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8+ can't-miss Houston business and innovation events online in January ​

Register for some of these informative online events happening throughout the month of January. Photo via Getty Images

It's a whole new year, but Houston is cranking out the same great business and innovation-focused events.

Here's a roundup of virtual events not to miss this month — from workshops and webinars to summits and pitch parties. Note: This post will be updated to add more events.

January 6 — The New Relief Package - Explained by SBA

With the passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021, a $2.3 trillion spending bill, a new round of stimulus funding will soon be available. Join the Houston Asian Chamber of Commerce for a discussion with Tim Jeffcoat, Director of the U.S. Small Business Administration in Houston as we navigate what this means for small businesses and how you can apply for Paycheck Protection Programs and Economic Injury Disaster Loans as well as other SBA loans.

The event is on Wednesday, January 6, at 10 am. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

January 13 — How to Change Careers: Oil and Gas

The way we work is changing. Some might feel a stronger push to make a change. If you are looking for a career transition, I invite you to explore innovative career paths in energy and Oil & Gas. How can you pursue a career change during uncertainty? By leaning into the changes happening in the world. We are at a crossroads and many things will now evolve - let's contribute our skills, passion and drive to participate in this evolution.

The General Assembly event is on Wednesday, January 13, at noon. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

January 13 — Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures - Investment Directions in the new Energy Landscape

As 2021 begins, the world has seen dramatic volatility in the entire energy landscape, with demand for hydrocarbons seeing precipitous drops, while renewable energy investment has increased, as many countries across the world prioritize meeting the COP21 agreement and other ESG concerns. Jim Sledzik is the Managing Director of the North America team of Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures will discuss current and ongoing investment directions and themes for SAEV. He'll give insight to aspiring entrepreneurs on what are investable propositions for SAEV across the entire energy landscape.

The event is on Wednesday, January 13, at 4 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

January 14 — Plaza Tec: How We Made it Big

Learn from Latinx founders about their experiences accessing funding, using technology to grow/pivot, and hurdles they have overcome. This event is designed by The Ion to give you a set of tools and pathways to help you navigate your business and take advantage of technology to help you grow. Every business has failures. No business succeeds without some change of plan. Join us for a founders focus event on "How We Made It Big" to learn how to use resources available in the tech and innovation ecosystem to help your business grow.

The event is on Thursday, January 14, at noon. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

January 14 — Intro to Fundraising & Ask Me Anything: Defense Edition with Craig Cummings

Join Capital Factory virtually to hear an overview from experienced entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and angel investors at Intro to Fundraising & Ask Me Anything: Defense Edition. Get a chance to introduce yourself and ask any questions on funding and other related topics.

The event is on Thursday, January 14, at 2 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

January 16 — Enventure Basecamp - Business Building Workshop

Enventure's community-driven business building Basecamp series returns this October to support a local innovator with their healthcare venture. This event will be virtual. All experience levels are welcome, this is an excellent learning and networking opportunity.

The event is on Saturday, January 16, at 9 am. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

January 22 — The Village School's Innovation Day

The Village School's annual Innovation Day is a celebration of ideas and solutions created by students to tackle today's most pressing problems — such as designing solutions to live on Mars in zero gravity, composing and scoring music through computer software and high school entrepreneurs who are running their own businesses.

The event is on Friday, January 22, at 9 am. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

January 21 — Angel Investing 101 Series | Urban Capital Network

Join Urban Capital Network (UCN) and their special guest(s) who will talk about and share their experiences in early-stage investing. Target audience includes current and future investors interested in learning about early-stage angel investing and hearing first-hand experiences from talented and seasoned panelists, as well as entrepreneurs interested in learning more about the capital raising process and lifecycle.

The event is on Thursday, January 21, at 5:30 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

January 27 — Houston Startup Showcase

The Houston Startup Showcase is a flagship event from The Ion, formerly known as Demo Day. This event will allow for developing companies to receive feedback from subject matter experts and showcase their successes thus far. The event is a year-long series of monthly pitch competitions, and results in a final winner to close the series in November. Companies are encouraged to apply online to pitch.

The event is on Wednesday, January 27, at 6 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

January 28 — Building a More Inclusive Startup

Starting off with the first of a series of four DEI workshops, this interactive event, co-hosted by Greentown Labs and Aleria Research, will provide you actionable frameworks, tools, and resources to empower your team to build a more inclusive startup.

The event is on Thursday, January 28, at 11 am. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

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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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