The Ion's accelerator program has pivoted to more prominately feature startups with resiliency solutions. Photo courtesy of The Ion

The Ion's accelerator program has taken the current COVID-19 outbreak as an opportunity to focus on resiliency. The Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator, as it's now known, will launch it's second cohort virtually at the end of the month.

"Resiliency has always been a core pillar of our accelerator — in my opinion, you really can't have a smart city unless you're a resilient city," Galib tells InnovationMap. "Language is so important to our culture, and we had not had that word in the accelerator, and so now we do."

The change is effective immediately and comes just ahead of the accelerator's second cohort, which will focus on air quality, water purification, and clean tech. Just like the first cohort, the selected startups will participate in a few months of programming — this time, all online — before entering into pilot programs with the city of Houston.

Later in this spring, the accelerator plans to call for remote education and online technologies. With schools closed, Galib says she's seen a need for tech optimization for both students and teachers.

"By harnessing smart technologies, cities become more resilient in the face of crises," says Gabriella Rowe, executive director of The Ion, in a news release. "The innovation of the Ion Smart & Resilient Cities Accelerator will empower and create the smart technology we need to keep our city's operations moving and our residents safe as we inevitably face sociological challenges and natural disasters. We are excited to play a role in improving our city's fabric and quality of life."

The first cohort resulted in a collective fifteen projects across nine startups. The program is backed by the city of Houston, Microsoft, Intel, and TXRX. The third cohort is expected to launch toward the end of 2020, and Galib says she's not sure what the focus will be yet.

"As we look toward the Ion's opening in January 2021, I look at the accelerator program and its capacity to accelerate entrepreneurship spirit," Galib says. "I truly see the next few months as a chance for us to double down on our efforts to find entrepreneurship everywhere in Houston so that we see every entrepreneur from all walks of life."

Here's what interactive, virtual events to log on to this month. Katleho Seisa/Getty Images

10+ can't-miss virtual business and innovation events in Houston for April

where to be online

Going into April, the city of Houston has another month at least of working from home, hopping on calls, and setting up video chats — but you don't have to go through this all alone.

Here are over 10 Houston innovation events you can attend virtually via online meetings. Be sure to register in advance, as most will send an access link ahead of the events.

April 1 — Social Entrepreneurship Meetup

Impact Hub Houston is bringing this monthly meetup online. Registrants will receive an email with the link to attend the Zoom meeting.


Details: The event is at 5:30 pm on Wednesday, April 1. Learn more.

April 2 — Considerations for Emerging Companies in the COVID-19 Era

A group of experts will discuss how the coronavirus and all its resulting complications will affect startups.

Details: The event is at 2 pm on Thursday, April 2. Learn more.

April 3 — UH's Red Labs Pitch Madness

You are invited to watch the final round of Pitch Madness, a pitch competition for UH students. Students will give a four minute pitch and be asked questions about their startup idea by judges. You can attend digitally the finals and watch students pitch at bit.ly/pitchmadness_finals.

Details: The event is at 1 pm on Friday, April 3. Learn more.

April 7 — CARES Act and Managing your Startup through the COVID Crisis

Carolyn Rodz, CEO of Alice, and Aziz Gilani, managing director of Mercury Fund, answer tech startups' questions about the CARES Act. Zoom link will be sent to attendee's prior to the event.

Details: The event is at 4 pm on Tuesday, April 7. Learn more.

April 8 — Startups & Sustainability - How to Make a Profit and Impact

Join as General Assembly brings together entrepreneurs in sustainability to examine how business and tech can be a force for good. Hear from leaders who will share their insights into how industry can impact the environment. Event will be hosted via Zoom, and registrants will be sent a link to attend.

Details: The event is at 5:45 pm on Wednesday, April 8. Learn more.

April 9 — Out of the Lab & Into the Newsroom: Media 101

This JLABs webinar will discuss trends in the media world, how these impact best outreach practices, and tips for designing a successful media campaign.

Details: The event is at 9 am on Thursday, April 9. Learn more.

April 9 — Webinar: In Today's Market - Do Patents Even Matter?

Inventors and business professionals are asked to review the claims of their patent application before it is filed. This step is THE critical step that is supposed to ensure that the claims will protect their invention. The decision you make here determines if you will be part of the 97% of all patents that never recoup the cost of filing them. This event is virtual and a Zoom link will be emailed on the day of the event.

Details: The event is at noon on Thursday, April 9. Learn more.

April 13-16 — Capital Factory's Founders Academy Essentials

Amongst all the excitement of running a startup is a lot of hard work and stressful decisions. Founders Academy Essentials is a 4-day lunch-n-learn curriculum designed specifically for driven entrepreneurs that are passionate about their business potential.

Details: The event is from Monday, April 13, to Thursday, April 16. Learn more.

April 14 — Black in Tech Summit

Capital Factory welcomes you to its 2nd Annual Black In Tech Summit. We're dedicated to increasing diversity in the tech community and making our coworking space an inclusive environment for people of all backgrounds and identities.

Details: The event is at noon on Tuesday, April 14. Learn more.

April 21 — Don’t Go Pitching in the Dark: How to Navigate Investor Interactions

In this webinar, experts of the craft will share practical tips on becoming more effective in communicating your story to investors, increasing your chances of successful fundraising.

Details: The event is at 9 am on Tuesday, April 21. Learn more.

April 21 — Employable in 2030: Closing the skills gap.

What jobs will exist in 2030? Come along and hear from a panel of industry leaders on how to stay relevant in the rapidly changing space for 2030 and beyond. Event will be hosted via Zoom, and registrants will be sent a link to attend.

Details: The event is at 7 pm on Tuesday, April 21. Learn more.

April 22 — Ion Startup Demo Day (Virtual Edition)

Top tier mentors, local investors, and personalized pitch feedback for participating startups -- nothing's changed but the address. Whether you're a serial entrepreneur or just looking to get involved in the community, this event is for YOU.

Details: The event is at 6 pm on Wednesday, April 22. Learn more.

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For more virtual events, check out Houston Exponential's calendar.

It's a busy month in Houston. Luis Alvarez/Getty Images

10+ can't-miss Houston business and innovation events for March

Where to be

Editor's note: SXSW has been canceled due to the coronavirus since the publishing on this events roundup. The original version of this article is below.

March is a busy month for Houston in general — but especially when it comes to innovation. The inaugural Houston Tech Rodeo starts out the month and the Rice Business Plan Competition closes out March in a few weeks — and the interactive weekend at SXSW falls right in the middle of the month for those planning the trip to Austin.

But for the Houston innovators in the energy industry, March got a little less busy when CERAWeek by IHS Markit was canceled due to the growing threat of the coronavirus, or COVID19.

Should any other events below have that same fate, this article will be updated.

March 2-6 — Houston Tech Rodeo

A week full of events, the Tech Rodeo is made up of over 30 innovation events across Houston. These are InnovationMap's picks for what to attend during the week. For a complete list of the events (most of which are free), head to the website.

Details: The event is from Monday, March 2, to Friday, March 6 across Houston. Learn more.

March 5 — Space Center Houston's Thought Leader Series: Designing for Human Performance

Learn how human factors engineering relates to spacecraft and spacesuit design while celebrating Women's History Month and the 20th anniversary of the International Space Station. Speakers include Celena Dopart, human factors engineer for Starliner at Boeing, and Katie Spira, NASA flight controller.

Details: The event is at 7 pm on Thursday, March 5, at Space Center Houston (1601 E NASA Pkwy). Learn more.

March 6 — Premier Talks: Women in Innovation & Technology 

Join this panel of accomplished women as they discuss the importance of being a woman in the current workforce and leading among your peers. Be empowered to self-evaluate, inspire those around you, and raise the bar on your professional goals. Discuss the challenges women face in a male dominated technology workforce and why it is important to take the limits off of your thinking.

Details: The event is from 9:15 to 11 am on Friday, March 6, at GA Houston (1301 Fannin St, Floor 21). Learn more.

March 6 — The Greater Houston Partnership’s Rise to the Top

Celebrating International Women's Day, the Greater Houston Partnership and the Partnership's Women's Business Alliance brings the Rise to the Top event. Expect a keynote address from Gretchen Watkins, president atShell Oil Company and executive vice president at Global Unconventionals, Shell Oil Company, and candid conversations from a panel of female executives discussing the challenges and triumphs of succeeding as a woman in today's business environment.

Details: The event is from 10:30 am to 1:30 pm on Friday, March 6, at Hilton Americas (1600 Lamar St.). Learn more.

March 10 — Equinor & Techstars Energy Accelerator Meet & Greet

If you're an energy-focused startup, don't miss this info session with the Equinor & Techstars Energy Accelerator, which is visiting Houston and looking for the 10 best energy companies for its next cohort.

Details: The event is from 6 to 9 pm on Monday, March 10, at The Ion (1301 Fannin Street, Suite 2440). Learn more.

March 10-11 — Energy 2.0: Equality, Environment, and the New Economy

Join over 100,000 people taking part in Energy 2.0 2020; an innovative experience that addresses new frontiers in the energy industry where business, workforce, environment, innovation, and policy intersect. Spread across multiple locations and continents, corporate watch sites around the globe, and simulcast online, Energy 2.0 brings energy professionals and a diverse mix of experts across various disciplines together for learning and networking opportunities.

Details: The event is from Monday, March 10, to Tuesday, March 11, online and at The Westin Houston, Memorial City (945 Gessner Rd.). Learn more.

March 12 — Lunch n' Learn: In Today's Market - Do Patents Even Matter?

Inventors and business professionals are asked to review the claims of their patent application before it is filed. This step is THE critical step that is supposed to ensure that the claims will protect their invention. The decision you make here determines if you will be part of the 97 percent of all patents that never recoup the cost of filing them.

Details: The event is from noon to 1:30 pm on Wednesday, March 12, at The Ion (1301 Fannin Street, Suite 2440). Learn more.

March 19 — Science First: How 3D Printing is Reshaping the Future of Healthcare

Technology is evolving faster than ever – and advancements in 3D printing could revolutionize the delivery of healthcare products and solutions to change the trajectory of health for humanity.

Details: The event is from 11:30 am to 2 pm on Wednesday, March 19, at JLABS @ TMC (2450 Holcombe Blvd.). Learn more.

March 24 — How to Form a Micro VC Fund Workshop at Mercury Fund

Welcoming all angels, previous founders, MBA students, aspiring and current venture capitalists that are interested in learning more about the basic essentials for starting a small venture fund. Speakers are Blair Garrou of Mercury Fund and Justin LaPoten of BADR Investments.

Details: The event is from 10 to 11 am on Tuesday, March 24, at Mercury Fund (3737 Buffalo Speedway, #Suite 1750). Learn more.

March 25 — 2020 H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge - Startup Competition

The H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge Startup Competition is Rice's newest entrepreneurship competition, awarding over $60,000 in prize money to Rice-affiliated teams. Students and alumni enter business ideas (high growth ventures or small business ideas) to compete.

Details: The event is from 6 to 9 pm on Wednesday, March 25, at Liu Idea Lab For Innovation & Entrepreneurship (Rice University - Cambridge Office Building). Learn more.

March 26 — T3CH Workshop: Grow With Google "Using Data to Drive Business Growth"

In this T3CH workshop, you'll learn best practices on data-driven decision making; and get practical guidance on how to find and analyze trends regarding online customer engagement with your business, so you can turn those insights into well-informed, actionable decisions.

Details: The event is from noon to 1 pm on Thursday, March 26, at Impact Hub Houston @ The Cannon Post Oak (675 Bering Drive, #200). Learn more.

March 26-28 — Rice Business Plan Competition

The event — dubbed the "world's richest and largest student startup competition" — begins later this month. The Rice Business Plan Competition will host 42 student teams from all over the world. The three-day contest consists of pitches, judging, and a closing banquet where the winners are revealed.

Details: The event is from Thursday, March 26, to Saturday, March 28, at Rice University and the Hilton Americas. Learn more.

Capital Factory has doubled down on Houston, and Founder and CEO Josh Baer shares how it's all part of his Texas Manifesto. Photo courtesy of Capital Factory

Capital Factory founder plans to double portfolio companies in Houston this year

Q&A

A statewide accelerator program has doubled down on Houston, and it's just the beginning.

Austin-based Capital Factory, which also has a presence in Dallas, recently merged with Station Houston in an effort to expand their mentor network and grow its startup portfolio with the addition of Houston companies.

As of today, Capital Factory has 40 startups from Houston in its portfolio, says Josh Baer, founder and CEO of Capital Factory, and Baer says he expects to add an additional 40 in 2020. The Station merger will help spur that growth and also play into Capital Factory's greater Texas Manifesto mission to advance innovation statewide.

"This is not just about adding one more city," Baer says. "It's really about how there's a lot of unique things that Houston brings that are going to make the whole picture a lot stronger."

Baer sat down with InnovationMap to discuss the details of the merger, how Capital Factory will be tuned into The Ion, and how Houston startups can tap into Capital Factory — both locally and at this year's SXSW.

InnovationMap: Capital Factory has been active in Houston for a few years and announced a partnership with The Cannon last year. How has that activation been going?

Josh Baer: We've been in Houston for quite a while now. We started off with our Texas Manifesto almost three years ago and the first thing we did was a listening tour of all the different cities, and we spent a bunch of time in Houston.

Part of the growth we've seen in part is from our partnership with The Cannon as they've opened. They've been a great partner allowing us to reach all of Houston because Houston is really big. It's not like Austin where you can primarily service from one place. We're not builders, that's not our role. We want to be wherever everybody else is doing great things. And that's The Cannon, The Ion, and the Texas Medical Center and all the other places too. There's lots of room for different flavors and focuses and groups, and we need to be at all those places.

IM: What's Capital Factory's presence in Houston and how do you see it growing?

JB: Last year, we hired our first two employees in Houston — that was Kendrick and Brittany, our mentor coordinator and venture associate — so that we could build our mentor network and connect them into the rest of Texas and source the best companies and connect them to the rest of Texas. Last year with those two employees, we brought in 14 Houston companies into our accelerator.

In total right now, we have 40 companies ever that have joined our accelerator from Houston, which is still a pretty significant number. This year, we expect more than 40 companies to join the accelerator from Houston.

IM: How will Capital Factory be involved in The Ion?

JB: Well we are so happy that we have exactly the role we would want to have at The Ion. And that is having some prime space right in the middle of it, and we're located not in the coworking space but in the event space because that's really, we want to be — we want to be where everyone is meeting and activating.

One of the things that we'll focus on is building out the mentor network at The Ion and connecting it into the rest of our mentor network. We're not going to be the only accelerator there. There's going to be a bunch of accelerators there. There's gonna be a bunch of mentor networks. And we're excited to partner with all of those and many more probably bring great people into our networks. I'm pretty confident we'll be the biggest mentor network there and we'll be the default one. We'll be the main one that everybody's part of, and particularly because it connects into everything else. But we'll do that in a really collaborative way.

IM: You kind of dove headfirst into the Dallas innovation ecosystem with a real estate play. Why did making these partnerships make more sense for Houston?

JB: Well, Capital Factory isn't backed by a big university or a billionaire, or a pension fund or something. It's really backed by entrepreneurs. And so while we're fortunate that we do have capital to invest in these startups, our value is not really like the capital like that builds buildings. It takes a lot of money and a lot of capital and that comes from universities and different types of investors and from communities right from the city and others that are part of that.

And so in Dallas, when we looked at that market, there was a real need — nobody was building a place like this, so we had to. We needed a center of gravity. Dallas is big too — other people will build more and we're going to need to be at those places too, just like in Houston.

But in Houston, not only did we are Texas Medical Center, and then we already had The Cannon and there's going to be The Ion, which are hundreds of thousands of square feet of prime real estate that's going to be amazing. We don't want to recreate that or compete with that. We want to be part of that.

So, if somebody else is already putting up tens or a hundreds of millions of dollars to build the building, I don't need to do that. I want to be part of that. My value is not capital. It's bringing the people into the building. It's activating the building and bringing programming into it, and that's where Capital Factory really adds the most value.

IM: How exactly did the merger with Station Houston come about?

JB: You know, it goes all the way back to the very beginning. I'm pretty sure that I was one of the first people that the founders of Station talked to when they were getting started when Emily and Blair and others were working on it. You know, Capital Factory was the place they came to look at. And, I was friends with all of them, and we were very open book about it, and said, "Hey, you know, here's how we work. We should see how we can work together." Because of that, we've always had a good relationship — Station was the first place that we ever went on a bus trip to Houston. We've had lots of overlap between our mentor networks and startups that we work with and others.

And Station has gone through some different changes over the years — leadership and their model evolved from for profit to nonprofit and onward. And through those changes, we just kept moving closer and closer together. It became really clear, especially with the launch of The Ion, that it was really the perfect opportunity for us to align ourselves even more closely and really connected fully into the rest of what's happening in the rest of the state.

IM: I’ve spoken to Gabriella Rowe, former CEO of Station, about it and she really sees it as a return to Station’s roots as an organization. How do you see the merger for Capital Factory?

JB: Well for us, you know, I really like the analogy of a stool. Everybody knows that to have a good foundation, a stool needs to have three legs. And, our mission in connecting Texas together through our Texas Manifesto. [Austin and Dallas were] working and working well, but it still wasn't a strong foundation. Ramping this up across Dallas and Houston, it completes the foundation and gives it a really strong footing and a really powerful footing to make it a Texas wide play.

We don't see this as a cookie cutter kind of thing. Each city is different. Each city has different needs and brings different things [to the table]. And we see that for sure from Houston. The type of entrepreneurs and companies that we've worked with are different. They're working on big, messy problems — robots and dangerous things. And that is exciting and attracts other partners — the big companies and the army and others that want tap into that too. And so, this is not just about adding one more city. It's really about how there's a lot of unique things that Houston brings that that's going to make the whole picture a lot stronger.

IM: What’s the status of the merger at this point?

JB: The paperwork's done, and we're taking a very intentionally slow process with [the execution of the merger]. We told everybody, "you shouldn't expect to see a lot to change fast." We want to be careful and thoughtful. So, we're going to listen a lot, and we're going to make changes slowly. And our goal is that for all the Station members, this is just a value add. They get everything they had before, plus now they get more. Now they get access to the Capital Factory network now, and they get access over time to more at the ion.

[But bigger picture,] it's not done at all. We barely started. We're still really listening and learning, so I don't feel like much has happened yet. The beginning part is, right now, every station Houston member has access to the rest of the Capital Factory network — both physically and virtually. They can go to Austin or Dallas. They can go to The Cannon. And more importantly than that, they can use our online network of union.vc, which is a website where they can log in, create a profile, and they can see all the other startups and mentors across the state and they can be seen by them. And that's what we can do to help connect them all together.

IM: Capital Factory kept Station’s remaining staff, right? Will Capital Factory be hiring more staff in Houston? 

JB: Right, we now have five Houston employees, three of them used to be Station's. We do expect to hire, but we don't have any specific roles to announce, but we have over a dozen people on the team in Dallas now two years into it.

IM: How can Houston startups make the most of SXSW this year?

JB: Honestly, our goal is to be the easy button. The first thing is come to Capital Factory. Capital Factory is an official South by Southwest house. This year, it's all official programming. And of course, the type of programming that you're going to see is focused on startups and government and defense.

We'll have Fast Company, Deloitte, Booz Allen, the army, and the air force — all kinds of other people there. And so that's an easy place to plug in. And for entrepreneurs who are part of our network, they don't have to have South badge to do that. They can be part of what's going on at Capital Factory as members.

IM: For startups wanting to get involved with Capital Factory, what's step one?

JB: The first step is to come to The Cannon or Station and meet us possible. And the person that first person they want to meet is Brittany Barreto, who's our venture associate. That's her job is to scout startups and meet them and help kind of bring them into the funnel.

Austin Rolling, Gabriella Rowe, and Aaron Knape are this week's Houston innovators to know. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

In this weekly roundup of Houston innovators, we find an entrepreneur who created the tech solution he wished he'd had as a salesman, an innovation leader with big goals for The Ion, and a startup founder who's in for a very busy March.

Here are this week's Houston innovators to know.

Austin Rolling, CEO and co-founder of Outfield

austin rolling

Photo courtesy of Outfield

As an experienced salesman, Austin Rolling knows the challenges salespeople face on a daily basis. Rolling, who worked in a number of positions in both inside and outside sales with such big name companies as Whirlpool and Beats by Dre. He tells InnovationMap about how he wished he had better tools for communication and keeping organized.

"Fast forward some years later, my co-founder and I decided to work on a solution that could help support outside sales agents and I was able to use my domain expertise as an outside sales rep to ID the realm of solutions for various customer segments," Rolling says.

Rolling runs Outfield, a Houston-based software company gives field reps an intuitive interface to manage their territory and accounts on-the-go as well as instantly communicate with the rest of their team effortlessly across all devices. Click here to read more.

Gabriella Rowe, executive director of The Ion

Courtesy of Station Houston

Now that Station Houston has merged with Capital Factory, Gabriella Rowe, who previously served Station as CEO, has completely transitioned into her role as executive director of The Ion. On last week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, Rowe discussed the merger and how her goal for The Ion is to make the facility a vehicle for innovation development, but also create a diverse and inclusive environment reflective of Houston's own diversity.

"We're creating an opportunity for Houstonians," Rowe says on the episode, explaining why she's focused on bringing in a wide range of programming and education into The Ion.

In the episode, Rowe also discusses the Ion Smart Cities Accelerators, which has 10 companies from its inaugural cohort in pilot mode across Houston and has launched applications for its second cohort, as well as why she thinks Houston's innovation ecosystem is sure to succeed this time around. Click here to read more and stream the podcast.

Aaron Knape, co-founder and CEO of sEATz

Courtesy of sEATz

Like most lifelong Houstonians, Aaron Knape has a long history with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. But this season, he'll be involved in a whole new way. Knape's startup, sEATz, an in-seat delivery app, will be live in certain sections of the rodeo at NRG Stadium.

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

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

Gabriella Rowe has transitioned from CEO of Station Houston into her role as Executive Director of The Ion following Station's merger with Austin-based Capital Factory. Courtesy of Station Houston

Former Station Houston CEO says Capital Factory merger was about taking the organization 'back to its roots'

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 18

Among the top news for Houston's innovation ecosystem for the year so far has been the announcement that Austin-based Capital Factory has merged with Station Houston.

The merger is officially completed, and how the combined startup development organization will interact with Houston's entrepreneurs is clear for Gabriella Rowe: It's about bringing Station Houston's mission back to why it was founded in the first place.

Rowe joined this week's edition of the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the merger, as well as her position as executive director of The Ion, a 270,000-square-foot innovation hub being developed by Rice Management Company. Station was tapped to be the program partner for The Ion, but it's come a long way since its founding by John Reale, Grace Rodriguez, and Emily Keeton in 2016.

"Station was started originally to give entrepreneurs to give that place — that landing pad and cohort of colleagues. Over time as it grew and moved to 1301 Fannin St., it continued to do that," Rowe says on the podcast, explaining that the passion of the founders grew Station way beyond that. "That culminated in a lot of ways with Station being selected as the programming partner of The Ion."

Through this growth and transition, Rowe describes two different versions of Station Houston emerging. One was focused on longer term initiatives to bring programming that drives talent and attracts capital. But startups and entrepreneurs need funding help and business development mentorship now — not in a longer term way.

"That kind of attention is exactly what Capital Factory is all about," Rowe says. "[The merger is] about making sure that Station goes back to its roots to focus on the entrepreneurs."

Now that she is focused full time on The Ion, Rowe is ideating how to make the facility a vehicle for innovation development, but also create a diverse and inclusive environment reflective of Houston's own diversity.

"We're creating an opportunity for Houstonians," Rowe says on the episode, explaining why she's focused on bringing in a wide range of programming and education into The Ion.

In the episode, Rowe also discusses the Ion Smart Cities Accelerators, which has 10 companies from its inaugural cohort in pilot mode across Houston and has launched applications for its second cohort, as well as why she thinks Houston's innovation ecosystem is sure to succeed this time around.

Listen to the full episode below — or wherever you get your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

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Houston Methodist tech hub focuses on telemedicine training amid COVID-19 outbreak

virtual care

Houston Methodist's recently opened its new Center for Innovation's Technology Hub in January, and the new wing has already been challenged by a global pandemic — one that's validating a real need for telemedicine.

The 3,500-square-foot tech testing ground was renovated from an 18-room patient wing and showcases new digital health technologies like virtual reality, ambient listening, wearables, voice control, and more. The hub was focused on giving tours to medical professionals and executives to get them excited about health tech, but in the middle of March, Josh Sol, administrative director of Innovation and Ambulatory Clinical Systems at Houston Methodist, says they saw a greater need for the space.

"We turned the technology hub into a training center where physicians could come on site and learn telemedicine," Sol says. "We had some foresight from our leadership who thought that telemedicine was going to be heavily utilized in order to protect our patients who might go into isolation based on the outbreak."

The hub has trained over 500 physicians — both onsite and digitally. Sol says that at the start of March, there were 66 providers offering virtual care, and by March 25, there were over 900 providers operating virtually. On March 12, Houston Methodist had 167 virtual visits, Sol says, and on March 25, they had 2,421. This new 2,000-plus number is now the daily average.

"Telemedicine is here to stay now with the rapid adoption that just happened," Sol says. "The landscape will change tremendously."

Another way new technology has affected doctors' day-to-day work has been through tele-rounding — especially when it comes to interacting with patients with COVID-19.

"We are putting iPads in those rooms with Vidyo as the video application, and our physicians can tele-visit into that room," Sol says.

It's all hands on deck for the tech hub so that physicians who need support have someone to turn to. Sol says the hub used to have a two-person support team and now there are eight people in that role.

Sol says the iPads are a key technology for tele-rounding and patient care — and they are working with Apple directly to secure inventory. But other tech tools, like an artificial intelligence-backed phone system, an online symptom checker, and chatbots are key to engaging with patients.

"We're looking at how we can get our patients in the right place at the right time," Sol says. "It's very confusing right now. We're hoping we can streamline that for our patients."

The hub was designed so that in case of emergency, the display hospital rooms could be transitioned to patient care rooms. Sol says that would be a call made by Roberta Schwartz, executive vice president and chief innovation officer of Houston Methodist Hospital.

Documentary featuring Houston Nobel Prize winner to air on PBS

to-watch list

Not all heroes wear capes. In fact, our current coronavirus heroes are donning face masks as they save lives. One local health care hero has a different disease as his enemy, and you'll soon be able to stream his story.

Dr. James "Jim" Allison won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work in battling cancer by treating the immune system — rather than the tumor. Allison, who is the chair of Immunology and executive director of the Immunotherapy Platform at MD Anderson Cancer Center, has quietly and often, singularly, waged war with cancer utilizing this unique approach.

The soft-spoken trailblazer is the subject of an award-winning documentary, Jim Allison: Breakthrough, which will air on PBS and its streaming channels on Monday, April 27 at 9 pm (check local listings for channel information). Lauded as "the most cheering film of the year" by the Washington Post, the film follows Allison's personal journey to defeat cancer, inspired and driven by the disease killed his mother.

Breakthrough is narrated by Woody Harrelson and features music by Willie Nelson, adding a distinct hint of Texana. (The film was a star at 2019's South by Southwest film festival.) The documentary charts Alice, Texas native as he enrolls at the University of Texas, Austin and ultimately, cultivates an interest in T cells and the immune system — and begins to frequent Austin's legendary music scene. Fascinated by the immune system's power to protect the body from disease, Allison's research soon focuses on how it can be used to treat cancer.

Viewers will find Allison charming, humble, and entertaining: the venerable doctor is also an accomplished blues harmonica player. Director Bill Haney weaves Allison's personal story with the medical case of Sharon Belvin, a patient diagnosed with melanoma in 2004 who soon enrolled in Allison's clinical trials. Belvin has since been entirely cancer-free, according to press materials.

"We are facing a global health challenge that knows no boundaries or race or religion, and we are all relying on gifted and passionate scientists and healthcare workers to contain and ultimately beat this thing," said Haney, in a statement. "Jim Allison and the unrelenting scientists like him are my heroes – and I'll bet they become yours!"

Jim Allison: Breakthrough premieres on Independent Lens at 9 pm Monday, April 27, on PBS, PBS.org, and the PBS Video App.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.