Houston-based Sesh Coworking has launched an online platform so that members can work alongside each other. Photo via seshcoworking.com

As the COVID-19 pandemic continued to enforce working from home and social distancing earlier this summer, a Houston coworking company knew they needed to find a way to reach professionals and entrepreneurs digitally.

Sesh Coworking launched its Inner Circle membership this week to be a one-stop shop for business, connection, support, and more for members. Last month, Meredith Wheeler and Maggie Segrich began working on the virtual space after discovering the need for this virtual space from their network.

"We talked to a lot of people," Wheeler tells InnovationMap. "We were constantly asking people, 'what do you need right now?' And the resounding answer was for community and connection."

While Sesh reopened its physical space in Montrose on June 1, not all members were comfortable — or even able — to return to Sesh in person. So, the idea was to bring Sesh's culture and mission to them by taking the company's existing member portal and upgrading it with features like video conferencing, chatrooms, and more.

"It's almost kind of like a new age version of AIM chat. You could see who's online and you can chat with them," Segrich says. "You can work alongside with people."

With these new tech capabilities, Sesh can continue some of its events — like coffee and coworking and other networking and social events — virtually. Segrich and Wheeler also say they will be able to create accountability groups since some members have said that this new way of working makes it hard to focus and get stuff done.

The platform will also enable educational and training-based events, and Sesh has already created a kind of catalogue for resources and materials that come out of these events so that all members can have access to that information, not just the ones that were able to log on for the event.

"With business right now, and Maggie and I are feeling this constantly, it's like everyday is a new pivot — a new turn, twist, or adaptation that we're having to create," Wheeler says. "Sometimes, you know what you need to do and you don't know how to do it, but you need to figure it out fast. So, hopefully by having these resources at the tips of their fingers, our members can make those turns quicker."

A major perk for Sesh and its founders is that, now that they have everything set up and launched, their reach expands much further than their Sesh Loft in Montrose.

"This is not just limited to Houston. This can go, and we hope it goes, nationwide. We've had folks from all over the country on our digital events," Wheeler says. "This could be the silver lining from everything that's happening in 2020 — that our authentic digital connection has a much farther way to travel."

The first 30 members of Sesh Inner Circle can get a monthly membership rate of just $5.99. After that, it's $14.99 a month to sign up. Existing members to the physical space have access to the virtual platform, and virtual members can access special rates on booking space in the Sesh Loft. The launch of Inner Circle has also corresponded with the expansion of Sesh's store of locally sourced products. The store is available at the Sesh Loft or online.

Connect online

Photo via seshcoworking.com

The member portal lets Sesh coworkers have a one-stop shop for virtual and in-person engagement.

Innovation leaders have worked hard to advance its innovation infrastructure, and Lawson Gow doesn't want to see COVID-19 hold Houston back. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

Houston's innovation ecosystem can't lose momentum amid COVID-19, entrepreneur says

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 28

If you would have asked Lawson Gow a few weeks ago how he was feeling about the coronavirus closing down all three of his company's coworking spaces, his answer would have been pretty bleak. But now, as The Cannon has turned its attention to creating crisis-focused programming and digital resources and support for startups, he has a much more optimistic outlook on the future of his company.

What he's worried about now is the city as a whole losing its traction in developing its innovation ecosystem. Pre-COVID-19, the city was on a path to a robust and developing environment for startups and technology. Now, the city's innovation leaders need to stick together to keep from backtracking.

"We've got more momentum than we've ever had before," Gow says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "What keeps me up at night is trying to consider how we don't lose any of this momentum. We're in a good, exciting spot. It's not an option for us as a city to lose this momentum right now."

While Gow — who is the son of David Gow, owner of InnovationMap's parent company, Gow Media — is optimistic about Houston's future, he notes how there will be a significant shift in the city's developing innovation districts present themselves.

"What's interesting is if you read the academic literature on innovation districts, it talks about density, collisions, interactions, and an ecosystem of swirling hustle and bustle of people interacting with each other," Gow says. "It reads like a how-to manual for how to spread disease."

When it comes to the future of coworking, Gow observes that, after companies have downsized and even let go of some physical space they have, shareable spaces — with the proper precautions — might be even more in demand.

"I think coming out of this, there's going to be a real place in the world for coworking. It's not going away, and, in fact, it's going to be even more necessary than ever," he says. "There's going to need to be policies and procedures that are much more mindful of health and wellness and the spread of infection."

There's still a lot to be determined on how The Cannon will emerge from the shutdown and what sort of new methods of keeping members safe and healthy they will implement — but Gow says knows those days are coming.

"There's a resiliency to the human spirit — and also an insistence on living life uninterrupted," Gow says on the episode. "We will get back to normalcy. I think it'll be gradual."

Gow shares his thoughts on the pandemic, as well as his advice for struggling startups on the podcast. Listen to the full episode below — or wherever you get your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Fuse Workspace is the latest coworking concept for the west side of town. Photo courtesy of Fuse

Dallas coworking company to open its first location in Houston

new to hou

Dallas-based Fuse Workspace is gearing up to open the first of what could be several coworking spaces in the Houston area as various coworking providers ramp up their Bayou City presence.

Fuse will unveil its first Houston location March 2 at CityCentre, a 47-acre, mixed-use development on the former site of Town & Country Mall in the Memorial City district. The grand opening is set for April 30.

Included in the 29,000-square-foot Fuse space, at 12848 Queensbury Ln., will be Houston's first showroom for Varidesk, a Coppell-based provider of standing desks and other office equipment.

John Herring, brand manager and director of operations at Fuse, says Houston, Austin, and Dallas are the company's target markets. A Fuse space is scheduled to open in July in the Austin suburb of Bee Cave.

"We love Houston and see a great future for our brand here, with multiple locations," Herring tells InnovationMap. "We don't have definitive plans to announce yet, but we have several strategic locations in the area that on our list."

Fuse is a division of DPG Partners LLC, a developer, owner, and operator of coworking spaces in Texas, as well as Hilton and Marriott hotels in Texas and Arkansas.

Fuse Workspace is the latest coworking concept for the west side of town. Photo courtesy of Fuse

The Fuse location at CityCentre will feature about 23,000 square feet of Class A office space, along with about 6,000 square feet of outdoor space. Highlights include:

  • 90 private offices
  • Three specialty suites, including one already leased by Varidesk
  • Four terraces
  • Seven conference rooms, including a podcast studio
  • Event space accommodating up to 100 people

"Our goal is to create an outstanding experience in the office through décor, amenities, programming, conference space, and our concierge staff," Herring says.

Fuse is joining a number of coworking providers that have set up shop in and around Memorial City. For instance, Life Time Work, affiliated with a nearby Life Time Fitness gym, opened last year at City Centre. Memorial City also is home to The Cannon, a 120,000-square-foot coworking campus.

Commercial real estate services provider JLL predicts 30 percent of the U.S. office market will be "flexible" space, such as coworking setups, by 2030. That compares with less than 5 percent in early 2019.

In the Houston market, 1.9 percent of office space was considered "flexible" in early 2019, according to JLL, versus 2.8 percent in Austin and 1.7 percent in Dallas.

"Our research, and our conversations with corporate executives across the globe, indicate that flexible work is not just a passing trend — it's woven into the fabric of the future of work," Scott Homa, senior vice president and director of U.S. office research at JLL, said in a 2019 release. "Even though some markets are better positioned for rapid growth, this still leaves significant runway for expansion across all U.S. office markets."

An October 2019 report from Yardi Matrix, a provider of real estate data, shows the Houston market with 113 coworking spaces encompassing more than 2.2 million square feet. By comparison, Dallas-Fort Worth had 159 coworking spaces exceeding 3.5 million total square feet, and Austin had 47 spaces surpassing 1.2 million total square feet.

"The penetration of coworking is highest in markets with new-market economies and tight vacancy rates," the Yardi Matrix report states.

According to JLL, the office vacancy rate in the Houston market stood at 22.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019. But office occupancy is improving, according to a JLL report, as more than 1.85 million square feet of space was absorbed in the Houston market during the fourth quarter of 2019. For Houston, that marked a 20-year high for positive net absorption in a single quarter, the report states.
Sesh Coworking is committed to providing quality coworking space for women and by women. Photo courtesy of Sesh

First female-focused coworking space opens in Houston

Calling all women

For so long, women have been influenced on how to behave professionally at work and expected to leave home life at home. But two female entrepreneurs are flipping the switch on that way of thinking with their new coworking space.

"We as women show up in our work lives as a whole person. We don't compartmentalize and forget about all the other things happening in our lives," says Meredith Wheeler, co-founder and chief creative officer of Sesh Coworking. "We wanted a space that reflected that and embraced it."

Sesh officially opened its doors this week at its new 2,000-square-foot space in Montrose (1210 W Clay St #18). Wheeler co-founded the company with Maggie Segrich after hosting coffee and coworking meetups for women around Houston for over two years.

sesh Meredith Wheeler and Maggie Segrich founded Sesh Coworking after years of working from home and feeling the need for a community. Photo courtesy of Sesh

Segrich, who has been a jewelry designer based in New York then Houston, and Wheeler each have a story of working from home and feeling a lack of community. Through the coffee and coworking sessions, the duo realized they weren't alone.

"There has been, in the last four to five years, this rally cry for women to come together and to feel that sense of community, whether that's as mothers, runners, in a gym, entrepreneurs, artists, and makers," says Segrich. "So, for me, starting Sesh is kind of like giving women that space and opportunity to let their guard down, and feel like they can be their actual selves."

While Sesh is open to all, the structure and style of the space is different from other coworking offices. For Wheeler, that's by design. She remembers living in California and checking out a coworking space that had a "bro culture," and while she loved the idea of coworking, she didn't join that space. However, it planted a seed in her, she says.

"We come at the creation of this space and the running of this community from the female experience," Wheeler tells InnovationMap. "Most coworking spaces, when they are run only by men, it's natural that they are coming from their perspective and experience."

Last fall, Sesh hosted a pop-up coworking space in Downtown for nine days. They put on multiple events a day — from career focused to wellness — as a bit of a sample of what they planned for their permanent space. It was stressful and fast moving, but it showed the women what their potential membership wanted.

"Flexibility is kind of the name of the game right now," Wheeler says.

In their permanent space, Sesh plans to offer programming around business career and fitness and wellness, including daily kid-friendly hours.

The office space itself, which was designed by Blue Water Studio's Kimberly Phipps-Nichol, is rentable for events, and members can join and pay monthly or buy packs of day passes. The space features desks and couches, plus a full bathroom with a shower and lockers that are rentable. There is also a meeting room and wellness space that are able to be rented by members.

"We're re-writing the playbook on what your work experience should be," Wheeler says.

Setting up shop

Photo courtesy of Sesh

Coworkers can check in upon arrival and even purchase select items at the front desk.

Along with Houston-based real estate developer Ancorian, Common Desk is headed for Houston. Courtesy of Common Desk

Texas coworking company plans Houston location in East Downtown

New to HOU

Houston will soon be home to another large coworking space. Common Desk, a Texas company, has announced plans for a Houston location in East Downtown — selected for its culture and opportunity.

The Dallas-born concept specializes in coworking in hospitality and has joined forces with Houston-based Ancorian, a real estate development company, for the project. Expected to open in summer 2020, Common Desk will occupy 25,000 square feet of a 42,000-square-foot warehouse redevelopment known as "The Block." The facility will also have an outpost of Dallas-based Bishop Cider.

"EaDo reminds us of Deep Ellum, which was the first location we ever opened in Dallas in 2012," says Nick Clark, founder and CEO of Common Desk, in a news release. "It has the cultural authenticity and significance that we as a brand love to build a foundation from, offering the diverse variety of concepts and convenience you want from a submarket, without the congestion and parking difficulties you might find in a central business district. We're excited to bring some of our soulful vibes and southern hospitality to Eado."

Houston's East Downtown Common Desk will occupy 25,000 square feet of a 42,000-square-foot warehouse redevelopment known as "The Block." Courtesy of Common Desk

Common Desk, which got its start in 2012, now has eight locations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and three in in Austin, and its Houston members will eventually have access to these other locations. A common theme in the companies concepts is bridging the gap between coworking and dining and hospitality concepts. Fiction Coffee, Common Desk's coffee bar concept, is expected to open alongside the coworking space.

"Houston isn't just another market for us; it's a city we love, and we expect our approach to service and design to resonate well with Houstonians," says Dawson Williams, head of real estate at Common Desk, in the release. "We plan to go deep in Houston just as we have in Dallas, and our goal is to become the go-to coworking brand in the market."

Ancorian has previously worked on the East Village in the East Downtown area, which include concepts like Indianola, Truck Yard, F45 Fitness, Koffeteria, Rodeo Goat, and True Anomaly Brewing.

"We are heavily invested in East Downtown Houston, and we felt that our latest development 'The Block' was a perfect location for a coworking concept," says Michael Sperandio, founding partner of Ancorian. "We work very hard to choose tenants that fit each specific development we create. After meeting Nick Clark and Dawson Williams of Common Desk, we felt like they were the best operators in the coworking space industry."

Houston's Common Desk location will have a warehouse feel and is expected to feature various amenities and member perks, including:

  • Fitness and wellness center concept, complete with towels and shower facilities
  • Outdoor patio and terrarium
  • Multi-level seating
  • Wet bar and shared kitchen
  • Skylights that will bring in natural lighting
  • Event space
  • Murals and local art

"This group puts together all the necessary elements to draw people into their workspaces," Sperandio continues. "They focus on great design, thoughtful and functional space layout, and they have created an energetic and comfortable environment that attracts new members and keeps existing members loyal to the Common Desk brand. We feel that Common Desk's vision for an experiential workspace will make this one of the best locations to work in the entire city."

Houston's Common Desk members will have access to other Texas locations. Courtesy of Common Desk

Spaces plans to open a new location in Houston this month, Chevron Technology Ventures invests in autonomous vehicle tech, and more Houston innovation news. Courtesy of Spaces

New coworking space to open, Houston to host Accenture's health tech awards, and more innovation news

Short stories

A lot is happening in the Houston innovation ecosystem — so much that you may have missed a few key news items. Let's hit the highlights, shall we?

Applications are open for major health tech awards program that is coming to town, a Houston corporate venture fund doles out cash to self-driving cars, new coworking space to deliver, a diversity-focused partnership launches, and more Houston innovation news.

Chevron Technology Ventures invests in self-driving cars

Voyage is growing its fleet of self-driving vehicles with the help of a Houston corporate VC fund. Photo via voyage.auto

Silicon Valley's Voyage, a self-driving car technology company, closed its series B round at $31 million. Houston-based Chevron Technology Ventures contributed to the round.

The round's funds will go toward expanding the company's fleet of G2 autonomous vehicles in California and Florida, as well as introduce Voyage's G3 self-driving car, Oliver Cameron, co-founder and CEO at Voyage, writes in a release.

"Chevron has been supporting the public's transportation needs for over 100 years. As our customers' mobility needs and preferences change, we want to continue to be part of their journeys. Our investment in Voyage affirms this commitment," says Barbara Burger, CTV president, in a release. "We established the Future Energy Fund in 2018 with an initial commitment of $100 million to invest in breakthrough technologies that enable the ongoing energy transition. The fund looks for technologies that lower emissions and support low carbon value chains. Our investment in Voyage fits well within the objectives of the Future Energy Fund while also informing our perspective on the changing energy landscape."

Accenture to close out health tech challenge in Houston

accenture

The national challenge will conclude in Houston. Courtesy of Accenture

Applications are open for the fourth annual Accenture HealthTech Innovation Challenge and close on September 22. Finalists will present to judges from global health companies at one of two regional events — in Boston on Nov. 7 or in San Francisco on Dec. 5. The final judging event will take place in Houston on February 6, 2020.

"We look forward to this year's submissions as we continue to identify bold ideas from startups that deliver new solutions for health organizations to improve the lives of consumers, clinicians and employees," says Brian Kalis, managing director of digital health and innovation at Accenture, in a release. "Since its inception, the Accenture HealthTech Innovation Challenge has brought healthcare organizations and startups together to tackle the world's biggest health issues where we have received more than 2,200 applications, invited more than 90 startups to compete and who have benefitted from the guidance of nearly 1,000 executive judges from the healthcare industry."

The submission form, including additional details about the challenge's criteria, eligibility, and requirements, is available at: Accenture HealthTech Innovation Challenge-Health.

GotSpot wins pitch competition

Reda Hicks claimed the win at a military spouse pitch event. Trish Alegre-Smith/Military.com

Reda Hicks, who founded Houston-based GotSpot Inc., won a $15,000 check from the StreetShares Foundation and Samuel Adams' Brewing the American Dream at the Great American Military Entrepreneur at the Military Influencer Conference in Washington, D.C.

GotSpot is a website that allows for people with commercial space — a commercial kitchen, conference room, spare desks, etc. — to list it. Then, space seekers — entrepreneurs, nonprofits, freelancers, etc. — can rent it.

"This award is a game-changer for me," Hicks says to Military.com. "This will allow me to hire more incredible military spouses and help GotSpot on its path to go global."

Rice University launches new sports business course

Rice University

Rice University has a new sports business program. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Rice University, along with the Houston Texans, is introducing a new program for the university's sport management students. Pro Sports: Management is a course designed to teach the business side of the sports world.

"We are thrilled to partner with Rice University on a curriculum that will provide their best and brightest students with insight into the real-world opportunities and challenges facing today's sports teams," says Houston Texans President Jamey Rootes in a release from Rice. "This program is rather unique because our leading executives will work alongside Rice professors to teach current best practices in franchise management across every discipline. We believe that this type of practical industry exposure is the best way to prepare the next generation of leaders in the field of sports management and a valuable contribution to the level of professionalism within our industry."

The classes will be held weekly in the executive offices of the Texans. The course will cover ticketing, public relations, event management, human resources and more.

Spaces plans to open second coworking location in Houston

Spaces, an Amsterdam-based coworking space company that entered the Houston market with a lease in Kirby Grove announced in 2017, plans to open its newest location this month. Courtesy of Spaces

The new Spaces CityCentre One location is planned to open on Monday, September 30. It's the Amsterdam-based company's second coworking space in Houston, with a third already in the works. The first location was in Kirby Grove in 2017, and Spaces Galleria at Post Oak will be opening in the second quarter of 2020.

The CityCentre One location will have over 60,000 square-feet of workspace with perks, including a business club, dedicated desk space, private offices, and seven fully-equipped meeting rooms. Plus, the building is just steps away from CityCentre, a mixed-use development with restaurants, entertainment, housing, and more. Membership pricing starts at $111 a month at the new location.

Cemvita Factory receives more backing from oil and gas industry

Cemvita Factory Cemvita Factory

Houston-based Cemvita Factory, a biotech company that can mimick photosynthesis and convert CO2 into glucose and other substances, has received equity investment from BHP. The amount of the investment was not disclosed.

The investment will help Cemvita Factory continue to develop its biomimicry technology for oil and gas applications to reduce the volume of greenhouse gas emissions.

"This strategic investment fits well with BHP's vision of the future: reducing operational greenhouse gas emissions, reducing environmental impact and the development of low-emissions technology, including increased application of carbon capture, utilization and storage technology," says BHP's chief geoscientist, Laura Tyler, in a release.

Last month, Occidental Petroleum's low carbon subsidiary, Oxy Low Carbon Ventures LLC, announced it invested an undisclosed amount of funds into Cemvita Factory.

Two organizations join forces to promote diversity in the Houston Startup Scene

Impact Hub Houston and The Cannon have teamed up to grow programming and events surrounding diversity. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

In an effort to promote diversity and inclusion within the Houston innovation ecosystem, The Cannon and Impact Hub Houston have teamed up. The collaboration will drive programming and events geared at growing the conversation and resources for startups and entrepreneurs.

"One of Houston's best differentiating qualities is that we are truly a melting pot," says Lawson Gow, founder and CEO of The Cannon, in a news release. "We want our community to reflect the amazing diversity across our city, so we have to move beyond simply discussing diversity and work to create an environment where innovation can thrive and real change can happen. We are confident Impact Hub will be the perfect partner to bring those aspects to our community."

Gow, who is the son of InnovationMap's parent company's CEO, opened the doors to its new 120,000-square-foot facility in July. Impact Hub Houston will have a presence in the space.

"Over the past few years, Lawson and I have brainstormed how we could work together to connect and grow our region's innovation ecosystem and demonstrate how organizations can evolve from competition to true collaboration," says Grace Rodriguez, CEO and Executive Director of Impact Hub Houston, in the release. "I'm so excited that those talks have developed into this partnership: Through The Cannon and Impact Hub Houston, we'll be able to effectively 'meet people where they are' geographically, socially, and culturally, helping diverse entrepreneurs and startups at the myriad intersections of place, purpose, demographics, psychographics, and business growth stages."

Houston innovator nominated for prestigious Silicon Valley award

Alley Lyles is up for an award for her work in digital transformation.

Alley Lyles, digital transformation manager at Direct Energy and Houston startup mentor, was nominated for a Women in IT - Silicon Valley award as Transformation Leader of the Year. The awards event is on October 9.

She is up against Emily Dunn at Anaplan, Windy Garrett at Atos, Manju Abraham at Delphix, Aashima Gupta at Google, Patricia Grant at ServiceNow, and Nataliya Anon at Svitla Systems.

"I am proud to represent Houston in Silicon Valley. The Houston hustle is real. I see it amongst my colleagues who got me here. The hustle isn't always glamorous, so I appreciate the moment when a kid from the East End can shine."

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Houston energy tech investment group rebrands to address sustainability

Seeing green

As the pandemic took its hold on the economy and the energy industry's commodity crisis did its damage, Patrick Lewis understandably assumed that maybe sustainability initiatives might be on the back burner for his network of energy companies.

"We thought we would hear that sustainability in this environment may have slipped down the priority list, but it was the exact opposite," Lewis says. "Pretty consistently across all the operators, sustainability, reducing emissions, and greenhouse gases — those are all even more important today."

This confirmation that the energy industry is committed to innovative sustainability projects led Lewis to rebrand his energy tech investment group from BBL Ventures to Sustainability Ventures Group, or SVG. The investment team focuses on reverse engineering the startup innovation process by sourcing the concerns and goals of the energy companies, then finding solutions from the startup world through reverse pitch competitions and challenges.

"We're not fundamentally changing our business model or investment strategy, but we just wanted to make sure our messaging was crystal clear," Lewis tells InnovationMap.

Lewis says he and his team really thought through the definition of sustainability, and he specifies that, "we're not doing this to go chase solar or wind power — those are on the table — but we think there are two primary opportunities: Digital transformation and emerging technologies in the existing fossil fuel industry," Lewis says.

He adds that oil and gas is going to be around for a long time still, and he cites that by 2040, it's predicted that 40 percent of energy will still come from fossil fuels. It's the big energy companies and providers — which he's working with — that have the power to move the needle on these changes.

"We think there's a real opportunity to pursue efficiencies and reduce emissions and footprint in that existing traditional oil and gas sector," he says.

Earlier this year, Lewis was addressing these concerns by working on standing up a group of industry experts for regular meetings to discuss innovation needs. What started as a call with a handful of people, now hosts 40 people across 14 energy operator and major tech platforms.

"The whole purpose of this group is to share best practices, collaborate on common pain points, risk manage pilots," Lewis says. "We continue to build that group — it's going to be a nonprofit governed by a steering committee."

While SVG has held off on its reverse pitch events, the organization along with the University of Houston Center for Carbon Management submitted a proposal to host the National Science Foundation's Convergence Acceleratoronvergence Accelerator virtual conference at the end of September.

"The goal is to bring together multidisciplinary stakeholders — industry, nonprofit, academics, NGOs, public policy experts — to solve big problems," Lewis says. "Sustainability is a problem they really want to address."

Rice University's data-focused lab presents unique opportunity for startups and small businesses

data to knowlege

A data-focused lab a 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 staff 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."

UH: How biotech companies are withstanding the pandemic

Houston voices

At a time when the business world is reeling, biotech companies are still hanging on. Many biotech startups have successfully pivoted their entire platforms to focus on coronavirus-related work.

Of course, these companies aren't without their struggles. Clinical trials have come to a pause, finding investors has become more difficult and financing rounds have been surceased.

Even then, there are many biotech startups that have managed to snag government loans via the Paycheck Protection Program among other financial assistance. According to Vivian Doelling, the vice president of emerging company development at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, COVID-19 has not impacted the bio science industry as much as it has others.

"Some of the smaller biotech companies have pivoted research to be more COVID-centric. This is also true particularly for companies with open platforms or who were developing products in the antiviral space," Doelling told BioSpace, an online biotech publication.

"To add to that, there are research organizations that are receiving more pandemic-centric business from biotech. And that includes clinical trial work," she continued.

Ongoing biotech challenges

It's no surprise that there have been some concerns regarding the delay of clinical trials for products that have nothing to do with coronavirus. It is feared that the delays might create product pipeline problems in the long run. See, companies usually file patent applications before trials even start. So, delays in clinical trials, according to Doelling, "could take up a big chunk of the time in which treatments can have patent exclusivity before generic competition intensifies."

Delays negatively impact smaller biotech startups. These startups' futures typically rely on the success rate of trial outcomes. Any delay in these trials subsequently hurts the small biotech startup. But, even then, the pandemic still doesn't seem to be affecting these startups.

Investment blues

"The expectation is investors are going to hold back more funds than they projected for their portfolio companies. There could be less funding available for new investments," expressed Doelling. However, it is her belief that biotech companies are hot investments right now, and sees new investments on the horizon.

"Investors are cautious at the moment," said Marty Rosendale, the CEO of the Maryland Tech Council, to BioSpace. "They're going to analyze their own portfolio to make sure those companies are solid."

Rosendale, echoing Doelling's investment concerns, says investors want to be more careful right now. They are making it a point to invest less money, which makes it difficult for startups seeking funding.

Keep on keeping on

Many startups are continuing to operate because they've found their rhythm in the virtual workplace. "I have not come across any biotech startup that has closed its doors during the pandemic," Rosendale said. "Sure, some have faced delays and temporarily stopped operations, but overall, haven't heard of any closing for good."

There are a few forces at play when it comes to helping biotech startups stay afloat during the pandemic storm. Landlords are forgiving rent and government loans are helping companies pay employees. "I know of companies that have been out there fundraising since the beginning of the COVID crisis. And they're still out there doing it," Rosendale said. "But I still haven't heard of one company that was forced to end or even delay a round of funding, not one."

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Rene Cantu, the author of this piece, is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.