VR IRL

HCC unveils new virtual reality lab through partnership with Houston company

MACE Virtual Labs and Houston Community College teamed up to create a new virtual reality lab at the HCC West Loop campus. Photo via hccs.edu

Earlier this month, Houston Community College opened its new virtual reality lab at its HCC West Loop campus.

The new space comes from a partnership between HCC Southwest and Houston-based MACE Virtual Labs — an extended reality software company. The $175,000 facility boasts VR stations, flat-screen monitors, Telsasuits, VR headsets and motion-activated car driving simulators, according to a news release, and is a rare concept within higher education, says Sean Otmishi, dean of HCC Digital and Information Technology Center of Excellence, in the release.

"This puts us in an area where few other (educational) institutions have gone," Otmishi says. "We're at the forefront. We are the global leaders."

VR concepts are at the forefront of innovation, says HCC Chancellor Cesar Maldonado, and the technology is being used as a cheaper, safer training process.

"Higher education has always been at the cutting edge of new technologies, driving development and creating the next generation of scientists, developers and entrepreneurs," says Maldonado in the release. "Virtual and augmented reality technologies are at the front of development right now and change is happening at a frenetic pace."

The VR lab, which opened December 5, is not just a benefit to the school system, but it also represents a win for the greater Houston community — especially when it comes to this opportunity for training, says Madeline Burillo-Hopkins, president of HCC Southwest, in the release.

"This VR lab brings to Houston companies access to the latest technology for professional development of their incumbent workers," she says. "Through this partnership with MACE Labs, HCC can provide customized training using the latest VR technology available overseas until now."

MACE Virtual Labs, which is based just north of the Heights, was founded in 2017 and provides software and hardware for various VR purposes.

"This is the equipment of the future," says Josh Bankston, a partner in MACE Virtual Labs. "It makes really good sense, both philanthropically and businesswise, to create a partnership with HCC that puts this equipment in the hands of the students and the faculty which will benefit everyone, from education to the workforce and beyond."

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Building Houston

 
 

After working with thousands of interns, Allie Danziger of Ampersand Professionals says she's now got a product to upskill and train new hires for employers. Photo courtesy of Ampersand

After seeing success with her internship training and matchmaking platform, Allie Danziger, founder and CEO of Ampersand Professionals, has expanded the concept to include a new hire training service that allows employers to better optimize the onboarding process and have a well-trained new staff member from day one.

In just over a year, Ampersand has worked with over 7,000 professionals through its original concept of upskilling and matching young professionals to internship programs. A few months ago, Danziger and her team expanded to include career development training for students first entering the workforce with the City of Houston's Hire Houston Youth program. Danziger says it was developing out the platform for this program that proved there was a need for this type of training.

"While we have focused on matching professionals with businesses for paid internships, we recognized a further gap with employers that have their own recruiting/talent acquisition teams, or just their own preferred way of bringing on entry-level talent, and didn’t have a need for our matching platform," Danziger tells InnovationMap. "But, they recognized the benefit of our proven training platform that pre-vets and de-risks their hires, and still wanted access to the training for their own hires."

The new program has evolved from training interns to new hires, so parts of the program that focuses on interviewing or applying for a job have been removed. Instead, the 8.5 hours of training focuses on networking, best practices for working with a manager and team, performance reviews, common software training, and more.

Danziger says usually new hires need the most experienced mentor or manager, but they don't usually get that support — especially when it comes to businesses that don't have their own built-out mentorship or training program.

"Ampersand’s new training product fills that gap — it gives employers of any size any easy solution to provide basic job readiness training to employees, access to our team of dedicated coaches, and a detailed report at the end of their training summarizing how their new hire did in the training and any trends recognized and tips for managing this employee based on what the platform uncovered," she says. "Businesses can also sign up for additional coaching sessions and customize training materials, as an add-on if interested."

The program costs the employer $100 per new employee, and checkout online takes less than a minute. Through both this program and the original internship program, Ampersand is constantly evolving its training content.

"These professionals are going through the same training experience that we have proven out over the last year, and we are constantly adding to based on data we see in the user experience," Danziger says.

Danziger recently joined the Houston Innovators Podcast discuss some of the benchmarks she's met with Ampersand, as well as the importance of investing in Gen Z hires. Listen to that episode below.


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