The University of Houston explores how research is being conducted in the age of the pandemic. Graphic by Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

As far as COVID-19 goes, Level 1 is the worst threat level. Harris County remains at Level 1, or "Severe Threat" for infection of the novel coronavirus. Yet, as they say in the theater, "The show must go on!" And for the most part, research is continuing in many ways. Surveys, interviews and other socially-distanced research has been easy to keep up during the COVID crisis.

How far away is six feet?

Some research must be done in person, though. Try to picture two golden retrievers standing nose to tail. Or a regular mattress. Or even the width of the front of your car. All of these measure in at about six feet. The droplets in the air are what can get you sick and when you stand at least six feet away from a person who is talking, laughing or coughing, you have a better chance of not breathing those virus molecules.

In the beginning... 

In human subjects research, the safety of participant volunteers is always of the utmost importance. This has only become more critical with the entrance of the pandemic in March 2020, and remains so today. In early March, PIs at the University of Houston were asked to review each of their studies and to let the University know whether missing visits would be detrimental to the safety or well-being of human subjects.

Some clinical studies (specifically those taking part in clinics that provide paid health services) were often allowed to continue under COVID precautions adopted by the medical community. Just as if you went to a doctor's office, there were rules: the 6-foot apart rule, mandatory mask-wearing, extra disinfecting and temperature checks. In some cases, modifications made such as the addition of plexiglass to instrumentation increased the safety of research procedures. Additional protections are in place to protect research staff and students; student involvement in research remains strictly voluntary.

What about IRBs?

At the University of Houston (UH), the Research Integrity and Oversight office is working with groups of faculty investigators, general counsel, Environmental Health and Safety and Emergency Management to put in place safety precautions for re-starting human subjects research where subjects are within six feet of the research team. This will happen once Judge Lina Hidalgo determines that Harris County may be downgraded to Level 2. These institutional requirements are in addition to and on top of the normal precautions taken by the Institutional Review Board, which is formally designated to, among other tasks, review, approve, require modifications in (to secure approval), or disapprove all research activities involving human subjects.

Up close and personal

In the instance Harris County is downgraded to Threat Level 2, COVID-19 procedures have been approved for subjects undergoing research procedures at the UH College of Optometry and in Health and Human and Performance exercise physiology studies. Physiology test subjects are often on treadmills or are exhaling more droplets into the air through exertion brought on by exercise.

COVID-19 procedures for other research that include test subjects that need to be closer than six feet apart (examples: applying sensors, walking in an exoskeleton, completing manual tasks, etc.) have been submitted for review and are currently being evaluated. As this group encompasses such a wide variety of research procedures, it has taken the longest to draft.

Contact tracing

Screening questions, non-recorded temperature checks and a log of updated contact information are now required for all research endeavors. Screening questions mirror those recommended by CDC, including attestations as to whether the participant has had symptoms, travelled out of the country, or has been in contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID.

The contact information is so that correct information is available should the researcher be contacted by a city or county health department for contact tracing purposes if a positive test result is reported for a subject or research team member. Finally, all subjects are asked to read and sign a document (in addition to the consent form) that explains the increased protections the university has put in place for those coming to campus during the pandemic, including face coverings, social distancing when possible and additional protections depending on the type of research being conducted.

Exceptions

Kirstin Holzschuh, executive director of UH's Research Integrity and Oversight office said, "If there is a compelling justification – for example, a PI is conducting a long-term longitudinal study and missing data points might invalidate the study, or we are one of many research sites and are in jeopardy of losing funding because other (typically non-academic) sites are enrolling and we are not – the PI can contact the Research Integrity and Oversight office and request to use the procedures approved for Level 2 under Threat Level 1." But this also goes through a review process and requires a signed agreement by the investigator that they will follow all approved COVID procedures.

Better safe than sorry

There are always risks and benefits to participating in research, but what must be kept at the foreground of one's human subjects research is that we are considering volunteers. Research subjects must always weigh the risks and benefits of participating in research; a researcher must provide these risks and benefits in clear language that allows the subject to make an informed decision.

"During times of increased risk, such as a pandemic, the university must take further precautions to protect and inform our research subjects regarding the risks of being on campus during a pandemic. Research subjects and their commitment to the greater good fuel our research enterprise, and their safety is always paramount," said Holzschuh.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Sarah Hill, the author of this piece, is the communications manager for the UH Division of Research.

In these highly divisive times, it can be a struggle to curb political discussions in the workplace. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

How Houston companies big and small should approach politics in the workplace

Houston voices

Politics has always managed to find its way into the workplace. Casually popping up in conversation here and there. Usually reserved for the water cooler. It always managed to seep through the cracks like a gentle breeze. But, what was once just a breeze, has now become a tsunami.

Politics in the workplace doesn't just casually pop up anymore. In many respects, it has consumed it. According to Harvard Business Review writer Rebecca Knight, companies themselves are now taking political stances. With the advent of social media, political grandstanding is more prevalent and even encouraged in the workplace in many places, than ever before.

The problem is obvious. Few things are as divisive as politics. With emotions often running at a fever pitch, you're bound to see tension and friction in the workplace. Once it starts to disrupt business and the flow of work, it's time to rethink your company's approach to political discourse on the boss's dime.

Establish a policy for politics in the workplace

You have a right to free speech, even in the workplace. Read that again. Because it's completely WRONG.

You don't have a right to free speech in most workplaces. A private employer can and usually does establish a set of rules for politics in the workplace. If you're an employer and you don't want to completely ban political discussion, you can still establish policies to prevent the display of political support in the office. The golden rule here is to stay neutral. Don't highlight a specific political view or party or candidate over another.

"Talking politics can be tricky, but, like many things it's an unavoidable part of the workplace. Hold strong, the presidential race will be over (soon), and everyone will be back to talking shop (at least until inauguration)," said Lynze Wardle Lenio, in her article for The Muse.

Handling complaints

This depends on your particular company's policy on politics. Does your company prohibit all conversations about politics? Can your employees talk politics on lunch breaks? If someone is in violation of your policy, the first action should be to confront them privately and remind them of the policy.

"If your policy is more lax, you might want to encourage the complainant to respectfully ask the person engaged in political talk to take their conversation somewhere else," said Macy Bayern of TechRepublic.

"Never discipline an employee for having a different political opinion from another employee. The discipline should only come within the framework of the company's policy," she continued. Are they making someone uncomfortable? Are they wasting company time? Creating workplace hostility? These are all grounds for serious reprimanding.

Handling harassment

Now we're venturing into more serious territory. It's one thing to have complaints about people talking about an election out in the open. It's another to have complaints that someone was attacked for their political beliefs. "You're the employer. You have a responsibility to keep your employees safe above all else. That means protecting them from bullying," Bayern expressed.

This is a situation where you should be more firm in your reprimanding. Although it's not illegal per se, since political leanings aren't a protected class, you still want to nip this in the bud before it compromises the integrity of the entire office. The last thing you want is for employee morale to dip because of bullying. If allowed to go unpunished, this could easily spill over into bullying because of race, sex or religion. Then you have a legal problem.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Rene Cantu, the author of this piece, is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

Reports find that more and more tech companies are leaving the bustling Silicon Valley. But where exactly are they going? Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

If Silicon Valley is experiencing a tech exodus, what does that mean for growing startup hubs like Houston?

houston voices

It started with prunes. Long before Silicon Valley was the innovation capital of the world, it was a giant valley of fruit trees and verdant hills. The primary crop in the then called Santa Clara Valley was the French plum, which was sun-dried to turn into the valley's most popular export and métier: prunes.

By the late 19th century, the Industrial Revolution had produced myriad millionaires, billionaires by the boatload and tons of tycoons. Among them was Leland Stanford, a railroad king. Stanford owned an 8,100-acre ranch in Santa Clara Valley near Palo Alto. That's where he founded and established Stanford University. It was also here that the region transformed into the valley of technology known today as Silicon Valley.

In 1925, Stanford alum Frederick Terman, considered the father of Silicon Valley, returned to teach radio engineering. Over the next decade, Terman noticed something quite concerning. He recognized that Stanford produced elite, highly-educated grads who continually opted to leave town for jobs in New York City. Terman expressed his desire for Stanford alumni to stay in the valley to grow the region's business sector and feed the local economy. The first company to heed this advice was Hewlett-Packard.

Terman encouraged Stanford grads William Hewlett and David Packard to partner up and thus, we saw the first ever "garage-startup" born. Anon this historic partnership, more alumni and faculty at Stanford began to found their own companies in the valley. Soon, a massive network of companies was formed, bound by their shared connection with the university. Terman had essentially built a pipeline through which Stanford grads poured into the valley, a process that is still in full swing today.

In a sense, Silicon Valley was the first academic incubator. One that is stronger than ever today. Or is it?

The great tech-xodus?

According to The Economist, "[In 2018,] more Americans left the county of San Francisco than arrived. According to a recent survey, 46 percent of respondents say they plan to leave the Bay Area in the next few years, up from 34 percent in 2016. So many startups are branching out into new places that the trend has a name, 'Off Silicon Valleying.'"

Business Insider's Melia Robinson writes, "Silicon Valley is on the brink of an exodus" and that "the tech elite are abandoning Silicon Valley in droves."

More tellingly, Kevin Roose wrote in his New York Times article "Silicon Valley Is Over, Says Silicon Valley," that "This isn't a full-blown exodus yet. But in the last three months of 2017, San Francisco lost more residents to outward migration than any other city in the country."

Roose followed 12 venture capitalists on a bus trip throughout the heartland. They were looking for hot startups in lesser-visited areas of America. The venture capitalists were in awe of how inexpensive the home prices were in the Midwest compared to the Bay Area. To add to this, a public-relations firm named Edelman conducted a survey of 500 residents in the Bay Area and found that almost half of all Bay Area residents "said they would consider leaving California because of the cost of living."

Moreover, Eric Rosenbaum wrote in his CNBC article "Silicon Valley Edged Out: Google Employees Aren't the Only Ones Walking Away From Elite Tech Headquarters," that "Silicon Valley is not about to lose its dominant position as the home of billion-dollar technology start-ups and hub for top talent, but there are a growing number of reasons why more workers and new companies are choosing other cities, far from San Francisco."

The common theme in most of the aforementioned articles is that the reason behind this mini-exodus is the high cost of living in the Bay Area. The Economist states that "young startups pay at least four times more to operate in the Bay Area than in most other American cities."

Aside from the cost of living, one often-cited reason why entrepreneurs leave the Valley is groupthink. Again, The Economist sheds light on this stating that, "The Valley does many things remarkably well, but it comes dangerously close to being a monoculture of white male nerds. Companies founded by women received just 2 percent of the funding doled out by venture capitalists last year (2017)." Entrepreneur Tim Ferriss told Business Insider that the tech scene in Silicon Valley can be brutal for people who deviate from the political echo chamber. After ten years in the Valley, Ferriss moved to Austin in 2017. Business Insider also tells the account of Peter Thiel, a billionaire-investor who was all but ostracized from Silicon Valley because of his support for President Donald Trump. He told Insider that "Network effects are very positive things, but there's a tipping point where they fall over into the madness of crowds."

Even if not quite an exodus, there are many accounts like the aforementioned that point to the fact that startups are indeed looking for greener pastures. Just where are these greener pastures? They are located in the business districts and technology parks that are smaller versions of Silicon Valley in cities all over the country. However, one green pasture in particular has taken the startup world by storm in recent years: the rise of the academic incubator.

A tech-splosion of university parks

"In recent years, there has been a substantial increase in public and private investment in university research parks (URPs). URPs are important as an infrastructural mechanism for the transfer of academic research findings, as a source of knowledge spillovers, and as a catalyst for national and regional economic growth," wrote Albert N. Link and John T. Scott in the highly regarded journal Oxford Review of Economic Policy, in their article "The economics of university research parks."

One of the biggest reasons universities have become hotbeds for tech startups is that campuses provide a means for people with multidisciplinary backgrounds to intermingle within the same space. A mechanical engineering student with a great idea might meet an MBA during a startup launch party. Together they can build and market their time-traveling DeLorean, or whatever actually-realistic idea the student has.

In essence, academic incubators are courting tech entrepreneurs because universities offer an ecosystem designed to support and grow startups from conception to commercialization. This ecosystem includes a space where researchers, faculty and students of all disciplines interact and form working relationships. In many cases, it also includes university owned equipment and laboratories for use by startup researchers.

"I feel that organizations working to commercialize university IP realize a great source of off-the-shelf technology that small businesses can use to either augment their own offerings or exploit something not currently found in the marketplace," said Michael Tentnowski, the director of entrepreneurship for Innovation Park of Tallahassee.

"Basically, the potential business can work with university staff to perfect, enhance or create new versions of various innovations to appeal to consumer demands. Taking the technology risk out of the equation helps new businesses focus on customer discovery and market penetration," Tentnowski explained.

Faye Liu, founder and CEO of RevoChem, a hot startup that recently launched out of UH's Technology Bridge, expressed that "one key benefit is the easy access to great talents and research resources from both students, researchers and professors from the university with flexibility."

Liu goes on to explain, "We have successfully hired multiple UH students and alumni through internships to work full time. We have also sponsored UH research that is relevant to our work which is a win-win for both of us."

It is true that universities position aspiring entrepreneurs to network with the right people for building their company from the ground up. Even the Innovation Leadership Forum attests that innovation is born when different ways of thinking clash.

"Providing a high-density area for collisions between thoughts and ideas to occur is driving innovation. Our urban location – adjacent to a Tier One research university – provides the chance for success to increase exponentially," said Carrie Roth, the president and CEO of Virginia Bio Tech Park.

"Our experience demonstrates that startups come here for a competitive advantage – and that is being in an environment where they can keep costs lower and accelerate their startup," she continued.

Academic incubators exude a different aura from non-academic parks. There's a certain sense of prestige they carry because they are based in universities. Perhaps it is the idea of working with professors and using university labs and equipment that resonates. "University research parks offer the opportunity for startups to be at the nexus of technology, talent and opportunities. The UH Technology Bridge, for example, offers a unique setting where companies from a broad range of technology areas can come together and have access to a variety of different resources, including wet lab space," explained Christopher Taylor, the executive director of University of Houston's Office of Technology Transfer and Innovation.

"Locating in a research park near a major university offers startups a chance to engage and collaborate with academic researchers in their field and leverage the vast talent pool of students through internships and part-time employment to develop their technology and grow their company," Taylor proceeded.

Yes, it is no wonder that so many entrepreneurs are choosing to leave Silicon Valley. They actually have options now. There are a ton of alternatives available all over the country now that are just as "top tier" as Silicon Valley, without the drawbacks of living there. Chief among these alternatives are academic incubators. The explosion of university investment in these tech parks has opened, nay, kicked down, the door for startup founders looking to venture outside of the Bay Area.

Say what you will about the mini-exodus from Silicon Valley. The high cost of living, the echo chamber and political groupthink, the lack of diversity. All valid points. But one thing is for certain, there are no academic incubators today without Silicon Valley. Its influence on modern tech parks may be taken for granted, but it is real.

It was once said that as gigantic and unfathomably massive as the sun is, it still manages to gently reach out with its light, millions of miles away, to ripen a vine of grapes as if it had nothing better to do. That's how Silicon Valley's influence is felt. Except instead of ripening grapes, it's drying plums. And today, academic and non-academic incubators merely operate in its shadow. The shadow of the valley of tech.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Rene Cantu, the author of this piece, is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

Startup founders seek answers to how PPP loan funds provide their companies security and support. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

What Houston startups need to know about PPP loans

Houston voices

Unless you've been vacationing on Mars for the past six months, you know that a $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) was recently approved by Congress. Business owners are sifting through the fine print to see if they qualify for PPP loans for startups.

The stimulus package carries provisions that will surely assist startups and small business during our current state of national emergency. The most notable part of this legislation is known as the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP.

"Under the PPP, startups can qualify to attain a forgivable loan of 2.5 times the average monthly payroll, with restrictions, of course," explained the vice president of communications for Zeni Inc., Emilie Pires.

Emilie Pires oversees Zeni, a company that helps startups manage financial affairs and helps clients apply for PPP loans.

The federal government has a history of lending to small businesses through the Small Business Administration. The PPP loan differs from past loans, however, because it can be forgiven, and because it doesn't require a personal guarantee.

"Loan forgiveness is the most notable aspect of the PPP. It is significant because if you comply with the requirements, the loan actually functions like more of a grant. It's non-dilutive capital from the federal government to keep your company alive," Pires continued.

Perks of PPP

According to Bloomberg business writer Sara McBride, not requiring a personal guarantee gives startup founders a much needed boost.

"If a loan requires a personal guarantee, the founder would likely be weighed down with heavy personal debt if the startup ended up failing. A loan like this is not very appealing, so it's a big deal that the PPP loan doesn't require a personal guarantee."

Here are the two requirements if you want the loan to be forgiven. Per Bloomberg:

1) You must spend the money within 24 weeks of receiving funds, and;

2) You must use the loan on payroll, rent, mortgage, interest, or utilities.

The affiliate rule

Here's where it gets a little dicey. First off, it's best to consult a lawyer regarding the specifics of the affiliate rule. The affiliate rule essentially states that, if you own multiple startups, you have to count all the employees of all your companies when determining if you qualify for the PPP loan, which requires you to have less than 500 employees total to qualify.

With that said, here is an interpretation given by tech industry venture capitalist and lawyer Ed Zimmerman: "You might be able to skate by the affiliate rule if no one who owns other companies has more than a 20 percent stake in your company, and if no one in your company has enough control to veto any actions from your board."

Qualifying for PPP

Zimmerman also lays out a three-question test that might help you determine if your venture capitalist-supported startup qualifies for a PPP loan. The three questions are:

1) Does your venture capitalist hold 50 percent of your company's equity?

2) Even aside from that, does at least one venture capitalist control the majority of the company's board?

3) Further, does any venture capitalist control large portions of protective provisions, allowing him or her to veto corporate action, giving this venture capitalist control of the startup?

According to Zimmerman, if your answer to any one of the above is yes, you should attain legal counsel. If you answered no to all three, that's great news for you (but should still seek out legal counsel).

It is worth noting that the CARES Act does offer a program for companies with up to 10,000 employees. But those rates will be higher and will come with much bigger caveats.

Again, it's best to consult a lawyer to decide if you qualify to avoid the affiliate rule.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Rene Cantu, the author of this piece, is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

During a crisis, it's easy for startup leaders to panic and make things worse. Here, we'll discuss how staying grounded will get you through a crisis. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

3 crisis management tips for Houston business leaders

houston voices

The great pandemic of 2020 has brought to the surface the issue of crisis management. Especially with nationwide business shut downs in the last eight months, many companies are on a rocky road of uncertainty. Entrepreneurs are unsure of what the future holds after seeing revenues slow or halt in some cases. Layoffs, RIFs, budget cuts, departmental downsizing; all inevitable.

Way too many startup founders aren't equipped or experienced when it comes to crisis management. "In order to keep your startup going, you have to know how to identify a crisis before it spreads like a cancer and how to make big changes and big decisions fast and often," says Gael O'Brien, the ethics coach for Entrepreneur.com.

"Any time in which the world stops functioning in a way we're used to, a deviation from the norm, that might be the biggest early sign of a crisis about to rear its head," she continued.

Admitting you have a problem

O'Brien stresses that a leader should create an easy process whereby one can identify a crisis in its infancy. The key here, she says, is to make sure to recognize a crisis before it starts to consume your company. You'll have to learn how to contain the crisis by leading the charge in rapid decision making. Many entrepreneurs simply refuse to admit there's a problem at hand. Many times, admitting there's a crisis means admitting one was wrong. It also means they may have been wrong for years.

These entrepreneurs that refuse admitting there's a crisis often do so with common refrains like "I didn't want to scare anyone" or "if I admit I was wrong this whole time I'll lose respect."

"Great leaders aren't afraid to put their company first, even if it means a blow to the ego. These leaders are not afraid to inform everyone that might be affected know there is a crisis," O'Brien explained.

"They contain the problem and prevent it from becoming unmanageable. Good leaders don't opt for a temporary Band-Aid-like fix either. They aim for a permanent solution."

Casting for a crisis management team

There are two common mistakes startup leaders make when it comes to crisis management. The first is that they can miscast a crisis management team. Meaning, they put the wrong people in decision-making roles. You want people on your crisis management team who are not going to feel they will be blamed for a crisis or for controversial decisions.

When one is afraid of being blamed for something, they are more likely to obstruct and lie so that the team's focus is diverted. "These are people that will omit objective and relevant information if it means saving their own reputation or job. You want people that put the team first," said O'Brien.

Communication during a crisis

The second common mistake startup leaders make during a crisis is that they tend to under-communicate. It becomes habitual to keep things close to the chest. To become secretive during a crisis. Managers might feel that the less people know, the less chance there is of panic. However, doing this opens your company up to wild speculation among employees. Assumptions. And these assumptions are never good.

"You have to be forthright. It's not just that people have a right to know what's going on in their own company. It's also that if you leave yourself up to speculation, people will grow frustrated and worse, scared. Scared people make crises worse," said O'Brien.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Rene Cantu, the author of this piece, is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

Customers' shopping patterns have changed during the pandemic. They're likely to have changed forever. Here, we explore how you can keep up. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

Houston expert: How the pandemic has changed SEO

Houston voices

If you're stranded on an island, it's probably not smart to go into hiding and just hope someone finds you. You're better off dedicating your time to making a fire, spelling HELP with logs, or sharpening your hunting skills. During this pandemic, it would best serve your company's future to dedicate your time honing your SEO skills and tracking SEO changes.

"Nobody is going to come and save your business during the national crisis. You're going to have to do it yourself. And focusing on strengthening something as vital as SEO is one big way to keep your company alive while we await a return to normalcy that may never come," says Omi Sido, SEO manager for Canon Canada. Canon is the famous camera company.

Key words are key

During the pandemic and various state shutdowns, many companies have opted to cut their SEO budgets in order to save money. While cutting costs during a national emergency is smart, maybe SEO cost cutting isn't the way to go. Investing in keyword research is vital to the success of any company in 2020.

"Keyword research helps you stay abreast of the ever-changing search habits of people in your space. These habits might change during a crisis and you need to be aware of just how they've changed," Sido says.


"If things go back to normal, you don't want any surprises as to how different your customer base is. You want to have anticipated it."

Behavioral changes

As mentioned above, people change their dispositions and behavior during crises.

"Customer spend differently than they used to. They eat differently. The even browse differently. Some things are less important to them and some things are more important to them. That makes sense. After this pandemic runs its course, investing in emergency kits, face masks, generators, etc. will prove more important than it was a year ago," explains Brian Wood, the former SEO manager for Wayfair.

With SEO research, you can see the changes in real time. You can see how webpages on your site are visited more or less frequently. Which products are people showing more or less interest in. According to Wood, you should certainly take note of which pages people are visiting more and which they're visiting less. This will help you anticipate which changes to expect when things reopen more.

Track algorithmic changes

Search engines like Google will most certainly change the way they crawl the web during the pandemic and after. That's a given. If people change their habits, spending patterns and value certain things differently during a crisis, then it only makes sense search engines will want to keep up with those changes. So these search engines will change accordingly. It's up to you to track those changes and keep your website up to date with the latest algorithmic tune-ups.

The pandemic has surely impacted small businesses like an asteroid. Just remember that "the same tenacity and perseverance that got you to where you are today as an entrepreneur, that's the same fountain you'll have to drink from to get your company through this national crisis," Wood says.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Rene Cantu, the author of this piece, is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

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5 can't-miss innovation events at CERAWeek featuring Houston speakers

where to be online

While usually hundreds of energy experts, C-level executives, diplomats, members of royal families, and more descend upon Houston for the the annual CERAWeek by IHS Markit conference, this year will be a little different. Canceled last year due to COVID-19, CERAWeek is returning — completely virtually.

The Agora track is back and focused on innovation within the energy sector. The Agora track's events — thought-provoking panels, intimate pods, and corporate-hosted "houses" — can be accessed through a virtual atrium.

Undoubtedly, many of the panels will have Houston representatives considering Houston's dominance in the industry, but here are five innovation-focused events you can't miss during CERAWeek that feature Houstonians.

Monday — New Horizons for Energy & Climate Research

The COVID-19 pandemic has made vivid and real the risks of an uncontrolled virus. Risks posed by climate change are also becoming more palpable every day. At the forefront of understanding these risks, universities are developing solutions by connecting science, engineering, business, and public policy disciplines. Along with industry and governments, universities are critical to developing affordable and sustainable solutions to meet the world's energy needs and achieve net-zero emission goals. Can the dual challenge of more energy and lower emissions be met? What is some of the most promising energy and climate research at universities? Beyond research, what are the roles and responsibilities of universities in the energy transition?

Featuring: Kenneth B. Medlock, III, James A. Baker, III, and Susan G. Baker Fellow In Energy And Resource Economics, Baker Institute and Senior Director, Center For Energy Studies at Rice University

Catch the panel at 1 pm on Monday, March 1. Learn more.

Tuesday — Conversations in Cleantech: Powering the energy transition

With renewables investment outperforming oil and gas investment for the first time ever in the middle of a pandemic, 2020 was a tipping point in the Energy Transition. Low oil prices intensified energy majors' attention on diversification and expansion into mature and emerging clean technologies such as battery storage, low-carbon hydrogen, and carbon removal technologies. Yet, the magnitude of the Energy Transition challenge requires an acceleration of strategic decisions on the technologies needed to make it happen, policy frameworks to promote public-private partnerships, and innovative investment schemes.

Three Cleantech leaders share their challenges, successes, and lessons learned at the forefront of the Energy Transition. What is their vision and strategy to accelerate lowering emissions and confronting climate change? Can companies develop clear strategies for cleantech investments that balance sustainability goals and corporate returns? What is the value of increasing leadership diversity for energy corporations? Can the Energy Transition be truly transformational without an inclusive workforce and a diverse leadership?

Featuring: Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs, which is opening a location in Houston this year.

The event takes place at 11:30 am on Tuesday, March 2. Learn more.

Wednesday — Rice Alliance Venture Day at CERAWeek

The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship pitch event will showcase 20 technology companies with new solutions for the energy industry. Each presentation will be followed by questions from a panel of industry experts.

Presenting Companies: Acoustic Wells, ALLY ENERGY, Bluefield Technologies, Cemvita Factory, Connectus Global, Damorphe, Ovopod Ltd., DrillDocs, GreenFire Energy, inerG, Locus Bio-Energy Solutions, Nesh, Pythias Analytics, REVOLUTION Turbine Technologies, Revterra, ROCSOLE, Senslytics, Subsea Micropiles, Syzygy Plasmonics, Transitional Energy, and Universal Subsea.

The event takes place at 9 am on Wednesday, March 3. Learn more.

Thursday — How Will the Energy Innovation Ecosystem Evolve?

Although the cleantech innovation ecosystem—research institutions, entrepreneurs, financiers, and support institutions—is diverse and productive, converting cleantech discoveries and research breakthroughs into commercially viable, transformative energy systems has proven difficult. With incumbent energy systems economically efficient and deeply entrenched, cleantech innovation faces a fundamental dilemma—the scale economies necessary to compete require a large customer base that does not yet exist. How is our clean energy innovation ecosystem equipped to be transformative? What needs to be strengthened? Is it profitable to focus on individual elements, or should we consider the system holistically, and reframe our expectations?

Featuring: Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president at Chevron Technology Ventures

The event takes place at 7:30 am on Thursday, March 4. Learn more.

Friday — Cities: Managing crises & the future of energy

Houston is the capital of global energy and for the past four decades the home of CERAWeek. Mayor Sylvester Turner will share lessons from the city's experience with the pandemic, discuss leadership strategies during times of crisis, and explore Houston's evolving role in the new map of energy.

The event takes place at 8 am on Friday, March 5. Learn more.

Rice University develops 2 new innovative tools to detect COVID-19

pandemic tech

Rice University is once again spearheading research and solutions in the ongoing battle with COVID-19. The university announced two developing innovations: a "real-time sensor" to detect the virus and a cellphone tool that can detect the disease in less than an hour.

Sensing COVID
Researchers at Rice received funding for up to $1 million to develop the real-time sensor that promises to detect minute amounts of the airborne virus.

Teams at Rice and the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston are working to develop a thin film electronic device that senses as few as eight SARS-CoV-2 viruses in 10 minutes of sampling air flowing at 8 liters per minute, per a press release.

Dubbed the Real-Time Amperometric Platform Using Molecular Imprinting for Selective Detection of SARS-CoV-2 (or, RAPID), the project has been funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Rice notes. Further funding will be contingent upon a successful demonstration of the technology.

Attacking with an app
Meanwhile, the university announced that its engineers have developed a plug-in tool that can diagnose COVID-19 in around 55 minutes. The tool utilizes programmed magnetic nanobeads and a tool that plugs into a basic cellphone.

First, a stamp-sized microfluidic chip measures the concentration of SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein in blood serum from a standard finger prick.

Then, nanobeads bind to SARS-CoV-2 N protein, a biomarker for COVID-19, in the chip and transport it to an electrochemical sensor that detects minute amounts of the biomarker. Paired with a Google Pixel 2 phone and a plug-in tool, researchers quickly secured a positive diagnosis.

This, researchers argue, simplifies sample handling compared to swab-based PCR tests that must be analyzed in a laboratory.

"What's great about this device is that it doesn't require a laboratory," said Rice engineer Peter Lillehoj in a statement. "You can perform the entire test and generate the results at the collection site, health clinic or even a pharmacy. The entire system is easily transportable and easy to use."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.