working to ramp up their delivery system to expand the number of deliveries.

"It's helped us have that commonality and a closer connection to our fellow students because we all want to help others during this difficult time," says Mukhil Ramesh, finance director for SpeeDelivery.

Pierre and the students say that The Village School's culture has nurtured and supported their projects to help the community.

"It's part of the culture at Village, our students come from all over the world," says Pierre. "I think their ability to identify problems or identify solutions is unparalleled. It's ingrained into our school culture to be innovative, creative, and think differently."

It's crucial for Houston to prepare the next generation's workforce to succeed and fill jobs with capable talent. Educational First Steps/Facebook

Preparing Houston's tech workforce starts in school, says expert

Guest column

Recent studies have shown that nearly half of students enter college with an undecided major and as many as 70 percent of students change their major at least once during their four-year program, and it is predicted that by 2030, there will be a deficit of 7.9 million tech workers alone.

In order to better prepare the future workforce, schools are encouraging career exploration through hands-on experience. The Village School has created educational partnerships throughout Houston to offer students options to find their interests and better prepare them for postsecondary success.

Educational partnerships

Students are prone to changing their majors because often they will go into a field with an impractical idea of what a specific career actually entails. With partnerships between education and industry, Houston is able to better equip students to enter college with a realistic view of what to expect in their major.

While career-focused partnerships are beneficial for students, they also play a huge role in recruiting valuable skilled talent for years to come. A good impression, good mentors and great experience goes a long way when students start job searching.

Tuning into Houston's workforce

High school is the time for students to explore different career options. When students are placed in an internship program as early as the high school level, they are able to see exactly what the day to day looks like while building a foundation of professional development as they start to think about their future. It's important for students to have a realistic vision of what a career looks like.

There are numerous businesses in Houston that are working with high school students to help them gain experience.

For example, a few of the businesses that have partnerships with The Village School include Houston Methodist Hospital, Pimcore, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, and Cisco. Students are able to gain experience in a variety of ways including:

  • Working alongside surgical technicians and experience open-heart surgery and quarantined situations
  • Learning from cancer researchers who study nicotine addiction in children and the effects on brain development
  • Leveraging data analytics to develop software helping internal team members organize calendars at a leading SAP company

All students finished their internship with a better understanding of the workforce and the skills necessary to perform in a professional environment.

Finding opportunities for everyone

If students don't attend a high school that offers internships there are still opportunities to gain experience. Many businesses are open to job shadowing or having students volunteer a few hours a week to gain experience over the summer months. The opportunity for experience is out there and available and these opportunities will continue to grow and become more accessible for all students. Houston families and businesses must work together to ensure students know their options before entering college.

Educational partnerships benefit both students and the community. It's crucial for Houston to prepare the next generation's workforce to succeed and fill jobs with capable talent. Students are able to see that while they may not think they are interested in a specific field there are opportunities within the field that match their strengths and interests.

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TeKedra Pierre is the internship coordinator at The Village School.

Aaryan Patel, an incoming senior at The Village School, has been running his business since he was a freshman. Photo via tidemedia.tech

Houston teen wins business plan competition for his home tech company

doogie smart houser

By the time 17-year-old Aaryan Patel, who will be a senior this fall at The Village School, won first place at The University of Houston Bauer College of Business' annual Think Tank competition this year, he'd already had his business on solid footing for a couple of years. Patel founded Tide Media in 2016, and he's been growing his company ever since.

The business offers consulting and installation for smart home devices, working with customers one-on-one to determine their needs and interests and doing everything from purchasing equipment for buyers all the way to full installation and integration of the technology within a home's existing devices.

"I started in the ninth grade," says Patel. That's when his dad started buying multiple smart home devices to control their lights and thermostat. "I saw how convenient it was, and how it makes for a more connected experience. It feels really futuristic."

Patel's father works in IT, so he understood how to troubleshoot when devices didn't work as planned. That got Patel to thinking how someone with less tech know-how would cope with the same situation.

"Not everyone has the competency [to troubleshoot]," he explains. "Maybe they don't have the time to learn, or they just don't know enough about technology. A lot of people come from fields where there isn't a focus on computers."

Patel, like his father, has an interest in computer technology — in fact, he's doing an internship this summer at Stanford University looking at the business applications of wearable technology for medical students — and he realized there was an opportunity to be had. But he saw it much more as a community service than a business at first. He asked his uncle in Katy to post his services to the Next Door app, and the business took off. Within two months, he'd worked with 14 clients on upgrading their homes with technology.

"I knew I didn't want to do any ads," says Patel. "So, all of my business has been word of mouth."

By July of 2017, he says he posted between $10,000 and $14,000 in profits. He credits the success of the business to his approach to clients. He wants each experience to be not only personal, but personalized. When he meets with a client, he has a questionnaire that gauges what they want to get from their technology. Some might want to properly install a Nest thermostat. Others may want to network Amazon Echo or iHome products to do everything from turning on lights to playing music.

"Or, maybe they want to open the garage door from their cellphones as they are coming in the driveway after work," he says.

Patel says he has worked with clients to tell them what they need and the clients purchase the equipment and products themselves. But he also provides more concierge service, where he will take a client's list of items, purchase them and then install them.

He says he tends to work more in the summers and on school breaks than he does during the school year, since he's studying the challenging International Baccalaureate curriculum at school. He's also trained some of his friends on doing installations, as well as mentoring them about how to talk to clients, how to respond to questions and otherwise provide high level service — things he says he learned over the course of launching his business.

"The biggest thing I've learned is that is you want to do anything, you have to have passion and drive," he says. "And my biggest challenge has been managing my clients along with my school work."

In college, he plans to study the Internet of Things, likely via a computer engineering program. Since his win at Think Tank, he's invested back into his business and plans to expand as much as he can; he's thinking of offering his services citywide, branching out from his Sugar Land and Katy coverage areas.

But even as he's continuing his studies and building a business, he keeps his own priority for Tide Media top of mind: he wants it to be a service for the community to help others be more connected.

"A lot of this is still new technology," he says. "And I want to help people see how technology can help society."

This week's innovators to know represents a homecoming, an accelerator launch, and a call for tech education. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

This week's innovators to know span across industries — from sports tech to education, but they are all fighting for something here in Houston. Here's what they are focused on bringing to the Houston innovation ecosystem.

Mike T. Brown, founder of Win-Win

Courtesy of Win-Win

Mike T. Brown decided to move his Silicon Valley sports tech platform that gamifies charitable donations to his hometown of Houston. Win-Win, which launched in 2016 and since raised $1.2 million in funding, is ready to scale and launch full-scale during the 2019 NFL season.

"I couldn't be more excited about returning to Houston to become a part of the city's tech revolution," says Brown in the release. "After visiting The Cannon, I immediately felt the energy and have witnessed their commitment to pushing Houston's tech startup movement. I can't wait to get fully plugged into the city's ecosystem, to start hiring local talent and raising money from local investors." Read more about Brown and Win-Win here.

Yvette Casares Willis, director of strategic partnerships for MassChallenge Texas

Courtesy of MassChallenge Texas

Yvette Casares Willis has been working to put Houston on the map for MassChallenge Texas, and her work is finally coming to fruition. The organization opened applications for its inaugural cohort last week. As excited as she is to work with the cohort, Willis is looking forward to what it means for the program to arrive in Houston and help to connect the dots across the city's innovation ecosystem.

"I'm excited about what Houston has to offer," says Willis, who is the director of partnerships for the organization. "We have everything we could possibly provide in this ecosystem to be amazing, as long as we all work together. If we can all collaborate and if we all have the same mission, we can really make a difference in Houston." Read more about Willis and MassChallenge Texas here.

TeKedra Pierre, internship coordinator at The Village School

Courtesy of The Village School

Tekedra Pierre's job is to help students be aware of real-life needs in the workforce through internship programs. And what's extremely clear to Pierre is the need for more professionals in tech — specifically the cybersecurity space. She wrote a piece for InnovationMap on the subject.

"Employers struggle to keep employees up to speed on the latest technologies and skill sets needed to succeed and thrive in the rapidly changing and evolving business landscape," she writes. "To remain competitive, Houston businesses must attract qualified workers to fill these positions that range from cybersecurity to industrial technology, engineering and medicine. And the earlier we can reach them, the better." Read Pierre's piece here.

Like a lot of cities, Houston might have a talent problem when it comes to cybersecurity. Getty Images

How Houston can bridge the cybersecurity talent gap

From education to implementation

According to Inc.'s Emerging Risks Survey, the talent shortage jumped to first place as the top risk for businesses worldwide in 2019. More specifically, a recent study reported a gap of almost three million global cybersecurity jobs.

Cyber attacks continue to skyrocket but there are nowhere near enough cybersecurity professionals to handle all the threats. The field has plenty of job openings, companies are desperate for talent and employees can eventually earn $95K a year, and often more. So, what's the issue?

Employers struggle to keep employees up to speed on the latest technologies and skill sets needed to succeed and thrive in the rapidly changing and evolving business landscape. To remain competitive, Houston businesses must attract qualified workers to fill these positions that range from cybersecurity to industrial technology, engineering and medicine. And the earlier we can reach them, the better.

One way to address the talent gap is for Houston employers, academic institutions and parents to share the responsibility to prepare young children to be adaptable. While these ideas are for the cybersecurity space, they can be applied to any industry.

Parents: Pay attention to child's interests at a young age

Encouraging creativity and exploration at home is the first step to fostering children's potential career interest. Children show at a young age what they are interested in. Do they color and draw? They may like a more creative field like graphic design. Nurturing artistic interests at home can be as simple as letting kids make projects with household supplies such as paper towel rolls, or old clothes and asking them about their creations.

Or, do they tinker and take things apart? Foster those engineering and computer interests through career days, science fests, coding camps and through trips to retail locations like Apple and Microsoft. When parents, guardians, older siblings, aunts, or uncles express excitement in their interests, children are more likely to feel encouraged and continue finding their passion over time.

Educators: Encourage career exploration

Educators are continuously working to prepare students for the workforce by asking the persistent question of how do we teach students about jobs and careers that haven't even been created yet? We can't. We don't prepare them for jobs, but we provide them with the skills to be adaptable, flexible, creative, critical, collaborative and curious. At The Village School in Houston, we have an internship program that helps students gain a better sense of their future, even for those who are unsure about their career path.

Businesses: Shape the next workforce through educational partnerships

Local businesses must have relationships with schools and organizations. Reflect on what your business can do to better prepare the next generation of talent. Go beyond the norm of only involving college-age students and also partner with local K-12 schools to broaden outreach even more extensively. This will work to help students have a better idea of potential careers and can also be a great recruitment tool. Offer internships to students, externships to teachers and be vocal about the skills and foundation necessary to succeed at your workplace. The talent shortage can't be fixed overnight but businesses can work to be proactive in creating the partnerships and programs needed.

At Village, we currently have partnerships with companies like Cisco, Houston Methodist Hospital, and Pimcore. Our students learn directly from these companies exactly what a career can look like and gain a better sense of what expectations are in the real world. With Cisco, students are able to acquire experience within in-demand careers in computer science, information technology and cybersecurity to see first hand what these jobs consist of.

Dell Technologies recently published a report saying 85 percent of the jobs in 2030 haven't been invented yet. That's an intimidating statistic for today's learners — and businesses. Together, parents, business executives, and educators can prepare the next generation of workers to succeed while combating the crucial need to fill jobs with passionate and capable employees.

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TeKedra Pierre is the internship coordinator at The Village School.

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University of Houston powers up first robot food server in a U.S. restaurant

order up

The University of Houston is taking a bold step — or, in this case, roll — in foodservice delivery. UH's Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership is now deploying a robot server in Eric’s Restaurant at its Hilton College.

Booting up this new service is major bragging rights for the Coogs, as UH is now the only college in the country — and the only restaurant facility in Houston — to utilize a robotic food delivery.

These rolling delivery bots come from the state-of-the-art food service robot called Servi. The bots, created by Bear Robotics, are armed with LiDar sensors, cameras, and trays, and automatically return to their posts when internal weight sensors detect a delivery has been completed.

Not surprisingly, these futuristic food staffers are booting up plenty of buzz at UH.

“People are excited about it,” says Dennis Reynolds, who is dean of the Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership and oversees the only hospitality program in the world where students work and take classes in an internationally branded, full-service hotel. Launching robot waitstaff at UH as a test market makes sense, he notes, for practical use and larger implications.

The Servi robots deliver food from the kitchen to the table. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

“Robotics and the general fear of technology we see today are really untested in the restaurant industry,” he says in an announcement. “At Hilton College, it’s not just about using tomorrow’s technology today. We always want to be the leader in learning how that technology impacts the industry.”

Bear Robotics, a tech company founded by restaurant experts and tech entrepreneurs, hosted a Servi showcase at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago earlier this year. After seeing the demo, Reynolds was hooked. UH's Servi robot arrived at Eric’s Restaurant in October.

Before sending the bot to diners' tables, the bot was prepped by Tanner Lucas, the executive chef and foodservice director at Eric’s. That meant weeks of mapping, programming, and — not surprisingly — “test driving” around the restaurant.

Tanner even created a digital map of the restaurant to teach the Servi its pathways and designated service points, such as table numbers. “Then, we sent it back and forth to all of those points from the kitchen with food to make sure it wouldn’t run into anything," he adds.

But does having a robot deliver food create friction between human and automated staff? Not at Eric's. “The robot helps my workflow,” Joel Tatum, a server at Eric’s says. “It lets me spend more time with my customers instead of just chasing and running food.”

Once loaded, the kitchen staff can tell the Servi robots where to take the dishes. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

Reynolds believes robots will complement their human counterparts and actually enhance the customer experience, even in unlikely settings.

“Studies have been conducted in senior living facilities where you might think a robot wouldn’t be well received, but it’s been just the opposite,” Reynolds says. “Those residents saw the change in their lives and loved it.”

To that end, he plans to use Servi bots in other UH venues. “The ballroom would be a fantastic place to showcase Servi – not as a labor-saving device, but as an excitement generator,” Reynolds notes. “To have it rotating through a big event delivering appetizers would be really fun.”

Critics who denounce robot servers and suggest they will soon displace humans are missing the point, Reynolds adds. “This isn’t about cutting our labor costs. It’s about building our top-line revenues and expanding our brand as a global hospitality innovator,” Reynolds says. “People will come to expect more robotics, more artificial intelligence in all segments of hospitality, and our students will be right there at the forefront.”

Servi bots come at a time of dynamic growth for Hilton College. A recent rebrand to “Global Hospitality Leadership” comes as the college hotel is undergoing a $30 million expansion and renovation, which includes a new five-story, 70-room guest tower. The student-run Cougar Grounds coffeehouse reopened this semester in a larger space with plenty of updates. The neighboring Eric’s Club Center for Student Success helps with recruitment and enrollment, undergraduate academic services, and career development.

“To be the first university in the country to introduce robotics in the dining room is remarkable,” Reynolds adds. “There are a lot of unique things we’re doing at Hilton College.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston innovator on seeing a greener future on built environment

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 162

An architect by trade, Anas Al Kassas says he was used to solving problems in his line of work. Each project architects take on requires building designers to be innovative and creative. A few years ago, Kassas took his problem-solving background into the entrepreneurship world to scale a process that allows for retrofitting window facades for energy efficiency.

“If you look at buildings today, they are the largest energy-consuming sector — more than industrial and more than transportation,” Kassas, founder and CEO of INOVUES, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. “They account for up to 40 percent of energy consumption and carbon emissions.”

To meet their climate goals, companies within the built environment are making moves to transition to electric systems. This has to be done with energy efficiency in mind, otherwise it will result in grid instability.

"Energy efficiency goes hand in hand with energy transition," he explains.

Kassas says that he first had the idea for his company when he was living in Boston. He chose to start the business in Houston, attracted to the city by its central location, affordable labor market, and manufacturing opportunities here.

Last year, INOVUES raised its first round of funding — a $2.75 million seed round — to scale up the team and identify the best markets to target customers. Kassas says he was looking for regions with rising energy rates and sizable incentives for companies making energy efficient changes.

"We were able to now implement our technology in over 4 million square feet of building space — from Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York City, Portland, and very soon in Canada," he says.

Notably missing from that list is any Texas cities. Kassas says that he believes Houston is a great city for startups and he has his operations and manufacturing is based here, but he's not yet seen the right opportunity and adaption

"Unfortunately most of our customers are not in Texas," "A lot of work can be done here to incentivize building owners. There are a lot of existing buildings and construction happening here, but there has to be more incentives."

Kassas shares more about his growth over the past year, as well as what he has planned for 2023 on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

Houston SPAC announces merger with Beaumont-based tech company in deal valued at $100M

speaking of spacs

A Houston SPAC, or special purpose acquisition company, has announced the company it plans to merge with in the new year.

Beaumont-based Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc., a provider of thermal imaging platforms, and Houston-based SportsMap Tech Acquisition Corp. (NASDAQ: SMAP), a publicly-traded SPAC with $117 million held in trust, announced their agreement for ICI to IPO via SPAC.

Originally announced in the fall of last year, the blank-check company is led by David Gow, CEO and chairman. Gow is also chairman and CEO of Gow Media, which owns digital media outlets SportsMap, CultureMap, and InnovationMap, as well as the SportsMap Radio Network, ESPN 97.5 and 92.5.

The deal will close in the first half of 2023, according to a news release, and the combined company will be renamed Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc. and will be listed on NASDAQ under a new ticker symbol.

“ICI is extremely excited to partner with David Gow and SportsMap as we continue to deliver our innovative software and hardware solutions," says Gary Strahan, founder and CEO of ICI, in the release. "We believe our software and sensor technology can change the way companies across industries perform predictive maintenance to ensure reliability, environmental integrity, and safety through AI and machine learning.”

Strahan will continue to serve as CEO of the combined company, and Gow will become chairman of the board. The transaction values the combined company at a pre-money equity valuation of $100 million, according to the release, and existing ICI shareholders will roll 100 percent of their equity into the combined company as part of the transaction.

“We believe ICI is poised for strong growth," Gow says in the release. "The company has a strong value proposition, detecting the overheating of equipment in industrial settings. ICI also has assembled a strong management team to execute on the opportunity. We are delighted to combine our SPAC with ICI.”

Founded in 1995, ICI provides infrared and imaging technology — as well as service, training, and equipment repairs — to various businesses and individuals across industries.