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It might be a bit reductive to call Austin a college town, but that's what makes it so good. It certainly benefits from the creativity and industry of college living, but there's a lot more to do than go to gentrified lunches and cool, underground shows. (If you exist outside of Sixth Street, anyway.)

Recognizing this special balance, financial website WalletHub has declared Austin the college city in the United States for 2023, beating out some obvious contenders like Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio.

In addition to being the best city overall, Austin also tops the large cities list, and is one of only two Texas locales represented in the top 10 of any category; the other is College Station, No. 6 on the small list.

The most represented state, perhaps not surprisingly, is Florida, with four cities in the overall top 10. The top 10 college cities for 2023, according to WalletHub, are:

1. Austin
2. Ann Arbor, Michigan
3. Orlando, Florida
4. Gainesville, Florida
5. Tampa, Florida
6. Rexburg, Idaho
7. Provo, Utah
8. Scottsdale, Arizona
9. Miami
10. Raleigh, North Carolina

And how did Austin make the grade? WalletHub looked at key metrics across three categories to determine the rankings.

Austin scored best, No. 12, in the “social environment” category, determined by metrics like students per capita; breweries, cafés, and food trucks per capita; and safety issues like vaccination and crime statistics.

Its ranking at No. 21 in the “academic & economic opportunities" category puts it in the 95th percentile, even above Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, famous for their Ivy League prevalence.

And perhaps unsurprising to those who currently reside here, the Capital City ranked worst in "wallet friendliness,” at No. 204 out of 415.

Elsewhere in Texas, El Paso did well on the overall list at No. 36, followed by Houston (No. 64), Dallas (99), Fort Worth (153), and San Antonio (169). Notably, cities that tend to fall lower in similar studies ranked relatively well among college towns.

Photo by dszc Getty Images

University of Texas launches $10 million seed fund with investment in vaccine storage pioneer

Sprouting Ideas

Planting a seed seems like a quaint activity, but the University of Texas at Austin doesn't do anything small. Its new $10 million UT seed fund is going into incubation soon, thanks to the efforts of Discovery to Impact, the team leading the University's "research commercialization and innovation efforts."

Except for its scale, this project is no different from any other seed investment, which inputs capital into a business in the form of a lump sum, in exchange for a portion of the business. In this case, the recipients are "promising new startups built on university-owned intellectual property," according to a press release. In total, UT Austin estimates that this intellectual property, or research enterprise, totals $800 million, a number it commits to "dramatically expand."

“By investing in these early-stage companies, we will be addressing a crucial gap in the capital market and enabling development of impactful technologies, while encouraging investors to consider opportunities coming out of the university,” said vice president of business strategies and operations Jim Davis in the release.

Discovery to Impact helps launch startups and stays on board through the many growing pains many startups experience, helping to accelerate "new products, services, solutions and cures." This means choosing and collaborating with three or four new companies each year, and when divided, the seed does appear rather small: companies can expect no more than a $250,000 investment.

The first seed will be planted in Jurata Thin Film, in order to grow solutions that streamline vaccine and biologic development and distribution worldwide. As many who followed COVID-19 vaccine news are aware, one major problem in distributing a vaccine is keeping it cold and stable. Jurata, based on the work of UT College of Pharmacy professor Maria Croyle, makes "thin films" (look up this keyword to see how unique Croyle's contribution is) that preserve vaccines for up to three years at room temperature. This is excellent news for communities with fewer resources or more arduous shipping needs.

The company is still relatively young, although not brand-new, having been founded in 2019. Its leadership has more experience; CEO Sheila Mikhail and co-founder Jude Samulski have previously collaborated on Asklepios BioPharmaceutical Inc. (AskBio) and Bamboo Therapeutics Inc.

The UT Seed Fund investment, along with other funding, will help bring about a pilot-scale manufacturing line that can create 1,000 doses of loaded thin films per hour, plus studies to ensure the safety of the formulation under the tongue, inside the cheek, and via intramuscular injection.

“Jurata is very excited to be the first recipient of UT Seed Fund,” said Jurata’s senior director of business development, Megan Livingston. “UT has been extremely supportive of our technology and development, and we look forward to continuing our relationship through this investment.”

A similar seed fund already exists at the University of Texas at Dallas, with larger sums for each business. More information about research at UT Austin is available at utexas.edu.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Comedy heavyweights can't find the funny in racially-charged You People

Movie review

While the idea of systemic racism is a generally accepted fact in American society, a more indefinable concept is the cultural biases that people hold. It can be easy to spot someone who wears their racism on their sleeves, but sometimes a prejudice only reveals itself when someone is confronted with a world that is not their own.

This idea is attempted to be played for laughs in the new Netflix comedy You People. Ezra (Jonah Hill) is a 35-year-old stockbroker/aspiring podcaster who has yet to meet the right woman, much to the chagrin of his mother, Shelley (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). He has a meet-cute with Amira (Lauren London), a graphic designer, when he mistakes her car for an Uber.

While Ezra and Amira bond quickly over a number of shared likes, it’s the ingrained beliefs of their parents that threaten to stand in their way. Shelley and dad Arnold (David Duchovny) are a Jewish couple who either rely on Black stereotypes or go overboard in their attempts to relate to Amira. Meanwhile, Amira’s parents, Akbar (Eddie Murphy) and Fatima (Nia Long), want her to stay true to her Black Muslim roots, and do all they can to discourage the relationship.

Directed by Kenya Barris and written by Barris and Hill, the goal of the film – to shed a funny light on how awkward it can be when people of different races spend time in each other’s spaces – is clear, but the execution is sorely lacking.

The first mistake they make is that the film is almost exclusively focused on Ezra; while Amira gets a small introduction prior to meeting Ezra, there’s never a true exploration of who she is or what she wants outside of her relationship with him. Consequently, their bond is never believable; there appears to be little chemistry existing between the two, and any moments that might endear them to the audience are yada-yadaed for the sake of expediency.

The second is the strange way in which the film’s biggest star – Murphy – is withheld until 20-30 minutes into the movie, introduced in a lackadaisical way, and then given precious few opportunities to showcase his comic skills. Barris and Hill can never seem to find a great way to use the legendary comedian, giving him tepid scenarios that don’t come close to eliciting the big laughs for which he is known.

Ultimately, the film feels more like a series of barely-connected situations than a cohesive story. Any incisiveness that might come from putting the two racially- and religiously-disparate families together is lost because the filmmakers constantly jump from scene to scene in search of laughs. You’d think that Barris, who knows the value of establishing characters from sitcoms like Black-ish, would have figured out how to do that by now, but the film flails its way through its nearly two-hour running time.

Hill, as star, co-writer, and co-producer, is obviously the driving force behind the film, and he is given plenty of time to dole out his brand of comedy. London is likable enough, but we never get to know her character well enough to fully judge her performance. The wealth of talent on the supporting side – including Murphy, Louis-Dreyfus, Long, Duchovny, Sam Jay, Rhea Perlman, Molly Gordon, Deon Cole, Andrea Savage, Elliott Gould, and Mike Epps – is mostly wasted.

Finding comedy in race relations has been done many times in movies and on TV, and can be a winner if done properly. The story of You People can never find its footing, opting for a haphazard approach that doesn’t make good use of its greatest assets.

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You People debuts on Netflix on January 27.

Photo by Tyler Adams/Netflix

Jonah Hill and Eddie Murphy in You People.

7 things to know in Austin food right now: Upscale bowling alley rolls into Cedar Park

News You Can Eat

Editor’s note: We get it. It can be difficult to keep up with the fast pace of Austin’s restaurant and bar scene. We have you covered with our regular roundup of essential food news.

Openings

Sometimes it feels like Austinites always have to be doing something, and that's what makes this town beautiful. In the spirit of not taking drinks sitting down, Spare Birdie Public House is rolling into Cedar Park (1400 Discovery Blvd) for a soft opening on February 1, and a grand opening on February 20. A bit like an upscale Top Golf or neighborhood bowling alley with an incredibly chic interior, the bar and restaurant serves its "chef-driven" food among bowling lanes, augmented reality and indoor golf setups, billiard tables, yard games, and more. The team that started Goodfolks in Georgetown are bowling over alley cliches like hotdogs and fries with lamb meatballs, grilled oysters, and Wagyu sliders.

The Belterra Plaza out in Dripping Springs is collecting new restaurants left and right, making itself a fast burger destination. Mighty Fine Burgers opened its seventh location — the first that is freestanding — in a huge 4,000-square-foot space at 165 Hargraves Drive, Suite T100. The simple menu sticks to the tried-and-true with The Classic Texas Burger, crinkle fries, onion rings, and Blue Bell milkshakes. In January, monthly specials shake up those base elements: a pimento cheese burger and a coconut cream pie shake. The new location is the first in Dripping Springs.

Theres been some buzz about burgers at the Buzz Mill recently, with the very recent departure of the vegan food truck Plow Burger. The buns were barely cold before the Buzz Mill opened its own burger truck, some vegan and some not. The grand opening coincided with the bar and coffee venue's tenth anniversary, on January 20. These are not beefy burgers; the thin patties leave plenty of room for toppings, and there are lots of other snacks to fill up on, like loaded fries, meatless chicken nuggets, and extra patties. The truck is open daily from 11 am to midnight.

Other News and Notes

Chefs Michael Fojtasek and Amanda Turner, of Austin's celebrated Southern restaurant Olamaie, are throwing a new chef series in the fryer on January 31, emphasizing Southern cooking styles while utilizing Texan ingredients. "Southern Exposure" is scheduled for the last Tuesday of every month, and there are three on the calendar already. Chef Turner, a James Beard semi-finalist and CultureMap's reigning rising star chef of the year, is taking the lead while collaborating with Fojtasek. Tickets ($100) available at olamaieaustin.com, benefitting the Jeremiah Program.

Nothing gold can stay, and unfortunately that means Loro's golden ramen noodles are ephemeral on the menu. For the month of February, the "Asian smokehouse" is offering two types of ramen. Both serve up a unique Balinese curry broth, one with brisket and one with grilled prawns. These winter items pair also include ajitama egg, green onion, and sesame, as the more traditional elements. Loro does not accept reservations.

If you can't afford rent in Austin, have you tried, like, not buying coffee? That might work if you were used to Proud Mary Coffee Roasters, an Australian company with an Austin cafe offering just 22 super-luxe cups of $150 joe here and Portland, Oregon. It seems like it's worth the price, given its award-winning flavor and very expensive source beans, but in case that's still not in your budget, a golden ticket giveaway may cover it. Purchase a Hartmann presale tin ($48) online on January 26 to enter.

The Bloody Mary Festival is now almost two weeks away, so people who love drinking their tomatoes should consider snatching up a ticket soon (although ticket sales will technically be open until the day of the event, if they last). On February 11 from 10:30 am to 6 pm, bartenders are pulling out all the stops, or at least all the toppings. Attendees will vote for participating local bars to choose the best cocktail. Tickets (starting at $49.50) available at thebloodymaryfest.com.

Round Rock flips the first page on a brand-new public library

BOOK IT TO THE LIBRARY

After closing its Main Street location in December, Round Rock Public Library is opening a brand-new building on East Liberty Avenue with a celebration on January 28.

Located a block north from the original, 43,000-square-foot facility, the new library building is three stories tall and spans about 66,000 square feet. It was designed by international architecture firm PGAL, Inc. One of the goals with the new library was to expand its services to people of all ages. The first floor will have classrooms, the second floor will have study rooms, and the third floor will have areas for quiet working or studying. There will be additional space for activities and crafts, dedicated story time rooms, early learning areas, and spaces for programs and collections.

“This is truly a library for the community, intended to serve people from all walks of life,” said Round Rock Mayor Craig Morgan. “This building, and the programming that will happen in it, will help shape the future of Round Rock.”

Significant thought was also put into the outdoor areas of the new state-of-the-art facility. The first-floor public courtyard will feature a flexible artificial turf lawn with fun lighting and outdoor furniture sets for all visitors to enjoy. The rooftop will spotlight a wood-decked discovery garden and artificial turf labyrinth, perfect for children. The library’s parking garage will have a screen for movie nights or community gatherings.

The grand opening comes a decade after the 2013 bond election where voters first approved funding for the project. Construction company Hensel Phelps spearheaded the project after breaking ground in June 2021. Round Rock’s General Self Finance Construction fund also helped pay for the new building, with Type B sales tax revenues funding the cost of the 289-stall parking garage. In all, the entire cost of the new library was $34.7 million, while the parking garage cost $13.4 million.

The general public can join the grand opening of the new Round Rock Public Library building, located at 200 East Liberty Avenue, from 2-6 pm on Saturday, January 28. Rain or shine, the outdoor ceremony will start at 2 pm, followed by the grand opening at 2:30 pm. Families are encouraged to attend to learn more about the new facility and to participate in family-friendly activities. More information about the Round Rock Public Library system is available at roundrocktexas.gov.