A Houston entrepreneur is creating a fun and educational platform for children that helps to preserve their heritage. Photo by Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash

Theoharis Dimarhos grew up in a family determined to follow tradition. As a child, his mother serenaded him with old Greek folk songs he still remembers, and his parents made speaking Greek a rule of the house. Dimarhos lived the immigrant family experience, and now he's developed a modern way to preserve pass down culture to the masses.

"My parents came from Greece in 1981, and in typical fashion, they didn't have much and didn't speak the language at all," says Dimarhos, who was born in Cleveland, Ohio. Living the first-generation American experience, he watched his parents work tirelessly to provide for the family and maintain their Greek culture in America.

Dimarhos did get his own immigrant story when his parents decided to move back to Greece when he was 7. After assimilating to Greece, he traveled back to the United States for college, where he learned to readjust once more.

"I kind of got that immigrant experience a couple of times," he says.

While Dimarhos grew up surrounded by his own heritage, he began to realize that "our native cultures were destined to fade if there wasn't a more modern way for children and our little siblings to learn more about their roots."

When talking with his friends from other countries outside of Greece, a general consensus grew: without modern learning, family heritage would slip away.

Enter: Ellis, an app that helps children connect to their culture. The app includes Greek songs, fables, mythology, history, and language.

Named after Ellis Island, a gateway into the United States for so many immigrants in history, Ellis nurtures Greek tradition in a way that caters to children through technology.

"I've always seen [Ellis Island] as a monument of courage to chase your dreams. . .people came and built this country, but also never forgot where they came from."

Interactive technology is becoming a large part of early childhood education, especially during COVID-19, as more families are at-home with children learning virtually. Children are the targets of over 80 percent of the top-selling paid apps in the education category of the iTunes store, according to a published analysis by Carly Shuler in 2012.

Dimarhos and his wife are deeply tied to their Greek heritage, and hope to pass that history and appreciation to their own children once they start a family.

"We wanted to make sure that there was a 21st century way for us and for our children to learn that goes beyond books," he says. "Something that's a little more immersive and fun — fun is very important — and educational."

Ellis is currently being beta tested with a group of 200 active users within the Greek community. The app, which targets ages 0-8, rolls out weekly content to parents.

"I'm receiving texts from friends who are parents begging me to put more content out because they need something to keep their children occupied," says Dimarhos. "Not only are regular schools closed, but cultural schools that are offered by the community are also closed and struggling to open back up."

Time spent on the app can be as short as five minutes and stretch into hours of learning time.

"The goal is always for children to pick up little phrases and words each time they listen," explains Dimarhos.

The stories and songs are all audio-based, tying into activities like waking up, eating breakfast, and bathtime.

"There's something magical about tying in an audio story or song with everyday tasks for kids," says Dimarhos.

Dimarhos parents see the app as "the next step of passing down the torch of our culture," he says.

"They tried to do it with the tools that they had for myself and my sister. . .We're trying to do the exact same thing that they did and their parents did, just with the tools that technology offers us," he says.

Dimarhos, who previously worked in economic development in Austin, had his first experience with startups when his former boss gave him a chance to work with his international accelerator for startups.

"I got my opening into the tech world through the international accelerator and seeing amazing immigrant founders create jobs and strive to do great things in America," he shares.

"Quite honestly, a startup that celebrates different cultures couldn't have a better home than in Houston," he says, noting the massive immigrant population and variety of cultures in the city.

In Dimarhos' own life, he's come across immigrants as well as first and second generation Americans who wish to preserve their own cultures.

"They've wished there was a more modern way to have access to those resources," he explains.

In the future, Dimarhos intends to quickly broaden the app to "launch in every immigrant community in the United States and around the world."

Connecting to cultural roots is something Dimarhos feels is "sacred" to immigrant families.

"It's something that you have the obligation from your parents as they give you everything for you to succeed in life. You kind of carry that obligation to carry that torch and pass it on to your children and their children," he explains.

"We grow up with that and the vision and the mission is just to create something that makes that a little bit easier to keep our cultures alive. I honestly think it's part of what makes this country great," he says.

Now, kids from around the world can visit the Children's Museum of Houston. Children's Museum of Houston/Facebook

Children's Museum of Houston pivots to new digital learning programming

online activities

As more Houston parents opt for online classes when kids return to school, a beloved local museum is offering up a clever learning assist. In September, Children's Museum Houston will launch "All-Time Access," an online initiative to enhance distance learning and open the museum to families all over the world from an all-time digital experience.

The museum's "All-Time Access" makes content and resources available wherever children learn: at school, at home, or at play, according to a press release. The online programming utilizes the defining elements of Children's Museum Houston, allowing kids to engage in fun projects, discover a love of exploration, launch a passion for pursuing their own interests, and connect in ways that apply and expand to what they are learning at school this fall.

Programs will be led by the museum educators and delivered through a variety of technology platforms. Students can submit video questions, showcase outcomes, observe through apps, chat live with experts, and share tons of "wait for it" moments on their phone, computer or tablet, per a release.

The online options for kids include:

  • Choose Your Own Path 3-D Museum Field Trips with educators.
  • MyPROJECTS Live Online Courses guided by educators so students can explore more TinkerCAD 3-D designs, chemistry, art, citizen science and more.
  • An enhanced "More CMH" Museum App that delivers on educational experiences and builds on an online community allowing kids to friend others.
  • Chats with experts during the GEEK Hour Live.
  • An all-new Mr. O Series on Invention.
  • Thematic virtual learning Daily Broadcast on our social media channels.
  • Pop-Up Multi-Day Virtual Epic Adventure Camps accompanied by a kit of materials available for purchase.
  • Live performances.
  • Downloadable activities to support learning at home.
  • Online shopping for products that enhance at-home learning at Fiddle Sticks Toys online.

Parents can find more information online, or follow the museum on Facebook.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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. Christina Morillo/Pexels

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.

Coronavirus likely will affect your supply chain — here's what to keep in mind. Getty Images

Houston expert: Here are 3 tips for a resilient supply chain during the coronavirus outbreak

Guest column

Consumers rarely consider the intricacies of managing a cohesive supply chain when the process needed to deliver product to market is free of disruptors. In short, engineering and design work is completed, a bill of materials is established, material is sourced, and product is manufactured.

Manufacturers often expect to easily purchase product off the shelves or online. When external factors come into play that have the potential to disrupt supply chains and the quick availability of product, proper management is even more critical for businesses and their customers.

During my 23 years at Smith, the world's largest open-market distributor of electronic components, I've witnessed various market disruptions and shifting supply chain dynamics. I can confidently say that the coronavirus outbreak is heavily uncharted territory for the technology industry. Mitigating supply chain disruptions during troubling times, however, is familiar to us. Even through uncertainty, I want companies to know that there are many options to keep their supply chains active.

Here are my top three tips for properly managing your supply chain during the coronavirus outbreak:

Assess inventory levels and run outages scenarios

It is important to not only assess your on-hand inventory levels but to quickly gauge the impact and availability of product from key suppliers. As a precaution and to prevent further spread of the virus, many electronic component manufacturing plants in China were shut down for weeks, and some are still running at limited capacity with prominent labor shortages.

Finding out which manufacturers have been shut down or are affected by the virus will help determine lead times and availability requirements. Surveying suppliers is an efficient way to gauge manufacturers' levels of impact and determine your own needs. Bear in mind what possible logistics delays you may encounter when assessing your material levels.

Build contingency plans with alternative sources.

With supply constraints from traditional sources being almost an inevitability, having flexible sourcing options and relationships with key suppliers is a prime strategy for contingency planning.

On top of that, make sure your sourcing partner has put stringent quality procedures in place and is certified to the highest industry standards. Expanding your AVL (approved vendor list) and qualifying other manufacturers will help keep lines running according to forecast.

Ensuring heightened supplier screenings with end-to-end evaluation transparency is even more essential during times of disruption. Trusted, multichannel sourcing capabilities are prime options in the face of the consistently evolving global situation.

Stay vigilant, and work closely with your emergency response team.

Uncertainty will continue to play a major role throughout the outbreak situation. From my experience, staying up to date with the latest news and maintaining frequent communication with both internal and external parties is one of the most proactive approaches to disruptive situations.

Smith's shipping and logistics hubs have mirrored capabilities and are located in Houston, Hong Kong, and Amsterdam, so we have been able to keep our operations running throughout the outbreak. Although Smith's business operations have continued without any shutdowns, the electronics supply chain has been significantly impacted, and disruptions will be felt for some time. The effects of the coronavirus are expected to trickle down to end consumers, as new product introductions for some consumer electronics have been delayed. Reports are even indicating that the supply and availability of technology products during the peak holiday season may be disrupted.

With the millions of components that go into everything from consumer electronics to oil and gas and medical equipment, our industry could see notable shortages in supply throughout the year. I encourage all companies and especially our friends here in Houston to thoroughly evaluate their supply chains. Utilizing these tips to implement a resilient supply chain will help build a strategic business outlook.

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Todd Burke is president at Houston-based Smith and Associates.

Coding camps continue to grow and expand in Houston. The most recent comes from the University of Texas. Getty Images

UT coding camp emerges in Houston as the city grows its tech and innovation ecosystem

Up to code

As Houston's innovation ecosystem grows, the need for tech talent grows too. It's why the University of Texas and workforce accelerator Trilogy Education decided to bring a series of coding boot camps designed to teach Houstonians the skills they need to excel in the fast-paced world of the tech economy to town.

"Too many working adults lack the skills to succeed in the digital economy," says Liliya Spinazzola, the senior director for professional education and strategic initiatives at the Texas Extended Campus of The University of Texas at Austin. "And that means that employers are lacking a talent pool."

The Houston Coding Boot Camp aims to change all that. The 24-week sessions teach web development and coding skills, allowing adults to take classes even as they're working. That kind of flexibility helps them increase their knowledge as they continue to build career paths.

Houston's seen a good amount of growth when it comes to new coding camps. Digital Crafts, for instance, grew from an inaugural class of eight students to 125 people in just two years. Women Who Code saw a need for female coders in Houston to have a network, and now the city has a newly launched chapter.

Student success
So far, 260 students have completed the programs, going on to work at companies such as JP Morgan, IBM, and Deloitte.

One of those is Rebecca Gemeinhardt, now a full stack developer at Shell. She graduated with her bachelor's in graphic arts from the Kansas City Art Institute in 2017, and found that she missed being in a classroom. When she started the boot camp, she was immediately drawn to the challenge the subject matter offered, as well as the flexible schedule.

"The boot camp was just as formidable as the curriculum promised but extremely fulfilling," she says. "Going into boot camp, I didn't tell anyone I was doing it — what if I struggled and couldn't get through it? I kept it a secret until I found the confidence to identify as a developer."

Once she completed the program, she was hired at Shell.

"My life had changed so much in just six months but definitely for the better," Gemeinhardt says. "By focusing on the ability to adopt new technologies, [the coding boot camp instructors] left us with the invaluable skill of being adaptable and fast-learning full stack developers. This has helped me immensely at my current position as we are always incorporating new languages to our architecture depending on individual project needs."

Filling the need
Spinazzola says the camps deliberately try to create environments that foster the level of problem solving and exploration Gemeinhardt describes. The program partners with employers to discover what skills are most needed, and tailors the curriculum to dovetail with them. She says the skills most in demand right now are coding, cyber security, IT project management, and digital marketing.

"We also look at job description data here in Texas to see what skills are listed," she says. "And while students are in the program, we have a robust network that engages with them upfront, talking to them about what jobs are out there. And we host career fairs where they can show off their portfolios and discuss their skills set with potential employers."

Spinazzola says that students come from all walks of life and employment backgrounds, and that 26 percent of the participants are women. With 25 students per boot camp session, the small classes make for deep instruction. UT offers between three and fours sessions in Houston each year. She says that she finds participants are looking to either break into the tech sector, learn new skills or re-train to be able to advance their careers. The average age of students is somewhere in the low-30s, she says.

"We had a student who owned a cooking school and wanted to start a new career," she says. "[Rebecca] trained as a graphic artist and wanted to be a developer. One student shut down his medical practice and says that he wanted to learn coding so that he could go work for a pharmaceutical company. To me, that's the beauty of this program. These skills are in demand, and our students are able to take what they already know and enhance their abilities to be able to take on new career paths."

Houston and Austin rideshare riders might soon walk away with some earnings — or at least some entertainment. Photo via playoctopus.com

'Cash cab' rideshare tech company expands services to Houston and Austin

In-ride entertainment

Your next Lyft or Uber ride might win you some money. An interactive advertising and entertainment platform that works in rideshares has announced it will expand to the Houston and Austin markets — just in time for SXSW.

Maryland-based Play Octopus has already received thousands of applications from rideshare drivers wanting the device in their vehicles, according to a press release. And expanding to Houston was an obvious move.

"As the leading rideshare advertising company in the country, expanding into Texas' ride-sharing scene is a necessary first step as we expand outside of the Northeast. Austin and Houston are both tech-driven cities that rely on rideshare for convenient transportation," says Cherian Thomas, the co-founder and CEO of Play Octopus. "Digital video consumption and rideshare are both at all-time highs, and for brands, Octopus provides the ability to reach millions of rideshare passengers on a monthly basis."

The company has recently seen success from partnerships with the likes of Disney, Red Bull, Tiffany & Co., Sprint, National Geographic, and Weight Watchers in major Northeastern cities. Houston and Austin are just the start of Octopus' 2019 growth plans.

The way it works is the company provides free tablets to qualified drivers. Tablets come with a monthly data plan, a mount, the cables required, and up to $100 a month — not to mention the perks — like tips and ratings — that come with providing riders a new option for ride entertainment. On the other side of the table, advertisers have access to millions of monthly riders and can use branding and geo-targeting ads.

The company launched the platform on the East Coast about a year ago and is already in over 7,000 vehicles generating almost 10 million engagements a month. Currently, Octopus is in New York; Boston; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; Baltimore; and Richmond, Virginia.

"Our national expansion is being fueled by our brand and agency partners, and further solidifies the Octopus platform as a key component to media plans," says Dillon Tedesco, the chief revenue officer of Play Octopus. "As we surpass the 10,000,000 monthly engagement milestone and introduce exciting new ways to interact with our tablets, we're looking forward to providing our clients with a deeper impact in more cities across the country."

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Rising Houston innovation hub announces real estate partners

eye on the ion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Houston hospital in line to receive COVID-19 vaccine

getting ready

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to safely promote holiday cheer in the workplace

guest column

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

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

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

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

Virtual events open up new opportunities

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

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

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

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

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

Hosting safe in-person events

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

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

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

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

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