Tag: Science

A Slice of Silicon Hills hosts Educational Nonprofit Venturelab

Reporter with Silicon Hills News

58da047c-6baf-4c0a-8e9e-1e5b98324c1e_540-1What is the best time for students to be exposed to entrepreneurship and tech careers? Early College? High School? San Antonio nonprofit Venturelab is giving kids hands on experience with entrepreneurship and product invention as early as age 10.
Founded earlier this year by Cristal Glangchi, Venturelab is an evolution of an earlier Geekdom nonprofit called ESTEAM. Venturelab still uses the ESTEAM framework – stressing entrepreneurship, science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. The nonprofit organization has numerous summer programs, weekend events, and after school programs for all levels of students from elementary school to high school to college and beyond. These range from the Venturelab MakerSpace camps that educate students at ages 10-14 to the 3 Day Startup Events that help young professionals build companies. All students receive training in creating business models, inventing products, and giving pitches to sell those products.
Venturelab also puts a special emphasis on inspiring women and girls to become entrepreneurs. All programs must have 30 percent of participants be women and some, such as the GirlStartup camp, are exclusively for women.
The nonprofit organization is funded by several private donors in San Antonio. It is currently looking for additional donors as well as volunteers for the 3 Day Startup in November.
If you would like to enroll yourself or your child in a Venturelab program, you can find the program list at its website.

Texas State University’s STAR Park keeps High-Tech Companies in Texas

Reporter with Silicon Hills News

STAR park Executive Director Stephen Frayser in the STAR one labs. Photos by Samantha Davis

STAR park Executive Director Stephen Frayser in the STAR one labs. Photos by Samantha Davis

How does a small or mid-sized company create a product on the cutting edge of material science or nano-technology? Not only would they need to acquire or rent multi-million dollar equipment, but they would need access to dedicated lab space and support staff. Traditionally, companies would need to relocate to Silicon Valley to access these resources – but soon, those same companies will have the option of going to Texas State University.
Texas State University has just opened its new Science, Technology, and Advanced Research Park – or STAR Park for short. The park is 38 acres and about five minutes from campus. The university dedicated the first facility of the park — STAR One– on Nov. 9, though the building is not yet ready for occupancy. The park is funded by Texas State University, the Economic Development Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the city of San Marcos. It is a $7 million investment, and a central part of Texas State’s plan to move toward becoming a tier one research university.
Texas State University’s Associate VP for Research and Federal Relations Bill Covington says that the STAR Park benefits the university and its students as well as the local economy.
“Any time we bring in a company that gets started and starts hiring people it’s good for the economic development for the area,” says Covington.
STAR Park Executive Director Stephen Frayser says the goal of the park is to create a technology incubator and a collaborative community of startups and mid-sized companies that will be able to grow quickly by using Texas State’s unique resources.
“The whole purpose of an incubator is time-to-market,” says Frayser. “What you are trying to do is help companies get the assistance that they need at the time they need it so they can get into the market more efficiently than a competitor that had no assistance.”
STAR One will be ready for occupancy by April. The 20,000-square-foot facility has office space, a conference room, and five lab areas that include chemical labs and clean rooms. When completed, it will be 38,000-square-feet, hold six additional labs, and will host up to 11 companies. Labs in STAR One come with de-ionized water, nitrogen, and compressed air. The facility is also equipped with back-up power and provides waste removal services on site at a reduced cost.
Three companies are already scheduled to move into the new facility in April. MicroPower Global, one of these companies, has already been collaborating with the university research faculty for three years and will now be able to move ahead with their product.
“We have identified an ideal situation where our technology can be finally developed as an embedded company on the campus of Texas State University,” says MicroPower Global’s Chief Technology Officer Tom Zirkle. “STAR One provides us an opportunity to pull that developed technology into pilot production.”
Multi-functional Materials Laboratory

Multi-functional Materials Laboratory

MicroPower Global will also have access to the $7 million Multi-functional Materials Laboratory located on the Texas State University campus. Startups and mid-size companies alike will have access to this top-of-the-line equipment — in addition to STAR Park faculties — once they sign research agreements with the university. The laboratory gives Texas Statue University a major advantage in attracting companies that are on the cutting edge of semiconductor technology.
“Our niche right now in the market is material sciences, nano-materials, and semi conductors — and we have a core staff of people and some fairly deep facilities here that let us stand out from anybody else in the U.S.,” says Frayser.
The different material laboratories at Texas State University currently allow companies to do research at almost the same level as in Silicon Valley. Texas State’s Molecular Beam Epitaxy machine — or MBE – allows them to do advanced research on nano-sized semiconductor materials for extremely small and versatile computer chips. The labs can also create membranes, adhesives, and very simple nano-machines. Companies and startups working at STAR One will be able to use this advanced equipment at the university to do their research and produce prototype technologies – all at a greatly reduced cost versus renting the equipment on the open market.
Labs have equipment that can create Nano-sized objects.

Labs have equipment that can create Nano-sized objects.

These resources are not available to just any interested company, however; there are two requirements for companies that use the facility. First, the company must be developing a unique technology – or one that is not an extension or addition to another technology already on the market. Secondly, the company must have an arrangement that is mutually beneficial to Texas State University, such as a partnership with university faculty or an agreement to utilize Texas State University students as interns.
MicroPower Global has already hired several full time employees from inside the university and currently has six TXST interns doing research for the company. CTO Zirkle says the interns play a major role in the companies’ research.
“They actually have hands on experience doing the very precise processing of the semi-conducter devices that we’re developing,” says Zirkle. “They have an opportunity to have exposure to how a small business operates — how an entrepreneurial environment feels. As we are developing new ideas to solve problems, they actively participate with us in those problem solving sessions.”
Putting students in these hands-on research roles is a key part of the STAR Park’s mission. TXST has already established a Material Science, Engineering and Commercialization PH.D. program — or MSEC — for the purpose of educating students in both the science side and business side of creating a technology company. Park Director Frayser says these students will be ideal candidates for internship positions with companies staying at STAR One.
“One of the biggest complaints businesses have of people they hire from universities is that they have no concept beyond theory of how things really work,” says Frayser. “This intention is to get our graduates to a point where they can become key individuals with firms. One of our Ph.D.s has already been hired by MicroPower to be one of their chief scientists. ”
Frayser says the STAR Park has already generated interest with several other parties besides the three firms coming in April. All companies and startups accepted to the park will pay the market rate for similar lab and office space. Frayser says that the park will try to admit companies that can complement each other as the park develops. Administrators will also help facilitate collaboration between their tenant companies by assessing the strengths and needs of their tenants to help them form mutually beneficial partnerships.
“We have individual companies but then we are going to encourage collaboration where it makes sense to work together on things,” says Frayser. “We want to create a community.”
Though not all research parks are successful, both Frayser and Covington are very optimistic about the future of technology in the San Marcos area.
“I think we are doing this at the right time and in the right way, and we are certainly in a great location in the state of Texas,” says Covington.

Geekdom Seeks to Educate and Inspire Kids

Louis Pacilli, director of education at Geekdom

At Geekdom, the focus isn’t just to create the next big tech company, but to inspire future generations to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
Already, the San Antonio-based coworking and collaborative center, located on the 11th floor of the Weston Centre downtown, has hosted robotics programs for kids.
That’s just the start.
On Sept. 29th, the first Geekdom SparkEd program kicks off, said Louis Pacilli, the center’s director of education. The program will run from September through June, and during the school year, Pacilli expects to serve approximately 1,500 middle school boys and girls in a total of 30 weekend camps. Each camp will have between 40 to 50 kids from numerous school districts around San Antonio, Pacilli said.
Pacilli works with San Antonio middle schools to select the kids for a weekend program focused on a entrepreneurship, website design, programming or robotics. The kids get to vote on which curriculum they want to pursue, Pacilli said.
“We want to teach kids about storytelling through entrepreneurship,” he said.
For the entrepreneurship program, the weekend activities focus on business concepts such as pitching, marketing, research and writing a business plan, Pacilli said. The programs follow the guidelines of the Texas Education Standards, he said.
Pacilli has sent information to select middle schools and he plans to work with teachers and counselors to select the first kids to participate in the program, which will be free, he said. He’s looking for kids who need inspiration.
The program will rely heavily on local mentors from companies like Boeing, Rackspace, USAA, Lockheed and others, Pacilli said. It will also use local high school and college students, he said.
“We have to get the kids that are disconnected to school and re-excite them,” Pacilli said. “We want to teach them that geek is chic.”

The U.S. Needs to Focus on Innovation

About 10 years ago, Sino CES started operating in China.
“We realized we couldn’t stop them,” said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, which puts on the world’s biggest electronics show in January in Las Vegas.
“We couldn’t sue them,” Shapiro said. “So we entered into a partnership with them.”
That’s how a lot of business is done in China, Shapiro told about 100 people attending his morning talk at InnoTech San Antonio Thursday.
Every year, Shapiro travels to China for the show. But a few years ago, an encounter with a Chinese politician, who spoke no English, shook him up so much he decided to write a book. The Chinese politician, in a few simple hand gestures, indicated that China was on the rise with a thumbs up sign and that the United States was on the decline with a thumbs down signal.
“There was some truth to it,” Shapiro said. “We’re not leading innovation the way we should be.”
Shapiro, 55, and his wife had children late in life. He has a four year old and another child on the way. His children make him have a laser-like focus on the future of the country. Last year, he wrote the bestselling book “The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream.”
For years, the United States has feared the rise of various countries like Japan, Korea and Mexico. All of those countries threatened to extinguish the U.S.’s powerhouse economy. But they didn’t, yet China has made a dent in it. But even China is suffering now because of the subprime mortgage crisis in the U.S. market and because of China’s enormous growth, Shapiro said.
Manufacturing jobs have fled the U.S. in favor of cheaper labor in China, and those jobs are not coming back, Shapiro said. In China, a worker might spend all day doing one repetitive task on a manufacturing line.
“Americans are not going to be doing that kind of repetitive work – not with our education,” he said.
That’s why our national strategy should be focused on creating an innovation economy, Shapiro said.
“The thing about innovation is that every new idea challenges something in the past,” he said.
That’s why the U.S. has fewer travel agents, newspaper reporters and plant workers than years ago.
“As Americans we have a culture of doing things better,” Shapiro said.
To encourage innovation, the U.S. school system needs improvement, Shapiro said. Kids need to be taught to ask questions. The teachers that allow students to ask questions and challenge them are the best teachers, Shapiro said.
The U.S. entrepreneurial system also encourages innovation. The U.S. should not punish people for being successful and making money, Shapiro said. Entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, whose estimated net worth is around $60 billion, should be applauded, Shapiro said
“We reward people by letting them get wealthy,” he said. “It encourages the best and the brightest.”
But the focus on innovation has changed since Sept. 11, Shapiro said.
To remedy that, the U.S. also needs to change its immigration policies so that it doesn’t kick out the smartest people in our society who earn advanced degrees in science, engineering, technology and math. The National Science Foundation spends $6 billion a year on research and a lot of that research is done by foreign graduate students attending U.S. universities. Upon graduation, those students must go back to the countries they came from instead of being allowed to stay in the U.S., Shapiro said.
The U.S. also must increase its high bandwidth transmission capabilities to remain competitive, Shapiro said
And the signing of the JOBS Act by President Obama on Thursday was a step in the right direction in making it easier for entrepreneurs to raise money for their businesses through crowd funding.
“Innovation is so important for our country,” Shapiro said. “What’s really important for the future of innovation and technology companies is the health of the U.S. economy.”
Right now, all countries look to the U.S. for innovation, Shapiro said. They all want to emulate the U.S. That’s why he created Innovation-Movement.org to keep the focus on that strategy.
“Every company, every country, every individual needs a strategy,” Shapiro said. “Our strategy should be innovation.”

(InnoTech San Antonio was an advertiser with Silicon Hills News)

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