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UH introduces new innovation-focused programs

In the fall semester of 2019, undergraduate students can choose to minor or major in a few new innovation programs. Photo courtesy of University of Houston

The University of Houston took a step forward in educating Houston's future innovators. The university has created two minor programs and a major focused on innovation.

Undergraduate students now have the option to major or minor in Technology Leadership and Innovation Management or minor in Applied Innovation. All three options begin in the fall semester of this year in the College of Technology. According to the college's dean, Anthony P. Ambler, the college is also interested in adding a master's and a PhD. program in Innovation Management or a post-graduate certificate program.

"We are about giving people the right tools to innovate," says Ambler in a release. "How do you get more people to the position where they are able to innovate?"

All of the programs are affiliated with two out-of-state institutions: the University of Maine's Foster Center for Innovation and Ohio-based Innovation Engineering.

UH previously offered Innovation Leadership classes, and one was taught by David Crawley. His class and the new programs focus on the tools students need to develop "to solve problems and develop meaningfully unique opportunities," Crawley says in the release.

"I always thought of creativity as something that comes upon you in the middle of the night, or in the shower," says Ahmad Mohamad, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering technology, who took Crawley's class last semester. "But there are techniques you can learn to help you come up with these creative solutions."

The Technology Leadership major replaces the Organization Leadership and Supervision degree, but students currently majoring in this program will be able to continue on with the new degree program, according to the release.

"Learning how to innovate — how to identify unmet needs, creatively develop solutions, and then bring them to reality – amplifies the workplace value of all other technical and business skills," says John Jeffers, director of geosciences at Southwestern Energy, in the release. "Whether innovating within an organization as an "intrapreneur", or stepping out to create something new, people who are familiar with the mindset and practice of innovation have an enormous advantage."

These programs aren't the only thing UH is doing to advance innovation in Houston. The university has recently revamped its Energy Research Park to be the Technology Bridge. The institution provides space and resources for early-stage, research-based startups. Read more about the UH Technology Bridge here.

Courtesy of UHAnthony Ambler is the dean of the UH College of Technology.

Florida startup Fit:Match chose Houston for its first location of its AI-enabled retail store. Photo via shopfitmatch.com

In November, on the first floor of Friendswood's Baybrook Mall, wedged between the Abercrombie & Fitch and the Apple Store, a small studio popped up. At the window, a bubblegum assortment of balloons replaced the usual spruced-up manakin, and the shop is sparse for racks of clothing.

That's because the Fit:Match studio isn't really trying to sell clothes — it's trying to help you buy them online. By fusing artificial intelligence with retail shopping, Fit:Match makes ordering clothes online more trustworthy. The writing on the walls promised to revolutionize the way that people could: "Shop what fits. Not what doesn't," reads a neon sign. The tech might not only reduce long waits for the dressing room — it could abolish it altogether.

"You never have to try on clothes again," says Haniff Brown, founder of the Florida-native startup.

The store does have a fitting room, but Brown says it's not really for trying on clothes — it's for preparing to "get fitched," the process through which the imaging tech measures a customer's body.

It's fitting that the pop-up sits next to the iPhone giant. Fit:Match uses the same 3D imaging tech as Apple's FaceID, Brown says, which blasts infrared light at thousands of dots at a user's face. Where the light bounces off, the AI technology images the person's face. The sensors at the Fit:Match studio in Baybrook Mall expand this to the rest of the body. In 10 seconds, the AI sensor lets people sketches a customer's shape through 150 measurements.

Those measurements become indicators of how well a piece of clothing will fit the wearer. In the initial phase of the project, Brown's team fitched thousands of women — wanting to keep things neat, the company hasn't ventured into men's fashion yet — and compared the scores of the AI's algorithm with how the women scored their own clothes.

Now, once a customer has been fitched at the Baybrook studio, she can log online through an app or the company site and sift through thousands of clothes that will likely fit her. Each clothing item — mostly smaller brands that range from eclectic pieces and dresses to athleisure right now, Brown says, although he's already working to partner with better-known labels — is rated with a percentage of how well it's likely to fit the individual customer, based on her measurements and on how snug or loose she likes her wear. From the array of brands, she'll get specific matches — clothes that have a 90 percent chance or higher of fitting — that might look completely different from a friend's. Over time, the app will also update her on the latest matches.

"You're going to have this personalized wallet," Brown says, adding that this will also decrease a store's rate of return. "You will see a completely truncated assortment of clothes that are meant to fit you."

The Baybrook Mall hosts Fit:Match's first location. Brown says he chose the Houston area for its size and demographics, calling it a "hotbed to test new ideas, to get traction, to get customer feedback," and is even considering expanding to the Woodlands Mall and other places around Texas, too. It's also not far from the Austin-based Capital Factory, which brought Fit:Match under its wing late last year to help the startup raise $5 million.

In the meantime, the five-member management team at Fit:Match is focused on getting more Houstonians fitched. In the first month of operations, the studio measured more than 1,200 mallgoers, and Brown says the company could fitch a quarter million in the next two or three years.

"We think that the opportunity here is immense," Brown says.