Xconomy Announces Channel Focused on the Future of Education


Since its inception more than nine years ago, Xconomy has focused its coverage on the business of high technology—across information technology, life sciences, healthcare, energy, robotics, and much more. But underlying all that, in a sense, is education. We have long run stories about STEM education, educational technology, and more—and even put out a special Xconomist report on the future of education. It asked leading Xconomists the question: What should students be studying now to prepare for 10 years from now?

All this is to say that trends in education and edtech—and especially how education applies to the business of high tech—has long been something our editors have focused on. Now we are bringing that coverage even more front and center with the launch of a national Education channel. This dedicated portion of our website, featuring its own home page, will bring together all articles about education and edtech from across our 11-market network. It is our tenth such subject-specific channel, joining Startups, Health IT, Cleantech, Exome (life sciences), Xperience (consumer tech and society), Fintech, Robotics and A.I., Agtech and Food, and Cybersecurity.

We’d like to offer a big thank you to our launch sponsors/underwriters who have joined us to support this new channel: the Lumina Foundation and Alexandria Real Estate Equities.

Xconomy’s editors from across the county will be contributing to the education channel. Today, with the channel’s debut, we are running three articles. One, by Jeff Engel, is about the Massachusetts edtech cluster; it includes a table of companies that help represent the local scene. Xconomy San Francisco editor Bernadette Tansey has written an analysis piece looking at Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump on education and edtech. And finally, we have a story by Sarah Schmid Stevenson looking at Lessonly, an Indianapolis-based corporate training and education startup.

In the near future, we will have a feature piece looking at some of the San Francisco area’s biggest edtech startups, and how things have been going with them. From Boston, we’ll have a story on a coding academy that’s focused on training underrepresented minorities. And from Seattle, we will be reporting on a new tech apprenticeship program.

Our hope is that this channel will make it simple for readers interested in the future of education—and who isn’t?—to find all articles on this vital subject from across our network. All it takes is to go to the home page of the new channel or sign up for a dedicated e-mail newsletter.

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Roundup: Techstars Leaves, U.K. Healthcare Firms Arrive, & Other News

Texas bluebonnets

Let’s get caught up with the latest innovation news from Xconomy Texas:

—Techstars Ventures and Texas-based angel investors have added $ 1 million to the $ 1.6 million previously raised by NuPark, an Austin startup with video technology to help schools and governments better manage parking. NuPark says its software can help customers manage permit sales, citation appeals, e-commerce websites, among other services.

Hangar, a startup that makes software to help businesses better collect and analyze data from drone flights, has raised $ 6.5 million in an early stage funding round. New York-based Lux Capital led the financing; the company reported that Fontinalis Partners, Haystack Partners, and several prominent angel investors also participated. Founder and CEO Colin Guinn says Hangar produces autonomous drone flight software that can be easily shared to business customers such as commercial and residential real estate or construction companies on a large scale.

Edition Collective, a men’s e-commerce startup, has been acquired by a brick-and-mortar retail company, Q Fifty One. The Houston-based retail chain owns and operates Q Clothier and Rye 51 stores in four cities nationwide. Matt Alexander, founder and CEO of Edition, now becomes CEO of Q Fifty One Digital, which will manage the company’s online shopping business.

SheHacks, a hackathon geared toward women tech entrepreneurs, hosted its first event in Houston where participants worked on eight projects. The New York-based group says its previous two hackathons have resulted in more than 100 women in technology pitching 23 new business ventures. Among the winners of the Houston event was EllieGrid, “smart” pillbox that allows users to scan medication labels so that an app can give them alerts about missed dosages or if a medicine needs refilling.

—Xconomy brings its Disruptors conference to Houston tomorrow in a daylong seminar at the Texas Medical Center’s TMCx accelerator. The event brings together innovators from across the state in healthcare, space, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and other sectors. Register here.

San Antonio:
—The 80/20 Foundation is giving Tech Bloc a $ 600,000 grant for an effort to construct a new high school focused on technology and entrepreneurship, called CAST Tech. Tech Bloc, a San Antonio tech-focused advocacy group, plans to seek a dollar-for-dollar match for the grant. A new foundation called TechBlock-4-TechEd will work to raise the funding from local businesses and the public. The new school will have a typical core curriculum, along with teaching skills in specializations such as cybersecurity, coding, or video game development, as well as business practices.

—After four years, Techstars has closed its accelerator targeting cloud computing startups in San Antonio due to declining activity in early stage cloud startup activity. Director Blake Yeager moves to Techstars headquarters in Boulder, CO, where he becomes vice president of engineering for the accelerator program overall.

—The British are coming—well, they did come to Texas last week. A contingent of healthcare companies based in the U.K. traveled to Texas’ largest cities scouting out business opportunities and potential customers with local companies, physicians, and institutions.

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Cell Culture AgTech Offers Prospect of Meat and Milk Without the Moo

Milk in a glass

The idea of using laboratory techniques to create food sounds like something out of science fiction—think of the food replicators depicted on Star Trek. But the concept of lab-grown food is gaining traction as entrepreneurs and scientists look for ways to make more animal products while also diminishing the food industry’s impact on the environment.

This technology, called cellular agriculture, aims to create “meat” and animal products independent of an animal by using cells and proteins produced in a lab. Though it’s still early days, companies are pursuing these technologies to address current consumer demands, according to Paul Mozdiak, a North Carolina State University professor of poultry science who is researching ways to produce meat in the lab.

“People have choices,” Mozdiak said. “One of the choices is they want animal products without animals.”

Mozdiak spoke on a cellular agriculture panel Tuesday during the North Carolina Biotechnology Center’s AgBiotech Summit in Chapel Hill, NC. He said that a growing number of agtech startups pursuing cell culture meat products are drawing attention from investors. Companies pursuing “alternative proteins,” a category that includes cellular agriculture, raised $ 88 million across 10 deals in the first half of 2016, according to AgFunder. But this investor interest is a new development. In the last 25 years, there hasn’t been much talk about cellular agriculture because there hasn’t been much financial support. Traditional funding mechanisms don’t apply—there’s still no way to get a federal grant to support cultured meat research, Mozdiak explained.

New funding mechanisms have taken root besides traditional venture capital. New Harvest, a New York-based non-profit organization that supports cellular agriculture research, awarded Mozdiak $ 118,800 to support his research. The group also supported San Francisco-based Perfect Day, which is developing dairy products made from dairy-free milk proteins. The company, which recently changed its name from muufri (pronounced “moo free”), can produce milk proteins in cell culture by fermenting genetically engineered yeast, co-founder and CEO Ryan Pandya explained. To turn those milk proteins into milk, Perfect Day next adds plant-based sugars, fats, and minerals. This approach produces milk without lactose or saturated fats, which could address the allergy and health concerns that some consumers have with dairy products.

Pandya recalled that as a college student studying chemical and biological engineering, one of his professors could not find funding to support research on cultured meat. That professor was only able to support his cultured meat research by setting aside funds from another project. Pandya said that one of his goals for Perfect Day is to “normalize the field” of cultured food and bring the technology into wider acceptance. Cellular agriculture needs more funding, and the research it supports should not be conducted in secret, he said.

Hultz Smith, principal scientist at Tyson Foods (NYSE:TSN), is in favor of cultured meat research. Traditional animal production isn’t going away, and Tyson does not see these cultured meats as competition for poultry, he said. As the agriculture industry looks for ways to feed more people more efficiently, Tyson believes that meat produced by cell culture can offer consumers another choice.

Consumers may not be expressly calling for cell culture meat as one of these choices, but their market behavior is pushing the food industry toward cellular agriculture, Pandya said. Grocery shoppers who want an alternative to milk can easily pick up a carton of soy milk these days. Many of those same shoppers head back to the dairy aisle for cheese because they don’t like the taste of vegan cheese. Consumers want dairy-free choices, but they also want those choices to more closely resemble animal-based products, he explained.

Cellular agriculture can address the additional consumer demands for products that are local and food that is traceable to its source, Pandya said. The technology creates an opportunity to produce food close to where it will be sold, which improves the traceability of the products and reduces its environmental impact. If cultured meat becomes commercially viable, Mozdiak sees this meat being shipped to stores where consumers could shop for it the way they buy meat now. But it also offers the possibility of making meat a high-end, premium product sold in small shops.

“You could have craft meat shops the way you have craft breweries,” Mozdiak said.

Companies are still a long way from providing meat as a craft food. Cells can only grow to about half a millimeter in culture, so cultured meat forms as ground meat rather than as steak, according to New Harvest. The first cell culture products to reach consumers will be something relatively easier to make, like milk or cheese. If all goes well with Perfect Day’s technology, those options could come soon. Pandya said his company’s first dairy-free product should be ready for the market by late 2017.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Health Gauge via a Creative Commons license.

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