The Greater Houston Partnership hosted a panel of Houston tech experts for the second annual State of Technology event. GHP/Twitter

What's the future of technology in the Bayou City? Several experts sat down to discuss at a recent luncheon.

The Greater Houston Partnership hosted its second annual State of Technology event — the first to be hosted in person — this week, and panelists joined the stage to discuss ESG, venture capital, and what's next for Houston's growing tech scene. Missed the conversation? Here are several key moments from the event.

"We've got to keep our foot on the gas in Houston."

— Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the GHP, says at the start of the panel. "We were hardly in the game at all five years ago. We are clearly in the game today — we're being noticed," he continues. "But just being in the game is not what we aspire to. We aspire to be a leader and a major player, so we still have a lot of work to do."

"We have seen an incredible shift across all industries and sectors focused on the business impact of ESG. And Houston is in such an incredible place for that."

— Trinity Lloyd, sustainability and energy transition lead at Google Cloud. "Like technology, energy is at the core of every industry and sector," she shares. "We're seeing a ton of innovation around energy transition and climate tech."

"Venture capitalists are seeking the best ideas. Traditionally, VC has been about who you know, but that's changed drastically."

— Sandy Guitar, managing director of the HX Venture Fund. "We're not all the way there yet, but most venture capitalists we're working with are very focused on making sure they get the best ideas in the most democratic way," Guitar says of inclusion in VCs. "You really have to understand difference to solve important problems."

"Early stage venture is at its prime right now. ... It also happens to be the kind of environment that Houston has really been known for."

— Guitar says of the landscape of Houston's startup ecosystem. "We have great early stage venture capital opportunities," she says. "People are looking to get invested in earlier and earlier."

"Premium is now knowing where your products came from." 

— Ann Lai, vice president and general manager of displays solutions business group at HP Inc. "The progeny of your device or services is extremely important to the average user."

"While we seek to solve our own corporate social responsibility and innovate within our organizations to have better and more accurate reporting, we have this opportunity to create new markets."

— Lloyd says. "We're starting to see industry lines blurring," she continues. "In 10 years, the way we all do business is going to be different."

"How do we use all of us as grassroots ambassadors to talk about Houston as a strong place for technology?"

— Lai says on getting the word out about Houston's tech scene. "We also need to find ways to track talent earlier in the pipeline."

"It's about the venture capital community at large efficiently finding the fastest growing deals, and corporations having a risk tolerance to lean into that."

— Guitar says about what needs to happen in Houston. "It's about getting that match making right," "That can change the trajectory of Houston."

"Doing good in the world is critical to attracting talent."

— Lloyd says on the future of the workforce. "Houston has an infrastructure of intellectual capital unlike any other city in the world that is really critical across ESG and the climate spectrum."

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Houston SPAC announces merger with Beaumont-based tech company in deal valued at $100M

speaking of spacs

A Houston SPAC, or special purpose acquisition company, has announced the company it plans to merge with in the new year.

Beaumont-based Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc., a provider of thermal imaging platforms, and Houston-based SportsMap Tech Acquisition Corp. (NASDAQ: SMAP), a publicly-traded SPAC with $117 million held in trust, announced their agreement for ICI to IPO via SPAC.

Originally announced in the fall of last year, the blank-check company is led by David Gow, CEO and chairman. Gow is also chairman and CEO of Gow Media, which owns digital media outlets SportsMap, CultureMap, and InnovationMap, as well as the SportsMap Radio Network, ESPN 97.5 and 92.5.

The deal will close in the first half of 2023, according to a news release, and the combined company will be renamed Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc. and will be listed on NASDAQ under a new ticker symbol.

“ICI is extremely excited to partner with David Gow and SportsMap as we continue to deliver our innovative software and hardware solutions," says Gary Strahan, founder and CEO of ICI, in the release. "We believe our software and sensor technology can change the way companies across industries perform predictive maintenance to ensure reliability, environmental integrity, and safety through AI and machine learning.”

Strahan will continue to serve as CEO of the combined company, and Gow will become chairman of the board. The transaction values the combined company at a pre-money equity valuation of $100 million, according to the release, and existing ICI shareholders will roll 100 percent of their equity into the combined company as part of the transaction.

“We believe ICI is poised for strong growth," Gow says in the release. "The company has a strong value proposition, detecting the overheating of equipment in industrial settings. ICI also has assembled a strong management team to execute on the opportunity. We are delighted to combine our SPAC with ICI.”

Founded in 1995, ICI provides infrared and imaging technology — as well as service, training, and equipment repairs — to various businesses and individuals across industries.

Report: Federal funding, increased life science space drive industry growth in Houston

by the numbers

Federal funding, not venture capital, continues to be the main driver of growth in Houston’s life sciences sector, a new report suggests.

The new Houston Life Science Insight report from commercial real estate services company JLL shows Houston accounted for more than half (52.7 percent) of total funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) across major Texas markets through the third quarter of this year. NIH funding in the Houston area totaled $769.6 million for the first nine months of 2022, exceeding the five-year average by 19.3 percent.

VC funding for Houston’s life sciences sector pales in comparison.

For the first nine months of this year, companies in life sciences raised $147.3 million in VC, according to the report. Based on that figure, Houston is on pace in 2022 to meet or surpass recent life sciences VC totals for most other years except 2021. JLL describes 2021 as an “outlier” when it comes to annual VC hauls for the region’s life sciences companies.

JLL notes that “limited venture capital interest in private industry has remained a challenge for the city’s life sciences sector. Furthermore, it may persist as venture capital strategies are reevaluated and investment strategies shift toward near-term profits.”

While life sciences VC funding has a lot of ground to cover to catch up with NIH funding, there are other bright spots for the sector.

One of those bright spots is the region’s rising amount of life sciences space.

The Houston area boasts more than 2.4 million square feet of space for life sciences operations, with another 1.1 million under construction and an additional 1.5 million square feet on the drawing board, the report says. This includes a soon-to-open lab spanning 25,000 square feet in the first phase of Levit Green.

A second bright spot is the migration of life sciences companies to the region. Two Southern California-based life sciences companies, Cellipoint Bioservices and Obagi Cosmeceuticals, plan to move their headquarters and relocate more than half of their employees to The Woodlands by the first half of 2023, according to the report.

“Houston’s low tax rate and cost of living were primary drivers for the decisions, supported by a strong labor pool that creates advantages for companies’ expansion and relocation considerations,” JLL says.

Here's what Houston startups need to know about internal communications

guest column

Startup founders often focus on outward victories. However, if they look inward and get internal communications right, this can prioritize, inspire, and retain talent, which is the heart of the company.

Consistent internal communication helps employees to understand the company's core values and mission and the evolving internal policies and procedures — health care benefits, reorganizations, remote work — that accompany a young business. Investing in internal communications also supports external public relations efforts because the best company storytellers are well-informed employees.

Consider these tactics for effective internal communications.

Prioritize messaging

In any startup, internal procedures evolve as the company grows. Take control of the narrative while easing employees' minds by prioritizing internal messaging.

Whether transitioning to a more flexible work schedule, updating healthcare benefits, or rolling out a performance review process, planning messages in advance can help team members understand the change, the impact, and how they can contribute positively to the development.

Well-informed employees help mitigate uneasiness and tend to achieve business goals more quickly. Make sure to allow the employees time to reflect and react.

Support managers

Leaders and mid-level managers play an integral role in internal communications by cascading information throughout the organization. They regularly engage with their employees, so it is important that managers feel confident and supported in their communication skills.

Managers can benefit from a common company language, talking points, or communications training for more effective and productive conversations. By identifying, clarifying, and reinforcing common goals and key objectives for managers, companies can strengthen productivity and eliminate confusion, especially if the company changes teams' roles and responsibilities.

Be consistent

Make sure that the drumbeat remains steady, whether this includes a monthly town hall meeting or weekly CEO emails. Since communication is not necessarily one-size-fits-all, use a communication approach tailored to the workforce.

For example, there might be more effective communication methods than email for employees not behind a desk. As a smaller company, take that time to connect with the team directly because as the company swells, that one-on-one experience will become increasingly difficult to manage.

Listen to employees

Delivering top-down messaging that resonates with the workforce remains critical. However, internal communication is a two-way street.

Allow team members to give valuable feedback. Encourage team members to share their thoughts about the company, concerns, and how to improve communications. Issue internal surveys or hold face-to-face meetings to gain useful insight.

Understanding these critical proof points will enable more effective communication and quick action on any issues.

Be a human

Keep humanity at the heart of internal communications. Amid the company's transition, maintain transparency and recognize the emotional toll some changes can have on teammates. The best talent will remain when they feel connected, informed and listened to.

Greater employee engagement can help build a strong company culture of accountability, authenticity and communication, setting up the business for bigger success.

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Melanie Taplett is a communications and public relations consultant for the technology, energy, and manufacturing industries.