3 Houston innovators to know this week

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This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Tammi Wallace of the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce, Adam Putterman of OURS, and Ghazal Qureshi of UpBrainery. 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 — from edtech to mental health — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Tammi Wallace, co-founder of the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce

Tammi Wallace of the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce was a panelist on The Ion's Pride in Tech event. Photo via LinkedIn

There are a few days left in Pride Month, and Houston's tech community came together last week to celebrate — but also discuss some of the challenges within the ecosystem for LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs.

In a Q&A with InnovationMap, Tammi Wallace, co-founder of the Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce, shared her advice for LGBTQIA+ innovators and allies.

"Get involved with the Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce," she says. "Since 2016, the chamber has been working to build a strong community to support LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs and get them access to resources to help their businesses grow and thrive." Click here to read more.

Adam Putterman, co-founder of OURS

Adam Putterman, co-founder of OURS, shares how he jumped on the opportunity that is innovating the future of relationship health. Photo courtesy of OURS

More than ever before, people are warming up to the idea of seeking professional health care for more than just their bodies, Adam Putterman, co-founder of OURS says on the most recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"We've seen a massive shift in the perception of counseling and therapy — and, more importantly, all the aspects of health that are not just your body," he explains. "It's no longer just going to the gym, it's meditating, coaching for a professional field. We've found that people are taking that mindset and applying it to their relationship as well."

After launching its beta in 2020, OURS worked in stealth to develop its product, which officially launched in May. The platform costs $400 for a four-week program that includes six personalized interactive sessions with an OURS guide at the helm of the experience. These one-hour technology-powered sessions are based around an innovative new technology, called Loveware, and include dynamic and meaningful conversations between a couple that are built around the magic that comes from being in the room with an expert. Click here to listen to the full episode and read more.

Ghazal Qureshi, founder and CEO of UpBrainery

Innovations like artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and machine learning certainly have advantages in the edtech sector. Photo courtesy

The education community is facing big changes thanks to technology and new innovations. In a guest column for InnovationMap, Ghazal Qureshi — founder and CEO of UpBrainery, a Houston-based immersive educational technology platform — shares how things like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and more have the potential to impact the sector.

"AI has created benefits for educators as well, such as it has created a task automation system in which all kinds of daily mundane tasks including grading papers, admin work, replying to queries, etc. have been directly automated," she writes. "Although adopting cutting-edge technology in the educational industry for most institutions is certainly not a piece of cake as it is time-consuming and very costly." Click here to read more.

Innovations like artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and machine learning certainly have advantages in the edtech sector. Photo by Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

Houston founder: Innovating education in an evolving world

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Once upon a time, gaining knowledge was relatively a simpler task. Going to school, being taught through books, the joy of taking notes on a neat blank page, and the use of bright, colorful stationery had another level of excitement.

Now, the overwhelming innovations in the educational sector has changed the entire landscape and left educators, students, and parents wondering whether they will be able to adapt to the changing times.

Innovations like artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and machine learning certainly have advantages in the edtech sector.

What are AI, AR, and machine learning?

It is common to see these acronyms flash around in product innovations, news, and the educational sector. Artificial intelligence is the capability of a robot that is managed or controlled by a computer to do tasks that are carried out by humans, such as analyzing and making decisions.

Whereas augmented reality is the experience of a real world where the objects belonging to the real world are enhanced by the computer. Machine learning is a part of artificial intelligence that allows computers to act without being explicitly programmed.

According to the report published in Statista, “the global artificial intelligence market is projected to grow rapidly in the future years, reaching around $126 billion by 2025."

The Business Research Company has stated in their article that “the global augmented reality in training and education market size is expected to grow from $6.27 billion in 2021 to $10.37 billion in 2022 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 65.4 percent.”

Will the education industry be able to survive in these rapidly evolving times?

One thing which the pandemic has proved is that e-learning and e-teaching became easily accessible, adaptable, and preferred by the majority of the working class. Not only that but post-pandemic, both students and educators preferred online education over traditional methods since over time we have recognized the upside of e-learning.

Some of these include studying at your own pace and convenience, you get to design your schedule, and improved time management because you get to skip on travel-time and it leads to enhanced learning through innovative educational tools such as AI, AR, and machine learning.

As explained by Communications of the Association for Information System (CAIS), a study was conducted regarding what were the factors of receiving distance education despite the normal circumstances. A model was developed based on social cognitive theory and social cognitive career theory. It was then tested by using data from 525 college students surveyed after enrolling in distance learning classes. Per the report, "results indicate that personal and environmental factors drive intentions to continue with distance learning through their impact on distance learning perceived performance, and satisfaction.“

Augmented Reality in the educational sector has enabled teachers to engage their students through virtual examples of various concepts, by utilizing gaming-like strategists to help students understand the textbook materials easily.

As a result, students have shown keen interest, high engagement, faster learning, and easy memorizing capabilities.

A recent example of augmented reality in the educational sector is Google Expedition, which enables students to see 3D objects in the classroom like volcanoes, the human brain, DNA, etc., which helps them to understand, visualize and experience the learning process. It goes beyond the traditional imaginative process of learning and experiencing.

According to Assembler Blog, “statistics have revealed that 80 percent of more students are likely to attend a class that incorporates augmented reality experiences.” Moreover, “70 percent of students also say that they could grasp the material faster and improve their learning experience” through AR technology used in teaching.

Similarly, machine learning and AI have also taken the educational industry by storm.

A blog written in The Journal has stated that: “According to the eLearning Industry, 47 percent of learning management tools will be enabled with AI capabilities in the next three years.”

Artificial intelligence has helped students in tutoring when students face problems and are not able to reach their teachers at that moment, making virtual tutors, artificially intelligent software, and chatbots perfect solutions in these situations.

Moreover, personalization is something that every student prefers to have in their education. Through machine learning, AI has enabled its students to choose their program based on their capability, pace, and desire. We must recognize that each person has learning preferences, most of us only memorize through visual means. Similarly, another person might be an auditory learner or a kinesthetic learner. Hence, it is imperative to identify these cognitive traits to deliver personalized and successful learning experiences to our students.

AI has created benefits for educators as well, such as it has created a task automation system in which all kinds of daily mundane tasks including grading papers, admin work, replying to queries, etc. have been directly automated.

Although adopting cutting-edge technology in the educational industry for most institutions is certainly not a piece of cake as it is time-consuming and very costly.

But by looking at all the facts and figures, the benefits and students teachers' high engagement evidence shows that indeed the educational sector will transform and cope with the speedy changes gradually.

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Ghazal Qureshi is the founder and CEO of UpBrainery, a Houston-based immersive educational technology platform that taps into neuroscience research-based programs to provide adaptive learning and individualized pathways for students at home or in the classroom.

Kate Evinger joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the latest from gBETA Houston. Photo courtesy of gBETA

New Houston accelerator leader dives into first cohort

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 83

Everything's bigger in Texas, but Kate Evinger is focused on zeroing in on a small group of startups to help them in a Texas-sized way.

As director of gBETA Houston, Evinger says the program, which expanded to Houston in 2019, is geared toward supporting companies as they navigate the initial challenges of starting a company.

"We look at early-stage companies, so those that are pre-seed or seed-stage that are looking for mentorship or support," Evinger says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, "and we help get to that next step whether that's to raise an upcoming round or if they are looking to get into an equity-based accelerator program."

The program runs two 7-week cohorts a year — and only five companies join each round. This tight-knit group is to the cohort's advantage, Evinger says.

"It's a very small group that we bring in, and we do this very purposefully, because we like to use a concierge approach, meaning that we tailor the experience to each of the five company's personal goals," she explains.

This week, gBETA Houston announced the latest cohort's member companies, which includes five Houston-based companies: Veza, Upbrainery, FareUpThere, Custodian Corp., and Clyr.

The program, which is a part of Wisconsin-based gener8tor, began May 6 and concludes July 7 with a pitch day. The local operation is housed out of the Downtown Launchpad alongside Impact Hub Houston and MassChallenge Texas.

"The Downtown Launchpad is a phenomenal space," Evinger says. "It's a really amazing collaborative ecosystem for our companies to be able to leverage."

Evinger shares more about the new cohort growth and gener8tor's other opportunities on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


gBETA Houston, which is based out of Downtown Launchpad, has announced its latest cohort. Photo courtesy of the Downtown Launchpad

Global accelerator announces 5 startups to its Houston cohort

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Five Houston companies have been tapped to participate in a Houston-based, early-stage startup accelerator with a national presence.

The accelerator, gBETA, selected the five Houston companies out of over 85 applicants. The cohort represents industries like education, travel, and fintech. The summer program launched on May 6 and will take place over seven weeks before concluding on July 7 at the gBETA Houston Pitch Night.

Here are the five startups selected from Houston:

  • Clyr, led by CEO and Co-founder Jeff Jensen, makes pools smarter and more sustainable through its eco-friendly approach. Clyr connects users with their pools through the first ever solar-powered WiFi-connected Smart Skimmer device and automates pool care using renewable resources. Since launching in 2020, Clyr is located in hundreds of pools across the US and has analyzed over 2 million pool chemistry data points and given over 100,000 recommendations for fixes.
  • Custodian Corp's software-as-a-service platform solves the data management and valuation pain points of venture capital and private equity managers faster and at a fairer price than competitors. Led by CEO Federico Jost, Custodian's main product is the CPMTOOL, a cloud-based solution to collect, aggregate, organize and analyze portfolio company data for monitoring and reporting purposes. Custodian launched in January of 2021, has six pilots to date and has tripled revenue since February of 2021.
  • FareUpThere's travel platform takes the mystery out of booking the perfect flight. Led by CEO and Co-Founder Malcolm Woods, FareUpThere's restaurant-style menu of flight amenities allows passengers to easily customize their perfect flight ranging from exact inches of legroom to whether the flight has Netflix. FareUpThere successfully launched a private beta in December of 2020.
  • UpBrainery, led by CEO and Founder Ghazal Qureshi, created a marketplace provides an AI-driven software platform and research-based, results-driven curriculum to students, parents, teachers and organizations. UpBrainery's journey mapping tool aligns a students educational interests and learning styles with their goals to visualize the steps needed to achieve them. Since launching in March of 2020, UpBrainery has provided over 5,000 students with opportunities for digital learning and customers include Whataburger, Girl Scouts and The Houston Rockets.
  • Veza, Launched in December, connects the world's influencer marketing experts through its professional social network. Veza's network supports both sides of the influencer marketing industry; the businesses searching for talent and the influencers looking for opportunities. Led by CEO Efrain Batista, Veza offers businesses access to the world's first free influencer search and discovery platform.

The program, which has been operating online due to the pandemic, has its local office in the Downtown Launchpad.

"Downtown Launchpad starts at the edge of technology and entrepreneurship, where cutting-edge ideas can quickly be explored, and future technology can become high-impact businesses. It was developed around a framework of resources to help entrepreneurs as they seamlessly navigate through the stages of startup production," says Robert Pieroni, director of Economic Development of Central Houston, in the release.

The free accelerator is a part of Madison, Wisconsin-based gener8tor's suite of accelerators, and announced its plan to launch in Houston in September 2019. The program's inaugural cohort premiered in May and conducted the first program this summer completely virtually. The second cohort took place last fall.

"In order to harness the impact of entrepreneurs and innovators of new technologies, an ecosystem involving many parts is needed," continues Pieroni. "That is why we recruited the nationally acclaimed startup accelerator, gener8tor, to our city. We're thrilled that gener8tor is one of Downtown Launchpad's resident partners and are helping us continue our mission to inspire innovation in the Houston community. I look forward to the impact created by the startups in this year's cohort."

Kate Evinger leads the local program as director. She recently assumed this role, and this will be her first cohort to direct.

"Houston is at a pivotal moment in time with the exciting innovations taking place in the ecosystem," says Evinger in the release. "I'm thrilled to be a part of the Houston community supporting the work of these incredible founders in the gBETA Houston Summer 2021 program."

Stream a recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast where Evinger shares what she's excited about for this cohort:

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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

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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

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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.