data to knowlege
Rice University's data-focused lab presents unique opportunity for startups and small businesses
A data-focused lab at Rice University is training the next generation of data scientists. However, the students at the Rice D2K Lab are doing more than just learning about the significance of data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence — they're working as data scientists now.
Businesses — large and small — can come into the lab and have Rice students and faculty work on data projects in both short-term and long-term capacity. One semester, a group of students worked with 311 call data for the city of Houston so that officials can figure out what parts of town were in the most need of support, says Jennifer Sanders, program administrator at the Rice D2K lab.
"They were able to show on a Houston map the areas where most of these 311 calls were coming from," Sanders tells InnovationMap. "That allowed the city to focus on those areas."
Lately, the lab has been focused on a several COVID-19 Houston Response Projects, which addressed issues ranging from homelessness in the time of a pandemic, ventilator distribution, and more. One team even made a recommendation to the city after a data project determined that adding five ambulances to southwest neighborhoods served by the Houston Fire Department Emergency Medical Services program would optimize response times.
The lab has two avenues to help businesses: a semester-long capstone course and a clinic for one-time sessions. This upcoming semester, the capstone course has 60 students signed up to work on 10 to 12 projects from corporate sponsors. These lab members — which support the program monetarily — are selected based on their fit within the program.
The D2K Consulting Clinic also offers free one-hour sessions on campus. At the clinic, students look at the data and assess the possibilities and advise on how to use that data for business gain or growth.
"The consulting clinic can be a starting point if a business is not sure what to do with their data," says Shanna Jin, communications and marketing specialist at the D2K Lab.
The clinic also presents a special opportunity for small businesses and startups, a niche Sanders says they haven't tapped into enough yet. She says most of the companies they've worked with are larger organizations, usually in the energy industry.
"We really want to broaden the scope to smaller startups, tech companies, and nonprofits," Sanders says. "We really don't have to limit ourselves. I would really love to expand our reach."
Membership dues for companies, which provides a more structured, long-term access to data consulting, range from $25,000 to $75,000 a year. However, Sanders says the lab is willing to work with startups on a cost that's more accessible.
Ultimately, the goal of the program is to connect the dots for businesses that have data and don't know how to use it.
"To realize the potential of big data, we need people — people who can transform data to knowledge," says the lab's founder, Genevera Allen, in a promotional video. "That's what we're doing with the Rice D2K Lab."