By the numbers

4 things you need to know from the Greater Houston Partnership's annual report as it pertains to innovation

The Greater Houston Partnership has the facts. Nick Bee/Pexels

Every year, the Greater Houston Partnership — the city's economic development arm — gathers up data and reports to paint a full picture of the Bayou City. In the past few editions, innovation has been a key component.

The GHP's innovation coverage spans three pages under the top industry and sectors category. From tech startup growth to money raised, here's what you need to know from the 2019 Houston Facts.

Houston has the 12th largest tech sector in the United States

Christina Morillo/Pexels

The innovation section starts pretty strong with this fun fact. The No. 12 tech sector ranking comes from Computing Technology Industry Association, which cites that Houston has more than 223,000 tech workers. According to the report, about two-thirds of Houston's tech workers are in industries outside of computer and software.

GHP credits Houston's large population of tech workers to its connection to aerospace and oil and gas.

"As the home of NASA's Johnson Space Center and headquarters to the global energy industry, Houston has long been a global hub of engineering talent," the report reads. "In recent years, those skills have given rise to a thriving ecosystem of digital technology companies."

GHP's data reflect that Houston has more than 8,200 tech-related firms, which includes over 500 tech startups.

Venture funding was up over 50 percent between 2017 and 2018

Via Houston Facts


Houston's recorded venture funding doesn't have a hockey stick chart to brag about. Over the past few years, venture funding has been up and down, according to S&P Capital IQ.

"Houston companies in clean energy, health innovation and digital technology have received $3.1 billion in venture capital and growth funding across 333 deals since 2014, averaging $576 million every year," the report reads.

But between 2018 and 2017, VC funds were up 50.9 percent. Of the three categories, clean energy technology pulled in the most money each year and was responsible for 64 percent of the funding during the 2014-2018 period. Sunnova, a residential solar company, had the most money raised during this time with $1.3 billion.

The largest deals reported in Houston in 2018 were:

  • Sunnova Energy — $183 million
  • OncoResponse — $40 million
  • Trisun Energy Services — $39 million
  • Arundo Analytics — $25 million
  • Procyrion — $16 million
  • QuVa Pharma — $15 million
  • NeoSensory — $12 million

University-backed entrepreneurship remains strong

Courtesy of Rice University

The Princeton Review ranks Rice University and the University of Houston as having among the best entrepreneurship programs in the country. Rice runs its Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship out of its Jones Graduate School of Business, while University of Houston's Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship is housed in the Bauer College of Business.

Both schools have run accelerator programs for seven years — the past six of which have been in collaboration. Rice's OwlSpark and UH's RED Labs finished this summer's program on August 1 at the Bayou Startup Showcase with 16 startup pitches.

Meanwhile, the Rice Business Plan Competition is deemed the "richest pitch competition" in the country. In 2019, the competition saw $3 million invested. RBPC companies have gone on to raise $1.2 billion in capital during the competition's 18-year history.

At UH, which has its own set of pitch events, the Wolff Center's graduate students manage a million-dollar Cougar Venture Fund. The fund has a group of experts that analyze and invest in early stage technology companies.

The life science industry continues to grow

Via Houston Facts

In 2018, Houston housed 20.5 percent of the country's clinical trials, with over 1,800 active. The city has more than 1,760 life sciences companies and over 25,100 biotech experts and 7,200 medical researchers.

Thankfully, the money seems to match this volume of activity. Last year, Houston's medical research grant funding from the National Institutes of Health, which totaled $668 million in 2018, was up almost 7 percent from 2017. The city's medical institutions have received nearly $3 billion from NIH since 2014 — an average of $600 million a year.

According to the GHP, the top Houston institutions receiving NIH funding in 2018 were:

  • Baylor College of Medicine — $255 million
  • University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center — $149 million
  • University of Texas Health Science Center — $90 million
  • University of Texas Medical Branch Galveston — $87 million
  • University of Houston — $24 million
  • Methodist Hospital Research Institute — $19 million
  • Rice University — $14 million
  • Texas Southern University — $3 million

As mentioned before, venture capital and private equity investment has increased in Houston, and that trend is also represented in the life science sector. In 2018, life science startups raked in $119 million, which represents a a 41.7 percent increase from $84 million in 201717, according to S&P Capital IQ.

In 2018, the top biotech firms receiving investment were:

  • OncoResponse — $40 million
  • Procyrion — $16 million
  • QuVa Pharma — $15 million
  • Pulmotect — $10 million
  • Tvardi Therapeutics — $9 million

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Building Houston

 
 

Houston-based Sportlo is shooting for a one-stop-shop platform for sporting programs in Houston. Cade Martin/Getty Images

In virtually no time at all, Sportlo has built its reputation on the simplest of foundations: community.

Thilo Borgmann and Sebastian Henke founded the local hub for sports parents earlier this year as a tool for sports moms and dads to stay connected with local leagues, sports clubs, coaches, and other parents with children involved in youth sports in the greater Houston area.

"We make it easy for sports parents to keep up with what's happening in their local youth sports community," says Henke. "With our platform, they can discover tryouts, camps, and sports clubs. They can also join and create groups, find private coaches for their kids, and more."

Borgmann and Henke are both former NCAA Division 1 soccer players who starred while they were student athletes at Houston Baptist University, then went on to become well-known private coaches.

The sports-loving duo saw a dearth of useful information for sports parents on popular social media sites, so they created the platform to give users a central place to communicate with each other, join and create groups, discover tryouts and camps for their children and find private coaches across the city to help their young athletes reach their goals.

"We were both involved in sports for most of our lives and then got into private coaching," says Henke. "Overall, what we saw was that there is an entire ecosystem of youth sports and it was very much unorganized."

Henke says sports clubs weren't able to reach potential members and their parents. He says they envisioned a one-stop-shop approach to the sports ecosystem.

"So, Sportlo is focused on sports parents, but within the community, we try to connect persons with coaches, with clubs, with colleges and so on," Henke says. "That's the vision behind it, so people will have a place to have a community, to get advice and tips and then they will have access to certain services and information."

The plan for Sportlo has already evolved in its short life. Originally the platform was going to support just private coaching.

"After we got more feedback from parents and first users, we started to adapt the product and rebuilt the product," Henke says. "Based on the surveys we collected online, parents wanted us to find ways how to connect them with each other, so that's why we started building it as a new page and that's how we realized where it needed to go."

The biggest lesson in listening to their users was understanding that any initial vision to help a community must also be focused on or include what's intrinsically valuable to the users.

"Too often, people get focused on their own ideas and forget that feedback offers surprising moments," says Henke. "Users gave us a whole new path, which kept us from going in the direction where users wouldn't want the product to go."

Feedback from users is key, Henke says, and he recommends startup founders prioritize user experience and constructive criticism.

"All of the ideas that we had in our head, at some point we had to stop and reevaluate them and then focus on the most important thing first and then go from there," he says.

Still, the launch of Sportlo was not without its own unique challenges. Its March go-live date coincided in point of time with the spread of COVID-19, which ultimately turned into a worldwide pandemic.

"We haven't had to make any major changes," says Henke. "But groups on the platform have focused on that topic because there are no sports happening at the moment and they are eager to get them back. But other than that, it's not something we've had to focus on. But for parents, they've focused on related topics, like how to keep their kids busy at home doing exercises, things like that, or when discussing when their kids' clubs are starting back up and how to keep kids safe."

In addition to forming groups and sharing a variety of sports-related topics, parents can post pictures and videos of their child's latest tournament or game, get access to useful articles shared by fellow parents and find recommended sports products for themselves or their child.

"The main reason we added that social component was because we wanted to have a user timeline so when they log in, all the users can see something sports related," says Borgmann. "There's so much noise, with politics and posts that are only about the coronavirus and all that, so we wanted to focus on sports and have parents be able to show how their kid is doing, see other kids in action and support each other with a focus on sports without seeing all the other distractions that might be on other platforms."

For now, Sportlo is focused solely on keeping Houston informed, but it will look to expand to other cities and states when the time comes.

"We are focused right now only on Houston, because we know Houston and Texas and we've experienced different levels of sports in this area, so we want to stay local," says Henke. "Then, the next step is we intend to take it to other cities within Texas. And at some point, our vision is to have the entire youth ecosystem of the United States."

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