Here's what Houston lifestyle innovation news trended this year on InnovationMap. Image via Getty Images

Editor's note: As the year comes to a close, InnovationMap is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston innovation. In the lifestyle category on InnovationMap, top stories included features on Houston startups with consumer-facing apps and reports related to life in Houston. Be sure to click through to read the full story.

A Louisiana-born, Houston-backed outdoors activity startup is expanding into the Bayou City

Mallard Bay, which won big at the Rice Business Plan Competition, is expanding in Houston. Photo via Getty Images

A Louisiana-founded hunting and fishing startup is growing its operations and expanding into Houston.

Mallard Bay, a marketplace for booking guided fishing and hunting trips, will move half of its employees to Houston and will join the Greater Houston Partnership, according to a release from the GHP. The company hopes the move will help it tap into the large corporate and convention entertainment market in Texas.

The company was founded in 2021 by a group of Louisiana State University students after noticing a gap in the outdoor travel space. Last year, founders Logan Meaux, Joel Moreau, Wyatt Mallett and Tam Nguyen entered in the Rice Business Plan Competition and won the fourth-most in investments and prizes, totaling $218,000.

“Entering the Rice Business Plan Competition helped close out our $1.8 million seed round last September,” Meaux, co-founder and CEO of Mallard Bay, says in a statement. “Not only did it help us raise money, but the recognition and the contacts we made were instrumental in growing the business and sparked the idea to expand to Houston. Prior to the competition, we were unaware of all that the Houston startup ecosystem had to offer, but quickly realized the value of having a network here in Houston.” Read the full story.

Houston could be 2nd biggest metro in U.S. by year 2100, new report says

Everyone wants to live here. Photo by Kevin Hernandez on Unsplash

Start spreading the news: Houston will eclipse New York City as the 2nd biggest metro area by the year 2100, a new report predicts.

An analysis by moving services site moveBuddha published June 22 says Houston's population could swell to 31.38 million people in the next 77 years.

Based on current population and migration trends, in fact, America’s three biggest metropolitan areas by 2100 will be Dallas-Fort Worth (No. 1), Houston (No. 2), and Austin (No. 3), replacing New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago as the country’s most populous metros, the report predicts. Read the full story.

Houston startup addresses mother-daughter dynamic with first app of its kind

A Houston-founded company is targeting mothers and daughters with their teletherapy app. Photo courtesy of Passport Journeys

When Lacey Tezino’s mother died of cancer she vowed to help other mothers and daughters find their own ways to bond in beautiful, nurturing ways.

Tezino turned that vow into a mission that is now available for others to embark on with an online therapy app tailored specifically for the mother-daughter dynamic Passport Journeys.

The Houston-based company is billed as the first mother-daughter teletherapy application that stands out in a crowded market place on online therapy like Better Help. Tezino, the founder and CEO, partnered with seven Houston-based licensed behavioral health clinics to make the dream a reality.

The app, which launched aptly on Mother's Day, can be downloaded via Apple or Google Play, and includes video therapy sessions, journal opportunities, interactive worksheets, and help those who need access to this form of mental health help with ease. Read the full story.

Houston again plummets on list of best places to live in new national report

Houston didn't even crack the top 100 in the new list. Photo by Alisa Matthews on Unsplash

In a surprise turn of events, Houston has fallen from grace in U.S. News and World Report's "Best Places to Live" ranking for 2023-2024.

Last year, Houston ranked No. 59 on the annual report — not surprising, considering all the Newstonians. However, the Bayou City plummeted to a shocking No. 140. Two years ago, the city ranked as No. 39, so this year's report represents a series of slips for Houston.

But why? According to the report: "A paycheck goes further in Houston than it does in other major metro areas, with affordable housing and free or cheap attractions like biking along Buffalo Bayou and exploring the 7,800-acre George Bush Park. The affordability of this region, which is located in southeastern Texas and home to more than 7 million residents in the metro area, is attracting new people from across the country and around the world." Read the full story.

Houston restaurant tech now serving optimized mobile ordering

This new restaurant technology allows for eateries to upgrade to mobile ordering for no cost. Photo courtesy of Cloche

A new Houston company has designed a platform that enables mobile ordering at no cost to restaurants.

Cloche, a mobile software platform named after the bell-shape dish cover that's known to come with room service orders, has launched in Houston and is currently looking for restaurants interested in utilizing their technology to upgrade their eatery with mobile ordering at no cost to the restaurant.

Alfredo Arvide, co-founder and managing director, tells InnovationMap that the idea for the platform came after the pandemic forced restaurateurs to quickly pivot to touch-free menus. Now that the consumer has adapted to scanning QR codes to view menus, the next step is to optimize ordering — something that will also help with the labor shortages that restaurants are now facing.

"Now is the time transform this industry by creating a better meal experience for the consumers, an easier job for the restaurant staff and a more efficient, more profitable business for restaurant owners," Arvide says. Read the full story.

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Early-stage accelerator returns to Houston, announces finalists

prepare for take-off

CodeLaunch, a traveling seed-stage accelerator, is returning to Houston for its latest cohort.

The startup competition sponsored by software development company Improving will have its ultimate showdown on February 28. The final competition pairs six startups with six startup consulting companies.

Jason W. Taylor, CodeLaunch president and founder, says CodeLaunch isn’t your typical startup showcase, as it incorporates music acts, comedy, and crowd networking. Mirroring the set-up of a TV show, the six finalists all present their working products in front of an audience amid these performances.

“I would describe CodeLaunch as the next generation of venture-tainment in North America and the greatest startup show on earth,” Taylor explains.

The 2024 Houston CodeLaunch participant startups — and their mentor partners — are as follows:

Prior to pitch day, all six teams will receive hands-on instruction from CodeLaunch mentors on how to construct their pitches and free professional software development from their partners. Taylor says the strong relationships between CodeLaunch and these developers played a major role in setting the competition in Houston.

“We love Houston and we’re back for a third year in a row because the Houston startup ecosystem works together better than other major startup ecosystems I’ve seen,” Taylor says. “We have some great software development partners in Houston that are building code for those startups.”

Last year, Houston-based startup Energy360, with the mentorship and help of Honeycomb Software, took home the Championship belt and a $100,000 investment offer from Cyrannus VC fund for their energy management system Matt Bonasera, Energy360’s enterprise architect, says he is grateful for the entrepreneurial community CodeLaunch provides, in particular the team’s mentor Oleg Lysiak, Honeycomb VP of Partnerships and Business Development.

“I happened along this great community of people who are really passionate about supporting each other,” Bonasera says.

Lysiak agrees that CodeLaunch is an ideal opportunity for young entrepreneurs looking to hone their skills and expand their product capabilities. Lysiak says he is looking forward to defending Honeycomb’s title as top consultant development team.

“My whole philosophy is to connect people and have different collisions and collaborations,” Lysiak says.

Houston startup completes testing, prepares biosimilar insulin drug for clinical trials

next steps

A Houston biotech startup is one step closer to releasing its marquee drug for the global insulin market, which is projected to break the $90 billion threshold by 2029.

rBIO says it recently completed testing of the properties of R-biolin, an insulin drug that’s biologically identical to Novo Nordisk’s Novolin drug. The patent for Novolin about two decades ago. In March 2023, the Dutch drugmaker announced it was slashing the list price of Novolin by 65 percent to $48.20 per vial and $91.09 per FlexPen.

Executives at rBIO are now pursuing a partnership with a contract research organization to manage clinical trials of R-biolin. If those trials go well, R-biolin will seek approval to supply its insulin therapy to diabetes patients around the world.

Washington University in St. Louis is rBIO’s academic partner for the R-biolin project.

The rBIO platform produces insulin at greater yields that traditional manufacturing techniques do. The company is striving to drive down the cost of insulin by 30 percent.

About 38 million Americans have diabetes, with the vast majority being treated for type 2 diabetes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many people with diabetes must take insulin to control their blood sugar levels.

Research company iHealthcareAnalyst predicts the global market for insulin will surpass the $90 billion mark in 2029.

“There has been a lot of talk in the media about reducing the cost of insulin for diabetic patients, but what is often overlooked is that the domestic demand for insulin will soon outpace the supply, leading to a new host of issues,” Cameron Owen, co-founder and CEO of rBIO, says in a news release.

“We’re dedicated to addressing the growing demand for accessible insulin therapies, and … we’re thrilled to announce the viability of our highly scalable manufacturing process.”

Professionals from the University of California San Diego and Johns Hopkins University established rBIO in 2020. The startup moved its headquarters from San Diego to Houston in 2022.

CEO Cameron Owen and Chief Scientific Officer Deenadayalan Bakthavatsalam work on insulin purification in the Houston lab. Photo courtesy

How AI is changing product management and what you need to know

guest column

For the past 14 months, everyone has been talking about ways artificial intelligence is changing the world, and product management is not an exception. The challenge, as with every new technology, is not only adopting it but understanding what old habits, workflows, and processes are affected by it.

Product managers — as well as startup founders leading a product function — more than any other role, face a challenge of bringing new life-changing products to market that may or may not be received well by their users. A product manager’s goal is complex — bring value, stay ahead of the competition, be innovative. Yet, the "behind the scenes" grind requires endless decision making and trade offs to inspire stakeholders to move forward and deliver.

As we dive into 2024, it is obvious that AI tools do not only transform the way we work but also help product managers create products that exceed customer expectation and drive businesses forward.

Market research and trends analysis

As product managers, we process enormous amounts of market data — from reviewing global and industry trend analysis, to social media posts, predictions, competition, and company goals. AI, however, can now replace hours, if not days, of analyzing massive amounts of data in an instant, revealing market trends, anticipating needs, and foreseeing what's coming next. As a result, it is easier to make effective product decisions and identify new market opportunities.

Competitive analysis

Constantly following competitors, reviewing their new releases, product updates, or monitoring reviews to identify competitor strengths and weaknesses is an overwhelming and time consuming task. With AI, you can quickly analyze competitors’ products, pricing, promotions, and feedback. You can easily compare multiple attributes, including metrics, and identify gaps and areas for improvement — all the insights that are otherwise much harder to reveal quickly and efficiently.

Customer and product discovery

Of course, the most intuitive use case that comes to mind is the adoption of AI in product and customer discovery. For example:

  • Use AI for customer segmentation and persona creation to help visualize personas, prioritize user motivations and expectations, and uncover hidden behavior and needs. You can then create and simplify customer questionnaires for interviews and user groups and target customers more accurately.
  • Analyze quantitative and qualitative data from surveys, support tickets, reviews, and in-person interviews to identify pain points and unmet user needs and help prioritize features for future updates and releases.

Roadmap and sprint management

AI provides value in simplifying roadmap planning and sprint management. Resource optimization is often a gruesome task and AI can help with feature prioritization and resource allocation. It helps teams focus on critical work and increase their productivity. You can even analyze and manage dependencies and improve results across multiple sprints months in advance.

Prototyping and mockup generation

There is no product manager’s routine without multiple mockups, wireframes, and prototypes that explain concepts and collect feedback among stakeholders. AI has become a critical tool in simplifying this process and bringing ideas to life from concept to visualization.

Today, you can use textual or voice descriptions to instantly create multiple visuals with slight variations, run A/B tests and gather valuable feedback at the earliest stage of a product life cycle.

Job search and job interviews

Consider it as a bonus but one of the less obvious but crucial advantages of AI is using it in job search. With the vulnerable and unstable job market, especially for product roles, AI is a valuable assistant. From getting the latest news and updates on a company you want to join, to summarizing insights on the executive team, or company goals, compiling lists of interview questions, and running mock interviews, AI has become a non-judgmental assistant in a distressing and often discouraging job search process.

Use AI to draft cold emails to recruiters and hiring managers, compare your skills to open positions’ requirements, identify gaps, and outline ideas for test assignments.

We already know that AI is not a hype; it is here to stay. However, remember that customers do not consume AI, they consume your product for its value. Customers care whether your product gets their need, solves their problem, and makes their lives easier. The goal of a product manager is to create magic combining human brain capabilities and latest technology. And the best result is with a human at the core of any product.

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Natasha Gorodetsky is the founder and CEO of Product Pursuits, a Houston company that helps early stage and venture-backed startups build products and create impact.