rocket fueled collaboration

New strategic partnership sets out to bolster Houston's space economy

The Ion, NASA, and Rice University have teamed up to create new programming and collaboration within space innovation in Houston. Photo courtesy of The Ion

The Ion innovation district and NASA’s Johnson Space Center are setting up a pipeline for Houston-area entrepreneurs to share ideas and intellectual property with the space agency.

The Ion and NASA are collaborating with Rice University on the new project, which is aimed at creating events, programming, and initiatives to promote the aerospace sector and the use of NASA technologies in the broader economy.

Vanessa Wyche, director of Johnson Space Center, says in a news release that the alliance will “help NASA solve challenges, develop spinoff technologies, grow minority entrepreneurs, and accelerate innovative and tech-forward solutions in Houston.”

Innovations developed through the new project will propel commercialization of space, Wyche says.

Much of the focus of the new alliance will be on minority-owned businesses, as well as aerospace and tech entrepreneurs. The Ion’s Aerospace Innovation Accelerator for Minority Business Enterprises will play a part in this strategy.

As part of the new collaboration, NASA and the Ion will open an application process for interested startups and entrepreneurs in the fall of 2022. The selected applicants will participate in programming through mid-2023.

“NASA’s Johnson Space Center has led the U.S. and the world on an ongoing journey of human exploration, and the Ion is here to accelerate tomorrow’s space endeavors. … Together we will safeguard Houston’s title as ‘Space City’ and advance the global space industry for future missions,” says Jan Odegard, executive director of the Ion.

Houston stands to grab a sizable share of the continuously growing space economy.

A Space Foundation report shows the value of the global space economy rose to $447 billion in 2020, up 4.4 percent from $428 billion in 2019. Morgan Stanley estimates the global space economy could generate revenue of $1 trillion or more by 2040, with satellite broadband representing nearly 40 percent of the sector.

Meanwhile, a report from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis indicates the U.S. space economy accounted for $125.9 billion of price-adjusted GDP in 2019.

In Texas, the annual GDP of the space economy is estimated at $11.7 billion. The Perryman Group, a Waco-based economic analysis firm, forecasts this figure could soar to more than $27.3 billion in 2030 and nearly $57.6 billion in 2040.

The Perryman Group says the Texas space economy is expected to expand about 120 percent faster than the U.S. space economy, with the state’s portion of this economy potentially approaching 15 percent by 2040.

“Texas already plays an important role in space exploration and related industries,” the firm says in a report. “With a major public-sector presence, large and growing private-sector initiatives, and aggressive development efforts, the state is likely to significantly increase its share of the [space economy].”

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Building Houston

 
 

This Houston staffing firm has tapped into tech to support the growing gig economy workforce. Photo via Getty Images

As the independent workforce continues to grow, a Houston-based company is aiming to connect these workers with companies that match their specific needs with a new digital platform.

FlexTek, a 14-year old recruiting and staffing company, launched a first gig site tailored to the needs of the individual worker. The platform, Workz360, is built to be able to manage projects, maintain quality control, and manage billing and year-end financial reporting.The company is also working to expanding the platform to provide infrastructure to assist independent workers with education, access to savings programs, tax compliance through vetted third-party CPA firms, and hopes in the future to assist with access to liability and medical insurance.

With a younger workforce and a shifting economy, the “gig economy,” which is another way to describe how people can earn a living as a 1099 worker, offers an alternative option to the corporate grind in a post-pandemic workscape. Chief Marketing Officer Bill Penczak of Workz360 calls this era “Gig 2.0,” and attributes the success of this type of workforce to how during the COVID-19 pandemic people learned how to work, and thrive in non-traditional work environments. The site also boasts the fact it won’t take a bite out of the worker’s pay, which could be an attractive sell for many since other sites can take up to 65 percent of profit.

“In the past few years, with the advent of gig job platforms, the Independent workers have been squeezed by gig work platforms taking a disproportionate amount of the workers’ income,” said FlexTek CEO and founder Stephen Morel in a news release. “As a result, there has been what we refer to as ‘pay padding,’ a phenomenon in which workers are raising their hourly or project rates to compensate for the bite taken by other platforms.

"Workz360 is designed to promote greater transparency, and we believe the net result will be for workers to thrive and companies to save money by using the platform,” he continues.

As the workforce has continued to change over the years, a third of the current U.S. workforce are independent workers according to FlexTek, workers have gained the ability to have more freedom where and how they work. Workz360 aims to cater to this workforce by believing in a simple mantra of treating your workers well.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations about this, but we like the Southwest Airlines model,” Penczak tells InnovationMap. “Southwest Airlines treats their people very well, and as a result those employees treat the passengers really well. We believe the same thing holds true. If we can provide resources, and transparency, and not take a bite out of what the gig worker is charging, then we will get the best and the brightest people since they feel like they won’t be taken advantage of. We think there is an opportunity to be a little different and put the people first.”

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