The annual survey revealed that the percentage of Houston-area residents who had a positive view of the local job market dropped slightly. Photo via Getty Images

Few studies gauge the barometric pressure of the Bayou City like the Kinder Houston Area Survey.

Designed to take the temperature of the general population, the study — now in its 40th year — reveals a Houston citizenry optimistic about its personal futures, per the report.

A little about the study before delving in: The report was conducted by the esteemed Stephen Klineberg, founding director of Rice University's Kinder Institute for Urban Research and emeritus professor of sociology; and Robert Bozick, senior research fellow at the Kinder Institute.

This new survey was unveiled at the Kinder Institute's "Lunch-Out" recent virtual event. Interviews of some 1,051 Harris County adults were conducted between January 18 and March 29 by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

The full report is available online.

The No. 1 concern

Public health concerns, while rarely registering in previous surveys, were cited as the biggest problem facing Houstonians this year, according to a press release. Some 25 percent of respondents cited the pandemic or health-related issues.

Others — 20 percent — pointed to the economy as the biggest problem, that's up from 13 percent last year. Only 14 percent cited crime, and traffic dropped to 13 percent, down from 30 percent last year.

Highlighting a national socioeconomic disparity, 58 percent of Blacks and 66 percent of Hispanics said they had to risk exposure to the coronavirus to keep their jobs during the past year, per the report. That's compared to 41 percent of Asians and only 36 percent of whites.

Additionally, the report notes that Blacks and Hispanics were more likely (at 73 percent and 67 percent, respectively) to know someone who was hospitalized with or died as a result of having COVID-19, compared with whites (57 percent) and Asians (40 percent).

Mental health issues have arisen as a serious problem in equal numbers across ethnic communities. More than 50 percent of respondents — in all four groups — reported feeling more stress and experiencing more emotional problems during the past year, compared with 2020.

Jobs and the economy

Though Houston is an opportunity city, the Kinder Survey revealed that the percentage of Houston-area residents who had a positive view of the local job market dropped slightly, to 61 percent this year from 68 percent in 2020.

A mere 21 percent reported their economic situations were getting better, down from 34 percent in 2020. Notably — for the first time in the 40 years — of the survey, more respondents (25 percent) said their financial situations were getting worse than getting better.

Blacks and Hispanics were also more likely than Asians and whites to have experienced a loss of income and to have received help from government programs in the past year.

Race relations, immigration, and inequity

Positive ratings of relations among ethnic groups in the Houston area declined across the board, especially among Blacks. Whites and Hispanics were significantly more likely than in previous years to agree that Blacks are still a long way from having the same opportunities in life as whites.

The number of people who said the criminal justice system is biased against Blacks increased to 54 percent from 32 percent in 2015, when the question was last asked, per a release.

Weather, religion, and politics

Area residents were less likely than in previous surveys to say it's virtually certain the region will experience more severe storms in coming years (59 percent in 2021, compared with 81 percent in 2018 and 2020).

The number of religious Houstonians continues to decline, with more people than ever indicating they are not part of any faith tradition (22 percent today, compared with 8 percent in 2008) and do not consider religion to be an important part of their lives (26 percent, compared with 10 percent in 2008), per the study.

Meanwhile, 45 percent of those surveyed said they felt closer to the Democratic Party this year, while only 25 percent voiced support for the Republican Party.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houstonians gained valuable time on the road in 2020. Photo by LUNAMARINA/Getty Images

New study drives home how drastically Houston traffic dropped in 2020

data-driven

Houstonians are still gauging all that they have lost during the pandemic, but one thing they gained in 2020 was time — specifically, in traffic.

Drivers who noticed less cars on the roads were witnessing a 33 percent drop in traffic in 2020, compared to 2019. That data comes courtesy of a new study by Rice University's Kinder Institute for Urban Research.

Houston traffic congestion levels dropped from 24 percent to an impressive 16 percent during the pandemic. In April, during the peak of area stay-at-home efforts, Houston's congestion level plummeted to 6 percent, the lowest of the year. February saw the highest congestion level of 2020 at 26 percent.

For some perspective, in 2019, a 30-minute took an extra 37.5 minutes than a trip during less congested conditions, the study notes.

Further illustrating the headache of 2019 commuting, local drivers lost some 119 hours of extra travel time during peak hours. The study also found that in 2019, Houston drivers lost 119 hours of extra travel time driving during peak hours.

Compare that to 2020, where local drivers lost a mere 71 hours of travel time, which is two full days less than 2019. What can one do with an extra two days? Besides the obvious Netflix and chill option, that savings offers enough time to read 3,588 pages of Marcel Proust's 4,211-page whopper, In Search of Lost Time, the study notes.

Less cars on the road was extremely beneficial for the environment, the study adds. U.S. greenhouse gas emission from energy and industry dropped more than 10 percent in 2020 — the lowest recorded level in 30 years.

Thus, the good news is that with more Houstonians working from home, commute times and the local environment benefitted. However, the study notes that with the advent of COVD vaccinations, a subsequent return to work, and with no real policy changes planned, Houston's traffic headaches could soon return.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Houston unicorn fintech company launches new B2B education platform

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Houston-based HighRadius — which recently hit $1 billion valuation, reaching unicorn status — has launched a new learning platform.

Highako Academy by HighRadius, launched the platform to help credit and collections teams build certain skills faster. Highako features over 650 expert-led videos, community forums, and resources. The new on-the-job training platform, which announced its launch this week, is used by more than 2,800 companies, according to a press release.

"Our customers have asked us for an online self-service learning platform, and that led us to launch highako.com as a beta platform last year," says HighRadius COO Urvish Vashi in the release. "With 10,000+ users on the platform and a vibrant partner ecosystem consisting of credit groups, collection agencies, attorneys and industry associations, we see this echoing a larger trend of millennials and Gen Z gravitating towards microlearning platforms."

In honor of the launch of Highako Academy, the organization has announced plans for Credit SkillCon '21, a lunch-and-learn event from June 16 to July 20. The 53 live workshops, panel discussions, and on-demand sessions will focus on topics including negotiations, credit risk assessment, bankruptcy litigation, collections strategy and more. .

"We continually hear from members about wanting more and different educational options," says Jon Flora, president and CEO of NACM Business Credit Service. "The last year has changed much about how we answer this call, and now we have a solution. We are the first NACM affiliate to partner with Highako Academy."

HighRadius and its AI-powered SaaS technology, which streamlines accounts-receivable and cash-management processes, are growing fast. The company, which processes over $2.23 trillion in receivables transactions annually, per the release, raised $300 million in March. At the time of that raise, HighRadius, founded in 2006, employed more than 1,000 people around the world — and was hiring.

"Our goal has always been to build a long-lasting business that outlasts all of us," Sashi Narahari, founder and CEO of HighRadius, said in the news release. "I look forward to working with [our] high-quality, long-term investors, who share a common vision of transforming the office of the CFO using a combination of artificial intelligence built on top of connected-finance workspaces and embedded analytics."

Autonomous delivery company joins forces with FedEx for new pilot in Houston

self-driving mail

A tech company with self-driving robots deployed across Houston delivering pizza, groceries, and more has yet again launched a new pilot program — this time focused on parcel delivery.

Nuro and FedEx announced a new partnership to deploy Nuro's technology for last-mile delivery at a large scale with FedEx.

"FedEx was built on innovation, and it continues to be an integral part of our culture and business strategy," says Rebecca Yeung, vice president of advanced technology and innovation at FedEx, in a news release. "We are excited to collaborate with an industry leader like Nuro as we continue to explore the use of autonomous technologies within our operations."

The new pilot, which began in April, according to the release, is the latest in the FedEx portfolio of autonomous same-day and specialty delivery devices. The partnership allows for FedEx to be able to explore various use cases for autonomous vehicle logistics, like multi-stop and appointment-based deliveries. Meanwhile for Nuro, it's the company's first expansion into parcel logistics.

"Working with FedEx—the global leader in logistics—is an incredible opportunity to rethink every aspect of local delivery. This multi-year commitment will allow us to truly collaborate and bring Nuro's powerful technology to more people in new ways, and eventually reach large-scale deployment," says Cosimo Leipold, Nuro's head of partnerships, in the release. "Our collaboration will enable innovative, industry-first product offerings that will better everyday life and help make communities safer and greener."

California-based Nuro has launched a few delivery pilots in Houston over the past few years, including the first Nuro pilot program with Kroger in March 2019, grocery delivery from Walmart that was revealed in December 2019, and pharmacy delivery that launched last summer. The most recent pilot program — pizza delivery with Domino's — officially went live in Woodland Heights earlier this year.

Nuro's expansion in Houston has a lot to do with the legislation that's happening at the state level. Last year, Nuro was granted its exemption petition from the United States Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This move is a first for DOT, and it allowed Nuro to roll out its vehicles on public roads without the features of traditional, passenger-carrying vehicles — like side mirrors or windshields, for instance.

The city also just offers a lot of opportunities to try out various neighborhoods and environments.

"As a company, we tried to find a city that would allow us to test a number of different things to figure out what really works and who it works for," Nuro Product Operations Manager Sola Lawal says an episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It's hard to find cities that are better than Houston at enabling that level of testing."

Lessons in prototyping: Figuring out the best type of prototype

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As you continue your journey of developing and bringing a new product to the market, you have a series of decisions to make when it comes to prototyping — whether you're going to launch a hardware or a software product, or the combination of both — you need to have a prototype made.

Before you begin, there are a number of things to consider. In an article for InnovationMap last week, I looked at major choice points and their implications that will help you navigate the process in the most efficient way.

After you successfully laid the foundation for the development process and got you CAD models ready, you arrive at the next choice. Prior to making a prototype of your invention you need to decide what type of prototype you're going to build. Whether you're making it yourself or hiring a rapid prototyping company, you need to know the purpose your prototype will fulfil because it will help to select proper methods, techniques, and materials for building. With that in mind, let's go through the types of prototypes and purposes behind building them.

Types of Prototypes

Mockup

This type is usually used as a simple representation of your product idea, to gauge physical dimensions and see its rough look. It's especially useful for making physical models of complex and large products without investing a significant amount from the start. Mockup is perfect for initial market research and various types of early testing.

Proof of concept

This type of prototype is built when you need to validate your idea and prove that it can be realized. It comes in handy when approaching potential partners and investors.

Functional prototype

This kind of prototype is also called a "looks- and works-like" model because it has both technical and visual features of the product presented. It is used for testing product's functionality, conducting consumer surveys, and fundraising campaigns.

Pre-production prototype

This is the most complex type that is made at the latest stage of product development. It's used for ergonomics, manufacturability, and material testing, as well as to minimize risks of defects during manufacturing. This is a model that manufacturers use to produce the final product.

Choosing to Partner with Prototyping Company

It's important to note that prototyping is an iterative process. It is a fusion of art and science that helps you to uncover the full potential of your product, which in turn increases its chances for market success. Therefore, you will likely go through several types of prototypes, with each kind usually requiring a few versions to achieve the parameters you set for the model.

And this process also requires help of a company that builds prototypes or of a professional product development team. You can start looking for the one after you made your first mockup or proof of concept. It is recommended because creating more complex prototypes implies the use of sophisticated equipment, sourcing of materials and components that could be too expensive or complicated to do without an established network of suppliers. Plus, skills and experience play a huge role in creating quality prototypes. Taking all three factors – equipment, experience and skills - into account, it's smart to outsource your prototyping needs to a professional company.

This article is a follow up article to my post from last week. I have also previously contributed to guest columns on the following:

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Onega Ulanova is the founder of OKGlobal.