Rice University edtech startup adds new partners

best in class

A edtech startup that is lowering the cost of textbooks for students has added nine new partners. Image via openstax.org

Rice University's educational technology initiative has added nine technology partners that will supply everything from business simulation software to test preparation tools.

The initiative's OpenStax Ally program enhances OpenStax textbook content with low-cost learning technology. The nine new OpenStax Ally partners are:

  • Mumbai, India-based Hurix, a provider of e-learning software.
  • San Francisco-based LiveCarta, which digitizes books and other content.
  • San Mateo, California-based Market Games, which gamifies the learning experience for business students.
  • New York City-based Method Test Prep, which offers courses to help students improve their ACT and SAT scores.
  • A Coruña, Spain-based Netex, whose tools help users create digital content.
  • Chicago-based PowerNotes, which provides a tool for organizing online academic research.
  • Chicago-based Red Flag Mania, whose game-based experience is designed to enhance users' critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
  • Amsterdam, the Netherlands-based Sowiso, which offers a virtual teaching assistant for STEM education.
  • Farmington, Connecticut-based Stemify, whose technology helps boost the STEM capabilities of students and teachers.

These companies' platforms will be made available for global users of OpenStax — more than 36,000 instructors and 4 million students — in the spring 2022 semester.

Rice launched OpenStax in 2012. The initiative reported in August that it has saved students $1.2 billion through the publication of free, openly licensed textbooks. More than 60 percent of degree-granting schools in the U.S. use OpenStax textbooks.

"Expanding offerings through the OpenStax Ally program will allow us to provide our adopters and their students with a wide array of tools that can truly meet their unique needs," Daniel Williamson, managing director of OpenStax, says in a news release. "It's essential to provide educators with strong and vast technology options. They know their students and what will work best for them, and should have the ability to choose the right technology."

The nine new partners join 65 organizations that already offer OpenStax tools for purposes such as classroom engagement, content customization, simulations, and online homework.

"Working with OpenStax takes us closer to reimagining the business textbook," says Casey Nguyen, digital marketing manager at Market Games, whose business simulation technology is at aimed at first-year students. "We … can gamify the learning experience to make quality business education more accessible, realistic, and engaging."

Educational technology providers that want to sign up for the OpenStax Ally program can apply during one of two application periods each year. The next period will begin at the close of the spring 2022 semester.

Even a simple loyalty program can woo customers into visiting more or prevent them from straying. Photo via Getty Images

Houston research: Customer loyalty programs are effective — but not in the way you might think

houston voices

Almost everyone who has shopped at a supermarket or hopped on a plane has been invited to join a customer loyalty club. But even the businesses that offer these programs are sometimes unsure of who uses and benefits from them most.

Rice Business Professor Arun Gopalakrishnan joined Zhenling Jiang from the University of Pennsylvania and Yulia Nevskaya and Raphael Thomadsen from Washington University in St. Louis to study non-tiered loyalty programs (these differ from tiered loyalty programs, which offer more benefits and exclusivity to customers who spend more).

These simpler programs, the researchers found, can have a striking value: the program they studied increased customer value by almost 30 percent during a five-year time frame, they found. That's considerably higher than previously found in this type of loyalty program. Almost as surprisingly, the program's effect on moderately loyal customers – seemingly among the likely beneficiaries – was minimal. Instead, it had the most dramatic impact on customers who had previously showed either great engagement with the firm or almost no engagement at all.

"The main upside of the program was that it got people to stick around with the firm, preventing defection," Gopalakrishnan said on the podcast INFORMS. At the company he studied, more than 80 percent of the total lift came simply from keeping customers in the fold.

Typically, he added, loyalty programs are assumed to be most worthwhile to frequent or high-spending customers. But the researchers found that very low-frequency customers who joined the program were also more likely to stick around, even though it didn't make much economic difference for them. "There may be some psychological benefit, just from being part of the program, that helps keeps these less frequent customers from walking away," Gopalakrishnan suggested.

Researchers have found it fairly easy to study tiered loyalty programs. But the exact value of the simpler, non-tiered programs is more obscure. That's because the previous studies typically included customers who had self-selected by joining a loyalty program.

Gopalakrishnan's research took a different approach. To address the imprecisions of past research, he and his team built a data collection model that let them examine consumer behavior both before and after customers joined a loyalty program. Importantly, the model also distinguished between program members (some of whom had been automatically signed up for the program) and nonmembers.

Using this more detailed model, the research team studied the behavior of more than 5,500 men's hair salon clients over 30 months. The research was possible because the team had already been following these clients to track how much money they spent during each visit, their frequency of visits, the types of services and products they used and if they used any type of discounts.

Then, ten months into the study, the hair salon chain created a non-tiered loyalty program. Customers who joined received a coupon via email for $5 off for every $100 they spent. Other customers chose not to join. That allowed researchers to compare the behavior in the two groups, with non-members as the control group.

The loyalty program had no impact on the amount of money clients spent during each visit, researchers found. Gopalakrishnan's team speculated that this might be because industries like hair salons have only a limited ability to increase sales of goods and services. Hair, after all, only grows so fast. On the other hand, the loyalty program did appear to influence how often customers visited.

Rather than increasing the frequency of visits for moderate clients, however, non-tiered loyalty programs changed the behavior of customers who were at the two poles of engagement: those who rarely showed up and those who visited so often they were practically on a first-name basis with their stylist.

At a time when consumers are overwhelmed with marketing ploys to lure their time and dollars, a thoughtful loyalty program can indeed be a good business investment, Gopalakrishnan's team concluded. However, managers should bear in mind that the benefit may not be exactly what they expect. Instead of giving a gentle nudge to turn steady customers into bigger spenders, good loyalty programs seem best at corralling outliers into the herd.

------

This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom and is based on research from Arun Gopalakrishnan, assistant professor of marketing at Rice Business; Zhenling Jiang, assistant professor of marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania; and Raphael Thomadsen and Yulia Nevskaya, professor of marketing and an assistant professor of marketing, respectively, at the Olin Business School of Washington University in St. Louis.

Here's your one-stop shop for innovation events in Houston this month. Photo via Getty Images

10+ can't-miss Houston business and innovation events in October

where to be

This month, Houstonians have yet another good batch of in-person and online innovation events, and you and your tech network need to know about them.

Here's a roundup of virtual events not to miss this month — like demo days, workshops, conventions, and more.

Note: This post might be updated to add more events.

October 5 — Perfecting Your Pitch

"Zoom in" for The Ion's event, Perfecting your Pitch. DeckLaunch and Fresh Tech Solutionz will discuss the importance and value of your pitch deck when reaching your target audience.

The event is on Tuesday, October 5, at 1 pm. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

October 5-6 — re:3D SBIR Workshop

The purpose of this workshop is to train and equip participants to identify a federal opportunity and apply for an SBIR/STTR.

The event is on Tuesday, October 5, and Wednesday, October 6, beginning at noon. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

October 6 — Email Marketing: A How To

Join The Cannon's HubSpot for Startups' partners for a fast-paced session covering the key elements of Email Marketing! In this workshop, we'll go over HubSpot's playbook for creating a winning email marketing strategy, generating traffic to your website and converting traffic into leads, and leveraging automation to nurture leads- Email marketing best practices and common mistakes to avoid.

The event is on Wednesday, October 6, at 1 pm. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

October 12-14 — Ignite Healthcare Network's 2021 Fire Pitch: Semi-Finals

Fire Pitch 2021 is Ignite Healthcare Network's 5th annual mini-accelerator program created to encourage innovation in emerging women-led digital health and med-tech companies. The program provides women-led healthcare startups with the unique opportunity to engage with potential customers and investors to assess their solutions and advise them on what they need to build successful businesses.

The summit is Tuesday, October 12, to Thursday, October 14. Click here to register.

October 13 — State of the City Address

This signature event, hosted and produced by Houston First Corporation is an opportunity for community and business leaders to reflect upon the year's challenges and celebrate the city's successes as they hear directly from Houston's CEO.

The event is on Wednesday, October 13, at 11:30 am. Tickets start at $150 and the event is hosted at Hilton Americas-Houston. Click here to register.

October 25 — Climathon 2021 Kick-Off

Impact Hub Houston kicks off Climathon 2021! Come learn about this year's challenges, connect with the teams, and get ready for the week. Impact Hub envisions a more prosperous, inclusive, climate-resilient economy, where finance flows to green projects and activities, and where motivated people are empowered with the skills and capacity they need to take action.

The event is on Monday, October 25, at noon. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

October 25-29 - InnovateEnergy Week 2021

Today's energy companies are working with more emerging technology than ever before, with new projects and technology announced daily.

To enable the growth of these technologies and focus on the impact they are having with the digitalization of energy projects, we are bringing together 4 major Summits to Houston for innovation & emerging tech leaders to attend in one place at one time, including;
  • 5th Annual Energy Drone & Robotics Summit
  • 3rd Annual Industrial XR Summit-
  • Energy EdgeTECH & Industrial Digital Twin Summit
  • MethaneTECH Forum

The events run Monday, October 25, through Friday, October 29, at the Woodlands Waterway Marriott Convention Center. Click here to register.

October 25-26 — Frontiers of Brain Science and Medicine - The Welch Foundation conference

The Welch Foundation's 64th conference, titled "Frontiers of Brain Science and Medicine," will explore the brain and the new technologies driving fresh insights into this still little-understood organ. The conference is divided into four sessions over two days, featuring presentations from some of the top global researchers in brain science.

The conference is Monday, October 25, through Tuesday, October 26. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

October 25-26 — Ken Kennedy AI and Data Science Conference

Join the virtual Ken Kennedy AI and Data Science Conference, which will feature invited keynote speakers, technical program, sponsors, student poster presentations, and an outdoor networking reception. This year, expect an exciting lineup of speakers from NASA, IBM, AWS, Human Rights Data Analysis Group, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Rice University.

The conference is Monday, October 25, through Tuesday, October 26. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

Wednesday, October 27, will offer an in-person add-on day to the conference with a technical workshop highlighting deep learning and high-performance computing with Alex Smola, VP of AWS, and Anshumali Shrivastava with Rice University. Workshop registration comes with a small fee. Click here to register.

October 26 — Digital Fight Club: Houston 2021 (Virtual Edition)

Tired of boring Zoom calls? Digital Fight Club is turning the virtual event world on it's head with the first Digital Fight Club, Virtual Edition. Just like IRL, two experts in their fields go up against each other in front of a raucous virtual audience.

The event is Tuesday, October 26, at 6:30 pm. Click here to register.

October 26-27 — Houston DiverseCity Summit

The Houston DiverseCity Summit will inspire action to advance equity and inclusion in the greater Houston region. The Summit offers content for companies and organizations of all sizes with a focus on best practices, peer connection, and first-rate resources to help you mature your diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) strategies.

The summit is Tuesday, October 26 (in person), and Wednesday, October 27 (online). Click here to register.

October 27 — Energy Tech Night

Each Energy Tech Night offers insights from energy digitalization experts and rapid-fire pitches from the cutting edge in startups offering solutions for the energy challenges of today and tomorrow. After the rapid fire pitches, there is a panel of industry leaders having an open discussion on important topics. Presenters include: LiquidFrameworks, Soft Serve, Simetry, eLynx, Inside Petroleum, and GeoNote.

The event is on Wednesday, October 27, at 6 pm. Tickets start at $50 and the event is hosted at The Heights Theater. Click here to register.

October 27 — Houston Startup Showcase Semifinals

The Ion's four semifinalists will come together on the virtual stage and compete for a chance to move on to the finals. Watch the four startups pitch their company and see who the judges will select to move on to the final round and have the opportunity to compete for the prize package.

Presenting Companies:

The event is on Wednesday, October 27, at 6 pm. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

October 27 — The Ion's Industry Day

The Ion District Team and General Contractor, Gilbane welcomes MWDBE firms to learn more about potential opportunities. The area has $15 million in upcoming construction opportunities. There will be a discussion of The District Garage Construction, Vendor opportunities, Q&A Session, and a Tour of The Ion District.

The event is on Wednesday, October 27, at 4 pm. It's free and happening at The Ion. Click here to register.

October 28 — The 2021 MassChallenge U.S. Showcase and Awards

The 2021 MassChallenge U.S. Showcase and Awards is a celebration of creativity and innovation coming from the minds of entrepreneurs building game changing businesses that will impact the way we live, work, and play. Check this year's Boston, Rhode Island, Houston & Austin cohorts at the event.

The event is on Thursday, October 28, at 3 pm. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

For over a year now, scientists have been testing wastewater for COVID-19. Now, the public can access that information. Photo via Getty Images

City launches public dashboard for tracking COVID-19 in Houston's wastewater

data points

In 2020, a group of researchers began testing Houston's wastewater to collect data to help identify trends at the community level. Now, the team's work has been rounded up to use as an online resource.

The Houston Health Department and Rice University launched the dashboard on September 22. The information comes from samples collected from the city's 39 wastewater treatment plants and many HISD schools.

"This new dashboard is another tool Houstonians can use to gauge the situation and make informed decisions to protect their families," says Dr. Loren Hopkins, chief environmental science officer for the health department and professor in the practice of statistics at Rice University, in a news release. "A high level of virus in your neighborhood's wastewater means virus is spreading locally and you should be even more stringent about masking up when visiting public places."

The health department, Houston Water, Rice University, and Baylor College of Medicine originally collaborated on the wastewater testing. Baylor microbiologist Dr. Anthony Maresso, director of BCM TAILOR Labs, led a part of the research.

"This is not Houston's first infectious disease crisis," Maresso says in an earlier news release. "Wastewater sampling was pioneered by Joseph Melnick, the first chair of Baylor's Department of Molecular Virology and Microbiology, to get ahead of polio outbreaks in Houston in the 1960s. This work essentially ushered in the field of environmental virology, and it began here at Baylor. TAILOR Labs is just continuing that tradition by providing advanced science measures to support local public health intervention."

It's an affordable way to track the virus, says experts. People with COVID-19 shed viral particles in their feces, according to the release, and by testing the wastewater, the health department can measure important infection rate changes.

The dashboard, which is accessible online now, is color-coded by the level of viral load in wastewater samples, as well as labeled with any recent trend changes. Houstonians can find the interactive COVID-19 wastewater monitoring dashboard, vaccination sites, testing sites, and more information at houstonemergency.org/covid19.

The $100-million donation will fund the planned Moody Center for Student Life and Opportunity. Rendering courtesy of Rice University

Rice University rises with massive $100M gift for innovative new student center

student centered

Rice University's Owls are soaring of late, with the school just being named the top in Texas and No. 7 in the U.S. Now, the institution known as the "Ivy League of the South" is the recipient of a mammoth gift aimed at a game-changing student center.

The Moody Foundation has granted Rice University a massive $100 million for its planned Moody Center for Student Life and Opportunity, which will replace Rice's current Memorial Center (RMC), and will become a new focal point for the university's 300-acre wooded campus, the school announced.

Notably, this new student center is designed by Sir David Adjaye of Adjaye Associates; the acclaimed architect's other works include the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Scheduled to break ground in early 2022 and construction completed in 2023, the brand-new Moody Center for Student Life and Opportunity will maintain some elements of the old RMC, namely the chapel and cloisters. Students and staff can expect demolition of the rest of the existing RMC, per a press release.

Moody's $100 million grant matches the record for the largest gift in the university's history. (Last year, the Robert A. Welch Foundation donated $100 million to the school to establish the innovation-driven Welch Institute.) The Moody Foundation has contributed over $125 million to Rice since 1964, a press release notes.

As part of the Moody $100 million gift, a new Moody Fund for Student Opportunity will support an endowment dedicated to student programs "physically anchored in the new student center and elsewhere in the university," according to the school.

All this supports Rice's recently announced plans for a 20-percent expansion of the undergraduate student body by fall 2025, as CultureMap previously reported.

"We are extremely grateful for this extraordinary philanthropy in support of Rice students," said Rice president David Leebron in a statement. "This gift will enable our students to broaden their engagements and experiences while at Rice in ways that will empower their success throughout their lives. It will also enable us to both connect more deeply with Houston and with the world. This will be the epitome of what an inclusive and outward-looking student center should be."

Elle Moody, a trustee of both the Moody Foundation and Rice, added: "As a Rice University alumna, I know this gift will have a profound and lasting effect on the campus and its students. This investment is supporting much more than just a building. We're investing in every student, so they have access to pursue any endeavor whether it's leadership, artistic, athletic, global or more."

------

This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Rice University again makes U.S. News & World Report annual list of top schools in the country. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Rice University scores another accolade as top school in the nation

ranked again

Houston's Rice University keeps reaping accolades. This time around, it's been named one of the best national universities by U.S. News & World Report.

Rice ties for No. 17 on the U.S. News & World Report list of the top 40 national universities. Last year, Rice tied for 16th place.

The only other Texas school to make this year's list is the University of Texas at Austin, tied for No. 38. Princeton University in Princeton, Jersey, claims the No. 1 spot.

U.S. News says the list, released September 13, features a mix of research institutions that offer an array of undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral programs.

"Students and faculty continue to feel the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, whether it's through remote learning, mask-wearing, or vaccine requirements," Kim Castro, editor and chief content officer at U.S. News, says in a news release. "As communities work through these challenges, U.S. News is committed to providing information on the academic quality of institutions across the country, so prospective students and their families can make informed decisions throughout their college search."

U.S. News assesses colleges and university on 17 measures of academic quality. These include class sizes, graduation and retention rates, academic reputation, and availability of financial aid for students.

The U.S. News ranking follows several other kudos for Rice:

  • It appears on the Princeton Review's recent list of the 387 best colleges in the U.S. The Princeton Review does not rank schools individually.
  • Niche.com recently ranked it the seventh best college in the U.S.
  • The school ties for No. 15 in the most recent Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Rankings.

The plaudits come ahead of David Leebron's departure next year as president of Rice. He's held the job since 2004.

"I am so grateful to Rice University for this incredible opportunity and to you, the extraordinary people who make up the Rice community and who have time and again demonstrated our common values and commitment to excellence, creativity and compassion," Leebron wrote in a May 26 email to faculty and students. "Working together, we have been driven by our desire to contribute to the betterment of our world and by our constant ambition to become an ever better university."

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston expert shares how developing drone technology can make an impact across industries

guest column

The state of Texas, as well as the rest of the nation, has been intensely impacted by the effects of climate change as well as aging utility infrastructure. Innovative drone technologies help address the pressing inspection and mapping needs of utilities and other critical infrastructure across the country, primarily bridges and roads, railways, pipelines, and powerplants.

There is a significant need for high-precision inspection services in today's market. Additional work will result if the proposed infrastructure bill passes. The bill has $73 billion earmarked toward modernizing the nation's electricity grid. Drone —or UAS (unmanned aerial systems)— technological advances, including thermal imaging, LiDAR (light detection and ranging), IRR (infrared radiation and remote sensing), and AI/ML (artificial intelligence/machine learning) are applied toward determining and predicting trends and are instrumental toward making our country safer.

"The newest advances in drone technology are not so much in the drones themselves, but rather, in the sensors and cameras, such as thermal cameras. Technologies such as LiDAR are now more cost-effective. The newer sensors permit the drones to operate in tighter spaces and cover more acreage in less time, with higher accuracy and fidelity", according to Will Paden, president of Soaring Eagle Technologies, a Houston-based tech-enabled imaging company servicing utility and energy companies.

Paden anticipates growth in the use of the technology for critical infrastructure including utilities, pipelines, power plants, bridges, buildings, railways, and more, for routine and post-storm inspections

"[Soaring Eagle's] ability to harness UAS technology to efficiently retrieve field data across our 8,000+ square mile area is unprecedented. Coupling this data with post-processing methods such as asset digitization unlocked a plethora of opportunities to visualize system resources and further analyze the surrounding terrain and environment," says Paige Richardson, GIS specialist with Navopache Electric Cooperative. "Our engineering and operations departments now have the ability to view 3D substation models, abstract high-resolution digital evaluation models, and apply these newfound resources as they work on future construction projects."

The promotion of drones helps the city of Houston transition to becoming the energy 2.0 capital of the world. The UAS (unmanned aerial systems) technology offers an environmentally cleaner option for routine and post-storm inspections, replacing the use of fossil fuels consumed by helicopters. The use of drones versus traditional inspection systems is significantly safer, more efficient and accurate than traditional alternatives such as scaffolding or bucket trucks. Mapping and inspection work can be done at much lower costs than with manned aircraft operations. These are highly technical flights, where the focus on safety and experience flying both manned and unmanned aircraft, is paramount.

There is much work ahead in high-tech drone technology services, especially for companies vetted by the FAA with high safety standards. According to one study, the overall drone inspection & monitoring market is projected to grow from USD 9.1 billion in 2021 to USD 33.6 billion by 2030, at a CAGR of 15.7 percent from 2021 to 2030. North America is estimated to account for the largest share of the drone inspection & monitoring market from 2021 to 2030.

Paden predicts the use of machine learning/artificial intelligence (ML/AI) and data automation will continue to improve over the next 3-5 years, as more data is collected and analyzed and the technology is a applied to "teach it" to detect patterns and anomalies. He anticipates ML/AI will filter out the amount of data the end users will need to view to make decisions saving time and money for the end users.

Learn more at the Energy Drone & Robotics Summit taking place in The Woodlands on October 25 through October 27.

------

Alex Danielides is head of business development for Houston-based Iapetus Holdings, a privately held, minority and veteran-owned portfolio of energy and utility services businesses. One of the companies is Soaring Eagle Technologies.

Interactive Houston innovation event pivots to virtual platform for engaging discussions

ready to fight?

In 2019, Houston innovators went head to head for the first Houston Digital Fight Club. While COVID-19 postponed a repeat match-up, the organizers have teamed up to put on a virtual event like none other.

Dallas-based Digital Fight Club, which first premiered in 2016, was founded by Michael Pratt who wanted the event structure to be intentionally different from your run-of-the-mill tech networking events. In Digital Fight Club, two innovation specialists "fight" against one another, with a referee steering the conversation, and the audience is involved and votes in real time for the winner.

The event came to Houston two years ago, presented by Accenture, and the two organizations wanted to be able to replicate the high-energy event online for 2021. (Note: InnovationMap is on the steering committee for the event.)

"We as Accenture are stoked to bring back Digital Fight club to our amazing city where provocative Houston topics will be debated by some of H-Town's most brilliant minds," says Accenture Houston Innovation Hub's Jessica Guerrero, who serves as the associate hub director.

The previous Houston event covered innovative topics, such as artificial intelligence, the future of primary care, and technology's hold on humans. Check out overheard moments and photos from the last event.

"Houston's well deserved reputation as an innovation city is the perfect ingredient for Digital Fight Club," Pratt tells InnovationMap. "What better forum to see the best minds debate the most pressing issues in business and technology."

Through the work of the two teams, Digital Fight Club will return to Houston on Tuesday, October 26, at 7 pm, virtually. Tickets are $20 per person and can be purchased online. This year's topics and fighters includes:

  • Energy Transition: What technology is king to get us there? Fighters: Moji Karimi, CEO of Cemvita Factory, vs Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy Plasmonics
  • Space Race: Who will lead space commercialization? Fighters: Trent Martin, vice president of aerospace at Intuitive Machines, vs Steve Gonzalez, partner at Seldor Capital (retired NASA)
  • Digital Divide: The greatest barrier to bridging the divide? Fighters: Ashley DeWalt, managing director of DivInc, vs Jesse Martinez, co-founder of LatinX Startup Alliance
  • Sweet Teams are Made of This: The post-pandemic employee experience. Fighters: Brad Deutser, CEO of Deutser, vs Joe Alapat, CEO of Liongard
  • Innovation in a Virtual World: Impossible? Fighters: Lawson Gow, founder of The Cannon, vs Robert Pieroni, director of economic development at Central Houston Inc.

Each fighter will open with 45 seconds each, followed by two 30 seconds rebuttals each. Referees will have a chance to ask a follow up, then each fighter will respond for 15 seconds. Referees include:

  • Mary Beth Gracy, managing director of Accenture's Houston office
  • Scott Gale, executive director of Halliburton Labs
  • Sam Gunderson, director of partnership development at NASA
  • Elizabeth Haines McGee, director of innovation and engagement at Intel
  • Steve Rader, deputy director of collaborative innovation at NASA

Clearly, you shouldn't expect your average business event call. The platform that's hosting the event allows for attendees to join "rooms" with friends, coworkers, and more. Within the rooms, you can chat about the fighter's argument and even respond with emojis. You can even throw a tomato at a fighter you disagree with.

"As an attendee get ready to move beyond the traditional Zoom call and be immersed in an interactive environment where you can cheer on your favorite fights or even show your disagreement with digital tomatoes, all from your own virtual pink couch," Guerrero says. "So grab your favorite humans, come attend this entertaining experience and witness the throw down."

The virtual edition of Digital Fight Club first took place in Dallas. Now the interactive event is coming to Houston. Photo courtesy of Accenture

Now hiring: Houston companies are looking to fill thousands of tech positions, according to a new report

by the numbers

Houston isn't stereotypically viewed as a tech hub like Silicon Valley or Austin. Yet the Houston metro area's tech employment base continues to grow at an impressive hub-type pace.

According to CompTIA, a trade group for the IT industry, employers in the Houston area posted openings for 14,714 tech jobs in the third quarter of 2021, up 44 percent from the same period last year. Through the first nine months of this year, Houston-area employers listed nearly 39,000 openings for tech positions.

CompTIA says Microsoft was the most active Houston-area employer last month in terms of postings for tech jobs — 130. It was followed by Deloitte (115) and JPMorgan Chase (52).

Among the most in-demand positions in the Houston area are software developer, software quality assurance analyst, computer user support specialist, computer systems analyst, and database administrator, CompTIA says.

A report released earlier this year by CompTIA ranks Houston as the country's No. 1 metro area for the share of tech workers employed at non-tech businesses — 62.2 percent (compared with 34.8 percent in the Austin metro area). According to the Greater Houston Partnership, this figure helps explain why Houston "isn't a more visible tech hub."

CompTIA tallied 243,908 tech workers in Houston last year, putting it in 11th place for total tech employment among U.S. metro areas. That compares with 426,286 in the San Francisco metro area (No. 4) and 373,695 in Dallas-Fort Worth (No. 11).

The ranks of tech workers in Houston are expanding in part because of an influx of tech talent. Among major metro areas, Houston claimed the No. 2 spot for the next gain of tech workers (10.4 percent compared with the previous 12-month span) moving from other regions from March 2019 to February 2020, according to LinkedIn data cited by the Axios news website. Only Miami ranked higher (15.4 percent).

While Houston may not necessarily be the next Silicon Valley, it "is winning the competition to establish tech hubs in Texas," MarketWatch declared in July.

The article cites the move of the headquarters for Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) from Silicon Valley to Spring as an example of Houston's ascendance in the tech economy. The HPE relocation "offers a vivid snapshot of a new tech frontier," MarketWatch observes, where the energy sector, major local universities, the Texas Medical Center, Mayor Sylvester Turner's office, and the local tech ecosystem are collaborating on cloud computing and other innovations.

"I want the rest of the world to know how much Houston is changing," Amy Chronis, managing director of Deloitte's Houston office, told MarketWatch. "The wakeup call was Amazon looking at candidates for HQ2, and Houston not making the second cut. Not enough technological talent was their reason. It was incorrect, but it lit a fire here."