James Driver Park is the city's first all-inclusive space. Photo courtesy of Harris County Precinct 2

In a city lush with greenspace, Houston is about to debut a first. James Driver Inclusive Park, when it opens on Saturday, December 11, will be the first community park created specifically for visitors of every experience, ability, and special need on the spectrum.

Attendees can join the ribbon cutting and grand opening ceremony that starts at noon at the park in Aldine (10918 Bentley St.); Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia will lead the ceremonies.

“James Driver Inclusive Park will be the flagship park for Precinct 2 and all of Harris County,” Garcia tells CultureMap. “I expect it to transform how we all think about community spaces and inclusivity. Approximately half a million residents of Harris County live with some sort of physical or cognitive disability, yet, somehow, this park is the first of its kind in Harris County. James Driver Park will be a game-changer for so many families who have children with mobility or sensory issues or even parents who are in wheelchairs.”

Key park amenities include:

  • An improved and widened walking trail that will accommodate two people in wheelchairs, side by side
  • A playground featuring specially designed, wheelchair-friendly equipment where kids can spin, sway, swing, slide and splash
  • An outdoor gaming and fitness area featuring bocce, shuffleboard, chess tables, corn hole, bean bag toss and fitness equipment
  • A misting area and plenty of shade, providing relief from the heat
  • A remodeled and expanded community center, open in back to reveal lush green space
  • A covered dining space and outdoor picnic areas
  • A sensory garden featuring indigenous perennials
  • An event lawn and pavilion for musical and other entertainment
  • An art wall for installations of art by local artists
  • A cistern that will capture rainwater for water play and irrigationA METRO bus stop and plenty of parking
  • A designated parking area for taco and other food trucks

Parents and families can look for these key features for those with special needs, per press materials:

Big bridge
The bridge’s design allows for self-regulated play experiences for children of all ages and abilities to exercise risk, failure, and mastery. An extra-wide ramp and bridge (8 feet) allows for people in wheelchairs and/or mobility devices to easily pass side by side barrier free.

Three play towers offer graduated challenges for climbing, sliding, and balancing, while the overall 80-foot long structure offers areas of respite for all ages and abilities to enjoy the park from above.

Shoulder wheel and serpentine path
These two peripheral elements are designed for older adults or persons with mobility challenges to exercise independently. The shoulder wheel is designed specifically to increase shoulder mobility; the serpentine path uses hand/eye coordination to strengthen small motor skills.

Sensory garden
Studies show the greener the play area, the better the concentration and mental function. The sensory garden utilizes a crazy maze, rolling bells, and serpentine path to foster motor skills and hand eye coordination.

A key element is the ability here to easily withdraw from the active play area but still feel incorporated in the activity as an onlooker for those who may get overwhelmed easily. The sensory garden also appeals to at least one of the five senses; sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch.

For those not local, Garcia notes that the greenspace is well worth the drive for its inclusivity, tangible benefits, and its ability to create a joyful, all encompassing experience. “This park allows families to all play together,” he adds.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

A program at UH has just gotten a rare and prestigious accreditation. Photo by Tom Fisk from Pexels

University of Houston logistics and transportation program receives global accreditation

leveled up

A program at the University of Houston has received a rare global accreditation that will allow for more opportunities for the students in both the graduate and undergraduate programs.

The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport has accredited UH's Supply Chain & Logistics Technology bachelor's and master's degree plans. Now, students can apply for membership upon graduation and use the CILT credential after their name, according to a press release from UH, and this is the first academic program in the United States to have this distinction.

"In launching our globally-recognized credential program, we are addressing gaps in skill sets and focusing on filling those gaps with our students, helping them become more marketable," says Margaret Kidd, program director of Supply Chain & Logistics Technology, in the release.

Port Houston has granted $50,000 to the program, and these funds are being used to take the curriculum digital and allow for an online platform for certificate courses.

"The College of Technology prides itself in providing degree programs that support the workforce – a workforce that both needs to expand in numbers to boost the economy, but also to provide a more relevant education for industry and commerce," says Anthony P. Ambler, dean of the UH College of Technology, in the release. "We are grateful to the Port Houston and its support of our technology program which explicitly exposes students to how business operates so that they are able to be productive quickly."

The news was announced at a press conference at UH. Harris County Commissioner for Precinct 2 Adrian Garcia and Port Houston Commissioner Wendy Montoya Cloonan joined UH representatives at the event.

"The pandemic has wrecked several sectors of the economy, directly impacting thousands, and so many are searching for new skills that translate to this new normal. This UH program, funded by Port grants, is yet another way we and our partners are addressing that," says Commissioner Garcia. "Hardworking people need locally elected officials, educational institutions, and industry to help us get past these difficult times, which is why I am extremely excited about the launch of this program."

The first group of participants for the program will come from dual-credit high schools with a logistics focus and community colleges offering logistics and international business degrees.

"Our program plays an integral part in preparing the next generation of workers. We thank Port Houston for funding our project which provides meaningful influence for area students," says Kidd.

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Houston biopharma company launches equity crowdfunding campaign

money moves

A clinical-stage company headquartered in Houston has opened an online funding campaign.

FibroBiologics, which is developing fibroblast cell-based therapeutics for chronic diseases, launched a campaign with equity crowdfunding platform StartEngine. The platform lets anyone — regardless of their net worth or income level — to invest in securities issued by startups.

The funding, according to a press release, will be used to support ongoing operations of Fibrobiologics and advance its clinical programs in multiple sclerosis, degenerative disc disease, wound care, extension of life, and cancer.

"We're excited to partner with StartEngine on this campaign. StartEngine has over 600,000 investors as part of their community and has raised over half a billion dollars for its clients," says FibroBiologics' Founder and CEO Pete O'Heeron, in the release.

"This is an exciting time at FibroBiologics as we continue progressing our clinical pipeline and developing innovative therapies to treat chronic diseases," he continues. "This new funding will fuel our growth in the lab and bring us one step closer to commercialization."

The campaign, launched this week, already has over 100 investors, at the time of publication, and has raised nearly $2 million, according to the page. The minimum investment is set at around $500, and the company's indicated valuation is $252.57 million.

In 2021, FibroBiologics announced its intention of going public. Last year, O'Heeron told InnovationMap on the Houston Innovators Podcast of the company's growth plans as well as the specifics of the technology.

Only two types of cells — stem cells and fibroblasts — can be used in cell therapy for a regenerative treatment, which is when specialists take healthy cells from a patient and inject them into a part of the body that needs it the most. As O'Heeron explains in the podcast, fibroblasts can do it more effectively and cheaper than stem cells.

"(Fibroblasts) can essentially do everything a stem cell can do, only they can do it better," says O'Heeron. "We've done tests in the lab and we've seen them outperform stem cells by a low of 50 percent to a high of about 220 percent on different disease paths."


Texas ranks as a top state for female entrepreneurs

women in business

Texas dropped three spots in Merchant Maverick’s annual ranking of the top 10 states for women-led startups.

The Lone Star State landed at No. 5 thanks in part to its robust venture capital environment for women entrepreneurs. Last year, Texas ranked second, up from its No. 6 showing in 2021.

Merchant Maverick, a product comparison site for small businesses, says Texas “boasts the strongest venture capital scene” for women entrepreneurs outside California and the Northeast. The state ranked fourth in that category, with $6.5 billion invested in the past five years.

Other factors favoring Texas include:

  • Women solely lead 22 percent of all employees working for a business in Texas (No. 4).
  • Texas lacks a state income tax (tied for No. 1).

However, Texas didn’t fare well in terms of the unemployment rate (No. 36) and the rate of business ownership by women (No. 29). Other Texas data includes:

  • Average income for women business owners, $52,059 (No. 19).
  • Early startup survival rate, 81.9 percent (No. 18).

Appearing ahead of Texas in the 2023 ranking are No. 1 Colorado, No. 2 Washington, No. 3 California, and No. 4 Arizona.

Another recent ranking, this one from NorthOne, an online bank catering to small businesses, puts Texas at No. 7 among the 10 best states for women entrepreneurs.

NorthOne says Texas provides “a ton of opportunities” for woman entrepreneurs. For instance, it notches one of the highest numbers of women-owned businesses in the country at 1.4 million, 2.1 percent of which have at least 500 employees.

In this study, Texas is preceded by Colorado at No. 1, Nevada at No. 2, Virginia at No. 3, Maryland at No. 4, Florida at No. 5, and New Mexico at No. 6. The rankings are based on eight metrics, including the percentage of woman-owned businesses and the percentage of women-owned businesses with at least 500 employees.