Softeq has named three members to its executive team. Photos courtesy of Softeq

A tech development company has expanded its executive suite with three new additions to its team.

Softeq Development Corp. has hired Craig Ceccanti as COO, Albert Esser as chief delivery officer, and Edwin Lemus as chief people officer. The new hires' roles were effective as of June 1. The Houston company, founded in 1997, creates hardware and software solutions for its clients. Softeq also runs a venture fund and studio for startups from around the world.

“With the significant growth of our engineering services business plus the addition of our Venture Studio and $40 million Venture Fund, we saw an opportunity to welcome new leaders with global experience and fresh thinking to continue evolving our business and scaling for the future,” says Christopher A. Howard, founder and CEO of Softeq, in a news release. “This is a huge investment in our team, and with the addition of these three leaders to our C-suite we will centralize our global leadership team in Houston while providing support and expertise to our team across 22 countries and clients worldwide.”

About the new executives:

  • Craig Ceccanti is a serial entrepreneur. He founded Pinot’s Palette and oversaw its franchise growth and exit before joining the founding team of sEATz — now Rivalry Technologies. The sports tech startup provides a mobile ordering software for stadiums, as well as hospital and hospitality destinations. Most recently, he founded and ran T-Minus Solutions, a custom software development company. As COO, Ceccanti will oversee the day-to-day operations of Softeq and work to improve internal and external processes.
  • With three decades of experience in tech and consulting at Daimler AG, GE, Emerson, Hilti, and Dell, Albert Esser will lead the delivery organization, which includes including solutions engineering, project management, and resource management. As chief delivery officer, he's tasked with expanding "the team’s capabilities and agility by adding to the global network of consultants," per the release, as well as leading Softeq's adoption of emerging new technologies like IoT, AI/ML, vision systems, industrial automation, robotics, cloud applications, and cyber security.
  • Edwin Lemus has 22 years of talent-related experience, and, as chief people officer, he will continue to grow the Softeq team and build a company culture for the workforce that stretches across 22 offices around the world.

Softeq Venture Studio launched over a year ago with its inaugural cohort in 2021, and the fund was launched last year. The latest cohort was announced in March.

Cloudbreak Enterprises is getting in on the ground level with software startups — quickly helping them take an idea to market. Photo via Getty Images

Unique Houston-based venture studio looks to double portfolio in 2021

startup support

Lauren Bahorich is in the business of supporting businesses. In February 2020, she launched Cloudbreak Enterprises — B-to-B SaaS-focused, early-stage venture studio — with plans to onboard, invest in, and support around three new scalable companies a year. And, despite launching right ahead of a global pandemic, that's exactly what she did.

Bahorich, who previously worked at Golden Section Ventures, wanted to branch off on her own to create a venture studio to get in on the ground level of startups — to be a co-founder to entrepreneurs and provide a slew of in-house resources and support from development and sales to marketing and administration.

"We start at zero with just an idea, and we partner with out co-founders to build the idea they have and the domain expertise and the industry connections to take that idea and built a product and a company," Bahorich says.

Bahorich adds that there aren't a lot of venture studios in the United States — especially in Houston. While people might be more familiar with the incubator or accelerator-style of support for startups, the venture studio set up is much more intimate.

"We truly see ourselves as co-founders, so our deals are structured with co-founder equity," Bahorich says, explaining that Cloudbreak is closer to a zero-stage venture capital fund than to any incubator. "We are equally as incentivized as our co-founders to de-risk this riskiest stage of startups because we are so heavily invested and involved with our companies."

Lauren Bahorich founded Cloudbreak Enterprises in February of 2020. Photo courtesy of Cloudbreak

Cloudbreak now has three portfolio companies, and is looking to onboard another three more throughout the rest of the year. Bahorich runs a team of 15 professionals, all focused on supporting the portfolio. While creating the studio amid the chaos of 2020 wasn't the plan, there were some silver linings including being able to start with part-time developers and transition them to full-time employees as the companies grew.

"Within the first month, we were in shutdown here in Houston," Bahorich says. "But it's been a great opportunity for us. Where a lot of companies were pivoting and reassessing, we were actually able to grow because we were just starting at zero ourselves."

Cloudbreak's inaugural companies are in various stages and industries, but the first company to be onboarded a year ago — Relay Construction Solutions, a bid leveling software for the construction industry — joined the venture studio as just an idea and is already close to first revenue and potentially new investors. Cloudbreak is also creating a commercial real estate data management software and an offshore logistics platform. All three fall into a SaaS sweet spot that Bahorich hopes to continue to grow.

"We are looking to replace legacy workflows that are still performed in Excel or by email or phone," Bahorich says. "It's amazing how many opportunities there are that fit into that bucket — these high-dollar, error-prone workflows that are still done like it's 1985."

Given the hands-on support, Bahorich assumed she'd attract mostly first-time entrepreneurs who don't have experience with all the steps needed to launch the business. However, she says she's gotten interest from serial entrepreneurs who recognized how valuable the in-house support can be for expediting the early-stage startup process.

"What I'm realizing is a selling point is our in-house expertise. These founders are looking for technical co-founders," Bahorich says. "We can both provide that role and be capital partners."

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Houston universities rack up rankings in reports on top schools for entrepreneurship

5 years running

Rice University and the University of Houston have once again scooped up accolades for their entrepreneurship programs.

For the fifth consecutive year, Rice’s Jones Graduate School of Business has been ranked the No. 1 graduate entrepreneurship program by The Princeton Review, a provider of education services, and Entrepreneur magazine.

“Our close ties to Houston as well as national startup ecosystems give our students unique opportunities to pitch to and connect with angel investors, venture capitalists and corporations,” Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance, says in a news release. “These connections allow for mentorship, as well as launch points for new ideas, not only for our students but also for the city and surrounding communities.”

The list identifies 50 undergraduate and 50 graduate programs that boast the best entrepreneurship offerings based on factors such as coursework, experiential learning opportunities, and career outcomes. The ranking measures more than 40 data points about the schools’ entrepreneurship programs, faculties, students, and alumni.

Also for the fifth consecutive year, the University of Houston’s Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship in the C.T. Bauer College of Business has been named the No. 1 undergraduate entrepreneurship program by The Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine.

“We believe in entrepreneurship, we believe in free enterprise, and we’re in the number one city for entrepreneurship,” Dave Cook, executive director of the Wolff Center, says in a news release.

“When we put students into this entrepreneurial mix,” he adds, “and we introduce and reinforce free enterprise values, our intent is to change students’ lives and to create the next generation of business leaders with the highest integrity who are going to go out and create their own cultures, their own companies and their own futures.”

The University of Texas at Austin is the only other school in the state to make the top 10 of either the graduate ranking or undergraduate ranking. UT captures the No. 6 spot on the graduate list and No. 2 spot on the undergraduate list.

Aside from The Princeton Review and Entrepreneur honor, Rice climbed four spots in Poets&Quants’ annual ranking of the world’s best MBA programs for entrepreneurship.

Last year, Rice’s graduate school for business landed at No. 7 on the list. This year, it rose to No. 3, behind the first-ranked Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis and second-ranked ESTM Berlin.

This is the fifth annual ranking of MBA programs for entrepreneurship from Poets&Quants, a website that focuses on graduate-level business education.

“MBA programs are increasingly sought after in today’s environment, and our focus on entrepreneurship sets us apart,” Peter Rodriguez, business dean at Rice, says in a news release. “The entrepreneurship classes emphasize a combination of mindset and skill set and focus on multiple stages of the entrepreneurial process, preparing our students for any industry and climate.”

Poets&Quants relies on 16 data points collected through an annual survey to come up with its ranking. Among those data points are:

  • Average percentage of MBA students launching businesses during their program or within three months of graduation between 2018 and 2022.
  • Percentage of MBA elective courses with all of the curriculum focused on entrepreneurship or innovation during the 2022-23 academic year.
  • Percentage of MBA students active in the business school’s main student-run entrepreneurship club during the 2022-23 academic year.
  • Square footage of incubator or accelerator space available to MBA students during the 2022-23 academic year.

America's labor shortage crisis: Local Houston company’s solution for a thriving future

A Brighter Future

The labor shortage crisis gripping America is not isolated to a particular region; it's a challenge that reverberates from coast to coast.

CNN Business projects that this issue could cost the nation a staggering $1 trillion, while the Manufacturing Institute predicts that 2.1 million jobs will go unfilled. To address this pressing concern, a local Houston company called Innovapptive and its connected workforce platform stands as a beacon of hope to improve productivity and capacity, while also upskilling the digital native worker.

Innovapptive is a provider of a “mobile first '' AI-connected workforce SaaS solution to help companies manage labor shortage by empowering front-line workers with digital tools to boost productivity.

The platform’s integrated suite of apps for both the front-line workers and back-office staff closes the loop between people and assets to eliminate inefficiencies. By connecting the front-line workers and back-office with critical information in real time, and harnessing the potential of generative AI and cutting-edge AI/ML technology trends, Innovapptive is enhancing productivity and upskilling workers for some of the world’s largest brands.

Solving the labor shortage by focusing on productivity

The labor shortage crisis has left industries scrambling for solutions. Rather than simply trying to fill the void with more labor, the focus should be on optimizing the existing workforce.

By enhancing the productivity of front-line workers, companies can not only meet the demands of the market but also reduce the need for additional labor. A connected workforce platform can improve the productivity of the front-line workers by 10% to 20% to help companies do more with less.

Empowering front-line workers with real-time connectivity

Innovapptive's connected workforce platform brings front-line workers, back-office, and assets together by providing them with the right information at the right time.

Operators can simply execute their inspections, rounds, and raise issues. These issues automatically convert into an ERP notification and get pushed to a maintenance technician to close out the open compliance issue, while keeping the operator in the loop in real-time. At the same time, the warehouse is alerted in real-time on the work order priorities and criticality to ensure spare part kits are ready for the technician’s pick up.

This effective communication and collaboration between operators, maintenance, and warehouses is a game-changer for asset intensive companies nationwide. Workers can access essential data and insights instantly, leading to smarter decision-making, quicker problem-solving, and improved operational efficiency.

Recently, Sabert, a sustainable packaging company, launched Innovapptive’s solution and is seeing dramatic improvement in productivity. Click here to watch the video.

Harnessing generative AI and cutting-edge AI/ML technology trends to upskill workers

To achieve dramatic productivity improvements upwards of 20%, companies need to leverage the power of generative AI and AI/ML technology trends.

Innovapptive's platform has launched a beta version of its generative AI capabilities, automating the creation of paper-based inspections, SOPs, and work instructions. Furthermore, the company recently launched a computer vision-based AI/ML inspection solution in partnership with Deloitte.

The solution allows an operator or an inspector to simply take an inspection image and the image is instantly analyzed to predict the condition of the equipment, criticality, and use generative AI to describe the problem to their maintenance teams. By converging technology trends such as cloud, mobile, generative AI, and AI/ML, Innovapptive is streamlining processes and eliminating bottlenecks, resulting in substantial productivity gains.

Furthermore, Innovapptive is expected to launch a video AI/ML technology in FY-24 to rapidly upskill workers. This trend allows employees to access on-demand training materials and instructional videos, reducing the learning curve and increasing proficiency. By facilitating continuous learning and development, companies can adapt to changing demands more effectively.

A brighter future for asset-intensive industries

The labor shortage is a nationwide concern that requires a unified approach. Rather than relying solely on more labor, companies can take advantage of Innovapptive's connected workforce platform to empower front-line workers, connect them in real time, capture critical information efficiently, and harness the power of generative AI and cutting-edge AI/ML technology trends.

This holistic approach not only dramatically improves productivity by 10% to 20% but also reduces the need for additional labor. By embracing video AI/ML technology, businesses can rapidly upskill their workers, ensuring they remain agile and adaptable in the face of evolving challenges. Together, we can build a brighter future for American industries and address the labor shortage crisis more effectively.

Some of the world's largest brands rely on Innovapptive's technology, platforms and software, including:

  • Shell Oil
  • Hess
  • Chevron Phillips Chemical
  • Dominion Energy
  • Jemena
  • Loudoun Water
  • Newmont Mining
  • AkzoNobel
  • Pluspetrol
  • EDF Renewables
  • Sabert
  • LiftOne
  • Par Pacific

Innovapptive is headquartered in Houston with offices across the globe in India, Europe, and Asia-Pacific. To learn more and see what Innovapptive can do for your company, visit here.

Houston park opens new facility amid major transformation project

next step

The latest project from a Houston park that's got an ongoing transformation project underway has revealed its latest new feature.

Memorial Park, Houston’s most popular destination for runners and one of the best trails in Texas, has unveiled its new, state-of-art running complex on November 4. The new facility was first announced in 2019 as a part of the park's master plan redevelopment project, which includes the innovative Land Bridge that opened earlier this year.

Encompassing years in planning and constructing, this new complex features the 400-meter Roy H. Cullen Timing Track, a viewing decks, an event plaza, several gathering spaces, trails, and more. More than a simple running track, the complex is designed to be a central gathering spot for all Memorial Park visitors, notes Memorial Park Conservancy executive director Shellye Arnold. The complex will also serve as new gateway to the park’s Bayou Wilds trails.

This new complex is meant to bring more park visitors to multiple areas of the park, Arnold notes, as well as improve track conditions for the thousands who use it, including Houston Astros and Texans players and Olympians. (Olympic legend Carl Lewis is a frequent user.)

“The old timing track in the park is just worn down and not really that accurate, and it has strange turns and corners,” Arnold tells CultureMap. “The running complex is very fitting for the park and for Houston.”

Credit goes to the game-changing Ten-Year Plan, which turned the Memorial Park Master Plan marathon into a sprint with an accelerated set of projects via catalyst gift from the Kinder Foundation and various donors. Partners include the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, Uptown Development Authority, and Kinder Foundation, and the City of Houston Mayor’s Office.

That mean a new experience not just for runners, joggers, and walkers, but all visitors.

“It’s a microcosm of the park, a place where a lot of people go and train at four or five in the morning,” adds Arnold. “But it’s a gathering place in the woods. If you think about Memorial Park, part of the whole experience is being immersed in nature. And so this particular timing track is really much more nature immersive than the old timing track.”

Community access is also a priority, for adults and kids.

“There are a lot of schools in Houston that don’t have access to a high quality track — or a track at all,” Arnold says. “And so now, their runners can come out and use the track. It won’t be used for meets, because we won’t close it off to the public very often at all. But it’s all about accessibility. Any school in Houston that wants to use it will be able to bring their students out and enjoy it.”

So while running may be the draw, really, it’s the complex is yet another chance to enjoy Memorial Park’s 1,500 acres and 25 miles worth of trails.

“There are places to hang out,” says Arnold. “There will be a cafe that will open up nearby in the first half of 2024 and an event plaza that’s also opening that will be a place to gather or just hang out with a group. Those are some of the many of the reasons that we did this. All the things that we do is to build community and foster a sense of connectedness — and this track will do that.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.