The rodeo has shut down prematurely due to the rising threat of coronavirus. Photo courtesy of Rodeo Houston

As the coronavirus continues to march across the country, the City of Houston and the Houston Health Department on March 11 ordered the shutdown of this year's Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. This stems from Houston and Harris County declaring at least a seven-day health emergency in response to a potential community-spread case of the virus in Montgomery County.

The premature halt to this year's rodeo promises to ripple through the Houston economy. The 2019 version created a local economic impact of $227 million, according to a study commissioned by the rodeo. By comparison, Austin's annual music, film, and tech event — SXSW — generated an economic impact of $355.9 million in 2019. On March 6, the City of Austin ordered cancelation of this year's SXSW, set for March 13 to 22.

The Houston Rodeo and Livestock Show joins a rapidly growing list of events around the world that have been canceled or postponed.

Ed Hirs, an economics lecturer at the University of Houston, says it's hard to gauge the economic damage from the rodeo cutback, but he guesses it could range from $50 million to $100 million. Among those who will feel the pain are rodeo vendors, Uber and Lyft drivers, waiters and waitresses, and hotel employees, he says.

"We can't replace the income that the workers have lost," Hirs says.

The loss of rodeo revenue comes at a particularly inopportune time for Houston.

The earlier coronavirus-related cancelation of CERAWeek, the major energy conference, likely will cost the Houston economy millions of dollars. Last year, CERAWeek hosted 5,500 attendees. Cancelation of other local events could inflict even more financial harm.

Meanwhile, the Houston energy sector is coping with a huge drop in oil prices. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil cartel now projects near-zero growth in oil demand this year, according to OilPrice.com.

Hirs says that as early as the end of this week, some energy employers in Houston could begin layoffs. On March 11, Houston-based Occidental Petroleum Corp. hinted at impending layoffs. The oil and gas exploration and production company said it was slashing capital spending for 2020 from a range of $5.2 billion to $5.4 billion to a range of $3.5 billion to $3.7 billion. In addition, Occidental said it would carry out "additional operating and corporate cost reductions."

Occidental's market value has plummeted to $11 billion, triggering speculation that billionaire Warren Buffett might weigh a buyout of the company. In August, Occidental wrapped up its $55 billion purchase of Anadarko Petroleum Corp., based in The Woodlands.

According to the Greater Houston Partnership, the Houston area is home to more than 600 energy exploration and production companies, 1,100 oilfield services companies, and more than 180 pipeline transportation establishments. In all, the energy industry employs more than 237,000 people in the region.

The combination of the oil slump, the coronavirus pandemic, the ongoing trade war, and other economic drawbacks could push Houston closer to a recession, Hirs says.

"We were heading toward a recession anyway," he says of Houston and the entire country. "I think the coronavirus has tipped it over the edge."

For now, the most immediate economic blow comes from the rodeo shutdown.

In a March 11 statement, the rodeo indicates it's "respectfully and dutifully" following the city's order. The rodeo began March 3 at NRG Stadium and was supposed to end March 22. Last February 21 to March 17, rodeo activities attracted more than 2.5 million visitors.

Rodeo officials say they're working on a process for refunding tickets.

Government officials say an apparent case of coronavirus in Montgomery County prompted cancelation of the rodeo. In this case, the person — who reportedly attended a rodeo-sponsored barbecue cook off February 28 — seems to have contracted coronavirus somewhere in the community rather than as a result of international travel.

In a statement, Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, says the organization supports the declaration of a health emergency and the subsequent decision to end the rodeo early.

"It is important that we, as a community, take extra precautions and minimize opportunities for exposure as much as possible to slow the growth in the number of coronavirus cases," Harvey says.

Harvey praises the closure of the rodeo as "the right thing to do."

"As Houston's largest annual event, the Rodeo is a point of pride for our region. We regret the impact this necessary step will have on Rodeo exhibitors, guests, and participants," he says. "But the health and safety of our community must come first."

As of March 11, officials reported 14 cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus in the Houston area.

The rodeo says it's "deeply saddened" by the shutdown. However, it adds, "the safety and well-being of our guests and our community is our top priority."

Among the major musical acts whose rodeo performances are now canceled include Lizzo, Dierks Bentley, Keith Urban, Gwen Stefani, Khalid, Chris Stapleton, Brad Paisley, and Luke Bryan.

"We look forward to the 2021 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo to continue to promote agriculture, education, entertainment, and Western heritage," according to the rodeo's statement.

Alex Robart, Lindsay Huelse, and Joel Cowley are this week's Houston innovators to know. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators couldn't be more varied. Among the movers and shakers in tech in Houston are a serial energy tech entrepreneur, a fitness leader taking her empire mobile, and the leader of a decades old organization looking for the technology of the future.

Alex Robart, CEO of Ambyint

Photo courtesy of Ambyint

Alex Robart was on the lookout for a new tech startup to get involved with when he found Canada-based Ambyint a few years ago. He saw the potential of the artificial intelligence software had on optimizing oil and gas rigs. Now, he's lead the company as CEO and recently oversaw the startup's $15 million series B round.

"We're seeing our customers spend a little more time understanding AI," Robart says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "More and more boards of mid-sized [exploration and production companies] are challenging their executive teams to do something with AI."

Click here to read more and to listen to the episode.

Lindsay Huelse, founder of The FITT Cycle

Photo courtesy of The FITT Cycle

Houstonian Lindsay Huelse has created a all-in-one approach to fitness and health within her new mobile app, The FITT Cycle , which incorporates fitness routines, nutrition plans, accountability, community, and entrepreneurship.

"Historically, fitness apps are great for memberships," Huelse tells CultureMap. "I wanted to create a platform for returning clients where they could have stability and ditch the diets."

Since its launch in December 2019, Huelse says she has seen a membership growth of almost 2,000 percent, noting that there is no other app with The FITT Cycle's features. She calls it a hybrid of My Fitness Pal, the Peloton App, Facebook communities, and more.

Click here to read more about Huelse and her app.

Joel Cowley, CEO of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

Image via rodeohouston.com

Joel Cowley, CEO of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, speaks very candidly about the rodeo's future technology upgrades. He realizes that there are rodeo goers who won't appreciate the digitization of tickets, carnival passes, etc. or the temporary inconvenience the transition might bring. But he also knows it's necessary and will be worth it to patrons.

"Anytime you do something new, you have to be on guard," Cowley tells InnovationMap. "You have to make sure you are stacked up on capacity — whether that be personnel, scanners, server capacity — because if you're not, it could create a situation from that."

Click here to read more about new tech coming to the rodeo.

From digital carnival tickets to gamification on a revamped app, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is prepared for its 2020 season with new technologies. Photo courtesy of Rodeo Houston

Houston rodeo prepares for 2020 season with new technology on the grounds

rodeo ready

When the 2018 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo opened the gates to its first show of the season with headliner Garth Brooks, the nearly 90-year-old organization had just switched to digital ticketing. Around the time to enter the stadium, the BHP Billiton entrance, which welcomes in 51 percent of rodeo goers each night, was backed up with impatient rodeo fans.

For whatever reason, the roll out of the technology didn't go as planned, says Joel Cowley, CEO of the rodeo. But, after some damage control, the rodeo made some adjustments to the gate and ensured that those inefficient lines never happened again.

It was a lesson to learn for the rodeo, which isn't shying away from any other technology upgrades that will benefit rodeo goers and the organizations staff and volunteers.

"Anytime you do something new, you have to be on guard," Cowley tells InnovationMap. "You have to make sure you are stacked up on capacity — whether that be personnel, scanners, server capacity — because if you're not, it could create a situation from that."

A few months ago, the rodeo announced a slew of c-suite changes to its team following a reorganization led by McKinsey & Co. Among the changes was changing Andy Sloan's responsibilities from chief information officer to chief technology officer.

"As part of that reorganization, there was some focus on improving the technology that we utilize — and that's everything from our customer management system to what the consumer sees," Cowley says. "Andy is a great resource when we're trying to integrate those things."

The study prompted big ideas for new tech-driven initiatives for the rodeo, like a wristband that acts as your ticket but is also synced to your credit card for all purchases on rodeo grounds. But while that's an initiative for the future, 2020 rodeo attendees can expect to see new technologies this season.

Digital carnival packs

This year, the rodeo's carnival has began selling digital carnival ticket packs in an effort to transform the carnival experience to 100 percent digital. To prepare for this transition, the carnival volunteers have received extensive training — especially on how to communicate the process during the sales encounter.

Cowley says he expects to receive some negativity from longtime carnival ticket buyers, but also knows many people will appreciate the upgrade.

"The convenience for the users once they get used to it is going to be really great," Cowley says.

Gamification

Around two years ago, the rodeo conducted a study to understand its market. The study found that there are seven types of consumers for the rodeo. Cowley says they learned that there was a particular consumer type that they realized the rodeo could improve on attracting.

One of the ideas to attract this segment within the market was gamification. Cowley explains that according to the rodeo's survey data, rodeo goers' primary reason for attending is the show is the musical performer. The data also shows that when they get here, they enjoy their overall experience — not just the concert, Cowley says.

"Gamification is something that we are adding this year to engage the younger tech-savvy segment to give them something to do on the grounds," Cowley says.

The new tool, which is available on the rodeo's app, prompts users to check in around the grounds and complete tasks to earn buckles that can be redeemed for prizes.

"We think the more they see of the grounds, the better chance we have of making them lifelong fans," Cowley says.

There's also a new lounge called the Social Spur just north of the stadium where visitors can charge their devices and learn more about the app and the game.

Updated app

When it came to exploring gamification, Cowley says the rodeo looked into its app developer's capacity, as well as other app development companies. This process resulted in a new app provider and an overhaul of the rodeo's mobile app. The app, which syncs to the user's Facebook, is run by Canada-based Greencopper.

"It has been completely rebuilt from the ground up," Coweley says. "I think appearance-wise and functionality-wise — even though there was nothing wrong with the last one — this one is better."

Over the years, the rodeo's app has become more and more key in the rodeo experience. Users can find maps, buy tickets, view schedule information, and even receive up-to-date parking information.

Cowley says connectivity hasn't been a huge issue for the rodeo, but this year they've extended their WiFi service within NRG Stadium to cover just outside the gates so that users with digital tickets on the app can have that access.

In-seat food ordering

Also new for rodeo attendees is sEATz, a Houston-based startup that has developed an app that allows sporting event or concert attendees to order food to their seats. The app — through its partnership with the rodeo's food and beverage provider, Aramark —will be servicing the 100-level seats.

"It's really great to be able to be a part of the rodeo as far as a provider to help enhance that experience in the stadium," says Aaron Knape, CEO and co-founder of sEATz. "It goes back to our model of we want to serve a venue and the fans in that venue — not necessarily a specific sport or concert."

A Houston startup just got a huge new client: The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Photo courtesy of sEATz

Houston in-seat ordering app gets rodeo ready, prepares for busy XFL season

dining delivered

A Houston startup isn't afraid to take on the 21-day Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo with its in-seat ordering technology.

Houston-based sEATz, through its partnership with Aramark and NRG Stadium, will be serving up stadium food to rodeo goers this year every single night of the show. Rather than be intimidated the size and scale of Rodeo Houston, sEATz, equipped with a recently upgraded app, is ready for the challenge.

"Twenty-one nights in a row for us is great — that just shows the flexibility and scalability of our model," says CEO and co-founder Aaron Knape.

For those headed out to the rodeo with tickets in the 100s — the lower section — sEATz will have in-seat delivery and pickup lanes. Users can download the app, plug in their seat information, order, pay, and hang tight for a delivery. SEATz will be available every night of the rodeo — from the start of the show to the concert.

The sEATz app has been freshly updated and is ready to rodeo. Photo courtesy of sEATz

Knape and co-founder and COO Marshall Law founded sEATz in 2018 after an idea Law had when he missed a key play at an Astros 2017 World Series game. Now, SEATz is active in 10 different venues and plans to roll out in 15 more this year, Knape says. The app has served fans at football and soccer games — and even delivered during the Rolling Stones concert at NRG Stadium last year.

"It's really great to be able to be a part of the rodeo as far as a provider to help enhance that experience in the stadium," Knape says. "It goes back to our model of we want to serve a venue and the fans in that venue — not necessarily a specific sport or concert."

SEATz had a busy football season, servicing the likes of The Texans, the University of Houston Cougars, and more, but turns out, football is not over. Through its partnership with Delaware North, the food and beverage provider for UH's TDECU Stadium, sEATz has added the XFL's Houston Roughnecks fans to its roster of users.

The team's first game on February 8 had over 17,000 in attendance, according to news reports. The team won 37 to 17 against the Los Angeles Wildcats. The second game for the Roughnecks is on Sunday, February 16, and the league recently announced the final championship game will be hosted in Houston.

"I think those fans came to have a really good time," Knape says of last weekend's game. "We're actually going to be quadrupling staff for Sunday's game."

SEATz, which closed is seed round last fall with $1.3 million raised, plans to raise another round early this year. The company is also actively recruiting teams and venues ahead of the baseball season, Knape says.

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Houston startup raises $10M, A&M names TMC campus, and more innovation news

short stories

Houston's innovation ecosystem has been booming with news, and it's likely some might have fallen through the cracks. From a Texas university naming its burgeoning new campus to a Houston SaaS startup with fresh funds, here are some short stories in Houston innovation.

ThoughtTrace raises $10M series B

ThoughtTrace has received investment from Chevron Technology Ventures. Photo via thoughttrace.com

ThoughtTrace Inc., a Houston-based software-as-a-service startup closed a $10 million series B round led by Canadian venture capital fund McRock Capital with contribution from Houston-based Chevron Technology Ventures.

"Chevron Technology Ventures (CTV) pursues externally-developed technologies and new business solutions that have the potential to enhance the way Chevron produces and delivers affordable, reliable and ever-cleaner energy," says Barbara Burger, president of CTV, in a release. "ThoughtTrace fits that mandate with the potential to automate the complex, time-consuming, and document-intensive workflows required for our ongoing business operations."

ThoughtTrace's software quickly analyzes documents and contracts and produces results at a fraction of the cost and time of traditional methods. With the fundraising deal, Scott MacDonald, McRock's co-founder and managing partner, will join ThoughtTrace's Board of Directors.

"We are extraordinarily excited to have both McRock and Chevron join the team. McRock brings a great background in the industrial space, which we see as a great fit. In the case of Chevron, they went from being a new customer in 2019 to an investor in 2020," says Nick Vandivere, ThoughtTrace CEO, in a release.

"With the new capital raise, ThoughtTrace will accelerate its investment in creating AI with unparalleled speed and accuracy, grow strategic partnerships and platform integrations, and add to its existing team of talented professionals, all of which will bring further value to the growing ThoughtTrace customer-base," Vandivere continues.

Texas A&M names its Texas Medical Center campus

The new campus will be called Texas A&M Innovation Plaza. Photo courtesy of Texas A&M University System

After announcing its plans for a $546 million medical complex in Houston's Texas Medical Center in February, Texas A&M University has released the name of the 5-acre campus rising at the intersection of Holcombe Boulevard and Main Street: Texas A&M Innovation Plaza.

The project will be completed in phases. The first phase, which will open later this year, is a renovation of an 18-floor building at 1020 Holcombe Blvd., which will to be the new home for EnMed, a dual degree program that produces both a master's in engineering and a medical degree.

"EnMed is just the first example of innovation that Texas A&M System intends to bring to the Texas A&M Innovation Plaza," says Chancellor John Sharp in a news release. "We are excited to have such a visible location in the Texas Medical Center."

Rice Business Plan Competition lays out virtual plans

The competition must go on. Photo via rbpc.rice.edu

This year's Rice Business Plan Competition, which was planned for March 26 to 28, was canceled due to COVID-19, but the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship has decided to offer up an alternative: A virtual RBPC. Forty two student teams will compete over three virtual events.

  • Elevator Pitch Competition on June 17 (Open to the public): Each team will deliver 60-second pitches.
  • Round 1 on June 18 (Open to startups and judges only ): Each team will deliver 10-minutes to pitch to a panel of judges followed by Q&A.
  • Live finals on June 19 (open to the public): The seven finalists will pitch to the judges, and following a round of questions from judges, the winners and prizes will be announced.

Two health care educational institutions team up for new program

Xavier University and Baylor College of Medicine have launched a collaborative medical track. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Louisiana's Xavier University and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston have joined forces to allow Xavier students a smooth transition into Baylor's graduate programs. Xavier students, including traditionally underrepresented minorities — according to a press release — will have the opportunity to apply for the program in November. Three students will be selected for the program, which facilitates acceptance into the medical school.

"Our commitment at Baylor College of Medicine to diversity and inclusion creates the best environment for success across our mission areas of healthcare, research, education and community outreach," says Dr. Paul Klotman, president, CEO and executive dean of Baylor College of Medicine, in the release. "This important collaboration with Xavier University will strengthen this commitment, and I look forward to welcoming students from this new partnership into the Baylor family."

Klotman continues to express how inclusiveness is a priority for BCM and for this partnership.

"We live in a world where healthcare is changing and evolving," says Dr. Anne McCall, provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs at Xavier, in the release. "This partnership will further equip our students with the diverse tools and training that they'll need to foster equity in the medical field and compete on an international level."

University of Houston begins offering virtual tours for perspective students

Potential UH Cougars can get the 411 on campus via a virtual tour tool. Photo via uh.edu

Before COVID-19 sent everyone home and canceled gatherings, classes, and events across the world, the University of Houston was already working on a way for potential students to tour and learn more about the campus. Now, in light of the pandemic, UH has released this virtual tour offering complete with live interaction from UH student ambassadors.

"I'm really excited about the live component we just added because prospective students can ask questions just like during a face-to-face campus tour and that interaction is invaluable," says Mardell Maxwell, executive director of UH Admissions, in a release. "UH is so committed to access, and we see this as a great opportunity not only for students in Houston and Texas, but for those coming from out of state. We are opening up access to campus across the world."

Anyone can sign up for a tour online through the university's website.

Report recognizes Houston as a top city to launch a career

starting out

First-time job hunters are facing a competitive job market with historic unemployment and an unstable economy amid the coronavirus pandemic. However, Houston, according to a recent report, might give its residents an advantage.

The report, released May 20 by career website LinkedIn, places Houston at No. 10 on a list of the places in the U.S. that are best suited for new college graduates who are diving into the job market. The list comes out as recent grads confront a job market that's "shaping up to become one of the worst in recent memory," according to The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit news outlet that covers education.

LinkedIn considered three factors for its ranking: affordable rent, good starting salaries, and job availability. Houston's median rent sits at $1,377 per month (all types and sizes of rental properties), LinkedIn says, while its median annual salary for entry-level "career starter" jobs stands at $69,800.

Two other Texas metros appear in the top 15:

  • No. 13 San Antonio, where the median rent is $1,219 and the entry-level salary is $59,900
  • No. 15 Dallas-Fort Worth, where the median rent is $1,423 and the entry-level salary is $65,300

Austin, consistently touted as a magnet for college grads, failed to make the LinkedIn cut.

"What you [also] won't find on this list are the traditional coastal job magnets — New York, the Washington, D.C. area, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Los Angeles," LinkedIn points out. "Those cities may still offer some of the highest starting salaries, but their sky-high rents mean income doesn't stretch nearly as far."

Among the top occupations in the metro areas on LinkedIn's list are software engineer, registered nurse, teacher, project manager, project engineer, consultant, and analyst.

It might be difficult to find those jobs, though. The Conference Board, a research group that monitors business trends, says the number of new job postings in Texas declined from 255,000 in March to 175,000 in April.

To deal with the current economic realities, some new college grads are making sacrifices. In a survey by Monster.com and Wakefield Research, 55 percent of graduating seniors indicated they'd applied for a job they knew wasn't a good fit, and 52 percent said they would accept a lower salary.

"They're feeling desperate," Vicki Salemi, a career expert at Monster.com, told The Hill news website.

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This article original ran on CultureMap.

Houston expert shares tip for developing a circular economy within your company's tech

Guest column

Many organizations are interested in building a circular economy into their business model but aren't sure what steps to take to achieve this goal. I've worked in the technology industry for over 20 years, helping customers across all industries navigate the processes of buyback, recycling, and repair in order to create sustainable and profitable solutions to reduce e-waste.

The world produces 40 million tons of e-waste annually, and only 20 percent of that is being disposed of properly. A circular economy is a system in which all materials and components are kept at their highest value and where e-waste is essentially designed out of the system.

Building a circular economy for electronics requires attention to detail in the areas of design, buyback, or return systems, advanced recycling and recapturing, durability and repair, and urban mining.

Below, I'll discuss some key building blocks for implementing an effective and efficient circular economy.

Invest in technology that will last

Longevity is essential to maintaining sustainable products, and that is easily achievable through repair and refurbishment services. Upgrading or reworking existing equipment can save you time and money by enhancing its marketability or extending its useful life.

Rework service providers can replace components inside servers or PCs and rebuild them with new parts to meet your requirements. These services can boost your operations' speed or improve your servers' or PCs' performance through upgrading, while also saving your organization money by not having to purchase all-new equipment.

Recover value through the secondary market

When equipment must be replaced or retired, many electronic devices can be remarketed, either as whole products or individual parts. This system not only keeps electronics in use and out of landfills — it can also serve as an additional revenue stream for your organization.

Finding the right IT asset disposition partner is crucial for maximizing your return on investment. It can pay dividends to provide high-exposure opportunities to a vast network of customers through a mix of online sales, e-commerce tools, and inside sales when selling your retired equipment.

Utilize advanced recycling and recapturing programs

Retired electronics that are not remarketable can be collected and have their components reintegrated into new products, creating a closed-loop production system. ITAD partners who are certified to recognized green standards, such as R2 or e-Stewards, can ensure that IT equipment that no longer has value will be responsibly recycled.

No matter what industry you're in, a qualified ITAD partner can help optimize your organization and support your goals. From data centers to server rooms and beyond, sustainable solutions are available to manage the equipment you need to retire in compliance with all regulatory guidelines.

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Ed Wooten is Smith's director of ITAD, or IT asset disposition.