Self-employment Surge

Houston flourishes as one of the nation's top hubs for freelancers

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.

United Kingdom-based smart technology company, Hive, chose Houston as the city to grow its United States presence. Photo courtesy of Hive

Hive, a smart product company with headquarters in the United Kingdom, has zoned in on Houston for growth in the United States. Drawn to the city's diverse population and tech growth, the company also has a preexisting connection to Direct Energy, which has a large footprint in Houston.

The two companies are connected under the umbrella of parent company Centrica, which is also based in the U.K. Most recently, the company appointed Leah Barton as North American Commercial Director to serve in the Houston office as of June 2019.

Barton tells InnovationMap that she feels Houston is increasingly becoming an innovation hub.

"We know we've got the technical talent, we've got people who are interested in technology, whether it's from the medical angle, energy angle, aerospace angle," she says.

Hive has been in Houston since 2017, but recently, especially with the appointment of Burton, the company has amped up its Houston presence.

"We're looking for solutions that engage the whole home, so in the 21st century a smart home is a key component of whole-home energy management and comfort management," says Barton.

In May 2019, the company launched security product packs into the Houston market. These packs combine a number of Hive products, including an indoor package, and outdoor package, and a combination pack. The packages include a camera, a light monitoring system, and sensors for doors and windows to capture any activity.

"Those very much had a home automation component to it, but also a peace of mind component," says Barton.

Hive plans to bring the smart products that have done well in its U.K market to its United States markets, including Houston. These products would be focused on ensuring air conditioners, heating units, boilers, are working correctly.

"We've been testing this air conditioning proposition with some of our home service providers within the broader Direct Energy network, that's what we're most excited to launch in the second half of the year," says Barton. "This air conditioning diagnostic product will give people advance warning if their air conditioning is going to run into trouble and will let them address it before it's too late and they are in a 'no cool' situation."

The Houston office is located in Greenway Plaza and the company currently has 25 employees in the United States, most who are based in Houston. Globally, Hive has a team of 500.

The companies most popular product is the smart thermostat, the product which the company was founded around and has remained a top seller. According to the website, the thermostat can be controlled from the user's smartphone. Through the Hive app, which launched in 2013, users can set daily schedules for the temperature as well as turn the unit on and off.

"Over time we've expanded that, we sell our own smart plugs, bulbs, sensors," says Peter Filcek, business development director for Hive. "Customers said they wanted more so we launched absolutely beautiful cameras about two years ago."

"Everything that we have brought to market, everything that we've built, is based on a real deep understanding of the problems and needs that our customers have," Filcek tells InnovationMap.

Hive products are available online anywhere in the United States or Canada.