Here's which life science companies — in Houston and beyond — are ones to watch. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Last week, the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship gathered over 1,000 life science experts and attendees virtually for thought leadership as well as 40 company presentations.

The three-day 2020 Virtual Texas Life Science Forum was made possible through a partnership with BioHouston and support from Texas Medical Center and Insperity. At the close of the summit, several companies were recognized with awards.

Houston-based Starling Medical won the Michael E. DeBakey Memorial Life Science Award, established by BioHouston in honor of the groundbreaking Houston cardiovascular surgeon. The digital health device company is revolutionizing severe bladder dysfunction management with artificial intelligence.

Every year at the forum, the Rice Alliance names its 10 most promising companies working on developing innovative solutions in medical devices, digital health, diagnostics, pharmaceuticals, and therapeutics. This year, Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance, says they had more applications to present than ever before. Additionally, the presenting companies — about half of which are Houston-based — have already raised more than $275 million in funding.

The 2020 most-promising life science companies, which were chosen by investors and presented by the Greater Houston Partnership, were:

Droice Labs

Image via droicelabs.com

New York-based Droice Labs, is an artificial intelligence and big data company matches patients to therapies and delivers personalized medicine at scale while reducing costs.

"Our cutting-edge technology seamlessly integrates into clinical workflows, and we continue to evolve unique and powerful applications for our clients and the patients they serve," reads the company's website.

SFA Therapeutics

Image via sfatherapeutics.com

Based in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, SFA Therapeutics is developing oral drugs for treating conditions of chronic inflammation that have the potential to change the practice of medicine. The company has treatments for Psoriasis, Liver Cancer (Hepatitis B, NASH and HCC), Ophthalmic Diseases, Cytokine Release Syndrome- a side effect in CAR-T, Prevention of Relapse/Recurrence in Leukemias, and other diseases.

Hummingbird Bioscience

Photo via jlabs.jnjinnovation.com

Hummingbird Bioscience, based in Houston's JLABS @ TMC, is tackling challenging targets that play a key role in disease yet have not been effectively drugged. The company has worked on 12 therapies in various stages of development, four of which have the potential to revolutionize their fields.

"At Hummingbird, we believe that modern approaches to systems biology and data science can overcome the challenges of classical methods of therapeutics discovery, and profoundly improve the way we deliver new transformative medicines," reads the company website.

CaseCTRL

Image via casectrl.com

Houston-based CaseCTRL is empowering surgeons with a management platform with software-as-a-service technology that uses AI and logistics to lower operational costs and simplify surgical planning.

"The surgical scheduling process is frustratingly stuck in the past: siloed, paper-based, and too dependent on single schedulers," reads the website. "Surgeons are stressed and overworked. They need a better way to communicate their complex surgical plans, timelines and resource needs."

Perimeter Medical

Image via perimetermed.com

Perimeter Medical, based in Dallas, is driven to transform cancer surgery with advanced, real-time, ultra high-resolution imaging tools including AI to address areas of unmet medical need.

"Perimeter is dedicated to providing solutions that drive better patient care and lower healthcare costs by providing critical information, during clinical procedures," reads the website.

Studio Bahria

Image via studiobahia.org

San Antonio-based Studio Bahia, is developing an accessible model for therapy in addressing mental health crises from the pandemic through virtual reality.

"We are in production of our first two therapies for release in the 4th quarter of 2020. Studio Bahia clients include corporate, retail, and institutional partners who purchase our headsets for $25 in providing mental health therapies and wellness tools to employees, executives, and patients," reads the company's website.

Tvardi Therapeutics

Photo via Getty Images

Tvardi Therapeutics, based in Houston, is a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on the development of a new class of breakthrough medicines for diverse cancers and chronic inflammatory and fibrotic diseases.

"Tvardi is focused on the development of orally delivered, small molecule inhibitors of STAT3, a key signaling molecule positioned at the intersection of many disease pathways," reads the website.

Koda Health

Image via kodahealthcare.com

Koda Health, Houston, uses AI to help guide difficult conversations in health care, starting with end-of-life care planning.

"You're entitled to protect the healthcare decisions that matter most to you and your family," the company's website promises. "Koda creates Care Plans to ensure that you get the medical care you want."

Immuno Genesis

Photo via Getty Images

Houston-based ImmunoGenesis is a clinical-stage biotechnology company developing therapeutics to catalyze effective immune responses in immunologically "cold" cancers such as prostate, colorectal, and pancreatic.

"Compared to existing immunotherapy drugs, we believe this antibody will both provide more consistent benefit for patients with immune-infiltrated tumors, and, for the first time, will also benefit patients with immune 'cold' cancers," says founder Dr. Michael A. Curran in a press release announcing the company's grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

Ictero Medical

Image via Getty Images

Ictero Medical, based in Houston, is developing the first minimally invasive cryoablation solution to treat patients with gallstone disease. Ictero Medical has created a minimally invasive treatment, called The CholeSafe System, that uses cryoablation to defunctionize the gallbladder without having to remove it.

Houston Exponential has announced the 38 finalists for the inaugural Listies Awards. Photo via Getty Images

Exclusive: HX names finalists for inaugural Houston innovation awards

the listies go to...

Ever wonder what Houston startups and innovators are the best of the best? Here's your chance to figure it out. The inaugural Listies awards program has named its finalists.

The Listies, brought to you by Houston Exponential in partnership with InnovationMap, will name the winning companies and people across 12 awards on November 20 at 3 pm at a virtual event as a part of Impact Hub's annual The Houston Innovation Summit (THIS). Click here to register for the free event.

Nominations were open until Friday, November 6, and then a group of judges made up of members of the Houston innovation ecosystem reviewed the submissions to settle on the finalists. Below, in alphabetical order, the 38 finalists are listed for each category.

DEI champion

  • Heath Butler
  • Maria Maso
  • Grace Rodriguez

Individual contributor

  • Michael Matthews
  • Slawek Omylski
  • Brad True

Mentor of the year

  • Keith Kreuer
  • Wade Pinder
  • Landi Spearman

Outstanding leadership

  • Stephanie Campbell
  • Grace Rodriguez
  • Roberta Schwartz

Corporate innovation

  • Chevron Technology Ventures
  • Houston Methodist
  • Shell Ventures

Investor of the year

  • CSL Capital Management
  • Golden Section VC (GSTVC)
  • Integr8d Capital

SDO superstar

  • MassChallenge Houston
  • Rice Alliance
  • TMCx

Welcome to Houston

  • Greentown Labs
  • TestCard
  • Win-Win

Civic engagement

  • Annapurna
  • Luminare
  • McMac Cx

COVID pivot/phoenix

  • Luminare
  • re:3D
  • sEATz

People choice

  • INK
  • Liongard
  • Luminare
  • re:3D
  • Topl

Soonicorn

  • GoExpedi
  • Liongard
  • Medical Informatics Corp.
Log on to one of these informative online events happening throughout the rest of the month. Getty Images

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

Where to be online

November is usually the last busy month for business events before the end of the year and ahead of the holidays, and this year — even though events have pivoted to virtual gatherings — is no different.

From panels and ask-me-anything meetings to summits and startup competitions, here are over 10 Houston innovation events you can attend virtually via online meetings. This month in particular there's the return of The Houston Innovation Summit and the brand new awards program called, The Listies (nominate now for those). Be sure to register in advance, as most will send an access link ahead of the events.

November 5 — Dell Technologies Ask Me Anything

Dell Technologies is hosting an "Ask Me Anything" session for the Ion community. During this time, attendees can ask experts anything in regards to IT pain points during these times. Entrepreneurs may also use this time to brainstorm the back end IT Infrastructure of their business.

The event will take place online on Thursday, November 5, at 10 am. Register here.

November 5-6 — Greentown Labs Climatetech Summit

Join Greentown Labs for its first Climatetech Summit for a deep dive into scaling climate action. Across the two days, attendees will engage with Greentown's pillars of climate action — technology, finance, policy, and justice — discover groundbreaking startups and their climatetech solutions, learn from industry experts, and forge meaningful connections with entrepreneurs, investors, business leaders, policymakers, startup support organizations, and other climate champions.

The event will take place online on Thursday, November 5, and Friday, November 6. Register here.

November 10 — Igniting Leadership: The State of COVID Vaccines

Join Ignite Healthcare Network for a special night of discussion hosted by IGNITE Steering Committee member Susan Feigin Harris about the status of COVID19 vaccine development with Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi, Co-director of Texas Children's Center for Vaccine Development.

The event will take place online on Tuesday, November 10, at 6 pm. Register here.

November 10-12 — Texas Life Sciences Forum

The Texas Life Science Forum is the premier life science event in Texas that brings together members from industry, emerging life science companies, academic, and investors. The 2020 event will be virtual and will still be the "must attend" event for anyone in the life science industry in Texas or affiliated with innovation at the life science academic institutions. This event represents an opportunity to meet investors, learn about promising life science companies, to learn about opportunities for entrepreneurs, investment professionals, big pharma, academics and business executives serving the life science industry.

The event will take place online on Tuesday, November 10, to Thursday, November 12. Register here.

November 12 — Plaza Tec: Funding Fundamentals

Though Latinx-owned businesses and startups make up at least 38 percent of businesses in the Houston area, there is still a lack of access to capital blocking growth and progress for Latinx founders.

In this discussion presented by The Ion, representatives from baMa and NextSeed will join together to discuss angel investing and crowdfunding options for Latinx founders and what challenges one might face when seeking capital.

The event will take place online on Thursday, November 12, at 5:30 pm. Register here.

November 12 — Women in Tech and Biz

If you're interested in hearing from some badass women in tech and business, come to the virtual Women in Tech + Biz event created by the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The event will be split into two sections — one focused on entrepreneurship and the other focusing more on software and engineering — followed by networking.

The event will take place online on Thursday, November 12, at 6 pm. Register here.

November 13 — Climathon 2020: Hacking Solutions to Houston’s Climate Challenges

On Earth Day this year, the City of Houston published its first Climate Action Plan. The plan is the culmination of thousands of volunteer time from industry professionals, policy stakeholders, and community advocates. Together the working groups have laid out a concise plan to address the climate challenges that Houston faces along with maintaining a leadership role in the energy transition. This year's Climathon will look to realize some of the goals of the plan through design sprints led by local subject matter experts in the areas of transportation, energy innovation, building optimization, and materials management.

The event will take place online on Friday, November 13, at 1 pm. Register here.

November 16-20 — The Houston Innovation Summit

The Houston Innovation Summit — THIS — celebrates Houston's innovation ecosystem during Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW). THIS responds to 2020 with a special focus on the intersection of Impact and Innovation, spotlighting Houstonians at the forefront of education, ecosystems, inclusion, and policy. Join Impact Hub Houston and Houston's startup and small business community for a week of exciting programs and connect with the thinkers, doers, makers and innovators driving Houston forward.

The event will take place online on Monday, November 16, to Friday, November 20. Register here.

November 17 — Struggles and Bubbles: Pivoting during a Pandemic

Join General Assembly Houston to listen to a panel of startup founders who will share their journey and entrepreneurial struggles, and what it really takes to launch a startup during global pandemic, and scale a startup.

The event will take place online on Tuesday, November 17 at 5 pm. Register here.

November 17-19 — Capital Factory's Texas Startup Roadshow

For the first time, Capital Factory is taking its roadshow online. For three days, the organization will be introducing investors to the various innovative cities across the Lone Star State.

Houston will be the city of focus on Wednesday, November 18.

The event will take place online on Tuesday, November 17, to Thursday, November 19. Register here.

November 20 — The Listies

Let's toast to the entrepreneurial spirit of Houston in a time when celebrating victories is more important than ever. Introducing the Listies, brought to you Houston Exponential and InnovationMap, commemorating the launch of HTX TechList, Houston's innovation discovery platform.

The event will take place online on Friday, November 20, at 3 pm. Register here.

The Ion has fresh funds to commit to its accelerator programs. Courtesy of Rice University

The Ion receives $1.5M economic development grant to go toward Houston accelerator programs

accelerating accelerators

The Ion — a rising hub for innovation being developed in Midtown by Rice Management Company — has received a $1.5 million grant to go toward supporting its startup accelerator programs.

The grant from the Economic Development Administration is a part of the organization's Build to Scale (B2S) program and will also benefit three accelerators: the Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator, the Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator, and DivInc Accelerator.

"Receiving this grant is a big win for our city — furthering the Ion's opportunity to bring together leading minds to solve some of our toughest challenges," says Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance, in a news release from Rice. "We believe that it's a fully collaborative approach that will lead to accelerating energy innovation and sustainable solutions."

All three of these accelerators will be represented in The Ion's Accelerator Hub and will work in collaboration, according to the release, in The Ion, which is expected to open in 2021 with cohorts set to open applications in early 2021.

"We are really excited about working together with DivInc and the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship to realize the full potential of the opportunities that these funds will help unleash," says Jan Odegard, interim executive director of the Ion, in the release.

The Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator has cycled through two rounds of cohorts — first focusing on resilience and mobility in Cohort 1 then air quality, water purification, and other cleantech in Cohort 2.

The 12-week Clean Energy Accelerator was only recently announced by The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship at the annual Energy Tech Venture Forum earlier this month. The program is established to support Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner's Climate Action Plan.

Meanwhile, DivInc's accelerator comes out of a partnership with the Austin-based nonprofit and The Ion, which was announced in spring of this year. The goal with this program is to increase access to minority entrepreneurs.

"DivInc embodies the mindset that this generation and all the generations of innovators to follow must be inclusive of people of color and women entrepreneurs – who will build successful scalable growth companies to address tomorrow's challenges and opportunities," says Preston James, chief executive officer at DivInc, in the release.

"By removing the barriers that currently exist, we unleash this untapped potential and lift Houston to new economic heights. To do this we must establish strong collaboration with partners like The Ion, Rice University, the EDA and many others."

From software and IoT to decarbonization and nanotech, here's what 10 energy tech startups you should look out for. Photo via Getty Images

These are the 10 most promising energy tech startups, according to judges at Rice Alliance forum

best of the best

This week, energy startups pitched virtually for venture capitalists — as well as over 1,000 attendees — as a part of Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship's 18th annual Energy and Clean Tech Venture Forum.

At the close of the three-day event, Rice Alliance announced its 10 most-promising energy tech companies. Here's which companies stood out from the rest.

W7energy

Based in Delaware, W7energy has created a zero-emission fuel cell electric vehicle technology supported by PiperION polymers. The startup's founders aim to provide a more reliable green energy that is 33 percent cheaper to make.

"With ion exchange polymer, we can achieve high ionic conductivity while maintaining mechanical strength," the company's website reads. "Because of the platform nature of the chemistry, the chemical and physical properties of the polymer membranes can be tuned to the desired application."

Modumetal

Modumetal, which has its HQ in Washington and an office locally as well, is a nanotechnology company focused on improving industrial materials. The company was founded in 2006 by Christina Lomasney and John Whitaker and developed a patented electrochemical process to produce nanolaminated metal alloys, according to Modumetal's website.

Tri-D Dynamics

San Francisco-based Tri-D Dynamics has developed a suite of smart metal products. The company's Bytepipe product claims to be the world's first smart casing that can collect key information — such as leak detection, temperatures, and diagnostic indicators — from underground and deliver it to workers.

SeekOps

A drone company based in Austin, SeekOps can quickly retrieve and deliver emissions data for its clients with its advance sensor technology. The company, founded in 2017, uses its drone and sensor pairing can help reduce emissions at a low cost.

Akselos

Switzerland-based Akselos has been using digital twin technology since its founding in 2012 to help energy companies analyze their optimization within their infrastructure.

Osperity

Osperity, based in Houston's Galleria area, is a software company that uses artificial intelligence to analyze and monitor industrial operations to translate the observations into strategic intelligence. The technology allows for cost-effective remote monitoring for its clients.

DroneDeploy

DroneDeploy — based in San Francisco and founded in 2013 — has raised over $92 million (according to Crunchbase) for its cloud-based drone mapping and analytics platform. According to the website, DroneDeploy has over 5,000 clients worldwide across oil and gas, construction, and other industries.

HEBI Robotics

Pittsburgh-based HEBI Robotics gives its clients the tools to build custom robotics. Founded 2014, HEBI has clients — such as NASA, Siemens, Ericsson — across industries.

CarbonFree Chemicals

CarbonFree Chemicals, based in San Antonio and founded in 2016, has created a technology to turn carbon emissions to useable solid carbonates.

SensorUp

Canadian Internet of Things company, SensorUp Inc. is a location intelligence platform founded in 2011. The technology specializes in real-time analysis of industrial operations.

"Whether you are working with legacy systems or new sensors, we provide an innovative platform that brings your IoT together for automated operations and processes," the company's website reads.

Calling all clean energy startups — Rice Alliance has announced a new accelerator launching in 2021. Photo via Getty Images

Rice Alliance to launch clean energy accelerator in Houston

New to Hou

The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship has announced its new Clean Energy Accelerator — a 12-week program for early stage energy startups — at the close of the 18th annual Energy Tech Venture Forum.

"Houston truly is the hub of the global energy industry, and it is here where the next generation of energy leaders will create and scale innovations that will change the world," says Bob Harvey, president and CEO at the Greater Houston Partnership, in a press release. "The new Clean Energy Accelerator will build on that legacy and align with the work already taking place in Houston's robust energy innovation ecosystem."

The program joins Rice University's suite of business accelerating programs — including Owl Spark, the annual venture forums, and the Rice Business Plan Competition — and is being supported by Wells Fargo.

"The Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator is poised to increase the quality and quantity of clean-tech startups in the area, which benefits Houston but also has the potential to benefit the greater global economy," says Jenny Flores, head of small business growth philanthropy at Wells Fargo, in the release. "At Wells Fargo, we believe that climate change continues to be one of the most urgent environmental and social issues of our time."

The Clean Energy Accelerator — to be housed at The Ion when it opens — falls in line with the city of Houston's Climate Action Plan, which has a goal of making Houston carbon neutral by 2050.

"It's a very ambitious goal, and it's one the City of Houston, as a municipality, cannot do alone," Mayor Sylvester Turner says in the release. "Today's announcement of the Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator is a great example of what we have been seeking to build in Houston, an innovation ecosystem that can develop creative solutions to address our toughest challenges."

More information is available online, and applications for startups will open in early 2021. The Rice Alliance announced several community supporters for the new accelerator, including BP, Chevron Technology Ventures, Equinor, ExxonMobil, NRG, Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures, Shell Ventures, Sunnova, Total, Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co., Halliburton Labs, Houston Exponential, the Center for Houston's Future, and Greentown Labs.

"Houston is our home, and we are strong believers in our city," says Brad Burke, managing director of the alliance, in the release. "It is here that some of the greatest minds in energy are innovating. New technologies, many driven by startup companies, have enabled the U.S. to become energy self sufficient for the first time in history, but global energy needs are growing and changing. We need to apply that same entrepreneurial spirit and technology innovation to meet these challenges."


Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Rising Houston innovation hub announces real estate partners

eye on the ion

Last week, Rice Management Co. announced the latest partners for The Ion. A Houston-based real estate management firm and a Dallas-based coworking company have signed onto the project.

Texas coworking company Common Desk, which recently opened a new space in Houston's east downtown, was tapped to develop and manage The Ion's more than 58,000 square feet of experiential, flexible office space on the second floor of the building.

"For a project as special as The Ion, it was important that we selected a flexible office space operator that understood the building's ethos as a space for collaboration and innovation," says Ryan LeVasseur, managing director of Direct Real Estate at RMC, in a news release. "From the moment we met with the Common Desk team, it was clear they represented the right balance of sophistication and excitement and shared a commitment to creating a sense of community."

Additionally, Common Desk will be responsible for a coffee bar and maintaining a vibrant and engaging space for tenants, startups, and community members.

"We're thrilled to be a part of this prestigious project and are looking forward to offering individuals, small businesses, and high-growth companies the chance to experience the unique programming and innovative spirit of the building," says Dawson Williams, head of real estate at Common Desk, in the release. "We're excited to be a strategic gateway to helping Houstonians experience all The Ion has to offer."

RMC tapped Transwestern to oversee property management for all of The Ion through its building, tenant, vendor, compliance, client, and administrative services.

"Very few companies have Transwestern's breadth of experience and proven success of managing high-quality, talent-attracting workplaces," LeVasseur says in the release. "Add to that the company's deep roots in Houston, and we're confident we're working with the best team to ensure a flawless, attractive, activated, and efficiently operated hub for the growth of Houston's innovation ecosystem."

Based in Houston, Transwestern has over 400 properties locally across office, multifamily, health care, and other industries.

"Transwestern is excited to work alongside Rice Management Corporation as property and facilities manager for The Ion, while contributing to its mission of innovation, collaboration and inclusion," says Kevin Roberts, Southwest President at Transwestern, in the release. "As Transwestern continues to elevate our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, we are proud to stand alongside The Ion in supporting minority and women-owned businesses in enabling innovation that will shape the future of Houston."

Houston hospital in line to receive COVID-19 vaccine

getting ready

Americans could be just weeks away from getting a COVID-19 vaccine, but who will get it first and how fast will it be distributed to the rest of us?

A lot goes into planning the distribution of a vaccine, and here in Houston, some hospitals have already identified places where the public could go to get vaccinated.

Houston Methodist is on the list to get the Pfizer vaccine once it rolls out in the middle of December. It'll ship to them within 24 to 48 hours after the vaccine gets Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA.

"We put in our orders and have been named as a pre-position site, which means we have the facilities and the freezers to accommodate receiving the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccine, and then be able to break into smaller quantities and distribute it out to our workers," says Roberta Schwartz, executive vice president of Houston Methodist Hospital.

Roberta Schwartz is leading the innovation initiative at Houston Methodist. Courtesy of Houston Methodist

Pfizer's vaccine must be kept at extremely cold temperatures so before giving the vaccine, employees must be trained on when to take it out from the freezer and how long it can be left out.

According to Texas' vaccine distribution plan, the first group that's set to get it are health care workers. That includes workers who provide direct care for COVID-19 patients and vulnerable residents, including staff at hospitals and long-term care facilities.

Once Houston Methodist is able to deliver it to the public, they have a plan in place.

Promising news from Pfizer and Moderna about their potential breakthroughs on a COVID-19 vaccine offer hope. In order for any vaccine to be effective, people must be willing to take the injections. But here's why some people are already saying why they won't take it.

"We've located, we believe, 14 different places where we will distribute vaccines to the public. We know how many people we can safely get through there a day and how we would do it. We're working through the last of how you would make your appointment, how you would get that scheduled," says Schwartz.

Their hospitals are among the 14 locations, and a lot was factored into making those locations accessible, like parking.

With all the planning comes flexibility. Schwartz said they're ready to adjust for what could be a big change in just a matter of weeks.

---

For more on this story, including video, visit our content partner ABC13.

How to safely promote holiday cheer in the workplace

guest column

With the 2020 winter holiday rapidly approaching, time is running short to plan festivities that are fun, engaging — and safe — amid a global coronavirus pandemic.

While many companies are planning to forego holiday parties this year, there is a strong case to be made that it is more important now than ever to host something special for employees.

It would be difficult to find a company that hasn't somehow been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. As companies have had to be nimble, reacting to rapidly changing environments, the work aimed at staying relevant and profitable has likely been carried out by loyal employees dedicated to ensuring success. Whether they pivoted to work-from-home, often using their personal resources and spaces to get the job done in sometimes-difficult environments, or they stayed on the front lines as the coronavirus circulated in their communities, employees should be heralded as the year's MVP.

Business leaders should consider hosting holiday celebrations that honor their employees and align with their ongoing safety protocols. For companies that continue to conduct in-person business, holiday celebrations may be safely held outside in Houston's temperate climate. For companies that plan to proceed with virtual celebrations, think outside the box for developing an event that colleagues will enjoy.

Virtual events open up new opportunities

Particularly for companies that have hosted lavish year-end parties but who are concerned about safety, consider providing an unforgettable experience for your employees while they come together separately.

Hire an engaging expert to take your staff on a virtual culinary or cocktail adventure — it might be a mixologist, sommelier, cicerone or chef. Send a curated package containing everything they'll need: cheese board and a mix of local meats, cheeses, nuts, and olives. The expert can teach the co-workers how to assemble a charcuterie board or delve into the history of various cheeses and which wines would pair well. Another might teach how to construct a craft cocktail.

If you are looking for something a bit more cheeky, consider hosting a virtual cookie-decorating event complemented by an ugly-sweater contest. Or, hire a local band to perform a private, virtual concert just for the company.

There is also a host of companies that are working in the virtual space, creating turnkey events that include games, delivered gift boxes and other methods of bringing teams together when they're physically separated. Consider holding such events during work hours: Employees will likely be more willing to participate, and it doubles as a holiday gift that provides a fleeting workday distraction during typically slower periods.

Even for companies with sizable staffs, for those that generally host extravagant parties, these virtual events may cost less than normal holiday celebrations.

Hosting safe in-person events

For companies planning on hosting socially distant in-person celebrations, consider using parking lots to ensure everyone has enough space to stay safe and enjoy themselves. Forego buffet service and either use a catering staff wearing masks and gloves to serve food, or use pre-packaged food and beverages to reduce risk.

Live music or other artistic performances can be a welcomed event during these times.

Or, if there's a desire to bring people together but concerns about safety, consider hosting a drive-in movie for employees and their families. Companies specialize in providing the necessary equipment for such events, and attendees can pick up a goodie box with prepackaged food and drinks to enjoy while the event takes place.

The keys to success are ensuring the events are safe and accessible to everyone who wants to participate, that they provide employees with a feeling of gratitude from their employer and, these days, a nod to the unparalleled times we are facing. Whether companies spend lavishly this year, or reduce cost but still provide heart-felt events, employees will feel the sense of gratitude and appreciation, and that's a big win heading into 2021.

------

Jill Chapman is a senior performance consultant with Insperity, a leading provider of human resources and business performance solutions.