virtually innovating

Exclusive: Houston startup is creating a unique digital network to connect innovative communities

This Houston startup is creating a digital platform to create collisions and spark innovation. Image via villageinsights.com

About 10 years ago, Andrew Ramirez was working internally with a corporate team at a Fortune 500 company to build a digital platform that would connect employees to work collaboratively.

"What we really realized is that once you put a lot of people together with a common theme or mission, we started to see a lot of interesting ideas pop up organically," Ramirez tells InnovationMap. "They were creating these collisions without any geographical boundaries."

About a decade later, Ramirez and his former co-worker on the project Mike Francis, revisited the idea of creating this collaborative digital space — with today's technology — for the greater innovation community, and Village Insights was born. Ramirez leads the company as CEO and the new platform is expected to formally launch it's Open World platform next month.

Village Insights allows users to join groups connected under a larger network. Image via villageinsights.com

Currently, Ramirez says Village Insights is targeting all the major players within innovation — startup development organizations, incubators, accelerators, academic partners, and more — to both house their internal networks but also connect them to the greater innovation landscape for idea sharing and problem solving collaboration on the web-based app.

"It's an organizational network — you can bring your community together," Ramirez says. "And on top of that, we have social and productivity features. Really what we're trying to do is create collisions. We feel that innovation and solving problems is best done with a group — the village concept."

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the need for Village Insights became even greater.

"The world has changed," Ramirez says. "I feel like people are trying to find the right balance of the physical but also the productivity gain from being able to do things digitally."

But Village Insights — which grew throughout the pandemic, hiring a team Ramirez hadn't even met — isn't just a pandemic solution, nor is Ramirez trying to replace in-person collisions.

"We want to be the digital mesh around the physical world," he says.

Sensing an opportunity amid the pandemic, Francis approached Halliburton Labs with his idea. Francis, founder and CEO of Nanotech was a member of the accelerator. Halliburton Labs and Village Insights collaborated to create a beta of the technology focused on clean energy innovation, called Constellation. The platform has been used by Halliburton's network and will be featured as a part of their Pitch Day event on Sept. 30.

"We learned a lot as a startup working with a corporate entity," Ramirez says. "We got to collaborate together and think about different ways to provide value for Constellation and the clean energy community. We learned that people are looking for a way to connect, and we're just now getting started on that journey."

Buoyed by the success with Constellation, Ramirez says Village Insights is in fundraising mode to support its growth. The company has plans for a $1 million seed round with a series A round to follow in the next eight to 12 months.

Andrew Ramirez and Mike Francis originally worked on a similar project 10 years ago. Photos courtesy

Trending News

Building Houston

 
 

Ty Audronis founded Tempest Droneworx to put drone data to work. Photo courtesy of Tempest Droneworx

Ty Audronis quite literally grew up in Paradise. But the Northern California town was destroyed by wildfire in 2018, including Audronis’ childhood home.

“That’s why it’s called the Campfire Region,” says the founder, who explains that the flames were started by a spark off a 97-year-old transmission line.

But Audronis, who has literally written the book on designing purpose-built drones — actually, more than one — wasn’t going to sit back and let it happen again. Currently, wildfire prevention is limited to the “medieval technology” of using towers miles apart to check for smoke signals.

“By the time you see smoke signals, you’ve already got a big problem,” Audronis says.

His idea? To replace that system with real-time, three-dimensional, multi-spectral mapping, which exactly where his company, Tempest Droneworx, comes in.

When asked how he connected with co-founder Dana Abramowitz, Audronis admits that it was Match.com — the pair not only share duties at Tempest, they are engaged to be married. It was a 2021 pre-SXSW brainstorming session at their home that inspired the pair to start Tempest.

When Audronis mentioned his vision of drone battalions, where each is doing a specialized task, Abramowitz, a serial entrepreneur and founder who prefers to leave the spotlight to her partner, told him that he shouldn’t give the idea away at a conference, they should start a company. After all, Audronis is a pioneer in the drone industry.

“Since 1997, I’ve been building multicopters,” he says.

Besides publishing industry-standard tomes, he took his expertise to the film business. But despite its name, Tempest is a software company and does not make drones.

That software is called Harbinger. Audronis explains that the real-time management and visualization solution is viewable on practically any device, including mobile or augmented reality. The system uses a video game engine for viewing, but as Audronis puts it, “the magic happens” on the back end.

Harbinger is not just drone-agnostic, but can use crowd-sourced data as well as static sensors. With the example of wildfires in mind, battalions can swarm an affected area to inform officials, stopping a fire before it gets out of hand. But fires are far from Harbinger’s only intended use.

The civilian version of Harbinger will be available for sale at the end of 2023 or beginning of 2024. For military use, Navy vet Audronis says that the product just entered Technical Readiness Level (TRL) 5, which means that they are about 18 months away from a full demo. The latest news for Tempest is that earlier this month, it was awarded a “Direct to Phase II” SBIR (Government Small Business Innovation Research) contract with the United States Department of the Air Force.

Not bad for a company that was, until recently, fully bootstrapped. He credits his time with the Houston Founder Institute, from which he graduated last February, and for which he now mentors, with many of the connections he’s made, including SBIR Advisors, who helped handle the complex process of getting their SBIR contract.

And he and Abramowitz have no plans to end their collaborations now that they’re seeing growth.

“Our philosophy behind [our business] isn’t keeping our cards close to our vest,” says Audronis. “Any potential competitors, we want to become partners.”

The company was just the two founders until five weeks ago, when Tempest’s size doubled, including a full-time developer. Once Tempest receives its SIBR check, the team will grow again to include more developers. They are currently looking for offices in the city. As Audronis says, Tempest Droneworx is “100-percent made in Houston.” Paradise may have been lost, but with Harbinger soon to be available, such a disaster need never happen again.

Dana Abramowitz and Ty Audronis co-founded Tempest Droneworks. Photo courtesy of Tempest Droneworx

Trending News