who's who

3 Houston innovators to know this week

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Zain Shauk of Dream Harvest, Juliana Garaizar of Greentown Houston, and Jay Manouchehri of Fluence Analytics. 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 sustainability to chemical analytics — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Zain Shauk, CEO of Dream Harvest

Zain Shauk, co-founder and CEO of Dream Harvest, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast just ahead of Earth Day. Photo courtesy of Dream Harvest

Zain Shauk is focused on future of farming, and the industry's success depends on making more environmentally friendly changes to the supply chain, and new technologies are enabling vertical indoor farming to effect these changes in some part. Shauk's company Dream Harvest recently received a $50 million investment from Orion Energy Partners to open a 100,000-square-foot indoor farming facility in Houston to scale production.

Shauk says he's also using the funding to support research and development to expand into other types of produce, but he has a lot to consider — affordability of the produce, maintaining sustainability, and more.

"It's going to take a lot of work and a lot of research. What I do know is we've come a long way with leafy greens," Shauk says. "When we started, we weren't growing in a way that makes financial sense with the amount of money we have to spend growing the product — and now we do." Click here to read more.

Juliana Garaizar, head of the Houston incubator and vice president of innovation

Greentown Houston's first year was surprising for Juliana Garaizar. Photo courtesy

Greentown Houston opened a year ago and, in just those 365 days, grew to over 60 member companies – something that took the original Boston-area location years. Juliana Garaizar says in a recent Q&A that this is due to companies outside of Houston looking for an entry point into the city for access to businesses, employees, and more. Specifically, she calls out Austin companies and businesses from Latin America.

"There are plenty of companies from Latin America coming over and choosing Houston as a landing pad and choosing Greentown as the place to start settling," she says. "We help them with funding. We help them with hiring local people." Click here to read more.

Jay Manouchehri, CEO of Fluence Analytics

Jay Manouchehri is now CEO of Fluence Analytics, and co-founder Alex Reed has transitioned to president and chief commercial officer. Photo courtesy of Fluence Analytics

Fluence Analytics, which moved its headquarters to the Houston area from New Orleans last year, has named Jay Manouchehri as the company's CEO. Manouchehri has worked in leadership roles within digital transformation at ABB and Honeywell all around the world, as well as in consulting and private equity.

Manouchehri tells InnovationMap he is focused on leading industrial growth.

“The next step for Fluence is really that we are industrializing our product and getting it into the industrial market," Manouchehri says. "That's exactly why we moved to Houston — it's where a lot of our clients are. We're building up and structure the company in such a manner that it could scale, get the right partnerships, and hire a team to take us to the next level and deliver the technology." Click here to read more.

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Building Houston

 
 

A Houston founder shares an analysis of relationship banking, the pros and cons of digital banking competition, and an outlook of digital banking inroads to develop relationship banking. Photo courtesy

After our doctor and our child’s school, a bank is an institution with which we share the relationship that is most personal and vital to our well-being in this world. Some might put a good vet third, but other than that, no private entity is more responsible for escorting us to a healthier and happier outcome over the course of our lives.

The bank vault is a traditional symbol of security and prosperity, and not just for our pennies. We safeguard possessions in banks that are so important we don’t even trust keeping them in our own houses. Wills, birth certificates, and the precious family heirlooms of countless families are held in safety deposit boxes behind those giant vault doors, and banks have been the traditional guardians not only of our wealth but our identity and future as well.

The importance of relationship banking

Faith and confidence in our banks is so fundamental to the customer relationship that it has evolved into a unique and otherwise unthinkable arrangement for any good capitalist in a healthy marketplace: banks pay us to be their customers. Imagine a doctor offering you $20 for trusting them to give you a colonoscopy and you’re on the road to understanding the sacrosanct union between bank and customer.

In fact, this trust is so deeply anchored in the American psyche that a new generation of digital banking companies has sprung up on the idea that it doesn’t need to exist in physical reality. The fintech industry has exploded in the last decade, and today, over 75 percent of Americans are engaged in online banking in one form or another. Every single one of those 200 million customers are taking for granted that they will be well served, despite having no personal guidance through any of the financial products and services that these online entities provide.

Benefits of fostering relationships with banking customers

In the late 90s and early 2000s brick-and-mortar banks realized that greater personalized care for their customers was going to be a critical point of competition. The in-person experience is an opportunity to offer advice and incentives for a wide range of products and financial management assistance. It’s rooted in an incredibly simple axiom that is taking hold in every aspect of modern society: everyone benefits if we all get along better.

There’s a lot of statistical traction behind this theory. Customers who report they are “financially healthy” are down 20 percent over the last year, which means people are looking for guidance. 73 percent of customers who visit a local bank branch report having a personal relationship with their bank, while only 53 percent say the same of their digital institution. Most importantly, although many digital banks are offering similar products and services to their real-world counterparts, customer engagement remains very low.

It starts with your products

The truth is, today’s bank customers still want that same personal relationship their great-grandparents had before they engage with deeper financial products and services. They believe it makes them more financially successful, and confirm that human connections and economic prosperity go hand-in-hand.

Products that are Challenging for Digital Markets

Residential mortgages, for example, are an $18 trillion dollar industry that deals in durations longer than most digital banking services have even existed. The perception of continuity and stability is highly valued by clients in the mortgage relationship. Today, most customers feel that only comes with a handshake and a smile from an employee who has to fit in a meeting before they pick their kids up from school.

While digital firms have proven themselves capable of offering savings and checking services, most have fallen flat on the mortgage front because of the premium on personal relationships. Loyalty is the reward for time, service, and shared experience, and financial institutions that cannot provide that package for their customers are never going to access a deeper and more meaningful portfolio of services.

Finding Well-suited Products for Digital Finance

The message for the digital finance world is as clear as it is pressing. The future of the industry will revolve around more personalized experiences, interactions, and long-term products. At the same time, the American public has embraced digital banking, and we are looking at a new generation of bank users who may never walk through a branch door in their life.

In order to compete, the digital industry will need to identify and develop a range of long-term products and services that make sense for customers in today’s environment. Mortgages may be out of the question, but the safety deposit box holds great promise for industry in-roads. Optimal services for deeper, more personal customer engagement include things like:

  • Legacy and estate planning
  • Will preparation and safeguarding
  • Preservation of cherished photos and videos
  • Important personal data storage


Because these things are product-based, they are well suited to the digital ecosystem. The cryptocurrency industry and modern online banking have solidified consumer confidence in the digital bank vault, and there is a great deal of faith in the perpetuity of electronic documents and storage.

The IRS estimates that upwards of 90 percent of Americans are E-filing their taxes and that only comes with a widespread belief that our highly sensitive information can and will be preserved and protected by digital architecture.

Secure your future

Digital banking firms that want to thrive in the upcoming decades are going to need to innovate in long-term financial planning products that bring their customers into a closer, more personal relationship with them.

The finance world will continue to change and develop, but the hopes, fears, and dreams of people trying to build and secure a better future for themselves and their children will remain the same for tomorrow’s customers as they were for their parents and grandparents.

It is up to the digital finance industry to adapt and develop to provide the customers of today—and tomorrow— with these invaluable services and securities.

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Emily Cisek is the founder and CEO of The Postage, a tech-enabled, easy-to-use estate planning tool.

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