City of innovation

New data shows over half of Houston has an idea for a business

One in two Houstonians say they have a great business idea — and two-thirds have gotten the ball rolling on making their idea a reality. Getty Images

If you're sitting on a game-changing business idea, you're not alone. According to data from Northwestern Mutual, over half of Houstonians surveyed said they they've got something up their sleeves for a startup — and a third of that group said their idea has the capability to change the industry.

Of the respondents who said they had a business idea, almost 60 percent have already taken first steps to making their idea a reality. But for those yet to take a plunge, the factors holding these aspiring entrepreneurs back were primarily financial. More than 60 percent said not having enough finances were what's stopped them from taking the next step, while over a third indicated that they weren't sure what their next step would be. About 30 percent identified the fear of failure as what's held them back.

Similarly, when asked what the biggest hurdle in starting a company for their business idea, almost half of those surveyed said financial support, followed by "making money" with 17 percent. Of course, that's what Carrie Neumann, director of Multicultural Market Strategy at Northwestern Mutual, expected. Enter: Northwestern Mutual's financial advising services.

"A personalized, holistic plan sets business owners on track to achieve their goals, and it also puts protections — for the business, the owner and current or future employees — in place for the expected and unexpected," says Neumann in a release.

"For entrepreneurs, a trusted financial adviser is not only a great resource for the many questions that come up when starting a business, but an adviser can also help plan for the longterm."

Northwestern Mutual conducted a survey in partnership with OnePoll with a sample of 8,000 individuals in the United States. Houston was one of the 12 major metros included in the survey — and the lone Texas city. The other cities included in the survey were Chicago; Cincinnati; Denver; Miami; New York; Los Angeles; Omaha, Nebraska; Raleigh, North Carolina; Richmond, Virginia; San Francisco, and Washington D.C.

Houston skewed a tad more ambitious than the other metros surveyed. Across the sample, 41 percent of survey respondents said they have an idea for a business compared to Houston's 51.4 percent. Miami, New York City, and Los Angeles all had a higher percentage of respondents that said they had a great business idea. Los Angeles had over 60 percent of its surveyed participants respond affirmatively to that question.

The city of Houston has its advantages for entrepreneurs. A recent study shows that salaries stretch further in Houston, with the Bayou City ranking as No. 7 nationally. The study conducted by BusinessStudent.com factored in average pay of common jobs and the cost of living.

Houston-based Moleculin has three different oncology technologies currently in trials. Getty Images

Immunotherapy and personalized medicine get all the headlines lately, but in the fight against cancer, a natural compound created by bees could beat them in winning one battle.

In 2007, chairman and CEO Walter Klemp founded Moleculin Biotech Inc. as a private company. The former CPA had found success in life sciences with a company that sold devices for the treatment of acne. That introduction into the field of medical technology pushed him toward more profound issues than spotty skin.

"Coincidentally, the inventor of that technology had a brother who was a neuro-oncologist at MD Anderson," Klemp recalls.

The since-deceased Dr. Charles Conrad slowly lured Klemp into what he calls the "cancer ecosphere" of MD Anderson. In 2016, the company went public. And it looks like sooner rather than later, it could make major inroads against some of the toughest cancers to beat.

Klemp observed that while Houston has the world's largest medical center, "the tragic irony" is that other cities have far more biotech money ready to be invested.

"The Third Coast is really starved for capital," he says. "What drew me into this was I was one of the few entrepreneurs that lived here that knew the ropes in terms of tapping into East and West Coast capital structures and could make that connection for them."

The company has three core technologies currently being tested with some success, but the most promising is called WP1066, named for researcher Waldemar Priebe, "a rock star" in his native Poland, according to Klemp, who works at MD Anderson. Though Priebe came to the U.S. in the 1980s, he is still an adjunct professor at the University of Warsaw and conducts some of his trials in Poland because it's easier to get grant money there.

WP1066 uses propolis, a compound of beeswax, sap and saliva that bees produce to seal small areas of their hives, as a base. The molecular compound that Priebe discovered affects STAT3 (signal transducer and activator of transcription), a transcription factor that encourages tumor development. In short, the active compound in WP1066 both downregulates the STAT3, a long-time Holy Grail in the cancer research world, and directly attacking the tumor, but also quieting T Cells, which allows the body's own immune system to fight the cancer itself. Essentially, it works both as chemotherapy and immunotherapy.

WP1066 is demonstrating drug-like properties in trials at MD Anderson on glioblastoma, the aggressive brain cancer that recently took the life of the hospital's former president, John Mendelsohn, as well as John McCain and Beau Biden. It is also being tested against pancreatic cancer, one of the most virulent killers cancer doctors combat.

Priebe also created Annamycin, named for his oldest daughter, a first-line chemotherapy drug that fights Acute Myeloid Leukemia without the cardiotoxicity that can damage patients' hearts even as they beat their cancer.

WP1122 uses yet another mechanism to fight cancer.

"Most people don't know that morphine is essentially a modified version of heroin," Klemp explains.

The difference between the poppy-based drugs? Heroin can cross the blood-brain barrier. It's described as the dicetyl ester of morphine. WP1122 is the dicetyl ester of 2DG (2-Deoxyglucose), a glycolysis inhibitor, which works by overfilling tumor cells with fake glucose so that they can't consume the real glucose that makes them grow.

"The theory is, we could feed you so full of junk food that eventually you'd starve to death," Klemp elucidates. It can cross the blood-brain barrier and is metabolized slowly, meaning that it can be made into a drug in a way that 2DG cannot.

What's impressive about Moleculin is its diversity of drugs. Most companies have one drug that gets all or most of the attention. Moleculin has strong hopes for all three currently in trials.

"It's essentially multiple shots on the goal," says executive vice president and CFO Jonathan Foster.

Moleculin has 13 total employees, five of whom are based in Houston. An office in the Memorial Park area serves as a landing pad for employees and collaborators from around the world to get their work done when in Space City. The virtual office set-up works for the company because experts can stay in their home cities to get their work done. And that work is on its way to saving scores of lives.