HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 152

Houston innovation leader shares how key collaboration is to the city's startup scene

Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, joins this week's Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via alliance.rice.edu

Collaboration has made a world of a difference for growing Houston's innovation ecosystem, according to Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship.

"I think Houston has this culture of collaboration that I suspect that some other major cities don't have in the same way," Burke says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "And while we're a big city, the entrepreneurial ecosystem feels like a small network of a lot of people who work really well together."

Burke has played a major role in the collaboration of Houston for the past 20 years leading the Rice Alliance, which coordinates many event programs and accelerators — including the Rice Business Plan Competition, energy and life science forums, the Clean Energy Accelerator, Owl Spark, Blue Launch, and more.

The latest collaborative news from Rice University is that National Science Foundation granted $15 million to Rice and a handful of other universities to expand a program that helps faculty members, researchers, and doctoral students commercialize STEM-oriented technology. The Southwest I-Corps Node was founded in 2014, and five nearby schools have teamed up to form a new hub within the node.

The program works to help bring STEM-related technologies developed at universities off of campuses and into the marketplace. Over 1,000 startups have been formed after completing the I-Corps program; they have raised more than $750 million in funding.

"There's so much federal funding that goes into universities to do research that creates new innovations and discoveries," "What NSF said is, 'We're funding so much research — what we need to do to support the economy and to grow jobs and startups is to help with the translation of that research and innovations to startup companies.'"

"They created this program to help faculty and researchers to understand what it takes to determine where the market is for the technology, who are your customers, who will pay for it, and what problem that they are solving," he continues.

Another element of collaboration — specific to Houston — is Rice's support of the Ion and the Innovation District, Burke says. The school has committed over $100 million to the district. Open to the greater Houston community, the Rice Alliance has a satellite office at the Ion and hosts programming, houses its Clean Energy Accelerator, and more in the building.

"I think that the Ion is nothing short of a game changer for the trajectory of energy technology and entrepreneurship of Houston," Burke says on the show. "I'm really excited about the Ion and for what it's done."

He shares more details about the internationality of the Rice Business Plan Competition and more goings on at the Rice Alliance on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

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Building Houston

 
 

LevelField Financial is planning a nationwide expansion following a recent acquisition. Photo via Getty Images

A Houston-based financial services company has made a recent strategic acquisition that gives it a new banking status.

LevelField Financial, which is creating a platform that combines traditional banking and digital asset products and services, announced this week that it is acquiring Burling Bank, an FDIC-insured, Illinois state-chartered bank. According to the company, once it receives regulatory approval, "LevelField will be the first full-service bank to offer fully compliant traditional banking and digital asset services."

The financial terms of the deal's transaction, which is expected to close later this year, were not disclosed.

The combined company will be able to provide traditional banking services, as well as LevelField's digital asset management. Burling Bank's senior management team will join LevelField's leadership, per a press release. They will focus on serving the bank's existing clients and growing the banking business nationwide.

"We conducted a broad review of banks in the U.S. to find the ideal institution with both an existing business and a management team who are aligned with our vision; we exceeded our expectations with Burling Bank. With this acquisition, LevelField will become a traditional bank, albeit one serving customers interested in the digital asset class," says Gene A. Grant II, CEO of LevelField Financial, in the release.

"We are thrilled to have the Burling executives join our leadership team, and together we intend to deliver fantastic customer service and well-designed products to customers who have an interest in accessing the digital asset class through a traditional bank," he continues.

Founded in 2018 by former banking executives, LevelField's leadership believes "the future of money is digital and that banks will continue to be a trusted provider of financial services," according to the website. This acquisition comes ahead of the company's plans to expand nationally.

"LevelField's strategic approach presented a tremendous opportunity for the bank to expand beyond our local footprint and serve customers with shared interests across the nation," says Michael J. Busch, Burling Bank president and CEO. "Together, we will continue to provide superior service and demonstrate that we truly understand the expanding and unique needs of our customers. Additionally, through the carefully developed suite of products we can address our customers' interests in digital assets and introduce them to LevelField's safe, simple, and secure platform."

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