City Focus: Houston
Business Chief explores Houston, Texas, a diverse hub of business and innovation, and home to some of the country’s most enterprising space-centric startups.
The most populous city in the state of Texas and the fourth most populous in the United States, Houston is home to over 2.3 million people. Houston is very much a multicultural city: its residents are among the youngest in the country, speak over 90 languages and the metropolitan area lays claim to the third-largest hispanic population in the US. ‘H-Town’, as it’s known, is also one of the nation’s leading business hubs. With the exception of New York, Houston is home to the most Fortune 500 companies in America.
Also nicknamed ‘Hustle Town’, the city’s spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation is perhaps most iconically embodied by the moniker ‘Space City’. Located on Galveston Bay, looking out across the Gulf of Mexico, Houston is hosts NASA’s Johnson Space Center, where the organization’s famous Mission Control Center is located. With 2019 marking the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, hailed by many as one of humanity’s crowning achievements, Business Chief takes a look at some of the Houston native companies continuing to uphold the legacy that earned Space City its name, according to a report by InnovationMap.
“The world is moving towards automation through artificial intelligence – for good reasons. It can provide consistent reliability, sustainability and exceptional performance, often surpassing our brightest minds. Our mission is to render our precious orbital machines fully autonomous, such that we can fully rely on their invaluable services from Space – a domain that is becoming increasingly crowded and complex.”
As AI-driven automation continues to permeate almost every aspect of the business landscape, one former NASA specialist, Guy de Carufel, is working to bring this cutting edge technology to the approximately 2,000 operational satellites currently orbiting the Earth’s outer atmosphere.
With the planet rapidly becoming cloaked in an ever-thickening blanket of space junk (NASA reported in 2017 that there were more than 25,000 pieces of debris larger than a softball orbiting the Earth) the need for efficient organization of spacefaring technology is greater than ever.
Founded in 2018, Cognitive Space is based in Houston and is currently working on the production of a prototype product in preparation for an upcoming seed round expected by the end of 2019.
In addition to space, one of Houston’s most significant industries is oil and gas. For both, the production of CO2 is a major issue. Founded in 2017, Cemvita Factory aims to provide “economical solutions for a sustainable future, on Earth and on Mars.” The people behind this biotechnology startup’s lofty goal are brother and sister team Moji and Tara Karimi.
A member of the Capital Factory Accelerator Program, Cemvita Factory plans to use its proprietary CO2 Utilization platform in order to mimic the photosynthesis process found in plants “by simultaneous uptake of solar energy, water, and processing of carbon dioxide to produce nutrients, pharmaceuticals, intermediate chemicals, and polymers.”
In an interview with Space Bandits, Moji Kamiri said: “We fundamentally solve the food problem for deep space exploration and survival on Mars. Planning on taking food to space is very risky and astronomically expensive ($100k/kg to Mars at a minimum). We believe the optimal solution is a mix of all but cannot only rely on taking the food with us.” The company has reportedly had success creating glucose from CO2, a huge step in the process of making space travel a sustainable endeavor. The sustainability implications of harvesting CO2 from Earth’s atmosphere and converting it into usable chemicals that no longer damage the environment speak for themselves.
When asked by InnovationMap about Cemvita Factory’s home, Tara Kamiri said: “We're in Houston, and we have a technology that is from biotech and have applications in the space industry and the energy industry. There would not have been any better place for us in the country than Houston."
Founded in 2013 by ex-NASA colleagues Samantha Snabes and Matthew Fiedler, re:3D is changing the digital manufacturing game. The company’s flagship product, the Gigabot, has an eight cubic feet build volume and is by far the most competitively-priced industrial printer on the market for its size and price point, with a retail price of $9,000.
Bootstrapped from the ground up using crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, re:3D’s crusade to democratize the capabilities of industrial 3D printing has captured the imaginations of donors across the world. The company’s customer base now comprises an esteemed group of specialty manufacturers, engineers, designers, universities, and hobbyists in over 50 countries around the globe.
Invested in its local community, re:3D works with other Houston residents to support a large number of sustainable projects, from developing children’s social skills through Dungeons & Dragons (re:3D printed every child an individual miniature of their character) to 3D printing sustainable energy solutions after Hurricane Maria.
The company occupies headquarters a few streets away from the Johnson Space Center and, along with the other startups on this list and scattered across the rest of the city, embodies the pioneering and adventurous spirit that, half a century ago, drove NASA to put a man on the moon.
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How changing your company's software code can prevent bias
Two-third of tech professionals believe organizations aren’t doing enough to address racial inequality. After all, many companies will just hire a DEI consultant, have a few training sessions and call it a day.
Wanting to take a unique yet impactful approach to DEI, Deltek, the leading global provider of software and solutions for project-based businesses, took a look at and removed all exclusive terminology in their software code. By removing terms such as ‘master’ and ‘blacklist’ from company coding, Deltek is working to ensure that diversity and inclusion are woven into every aspect of their organization.
Business Chief North America talks to Lisa Roberts, Senior Director of HR and Leader of Diversity & Inclusion at Deltek to find out more.
Why should businesses today care about removing company bias within their software code?
We know that words can have a profound impact on people and leave a lasting impression. Many of the words that have been used in a technology environment were created many years ago, and today those words can be harmful to our customers and employees. Businesses should use words that will leave a positive impact and help create a more inclusive culture in their organization
What impact can exclusive terms have on employees?
Exclusive terms can have a significant impact on employees. It starts with the words we use in our job postings to describe the responsibilities in the position and of course, we also see this in our software code and other areas of the business. Exclusive terminology can be hurtful, and even make employees feel unwelcome. That can impact a person’s desire to join the team, stay at a company, or ultimately decide to leave. All of these critical actions impact the bottom line to the organization.
Please explain how Deltek has removed bias terminology from its software code
Deltek’s engineering team has removed biased terminology from our products, as well as from our documentation. The terms we focused on first that were easy to identify include blacklist, whitelist, and master/slave relationships in data architecture. We have also made some progress in removing gendered language, such as changing he and she to they in some documentation, as well as heteronormative language. We see this most commonly in pick lists that ask to identify someone as your husband or wife. The work is not done, but we are proud of how far we’ve come with this exercise!
What steps is Deltek taking to ensure biased terminology doesn’t end up in its code in the future?
What we are doing at Deltek, and what other organizations can do, is to put accountability on employees to recognize when this is happening – if you see something, say something! We also listen to feedback our customers give us and have heard their feedback on this topic. Those are both very reactive things of course, but we are also proactive. We have created guidance that identifies words that are more inclusive and also just good practice for communicating in a way that includes and respects others.
What advice would you give to other HR leaders who are looking to enhance DEI efforts within company technology?
My simple advice is to start with what makes sense to your organization and culture. Doing nothing is worse than doing something. And one of the best places to start is by acknowledging this is not just an HR initiative. Every employee owns the success of D&I efforts, and employees want to help the organization be better. For example, removing bias terminology was an action initiated by our Engineering and Product Strategy teams at Deltek, not HR. You can solicit the voices of employees by asking for feedback in engagement surveys, focus groups, and town halls. We hear great recommendations from employees and take those opportunities to improve.