Kïdo Home, a virtual education platform, has launched out of a Houston-area school. Photo via Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic has spawned an array of digital innovations in education, and one of those innovations has been hatched right here in Houston.

Kïdo, an international network of preschools, recently introduced its first-ever virtual learning platform, with Kïdo's school in Rice Village serving as the U.S. launchpad. The new platform, called Kïdo Home, is offering free trials for parents in the Houston, Austin, and Dallas-Fort Worth areas. Kïdo Home is in the midst of enrolling students nationwide.

The virtual platform in the U.S. rolled out August 7, with classes starting Sept. 1. The Kïdo Home platform already had been up and running in Dubai, Hong Kong, and London, where Kïdo operates brick-and-mortar schools.

Kïdo Home is made up of small-group classes held online and led by trained instructors. Given the massive interruption of in-person education caused by the pandemic, the platform fills a void for 2- to 6-year-olds.

A study conducted this summer by the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University's Graduate School of Education found U.S. preschoolers were losing two to four months of critical learning due to pandemic-provoked school closures. According to a nationwide survey of parents, nearly three-fourths of American preschoolers had been affected by pandemic shutdowns that started in March. Many parents reported their distance-learning alternatives were lacking, with less than half receiving support for virtual learning within two months of preschool closures.

"Perhaps 10 percent of preschool children received a robust replacement for in-person preschool attendance," Steve Barnett, senior co-director of the Rutgers institute, says in a release.

Kïdo's Rice Village school serves as the U.S. launchpad for the new platform. Photo via kido.school

Adapted from the Kïdo Early Years Program — which blends the Waldorf Steiner, Reggio Emilia, and Montessori methodologies — Kïdo Home is designed to foster imagination, social well-being, motor skills, and creativity in students through its year-long curriculum.

Kïdo Home's key features include interactive touchscreen literacy and math modules, weekly one-on-one sessions with accredited instructors, and monthly home-activity kits covering art, STEM, literacy, and physical development. Those kits complement the online learning components.

Parents receive weekly updates and monthly assessments regarding their child's progress in the virtual program.

"We saw the need to provide a high-quality, affordable, and engaging virtual learning platform months ago when the pandemic was impacting our preschools in Hong Kong," Houston-based Deepanshu Pandita, U.S. CEO of Kïdo, says in a release. "We've conducted in-depth research that showcases the importance of investing in early childhood education, what the right amount of screen time is, and how to keep children engaged remotely."

Kïdo Home's daily two-hour, real-time video lessons eventually will include second-language immersion, just like Kïdo's brick-and-mortar schools do.

The average class ratio for Kïdo Home is around one instructor for every eight students. Minimal to no parental support is required during these classes. The program costs $350 a month.

Kïdo operates brick-and-mortar locations in Houston, Austin, Hong Kong, Dubai, and London, all of which are open. The Houston school, Kïdo's first in the U.S., debuted in May. The Austin location opened in July. Although a free trial of the virtual platform is available in Dallas-Fort Worth, Kïdo doesn't have a school there.

BrainCheck has moved to a new office as it grows its team and expands its product. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Houston health tech startup moves into new office amid major growth

growth

Following a series A round of fundraising, a Houston digital health startup is on a bit of a hiring spree, leading to new office space the company has room to grow into.

BrainCheck, which was founded in 2015 by neuroscientist David Eagleman, is a cognitive assessment startup that has developed a software tool for primary care doctors to use to assess their patients' cognitive health so that they can more quickly diagnose and treat them for maladies like dementia.

The 19-person company headquartered in Houston — with a secondary office in Austin focused on product development — has relocated its operations from coworking space in the Texas Medical Center to an office in the Rice Village area. The move was made possible by an $8 million series A financing round that closed in October.

"It's pretty exciting to have reached this milestone where we need more space," Yael Katz, co-founder and CEO of BrainCheck, tells InnovationMap. "We were pretty much bursting at the seams in our old office."

The move comes at a time when the company is building out its team. Katz says she is looking to fill a few roles within marketing, sales, and R&D. The team expects to expand to around 25 people by the end of Q1 and then again to 32 employees by the end of the year.

The new positions are needed in part to support the company's product development growth. Rather than just assessing cognitive health, BrainCheck is piloting some automated care plan technology.

"We have a lot of new product development that's underway," Katz says. "A big focus is expanding the output of the cognitive assessment into the cognitive care management."

Following the BrainCheck assessment, this new software will automate a cognitive care plan that doctors can then customize for his or her patients.

"The care plan process right now takes a very long time for the doctors to do, and therefore is very seldom done," Katz says.

And, in some cases, care plans aren't done because there's no cure or limited medications that help these types of cognitive diseases.

"A lot of people think of dementia sometimes as something there's no treatment for," Katz says. "It's true that there are limited pharmaceutical treatments for it, but there's evidence that comprehensive management of the disease is effective."

BrainCheck has opened the door on cognitive assessment. Traditional cognitive assessment used to only be done through a lengthy process and only by a small group of neuropsychologists. It's difficult for patients to find a neuropsychologist and then book an appointment.

"There's a big need to empower primary care doctors to have that ability to assess and manage patients' cognitive help," Katz says, explaining that this creates a perfect market for BrainCheck.

From opening Nap Bar and consulting corporations on diversity and inclusion to serving the city as an LGBT adviser, Khaliah Guillory is focused on productivity. Courtesy of Khaliah Guillory

From nap research to diversity and inclusion, this entrepreneur is making Houston workers more productive

Featured Innovator

Khaliah Guillory is an avid napper — and she's had to be. A multiple hat wearer and big proponent of side hustles, she's always piled responsibilities high on her plate.

Earlier this year left a corporate leadership position to open Nap Bar in Rice Village, but for years before that, she had her diversity and inclusion side hustle, KOG & Company. She works with companies — big and small — to integrate the best diversity and inclusion initiatives into the workplace.

"The intersection between KOG and Nap Bar and the common denominator is productivity and performance," Guillory says. "From a corporate standpoint — even when you think about diversity and inclusion — it all boils down to we want people who don't look like us or don't come from where we come from to be productive and perform well."

Guillory, who is this week's Pride Month Featured Innovator on InnovationMap, also serves on Mayor Sylvester Turner's LGBT Advisory Board.

InnovationMap: When did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

Khaliah Guillory: I was 8 or 9 years old, and my family drank a lot of soda. Where I grew up in Port Arthur, Texas, you could go and trade in cans for change. I would go outside, line up all the cans, and step on them to crush them. I saw an infomercial about a can crusher. It made my business more efficient. That's when my entrepreneurial journey started.

IM: How did The Nap Bar come about? 

KG: I have always been an avid napper. When I was in Kindergarten, and the teacher would say go grab your red or blue mat, I did it and I was out. I enjoyed naptime. In high school, I played basketball and I napped at the end of school. When I got into college, I played basketball at the University of Central Florida. My days would start at 5 am and wouldn't end until midnight. The only way I was able to graduate on time and maintain my grades for my scholarships was napping. It just continued throughout my professional career, and I started napping in my car.

One day, my wife and I commuted into the city — we live in the Sugar Land/Richmond area. We had about an hour and a half to spare. It was nap time, but it would be awkward with her in the car. She suggested Googling naps in Houston. She says, "We live in Houston, there's got to be a place where you could take a quick nap." There was no such place. She told me I should create it. That was April of last year.

IM: Then what did you do to get the ball rolling?

KG: The next day I surveyed all my friends and asked them if I was the only one out here napping. I quickly realized that I wasn't. Specifically, 52 percent of Americans, according to Amerisleep, admitted to napping at work. I committed to doing more research. I've committed 10,000 plus hours to researching the benefits to napping and the indicators of sleep exhaustion. Fast forward to November of last year, I transitioned away from my C-level position at a Fortune 500 company to really pursue Nap Bar.

IM: How’s business been?

KG: We just celebrated our 30th day of business a couple of weeks ago. We are already generating revenue. We are excited for what's to come. June is shaping up to be a real opportunity for us to be in the black, and July is shaping up to have a lot of events. We found that our biggest challenge is educating the masses on the benefits of taking a chill session in the middle of the day, and also educating on the indicators of what it's like to be sleep deprived.

IM: With KOG & Company, your other company, you’ve worked for years with large companies to help incorporate diversity and inclusion. How does that tie into your nap research?

KG: The intersection between KOG and Nap Bar and the common denominator is productivity and performance. From a corporate standpoint — even when you think about diversity and inclusion — it all boils down to we want people who don't look like us or don't come from where we come from to be productive and perform well. The best place for any corporation that has a philosophy or a vision of values and embraces corporate social responsibility is to acknowledge that people are going to be the heartbeat of their company.

IM: What do organizations — from startups to Fortune 500 companies — need to know about diversity and inclusion?

KG: The biggest thing is that from a culture standpoint, just simply hiring people to check a box isn't going to provide the desired ROI. It really, truly has to be embraced by the culture. If I am a business owner or corporation, and my goal is to have a diversity of talent, then I need to go where those people are. If I create and curate an environment with diversity and inclusivity, then going to recruit and then ask them what type of organization they want to work for and what it would look like — then go out and build that. And if they don't know where to start, they can hire me and I can hold their hand and give some real life experience. I've lived it as a banker, as a supervisor, and as a C-level executive.

IM: What’s surprised you about being on Mayor Sylvester Turner’s LGBT Advisory Board?

KG: I think what surprised me most about is that the city of Houston is really progressing and striving. It just makes sense. We're the most diverse city in the country, and I applaud Mayor Sylvester Turner for assembling the LGBT Advisory Board and for appointing me.

The city of Houston — and all the entities that fall under it from a government landscape — is desiring a journey to get more training and education. How do we educate on how to report a hate crime. How do we make sure that city employees are showing up to work and are 100 percent comfortable in their own skin. The biggest surprise I'd have to say is that the city has done an incredible job with the training. I walked away from the meeting learning things that I didn't even know about the LGBTQ community.

IM: What does Pride Month mean to you?

KG: Pride means to me being comfortable in my skin as I am, who I am. The month is a pleasant reminder to be "me" every day, all day. Pride month means my uniqueness is celebrated, not tolerated which should be the norm everyday; not just a month. Pride means being secure in the community — workplace, networking event, the gym, basically everywhere — and confidently say "my wife."

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Portions of this interview have been edited.

The Nap Bar offers "pay-by-snooze" rest. Photo by Dominique Monday

New Rice Village nap bar refreshes sleep-deprived Houstonians

Stay woke

Khaliah Guillory wants to put you to sleep. To clarify: She wants you to nap. And the power nap is all the rage right now. Busy workers, executives and entrepreneurs in New York, Europe, and Japan are all napping during the day — taking a short snooze that not only helps them be more productive in their daily tasks, but allows them to be healthier.

"Americans lose 1.2 million work days because of sleep deprivation," Guillory tells CultureMap. "That costs the economy $411 billion. And the Centers for Disease Control estimate that driving while you're sleep deprived is the equivalent of driving under the influence."

To counter the trends, Guillory will open Nap Bar in Rice Village. Slated for a late April unveiling, a pay-by-the-snooze napping facility will be at the back of New Living. Guillory has partnered with the company, already known for its commitment to sustainability. Nap Bar's custom-patented napping pods are designed with sound-proof materials and contain organic, nontoxic Bungaloom mattresses and bedding.

A Comfort Concierge will greet visitors and lead them to a private suite surrounded with T.L.C. There are also two shared nap pods with twin mattresses available. Naps are scheduled 20 to 26 minutes for short-term alertness, or longer, if needed. A 20-minute snooze will set you back $25, while 26 minutes run $32. (If you're looking for a full hour, that's available for $69). Sleeping pods have blackout curtains and are soundproof.

Guillory has also made the napping experience into a luxury one so Nap Bar nappers receive complimentary aromatherapy and custom brain wave therapy with every siesta. Other add-ons include, lymphatic massages, hot showers, espressos, and EarthCraft Juicery blends that are crafted from raw, healing ingredients. The all-organic experience all designed to provide gentle healing and peaceful rest.

"Our culture tells us that if you're napping during the day, you're either a kid or you're lazy," says Guillory. "But that's not true. If you take as little as 20 minutes to nap, you'll feel revitalized."

A snooze story
Guillory didn't intend to become a nap guru. Like many things in life, however, necessity became the mother of invention. While working as an executive for a Fortune 500 company, Guillory was traveling heavily, catching brief bits of shut-eye in airport lounges or her car. At one point she found herself in Richmond, with an hour and a half to kill before her next meeting in Houston. Driving straight into town would make her far too early for her appointment. There wasn't time to go home. And checking into a hotel seemed silly.

"That's when my wife said to me, Google nap spaces in Houston," she recalls. She did. There were none. And that's why she created her own. "I wanted a safe haven for people to unplug," Guillory says. "It doesn't have to be full-on sleep. It can be relaxation, meditation, whatever you need."

And far from resting on her own laurels with her business on the cusp of opening, Guillory is pursuing other nap-centric opportunities. She's looking to partner with area businesses to incorporate nap pods into their space for employees, and is planning a Nap Bar Snooze Unit, a mobile tour bus that will "roll through downtown and let people take power naps," she explains.

She generated a great deal of interest when she took her concept on the road to Bush Intercontinental Airport earlier this week, displaying the nap pod and sharing the feedback she'd received from Nap Bar's beta testers. That input is something she takes seriously; when Nap Bar debuts, it'll be with products that her testers recommended — and they had opinions on everything from the bedding to the materials used in the pod.

"I want to turn sustainable rest into sustained productivity," says Guillory. "And I think this is just what Houston needs."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Oils and scents help you relax. Photo by Dominique Monday

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Houston SaaS startup closes $12M series A funding round with support from local VC

money moves

A Houston startup with a software-as-a-service platform for the energy transition has announced it closed a funding round with participation from a local venture capital.

Molecule closed its $12 million series A, and Houston-based Mercury Fund was among the company's investors. The company has a cloud-based energy trading and risk management solution for the energy industry and supports power, natural gas, crude/refined products, chemicals, agricultural commodities, softs, metals, cryptocurrencies, and more.

"We led the seed round of Molecule upon their formation and are excited to participate in their series A," says Blair Garrou, co-founder and managing director of Mercury, in a news release. "Molecule's success in the ETRM/CTRM industry, especially in relation to electricity and renewables, positions them as the company to beat for the energy transition in the 2020s."

The company will use its new funds to further build out its product as well as introduce offerings to manage renewables credits, according to the release.

"In 2020, we realized that electricity — the growth commodity of the 2020s — represented over half of Molecule's customer base, and we decided to double down," says Sameer Soleja, founder and CEO of Molecule, in the release. "We were also rated the No. 1 SaaS ETRM/CTRM vendor. With this fundraise, we have the fuel to become No. 1 SaaS platform for power and renewables, and then the market leader overall.

"Molecule is ready to power the energy transition," Soleja continues.

Molecule's last round of funding closed in November 2014. The $1.1 million seed round was supported by Mercury Fund and the Houston Angel Network.

Houston-based afterlife planning startup launches new app

there's an app for that

The passing of a loved one is followed with grief — and paperwork. A Houston company that's simplifying the process of afterlife planning and decision making is making things even easier with a new smartphone app.

The Postage, a digital platform meant to ease with affair planning, recently launched a mobile app to make the service more accessible following a particularly deadly year. The United States recorded 3.2 million fatalities — the most deaths in its history, largely due to the coronavirus pandemic.

After losing three family members back-to-back, Emily Cisek dealt first hand with the difficulty of wrapping up a loved one's life. She saw how afterlife planning interrupted her family's grieving and caused deep frustration. Soon, she began to envision a solution to help people have a plan and walk through the process of losing someone.

The Postage, which launched in September, provides a platform for people to plan their affairs and leave behind wishes for loved ones. The website includes document storage and organization, password management, funeral and last wishes planning, and the option to create afterlife messages to posthumously share with loved ones.

"Right now, as it stands ahead of this app, end-of-life planning is really challenging. It's this daunting thing you have to sit down and do at your computer," says Cisek. Not only is it "daunting," but it's time-consuming. According to The Postage, families can expect to spend nearly 500 hours on completing end-of-life details if there is no planning done in advance.

With more than 74 percent of The Postage's web traffic coming from mobile users, an app was a natural progression. In fact, Entrepreneur reports the average person will spend nine years on their mobile device. Cisek wanted to meet users where they are at with a user-friendly app that includes the same features as the desktop website.

"What we wanted to do [with the app] is make it so easy to plan your life and the end of your life using one click — as easy as it was for posting and commenting on social media," explains Cisek. "People are so used to reflecting on those behaviors and clicking one button to add a picture ... we wanted to make it that simple," she continued.

Cisek and her team focused on providing a "seamless experience" within the app, which took approximately four months to build, which mirrors the desktop platform.

Though The Postage's website had mobile functionality, the app includes the ability to record and upload content. Whether snapping a picture of their insurance policy or recording a video to share with loved ones, The Postage app allows users to capture photos and videos directly within the app.

After snapping a picture, "the next step inherently is sharing it with your loved ones," says Cisek. Photos, family recipes and videos can easily be shared securely with loved ones who accept your invitation to The Postage so "that legacy continues on," she says.

Since The Postage's fall launch, the company has grown a steady base of paid subscribers with plans to expand.

"We're really starting to change the way people plan for the future," says Cisek.