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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These three innovators to know are responsible for solving problems here in Houston. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

A good innovator sees a need and fills it. Whether it's a bigger budget for new hospital technology, a network for female software developers in Houston, or access to creatives for nonprofits, these three Houston innovators are responsible for filling the needs of Houston's innovation ecosystem.

Roberta Schwartz, chief innovation officer of Houston Methodist

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

Houston Methodist has always been an innovative hospital system, says Roberta Schwartz, chief innovation officer, so it was not really that surprising that a group of hospital officials had an interest in new technologies.

"As we watched these technologies come in, we found that there were a number of us within the organization that were just talking about it all the time and watching how we could really revolutionize the way we worked by embracing these new technologies," Schwartz says.

The group named itself the "digital innovation obsessed people," however, now that group calls itself the Houston Methodist Center for Innovation, and Schwartz is leading the initiative. Read more about Schwartz and the new center here.

Alex Anderson, founder of Good Measure

Alex Anderson started Good Measure to help nonprofits have access to creatives and storytelling tools. Courtesy of Alex Anderson

Houston-based nonprofit, Good Measure, completed its third creative workshop last week — and its first outside of Houston. Nuu Group's Alex Anderson and Tres Garner founded Good Measure to help nonprofits with storytelling and media, and they took their efforts to New York City to work with Memphis-based youth violence nonprofit, Grounded.

Just like the last Good Measure project, volunteer creatives has less than 72 hours to create a slew of branding materials, including user experience-focused designs, web pages, photos, videos, and more for the nonprofit.

"My hope is that each and every individual who attended sees the impact that our craft skills can make," Anderson wrote in a post on Medium. "We certainly can volunteer our time and work with nonprofits, but the real question is whether we can return to our day jobs, to clients with big budgets and capitalistic mindsets, and influence their decisions—to push them from opportunistic to purposeful."

Silver Ehiwario, director of Women Who Code Houston Chapter

Silver Ehiwario flipped careers a while back, and now she hopes to help other women with that process. Courtesy of Silver Ehiwario

Making a career switch is never easy — but it's extremely hard for women trying to enter the technology industry. Women Who Code, a global organization, just opened up shop in Houston, thanks to seven female directors, including Silver Ehiwario, who changed her career to tech recently.

"We are able to see a lot of people are changing their careers from what they have done before — just like I changed mine," she says. "We need communities where they can be inspired." Read more about Ehiwario and Women Who Code here.

Silver Ehiwario flipped careers a while back, and now she hopes to help other women with that process. Courtesy of Silver Ehiwario

Houston software developer helps bring Women Who Code to town

Featured Innovator

Silver Ehiwario worked to attain two chemical engineering degrees and had been in the industry in Nigeria for seven years when she decided she wanted to change her career path.

"I started thinking about making a switch when I found out I had this interest in being creative and building solutions for businesses so that they can become more effective and grow," Ehiwario says. "I like to be able to put my thoughts into the computer and see people use it."

She's not alone. Ehiwario and a few like-minded women are responsible for bringing the California-based nonprofit organization, Women Who Code, to Houston. On March 5, the Houston chapter celebrated its launch. At the event, the organization engaged its new members and asked them what they wanted from the organization. The feedback they received will drive the programing and events they will focus on, Ehiwario says.

"At the end of the day, I called for anyone open to mentoring. We had a whole lot of turnout — people were ready to inspire other women with what they do best," Ehiwario says. "I don't think there is a whole lot of other groups out there where your interest is represented and worked on."

Ehiwario spoke with InnovationMap about what she's excited about for Women Who Code in Houston and how she managed to change careers from a chemical engineer to a software developer.

InnovationMap: Did you find it easy to find resources for starting a new career in coding?

Silver Ehiwario: It wasn't easy — maybe I didn't know what I wanted. I searched online for something I could actually do where I wanted to do it. I decided to try the University of Texas' bootcamp here in Houston. It was very hard at first. I was very new to coding. I never used the computer other than for emails and basic work.

IM: How did you first get involved with Women Who Code?

SE: I had a colleague in the bootcamp who introduced me to it. I found out more online and it kind of aligned with what I wanted and I liked the idea of having support. In 2017, I applied to be a director so that we could have a network here. Everything started happening here at the end of 2018.

IM: Who is a part of the Houston chapter?

SE: There are seven of us. Julie Jonak, Roopa Rajala, Shefali Kapoor-Patel, Wanjun Zhang, Aditi Singh, Saima Rajwani, and myself.

IM: What's the program like?

SE: What draws me to Women Who Code is the mission and the vision. The mission is to inspire women to excel in their technology careers, and the vision is to have a world where women are representative of technical executives, founders, chairmen, and software engineer. We have people old and young. Our code of conduct has to do with inclusiveness — if you love technology, you're welcomed.

IM: Why is it important to Houston that Women Who Code have a chapter here?

SE: Houston is a huge community. I know there's a lot of tech people out here. We are able to see a lot of people are changing their careers from what they have done before — just like I changed mine. We need communities where they can be inspired. I've met people who just finished a coding bootcamp, are job hunting, and are kind of depressed. This community will be able to inspire them.

We need Women Who Code in Houston to support these women in tech — to close the gender gap and create a good working environment. If women succeed, girls will see that and it will give them that encouragement and motivation.

IM: How does someone get involved?

SE: Online. Sign up to be a member, join our Facebook network, and our LinkedIn network. We'll soon roll out our schedule of when we meet.

IM: Advice for someone wanting to switch careers?

SE: I like talking about this a lot. If you want to change your career to something in the tech industry, I would just say to take it one step at a time. Find one of the bootcamps out there and get connected. And join a network like Women Who Code so you can have a network and support after you leave that bootcamp.

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Portions of this interview have been edited.

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Houston researchers create AI model to tap into how brain activity relates to illness

brainiac

Houston researchers are part of a team that has created an AI model intended to understand how brain activity relates to behavior and illness.

Scientists from Baylor College of Medicine worked with peers from Yale University, University of Southern California and Idaho State University to make Brain Language Model, or BrainLM. Their research was published as a conference paper at ICLR 2024, a meeting of some of deep learning’s greatest minds.

“For a long time we’ve known that brain activity is related to a person’s behavior and to a lot of illnesses like seizures or Parkinson’s,” Dr. Chadi Abdallah, associate professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor and co-corresponding author of the paper, says in a press release. “Functional brain imaging or functional MRIs allow us to look at brain activity throughout the brain, but we previously couldn’t fully capture the dynamic of these activities in time and space using traditional data analytical tools.

"More recently, people started using machine learning to capture the brain complexity and how it relates it to specific illnesses, but that turned out to require enrolling and fully examining thousands of patients with a particular behavior or illness, a very expensive process,” Abdallah continues.

Using 80,000 brain scans, the team was able to train their model to figure out how brain activities related to one another. Over time, this created the BrainLM brain activity foundational model. BrainLM is now well-trained enough to use to fine-tune a specific task and to ask questions in other studies.

Abdallah said that using BrainLM will cut costs significantly for scientists developing treatments for brain disorders. In clinical trials, it can cost “hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said, to enroll numerous patients and treat them over a significant time period. By using BrainLM, researchers can enroll half the subjects because the AI can select the individuals most likely to benefit.

The team found that BrainLM performed successfully in many different samples. That included predicting depression, anxiety and PTSD severity better than other machine learning tools that do not use generative AI.

“We found that BrainLM is performing very well. It is predicting brain activity in a new sample that was hidden from it during the training as well as doing well with data from new scanners and new population,” Abdallah says. “These impressive results were achieved with scans from 40,000 subjects. We are now working on considerably increasing the training dataset. The stronger the model we can build, the more we can do to assist with patient care, such as developing new treatment for mental illnesses or guiding neurosurgery for seizures or DBS.”

For those suffering from neurological and mental health disorders, BrainLM could be a key to unlocking treatments that will make a life-changing difference.

Houston-based cleantech unicorn named among annual top disruptors

on the rise

Houston-based biotech startup Solugen is making waves among innovative companies.

Solugen appears at No. 36 on CNBC’s annual Disruptor 50 list, which highlights private companies that are “upending the classic definition of disruption.” Privately owned startups founded after January 1, 2009, were eligible for the Disruptor 50 list.

Founded in 2016, Solugen replaces petroleum-based products with plant-derived substitutes through its Bioforge manufacturing platform. For example, it uses engineered enzymes and metal catalysts to convert feedstocks like sugar into chemicals that have traditionally been made from fossil fuels, such as petroleum and natural gas.

Solugen has raised $643 million in funding and now boasts a valuation of $2.2 billion.

“Sparked by a chance medical school poker game conversation in 2016, Solugen evolved from prototype to physical asset in five years, and production hit commercial scale shortly thereafter,” says CNBC.

Solugen co-founders Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt received the Entrepreneur of The Year 2023 National Award, presented by professional services giant EY.

“Solugen is a textbook startup launched by two partners with $10,000 in seed money that is revolutionizing the chemical refining industry. The innovation-driven company is tackling impactful, life-changing issues important to the planet,” Entrepreneur of The Year judges wrote.

In April 2024, Solugen broke ground on a Bioforge biomanufacturing plant in Marshall, Minnesota. The 500,000-square-foot, 34-acre facility arose through a Solugen partnership with ADM. Chicago-based ADM produces agricultural products, commodities, and ingredients. The plant is expected to open in the fall of 2025.

“Solugen’s … technology is a transformative force in sustainable chemical manufacturing,” says Hunt. “The new facility will significantly increase our existing capabilities, enabling us to expand the market share of low-carbon chemistries.”

Houston cleantech company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

RESULTS ARE IN

Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

“This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

“At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

“The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.