Guest column

Why this Italian tech company is betting on Houston

An Italian company has moved in on Houston. In an op-ed, the company's founder shares why he bet on the Bayou City. Photo via Getty Images

Earlier this year, I opened my company's U.S. headquarters and became an Italian transplant in Houston.

After establishing my additive manufacturing business in my home country, the company thrived in Europe and we began evaluating foreign markets to support our expansion. We considered several cities in North America and will likely establish operations in some of these regions in the coming years, but one thing will remain unchanged – our commitment to naming Houston the command post of our operations.

I have ambitious plans that Houston is uniquely positioned to address. Over the next 24 months, we expect to hire more than 100 employees to reshore domestic production, decrease carbon emissions, and mitigate supply chain challenges using super polymers in our 3D printing production system.

In order to meet these objectives, I am leveraging the city's business-friendly environment and thriving, international community to support several core industries, including energy, aerospace, medtech and transportation and logistics.

Convergence of Tech, Industry and Talent 

Across the world, Houston has long been known as the energy capital of the world. Over time, it is adapting a new image – one that unites all the prominent industries – a thriving tech hot spot. With cultural ties around the world, I am excited to immerse our team in industry events and take advantage of our proximity to exciting scientific initiatives, boundary-pushing engineers, new and existing customers, and renowned universities.

The city has been teeming with several tech giants who are driving the Texas tech boom after realizing the opportunities that also caught my attention. The tremendous increase in corporate relocations and expansions in Texas have shined a spotlight on Houston.

The evolution also highlights the opportunities the city presents for young engineers and recent college graduates chasing careers in evolving areas like advanced manufacturing, aerospace, and medtech. As I expand my engineering and production capabilities, I am captivated by the highly specialized and ever-growing workforce in legacy and emerging industries.

Building a More Sustainable Future and Revitalizing American Manufacturing 

As I get to know the local businesses making up the area, I am also discovering the ways in which Houston is playing a role in building the infrastructure that is advancing a more sustainable future. This joint effort, led by local businesses, educational institutions, policies, and people, leverages the technologies developed by stateside experts and attracting foreign executives, like myself, who bring fresh perspectives and solutions to accelerate our vision for the future.

At my company, for example, we are introducing technology to contribute to the global energy transition, incorporating more sustainable materials into production workflows to reduce industrial emissions. Through maturing printing networks in the region, manufacturers can print "parts on demand" whenever and wherever needed, which can reduce or eliminate the need to warehouse infrequently used parts as well as reliance on slower, more expensive traditional fabrication often located overseas.

As I immerse myself in the city's growing tech ecosystem, I am excited to play a role in building the additive manufacturing industry in Houston.

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Alessio Lorusso is founder and CEO of Roboze.

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Building Houston

 
 

From a low-cost vaccine to an app that can help reduce exposure, here are the latest COVID-focused and Houston-based research projects. Photo via Getty Images

While it might seem like the COVID-19 pandemic has settled down for the time being, there's plenty of innovative research ongoing to create solutions for affordable vaccines and tech-enabled protection against the spread of the virus.

Some of that research is happening right here in Houston. Here are two innovative projects in the works at local institutions.

UH researcher designs app to monitor best times to shop

A UH professor is putting safe shopping at your fingertips. Photo via UH.edu

When is the best time to run an errand in the pandemic era we currently reside? There might be an app for that. Albert Cheng, professor of computer science and electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston, is working on a real-time COVID-19 infection risk assessment and mitigation system. He presented his plans at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers conference HPC for Urgent Decision Making and will publish the work in IEEE Xplore.

Cheng's work analyzes up-to-date data from multiple open sources to see when is the best time to avoid crowds and accomplish activities outside the home.

"Preliminary work has been performed to determine the usability of a number of COVID-19 data websites and other websites such as grocery stores and restaurants' popular times and traffic," Cheng says in a UH release. "Other data, such as vaccination rates and cultural factors (for example, the percentage of people willing to wear facial coverings or masks in an area), are also used to determine the best grocery store to shop in within a time frame."

To use the app, a user would input their intended destinations and the farthest distance willing to go, as well as the time frame of the trip. The risk assessment and mitigation system, or RT-CIRAM, then "provides as output the target location and the time interval to reach there that would reduce the chance of infections," said Cheng.

There's a lot to it, says Cheng, and the process is highly reliant on technology.

"We are leveraging urgent high-performance cloud computing, coupled with time-critical scheduling and routing techniques, along with our expertise in real-time embedded systems and cyber-physical systems, machine learning, medical devices, real-time knowledge/rule-based decision systems, formal verification, functional reactive systems, virtualization and intrusion detection," says Cheng.

2 Houston hospitals team up with immunotherapy company for new vaccine for Africa

The new vaccine will hopefully help mitigate spread of the disease in Sub-Saharan Africa. Photo via bcm.edu

Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital have teamed up with ImmunityBio Inc. — a clinical-stage immunotherapy company — under a licensing agreement to develop a safe, effective and affordable COVID-19 vaccine.

BCM has licensed out a recombinant protein COVID-19 vaccine candidate that was developed at the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development to ImmunityBio. According to the release, the company engaged in license negotiations with the BCM Ventures team, about the vaccine that could address the current pandemic needs in South Africa.

"We hope that our COVID-19 vaccine for global health might become an important step towards advancing vaccine development capacity in South Africa, and ultimately for all of Sub-Saharan Africa," says Dr. Peter Hotez, professor and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor and co-director of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development.

ImmunityBio, which was founded in 2014 by Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, is working on innovative immunotherapies that address serious unmet needs in infectious diseases, according to a news release from BCM.

"There is a great need for second-generation vaccines, which are accessible, durable and offer broad protection against the emerging variants," says Soon-Shiong. "ImmunityBio has executed on a heterologous ("mix-and-match") strategy to develop a universal COVID-19 vaccine. To accomplish this, we have embarked upon large-scale good manufacturing practices and development of DNA (adenovirus), RNA (self-amplifying mRNA) and subunit protein (yeast) vaccine platforms. This comprehensive approach will leverage our expertise in these platforms for both infectious disease and cancer therapies."

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