Paying bills is more and more taxing. Getty Images

By now everyone has heard plenty about the nine-letter word that’s on everybody’s mind these days — inflation. This reflects a rise in prices, for everything from gas and groceries and cars to health care, coupled with a decline in buying power.

In August, the U.S. inflation rate stood at 8.3 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s down from a four-decade high of 9.1 percent in June. For Houston consumers, though inflation remains above the U.S. rate. And it turns out, Houston is saddled with one of the highest inflation rates among major U.S. metro areas.

Houston’s inflation rate jumped 9.5 percent from August 2021 to this August, according to a new study from personal finance website WalletHub. That means prices for a host of goods and services climbed 9.5 percent from August 2021 to this August.

By the numbers, our near-term inflation rate inched up by 0.10 percent, per WalletHub.

Taking into account the short-term and long-term spikes in Greater Houston’s inflation rate, the region ranked 10th on WalletHub’s list of the metro areas where inflation is increasing the most. In all, 23 major metro areas appear in the ranking.

The Phoenix area ranks first. Its inflation rate in August reached 13 percent, the highest rate of any metro area in the WalletHub study. The short-term change in the inflation rate was 0.80 percent.

The only other Texas metro on the list is Dallas-Fort Worth, which sits at No. 5. In the DFW metro area, the inflation rate jumped 9.4 percent from August 2021 to August 2022. Residents in DFW have seen the inflation rate grow 1 percent in August compared with the previous two months.

WalletHub points out that several factors are pushing up the inflation rate, including the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, the Ukrainian war, and labor shortages.

“The government is hoping to continue to rein in inflation with additional aggressive interest rate hikes this year, but exactly how much of an effect that will have remains to be seen,” WalletHub notes.

John Harvey, a professor of economics at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, tells WalletHub that he believes hiking interest rates is a bad approach to easing inflation.

“There is no logical reason that lowering the overall level of economic activity (the goal of the higher interest rates) actually helps in situations like this. Furthermore, the only kind of inflation it could possibly address is the good kind,” Harvey says.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

We're all work and no play. Photo courtesy of AFlags

Texas clocks in among 5 hardest-working states in America, study shows

labor of love

With a nod to disco diva Donna Summer, Texans work hard for the money.

A new study from personal finance website WalletHub puts Texas at No. 5 among the hardest-working states, down one spot from No. 4 in last year's study. Ahead of Texas are, in descending order, Alaska, North Dakota, Nebraska, and South Dakota.

To determine where Americans work the hardest, WalletHub compared the 50 states across 10 key indicators. Those factors include average number of workweek hours, share of workers with multiple jobs, and annual number of volunteer hours per resident.

Boosting Texas on this list is the state's average number of workweek hours. The Lone Star State ranks fourth in that category.

Texas also ranks high for the following:

  • Share of workers who leave vacation time unused (No. 11).
  • Share of workers who are "engaged" (No. 5).

Texas ranks low for the share of workers with multiple jobs (No. 46) and the employment rate (No. 39).

More than 13.2 million Texans were employed in July in the state's civilian workforce, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That month, the statewide unemployment rate stood at 6.2 percent. The civilian workforce includes people who are inmates, agricultural workers, and federal employees, but not those who are active-duty military personnel.

In July, Gov. Greg Abbott lauded the state's "young, growing, and skilled workforce" for helping forge a "diversified and resilient economy."

"The Texas economy is booming. Businesses are investing in the Lone Star State at a record pace because we've built a framework that allows free enterprise to flourish and hardworking Texans to prosper," Abbott said.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Houston cardiac health startup raises $43 million series B to grow AI-backed platform

money moves

A Houston-based tech company that has a product line of software solutions for cardiac health has raised funding.

Octagos Health, the parent company of Atlas AI — a software platform for cardiac devices like pacemakers, defibrillators, ambulatory monitors and consumer wearables — has announced a $43 million series B raise that will bring their technology to many more hearts.

Morgan Stanley Investment Capital led the investment, which also included funds from Mucker Capital and other continuing strategic investors. The goal of the raise is to supply funds to accelerate Atlas AI’s growth across the United States and to expand into other areas of care, including ambulatory monitors, consumer wearables, and sleep.

"This investment will enable us to accelerate enhancements to our platform, in addition to scaling our commercial team and operations. We are currently the only company that helps cardiology practices migrate their historical data from legacy software providers and fully integrates with any EHR (exertion heart rate) system. We do this while enabling customized reporting supported by patient and practice decision-support analytics," says Eric Olsen, COO of Octagos Health, in a press release.

Octagos Health was founded by a team of healthcare pros including CEO Shanti Bansal, a cardiologist and founder of Houston Heart Rhythm, an atrial fibrillation center. The goal was to find a new way to deal with the massive amount of data that clinicians encounter each day in a way that combines software and the work of human doctors.

According to the Octagos Health website, “Our solution allows clinicians to focus on other ways of delivering meaningful healthcare and more efficiently manage their remotely monitored patients.”

It works thanks to customizable reporting features that allow patients’ healthcare teams to get help while monitoring them, but to do it precisely as they would if they were crunching numbers themselves.

"We are excited to partner with Octagos Health and support their vision of transforming cardiac care," says Melissa Daniels, managing director of Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital. "Octagos Health has demonstrated exceptional growth and innovation in a critical area of healthcare. We believe their platform and vertically integrated software and services significantly improve patient care and streamline cardiac monitoring processes for healthcare providers."

Will Hsu, co-founder and partner of Mucker Capital, agrees. “Octagos Health is poised for scale – industry leading gross margins, a very sticky product that doctors and clinical staff love, and a market ready for disruption with artificial intelligence. This is the new wave for diagnostic care,” he says. And with this raise, it will be available to even more clinicians and patients across the country.

Houston biotech company expands leadership as it commercializes sustainable products

joining the team

Houston-based biotech company Cemvita recently tapped two executives to help commercialize its sustainable fuel made from carbon waste.

Nádia Skorupa Parachin came aboard as vice president of industrial biotechnology, and Phil Garcia was promoted to vice president of commercialization.

Parachin most recently oversaw several projects at Boston-based biotech company Ginkjo Bioworks. She previously co-founded Brazilian biotech startup Integra Bioprocessos.

Parachin will lead the Cemvita team that’s developing technology for production of bio-manufactured oil.

“It’s a fantastic moment, as we’re poised to take our prototyping to the next level, and all under the innovative direction of our co-founder Tara Karimi,” Parachin says in a news release. “We will be bringing something truly remarkable to market and ensuring it’s cost-effective.”

Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita, says the hiring of Parachin represents “the natural next step” toward commercializing the startup’s carbon-to-oil process.

“Her background prepared her to bring the best out of the scientists at the inflection point of commercialization — really bringing things to life,” says Moji Karimi, Tara’s brother.

Parachin joins Garcia on Cemvita’s executive team.

Before being promoted to vice president of commercialization, Garcia was the startup’s commercial director and business development manager. He has a background in engineering and business development.

Founded in 2017, Cemvita recently announced a breakthrough that enables production of large quantities of oil derived from carbon waste.

In 2023, United Airlines agreed to buy up to one billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel from Cemvita’s first full-scale plant over the course of 20 years.

Cemvita’s investors include the UAV Sustainable Flight Fund, an investment arm of Chicago-based United; Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based energy company Occidental Petroleum; and Japanese equipment and machinery manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a logistics startup founder, a marketing expert, and a solar energy innovator.

Matthew Costello, CEO and co-founder of Voyager Portal

Houston logistics SaaS innovator is making waves with its expanded maritime shipping platform. Photo courtesy of Voyager

For several years now, Matthew Costello has been navigating the maritime shipping industry looking for problems to solve for customers with his company, Voyager Portal.

Initially, that meant designing a software platform to enhance communications and organization of the many massive and intricate global shipments happening every day. Founded in 2018 by Costello and COO Bret Smart, Voyager Portal became a integral tool for the industry that helps users manage the full lifecycle of their voyages — from planning to delivery.

"The software landscape has changed tremendously in the maritime space. Back in 2018, we were one of a small handful of technology startups in this space," Costello, who serves as CEO of Voyager, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Now that's changed. ... There's really a huge wave of innovation happening in maritime right now." Read more.

Arielle Rogg, principal and founder of Rogg Enterprises

Arielle Rogg writes in a guest column for InnovationMap about AI in the workforce. Photo via LinkedIn

Arielle Rogg isn't worried about artificial intelligence coming for her job. In fact, she has three reasons why, and she outlines them in a guest column for InnovationMap.

"The advent of AI pushes us humans to acquire new skills and hone our existing abilities so we can work alongside these evolving technologies in a collaborative fashion. AI augments human capabilities rather than replacing us. I believe it will help our society embrace lifelong learning, creating new industries and jobs that have never existed before," she writes in the piece. Read more.

Nathan Childress, founder of Solar Slice

Solar Slice Founder Nathan Childress says his new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet. Photo via LinkedIn

Nuclear engineer and entrepreneur Nathan Childress wants consumers to capture their own ray of sunlight to brighten the prospect of making clean energy a bigger part of the power grid. That's why he founded Solar Slice. The new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet.

Although trained in nuclear power plant design, solar power drew his interest as a cheaper and more accessible alternative, and Childress tells InnovationMap that he thinks that the transition to cleaner energy, in Texas especially, needs to step up.

Recent studies show that 80 to 90 percent of the money invested into fighting climate change “aren’t going to things that people actually consider helpful,” Childress says, adding that “they’re more just projects that sound good, that are not actually taking any action." Read more.