eavesdropping in Houston

Overheard: Space experts discuss commercialization, innovation, and Houston's future

What's Houston's role in the modern era for aerospace? And how can the industry foster public-private collaboration? Experts weighed in at a recent event. Photo via NASA

The aerospace industry — much more than other sectors — is run by a mixture of civil, commercial, and military players. And each of these verticals operate very differently.

At a Houston Tech Rodeo event called "Lasso the Moon" put on by Space Force Association and TexSpace, aerospace experts representing various entities — from startups to big tech to education and military organizations — discussed the future of space innovation.

Missed the conversation? Here are five key moments from the event, which included several talks and a panel at The Ion on Monday, February 28.

 "In this age of rapid advancement, Houston has to take an active stance on supporting space innovation. Leaders must leverage all that this great city and our community have to offer, and we must align civil, commercial, and academic communities to work together to build an effective space innovation ecosystem."

— Mayor Sylvester Turner says at the event's welcome address. “Ever since Houston was the first said from the surface of the moon, Houston has been known as the Space City," he says.

“How is the tech industry going so fast in updating their technology, but the government is struggling? … The system is not designed to innovate.”

— United States Space Force Lt. Gen. Chance Saltzman says, addressing innovation in space and war operations. He adds, "The system is designed to just do continuous improvement on existing capability. When we talk about the need to shift or jump and revolutionize the technology we are using, there are a lot of things at play working against us."

“Houston is the global energy capital, human spaceflight capital of the world, and has the biggest medical center of the world. All of these sectors are heavily dependent on innovation and technology. And many of these technologies overlap. It’s time to switch to technology verticals.”

— David Alexander, professor in the department of physics and astronomy at Rice University, says in a call for industries in Houston to work together. "If you focus on the technologies, then collaboration happens."

"Houston intimately understands innovation. We come from a city of wildcatters."

— Sarah Duggleby, CEO and cofounder of Venus Aerospace, says in her talk about how she's growing her California-founded company in its new Houston headquarters. She added that Texas makes it "infinitely easier to do business."

"Innovation in our business usually equates to risk. Usually when we start to on a project, we like to use time-proven technologies. Creating onramps for technology and innovation has to be something that we plan."

— Sam Gunderson, lead of partnership development at NASA's Johnson Space Center, says adding: "The other thing that I think creates a challenge for innovation within industry that I think the government needs to improve on is that we often over-define our solution set when we try to (onboard new technology). Leaving room for innovation and for people to bring something in that doesn't solve the problem in the way we anticipated needs to be a part of the way we buy services."

"You're a private business — you're trying to grow, you're trying to scale, you need cash. The government has a lot of it. It's perfectly aligned – if you do it right." 

​— Enrique Oti, CTO at Second Front Systems, says on the process of getting grants and submitting RFPs within government agencies. "There are lots of way to do it, but the only way you can get there as a startup or small company is if you're blatantly asking for the money and information."

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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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