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Here’s how big companies are looking to invest in Houston startups

For large companies, it's not just about the money. There's more they can offer startups. Getty Images

As times and technologies change, large companies need to be able to adopt innovative techniques now more than ever. For some companies, that means making a strategic hire, investing in startups, or making acquisitions.

Three panelists with experience in corporate ventures took the stage at the inaugural HX Capital Summit to discuss their best advice for startups looking for investment from large companies.

The panel consisted of Roy Johnston, partner at The League of Worthwhile Ventures; Tom Luby, head of Jlabs; Andrea Course, venture principal at Schlumberger Technical Investments; and moderator Rashad Kurbanov, CEO of Houston-based iownit capital and markets.

The topic of conversation was how corporations work with startups. For Schlumberger, Course says, it's less about acquiring companies and more about investing in technologies those startups are working on.

"When Schlumberger does invest, we like to have a pilot and invest in properties we can grow," Course says. "Our intent is not to go out and buy a startup company, but to grow the technology and then become customers."

Schlumberger has a lot to offer a budding company, namely resources, infrastructure, assets, and a global footprint, Course says.

Previous to his position at The League, Johnston was the director in the venture capital arm of Waste Management, Inc. He says he saw a similar resources-based investment strategy.

"Waste Management might have been more hesitant to write a check, but they were very generous with their assets," Johnston says.

The company could make connections for the startups and provide other support for entrepreneurs in the early stages of starting a company. However, when it came to monetary investments, Johnston says, it was a different story.

"Where I think Waste Management comes in is later on — more of an acquirer than an investor," Johnston says.

When it comes to the types of startups big companies are looking to work with, industry isn't a big issue. Johnson & Johnson, for instance, has an open mind, Luby says.

"It's not an easy fit to say a specific area where J&J fits — if you look at the profile of things we do, we have a no-strings-attached incubation hub next door," he says.

Schlumberger similarly looks outward to spark innovation inward — mostly, Course says, because it's so challenging to think outside the box when you're working everyday inside the box.

"We mostly invest in companies outside of oil and gas, but that we see the potential of bringing used in our industry," Course says.

Houston, has a surplus of diversity — both industry and population, Johnston says. This will be a huge asset of the city, he says, since Houston is on the edge of another revolution for digitization.

"The businesses that are going to be built are going to need people who have a diverse understanding of problems," Johnston says. "That's where I think Houston's diversity is an enormous benefit to us."

Houston was home to more than 117,000 skilled freelancers in 2018. Photo courtesy of Common Desk

It's no wonder coworking is taking off in Houston. A new study shows the community of skilled freelance workers in Houston ranks as one of the biggest in Texas — and the United States.

The study, commissioned by freelance marketplace Fiverr and conducted by market research firm Rockbridge Associates, indicates Houston was home to an estimated 117,260 skilled freelancers who generated more than $4.1 billion in revenue in 2018, just slightly less than the financial haul in 2017.

Houston ranked second statewide and 11th in the U.S. among major metro areas for the size of the skilled-freelancer workforce and for the amount of revenue produced, according to the study. Between 2017 and 2018, Houston's pool of skilled freelancers grew 2.5 percent.

From 2011 to 2016, according to the study, Houston's community of skilled freelancers increased 7.7 percent, while revenue declined slightly by 7.8 percent. The Fiverr study places skilled freelancers in three buckets: creative, technical, and professional. These freelancers include attorneys, graphic designers, musicians, software engineers, accountants, and consultants. Any self-employed person whose work requires "specific skills and abilities" was counted in the study; excluded were folks like Uber and Lyft drivers.

"Highly skilled freelancers are an understudied and often overlooked segment of the workforce," Brent Messenger, Fiverr's vice president of public policy and community, says in a release. "By analyzing the data around these … workers, we're able to get a clear picture of the types of jobs they're doing, the amount of revenue they're generating, and the cities in which they're having the most impact."

DFW ranked first in Texas and seventh nationally in the study. In 2018, DFW was home to an estimated 154,617 skilled freelancers who generated nearly $6.38 billion in revenue in 2018, up 5.4 percent from the previous year.

While DFW dominates Texas in terms of freelance population and revenue, Austin boasts the fastest-growing freelance scene.

In 2018, the estimated 67,044 skilled freelancers in the Austin metro area produced nearly $2.7 billion in revenue, up 7.5 percent from 2017, the study says. During the one-year period, Austin's pool of skilled freelancers grew 7.4 percent. The study pegged Austin at No. 18 nationally for the size of the population and revenue of skilled freelancers.

From 2011 to 2016, according to the study, Austin's community of skilled freelancers shot up by 26 percent, with revenue climbing 31 percent. The study identified Austin and Nashville as the country's two fastest-growing hubs for skilled freelancers.

A recent study by commercial real estate website CommercialCafé found that Austin, Dallas, and Houston ranked among the most affordable U.S. cities for freelancers. Meanwhile, personal finance website NerdWallet in 2016 ranked Austin as the best place in the U.S. for freelancers, with Dallas at No. 3, Fort Worth at No. 8, and Houston at No. 15.

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A version of this story originally appeared on CultureMap.com.