After a weeks-long, COVID-caused intermission, Texas-based Vonlane is hitting highways with daily routes starting July 1. Photo courtesy of Vonlane

Vonlane buses are revving their engines again. After weeks without service due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Dallas-based luxury bus operator will restart all routes serving Texas on July 1.

In a June 9 message to customers, Vonlane said daily departures resuming July 1 would include:

  • Houston-Dallas
  • Houston-Fort Worth
  • Houston-Austin
  • Houston-San Antonio
  • Dallas-Austin
  • Dallas-Oklahoma City
  • Fort Worth-Austin

Coming soon are routes to Nashville and Atlanta, with details to be announced, the company says.

As the coronavirus started to cripple travel in March, Vonlane temporarily eliminated four routes serving Texas. "While we are significantly impacted by the circumstances of the day," Vonlane founder and CEO Alex Danza said then. "Our goal is to be a solution for your urgent personal travel."

But by April 15, when most of Texas was sheltering in place, Vonlane suspended operations due to lack of demand. Limited routes between Dallas, Austin, and Houston resumed May 29.

Like many businesses, Vonlane also pivoted its operation in new directions during the shutdown.

On Memorial Day, the company announced it was expanding its services to include out-of-state charters. It now offers bespoke charter service to popular destinations across the continental U.S. like Colorado, Florida, and New Orleans, as an alternative to flying.

Passengers who book a private charter have access to up to 22 seats, can leave from a specific departure point of their choice, and travel to any destination, the company says.

Vonlane also rolled out a parcel shipping service in Texas. "Need to get something to a loved one, friend, or business associate in Austin, Dallas, or Houston today?" Danza said in the announcement. "Send it aboard the next Vonlane departure for a flat fee." More details on the service are outlined here.

In putting its luxury buses back on the road, Vonlane is adopting a number of measures designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus, such as limiting the passenger count to 13 by blocking all aisle seats through June 30; requiring passengers and employees to wear face coverings; and checking passengers' temperatures before boarding.

"As one of our core values, the safety of our passengers, crew, and fellow over-the-road travelers is our top priority," Danza said in a May 26 release announcing the charters. "In light of the current coronavirus situation, Vonlane is maximizing our efforts to make sure the Vonlane experience is as responsible, safe, and comfortable as our passengers have come to expect."

Vonlane launched its high-end bus service in 2014 with the Dallas-to-Austin route. Each bus, which holds fewer than two dozen passengers, features amenities like WiFi, satellite TV and radio, and leather seats.

Reservations can be booked online, and may be canceled and fully refunded up to 24 hours before departure.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Vonlane is now driving beyond Texas. Courtesy photo

Texas travel company revs up for out-of-state expansion

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

In response to pandemic-triggered travel interruptions, Dallas-based high-end bus operator Vonlane is expanding its services to include out-of-state charters and in-state parcel shipping.

In a Memorial Day message to customers, Vonlane founder and CEO Alex Danza said the company now offers charter service to destinations across the continental U.S., citing examples like Colorado, Florida, and New Orleans. Danza says this provides long-distance travel when airline flights aren't an option.

"These bespoke trips allow you to travel privately with your friends, family, and business associates aboard your own Private Jet on Wheels," Danza wrote. "You name the pickup location, destination, and dates while we handle all of the logistics."

Vonlane has also rolled out a same-day parcel shipping service in Texas, where packages basically hitch a ride with the motor coaches.

"Need to get something to a loved one, friend, or business associate in Austin, Dallas, or Houston today?" Danza said. "Send it aboard the next Vonlane departure for a flat fee."

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Vonlane halted its city-to-city bus service due to a lack of demand. Some routes returned on May 29, including Dallas-Austin, Dallas-Houston, and Houston-Austin.

In putting its luxury buses back on the road, Vonlane is adopting a number of measures designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus, such as limiting the passenger count to 13 by blocking all aisle seats through June 30; requiring passengers and employees to wear face coverings; and checking passengers' temperatures before boarding.

"As one of our core values, the safety of our passengers, crew, and fellow over-the-road travelers is our top priority," Danza says in a May 26 release. "In light of the current coronavirus situation, Vonlane is maximizing our efforts to make sure the Vonlane experience is as responsible, safe, and comfortable as our passengers have come to expect."

Danza says Vonlane hopes to resurrect its Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City routes "as soon as feasible."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Some seats have been blocked to enable social distancing. Courtesy of Vonlane

Texas business-focused bus service curbs routes in response to COVID-19

bus stops

As the coronavirus cripples travel, Dallas-based luxury bus operator Vonlane LLC has temporarily eliminated four routes serving Texas.

In a March 24 email to customers, Vonlane founder and CEO Alex Danza said the four routes that have been paused are:

  • Houston-San Antonio
  • Dallas-Oklahoma City
  • Fort Worth-Austin
  • Fort Worth-Houston

As a result of these changes, no service is currently available to or from Fort Worth.

"While we are significantly impacted by the circumstances of the day," Danza wrote, "we continue to operate a minimal schedule between Austin, Dallas, and Houston as an essential public transportation provider. Our goal is to be a solution for your urgent personal travel."

Once the coronavirus pandemic has subsided, Vonlane will return to its normal schedule of 70 to 78 daily departures in Texas and Oklahoma, according to the email.

For those passengers who travel on Vonlane buses, some seats have been blocked to enable six feet of social distance, Danza wrote. Other coronavirus safety measures include disinfecting bus interiors, stocking buses with hand sanitizer, and outfitting on-board attendants with gloves to wear while serving food and beverages.

"Everyone at Vonlane is excited about the day we see you all aboard the coaches someday soon," Danza wrote.

Vonlane launched its high-end bus service in 2014 with the Dallas-to-Austin route. Each bus, which holds fewer than two dozen passengers, features amenities like WiFi, satellite TV and radio, and leather seats.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Traveling by bus has never been more comfortable with Vonlane's high-end amenities. Courtesy of Vonlane

Growing Texas luxury bus line expands Houston-to-San Antonio service

Riding in style

A growing luxury bus line that's set the standard for upscale road tripping across the Lone Star State has just expanded its services.

Since launching in 2015, Dallas-based Vonlane has been lauded for its first-class seats and high-end amenities, from on-board attendants and complimentary refreshments to free Wi-Fi, noise-cancelling headphones, and in-route entertainment options at each seat.

The custom-configured coaches feature just 22 first-class seats as opposed to the 56 seats of a similarly sized charter bus, allowing each passenger far more space than one would find on a commercial airplane — not to mention that tickets are competitively priced — with one-way tickets ranging around the $100 mark.

The Texas-based service has operated lines with stops in Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, and San Antonio for years. Now, beginning September 9, Vonlane will begin operating its luxury travel line between Houston and San Antonio via new terminals. Travelers can catch the first-class bus at the Hyatt Regency Houston Galleria (2626 Sage Rd.) and arrive at the Marriott Rivercenter in San Antonio (101 Bowie St.) roughly three hours later.

With buses departing four times a day on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, as well as twice on Tuesday, once on Saturday, and twice on Sunday, the service is ideal for both business and leisure travelers looking for a well-appointed transportation option without the cost or hassle of an airline.

Every seat on a Vonlane bus offers first-class luxury. Courtesy of Vonlane

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Houston expert: 5 things to consider when tackling DEI at your organization

guest column

Houston is often touted as the most diverse city in the country, but with that comes the responsibility of making sure we are creating inclusive and equitable opportunities that reflect the communities we serve.

With the current state of our country dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as social and political issues, employers across the city have searched for the right thing to say and do to help their employees and customers during this time when personal feelings and beliefs impact the workplace more now than ever. While there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to implementing DEI across an organization, here are a few steps and considerations companies can take to ensure DEI is a priority moving forward.

Understand your audience

It's important to understand the perspectives of those you serve. Identifying your audience will help develop a DEI strategy that addresses concerns from multiple lenses. At Houston Methodist, we focus on our patients, employees and the communities we serve. Anyone building a DEI program needs to not only be cognizant of their audience, but also understand their needs in today's climate before spending time and resources to develop initiatives that will address those needs. Ultimately, this will help shape a more impactful approach to DEI within your organization.

Define success

When developing a DEI strategy, success may seem overwhelming or lofty. But, viewing success as progress will help your organization accomplish your goals in a way that employees and other stakeholders will benefit from in the long run.

Set strategic and measurable goals that clearly state what your organization wants to achieve through its DEI efforts. These goals need not be big at the onset; make sure they are attainable. Most importantly, it's critical to revisit your goals on a regular basis and identify gaps, and be willing to pivot, if needed, along the way so your organization eventually reaches its goals. At the hospital, we've developed a DEI dashboard for all departments in our hospitals to help us with setting those measurable goals. Once measurable goals are identified, a DEI scorecard will be used to identify progress for departments and our organization year over year. When people are able to easily track and see progress or gaps, it will make it easier to reach desired goals.

An organization can't be successful with any new type of program if everyone within the organization doesn't understand the importance of DEI in their department and within the company as a whole. Progress often starts with one person. Providing training to employees about the impact that DEI can have on their day-to-day work will help them champion that within the organization. For example, we've launched something at our hospital called "Together We Grow," a training program aimed at building a foundation for what DEI is by exploring everyday scenarios employees may encounter. This program first started with leadership and is now available to all employees within the hospital system.

Establish a timeline

Once measurable goals have been established, develop a timeline for accomplishing those goals. By selecting two or three goals that can be focused on over a particular time period (i.e., six months or one year), your organization can implement targeted programs and best practices to drive the success of DEI for a more long-term plan. It's ok if not every program is up and running within the year; creating milestones along the way will give your organization time to grow its DEI efforts and aspire to something meaningful for your employees, customers or community. The need for DEI doesn't go away, so it's important to continue efforts year-round with a growth mindset.

Evaluate how DEI holistically fits into your business

A DEI department, team or individual can't be successful if the work isn't aligned with the mission of the organization. It does not help if an organization has competing priorities, so DEI goals must be embedded in your organization's business goals.

Additionally, it's also important to have leadership set the tone for the rest of the organization to follow. Executive leaders that fully commit to the organization's DEI efforts and promote transparency, feedback and accountability for those programs will yield the most meaningful and lasting results.

Recognize your ‘why’

As a business, it's important to understand why DEI is important for your organization's success. You need to both be able to understand and articulate the business case for why diversity matters in your organization. Studies like this one from Boston Consulting Group continue to show a positive correlation between workforce diversity, innovation and overall company performance. The workforce is constantly changing and becoming more diverse, so making sure your organization is adapting to those different perspectives and taking into consideration why this work is vital to your employees, customers and your community will help turn DEI ideas into action.

For many health care organizations, health equity has shaped community engagement efforts and programs. Addressing health equity for racial, ethnic and social minorities in the Greater Houston area has been a priority for Houston Methodist for nearly 30 years, and this work has also informed and strengthened our DEI efforts in the communities we serve.

In conclusion, remember progress and feedback will help you reach your organization's DEI goals. For these initiatives to be effective, everyone within your organization must understand that each person plays a role in shaping the success of DEI efforts.

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Arianne Dowdell is vice president, chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at Houston Methodist.

Google grants Houston founders funds, The Ion looks for artists, and more local innovation news

short stories

The Houston innovation ecosystem is bursting at the seams with news, and for this reason, local startup and tech updates may have fallen through some of the cracks.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, the Comcast RISE program expands to grant more funds, Google names Houston-area recipients from its Black Founder Fund, The Ion is looking for artists to participate in a new initiative, and more.

Google cohort awards Black founders $100,000 each

Google has granted funds to two Houston companies. Photo via Pexels

DOSS and SOTAOG, two Houston-based startups, have received $100,000 each as a part of the second cohort of the Google for Startups Black Founders Fund, a $10 million initiative for Black founders. Originally reported to be a part of Google's accelerator early this summer, DOSS is a digital brokerage that uses tech to make homeownership more affordable, and SOTAOG is an enterprise solutions provider within the oil and gas and heavy industrial industries.

"The Google for Startups Black Founders Fund embodies our mission of helping underrepresented founders grow their businesses. We are excited to continue the fund and contribute funding to Black founders, with no strings attached. Black founders currently receive less than 1 percent of total VC funding," says Jewel Burks Solomon, head of Google for Startups US, in a news release. "We heard loud and clear from the 2020 fund recipients that Google for Startups and Goodie Nation have been crucial to their success not only through funding, but through community, mentorship, network connections and technical expertise."

Last year, Google for Startups awarded 76 Black-led startups up to $100,000 in non-dilutive funding, as well as technical support from tools and teams across Google, including as much as $120,000 in donated search Ads from Google.org and up to $100,000 in Google Cloud credits, according to the release.

In addition to the two companies from Houston, eight companies from Austin and Dallas were also chosen for the second program.

The Ion calls for local artists

The Ion is looking for local artists to create innovative window displays. Photo courtesy of The Ion

The Ion, a Midtown innovation hub that's owned and operated by Rice Management Company, is looking for local artists to work on two prominent display windows at the front of the newly renovated historic Sears building.

"As a nexus for creativity of many different kinds, The Ion welcomes Houston's talented artists to tap into their unique skill sets and diverse backgrounds to submit inventive proposals that will ultimately comprise two different art installations. Each installation will contribute to Houston's innovation ecosystem by inspiring the growing community of creators who will see the building's display windows on a daily basis," says Artistic Consultant Piper Faust in a news release.

The two art installations will reside for six months — from February to August of next year. The submissions will be evaluated by a team of experts identified by Rice Management Co. and Piper Faust. The budget for each project will be $20,000.

According to the release, the submissions are open to Houston-area artists and should be in line with The Ion's "vision and mission of accelerating innovation, connecting communities and facilitating partnerships to create growth and opportunity in Houston."

Artists can apply online until October 1 at 5 pm.

Comcast RISE announces additional $1 million for Houston founders

Comcast to dole out $1M in grants to BIPOC-owned small businesses in Houston

The Comcast RISE program will give out another batch of $10,000 grants to BIPOC-owned small businesses in Houston. Photo via Getty Images

The Comcast RISE Investment Fund, which announced funding for 100 small businesses in Houston earlier this year, has expanded to provide an additional $1 million in support. The program is focused on BIPOC-owned small businesses in Harris and Fort Bend Counties that have been in business for three or more years with 1 to 25 employees.

Eligible businesses can apply online at ComcastRISE.com beginning October 1 through October 14 for one of the one hundred $10,000 grants.

Houston startup wins $25,000

Day Edwards, founder and CEO of Church Space

Day Edwards, founder and CEO of Church Space, won $25,000 for her company. Photo courtesy of Church Space

Dallas-based Impact Ventures, a nonprofit startup accelerator focused on empowering women and communities of color, hosted its bi-annual event, The Startup Showcase. A Houston-based company, Church Space, took the top prize of $25,000.

Billed as the "Netflix of churches," Church Space originally started as a way to allow groups to rent spaces for worship. But, in light of the pandemic, the company is pivoted to launch Church Space TV, a streaming program that allows churches and ministries to stream worship services for free.

"It felt like the perfect opportunity to give churches a way to reach more people during the pandemic," Day Edwards, founder and CEO of Church Space, previously told InnovationMap. "This would create more impact than anything we could possibly offer at this time."

The company is also one of MassChallenge Texas's 2021 cohort.

Houston health care leader receives prestigious award

Dr. Peter Hotez, a leader in the development of Texas Children's and Baylor's COVID-19 vaccine construct, has been named the recipient of a prestigious award. ​Photo courtesy of TCH

Dr. Peter Hotez, Texas Children's Hospital Chair in Tropical Pediatrics, has been awarded the 2021 David E. Rogers Award. Hotez is co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children's Hospital and Professor of Pediatrics and Molecular Virology and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

The annual award, presented by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Association of American Medical Colleges, "honors a medical school faculty member who has made major contributions to improving the health and health care of the American people," according to a news release.

"I am thrilled to be honored with the David E. Rogers Award," Hotez says in the release. "As we continue this fight against COVID-19, having the additional support from the AAMC will amplify our efforts to improve public health nationally and globally."

The award will be presented to Dr. Hotez at the 2021 AAMC Awards Recognition Event on Wednesday, October 27.

Hotez is leading the development of Texas Children's and Baylor's COVID-19 vaccine construct, according to the release, and he has dedicated much of his time to vaccine advocacy efforts, countering rising antivaccine and anti-science sentiments in the United States while promoting vaccine diplomacy efforts globally.

Houston Exponential appoints new executive director and restructures its board

big news

Houston's nonprofit focused on accelerating the growth of the local innovation ecosystem has named its new leader.

Serafina Lalany has been named Houston Exponential's executive director. She has been serving in the position as interim since July when Harvin Moore stepped down. Prior to that, she served as vice president of operations and chief of staff at HX.

"I'm proud to be leading an organization that is focused on elevating Houston's startup strengths on a global scale while helping to make the world of entrepreneurship more accessible, less opaque, and easier to navigate for founders," Lalany says in a news release. "My team and I will be building upon the great deal of momentum that has already been established in this effort, and I look forward to collaborating closely with members of our community and convening board in this next chapter of HX."

According to the release, the organization is also "sharpening its focus and governing structure." HX's current board of directors will transition into a "convening board." In this new structure, Houston innovation leaders will come together to support one another and share advice and opportunities, as well as launch working groups to address emerging tech ecosystem challenges. An executive committee made up of five to seven members will oversee HX's operations and staff. These changes will be in effect on October 1.

"Houston's innovation ecosystem has been on an incredible run over the last four years as evidenced by the tripling of venture capital funding for local startups and the sharp increase in the number of startup development organizations supporting our emerging companies and founders," says HX Chair Barbara Burger, who is the vice president innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures. "Houston Exponential has been a key catalyst for building momentum, and it's important for the organization to adapt to best meet the needs of the maturing ecosystem."

Moving forward, HX will have a strengthened focus on key efforts, like convening a startup development organization roundtable, the VC Immersions program, monthly networking events, and the annual Houston Tech Rodeo.

Additionally, as the organization's new leader, Lalany will spearhead HX's goal for Houston-based startups raising $10 billion in venture capital annually by 2030, per the release.

"Serafina has been a steadfast leader of the HX team, and we believe she is the right person to take the organization through this next chapter in its evolution," Burger says. "I'm excited to see what's next for HX under her guidance."