covid heroes

University of Houston partners with health system to provide COVID-19 protective equipment

Aaron McEuen of the University of Houston's Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design answered the call for creating medical face shields for Harris Health System. Photo via uh.edu

A Houston health system was in need of protective personal equipment, or PPE, when they reached out to a local academic institution for support.

Harris Health System tapped the University of Houston to make medical face shields for doctors and nurses at the system's two hospitals — Ben Taub and Lyndon B. Johnson.

"Face shields are one of our most challenging pieces of protective equipment to get during these times of need," says Chris Okezie, vice president of system operations at Harris Health System, in a news release. "They're also the most effective equipment to protect our front-line staff."

One college on campus is particularly equipped to build things, and that's the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design — specifically the college's Burdette Keeland Jr. Design Exploration Center. It took only a day for the center to build a prototype. Harris Health then made an initial order of 500 masks.

The lab uses universal laser cutters to create the semi-circle of plastic for the shield — the machines can cut 10 pieces in less than 3 minutes. Then, it can be assembled manually. Aaron McEuen, instructional lab manager at the center, is leading the efforts.

"Honestly, it's nice to be productive. I know a lot of people are cooped up in their houses," he says. "We're lucky to have the opportunity to contribute."

One challenge McEuen is facing is procuring the raw materials for the shields. as shipping and delivery times are slower during the pandemic. Despite the obstacles, Harris Health System's president and CEO, Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, is grateful for the support and effort.

"This is a great example of how people of this great city and county come together to address a common and dire need," says Porsa in the release. "I want to personally thank the staff and leadership of University of Houston for stepping up and leading the way to help Harris Health care for our communities in the safest possible way."

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Building Houston

 
 

New partnership chair, Amy Chonis, gave her address at the 2021 GHP Annual Meeting. Sky Noir Photography by Bill Dickinson/Getty Images

With 2020 in the rearview, the Greater Houston Partnership is looking into the new year with a new board chair. In the GHP's 2021 Annual Meeting, the organization introduced how important developing the innovation community is in Houston.

In her remarks, this year's Partnership Chair Amy Chronis, who is the Houston managing partner at Deloitte, shared what she hopes to inspire in her tenure. Her statement can be boiled down to three major points.

It's time to modernize Houston's economy

Chronis says it's time to focus on tech and innovation — and that requires support from all aspects of the city.

"Here in Houston, we must be laser-focused on building a strong, diverse, 21st century economy," she says. "Over the past few years, entrepreneurs, investors, academic institutions, local government, and the corporate sector have come together to unite, grow, and promote Houston's startup ecosystem. The progress since 2016 is staggering."

Since 2016, Chronis says, venture capital investment in Houston has increased almost 250 percent to a record $714 million dollars raised in 2020. Additionally, she calls out 30 new startup development organizations that have sprung up around town — like the East End Maker Hub, The Cannon, The Ion, Greentown Labs, and so much more.

Chronis also calls out the importance of educational institutions, such as Rice University and the University of Houston.

It's the industries that drive innovation

There is a growing need to diversify Houston's economy away from just oil and gas, Chronis says it's Houston's core industries — energy, life sciences, aerospace, along with manufacturing and global logistics — that have made transformative steps.

"We've got momentum, but we still need to double down with work to do," Chronis says, identifying energy, life sciences, and aerospace as three pillars to drive success.

Regarding energy, Chronis touts Greentown Labs opening in Houston — but warns it's increasingly important to have big corporations promote the energy transition.

"From the super majors to the service firms and the increasing presence of renewable companies, Houston is at the forefront of driving the Energy 2.0 sector," she says.

When it comes to health care, Chronis remarks on the Texas Medical Center's success with the TMC Innovation Institute and the development of TMC3, a 37-acre research commercialization campus.

"What's special about TMC3 is that it will create collaboration and innovation at scale," she adds. "It will be a catalyst that will advance Houston's position as the Third Coast for Life Sciences."

Lastly, Houston must maintain its moniker as the Space City — and the city has a lot of opportunities to do that with the development of the Houston Spaceport at Ellington Airport and the NASA Johnson Space Center.

"Houston is already home to a rich talent pool of nearly 23,000 aerospace manufacturing professionals and more than 500 aerospace and aviation companies and institutions, but the potential is so much greater," Chronis says.

Houston needs to focus on four areas to "drive a technological renaissance"

Chronis concludes her speech with some calls to action. She first acknowledges that corporations ask themselves about how they are promoting and valuing innovation.

"We must be committed to inspiring, cultivating and rewarding technological innovation," Chronis says. "How is your company partnering with startups, higher education institutions and other stakeholders to drive innovation?"

Next, Chronis calls out Houston's global diversity as a differentiator when it comes to attracting companies to Houston, and she cites HPE as an example.

"We know there are hundreds of tech companies in the Valley, and up and down the West and East coasts that are striving to build global diversity within their companies," she says. "There is no better place than Houston to do this."

Third, Chronis calls for everyone — from corporates to educations — to empower the next generation of innovators.

And, finally, she says it's time to spread the word about Houston.

"We are modern, sophisticated, and at our core, an incredibly global city. Global in a way that sets us apart from most U.S. metros," she says. "So, as we embark on this work to drive Houston's technology renaissance, we must ensure perceptions of Houston are aligned with reality."

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