pride month

Q&A: How the Houston tech community can support LGBTQIA+ innovators

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

It's Pride Month, and the Houston tech community is celebrating its LGBTQIA+ community — as well as addressing some challenges faced within the business arena.

The Ion Houston, Austin-based Pride.VC, and Houston-based Sesh Coworking are collaborating on a Pride in Tech event, tomorrow, June 24, at noon at the Ion. It's free to attend and all is welcome. The Ion is also encouraging attendees to come early for a cup of coffee at Common Bond for the weekly Cup of Joey networking happy hour from 8:30 to 10:30 am.

The event will feature a panel moderated by Sesh's Maggie Segrich and Meredith Wheeler, and will tackle topics around how Houston can do more to build a truly inclusive business community. The panelists include

Wallace, who co-founded the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce in 2016, joined InnovationMap for a quick Q&A ahead of the event.

InnovationMap: What kind of challenges do LGBTQIA+ founders in Houston face these days?

Tammi Wallace: First, LGBTQIA+ founders need to be at the table and have a voice. When we launched the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce in 2016, our primary goal was to make sure we were seen, heard and engaged.

A seat and a voice at the table matters because LGBTQIA+ founders often lack visibility in the broader economic ecosystem and continue to experience discrimination. This means they cannot engage with their full and authentic selves as entrepreneurs and experience unique challenges. More specifically, they face challenges with access to venture capital and angel investment funds and these entrepreneurs lack strong LGBTQIA+ role models and mentors.

In fact, some LGBTQIA+ business owners never come out because they fear losing customers or clients. We hear stories all the time about LGBTQIA+ founders not seeking either traditional or non-traditional funding because they fear that they will have to out themselves in the process and fear discrimination and a lack of acceptance in the process. Disclosing personal information, such as financial information, in some cases, can effectively out them as an LGBTQIA+ person. Funding paths must be fully inclusive and ensure that the process is viewed from the lens of the LGBTQIA+ entrepreneur and how that can impact their access to capital.


    IM: How would you recommend these founders find the community and support they are looking for? 

    TW: Definitely get involved with the Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce. 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.

    We create connections and give LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs a space and place to walk through the door as their full and authentic selves. Through the Chamber, LGBTQIA+ founders can find support, whether from other entrepreneurs, mentors and Corporate Partners. We collaborate with the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) as well as the other LGBTQIA+ chambers in Texas to drive connections and build a strong LGBTQIA+ business network across the country and the state.

    We encourage LGBTQIA+ businesses to get LGBTBE® Certified as well which offers even more connection with other certified businesses, major corporations and other key stakeholders and mentoring opportunities with major companies. We can help these founders get started with the LGBTBE® certification process and tap into national, regional and statewide resources.

    IM: How do you recommend startup development organizations, investors, and other businesses become better allies to the LGBTQIA+ startup community? 

    TW: Ensure that LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs and business and community leaders are engaged with your organization. Organizations like the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce and the Ion are working "boots on the ground" to support the LGBTQIA+ business community and can offer the opportunity for meaningful collaboration. We also recommend advocating for others -- when you are around a table, look around and if the LGBTQIA+ community is not being represented, ask why.

    If representation is around the table, be intentional to ensure that we have a voice. As organizations that are involved in Houston's economic ecosystem, be strong and visible advocates for the LGBTQIA+ business community through engagement of businesses and the Chamber throughout the year. Be engaged -- not just during Pride Month, but twelve months out of the year.

    Whether a startup, investor or a business, you can help raise the profile for LGBTQIA+ businesses and the LGBTQIA+ business movement.

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    Building Houston

     
     

    InformAI has three AI-based products geared at improving health care. Photo via Getty Images

    In Houston, we’re lucky to have top-tier doctors in the Texas Medical Center, ready to treat us with the newest technology. But what about our family members who have to rely on rural hospitals? Thanks to one Houston company, doctors in smaller community hospitals may soon have new tools at their disposal that could improve outcomes for patients around the world.

    Since InnovationMap last caught up with Jim Havelka, CEO of InformAI, two years ago, that hope has come far closer to a reality. InformAI is a VC-backed digital health company. Part of JLABS @ TMC innovation facilities, the company uses artificial intelligence to develop both diagnostic tools and clinical outcome predictors. And two of the company’s products will undergo FDA regulatory testing this year.

    SinusAI, which helps to detect sinus-related diseases in CT scans, received its CE Mark — the European equivalent of FDA approval — last year and is being sold across the Atlantic today, says Havelka. He adds that in the United States alone, there are roughly 700,000 sinus surgeries that the product is positioned to support.

    Another product, RadOnc-AI, is designed to help doctors prescribe radiation dose plans for head and neck cancers.

    “Ideally the perfect plan would be to provide radiation to the tumor and nothing around it,” says Havelka. “We’ve built a product, RadOnc-AI, which autogenerates the dose treatment plan based on medical images of that patient.”

    It can be an hours-long process for doctors to figure out the path and dose of radiation themselves, but the new product “can build that initial pass in about five minutes,” Havelka says.

    That in itself is an exciting development, but because this technology was developed using the expertise of some of the world’s top oncologists, “the first pass plan is in line with what [patients would] get at tier-one institutions,” explains Havelka. This creates “tremendous equity” among patients who can afford to travel to major facilities and those that can’t.

    To that end, RadOnc-AI was recently awarded a $1.55 million grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT, a state agency that funds cancer research. The Radiological Society of North America announced late last year that InformAI was named an Aunt Minnie Best of Radiology Finalist.

    “It’s quite prestigious for our company,” says Havelka. Other recent laurels include InformAI being named one of the 10 most promising companies by the Texas Life Science Forum in November.

    And InformAI is only gaining steam. A third product is earlier in its stage of development. TransplantAI will optimize donor organ and patient recipient matches.

    “A lot of organs are harvested and discarded,” Havelka says.

    His AI product has been trained on a million donor transplants to help determine who is the best recipient for an organ. It even takes urgency into account, based on a patient’s expected mortality within 90 days. The product is currently a fully functional prototype and will soon move through its initial regulatory clearances.

    The company — currently backed by three VC funds, including DEFTA Partners, Delight Ventures, and Joyance Partners — is planning to do another seed round in Q2 of 2023.

    “We’ve been able to get recognized for digital health products that can be taken to market globally,” says Havelka.

    But what he says he’s most excited about is the social impact of his products. With more money raised, InformAI will be able to speed up development of additional products, including expanding the cancers that the company will be targeting. And with that, more and more patients will one day be treated with the highest level of care.

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