Tysons, VA

Thursday Morning Notes

Fairfax County Public Schools to Start Vaccinations on Jan. 16 — “All FCPS employees will have access to the COVID-19 vaccine as a part of the Virginia Department of Health 1b group of other essential workers. All FCPS staff who wish to access the vaccine will have the opportunity to receive their first dose in the next three weeks.” [FCPS]

Metro Announces Inauguration-Related Service Changes — Metro will close 13 stations starting Friday (Jan. 15) through Jan. 21. Trains will operate according to a Saturday schedule, bypassing the closed stations, and 26 bus routes will be detoured around the security perimeter that law enforcement authorities have put in place for the Inauguration on Jan. 20. [WMATA]

Airbnb Cancels Reservations in D.C. Area — “Today, in response to various local, state and federal officials asking people not to travel to Washington, D.C., we are announcing that Airbnb will cancel reservations in the Washington, D.C. metro area during the Inauguration week.  Additionally, we will prevent any new reservations in the Washington, D.C. area from being booked during that time by blocking such reservations.” [Airbnb]

Tysons-based Alarm.com Debuts No-Touch Video Doorbell — The video doorbell uses “video analytics to ring itself whenever it sees someone standing on your mat. That design eliminates the need for anyone to physically press a button, and the built-in camera and microphone let you talk with them through your phone without opening the door.” [CNET]

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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More students and teachers in the Fairfax County County Public Schools system have been identified as victims of a ransomware attack that took place in September.

In a letter to parents, FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand said his staff has identified more people who may have been impacted by the attack.

”In line with our commitment to providing credit monitoring and identity restoration services to those who may need them, we have distributed additional individualized notices to ensure all eligible members of our community who wish to utilize these services have access to them,” Brabrand wrote to parents and students last night.

On Sept. 11, just a few days after virtual learning resumed, hackers posted personal information of some students and staff on the dark web. Maze, a group of cybercriminals, claimed responsibility for the attack, which uses ransomware to prevent users from accessing files. In some cases, data is extracted and held hostage until a ransom is paid.

While the incident remains under investigation, Brabrand said that the school system is working with the FBI and Virginia State Police to investigate the attack.

Brabrand’s complete letter is below, after the jump.

Read More

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Fairfax County will host Virginia’s first-ever Smart City Challenge next month.

Scheduled to kick off on Jan. 23, the challenge is a month-long virtual competition where teams of participants will develop and pitch potential solutions to challenges in health, transportation, housing, education, energy, infrastructure, public safety, and other facets of society.

Fairfax County has partnered with several public, private, and nonprofit groups to organize the contest, including Smart City Works, the McLean-based nonprofit Refraction, Virginia Tech, Girls in Tech DC, and the Universities at Shady Grove.

“The goal of the Challenge is to advance equitable and inclusive opportunities for all people to thrive in the greater Washington, D.C., region,” Smart City Works said in a Dec. 21 press release announcing the challenge.

While the challenge was designed with the D.C. area in mind, anyone, from college students to startups, can participate regardless of where they live. Organizers say they will put a particular focus on encouraging women and people of color to get involved.

Registration is currently open. There is an admission fee of $15 for students and $30 for everyone else “to help defray hosting and other expenses,” Smart City Works says on its website.

Conducted entirely online through Zoom, the challenge will give participants a month to form teams and use data, resources, and mentors made available by organizers to develop ideas for how technology or other forms of innovation can be used to make communities more equitable, livable, resilient, and sustainable.

Teams will present their projects to a panel of judges, who will evaluate the pitches based on innovation, regional impact, practicality, and equity and inclusivity. Winners will be awarded more than $350,000 in cash and in-kind prizes, along with an opportunity to implement pilot projects with Fairfax County, the City of Fairfax, and other partner organizations.

Alongside the actual competition, the challenge will feature streamed and recorded discussions with government, nonprofit, and business leaders throughout the month. Anticipated speakers include Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, Dominion Energy CEO Bob Blue, and Fairfax County Deputy County Executive Rachel Flynn.

“The Smart City Challenge is the perfect opportunity to tap bright minds to improve the lives of everyone in the Washington, D.C., area through technology, innovation, and problem-solving,” Refraction CEO Esther Lee said. “We are excited to bring together forward-thinking businesses, entrepreneurs, universities, government, and nonprofits to showcase collaboration and thought leadership.”

Fairfax County previously partnered with Smart City Works and Refraction to start the Northern Virginia Smart Region Initiative, which aims to foster innovation and economic growth in the area.

The county contributed $50,000 when the two nonprofits successfully applied for a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration to fund the initiative in 2019.

Photo by Michelle Goldchain

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With COVID-19 vaccines expected to take months to roll out to the general public, one Tysons-based company has developed software that it believes will enable schools, businesses, and other facilities to open their doors with an added layer of security against the novel coronavirus.

Senseware (8603 Westwood Center Dr.) has adapted its air quality monitoring platform to detect the presence of COVID-19 particles or conditions that facilitate their spread.

The Fairfax County Economic Development Authority announced on Dec. 18 that it will host a webinar with FCEDA President and CEO Victor Hoskins and Senseware CEO and co-founder Serene Almomen on Jan. 7.

Presented in conjunction with the Northern Virginia Economic Development Alliance, the webinar is the latest segment in a 10-part series called “Catalyst for Change: How Companies Turn Disruption into Success.”

“Safety is the critical component of bringing employees back into working on-site at offices during this unprecedented time,” Hoskins said. “This webinar will focus on how Senseware…has developed a platform for detecting COVID-19 particles in order to enable a safer environment for employees returning to the workplace.”

Since COVID-19 primarily spreads through respiratory droplets and other particles carried in the air, Senseware says that its platform can determine the effectiveness of ventilation systems in mitigating the coronavirus’ transmission by monitoring the air supply flow rate, particle sizes, relative humidity, and carbon dioxide and ozone levels.

The company says it has integrated bio-sensors into its system that can detect the existence of viruses, including the novel coronavirus, and other harmful microbes.

Using the data collected by its sensors, Senseware sends reports to customers and automatically issues an alert if air quality conditions become unhealthy or unsafe.

“Knowing if [the] COVID-19 pathogen is in the air we breathe in real time will play a major role in safely repopulating spaces,” Almomen said. “We are excited to share how we introduced this new innovation to help promote people safety and wellbeing during this critical time.”

The FCEDA webinar will take place virtually on Zoom. Registration is free and can be done through this link.

Image via CDC on Unsplash

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More than 30 companies in the D.C. metro area are looking to hire women for open positions in STEM-based fields at a Women in Technology Virtual Career Fair tomorrow (Thursday). Some of the companies include Amazon, Capital One, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise. 

The career fair is sponsored by the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority and Capital One as part of an ongoing series of virtual career fairs that the FCEDA has supported in response to the COVID-19 crisis, according to a press release from the FCEDA.

The first three virtual fairs in the series attracted more than 2,100 attendees, the release says.

“More girls and women need to be exposed to the high-paying jobs in the technology sectors that are a major part of the economy of Fairfax County,” Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross said.

Gross, who serves as vice chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, added that “efforts such as this career fair open up a wider talent pipeline for the companies that have so many job openings even during the pandemic.” 

According to the release, only 26% of the jobs held by women in the workforce are computing-related jobs. The career fair on Nov. 5 will help connect technology professionals with top organizations in the D.C. metro area, seeking to help increase access to opportunity “in a field where women have been historically underrepresented.” 

Participants will be able to browse companies through a virtual lobby, enter their booths, view open positions, engage in video conferencing, and talk with human resources representatives at the virtual fair.

“In Northern Virginia, we have more than 15,000 tech firms constantly hiring. In fact, tech job postings are growing more in Virginia than in California and New York,” FCEDA President and CEO Victor Hoskins said. “We are a region that not just embraces, but pioneers diversity: women are twice as likely to work in tech in Northern Virginia than in Silicon Valley.” 

Participation in the career fair is free of charge. Employers interested in promoting their job openings can contact Mike Batt, the FCEDA Director of Talent Initiative Programs at [email protected] or visit the Employer Resources page. 

Photo via the FCEDA/Instagram

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Tandem Product Academy is looking for 20 existing Northern Virginia technology companies to guide and help succeed in the COVID-19 economy.

Amplifier Advisors, as well as a group of university, government and community partners, helped Tandem Innovation Alliance’s Academy launch a new cohort mentoring these technology companies on Sept. 14.

The Academy will help the selected businesses find a business model that will sustain them throughout the pandemic and long after, according to a statement from the Academy. The program will commence on Oct. 21, 2020.

The program will run virtually over a four-month period, alternating between all-cohort classes and individual company mentor sessions, according to the statement.

“The post COVID-19 economy is punishing for technology businesses that do not have the right product market fit, but as we can see from regional and national successes, when a technology business has the right fit, this is a great time to be in the technology industry,” said Jonathan Aberman, the founder of Amplifier Advisors.

“We want to help a group of promising technology businesses find their best opportunities to pivot what they have built into a market that will be rewarding for the current economy and what’s next,” said Aberman.

Amplifier Advisors is an innovation business led by Aberman, George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis and Marymount University’s Marymount Intrapreneurship Initiative, according to the statement.

The cohort’s teaching team includes Marymount University faculty and technology entrepreneurs and investors; including Mark Walsh, Gene Riechers, Ben Foster, Erich Baumgarter, Tien Wong, Pat Sheridan, Elizabeth Shea and Jonathan Aberman.

Participants must be senior leaders of a business that has a technology product that has achieved some commercial adoption, according to the statement, and whose company has done any of the following over the past year:

  • Had gross revenue of $500,000;
  • Obtained at least $500,000 in capital from sources other than the founder’s immediate friends or family; or
  • Received at least $500,000 in federal research and development funding.

Those interested can view more information and apply at the Tandem Innovation Alliance website.

Photo by Alesia Kazantceva/Unsplash

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A new chief information officer will oversee Fairfax County Public Schools’s virtual learning and department of information technology.

Gautam Sethi, who currently serves as the chief technology officer for Douglas County School District in Colorado, will start Sept. 21.

The head of information technology for FCPS resigned in April following distance learning woes. Maribeth Luftglass had held the position for more than two decades. Technical and management problems haunted the beginning of remote education this year, leading the school system to temporarily cancel classes.

FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand said he is confident Sethi will help ensure FCPS is at “the forefront of innovation and fully supports our students, families, and employees.”

“He has administrative and management skills in K-12 education-including experience supporting remote learning-that make him uniquely qualified to oversee our IT functions,” Brabrand wrote in a statement.

Sethi built an IT security program in Colorado for the state’s third-largest district. He also modernized existing technologies and helped develop online portals to support staff and families, according to FCPS.

Here’s more from FCPS on his background:

Previously, Mr. Sethi led technology teams for Atlanta and New York City public schools.  He served as executive director of information technology for Atlanta Public Schools, where he enabled solutions for successful virtual student-teacher collaboration and human resources functions. He also served as the New York City Department of Education director of enterprise solutions architecture, working on innovative technology solutions resulting in more than 20 new systems initiatives; spearheaded a pilot cloud deployment; and directed IT for special education programs.

Sethi earned his bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of Delhi n Indian and his master’s degree in business administration from Emory University in Atlanta.

Photo via FCPS

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As the start date for Fairfax County Public Schools approaches, school officials are in the midst of developing metrics to guide how and when schools would reopen.

At a Fairfax County School Board meeting in late July, the board directed FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand to begin drafting preliminary metrics to inform decisions about school openings and closures.

School officials anticipate a spike in COVID-19 cases in the late fall during flu season. Another possibility is “recurring waves across many months until a vaccine is developed,” which could reflect a “loss of stamina” for strict social distancing precautions, according to FCPS documents.

The move comes in the absence of state or county level metrics on the issue. In a recent email, Melanie Meren, the school board member for the Hunter Mill District, said this step was taken due to lack of guidance from state officials on the issue.

“Therefore, the school board felt it was vital for FCPS to begin developing our own, because no one else was doing that for or with us,” Meren wrote.

The latest plan for reopening and closures notes that “multi-faceted metric and thresholds” will be used to guide decision-making.

School officials will take several factors into consideration based on community transmission and disease trends, which will determine if the level of community transmissions creates conditions for face-to-face transmission.

Other factors include operational metrics like the school system’s capacity to support in-person instruction, personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies. Finally, school officials will also consider school metrics.

Until then, FCPS students are set to return to virtual classes on Tuesday, Sept. 8, right after Labor Day.

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Fairfax County Public Schools created a technology-focused help desk to assist FCPS families starting school virtually in two weeks.

The Parent Technology Help Desk launched yesterday (Monday), FCPS announced. The school system also offers an online portal adults and older students can use to request tech help.

The help desk (833-921-3277) will be staffed between 7 a.m.-11 p.m. daily, according to FCPS. Callers can ask for an interpreters to join the call.

“If help desk staff members are unable to solve the issue, they will request help from the appropriate FCPS team,” according to FCPS.

Currently, the school system is working to distribute roughly 55,000 laptops to students. Before the first day of school (Tuesday, Sept. 8), families can expect teachers to hold virtual orientations and reach out to students.

Photo by Annie Spratt/Unsplash

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Though the prospect of looking for a career might be daunting during a pandemic, a Falls Church-based group is hosting a virtual job fair this week to help people looking for jobs in STEM.

Women in Technology, a group that aims to get women “from the classroom to the board room,” invites anyone seeking a job in the science, technology, engineering or math fields to an online event on Thursday (June 25) where they can network with hiring managers at various companies.

Registration is free for job seekers, the site said. The event will be held from 4-7 p.m. and people can register online.

All ages and experience levels, including students, are welcome, the page said, adding there will be roughly 15 exhibitors at the event.

Throughout the year, the organization will also host various awards ceremonies and training opportunities for women in the STEM field, the website said.

“The great thing is we can reach more people with this being virtual and additionally, no traffic nor weather to affect the participation numbers,” WIT member Cristine Gollayan said. “Many have lost jobs due to COVID and we are hoping that this fair will assist those in the community.”

Photo courtesy Cristine Gollayan

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