Global accelerator gener8tor's early-stage program, gBETA, plans to begin its first cohort out of the Downtown Launch Pad in April. Courtesy of Downtown Launch Pad

The second of two top accelerator programs that have taken a bet on Houston has announced its new program director and opened applications for its spring 2020 cohort.

Wisconsin-based gener8tor announced in September that its pre-accelerator program, gBETA, would be launching in Houston. The program follows MassChallenge, another top accelerator, premiering in Houston last year. Both accelerator programs launched in Houston thanks to a $1.25 million grant approved by the Downtown Redevelopment Authority.

Eléonore Cluzel will lead the gBETA Houston program as director, and will be the point person for the program in the region for the two annual cohorts. Previously, Cluzel worked for Business France mentoring French startups and small businesses. In her new position, she says she's excited to support founders across all industries and foster innovation.

"We're adding another resource for local founders to grow their startups and to raise money, and not have to move to Silicon Valley to do it," she says. "We will also serve as a connector, introducing founders to mentors and investors within the community and across gener8tor broader network."

Ele\u0301onore Cluzel Eléonore Cluzel will lead the Houston gBETA Houston program as director. Courtesy of gBETA Houston

Currently, Cluzel has regular office hours out of The Cannon's space in the Downtown Launch Pad in Amegy Tower. gBETA will co-locate with MassChallenge on a separate floor of the building, and that space is expected to be ready ahead of the start of the first cohort in April.

"It's like having a one-stop shop of resources for the whole community in a central location," Cluzel says. "Since The Cannon is going to be among several coworking spaces in the community, we'll reach all areas of Houston, including Sugar Land, The Woodlands and Stratford and other neighborhoods"

Interested early-stage startups can apply online for the program until April 10, and the cohort begins on April 30. Only five companies are selected for the cohort, insuring individualized support and programming from gBETA. The free program is designed to equip its participating startups with early customer traction and preparation for later stage accelerators.

"I'm looking for a diverse cohort, encompassing underserved communities such as women, veterans and minorities," Cluzel tells InnovationMap. "I'm seeking highly unique, highly scalable businesses based in Houston. In Houston, we have a lot of venture capital firms that write huge checks, but we don't have a lot of investors that help with early seed-stage funding. We're looking for very early stage startups whose company we can help grow and connect with our local and national network of investors."

gBETA aims to act as a funnel to other accelerator programs, Cluzel says.

"We're looking forward to working cooperatively with other resources in town, such as Plug and Play, MassChallenge, The Founder Institute, Capital Factory, The Cannon, and other incubators, accelerators and resources."

The Cannon Houston's third location is planned to open on December 9. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

Photos: The Cannon Houston's downtown space expects to open its doors early next month

ready for liftoff

A Houston entrepreneurial hub plans to open its third coworking space location only a few weeks after its main campus debuted in West Houston.

The Cannon Houston's newest location will be a 17,000-square-foot space on the top floor of The Cannon Tower at Amegy on Main in Downtown Houston. The opening date for the new space is Monday, December 9.

The announcement follows the grand opening of The Cannon's 120,000-square-foot flagship space, which is now close to being completely leased by startups and small businesses, and represents another step in the company's ambitious expansion plan.

"We've long known that we will need multiple locations across Houston in order to serve our mission of supporting Houston's entrepreneurs, and we are thrilled to work with an incredibly forward-thinking organization like Amegy to continue to fulfill this mission," says Cannon founder and president, Lawson Gow, in a news release. "The Cannon Tower at Amegy on Main will be unlike any other space in the city, in which we will be developing a 'vertical village' of innovation, programs, and resources, transforming Amegy on Main into a hub for Downtown Houston's entrepreneurs."

Gow — who is the son of David Gow, owner of InnovationMap's parent company, Gow Media — recently transitioned into his position as The Cannon named Jon Lambert as CEO earlier this month.

The Cannon's space is just one part of the equation that is the Downtown Launch Pad — a joint project between Central Houston, Downtown Redevelopment Authority, The Cannon, and Amegy Bank. The Amegy building will also house MassChallenge and gener8or, as well as event and common space for programming on the 11th floor.

"Amegy Bank is thrilled to be a part of the expansion of the innovation community by offering space, amenities, and business development support," says Kelly Foreman, Amegy Bank's senior vice president and manager of corporate real estate and facilities, in a news release. "We have a long track record of helping businesses grow, and creating this space for a hub of start-ups and accelerators is yet another way to do just that."

Moving forward, The Cannon will play a role in expanding workspace, resources, and programming in the building. The space is now open for leasing, and the first 100 members to join the new space will receive free parking for the course of their membership.

Plans for growth

Photo courtesy of The Cannon

The Cannon Houston will be a major player as the Downtown Launch Pad expands throughout the building.

At The Houston Innovation Summit's first panel of the week, representatives from The Cannon, Amergy Bank, and Central Houston discussed game-changing plans for the Downtown Launch Pad. Image courtesy of The Cannon

3 takeaways from The Houston Innovation Summit's first panel

ICYMI

The Houston Innovation Summit is in full swing, and the first panel of the week's events started strong. Representatives from The Cannon Houston, Amegy Bank, and MassChallenge took the stage at Amegy Bank's downtown office — soon to be converted into the Downtown Launch Pad — to discuss big picture topics within Houston Innovation.

Grace Rodriguez hosted the panel that covered diversity and inclusion efforts, the growth of The Cannon, and what you can expect from Launch Pad. Here's what you may have missed from the event.

The Downtown Launchpad will shake up the innovation ecosystem

Robert Pieroni, director of economic development for Central Houston and an advisory board member for MassChallenge, set the scene for Houston innovation a few year ago. Houston was overlooked for the Amazon headquarters, and it was the wakeup call Houston needed.

Now, the city, with the help of organizations like Central Houston, has attracted major top 10 accelerators in the world to town and plans to house them in the same space — the Downtown Launch Pad, which is a joint venture project between Central Houston, Downtown Redevelopment Authority, The Cannon, and Amegy Bank.

The Launch Pad will occupy a few floors in the Amegy building to start. There will be coworking and event space, as well as a floor dedicated to MassChallenge and gener8tor — the two new-to-Houston accelerators.

"We'll be the only place in the United States that has co-located two top 10 accelerators," Pieroni says.

The project also is working with an incubator yet to be announced to help bring into the fold undeserved startups and entrepreneurs in Houston, and there will also be a bootcamp targeted directly at the disadvantaged within the innovation ecosystem.

From Amegy's perspective, the bank is committed to growing the building to being something unique and effective for startups, says Andy Buchmann, vice president of corporate real estate and property management at Amegy Bank.

"We are hopeful that this is only the first two floors that we have figured out, and we hope there are other three or four that come behind it as it grows into a real hub for startups in the years to come," Buchmann says.

The Cannon's new CEO has global growth on the mind

Earlier this month, The Cannon Houston brought on Jon Lambert to serve as CEO as the company plans to grow and scale. Lambert, who joined the panel, says that the Downtown Launch Pad was well timed for The Cannon as it's looking to find the optimal areas of the city to grow.

"The distribution of the city is unlike any other in terms of the pockets of where people live and work," Lambert says, adding that The Cannon has an opportunity to reach these pockets.

Looking beyond Houston — and even Texas, the company is poised for growth by taking its model to cities — nationally and even globally — that are underserved when it comes to coworking and incubation space.

"You'd be astonished at some of the people reaching out to us," Lambert says on the panel. Some of this interest, Lambert adds, is setting up The Cannon as a global entry point for international companies looking to do business in Houston.

Inclusivity is the priority

With global initiatives and with Houston being the most diverse city in America, the city's innovation ecosystem has a great responsibility to provide inclusion, and each of the panelists maintains that their organizations have that as a top priority.

The Launch Pad is being developed with this in mind, and Pieroni says it's in the perfect place to do that. Amegy Bank has long been committed to small businesses and the building's location — across the street from METRO's Downtown Transit Center — makes it so that anyone in Houston can get to the hub.

Gener8tor and MassChallenge are also committed to providing programming at no cost, which will open doors to the entire community to get involved.

"As a part of our agreement with gener8tor, the will host free lunch and learns with the community monthly," Pieroni says. "We are working with MassChallenge to make them even more frequent."

Houston startup development organizations have banded together for the third annual Houston Innovation Summit. Getty Images

Here's what events to attend each day during The Houston Innovation Summit

Where to be

For the third year, The Houston Innovation Summit is taking over the town to promote entrepreneurship and innovation within the city.

THIS begins today and runs through the weekend. Each day represents a theme — all pertinent to Houston. Impact Hub Houston has worked with other local startup development organizations to curate the programming for the week. Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director for Impact Hub Houston, says Houston has the innovation infrastructure by now, and now it's about execution.

"For 2019, the goal is now how do we go from inclusion to integration," Rodriguez says on a recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "I think we're at that step now of becoming more inclusive as a community."

THIS, just like last year, runs on the same week of Global Entrepreneurship Week, which is why today's programming starts with a global focus. Follow along on a global scale with #GEWecosystems.

For a complete list of THIS events (most of which are free and all over town), head to the website. Here are the events you should make sure not to miss.

Monday — Houston: We're Global

Starting strong, the first can't-miss event is the kickoff party. The free event is in the Amegy Building downtown (1801 Main Street), which is currently being transformed into The Cannon Houston's new Launch Pad. The event runs from 4 to 5:45 pm, and you can expect networking and interactive discussions on Houston's innovation ecosystem's growth and potential. Click here to register.

Tuesday: This Is Houston

While GotSpot's Female Founder Luncheon at MassChallenge is a good one to make if you can, the big event this day is Houston Exponential's 2020 Vision event. Basically an open house-style event, attendees at this free event can learn how to engage with HX and what the organization has planned for 2020. InnovationMap and Accenture are teaming up for a fireside chat about the diversity and potential in Houston. Click here to register.

Wednesday: Fresh Perspectives

The fight for technology and innovation is on. The first Houston Digital Fight Club is on Wednesday, November 20, and will feature five fights between industry experts on topics like cybersecurity, sustainable energy, primary care, and more. Audience members get to decide on a winner, and there will be tons of opportunities for networking. The event is $30 per person and will be at White Oak Music Hall. InnovationMap and Accenture are the lead sponsors. Click here to register.

If you can't make this evening event, WeWork Food Labs is cooking up a special event to discuss food innovation in Houston. Click here to register.

Thursday: The Next Generation

While the week so far has been centered around the future of Houston, Thursday focuses specifically on the next generation of people who will be powering the ecosystem. And, of course, money is essential to that equation. Join for a panel from top investor leaders at an event focused on next generation investing at HCC SouthEast Felix Fraga Academic Campus - East End. The panel itself is $5, but for $15 you can also catch two other discussions on campus that day. Click here to register.

For an early bird alternative, Mercury Fund is hosting a Female Founders breakfast at 7:30 am at their office (3737 Buffalo Speedway, Suite 1750). This one is free to attend. Click here to register.

Friday: Integrating Innovation

Friday's events all take place at The Cannon Houston (1334 Brittmoore Road), and there's a specific focus on military technology and military-affiliated entrepreneurs. The Southwest Muster Across America Tour in Houston is from 1 to 6 pm and will consist of an expo, pitch competition, expert talks, and more. The WeWork Veterans in Residence Program Powered by Bunker Labs will show off their companies, and Bunker Labs has teamed up with Ford Fund to host pitch competitions for veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs. Houston is one of seven stops for the competition, and the top two showcase pitches will win $5,000 and $3,500 from the Ford Fund to help support their businesses. Click here to register.

Following this event is Impact Hub's monthly Fuckup Night, where entrepreneurs share their stories of success, struggle, and failure. Click here to register.

Weekend: Innovation Education

The week wraps up with events focusing on education. One not to miss is on Saturday: The HCC IDEAS Pitch Competition. The competition begins at 1 pm and there is $2,500 on the line. Any HCC student is able to apply to pitch. Click here to register.

The Downtown Launch Pad will house accelerator programs MassChallenge and gener8tor and coworking space from The Cannon. Photo courtesy of Downtown Launch Pa

New innovation ‘vertical village’ announced for downtown Houston

Coming soon

The Cannon Houston, a startup incubator and coworking space, and Houston-based Amegy Bank announced a partnership to create a 17,000-square-foot innovation space in downtown.

The Downtown Launch Pad is expected to open on a few floors of the Amegy Bank building at 1801 Main St. in the spring. Along with coworking space, the new hub will house MassChallenge Texas, which had its inaugural cohort earlier this year, and gener8tor, an early acceleration program announced in last month.

Mayor Sylvester Turner announced the project at Central Houston Inc.'s annual meeting on October 24. Both the accelerators that will be in the new hub received a combined combined $4 million in economic development grants from the Downtown Redevelopment Authority to be distributed over the next five years.

"Central Houston and the Downtown Redevelopment Authority are committed to establishing Downtown Houston as a nexus for innovation and a leader in urban entrepreneurship," says Bob Eury, president of both entities, in a news release. "We've found strong, strategic partners in Amegy Bank and The Cannon, both of which are committed to fostering and sustaining a vibrant innovation culture in Houston, from startup to production."

Amegy Bank has tapped Gensler for the redesign. The 13th floor of the building will house the coworking space powered by The Cannon. This space is expected to open before the end of the year.

"We originally created The Cannon to be the missing piece in Houston's startup ecosystem," says Lawson Gow, founder and CEO of The Cannon and Cannon Ventures. Gow is the son of David Gow, owner of InnovationMap's parent company, Gow Media. "Through the Cannon Tower and The Downtown Launch Pad, we are excited to join up with Central Houston, the Downtown Redevelopment Authority and Amegy Bank to create an entire 'vertical village' of innovation—a system of floors at Amegy on Main that will provide Houston's entrepreneurs with all the programs and resources they need to thrive."

The building's 10th and 11th floors will also be a part of the Downtown Launch Pad. The 10th floor will house the two accelerators, and the 11th floor will be a dedicated event space. The lobby of the building will be a common space for all members of the Cannon Tower and will have meeting rooms, a game room, work stations, a coffee bar, and a deli.

"Amegy Bank has a long history of reinvesting in the local community and supporting Texas families and businesses," says Kelly Foreman, senior vice president and corporate real estate and facilities manager for Amegy. "Now, through our partnerships with The Cannon and The Launch Pad, we are taking our commitment to small businesses to the next level by converting a part of Amegy on Main into a hub for emerging technology and start-up companies that aligns all the players across the entrepreneurial spectrum—corporations, mentors, investors, service providers and the startups themselves. This combination of offerings and capabilities will unlock significant value for Downtown, helping to attract and retain companies from not only Houston, but from around the country."

From credit to crowdfunding, startups have more cash flow options now than ever before. Getty Images

Houston small business finance panel lays out funding options for startups

Follow the money

When it comes to raising money for your startup, there's plenty of fish in the sea, however, navigating the rough waters can be difficult.

Houston Community College put on a Small Business Summit on June 13 and gathered a group of financial professionals to represent several types of funding options, from venture capital to microlending.

Crowdfunding

The crowdfunding game has changed, says Rhian Davies, business development manager for LetsLaunch, an equity-based crowdfunding tool.

While most people think that donation-based crowdfunding — like GoFundMe or Kickstarter that give you the product or thank-you gift when you give — are the only options, that's not the case. And, investing using these platforms doesn't mean anything to you if the company sees success.

"If it makes it big, you're not going to get anything back," says Davies of these types of platforms.

But the JOBS Act in 2012 changed everything. Now, companies fundraising on crowdfunding sites can trade in equity for funds.

"Previously, investments were reserved for wealthy individuals — accredited individuals — who had a certain amount of money could invest in businesses," says Davies. "Equity crowdfunding opened that up."

With crowdfunding, you can also run other types of fundraising efforts at the same time, spreading out your options.

"It allows (the community) to invest in your business and it allows you to pass the hat and have people come on board," Davies says.

The other benefit to using the LetsLaunch platform is the team assists the startups every step of the way, from uploading a digital pitch deck onto the LetsLaunch platform and preparing paperwork to filing with the SEC.

However, one of the major challenges for startups is deciding what their funding goal is. Davies says you do have to hit a certain funding goal to be able to take that cash home, and for LetsLaunch, they look for that figure to be $10,000 minimum. Anything less than that isn't worth it — from both the LetsLaunch and the startup's perspective. The maximum value for equity crowdfunding is capped at just over $1 million — per the SEC.

Venture capital

VC funding is where most people's minds go when it comes to startup funding. And this type of funding is in an evolution phase too, says Remington Tonar, managing director at The Cannon Houston. While traditional VCs want a three-times return in five to seven years, some firms have more on their minds then just the money.

"There's a new phenomenon in venture where a lot of early stage investors and angel investors are looking at social impact investing," Tonar says. "They want to invest in women- or minority-owned businesses or companies that have a sustainability or social impact component to them. For those investors, the return demands are much more flexible."

Not only are they more flexible on returns, but VCs want more hands-on roles at the companies they invest in. Tonar says venture capitalists don't want to give passive capital.

Another way VCs differ from other types of funding is they are looking for something different in the companies they invest in — they want the next big thing.

"What venture capitalists really look for is disruptive business that are creating value in news ways," Tonar says.

And investments can be industry agnostic — VCs aren't reserved to just tech and computing industries.

"Most people would not have thought the hotel industry was a great industry for venture capital until Airbnb came along," says Tonar. "Most people would not have thought that taxis were a great industry for venture capital until Uber came along."

Fundraising through VC firms is a very personal process — they are investing in you, the founder, just as much as they are investing in the company or idea, Tonar says. You can have a horrible credit history or have declared bankrupt in the past, and while they will find that out, it's not a dealbreaker like it would be for a bank or traditional loan process.

"But if the investor feels that the idea has value and can create value and meets their risk profile, they will look at your startup and go through their due diligence process."

Microlending

A new trend in funding options is microlending — a type of loan process that caps out at $50,000. Lisa Riley is Houston market president for LiftFund, one of the largest microlenders in the United States.

Since the amount is smaller, the risk is smaller too. The type of customer LiftFund looks for is the person or company that's been denied by other banks.

"It's not always because of something negative with the customer," Riley says. "There are certain industries where it's very difficult to get finance right now."

Just like the trend in VCs, these types of lenders want to be hands on too to help secure success and a return.

"The last thing we want to be is another monthly obligation or a debt — the noose around someone's neck suffocating their small business," Riley says. "We want to make sure and walk with you and hold your hand as long as you'll hold mine so that when we give you your loan it's the right amount for your business and the right time."

Traditional loans and factoring

Of course, conventional loans is still an option, as is factoring — the process in which a business sells its accounts receivables to a third-party entity, called a factor.

Peter Ellen, senior vice president at Amegy Bank, explains the process as being pretty traditional. His bank wants to see a secure and profitable business on trach for growth.

"Typically, we look for a business that's been established for two years, that has generated a profit, and can show a clear path of repayment," Ellen says.

Again, like other funding options, Ellen says a relationship with the company is important.

"That's really what we look to do, is to form a relationship at an early stage with a company, really understand what they do, and help assist in the growth and success of their company," he says.

SBA loans

SBA loans are another lending option for startups to consider, Aziz Rahim, senior vice president at Wallis Bank, explains.

Different from a traditional loan process, SBA loans are guaranteed by the Small Business Association up to 85 percent, which lowers the risk for then lending partner.

Other benefits to SBA loans are lower down payments, generous term lengths, and caps on interest rates.

"The good thing about SBA loans compared to conventional loans is SBA loans do not balloon," Rahim says.

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Houston health and wellness startup uses money as a motivator for lifestyle changes

health is wealth

Everything is different when money is on the line, and a Houston startup is using financial incentives as a motivator for its users to make smart, healthy lifestyle changes to enhance their wellness.

Healthiby, a cost-effective wellness program, is changing the game of health solutions by addressing chronic and pre-chronic conditions through innovative prevention and management methods, all incentivized by both short-term and long-term financial benefits.

"Healthiby incentivizes and empowers people to achieve better health outcomes in a team context," says Mary Beth Snodgrass, managing director and co-founder. "We're different from other wellness solutions because we're focused on changing habits, as well as incentivizing better health outcomes, providing both immediate and long-term rewards."

The company launched in May 2019 and is still in its pilot stage. Snodgrass and co-founder Dr. Tristan Hartzell, a surgeon based in Nebraska, have remained committed to their foundational concept for their startup, which is to empower people on their wellness journeys and spread knowledge about the financial benefits of leading a healthy lifestyle.

Mary Beth Snodgrass (pictured) founded Healthiby with Nebraska-based surgeon Dr. Tristan Hartzell. Photo courtesy of Healthiby.

Healthiby's notion that "health is wealth" relates to the idea that engaging in a healthy lifestyle will ultimately benefit individuals financially long-term, as healthcare costs can be avoided. Essentially, Healthiby qualifies health goals as preventative measures for chronic and pre-chronic diseases. Not only does Healthiby inform its users about the long-term financial benefits of healthy living, the program introduces exciting contests in which users are eligible to win financial rewards if they meet certain health-related criteria.

In time for the start of the new year and the health-related resolutions buzz, Healthiby enacts their user-friendly digital software application, social programs, expert health advice and financial incentives to serve their goal-oriented consumers with an engaging health management regiment that is sure to keep them on track throughout the year.

"What we're really focused on this year is, in addition to our incentives, digital content and coach guidance, is making sure that participants are engaging among themselves," Snodgrass tells InnovationMap. "Science shows there are benefits to surrounding yourself with other people who share similar health goals."

In what the program's founders refer to as a "wellness rewards solution," users are able to tap into the Healthiby digital platform to track their progress, participate in social wellness groups, invest in long-term financial incentives and access digestible, cutting edge wellness literature; all components of Healthiby's "journey goals," the program's building blocks to achieving a healthy lifestyle.

"Our software application manages our contests and our rewards, but we also have a very social component, in which participants are meeting online regularly with a dietician coach," Snodgrass explains. "The reason for this is because when we're talking about chronic and pre-chronic conditions, it's important for people to have a strong understanding of how these issues affect the body and what kinds of lifestyle changes are most effective at helping people better manage or reverse them."

Photo courtesy of Healthiby

For an annual minimum of $8 each month, individual consumers have the opportunity to invest in their own long-term wellness through this interactive, user-friendly health progress program.

"Healthiby is providing a really low cost solution for people to get additional social motivation, information, and incentives so that they can stick with their goals throughout the year," Snodgrass said.

Healthiby is currently available to individual consumers in Texas, but its founders have their sights set on expanding the business and sharing their solutions to companies vested in the importance of healthy living for their employees. For now, Houston's health and wellness consumers just got richer — both physically and financially — when Healthiby opened its digital doors to the city.

Real estate tech company founded by Houstonian launches locally, looks for office space

Homecoming

A New York-based company that uses technology to optimize the commercial real estate leasing process is expanding into Houston — and it's a bit of a homecoming for the company's CEO.

SquareFoot, which was founded by Houston native Jonathan Wasserstrum in 2011, has launched in Houston following the closing of a $16 million series B funding round led by Chicago-based DRW VC. The company uses tech tools — like a space calculator and online listings to help users find the right office space quicker and easier than traditional methods.

The Bayou City's growth in small businesses and startups makes for a great market for SquareFoot.

"Houston, in addition to being a leading market for business, is a city in transition," Wasserstrum says. "We've witnessed a growing trend of smaller companies cropping up, with startups showing that they're here to stay. I want SquareFoot to be a major part of the city's growth and evolution."

The idea for a company, Wasserstrum says, came from a friend in Houston who was struggling to find office space for his small company. Years later, that problem's solution would be SquareFoot.

SquareFoot's Houston operations are up and running online, and the listings and resources will continue to grow. Wasserstrum says the team will also open a physical office in Houston, and the team is currently looking for its own office space in a "highly-desirable" area, Wasserstrum says.

"That will not only make it easier for us to show office spaces to prospective clients, but it also sends the message that we understand these clients better than anyone," he explains. "Where you choose to open your offices is part of the story you're shaping for candidates and clients."

In regards to Houston-based employees, Wasserstrum says he will start with tapping a few Houston real estate experts. He will take the business model that was successful in New York and adapt it for Houston

"It's not only the East and West Coasts where innovation is taking place," Wasserstrum says. "We want to help Houston continue to grow as a stellar place to launch and grow a company."

National expansion is Wasserstrum's big goal, he says, and after settling in Houston, he plans to next enter into Washington, D.C., and a few other major markets.

Wasserstrum explains what the Houston expansion means to him, how tech is changing real estate, and trends he's keeping an eye on.

IM: What does it mean to be expanding in your hometown?

Jonathan Wasserstrum: Houston is where I grew up. My whole life has been shaped by what I saw and learned in Houston. I moved away for college, and have built my career on the East Coast, but Houston will always be a big part of me. My parents still live there so I have good reasons to fly home and to come home again.

As I've built out my company, SquareFoot, since 2012 at our NYC headquarters, I have dreamed of being able to expand our services nationally. We have helped over 1,200 companies find and secure office spaces in major cities. As our executive team considered where to invest in and to expand to next, Houston emerged at the top of the list. We made this decision for professional growth reasons, but that choice has an emotional element for me as well.

Going forward, I should have additional good reasons to fly home and to see my parents more often than I have had the occasion to over recent years. Plus, we save on hotel costs!

IM: What makes Houston a great place to expand into?

JW: From an office space perspective, Houston is an under tapped market. There are countless companies looking for the services we provide, but nobody has yet figured out how to build a company to serve them specifically.

We acquire many of our clients through online search — people looking for office space are literally searching online for solutions. We've seen in recent months and years a surge in searches from Houston, which indicated to us that there was a gap that had developed there. We've long had a digital presence there, thanks to these searches, but now we're increasing our physical presence on the ground. We'll hire a broker and put an office there in the coming months.

IM: What sort of trends are you seeing in office real estate? Are these trends happening in Houston already?

JW: Over the past years, we've seen a sharp increase in demand for flexible solutions. Traditional coworking spaces have worked out for many companies, but it's not for everyone.

At the same time, the long-term leases that are usually required upon signing on for an office space of your own has largely kept growing companies out of the market; it has scared them off. We realized there had to be a middle option so we launched FLEX by SquareFoot last year. Now, for the first time, all companies can find the spaces they want with the terms they want.

We are excited to introduce FLEX to the Houston market and to show companies there that there's more lease flexibility and opportunity available than they might think. Change in commercial real estate happens slowly over a long period of time. Houston has the chance now to be a part of their changing wave.

IM: How is technology changing the industry?

JW: For many decades, commercial real estate operated the exact same way. And it intended to stay that way because nobody had reason to believe anything was broken or wrong. However, there were several inefficiencies that clients just had to deal with because that was the industry standard.

The first one was the lack of transparency of which office spaces were unoccupied or what they'd cost. Brokers would lock up this information and keep clients at a distance, unless they were willing to sign on to work with them. With SquareFoot's online listings platform, we have unlocked that information, have educated countless people, and have made for a more seamless and enjoyable process for our clients as partners in their searches.

The other technological breakthrough we've made is in our mobile app. Still, in 2020, too many clients are taking tours of these offices with pen and paper and occasionally snapping a photo or video to send back to their stakeholders. Our app solved those issues once and for all, enabling better communication back and forth and a better user experience for all. Regardless of which team member goes on the office tour with our broker, everyone is clued in and on the same page.

We want everyone on the greater team to buy into the vision, and to recognize the potential, not just one representative who happened to be on the office tour one afternoon.