accelerate

Houston nonprofit introduces new startup incubator ahead of impact-focused innovation week

Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston, has a few weeks ahead of her. Courtesy of Grace Rodriguez

Impact Hub Houston — the local chapter of a nonprofit focused on supporting startups in the social impact space — has a lot on its plate this month.

Not only is next week The Houston Innovation Summit — the fourth annual week of entrepreneurship programming — as well as the second annual Climathon, but the organization has also just launched a new business incubator program.

Accelerate is a program that Impact Hub has offered across 17 international markets. Houston's new chapter already has a few Houston startups involved — including Potentia Workforce and McMac CX. Structured as an ongoing accelerator with mentorship, education, and support, the program is currently accepting new members.

"We actually sit down with each new Accelerate member and then go through a diagnostic interview to help them understand what stage they're at," says Grace Rodriquez, CEO and executive director of Houston Impact Hub. "And then we create a development strategy with them."

Whether the Accelerate member needs one-on-one mentorship, specialized education, or more, the program match makes each member's needs. EY is a network partner and — since everything is virtual — member companies have access to international experts through Impact Hub and its partners' networks.

"The ideal entrepreneur for the Accelerate membership is somebody who has already developed a solution — at least an MVP — for their social venture, whether it's a product or a service," Rodriguez says.

She cites Potentia as an example. The startup helps find jobs for adults with special needs, as well as educate corporations on how to work with and collaborate with these individuals. The company already has data and momentum, and the Accelerate program is helping the company to get to it's next stage.

"The idea is that we help people ladder up — no matter what stage you're at," Rodriguez says.

While growing the new program's membership — Rodriguez says it's her goal to get to 10 member companies my early next year — she's also focused on The Houston Innovation Summit and Impact Hub's Climathon.

The second annual Climathon, which begins Friday, November 13, has evolved since last year in a number of ways. First of all, it's completely virtual — which poses its own set of challenges and opportunities. Additionally, the event has several new partners — most of which didn't even exist in Houston last year, like Greentown Houston and Evolve Houston.

One of the biggest, most exciting changes for Rodriguez is the structure. While last year's event functioned as a hackathon, this year attendees can expect thought-provoking programming and collaboration.

"Last year, [Climathon] was directed at people who were more tech savvy," Rodriguez says. "What we found is people who are interested in climate action are a lot of times policy oriented or community activists and they don't know how they can plug into the tech space. It's more of an idea-a-thon. You don't have to develop a tech solution, but we can think about how we can activate more people for climate change."

Last year's Climathon took place during October. WIth it moving to November this year, it coincides with THIS, adding even more events to the week-long, impact-focused summit. THIS, which was designed to run alongside Global Entrepreneurship Week, also considers that week's themes, which are: education, ecosystems, inclusion, and policy.

"The focus on education and policy is really interesting to me — it's not just about tech and business anymore," Rodriguez says. "It's really about how we are supporting businesses in the face of the pandemic, climate change crises — floods, fires, hurricanes — the entire world is being affected by these crises. ... [We need to focus on] how we are making sure that people are aware of everything that's happening and how we can innovate solutions."

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Building Houston

 
 

For over a year now, scientists have been testing wastewater for COVID-19. Now, the public can access that information. Photo via Getty Images

In 2020, a group of researchers began testing Houston's wastewater to collect data to help identify trends at the community level. Now, the team's work has been rounded up to use as an online resource.

The Houston Health Department and Rice University launched the dashboard on September 22. The information comes from samples collected from the city's 39 wastewater treatment plants and many HISD schools.

"This new dashboard is another tool Houstonians can use to gauge the situation and make informed decisions to protect their families," says Dr. Loren Hopkins, chief environmental science officer for the health department and professor in the practice of statistics at Rice University, in a news release. "A high level of virus in your neighborhood's wastewater means virus is spreading locally and you should be even more stringent about masking up when visiting public places."

The health department, Houston Water, Rice University, and Baylor College of Medicine originally collaborated on the wastewater testing. Baylor microbiologist Dr. Anthony Maresso, director of BCM TAILOR Labs, led a part of the research.

"This is not Houston's first infectious disease crisis," Maresso says in an earlier news release. "Wastewater sampling was pioneered by Joseph Melnick, the first chair of Baylor's Department of Molecular Virology and Microbiology, to get ahead of polio outbreaks in Houston in the 1960s. This work essentially ushered in the field of environmental virology, and it began here at Baylor. TAILOR Labs is just continuing that tradition by providing advanced science measures to support local public health intervention."

It's an affordable way to track the virus, says experts. People with COVID-19 shed viral particles in their feces, according to the release, and by testing the wastewater, the health department can measure important infection rate changes.

The dashboard, which is accessible online now, is color-coded by the level of viral load in wastewater samples, as well as labeled with any recent trend changes. Houstonians can find the interactive COVID-19 wastewater monitoring dashboard, vaccination sites, testing sites, and more information at houstonemergency.org/covid19.

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