Liu Idea Lab's Carol Tyger shares her experience on product managing for a tech startup. Getty Images

Consider planning a wedding. An impossible task of delivering a grand, completely personal event for all sorts of guests at a minimal cost.

At first, my fiance and I were freaking out because we heard that wedding planning is full of hidden costs and impossible expectations. But then the light bulb went off: that sounds a lot like my job as a product manager (PM). I can be the PM of my own wedding! I knew I wanted to provide a kick-ass party (great experience) for every guest (users) with limited resources (efficiently maximizing value).

Relying on my product manager skills, my fiancé and I started off by considering our goals and removing assumptions. I even conducted some user interviews by asking my friends what they value in weddings. Then we defined the "Wedding Minimum Viable Product (MVP)" and organized ourselves like a software team with a backlog and kanban board.

In the end, the wedding was a huge success. It felt just like a major software product release…from the planning to the execution. Product management is all about making a great user experience, maximizing value and working efficiently. In other words, it is a foundation for getting things done that can be applied to almost any situation.

Ultimately, as a product manager, you build an entrepreneurial mindset that can be applied to any future role. At the bare minimum, the PM is responsible for providing detailed requests for the tech team to build. But to be a great PM, it takes a lot more.

You rely on empathy. Product managers are the voice of the user for both the business and the tech team. To understand the user, you conduct user interviews, gather market analysis and collaborate with internal groups – exploring all corners of the organization – to determine user needs. Skilled product managers don't directly ask users what they want, but instead, understand through observation. You will be using various types of user data before and after software releases to forecast and measure the impact of innovations made.

You strengthen soft skills. It doesn't matter how technical you are if you don't have good rapport within the organization. The basics begin with communicating effectively, remaining flexible, acknowledging bad decisions and being comfortable with the unknown. The best product managers have built enough trust throughout the organization to lead at a senior level despite not having direct authority.

You strategize. You must understand the users, software cycle, and business needs well enough to plan months – even years – ahead while listening to and setting expectations with everyone involved. You will be blazing trails and solving new problems. The company will rely on you to operate with integrity while continuously innovating. Your entrepreneurial mindset will make setting the strategy second nature.

The entrepreneurial mindset and product management responsibilities hone skills that are not only transferable to future roles, but to your life in general. Whether you are preparing for a major software release or planning a fantastic party, your entrepreneurial mindset and product management skills will help you succeed.

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Carol Tyger is Lilie's product management expert-in-residence and was head of product at Spruce, a Houston-founded managed marketplace for apartment residents to book services such as housekeeping.

This article originally appeared on Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship's blog.

Ope Amosu, a Rice University MBA grad, practiced a lot of lean startup techniques when starting his restaurant business, ChòpnBlọk. Photo via Instagram

Here's what lean startup tips founders can learn from this Houston restaurateur and Rice University MBA

Houston voices

It was one of those toasty, 95-degree evenings in late September in Houston, and we were clinking our craft cocktails to a full house at ChòpnBlọk's latest pop up concept – the fifth restaurant takeover in his series. I don't know what was hotter… outside, the vibe, or the spice in the ata rodo (scotch bonnet) maple syrup our plantain pancakes were lathered in. But one thing is for sure, as he prepares to open a brick and mortar location in 2020, Ope Amosu, a Rice University MBA graduate and the founder of ChòpnBlọk, is proving himself to be a mean, lean (startup) machine.

After getting his MBA from Rice Business in 2014, he began traveling extensively for work and was frustrated with his inability to easily access authentic West African cuisine in Houston and beyond. He was able to conveniently experience other cultures through successful restaurant concepts, but not his own. So in order to see if he had what it take to bring high quality, convenient West African inspired cuisine to Texas, he did what every MBA graduate dreams of: he rolled up his sleeves and secured a part-time job working the line at Chipotle.

Chipotle taught Ope the art of restaurant operations, and he made money learning it. Pulling together his lessons learned, he began building out his business plan. He identified a large West African population in Houston that was being under-served and was confident in his ability to address this market gap with his fast-casual concept. From his time working with various engineering groups, he knew that he needed to test his idea early so he could fail early and fail fast without breaking the bank.

This led to the inception of ChòpnBlọk. Ope knew acquiring a food truck would be too timely and too expensive, so he went a more creative, cost–effective route. He began hosting private dinners where his guests experienced a multi-course dining program rich with West African flavor.

Those full and happy guests unknowingly were participating in a fun focus group. He leveraged these dinners to collect data from each diner. What did they recommend he charge per meal? Did they like what they were eating? What was their current dining out behaviors? After hosting over ten smaller private dinners, he had collected valuable pieces of information that would inform his business plan including:

  1. He had market data from over 200 diners.
  2. He proved that there was an appetite for West African cuisine in Houston. His fears that the common stigmas about African culture would hinder his growth seemed unfounded.
  3. He quickly optimized operational efficiency in feeding his guests.

Having validated customer demand, honed in on customer preferences, and demonstrated that the market opportunity he believed existed could be captured, all without taking on investors, it was time to take the next step. ChòpnBlọk began efforts to scale, finding a way to re-engage customers who were hungry for more.

This is how the pop-up experiences came to life. With his restaurant takeovers, Ope is able to serve well over 100 paying customers per dinner and gain all the operational know-how that goes along with such an affair. In a risk-free environment, he gets to test various creative concepts and fine-tune logistics…all with almost zero overhead and very minimal risk.

You can probably guess what is next. It should come as no surprise that ChòpnBlọk has been approached by funders and developers to launch a brick and mortar location for 2020. With hundreds of paying customers, a net promoter score staying high at 9/10, and an entrepreneur's tenacity like his, I have a feeling ChòpnBlọk will be coming for Chipotle in just a matter of time.

Want to learn more? Visit their website and follow them on Instagram.

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Caitlin Bolanos is the senior associate director at the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship.

This article originally appeared on Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship's blog.

While everyone always looks to Silicon Valley as the model of the ideal startup ecosystem, Houston is forging its own path. Getty Images

Houston isn't Silicon Valley — and that's a good thing, according to these experts

Houston Voices

As WeWork's fall from grace continues to dominate the headlines and we monitor the slew of layoffs and dipping share prices afflicting this year's Silicon Valley darlings, we reflect on Houston's own startup ecosystem. How are Houston startups and investors similar to and different from Silicon Valley early-stage deals? What are the drivers and factors that may be unique to Houston and how do they influence outcomes?

Jamie Jones, executive director of Lilie, sat down with early stage investor and Rice Business alum, Dougal Cameron of Golden Section Technology Venture Capital (GSTVC), to discuss the Houston startup and funding ecosystem. From that discussion, a number of key features emerged:

From Cameron's experience, Houston investors have historically focused on unit economics and profitability, in addition to top line growth, as their key performance measures. As an enterprise software investor, he notes that an indicator of a healthy venture that warrants early stage investment is one where profitability can be achieved as the venture reaches the $1 million revenue mark. Cameron, like other early stage investors in Houston, are interested in ventures that produce sustainable growth not only growth for growth's sake.

While early stage investment capital in Houston does flow, it does not do so at the same check sizes and the same velocity that you may see in Silicon Valley. Analysis of Pitchbook data indicates that Houston firms raised $28.1M in seed and early-stage funding in Q3 2019 versus $2.86B for Silicon Valley based ventures. The belief is that the density of the capital network in Silicon Valley means that if you get one $500,000 check then you will very likely to get others. Cameron noted that he believes the effects of loss aversion are on full display — no firm wants to be the one that passes on the next Google.

However, in Houston, entrepreneurs must be scrappy to pull together funding and ensuring they hit milestones along the way in order to drive scarcer investment into their ventures. From Cameron's perspective, Houston entrepreneurs own their cash balance and strive to keep their overhead low by working out of cheaper spaces, leveraging friends and family to contribute to the venture in its early days, etc.

With fewer investment dollars flowing in Houston, the use of Simple Agreements for Future Equity (SAFEs), which are common in Silicon Valley, are rarely used in Houston. Why? Cameron believes that using unpriced and loosely binding agreements may work in an ecosystem where startups are pushed for rapid top-line growth and may be burning through tens-of-thousands of dollars per month and will need to raise capital quickly, which will drive a pricing event. However, in Houston, investors may prefer arrangements that provide some downside risk.

Examples include convertible notes that include a lien on assets, which would be virtually unheard of in Silicon Valley, or through priced fundraising rounds. Without broad and deep capital networks and the pressure of rapid top-line growth, near term pricing events are not guaranteed, pushing Houston investors to prefer other deal structures.

While everyone agrees that Houston and the robust startup ecosystem that is growing across the city needs more cash to catalyze growth, Cameron firmly believes that new capital coming into the city must be the right type of capital. Capital that will not negatively distort the ecosystem by driving early-stage entrepreneurs to strive for top-line growth that is not sustainable through a profitable business model. This type of capital will not offer exorbitantly-sized seed rounds removing the entrepreneur's need to be scrappy and cost conscious.

We must understand that many Houston entrepreneurs seek to build businesses that have lasting impact and are not only "growing to close," the model Silicon Valley seems to have embraced over the past 7 to 10 years. Cameron is nervous that first big checks that come from outside Houston will push unprofitable businesses forward and will sour the market for local investors that are starting to engage in startup-investing.

While everyone always looks to Silicon Valley as the model of the ideal startup ecosystem, Houston may offer a look into the model of the future — one that is focused on building durable, profitable businesses by right-sizing growth over the venture's life-cycle. For Houston-based entrepreneurs, this means the opportunity to access capital that emphasizes sustainable, smart growth.

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Jamie Jones, executive director of the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship at Rice University, and Dougal Cameron, managing director of Gold Section Technology Ventures and 2013 Rice Business alum, wrote this article for LILIE.

This article originally appeared on Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship's blog.

Check out these panels, networking meetups, and more. Getty Images

10+ can't-miss Houston business and innovation events for February

Where to be

Despite the short month, Houston will play host to tons of innovation networking, panel, and meetup events throughout the month of February. And, it's a leap year, so take that as an opportunity to jump into the startup ecosystim in town.

If you know of innovation-focused events for this month or next, email me at natalie@innovationmap.com with the details and subscribe to our daily newsletter that sends fresh stories straight to your inboxes every morning.

February 4 — How AI Can Boost Your Business with Ryan Shirzadi of Tekrevol

How can artificial intelligence help grow your business? Specifically, Ryan Shirzadi of Tekrevol will be covering the social impacts, industries affected, why you need an AI strategy, and how AI can help small businesses grow. Networking will follow the discussion and pizza will be provided by Tekrevol.

Details: The event is from 6 to 7:30 pm on Tuesday, February 4, at Station Houston (1301 Fannin Street, Suite 2440). Learn more.

February 5 — Meet and Greet with Pat Matthews, CEO & Founder of Active Capital

Meet Active Capital's founder and CEO, Pat Matthews. Rakesh Agrawal, founder and CEO of Snapstream, will interview Matthews followed up by an open Q&A and conversation with the audience.

Details: The event is from 5:30 to 6:45 pm on Wednesday, February 5, at WeWork (708 Main Street, 3rd Floor). Learn more.

February 5 — Houston Social Entrepreneurship Meetup

The meetup brings together like-minded individuals from the nonprofit, social enterprise, impact investing, technology and many other fields to understand the concept of social entrepreneurship and be inspired to find new ways to tackle local social issues. At each meetup, you'll get an intro to social entrepreneurship, hear from a social entrepreneur in Houston, and network with other changemakers from across the entrepreneur ecosystem.

Details: The event is from 5:30 to 7:30 pm on Wednesday, February 5, at Impact Hub Houston @ The Cannon Downtown (1801 Main St., 13th Floor). Learn more.

February 6 — Fail Forward presented by Frost Bank

Join BakerRipley and Frost Bank for an evening of #FailForward fun and get real, behind-the-scenes stories straight from entrepreneurs on the challenges they faced trying to access and raise funding for their small business or startups.

Details: The event is from 6 to 8 pm on Thursday, February 6, at BakerRipley Center (4450 Harrisburg Blvd.). Learn more.

February 12 — The Impact of AI on Automation and the Future of the Workforce

Technology and innovation are rapidly changing how we do and think about work. This panel event seeks to bring together respected leaders in the corporate and entrepreneurial worlds to have meaningful conversations on AI, automation and the future of workforce.

Details: The event is from 6:30 to 9 pm on Wednesday, February 12, at GA Houston (1301 Fannin St, Floor 21). Learn more.

February 13 — Female Founders Breakfast with Baker Botts and The Artemis Fund

Baker Botts L.L.P. and The Artemis Fund have come together to bring you a breakfast panel discussion on how a good corporate governance system and a little corporate housekeeping can avoid larger messes down the road.

Details: The event is from 8:30 to 10:30 am on Thursday, February 13, at Baker Botts (910 Louisiana St., 32nd Floor). Learn more.

February 18 — How She Got There: Women Leaders in Tech

Join General Assembly for an evening good conversation with a panel of females in tech. These inspirational women will share their stories on how they got to where they are today and share their insights into being a woman in business and tech.

Details: The event is from 6:30 to 9 pm on Tuesday, February 18, at GA Houston (1301 Fannin St, Floor 21). Learn more.

February 19 — Houston Angel Summit

Join the Houston Angel Network for its bi-annual summit. Attendees will learn the basics of angel investing as well as hear from experts on the topics of term sheets and tax implication of early stage investing. This event is open to accredited investors, HAN members and individuals from our partnership organizations. The price of attendance — $100 — will be applied to annual membership if attendees decide to join the Houston Angel Network.

Details: The event is from 9 am to 3 pm on Wednesday, February 19, at Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Cambridge Building at Rice University). Learn more.

February 20 — The Five W's of Holding Your First, First-in-Human Trial

Who, what, when, where and why to hold your first, first-in-human clinical trial? JLABS has tapped into experts in the field from Johnson & Johnson, CROs and agencies to help you answer these questions and more.

Details: The event is from 11:30 am to 2 pm on Thursday, February 20, at JLABS @ TMC (2450 Holcombe Blvd.). Learn more.

February 20 — Bunker Brews Houston: How to be Mentored in Your Business

Lots of entrepreneurs fail to seek out mentors, and struggle in silence and isolation because of it. Some will find great mentors, but fail to recognize the unspoken rules of the road to acquire, activate, and maintain a mentor-mentee relationship. Hear from some great local mentors of business owners.

Details: The event is from 6 to 8 pm on Thursday, February 20, at MassChallenge (1313 Main St., Suite 210). Learn more.

February 20 — Rising Stars in Houston Health Tech

Join General Assembly for an epic night with some of the Houston's most inspiring healthtech founders and leaders. In a candid discussion, they'll share their stories and insights.

Details: The event is from 6:30 to 9 pm on Thursday, February 20, at GA Houston (1301 Fannin St, Floor 21). Learn more.

February 24 — Made in Houston: Celebrating Black History Month

In honor of Black History Month, General Assembly has organized an evening with some of Houston's legendary innovators and creators. Each speaker will share their tips and tricks on how to create a unique product, service or brand that's pushing the boundaries while sharing their journey.

Details: The event is from 6:30 to 9 pm on Monday, February 24, at GA Houston (1301 Fannin St, Floor 21). Learn more.

February 25 — The Cannon Lunch & Learn: Show me the Money

As an early stage company, raising capital is or will be a significant part of your efforts and can present major challenges. Preparation and an understanding of what drives value is crucial to attracting investors. Join Cannon partner, Baker Tilly, as they provide an overview of the capital raise process and highlight key factors to consider when preparing to raise capital.

Details: The event is from 11:30 am to 1 pm on Tuesday, February 25, at The Cannon (1334 Brittmoore Road). Learn more.

Here's your one-stop shop for innovation events in Houston in September. Getty Images

10+ can't-miss Houston business and innovation events for September

Where to be

The busy fall event season is kicking off this month with tons of Houston innovation pitch events, educational panels, and networking opportunities.

If you know of innovation-focused events for this month or next, email me at natalie@innovationmap.com with the details and subscribe to our daily newsletter that sends fresh stories straight to your inboxes every morning.


September 5 — MassChallenge Texas in Houston Finale and Startup Showcase

The top startups from the inaugural MassChallenge Texas cohort in Houston will be recognized by community leaders to a room full of potential investors and customers, MassChallenge mentors, VIP community leaders, and their loved ones.

Details: The event is from 6 to 8 pm on Thursday, September 5, at House of Blues Houston (1204 Caroline St.). Learn more.

September 5 — Frost Bank: Fail Forward Series

Join Impact Hub Houston for an evening of #FailForward — behind-the-scenes stories straight from entrepreneurs on the challenges they faced trying to access and raise funding for their small business or startups. And, learn from bankers and financial experts what those entrepreneurs could have done to make their journey easier and more successful.

Details: The event is from 6 to 8 pm on Thursday, September 5, at BakerRipley Leonel Castillo Community Center (2101 South Street). Learn more.

September 6 — Finding your Product-Market fit via the W3 method

Amos Schwartzfarb, Author of Sell More Faster - The Ultimate Sales Playbook for Startups and Managing Director of Techstars Austin will deliver a hands-on workshop for founders (seed through Series A) that will enable you to identify the path to achieving product-market fit. Included in the $25 workshop is a signed copy of Sell More Faster.

Details: The event is from 11 am to 12:30 pm on Friday, September 6, at WeWork Labs (708 Main St., 3rd floor). Learn more.

September 10 — Founder Institute's inaugural cohort graduation showcase

The fresh (and first) graduates of the Founder Institute in Houston are celebrating the completion of their program. The graduation celebration will consist of a leadership focused commencement speech, hearing from the graduates (remarks and pitch), and showcase where each company will have a display table and be able to be speak one-on-one.

Details: The event is from 6 to 9 pm on Tuesday, September 10, at Station Houston (1301 Fannin Street, #2440). Learn more.

September 11 — Energy and Clean Technology Venture Forum XVII

The Rice Alliance's Energy and Clean Technology Venture Forum is the largest energy and clean technology venture capital conference in the U.S. open, to all emerging energy technology companies (both traditional energy and alternative energy).

Details: The event is from 8:30 am to 5 pm on Wednesday, September 11, at Jones Graduate School of Business (Rice University, 1900 Rice Blvd.). Learn more.

September 12 — HX Capital Summit 2019: Presented by JPMorgan Chase

Join Houston Exponential for its 2nd Annual Capital Summit, which will focus on the latest activity amongst Houston investments. This one-day event will highlight panel discussions from all aspects of Houston's innovation scene.

Details: The event is from 7:30 am to 3 pm on Thursday, September 12, at the Shell Auditorium (Rice University). Learn more.

September 12 — Cooley x JLABS @ TMC: Medtech Startup Fundamentals

Join Cooley, JLABS, and TMC Innovation for a half-day seminar gathering leading executives, investors, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders in the medical technology industry. Speakers will explore market trends and share strategies on how to position your startup for growth and success.

Details: The event is from 12:30 to 5:30 pm on Thursday, September 12, at the JLABS @ TMC (2450 Holcombe Blvd). Learn more.

September 17 — Raising Capital with Investment Crowdfunding

Station Houston, NextSeed, and the Greater Houston Black Chamber of Commerce are putting on a discussion about fundraising online.

Details: The event is from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm on Tuesday, September 17, at Station Houston (1301 Fannin Street, #2440). Learn more.

September 19 — The Cannon Grand Opening

The Cannon, an entrepreneurial hub in West Houston, is celebrating its new digs. Join the party to learn about coworking at The Cannon, to network with Houston's innovation ecosystem, and more.

Details: The event is from 4 to 9 pm on Thursday, September 19, at The Cannon (1336 Brittmoore Road). Invite only.

September 19 — JLABS x UH: Startup Pains: From Academia to Startup

JLABS and the University of Houston Technology Bridge present a special installment of the university's monthly Startup Pains. This month the focus is on licensing and technology transfer.

Details: The event is from 5:30 to 7 pm on Thursday, September 19, at the JLABS @ TMC (2450 Holcombe Blvd). Learn more.

September 24 — The Future of Payments: How Fintech, Crypto, and Blockchain are Transforming E-Commerce

The global economy is powered by 125 million business and payments between those businesses transacted over a variety of technologies. In the US, $2 trillion of the $58 trillion in payments generated by small business are "other" — new digital payment technologies including cryptocurrency and blockchain created by fintechs, banks and large players like Facebook and JP Morgan. Over time, the remaining $56 trillion will shift from paper checks to more digital forms. A change in the payments landscape is imminent, and in many ways, the US is behind in digital acceptance. What will this change look like? Join Vinay Pai, senior vice president of engineering at Bill.com, as he discusses.

Details: The event is from 4 to 5 pm on Tuesday, September 24, at Duncan Hall (Rice University). Learn more.

September 24 — The Eco-System of the Language Industry: Panel and Networking Event

Introducing the first Women in Localization Texas Chapter Houston Event. Winnie Heh, associate chapter manger - mentoring for the Silicon Valley Chapter, and Middlebury Institute of International Studies Career Advisor, Translation, Interpretation & Localization Management, will be presenting on importance of localization and various localization job functions available in our rapidly globalized world.

Details: The event is from 6 to 8 pm on Tuesday, September 24, at Station Houston (1301 Fannin Street, #2440). Learn more.

September 24 & 25 — Innovation Engineering Quick Start Class

Bruce G. Hall, CEO and president of eureka! inventing is teaching an abridged version of his innovation engineering course that's offered at the University of Houston. InnovationMap readers can get half off by registering through this link.

Details: The course is on either Tuesday, September 24, or Wednesday, September 25, at Energy Corridor Marriott (16011 Katy Fwy).Learn more.

September 25 — Third Coast Innovators Mixer

Calling all innovators and entrepreneurs in the Third Coast. JLABS @ TMC is hosting a networking event with fellow innovators and entrepreneurs in the ecosystem as well as current JLABS residents and the JLABS @ TMC team.

Details: The event is from 5 to 7 pm on Wednesday, September 25, at the JLABS @ TMC (2450 Holcombe Blvd). Learn more.

September 25 — Energy Tech Night

Energy Tech Night offers insights from energy digitalization/innovation/emerging tech experts and rapid-fire pitches from the cutting edge in startups offering solutions for the energy challenges of today & tomorrow.

Details: The event is from 6:30 to 8:30 pm on Wednesday, September 25, at Saint Arnold Brewery (2000 Lyons Ave) Learn More

Life Time Work opening its first Houston location is among this roundup of Houston innovation news. Courtesy of Life Time Work

Hypergiant receives funding from Japan, UH honored for entrepreneur program, coworking space opens, and more Houston innovation news

Short stories

In the Houston innovation news cycle, it's hard to keep up. Three higher education institutions are celebrating big wins within innovation and entrepreneurialism, a new coworking space joins the scene, and a health tech competition launches out of the Texas Medical Center.

Here are all the short stories within Houston innovation that you may have missed.

Texas AI company makes international partnership

Photo via hypergiant.com

Hypergiant Industries, a Texas industrial AI company with a presence in Houston, announced that it has received funding from and has entered into a partnership with Japan-based Sumitomo Corporation of Americas. The relationship will allow the company to enable and accelerate Hypergiant's AI-driven innovation initiatives across over 900 Sumitomo subsidiaries and associated companies.

"We're proud to be backed by a global leader like SCOA," says Ben Lamm, CEO and co-founder of Hypergiant, in a release. "SCOA is a company that has advanced so many industries with critical technological breakthroughs decade after decade. This relationship will ensure that both SCOA and Hypergiant remain ahead of the competition in AI for years to come."

The funding amount wasn't disclosed.

Bauer College of Business gets top marks

Photo via bauerticker.uh.edu

The Deshpande Foundation has selected The University of Houston for its 2019 Entrepreneurial University Award, recognizing the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship at the C.T. Bauer College of Business.

"Over the past decade, the Wolff Center's reputation as one of the nation's leading entrepreneurship programs has grown tremendously, and this award from the Deshpande Foundation reinforces that Bauer College is empowering students to innovate through a world-class program that emphasizes experiential learning and personalized attention by dedicated mentors," says Paul A. Pavlou, incoming dean of the Bauer College, in a release.

The award was announced by the Massachusetts-based organization at the Deshpande Symposium for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Higher Education at the University of Massachusetts Lowell on June 11.

Life Time Work opens its doors

Courtesy of Life Time Work

Life Time Work's first Houston-area location has opened its doors in City Centre Five at 825 Town & Country Lane. The next location has already been announced to open in downtown Houston next year.

"Life Time Work is a natural extension of the lifestyle brand we have built in our athletic resorts over the past 27 years," says Life Time Work president, James O'Reilly, in a release. "With Houston's continued growth and diversified business and entrepreneurial community, City Centre is the perfect location for us to unveil this concept. We look forward to helping our members in their pursuit of a fulfilling and healthy work life."

The 25,000-square-foot space features 79 desks, 48 offices, lounge spaces, eight phone booths, two phone rooms, five conference rooms, and more features.

JLABS @ TMC opens contest for health care startups

Photo via jlabs.jnjinnovation.com

Johnson & Johnson Innovation, the Texas Medical Center, and AngelMD have teamed up to launch the Breakthrough Medical Technologies QuickFire Challenge, which is looking for game-changing medical device ideas from all over the world for a chance to win prizes.

The winner — or winners — will "receive up to $250,000 in convertible notes funding from TMC, entry to the TMCx accelerator program, one year of residency at JLABS @ TMC in Houston, Texas, and access to the Johnson & Johnson, Innovation - JLABS global ecosystem," according to the website. Also on the line — an additional convertible note investment up to $100,000 from AngelMD's Catalyst Fund.

The competition is looking for innovations within a wide range of health technologies, from oncology to 3D printing.

Houston hospital ranks No. 1 in the state for being one of America's Best Employers

Courtesy of Methodist Hospital/Facebook

Forbes partnered with market research company Statista to identify the best employers in each state. In Texas, Houston was represented at the top. Houston Methodist ranked as the number one company on the Texas list.

Royal Dutch Shell, which ranks at No. 11, is the next Houston-headquartered company on the list, followed by The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (No. 19), Katy Independent School District (No. 22), and Texas Children's Hospital (No. 23.)

HCC recognized for innovation of the year

Photo courtesy of HCC

Houston Community College received the Innovation of the Year Award from the League for Innovation in the Community College. HCC won for its Zero Textbook Degree initiative, which launched in 2017 and has grown from 28 to 98 sections across five HCC campuses.

"The Z-Degree program is managed by an entire group of hardworking and forward-thinking HCC faculty who are all deserving of the accolades currently bestowed on them," says Chancellor Cesar Maldonado in a news release.

Textbook prices have increased 88 percent since 2006, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and, according to the release, textbooks could end up costing some HCC students more than their tuition.

Rice University hosts inaugural program for future entrepreneurs

Photo courtesy of Lilie



Rice's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship got a jump on molding its young minds. Lilie hosted 44 incoming freshmen as a part of its inaugural Lilie Change Maker Summit. For four days, the to-be students had the opportunity to get get a taste of the program and entrepreneurialism through workshops, guest speakers, and more.

The summit was led by Jamie Jones, executive director of Lilie, and Hesam Panahi, lecturer in entrepreneurship at Rice's Jones Graduate School of Business and a faculty member at Lilie.

"We truly believe this will be a game changer in the Rice entrepreneurial ecosystem," says Caitlin Bolanos, associate director at Lilie, in an email to InnovationMap. "We were able to connect with these students and build loyalty before they even officially started in the fall, and the students are so pumped to have found each other and to continue working on their ideas while at Rice."

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Rice University physicists granted $1.3 million to continue study on dark matter

researching the universe

Two Rice University physicists and professors have received a federal grant to continue research on dark matter in the universe.

Paul Padley and Karl Ecklund, professors of physics and astronomy at Rice, have received a $1.3 million grant from the Department of Energy for their research to continue the university's ongoing research at the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, a particle accelerator consisting of a 17-mile ring of superconducting magnets buried beneath Switzerland and France.

"With this grant we will be able to continue our investigations into the nature of the matter that comprises the universe, what the dark matter that permeates the universe is, and if there is physics beyond what we already know," Padley says in a press release.

This grant is a part of the DOE's $132 million in funding for high-energy physics research. The LHC has received a total of $4.5 million to date to continue this research. Most recently, Ecklund and Padley received a $3 million National Science Foundation grant to go toward updates to the LHC.

"High-energy physics research improves our understanding of the universe and is an essential element for maintaining America's leadership in science," says Paul Dabbar, undersecretary for science at the DOE, in the release. "These projects at 53 different institutions across our nation will advance efforts both in theory and through experiments that explore the subatomic world and study the cosmos. They will also support American scientists serving key roles in important international collaborations at institutions across our nation."

In 2012, Padley and his team discovered the Higgs boson, a feat that was extremely key to the continuance of exploring the Standard Model of particle physics. Since then, the physicists have been working hard to answer the many questions involved in studying physics and the universe.

"Over many decades, the particle physics group at Rice has been making fundamental contributions to our understanding of the basic building blocks of the universe," Padley says in the release. "With this grant we will be able to continue this long tradition of important work."

Paul Padley and his team as made important dark matter findings at the Large Hadron Collider in Europe. Photo via rice.ed

Startup aims for goal of connecting Houston sports community

game on

In virtually no time at all, Sportlo has built its reputation on the simplest of foundations: community.

Thilo Borgmann and Sebastian Henke founded the local hub for sports parents earlier this year as a tool for sports moms and dads to stay connected with local leagues, sports clubs, coaches, and other parents with children involved in youth sports in the greater Houston area.

"We make it easy for sports parents to keep up with what's happening in their local youth sports community," says Henke. "With our platform, they can discover tryouts, camps, and sports clubs. They can also join and create groups, find private coaches for their kids, and more."

Borgmann and Henke are both former NCAA Division 1 soccer players who starred while they were student athletes at Houston Baptist University, then went on to become well-known private coaches.

The sports-loving duo saw a dearth of useful information for sports parents on popular social media sites, so they created the platform to give users a central place to communicate with each other, join and create groups, discover tryouts and camps for their children and find private coaches across the city to help their young athletes reach their goals.

"We were both involved in sports for most of our lives and then got into private coaching," says Henke. "Overall, what we saw was that there is an entire ecosystem of youth sports and it was very much unorganized."

Henke says sports clubs weren't able to reach potential members and their parents. He says they envisioned a one-stop-shop approach to the sports ecosystem.

"So, Sportlo is focused on sports parents, but within the community, we try to connect persons with coaches, with clubs, with colleges and so on," Henke says. "That's the vision behind it, so people will have a place to have a community, to get advice and tips and then they will have access to certain services and information."

The plan for Sportlo has already evolved in its short life. Originally the platform was going to support just private coaching.

"After we got more feedback from parents and first users, we started to adapt the product and rebuilt the product," Henke says. "Based on the surveys we collected online, parents wanted us to find ways how to connect them with each other, so that's why we started building it as a new page and that's how we realized where it needed to go."

The biggest lesson in listening to their users was understanding that any initial vision to help a community must also be focused on or include what's intrinsically valuable to the users.

"Too often, people get focused on their own ideas and forget that feedback offers surprising moments," says Henke. "Users gave us a whole new path, which kept us from going in the direction where users wouldn't want the product to go."

Feedback from users is key, Henke says, and he recommends startup founders prioritize user experience and constructive criticism.

"All of the ideas that we had in our head, at some point we had to stop and reevaluate them and then focus on the most important thing first and then go from there," he says.

Still, the launch of Sportlo was not without its own unique challenges. Its March go-live date coincided in point of time with the spread of COVID-19, which ultimately turned into a worldwide pandemic.

"We haven't had to make any major changes," says Henke. "But groups on the platform have focused on that topic because there are no sports happening at the moment and they are eager to get them back. But other than that, it's not something we've had to focus on. But for parents, they've focused on related topics, like how to keep their kids busy at home doing exercises, things like that, or when discussing when their kids' clubs are starting back up and how to keep kids safe."

In addition to forming groups and sharing a variety of sports-related topics, parents can post pictures and videos of their child's latest tournament or game, get access to useful articles shared by fellow parents and find recommended sports products for themselves or their child.

"The main reason we added that social component was because we wanted to have a user timeline so when they log in, all the users can see something sports related," says Borgmann. "There's so much noise, with politics and posts that are only about the coronavirus and all that, so we wanted to focus on sports and have parents be able to show how their kid is doing, see other kids in action and support each other with a focus on sports without seeing all the other distractions that might be on other platforms."

For now, Sportlo is focused solely on keeping Houston informed, but it will look to expand to other cities and states when the time comes.

"We are focused right now only on Houston, because we know Houston and Texas and we've experienced different levels of sports in this area, so we want to stay local," says Henke. "Then, the next step is we intend to take it to other cities within Texas. And at some point, our vision is to have the entire youth ecosystem of the United States."

Now is the time to expand machine learning, says Houston researcher

Houston voices

One might not expect the game of checkers to have anything to do with artificial intelligence, but the game really marked the beginning of machine learning in 1959. Pioneered by an MIT professor named Arthur Lee Samuel, it was discovered that teaching a simple strategy game to a computer is not so simple when every move needs to be anticipated.

Smart machines Additionally, in a Forbes article about the difference between artificial intelligence and machine learning, Bernard Marr comments, "Artificial Intelligence is the broader concept of machines being able to carry out tasks in a way that we would consider 'smart'. And, machine learning is a current application of AI based around the idea that we should really just be able to give machines access to data and let them learn for themselves."

That's the premise of many a movie involving computers which become sentient, but is it really science fiction anymore?

Meet the new boss

Teaching a computer to think like a human is advantageous and includes the added bonus of increased speed. Computers aren't biased, either — which is why huge corporations, such as Unilever, use computers to thin out their first wave of applicants. You actually interview with a bot when you begin the employment process there.

Cause and effect AI and ML are often used in cybersecurity efforts — at least one would suppose. But in Security magazine, Jordan Mauriello writes: "AI/ML cannot do causation." That means artificial intelligence cannot, at this point in time, tell you why something happened. The why? is best left to experts who deal with game theory and other ways of determining how to defend against hypothetical attacks.

Get in on the ground floor

The field is growing and students at colleges across the country are beginning to train for careers in it in droves.

"America's top colleges are ramping up their research efforts and developing concentrations for their computer science degree programs to accommodate this high-tech field," writes Great Value Colleges on their blog. It looks as though this discipline is on an upward trajectory and shows no sign of slowing down.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Sarah Hill, the author of this piece, is the communications manager for the UH Division of Research.