The 20th annual Rice Business Plan Competition took place virtually from June 17 to 19 and awarded over $1.2 million in investment and cash prizes. Photo courtesy of Rice University

For the 20th year, the Rice Business Plan Competition has awarded prizes and investments to student-led startups from around the ward. While this year's competition was postponed and virtually held, the show went on with 42 startups pitching virtually June 17 to 19.

After whittling down the 42 startups to seven finalists, the RBPC judges named the winners. And, this year, all seven finalists walked away with a monetary prize. Here's how the finalists cleaned up.

  • Aurign, which provides publishing services for recording artists and record labels, from Georgia State University, won first place and the $350,000 grand prize from GOOSE Capital. Aurign also won RG Advisory Partners' prize of $25,000, bringing the company's total to $375,000 won.
  • Coming in second place with a $100,000 investment prize (awarded by Finger Interests, Anderson Family Fund, Greg Novak, and Tracy Druce) was Dartmouth College's nanopathdx, which is creating diagnostic tools for chronic and infectious diseases. Nanopathdx won two other monetary prizes — the $25,000 Spirit of Entrepreneurship Prize from Pearland Economic Development and Ncourage's $25,000 award focused on female entrepreneurs — for a total of $150,000 won. The company also won the Palo Alto Software Live Plan award and an award from SheSpace.
  • Harvard University's Fractal — a cloud computing tech company that enables powerful remote work tools — won third place and a $50,000 investment from Finger Interests, Anderson Family Fund, Greg Novak, and Tracy Druce. The company also won an $100,000 investment from the Houston Angel Network, bringing their total prize to $150,000.
  • In fourth place was RefresherBoxx from RWTH Aachen University in Germany. The company has created disinfecting devices for clothing and recently pivoted to create a COVID-19 application. The startup won a $5,000 prize sponsored by Norton Rose Fulbright for placing in the finals, but also walked away with a $100,000 investment from TiE Houston Angels, bringing the startup's total prize money to $105,000.
  • The University of Chicago's Beltech, which has created a safer, longer lasting battery, won fifth place and a $5,000 award sponsored by EY. The company also won an $100,000 investment from the Houston Angel Network, bringing the total amount won to to $105,000.
  • Cardiosense from Northwestern University, which has created a wearable heart monitor device, took sixth place in the competition and won a $5,000 award sponsored by Chevron Technology Ventures. Cardiosense also won two other monetary prizes — TMC Innovation's $100K TMC Healthcare Innovation investment and NASA's $25,000 Human Health and Performance Award — bringing the total amount won to $130,000. The company also won OFW Law's prize.
  • Relavo, a safer home dialysis treatment company from Johns Hopkins University, came in seventh place and won a $5,000 prize sponsored by Shell Ventures. Relavo also won three other monetary prizes — the $25,000 Pediatric Device Prize from the Southwest National Pediatric Device Consortium, Ncourage's $25,000 award focused on female entrepreneurs, and Polsinelli's $15,000 technology prize — bringing the startup's total prize money to $70,000.
Some of the competition's participating startups outside of the seven finalists won monetary prizes. Here's a list of those.
  • BIOMILQ, a female-founded startup out of Duke University that can cultivate breast milk outside of the body, won The Artemis Fund's $100,000 prize.
  • The University of Maryland's Algen Air — a natural air purifier that uses algae to filter air — won NASA's $25,000 Space Exploration Award.
  • SlumberFlow — a sleep apnea treatment device from the University of Michigan — won the the $25,000 Pediatric Device Prize from the Southwest National Pediatric Device Consortium.
  • Rice University's own EVA, which streamlines vascular access for medical professionals, won the Texas Business Hall of Fame's $25,000 prize.
  • Contraire — a predictive analysis control system for aeration process within municipal wastewater treatment plants — from Oklahoma State University won Polsinelli's $15,000 Energy Innovation prize.
While not ready to name investment recipients at the virtual event, the Owl Investment Group announced they will be inviting some companies to pitch to them directly.
Additional non-monetary prizes included:
  • Capital Factory's Golden Ticket prize to EVA from Rice University, NanoCare from Texas State University, and SeebeckCell Technologies from the University of Texas at Arlington.
  • Mercury Fund's Elevator Pitch winners included: KnoNap from Georgetown University (first place), Steeroflex from the University of California San Diego (second place), Encapsulate from the University of Connecticut (third place), RefresherBoxx (fourth place), and NanoCare from Texas State University (fifth place).
The virtual event wrapped up with the announcement of the 21st annual RBPC, which is set for April 8 to 10 next year.
This week's Houston innovators to know include Megan Eddings and Amanda Cotler of Accel Lifestyle and Brad Burke of Rice Alliance. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

It seems like 2020 is the year of the pivot and taking what the world has thrown at you —from pandemics to oil gluts — and making something out of what you have.

This week's innovators to know include a Houston startup flipping the switch on production to make face masks to the Rice Alliance re-envisioning an annual event that usually takes place at a global conference.

Megan Eddings and Amanda Cotler of Accel Lifestyle

Photos courtesy

When Megan Eddings and Amanda Cotler saw the CDC was recommending medical professionals wear bandanas or strips of cloth when surgical face masks weren't available, they had an idea.

The duo behind Accel Lifestyle, a Houston-based athletic wear startup that has a bacteria-resistent fabric, hopped on a call to see how they could rework their supply chain to quickly pivot to making face masks.

When setting up the company, Eddings, Accel's founder, made it a priority to avoid sweatshops, and she set up her supply chain to be completely within the United States — something that's been beneficial to the company's COVID pivot.

"If we did not have a 100 percent domestic supply chain, there's no way we could have done this," Eddings says.

Eddings and Cotler joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to share the story of how Accel went from deciding to make the masks to selling them by the thousands to Houston Methodist.

"When you think of face masks, you wouldn't think about activewear or thinking of Accel being a part of the fight against coronavirus," Cotler says. However, that might no longer be the case for the company now. Click here to learn more and to stream the podcast episode.

Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship

Photo via alliance.rice.edu

Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship typically hosts their Energy Tech Venture Day from the one of the halls within NRG Arena at the annual Offshore Technology Conference. However, the conference that attracts thousands of people from around the world, much like so many events, was canceled due to coronavirus.

But Brad Burke and his team at the Rice Alliance turned to tech to introduce the first virtual event, which then took place on Thursday, May 7. Burke introduced the event that had 39 startups that represented 11 different states and six different countries, 13 call Houston their HQ.

"We had many startups and corporations reach out to us and ask us if we could go ahead with the event in a virtual format, so that's how we ended up where we are today," says Burke. Click here to read more.

The show had to go on at the annual Energy Tech Venture Day, which was put on virtually by the Rice Alliance on May 7. Zukiman Mohamad/Pexels

13 Houston energy tech startups pitch at Rice Alliance's first virtual event

online only

Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship's annual Energy Tech Venture Day is usually hosted as a part of the Offshore Technology Conference that takes over NRG Center each May. However, when OTC announced its cancelation, Rice Alliance made sure the show would go on.

"We had many startups and corporations reach out to us and ask us if we could go ahead with the event in a virtual format, so that's how we ended up where we are today," says Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance at the start of the event.

Throughout the two-hour pitch event, 39 startups pitched their companies in two minutes and 30 seconds or less. The companies were selected based on input from the alliance's energy advisory board. The companies, Burke says, represent innovations across the energy industry.

An additional 24 companies participated in virtual office hours with investors through a speed-networking process.

"We know that the needs of startups to raise capital, to find customers, and to find pilots is even greater today than it was several months ago," Burke says. "And we know that the needs of energy companies to find innovative technologies to reduce costs and increase production are even greater as well."

Usually at this event, the advisory board decides on the 10 most promising energy tech startups, however, this list will not be revealed this year.

Of the startups that pitched that represented 11 different states and six different countries, 13 call Houston their HQ. Here's what local startups pitched.

Bluware

Bluware's E&P clients use the startup's cloud computing and deep learning technology to access seismic data. This data is crucial for geoscientists to make faster and smarter decisions to reduce time to oil. Bluware's headquarters is in West Houston, and has an European office in Norway.

DAMorphe

Southwest Houston-based DAMorphe uses nanotechnology to provide solutions within oil and gas — among other sectors, including life sciences, consumer goods, and more. Within O&G specifically, the company has designed dissolvable frac plugs and balls with superior performance and lower cost, as well as a flowable sensor for downhole measurements.

dataVediK

Early-stage Houston startup dataVediK focusing on enterprise digital transformation with a plan to create an artificial intelligence platform for collaboration between data scientists and domain experts to provide tech solutions for oil and gas — such as optimizing operations costs and productivity, enhancing safety, and more.

DelfinSia

Houston-based Delfin specializes in text analytics and is working with two oil supermajors. Sia, Delfin's product, is a virtual adviser, able to reference a client's unstructured data in real-time to ensure that decisions are fully informed. Users can simply ask Sia a question and get the best answers from company data.

Flutura Decision Sciences and Analytics

Flutura's motto is to promote actions — not just insights with data. The company's main product is Cerebra uses artificial intelligence and industrial internet of things to connect the dots within the oil and gas supply chain. Flutura's clients include Shell, Honeywell, Henkel, TechnipFMC, Patterson UTI, ABB, BJ Services, Daimler Benz, and more.

MyPass Global

A workforce management system, MyPass Global is putting the power of data into the hands of the individual workers at oil and gas companies and is creating digital work skills passport for each employee. The startup has developed a network of over 180 business partners across Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, which includes more than 27,000 registered workers.

Nomad Proppant Services

For E&P companies, Nomad is revolutionizing the way sand is delivered and used by wells. The average well uses 10,000 tons of sand, and that means trucking that volume via long hauls. However, Nomad has created a new, mobile mine that can save 25 percent of the company's spend on sand.

Osperity

Houston-based Osperity's technology provides AI-driven intelligent visual monitoring for industrial operations that can result in improved safety, reduced carbon footprints, and more. The company has more than 40 industrial customers using its monitoring services. Osperity offices in the Galleria area and has a location in Calgary.

PhDsoft Technology

PhDsoft, an engineering technology company, has created a technology specializing in industrial digital twins. The company's 4D software, PhDC4D®, can predict the effect of time and elements on equipment and facilities, which can save its industrial clients money and downtime of its machinery, as well as improve safety conditions.

Quidnet Energy

Clean energy tech company, Quidnet Energy, is providing electricity storage solutions that are cost effective and are able to be used long term. Quidnet uses traditional pumped hydro storage that, before the company, was restricted to specific terrains. The company offices out of downtown Houston.

SOTAOG

Data analytics company SOTAOG wants to be one-stop shop for its energy clients' data needs. SOTAOG's proprietary algorithms can provide real-time data that can improve operations and create cost-saving initiatives. The company works out of The Cannon's West Houston campus.

Voyager

Houston-based software startup Voyager is making waves in the maritime bulk-shipping industry. Whether shipping plans are transporting crude oil and LNG or complex offshore rig movements, Voyager can replace the thousands of logistics emails shared across several companies and bring communications and data onto one platform. The company's main office is in downtown Houston, but also has an office in Brazil.

WellNoz

WellNoz creates inflow control devices, or ICDs, for its oil and gas industry clients. The downhole devices are crucial for controlling the opening and closing of the well. WellNoz's device is made from a proprietary metal alloy that remains strong to remain closed when required, and then dissolves after a certain time to open up the valve. The startup's first client is Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, which will will purchase 10,000 ICDs each year for the next five years.

Here's what interactive, virtual events to log on to this month. Getty Images

10+ can't-miss virtual business and innovation events in Houston for May

Where to be online

While some things in Houston are starting to open back up, society hasn't yet established a timeline for when groups of more than 10 people will be allowed to safely gather. But, the programming must go on.

With that in mind, here are over 10 Houston innovation events you can attend virtually via online meetings. Be sure to register in advance, as most will send an access link ahead of the events.

May 4: Post-COVID Fund: Venture Investing in the Post-COVID World

Join Alumni Ventures Group for a webinar that explores how changes resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic will create profound change—as well as unique opportunities for new ventures that tackle these challenges.

Details: The event is at 3 p.m. on Monday, May 4. Learn more.

May 5 — Sell Your Science: Developing a Non-Confidential Pitch for in Person and Virtual Presentations

Learn tricks in preparing a non-confidential pitch deck along with tips that are aimed to help you sell your science at in person meetings or virtually.

Details: The event is at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, May 5. Learn more.

May 6 — Impacting Public Health: How Can My Idea Be A Part of the Solution?


When a pandemic hits, as a start-up company you may find that your technology can be aligned to help. However, now your timeline is expedited with a global health emergency and you need to get your technology into the market. How do you start to connect with the right players to get your technology into the U.S. market to make an impact on public health safety and security?

Details: The event is at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, May 6. Learn more.

May 6 — Virtual Event with Cindy Eckert - Expert Entrepreneur with Over $1B Exits

Cindy Eckert is an expert entrepreneur with over $1B in Exits, CEO of Sprout Pharmaceutical, and Founder of The Pink Ceiling. Attend the virtual fireside chat between Cindy Eckert and Femtech Focus founder Dr. Brittany Barreto.

Details: The event is at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, May 6. Learn more.

May 6 — Curious About Starting a Career in Tech?

One thing we know is that web developers come from different backgrounds. From teaching to consulting, design to accounting, and they're here to tell you about making that transition. Hear from professional developers in the field about how their careers lead them what they're working on now, how they got there, and how their past experiences apply to the work they do currently. Join General Assembly if you are curious about starting a career in tech, but not sure exactly where to begin.

Details: The event is at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 6. Learn more.

May 7 — Rice Alliance Energy Tech Venture Day

Originally scheduled to be hosted at OTC, Rice Alliance Energy Venture Day will now be a virtual event to allow startups to connect with investors and energy companies. The event will showcase about 40 promising energy technology companies. These companies have initial funding and are seeking their A, B, C, or later rounds with technology validation, field trial experience, and/or initial company revenue. The event offers a great opportunity for viewers to learn more about innovative technologies and provides companies with access to potential partners and investment opportunities.

Details: The event is at 9 a.m. on Thursday, May 7. Learn more.

May 8 — Lunch & Learn: Startup Funding Rounds

Seemingly every company wants to raise venture capital, but few founders are equipped to navigate the tangled mess of rounds, investment types, and investor expectations. At the end of this presentation, you will have a better handle on whether venture capital is right for your business and what it'll take to navigate from angels to exit.

Details: The event is at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, May 8. Learn more.

May 12 — Lunch and Learn with Asian Pacific American Entrepreneurs

According to New American Economy, Asian Pacific American entrepreneurs account for nearly a million of our nation's businesses. Whether it's apps, restaurants, social services, or consumer products, it's obvious that the entrepreneurial spirit is high in our nation. Let's hear it from our AAPI small business owners who will walk us through the triumphs and challenges they've faced while running their business and how they're making it work during a shaky period.

Details: The event is at noon on Tuesday, May 12. Learn more.

May 13-14 — 2020 Texas A&M New Ventures Competition

TNVC 2020 will be entirely virtual this year. This event is the culmination of a yearlong effort to identify and provide support to Texas-best technology ventures. There will be several private semi-finals judging rounds on May 13, with an Entrepreneurial Perspectives panel and Q&A with past winners and successful entrepreneurs. The finals will be on the 14th, followed by elevator pitches and an awards ceremony, all of which are open to the entire audience.

Details: The event is on Wednesday, May 14, and Thursday, May15. Learn more.

May 15 — How to Land a Job at a Tech Startup

Join General Assembly for this online event where a panel of tech startup talent acquisition professionals will take you through what types of opportunities exist in today's talent market, how the experience at a startup will make you more marketable in the long run, what talent acquisition professionals are actually thinking while reading resumes, advice for remote interviewing, and more.

Details: The event is at noon on Friday, May 15. Learn more.

May 29 — Mothers in Tech Breakfast

In celebration of Mother's Day, join General Assembly for a virtual breakfast featuring hard-working mothers that are also succeeding in their respective industries. A few incredible mothers will share their insights on how they reached their level of success, advice on navigating the workplace as a working mom, and how we can help the next generation of mothers in tech. Get ready for an honest, vulnerable, and insightful conversation.

    Details: The event is at 10 a.m. on Friday, May 29. Learn more.

    Rice University will launch online classes next week for small business leaders planning their recovery. Courtesy of Rice University

    Rice University launches online programming for entrepreneurs dealing with COVID-19 closures

    biz ed

    Houston small businesses and startups have a long road of recovery ahead of them, and Rice University and some of its partners want to help local entrepreneurs prepare for it.

    Rice University's Susanne M. Glasscock School of Continuing Studies has partnered with the Ion — along with the Center for Houston's Future and Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship — to launch the Back In Business Initiative. The program will begin with three courses in the week of April 20 to 24. The three courses are:

    "Glasscock's mission has always been to provide education to the residents of Houston," says Robert Bruce, dean of the Glasscock School, in a news release. "We specialize in providing responsive, practical information that will help our constituents when and how they need it most. To assist our struggling Houston small business community during this crisis, we created this trilogy of courses to help analyze their current situation, use creative problem-solving and provide meaningful communications to help them weather this situation."

    More classes will be added as needed. The classes have a $25 registration fee, and anyone can enroll online.

    "Today's health crisis may have changed many aspects of our daily lives, but it has not affected our commitment to providing the right tools and education to help our community succeed," says Jan Odegard, senior director of academic and industry partnerships at the Ion, in the release. "We all have a role to play in meeting the challenge of COVID-19 and we are excited to be partnering with the Glasscock School of Continuing Studies to support Houston small businesses in this time of uncertainty."

    The university also touts OpenRICE as a resource for businesses. The online education platform is available to the Houston community for free. Rice also has a 20 percent discount for all professional studies courses and programs enrollment — with the ability to postpone for up to a year without a fee. This deal runs through April 30.

    The Rice Alliance unveiled its new Gensler-designed, 3,000-square-foot office space. Photo courtesy of the Rice Alliance

    Photos: Rice Alliance reveals new office space

    new digs

    Rice University's entrepreneurship-driving entity has a new, updated office on campus. The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship cut the ribbon on its 3,000-square-foot Bill and Stephanie Sick Suite just in time for the holidays.

    The space was made possible by a $1 million donation from its namesake couple, Rice engineering alumnus William "Bill" Sick and his wife, Stephanie. Bill Sick was among the first supporters and mentors to the program when it was formed in 2000.

    "[Bill is] passionate about building entrepreneurship at Rice University and passionate about the importance of entrepreneurship in driving innovation and economic development in this country," Brad Burke, managing director at the alliance, says. "Bill has watched Rice's program go from an unranked program to the No. 1 entrepreneurship program in the country and felt the Rice Alliance needed a larger, more appropriate space commensurate with the Rice Alliance's impact on Rice and on the Houston community."

    Burke says the Rice Alliance's new home — located in McNair Hall, which houses the Jones Graduate School of Business — will be better accommodating for the number of industry professionals that come onto the Rice campus for events, programming, mentorship, and more.

    "The Rice Alliance meets frequently with venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, students, mentors, and other members of the Houston entrepreneurial ecosystem," Burke says. "The new space is on the first floor of the Jones School and is much more accessible and visible to our guests and visitors."

    The Bill and Stephanie Sick Suite has doubled the Alliance's space and has allowed the organization to co-locate with another innovation-focus entity on campus. The Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, or LILIE, will have an office in the space, better connecting the two organizations that have worked hand-in-hand for a number of years.

    Some visual elements of the space include bright green walls, which sets the Rice Alliance apart from the school with an energetic feel. The space also features a number of Houston art, including:

    • A three-paneled piece by local Houston artist DUAL, which was commissioned by Rice Alliance for the 2019 Rice Business Plan Competition.
    • A neon sign, designed and created by Houston artist Tim Walker of The Neon Gallery adorns the entrance wall.
    • In a way to honor Houston's history, mosaic tile flooring from the Blue Tile Project is also featured in the space.

    Gensler designed the space and b. bell builders was the general contractor. Quynhmai Nguyen, Rice Alliance's senior director of operations and event planning, worked with Gensler and made the final detailed design decisions.

    Energetic new space

    The new space, which premiered with a holiday party last week, features a neon sign, designed and created by Houston artist Tim Walker of The Neon Gallery.

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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.

    ------

    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.