Latin entrepreneurs develop their tech startups in Houston

In a pitch competition held by the Consulate General of Israel in the Southwest, three of these companies were selected as finalists and evaluated by a panel of Hispanic business leaders and entrepreneurs to win cash prizes and mentorship.

From sustainable online shopping to tangible real-time power analytics, these entrepreneurs are disrupting industries with new ideas and unique perspectives. Meet three Latino-owned startups pursuing their dreams in Houston:

Claimkey Automate Insurance Claims Reporting

In 2016, Vincent Bradley was working in an auto body shop and dating an insurance officer when he realized how difficult it was and how much time it took for the adjuster to review property damage claims on cars. He himself became an officer before Hurricane Irma hit in 2017 and spent the post-storm period reviewing claims in Florida.

His feedback and experience led him to develop Claimkey: an app that automatically generates reports for insurance claims.

Bradley’s co-founder Eddie Arroyo said insurance adjusting experts rely on reports to understand what happened and estimate the cost of the damage. Under normal circumstances, he said, it could take between 30 minutes to two hours for a police officer to arrive at the scene and write a report. Then it could take weeks for police reports to be processed for an insurance official to be able to use them, according to Arroyo.

Claimkey cuts time for both agents and the police. Users upload photos and information into the app, which uses a form to automatically generate a report that can be sent to insurance companies. This process allows clients to document evidence and information on the spot and makes it unnecessary for the police to arrive at the scene or write a report on minor incidents.

The application provides users with information about the documents to obtain and the steps to take. Bradley said reducing the amount of time it takes to process a claim also means he is less likely to forget essential details over time.

Unlike Bradley, Arroyo came from a financial background. Bradley asked him for advice on promoting his company while Arroyo was working at a financial appraisal firm, and they ended up as business partners. Arroyo said they have received positive feedback from friends and family who have tested using the app. They expect to launch the product on the market soon.

They see opportunities for Claimkey across the country, particularly in areas like Puerto Rico and Florida that frequently suffer from natural disasters.

For someone who has just gone through a natural disaster or car accident, using a Claimkey can relieve the stress that comes with filing an insurance claim, according to Bradley.

“Claims are life-altering events. You are on your way to work, and suddenly something happens.” People go through psychological trauma and frustration. They never have the presence of mind to provide you with the information you need.”

Audi de La Paz, founder and CEO of Sensytec Inc.  , a company that uses sensors to monitor the strength of concrete in buildings, is on display Wednesday, September 28, 2022, in Houston.
Audi de La Paz, founder and CEO of Sensytec Inc. , a company that uses sensors to monitor the strength of concrete in buildings, is on display Wednesday, September 28, 2022, in Houston.Melissa Philip / Staff Photographer

Sensytec brings ‘smart cement’ to Houston

Ody De La Paz was studying at the University of Houston when he first learned about “smart cement,” which includes sensors and devices that can collect data about concrete and analyze its health in real time.

“We drive on concrete and cement every day, we live in what they call a concrete jungle, but not many people think about how we can create these old school materials the world depends on,” he said. “It’s a very futuristic and very crazy idea, I had to take this opportunity.”

According to De La Paz, De La Paz’s smart cement company Sensytec saves money by saving time.

In multi-storey buildings, for example, contractors can use Sensytec technology to see when concrete is strong enough to move to the next floor, rather than waiting for a test lab to determine if it’s ready. De La Paz said that when Sensytec’s technology was used on a 17-story building project, it cut about a month off the construction schedule, slashing more than $200,000 from the project’s cost.

The technology behind Sensytec was originally developed by Cumaraswamy Vipulanandan, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Houston. De La Paz was assigned to learn about technology on a study project and later decided to turn it into a business with co-founder Anudeep Maddi, a University of Houston graduate and Ph.D. in civil engineering.

The two are developing devices that can provide long-term monitoring of structures. After hurricanes or earthquakes, de La Paz said the technology will be able to tell engineers how much damage has been done and whether a structure — such as a bridge or a road — is safe.

Sensytec has also received a grant from the Department of Defense to develop products for the construction of new military bases. De La Paz said long-range surveillance software could be used to determine the impact of runways or provide damage assessments in the event of an attack.

“Construction is a very old school industry,” he said. “Bringing something new into an industry is always going to be a challenge. So instead of saying that, we showed them. We send offers. We provide real data. When they see it, that’s when it clicks.”

Along the way, De La Paz has found support in his mentors from accelerators programs, presentation competitions, and past professors. He was also inspired by Houston’s diversity and openness to innovation, he said.

“This is something we have an advantage in and we can take advantage of,” he said. “Diversity of different types of companies and different types of people with different backgrounds and skill sets. That is the uniqueness we have.”

Maria Burgos, founder of Trendy Seconds, an online retailer of second-hand and sustainable clothing, appears at her home on Wednesday, September 28, 2022, in Houston.
Maria Burgos, founder of Trendy Seconds, an online retailer of second-hand and sustainable clothing, appears at her home on Wednesday, September 28, 2022, in Houston.Melissa Philip / Staff Photographer

Trendy Seconds brings sustainability to the entire life cycle of a garment

Trendy Seconds’ story began with spring cleaning.

Founder Maria Burgos was cleaning out her wardrobe during the pandemic when she began researching where she could donate her clothes. Instead, she fell down a rabbit hole to learn about the environmental impact of the fashion industry.

The next time she wanted to buy new clothes, she decided to shop for used things. Buying or saving used clothes can keep them out of landfills, but it can also be a daunting process to find exactly what you want, according to Burgos.

“I was shopping every night. I spent a lot of time browsing multiple platforms for thousands of second hand items. I felt like I was being punished somehow.” “I know some people enjoy fishing, but for people like me who have kids, we don’t want to spend our time searching,” she said. About this too much just to get a shirt or skirt.”

Burgos decided to found Trendy Seconds – a website that curates used and sustainable clothing and accessories for sale. Like a traditional boutique, the stylist selects specific brands and pieces to showcase on the Trendy Seconds website.

If a customer is interested in a piece, Trendy Seconds redirects them to the brand’s website where they can purchase it. But starting October 13, the website will be relaunched so customers can make purchases directly on Trendy Seconds.

Burgos said that the sustainability of each component is verified using the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

But sustainability isn’t just about where you buy the clothes—it’s also about how you treat the clothes, and how you dispose of them, she says. In the future, Burgos said it hopes to partner with companies that help customers take better care of their clothes to extend their life — such as changing services and eco-friendly detergents.

So far, Burgos has been able to fund Trendy Seconds through her personal savings and prize money from the stadium competitions she has participated in.

Burgos moved to Houston in 2018 after living in Brazil, Spain and Venezuela where she grew up. In Venezuela, she said she has not been exposed to many business acceleration programs or promotions contests for other entrepreneurs in the United States. Burgos said she has learned to find her own opportunities instead and be grateful for what she has — a mindset that has helped her meet the challenges of starting her own small business.

“Perception is everything,” she said. “When you focus on looking for opportunities instead of complaining, you motivate yourself to keep going instead of getting frustrated.”

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