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5 most popular innovation stories in Houston this week

Houston space experts on the Space City's future as a major player in the industry — and other top news from the week. Photo via NASA

Editor's note:Another week has come and gone, and it's time to round up the top headlines from the past few days. Trending Houston tech and startup news on InnovationMap included innovators to know, a roundup of recent startup funding, business events not to miss this month, and more.

4 Houston innovators to know this week

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Sarah Essama of Teach for America Houston, Scott Schneider of HTX Labs, and Drs. Maria Elena Bottazzi and Peter Hotez. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to four local innovators across industries — from health tech to software — recently making headlines in Houston innovation. Continue reading.

Judges named for 2022 Houston Innovation Awards

Here's who's making the call for this year's Houston Innovation Awards. Photos courtesy

Nominations are closed, applications are out, and the city of Houston is waiting to see who are the finalists for the 2022 Houston Innovation Awards. But first — who are tasked with the job of deciding the honorees for the Houston Innovation Awards Gala on November 9? Continue reading.

Click here to secure your tickets to the event.

Houston sees boom of startup development support, new report reveals

The city of Houston is home to more than 60 startup development organizations, such as incubators and accelerators, according to the Greater Houston Partnership's 2022 Houston Facts report. Photo via Getty Images

Houston’s startup ecosystem is more robust than you might think.

A new report from the Greater Houston Partnership shows the region is home to more than 60 startup development organizations, such as incubators and accelerators.

“These organizations have formed a growing web of resources assisting tech entrepreneurs across the Houston region,” the report says. Continue reading.

Overheard: Houston needs to strengthen infrastructure, workforce to maintain Space City status

Space experts discussed the city's role in the space industry at a recent event. Photo via NASA

In no time at all, humans will return to the moon and as they make the first spacewalks in fifty years — wearing suits designed in Houston — they will call down to earth, and only one city in the world will be named on the radio transmissions.

Houston is the Space City — but what will it take to maintain that moniker? This was a big topic of the Greater Houston Partnership's second annual State of Space event hosted on Tuesday, October 11.

A diverse and impressive panel discussed the Space City's future, the upcoming moon missions, commercializations, and more. If you missed the discussion, check out some key moments from the event. Continue reading.

Houston tech company adds 22 startups to its accelerator

Softeq Venture Studio's growing portfolio of startups in its accelerator work out of FUSE Workspace in City Centre. Image via fuseworkspace.com

A Houston early-stage accelerator has named 22 startups to its latest cohort.

Softeq Development Corp. has announced the companies joining the Softeq Venture Studio, the tech services company's accelerator program. A total of 22 companies have joined the program — hailing from the United Kingdom, Iceland, Mexico, Peru, and across the United States. This addition nearly doubles the program's portfolio, bringing the total number of startups to 49.

“This year has been a significant one for the Softeq Venture Fund and our portfolio companies. Due to the hard work of our team and the success achieved by previous founders, we’ve seen our investors and our entrepreneurs evolve to be more global than ever, and with more ambitious plans to revolutionize their industries," says Christopher A. Howard, founder and CEO of Softeq, in a news release. "We continue to attract world-class founders to Houston for our program that de-risks startups and investments." Continue reading.

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Building Houston

 
 

UH is now the only college in the country — and the only restaurant facility in Houston — to utilize a robotic food delivery. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

The University of Houston is taking a bold step — or, in this case, roll — in foodservice delivery. UH's Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership is now deploying a robot server in Eric’s Restaurant at its Hilton College.

Booting up this new service is major bragging rights for the Coogs, as UH is now the only college in the country — and the only restaurant facility in Houston — to utilize a robotic food delivery.

These rolling delivery bots come from the state-of-the-art food service robot called Servi. The bots, created by Bear Robotics, are armed with LiDar sensors, cameras, and trays, and automatically return to their posts when internal weight sensors detect a delivery has been completed.

Not surprisingly, these futuristic food staffers are booting up plenty of buzz at UH.

“People are excited about it,” says Dennis Reynolds, who is dean of the Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership and oversees the only hospitality program in the world where students work and take classes in an internationally branded, full-service hotel. Launching robot waitstaff at UH as a test market makes sense, he notes, for practical use and larger implications.

The Servi robots deliver food from the kitchen to the table. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

“Robotics and the general fear of technology we see today are really untested in the restaurant industry,” he says in an announcement. “At Hilton College, it’s not just about using tomorrow’s technology today. We always want to be the leader in learning how that technology impacts the industry.”

Bear Robotics, a tech company founded by restaurant experts and tech entrepreneurs, hosted a Servi showcase at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago earlier this year. After seeing the demo, Reynolds was hooked. UH's Servi robot arrived at Eric’s Restaurant in October.

Before sending the bot to diners' tables, the bot was prepped by Tanner Lucas, the executive chef and foodservice director at Eric’s. That meant weeks of mapping, programming, and — not surprisingly — “test driving” around the restaurant.

Tanner even created a digital map of the restaurant to teach the Servi its pathways and designated service points, such as table numbers. “Then, we sent it back and forth to all of those points from the kitchen with food to make sure it wouldn’t run into anything," he adds.

But does having a robot deliver food create friction between human and automated staff? Not at Eric's. “The robot helps my workflow,” Joel Tatum, a server at Eric’s says. “It lets me spend more time with my customers instead of just chasing and running food.”

Once loaded, the kitchen staff can tell the Servi robots where to take the dishes. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

Reynolds believes robots will complement their human counterparts and actually enhance the customer experience, even in unlikely settings.

“Studies have been conducted in senior living facilities where you might think a robot wouldn’t be well received, but it’s been just the opposite,” Reynolds says. “Those residents saw the change in their lives and loved it.”

To that end, he plans to use Servi bots in other UH venues. “The ballroom would be a fantastic place to showcase Servi – not as a labor-saving device, but as an excitement generator,” Reynolds notes. “To have it rotating through a big event delivering appetizers would be really fun.”

Critics who denounce robot servers and suggest they will soon displace humans are missing the point, Reynolds adds. “This isn’t about cutting our labor costs. It’s about building our top-line revenues and expanding our brand as a global hospitality innovator,” Reynolds says. “People will come to expect more robotics, more artificial intelligence in all segments of hospitality, and our students will be right there at the forefront.”

Servi bots come at a time of dynamic growth for Hilton College. A recent rebrand to “Global Hospitality Leadership” comes as the college hotel is undergoing a $30 million expansion and renovation, which includes a new five-story, 70-room guest tower. The student-run Cougar Grounds coffeehouse reopened this semester in a larger space with plenty of updates. The neighboring Eric’s Club Center for Student Success helps with recruitment and enrollment, undergraduate academic services, and career development.

“To be the first university in the country to introduce robotics in the dining room is remarkable,” Reynolds adds. “There are a lot of unique things we’re doing at Hilton College.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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