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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University of Houston powers up first robot food server in a U.S. restaurant

order up

The University of Houston is taking a bold step — or, in this case, roll — in foodservice delivery. UH's Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership is now deploying a robot server in Eric’s Restaurant at its Hilton College.

Booting up this new service is major bragging rights for the Coogs, as UH is now the only college in the country — and the only restaurant facility in Houston — to utilize a robotic food delivery.

These rolling delivery bots come from the state-of-the-art food service robot called Servi. The bots, created by Bear Robotics, are armed with LiDar sensors, cameras, and trays, and automatically return to their posts when internal weight sensors detect a delivery has been completed.

Not surprisingly, these futuristic food staffers are booting up plenty of buzz at UH.

“People are excited about it,” says Dennis Reynolds, who is dean of the Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership and oversees the only hospitality program in the world where students work and take classes in an internationally branded, full-service hotel. Launching robot waitstaff at UH as a test market makes sense, he notes, for practical use and larger implications.

The Servi robots deliver food from the kitchen to the table. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

“Robotics and the general fear of technology we see today are really untested in the restaurant industry,” he says in an announcement. “At Hilton College, it’s not just about using tomorrow’s technology today. We always want to be the leader in learning how that technology impacts the industry.”

Bear Robotics, a tech company founded by restaurant experts and tech entrepreneurs, hosted a Servi showcase at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago earlier this year. After seeing the demo, Reynolds was hooked. UH's Servi robot arrived at Eric’s Restaurant in October.

Before sending the bot to diners' tables, the bot was prepped by Tanner Lucas, the executive chef and foodservice director at Eric’s. That meant weeks of mapping, programming, and — not surprisingly — “test driving” around the restaurant.

Tanner even created a digital map of the restaurant to teach the Servi its pathways and designated service points, such as table numbers. “Then, we sent it back and forth to all of those points from the kitchen with food to make sure it wouldn’t run into anything," he adds.

But does having a robot deliver food create friction between human and automated staff? Not at Eric's. “The robot helps my workflow,” Joel Tatum, a server at Eric’s says. “It lets me spend more time with my customers instead of just chasing and running food.”

Once loaded, the kitchen staff can tell the Servi robots where to take the dishes. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

Reynolds believes robots will complement their human counterparts and actually enhance the customer experience, even in unlikely settings.

“Studies have been conducted in senior living facilities where you might think a robot wouldn’t be well received, but it’s been just the opposite,” Reynolds says. “Those residents saw the change in their lives and loved it.”

To that end, he plans to use Servi bots in other UH venues. “The ballroom would be a fantastic place to showcase Servi – not as a labor-saving device, but as an excitement generator,” Reynolds notes. “To have it rotating through a big event delivering appetizers would be really fun.”

Critics who denounce robot servers and suggest they will soon displace humans are missing the point, Reynolds adds. “This isn’t about cutting our labor costs. It’s about building our top-line revenues and expanding our brand as a global hospitality innovator,” Reynolds says. “People will come to expect more robotics, more artificial intelligence in all segments of hospitality, and our students will be right there at the forefront.”

Servi bots come at a time of dynamic growth for Hilton College. A recent rebrand to “Global Hospitality Leadership” comes as the college hotel is undergoing a $30 million expansion and renovation, which includes a new five-story, 70-room guest tower. The student-run Cougar Grounds coffeehouse reopened this semester in a larger space with plenty of updates. The neighboring Eric’s Club Center for Student Success helps with recruitment and enrollment, undergraduate academic services, and career development.

“To be the first university in the country to introduce robotics in the dining room is remarkable,” Reynolds adds. “There are a lot of unique things we’re doing at Hilton College.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston innovator on seeing a greener future on built environment

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 162

An architect by trade, Anas Al Kassas says he was used to solving problems in his line of work. Each project architects take on requires building designers to be innovative and creative. A few years ago, Kassas took his problem-solving background into the entrepreneurship world to scale a process that allows for retrofitting window facades for energy efficiency.

“If you look at buildings today, they are the largest energy-consuming sector — more than industrial and more than transportation,” Kassas, founder and CEO of INOVUES, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. “They account for up to 40 percent of energy consumption and carbon emissions.”

To meet their climate goals, companies within the built environment are making moves to transition to electric systems. This has to be done with energy efficiency in mind, otherwise it will result in grid instability.

"Energy efficiency goes hand in hand with energy transition," he explains.

Kassas says that he first had the idea for his company when he was living in Boston. He chose to start the business in Houston, attracted to the city by its central location, affordable labor market, and manufacturing opportunities here.

Last year, INOVUES raised its first round of funding — a $2.75 million seed round — to scale up the team and identify the best markets to target customers. Kassas says he was looking for regions with rising energy rates and sizable incentives for companies making energy efficient changes.

"We were able to now implement our technology in over 4 million square feet of building space — from Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York City, Portland, and very soon in Canada," he says.

Notably missing from that list is any Texas cities. Kassas says that he believes Houston is a great city for startups and he has his operations and manufacturing is based here, but he's not yet seen the right opportunity and adaption

"Unfortunately most of our customers are not in Texas," "A lot of work can be done here to incentivize building owners. There are a lot of existing buildings and construction happening here, but there has to be more incentives."

Kassas shares more about his growth over the past year, as well as what he has planned for 2023 on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

Houston SPAC announces merger with Beaumont-based tech company in deal valued at $100M

speaking of spacs

A Houston SPAC, or special purpose acquisition company, has announced the company it plans to merge with in the new year.

Beaumont-based Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc., a provider of thermal imaging platforms, and Houston-based SportsMap Tech Acquisition Corp. (NASDAQ: SMAP), a publicly-traded SPAC with $117 million held in trust, announced their agreement for ICI to IPO via SPAC.

Originally announced in the fall of last year, the blank-check company is led by David Gow, CEO and chairman. Gow is also chairman and CEO of Gow Media, which owns digital media outlets SportsMap, CultureMap, and InnovationMap, as well as the SportsMap Radio Network, ESPN 97.5 and 92.5.

The deal will close in the first half of 2023, according to a news release, and the combined company will be renamed Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc. and will be listed on NASDAQ under a new ticker symbol.

“ICI is extremely excited to partner with David Gow and SportsMap as we continue to deliver our innovative software and hardware solutions," says Gary Strahan, founder and CEO of ICI, in the release. "We believe our software and sensor technology can change the way companies across industries perform predictive maintenance to ensure reliability, environmental integrity, and safety through AI and machine learning.”

Strahan will continue to serve as CEO of the combined company, and Gow will become chairman of the board. The transaction values the combined company at a pre-money equity valuation of $100 million, according to the release, and existing ICI shareholders will roll 100 percent of their equity into the combined company as part of the transaction.

“We believe ICI is poised for strong growth," Gow says in the release. "The company has a strong value proposition, detecting the overheating of equipment in industrial settings. ICI also has assembled a strong management team to execute on the opportunity. We are delighted to combine our SPAC with ICI.”

Founded in 1995, ICI provides infrared and imaging technology — as well as service, training, and equipment repairs — to various businesses and individuals across industries.