Guest column

Non-Houstonian identifies why the Bayou City is prime for a tech and startup boom

What does Houston's tech scene look like from an outsider's perspective? Ripe for success, according to this guest article. Getty Images

Houston might be known abroad as the Space City, but it's got a lot more to offer than interstellar exploration. As we continue toward the second half 2020 — even in light of the COVID-19 crisis, Houston is attracting the best talent, tech, and businesses around — and with good reason.

Here we look at why Houston is such an attractive prospect for enterprise in 2020.

More bang for your buck

While the likes of New York or Los Angeles are established places to launch and grow a business, they are expensive. But in Houston, your important dollar goes a long way.

The cost of living in Houston is around 35 percent lower than in New York. Consequently, cash-strapped but ambitious graduates flock to Houston to enjoy a better (and more affordable) quality of life.

For startups looking to gradually and sustainably grow in their first year (and succeed), Houston is an attractive place to start. They get more bang for their buck, so they can focus on growing their business without paying through the nose for expensive office space (and staff).

It's a beautiful, historic city

Founded in 1836, Houston has a long and rich history, and its aesthetics perfectly represents that — something Houstonians and Texans don't take enough time to recognize usually. Its architecture is a healthy mix of historic and modern.

Downtown Houston features gorgeous old buildings spreading out from Allen's Landing. Its residential architecture too offers some stunning mansions, as well as some rustic row houses. As the city developed throughout history, its skyline has grown to include some breathtaking skyscrapers, including the Heritage Plaza and the JPMorgan Chase Tower — one of the tallest composite buildings in the world.

Looking beyond architecture, Houston offers plenty of green spaces to enjoy. Hermann Park is an impressive 445 acres, and acts as a community space for the entire city. If you want somewhere to run a few miles before heading to work, Memorial Park offers plenty of open space and trails to take advantage of too.

Looks aren't everything, of course. But with the rich sprawl of Houston all around you, they certainly help.

There's a thriving coworking scene

Houston is home to dozens of stellar coworking spaces — with more opening regularly. There's a few WeWork outposts from the Galleria area to The Woodlands, as well as home-grown spaces like The Cannon, Station Houston, and Wicowork, where businesses from virtually every industry come together to work and collaborate.

These spaces form part of a thriving startup scene with plenty of scope for networking and collaborating. Growing a business is easier when you're doing it alongside others, and Houston's coworking spaces offer a fertile ground for meeting and sharing inspiration.

It's not all about established businesses either. Houston is also the perfect place for individuals to launch a creative side hustle, with a thriving scene of artistic self-starters and passionate solopreneurs available to draw upon for inspiration. These coworking spaces provide the perfect place to meet like-minded individuals and get your vision further.

Although COVID-19 has affected coworking spaces, the crisis has pushed coworking to provide virtual resources, which will only benefit coworkers across companies.

Choose from a great pool of talent

Every growing business needs the best and brightest talent to join its ranks and help it succeed. Thankfully, Houston is home to some of the finest universities in the state. The University of Houston and Rice University produce plenty of smart, driven graduates looking to make their mark on the chosen industry.

These universities also have a close relationship with local startups too. Each has its own startup accelerator to help small enterprises get ahead. UH's RED Labs has helped launch dozens of companies since its inception in 2013, and Rice University's OwlSpark has 54 startups to its name to date.

Consequently, plenty of businesses are looking to Houston to seek growth and attract top talent. With such a wide pool of talent on tap, startups and growing businesses alike will have their pick of the crop.

Everything's bigger in Texas, and Houston is no exception. With a growing pool of bright talent, a stellar startup scene, and beautiful surroundings to match, Houston is the top destination for talent and business in 2020.

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Kayleigh Alexandra is an entrepreneur and writer at Micro Startups based in the United Kingdom.

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A Rice University scientist will be working on the team for NASA's latest Mars rover. Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech

A Rice University Martian geologist has been chosen by NASA as one of the 13 scientists who will be working on a new Mars rover.

Perseverance, the rover that launched in July and is expected to land on Mars in February. It will be scouting for samples to bring back to study for ancient microbial life, and Kirsten Siebach — an assistant professor of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences — will be among the researchers to work on the project. Her proposal was one of 119 submitted to NASA for funding, according to a Rice press release.

"Everybody selected to be on the team is expected to put some time into general operations as well as accomplishing their own research," she says in the release. "My co-investigators here at Rice and I will do research to understand the origin of the rocks Perseverance observes, and I will also participate in operating the rover."

It's Kirsten Siebach's second Mars rover mission to work on. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Perseverance is headed for Jezero Crater, a 28-mile-wide area that once hosted a lake and river delta where, according to scientists, microbial life may have existed over 3 billion years ago. Siebach is particularly excited hopefully find fossils existing in atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolved in water — which usually exists as limestone on Earth.

"There are huge packages of limestone all over Earth, but for some reason it's extremely rare on Mars," she says. "This particular landing site includes one of the few orbital detections of carbonate and it appears to have a couple of different units including carbonates within this lake deposit. The carbonates will be a highlight of we're looking for, but we're interested in basically all types of minerals."

Siebach is familiar with rovers — she was a member of the team for NASA's Curiosity rover, which has been exploring Mars since 2012. For this new rover, Siebach knows what to expect.

"Because there is only one rover, the whole team at NASA has to agree about what to look at, or analyze, or where to drive on any given day," Siebach says in the release. "None of the rovers' actions are unilateral decisions. But it is a privilege to be part of the discussion and to get to argue for observations of rocks that will be important to our understanding of Mars for decades."

Siebach and her team — which includes Rice data scientist Yueyang Jiang and mineralogist Gelu Costin — are planning to tap into computational and machine-learning methods to map out minerals and discover evidence for former life on Mars. They will also be using a Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry, or PIXL, to analyze the materials.

The return mission isn't expected to return until the early 2030s, so it's a long game for the scientists. However, the samples have the potential to revolutionize what we know about life on Mars with more context than before.

"Occasionally, something hits Mars hard enough to knock a meteorite out, and it lands on Earth," she says in the release. "We have a few of those. But we've never been able to select where a sample came from and to understand its geologic context. So these samples will be revolutionary."

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