Is all research essential? Nope. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

Many researchers have begun to work from home due to the novel COVID-19 pandemic, and only essential personnel are allowed to work on university campuses. For a researcher, what is considered "essential personnel"? Isn't all research essential to the workings of a public research university?

In a word, no.

As much as one would like to believe their respective job is of the utmost importance to human existence, certain mitigating factors can overrule that sensibility – and the definition of the word "essential" – in a moment's time. According to an article in Inside Higher Education, a Ph.D. candidate researching diabetes at the University of Toronto said, "There is no single experiment or laboratory activity that is more important than saving the life of even a single individual in the community."

Your university or institution may not have closed completely, yet it is safe to suspect that you have been asked to complete most of your work remotely. With most counties in the nation declaring a shelter in place order, researchers who have been required to "ramp down" lab activities may be feeling extreme disappointment and even panic.

Allowances and exceptions for federally funded research

The NSF has extended deadlines for some applications and reports. For instance, it has extended the dates of all annual project reports due between March 1 and April 30 by 30 days. In addition, the charge of costs or fees that have been incurred due to COVID-19 can be negotiated, as long as there is proper documentation and the result is not a shortage of funds to eventually carry out the project.

The NIH released NOT-OD-20-086 on March 12, 2020 to alert the research community of certain flexibilities which apply to NIH applicants and recipients. Some of these include pre-award costs, extension of required reporting, prior approval waivers and expenditure of award funds – especially involving travel. There are other exceptions being made, including allowing salaries to be charged against grant monies in some instances.

So, you have to go to campus

If you are a researcher who ensures the continuity of key operations, such as an animal care operations worker, there are several things you can do to keep yourself and your colleagues safe, which will come as no

surprise:

  1. Very few researchers are allowed on campus. If you are working on campus, keep 6 feet away from your co-workers. There should be a greatly reduced number of researchers in the lab or facility at any given time.
  2. Wash your hands. Follow all environmental safety and hazardous material rules to a tee.
  3. Be careful when getting deliveries and regularly clean your workspace.
  4. Research the many funding opportunities that are available to contribute to the solution of COVID-19 related issues.

Just breathe…it’s going to be okay

If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that an emergency plan is the best bet for staving off panic and flowing as seamlessly as possible into a remote working situation. As always, safety is goal one and this situation's trajectory is causing safety concerns to escalate. Your research will ramp up again, make no mistake, although for the time being it may have fallen victim to this outbreak. If you stay in close adherence to policies put forth by your institution and you keep your sponsor abreast of your next steps, all will work out in the end.

------

This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

Sarah Hill is the communications manager for the UH Division of Research.

Budgeting your startup is one of the most important aspects of ensuring success. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

What you need to know about budgeting for your Houston startup

Houston Voices

According to Jean Murray, a business professor at Palmer College where she taught business startup and finance, the most important thing an entrepreneur must meet head on is budgeting. Startup budgeting is important because it allows you to make an educated guess as to what your expected income and expenses will be.

Murray recommends planning for the first day of your startup.

"You have to start by determining what you'll require on the first day of your business in order to open the doors and start accepting customers or having your website go live," she says.

Your first day budget

Murray says it's best to break down your "day-one startup budget" into four distinct categories:

Facilities cost. This is the cost of your startup location. Your office. Your company building or office or warehouse.

Fixed assets. These are expenditures for furniture, equipment, or company cars that you'll need to establish your company on the first day.

Materials and supplies. This is pretty straightforward. It includes office supplies and promotional stuff. In order to get your company started, you'll need these materials on the first day.

Other expenditures. This can range from paying an accountant to help you build a reliable and efficient HR system, licenses and permits, deposits, legal fees, or any other fees needed on the first day.

Monthly expense "guesstimate"

Murray recommends that you estimate monthly expenses, too. Both of the fixed and variable variety.

"Fixed expenses are expenditures that don't rely on how many customers or subscribers you have. We're talking expenses like rent, utilities, office supplies, insurance, loan payments and utilities," Murray says.

Variable expenses, on the other hand, are expenses that actually DO change with how many customers and subscribers you have monthly.

"Variable expenses range from production costs, commissions, postage and shipping, packaging, and wholesale price of items," Murray explains.

Estimating monthly sales is the hardest aspect of startup budgeting. Nobody can forecast what sales for a new startup will be.

"You'll have to take an educated guess. What are your best and worst case scenarios? Then come up with something in the middle," she advises.

For realistic budgeting, you have to understand that not every sale will be counted. It will depend on what kind of business you are running and how your customers and subscribers pay.

"It's wise to include a collections percentage with your monthly sales estimate. If you estimate sales for February to be $100,000 and your collection percentage is 70%, then you should show that your cash for February is $70,000," Murray suggests.

------

This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

Rene Cantu is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

Choosing the right city in which to launch your startup can make or break your company. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

Houston-founded startups — are you in the right city for growth?

Houston Voices

Choosing the best city for your startup can mean the difference between success and closing up shop prematurely. It's important to think outside your home city for a startup launch because your home city may not have the ecosystem set up for your particular startup.

If you give in to your emotions; staying in your hometown because it's, well, your hometown, you risk preventing your company from launching in a city more conducive to its growth.

Here are three keys to making sure you choose the right city for your startup.

A city's ecosystem

Few things are more valuable to a new company than a web of like-minded companies, investors, social groups and connections. You want a city that uses its resources to grow and maintain its startups. Whether it be accelerators or pitching events or entrepreneur conferences, the city you choose needs to be active in the startup community. Establishing your startup in a city with a weak ecosystem will halt the growth of your company because it'll be that much harder to boost your company without a city's support.

A city's social network

A city with a robust social circle of like-minded entrepreneurs is a city that is doing something right for startups. First of all, if the city is rich in like-minded entrepreneurs, then that means they are living there. So there has to be a reason for that: the city is startup-friendly. Second, a city with a strong social sphere of startups means you have more opportunities to make connections and network. You can meet with other business owners to discuss issues important to your companies and even learn new things from each other. What's more is you have a chance to work with other companies to help each other grow. The city of New Orleans has Krewe de Nieux, for example. This social group is a resource for over forty technology startups in the city.

A chance to give back

Opportunities to give back. The best city for your startup will have plenty of opportunities to give back. For example, giving high school students real-life work experience to expand their knowledge and prepare them for a career in the field. A city with a plethora of opportunities like charities, youth groups, internships and career and business organizations allows startups to barter: we will give you experience and you can help us get work done. You help each other grow. In doing so, you blossom the city's startup community as a whole.

------

This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

Rene Cantu is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

Lean methodology aims to help startups reduce risk and helps entrepreneurs make better, more efficient decisions. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

3 things Houston entrepreneurs need to keep in mind to run a lean startup and reduce risk

Houston voices

There are few things riskier than launching a new business. You could run through a mine field and have a better chance at living than launching a successful, long-lasting business. In fact, the Harvard Business School even reported that three out of every four startups fail. Fortunately, a new process has come to light that was designed precisely to reduce the risk of starting a business. Lean startups champion trial and error over detailed planning. Customer feedback over "gut feeling." Cyclic processes of design over traditional development.

Some lean startup ideas have already gone mainstream because they've proven to be so effective. The principles of "minimum viable product" and "startup pivot" have become so engrained in modern business that even university business colleges have begun to teach them.

There are three key aspects of the lean methodology.

Educated guesses

Number one: Instead of spending a year conducting research and planning long-term, lean startup entrepreneurs go with the idea that all they have on the first day is a bunch of unproven ideas. Guesses, really. These entrepreneurs forego the traditional business plan and opt instead to give a Cliff Notes version of their big idea using a template dubbed "business model canvas." It's pretty much a diagram that shows how a business generates value not just for its consumers, but for itself.

Field work

Number two: Lean startups use an "out and about" method for testing their ideas. It's a kind of customer development. They go "out and about" and basically interview potential customers, interested people, and people on the fence about all aspects of their business. How's our pricing compared to others you've seen? Do you like our product features? What do you think of our strategy? Lean startup entrepreneurs amend their ideas based on the feedback they get from customers. That's the beauty of the lean method: it's based on your willingness to change directions based on new information. Sound familiar? Well, it should. I just described pivoting. A lean startup concept now adopted by major corporations.

Agility means stability not fragility

Number three: The software industry bore a method called agile development. Agile development cuts down on wasted time because it emphasizes the ability and willingness to change directions and adapt fast. That's what agile means. To move quickly. There's a company named RoofProtect Pro that created a chemical they thought would appeal to homeowners looking to reduce shingle rot. Turns out there wasn't really a demand for reducing shingle rot. It wasn't as big a deal as the RoofProtect Pro founders had hypothesized. However, after speaking with business owners they discovered there was a demand for something to help reduce rust and deterioration of signage. RoofProtect Pro went back to the drawing board to build and test a prototype for a chemical that reduces rust and staining on different material like concrete and metal. A year later RoofProtect Pro became SurfaceSustain and obtained over $2 million in venture capital funding.

Now that's agility!

It's no surprise, then, that in the high-stakes world of business, a methodology designed specifically to reduce risk would prove successful. Lean methods don't guarantee success, of course, but the principles it holds dear do help strip away a lot of wasted time and energy and have proven to be highly efficient. Now, if there's an antidote to riskiness, it's got to be efficiency. Efficiency tightens a business to bare bones so there is little room for big risks to hurt your venture.

------

This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

Rene Cantu is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

There are many character traits a startup founder needs to ensure success. You have to be a hard worker with communications skills and charisma and…so much more. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

3 personality traits every entrepreneur has, according to the University of Houston

Houston Voices

It's no secret that every successful business leader has multiple personality traits.

It seems everyone has a fantasy about starting a business. "I'd open up a record store." "I'd sell my famous meatball sandwiches my family loves so much." "I would totally own a comic book shop."

In fact, according to the University of Phoenix, over 60 percent of 20+ year-olds have strongly considered starting their own business.

I mean, that's a step in the right direction. You have to have desire. We can all agree there. But surely it takes more than that if you're serious about starting, and maintaining, a business, right?

So, here we'll take a look three personality traits just about every startup founder possesses.

The ability to look forward

Vision. Imagine walking everywhere with a cap brim so low over your eyes, that you can only see your feet when you walk. You can't see anything beyond that. You cannot see the cars, mailboxes, pedestrians, trees, or anything that might come your way. That's what it's like if you don't have vision.

Without a vision for the future, for what lies beyond, you will not be prepared for the inevitable obstacles. You won't know when to change direction. When brace yourself for a coming problem and prepare for it. You need to look beyond the present and envision what your company will look like in 10 years. And then persuade others to see that same vision and invest in it.

Communication

Communication. There's a video on YouTube of a dog running down a sidewalk in a small town barking at two police officers. The cops could tell by the dog's movements and tone that he was barking not out of aggression, but because he needed something. The policemen followed the dog and discovered a burning house with children inside. Thankfully, they managed to save the kids as the house burned to cinders.

Despite the obvious interspecies communication barrier, the dog was able to communicate that something was wrong so that this problem could be solved. Far too often, a young startup founder will identify a big problem or a big need and spark a great idea for how to solve it, only to discover they aren't very good at communicating the problem and solution to investors. If you cannot communicate the problem, solution, and why you're the right man or woman for carrying out the solution, you'll have a hard time convincing investors to part with their money.

The best way to improve your communication skills is baptism by fire. Go out and, well, communicate! Do it often and soon you'll learn the nuances and intricacies of effective communication. Hand gestures, head movement, tone and timber, reading the other person, etc.

Persistence 

Persistence. You're going to encounter obstacles. I know, breaking news, right? You'll hit a snag here or there. Someone won't like your idea. An investor will pull out. Something. But because you're serious about making it, you have to just pull your collar up and face the cold winter wind. Keep marching forward. However, there's something I like to call "intelligent persistence."

Let's say someone doesn't like an idea you have. Maybe they don't think it's wise to add a flap to your what-cha-ma-whos-it contraption. Persistence doesn't mean don't listen to them and persist anyway. No. Intelligent persistence is listening to them, making a decision based on the feedback, and persisting with a more intelligent direction in mind. You have to listen to feedback, both the good and the bad. Persistence doesn't mean to ignore the bad. It means listen, get enlightened, and make a more educated decision in moving forward. Don't let the bad stuff drag you down. But don't go forward without learning from your negative feedback either.

------

This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

Rene Cantu is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

The design of your startup office matters. The lighting, the acoustics, the vicinity of rooms; every little thing plays a role. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

Houston startups should take care in office design — it makes a difference

houston voices

If you want a work environment conducive to a nice flow of ideas, creativity, freethinking, and finding a work groove, then your startup design and workspace matter.

When it comes to a startup's office design, you want to create spaces with a purpose. You need to be certain what you want with your office's design. Moreover, you need to be certain what you want with every square foot. Yes, you have to be that detailed. Think about it. If you go into the design of your startup's office nonchalant, you'll have spaces without purpose. When you have spaces without purpose, they become susceptible to employees using them as they please. Suddenly, the open area near the creative space becomes the snacking spot. The open space by the window becomes "spot where everyone gathers to birdwatch." You get the picture. It becomes chaotic and confusing. That's why you have to make sure you know what purpose to ascribe every area of your startup.

Here are three features of startup design that help create a mood or ambiance.

Sound check

Some bigger companies hire an acoustics engineer to set decibel levels for every area and room in a workplace. They might set higher levels for a dining area where people are encouraged to interact and enjoy themselves. Lower levels will go to conference rooms and work areas. However, not every startup has a budget to bring in an acoustics engineer. But you can still apply the same principles to your startup design.

When you walk into a library or doctor's office, there's a tacit understanding that you should speak with a lower voice. You don't need an acoustics engineer to set the figurative and literal tone for what kind of behavior employees should exhibit in each area.

It is assumed, for example, that a dining area has more leeway for louder noise. So next to the dining area you can design a work area where one can assume being a little more amplified is allowed. You can have music playing in an area where people are encouraged to mingle and talk. Music is a great cue to signal that casual interaction is encouraged.

For quieter spaces, a tighter design for a room tucked away can send a signal to anyone to keep voices low. Also, if a room has an echo, people are naturally inclined to stay quieter. People tend to interpret spaces with echoes as spaces where they need to be quieter, since an echo carries voices.

Lighting

Exposing your office to natural light creates a positive mood that encourages interaction, collaboration, and an overall "lighter" tone for having a good time at work. Dimmer lighting can be used to create a sense of thoughtfulness and encourage workers in this area to brainstorm, lost in their thoughts.

Work in color

We all know by now that colors convey moods. Blue is pacifying (think Pacific Ocean), warmer colors like red and yellow encourage a more gregarious nature. Knowing what color to design each area of your startup workspace will go far in presenting the mood you wish to create.

------

This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

Rene Cantu is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

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.

------

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.

------

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