Make your SXSW plan — SXSW starts today. SXSW/Instagram

SXSW starts this week, and it’s the first in-person event since 2019, which had more than 400,000 people attend.

The Austin Convention Center will play host to SXSW EDU through Thursday, March 10; SXSW Film Fest runs from Friday, March 11-Saturday, March 19; SXSW Music Fest runs from Monday, March 14-Sunday, March 20, Interactive runs from Friday, March 11-Saturday, March 19, and Flatstock 77 runs from Thursday, March 17- Saturday, March 19. At the Palmer Events Center, the SXSW Wellness Expo will be held from Saturday, March 12-Sunday, March 13.

Click here for your guide to connecting with Houston innovators this year at SXSW.

If you’re one of the many people attending, here are some things you should know before you go.

First things first: COVID-19 protocols. Austin is now in Stage 2 of its COVID-19 risk-based guidelines, and SXSW has made the decision to keep its existing guidelines in place. That means anyone who is attending needs to provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative COVID-19 test in order to pick up credentials.

Speaking of credentials, they can only be issued to, picked up by, and used by the participant named in the registration. All badge types can be picked up at Exhibit Hall 1 of the Austin Convention Center through March 19. For a list of the SXSW credential pickup dates and times, click here. Don’t forget to bring a government-issued photo ID and verification of vaccination or recent negative COVID-19 test.

As for getting around, you can catch a free ride on one of the circulating festival shuttles. You can also use pedicabs or public transit, or you can park close by and do some walking. Most of the venues are walkable and within a few minutes of the Austin Convention Center. For a look at road closures and commuting options, click here.

One way to help organize your time is by downloading the SXSW GO app. From the app, you can link your badge, RSVP for events, build your schedule, and sign up for notifications so you don’t miss those things you really want to see.

SXSW is a huge festival featuring events for many different genres, including music, film, television, gaming, and more. It will be difficult to attend everything you want.

Here’s some advice from Jim Kolmar, consulting film programmer for SXSW, and long-time attendee.

“I always tell people pick out three things you really want to do and make sure you do those,” he says. “Everything else, just have a plan, but leave it open to serendipity because your plan is going to fall apart at some point. There’s just no way to do everything exactly the way you want to. And I think that’s the best way to experience it, too. Just be in the moment.”

For those who don’t want to spend money but still want a SXSW experience, you can subscribe to free events here.

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Now that Tesla's vehicle manufacturing factory is up and running, the company is planning another facility adjacent to the site. Courtesy of Tesla

Tesla cranks up Texas expansion with plans for massive new facility

driving more growth

Tesla has barely begun manufacturing electric vehicles at its new factory in east Travis County, and it’s already planning an expansion.

The Austin-based automaker is eyeing a 32-acre site adjacent to its auto manufacturing plant to build a nearly 1.6-million-square-foot industrial facility that would produce cathodes for battery manufacturing, as first reported by the Electrek industry website.

Tesla owns about 2,100 acres where the new 4.3-million-square-foot factory stands. The factory started producing vehicles late last year.

An application submitted earlier this month for an Austin building permit lists Colorado River Project LLC as a co-applicant for a project named “Cathode,” according to the Reuters news service. That’s the corporate name Tesla has used throughout the permitting process for the new factory. A spokeswoman for Austin Development Services Department told Reuters that the latest permit is for a Tesla cathode facility.

Reuters explains that cathodes are the most expensive component of a battery, and making them requires a lot of space and emits significant amounts of carbon dioxide.

It’s unclear when construction on the Tesla cathode facility might start and how many people it might employ. The Tesla car manufacturing plant is expected to employ at least 5,000 people.

A search of Tesla’s website found one job posting in Austin that contains the word “cathode.” The company is seeking an “energetic and engaging” quality supervisor to lead one of the first teams of quality technicians for Tesla’s “Cathode Quality Control Lab.”

“You will exercise your exceptional people skills to delegate tasks and guide personnel in developing one of Tesla’s newest manufacturing teams. Your proven record of driving improvements and agility in responding to quality excursions will enable you to set the tone for the rest of the team,” the job posting says.

Last year, Tesla moved its headquarters from Northern California to 2,100-acre site in east Travis County.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Coco bites into Texas. Photo courtesy of Coco

California company zips into Texas with robot food delivery in 15 minutes

THE FUTURE IS NOW

A Los Angeles-based business is rolling out its fleet of food delivery robots into a Texas town with plans for expanding into other cities in the Lone Star State.

Coco, which offers a remotely piloted delivery service, has hit the streets of Austin with its food-delivery bots as part of its expansion to targeted markets. Fueled by a recent funding round that garnered the company $56 million, Coco’s expansion plans also include rolling out bots in the Houston, Dallas, and Miami markets soon.

“When evaluating markets for expansion, Austin stood out to the team as a perfect match,” says Zach Rash, co-founder and CEO of Coco, via a release. “Austin’s entrepreneurial spirit, top-notch food scene, and commitment to supporting small businesses makes it an ideal fit for Coco.”

Here’s how it works: Customers place a restaurant order like usual, then a Coco bot — operated by a “trained pilot” — drives to the restaurant to pick it up. The restaurant staff loads the bot as soon as the food is ready, and Coco arrives at the customer’s door within 15 minutes. Each bot is locked until it reaches the customer, so no one can tamper with your pizza or egg rolls.

The company claims that compared with traditional food-delivery methods, its bots decrease the time it takes food to reach the customer by 30 percent, and that the service has an on-time delivery rate of 97 percent. Coco bots work at shorter distances and on mostly pedestrian paths. As the company’s website notes, “A surprisingly large portion of deliveries are done within less than 2 miles. We believe there is no reason to have a 3,000-pound car deliver a burrito over short distances.”

Coco has rolled out with 10 Austin partners — mostly merchants that service the South Lamar Boulevard, South Congress Avenue, South Austin, downtown, North Austin, North Loop, and Domain neighborhoods — and aims to continue onboarding many more in the coming weeks “to accommodate the rapid influx of merchant interest.”

It’s Coco’s trained pilots and commitment to “perfecting the last-mile delivery experience” that helps set it apart from competitors, according to the company and its partners.

The company hasn't released when it plans to roll into other Texas cities, just that it has the intention to do so. Houston's no stranger to self-driving food deliveries. Another California-based company, Nuro, has several pilot programs from groceries and pharmaceuticals to pizza. The University of Houston also launched bots on campus in 2019.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston job growth is taking a while to bounce back, according to a new report. Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Houston scores surprising ranking in new U.S. job growth report

growing pains

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to hammer job markets around the country.

In Houston, a booming metropolis by any measure, latest figures from the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce’s recent report give the Bayou City a 27th-place ranking among the 50 biggest metro areas in the U.S.

That works out to a negative 2 percent growth, per the study and a far cry from Austin. From February 2020 to November 2021, the Austin area posted a job growth rate of 4.11 percent, landing the Capital City at No. 2 on the jobs list of the best-performing markets among the top 50 metros, slightly below the 4.14 percent rate for the No. 1 rated Salt Lake City area, according to the chamber’s report.

For February 2020 to November 2021, here are the job growth rates for Texas’ other major metro areas, according to the Austin chamber:

  • Dallas-Plano-Irving — 4.1 percent, fourth-place ranking among the 50 biggest metro areas.
  • Fort Worth-Arlington — 2.2 percent, fifth-place ranking among the 50 biggest metro areas.
  • San Antonio — 1.3 percent, ninth-place ranking among the 50 biggest metro areas.

In an employment forecast, the Greater Houston Partnership calls for some 75,500 jobs to be created in 2022. The greatest gains, per the report, will occur in administrative support and waste management; government; health care and social assistance; and professional, scientific and technical services.

Yet, with this healthy job growth, Houston will likely fall 10,000 to 20,000 jobs shy of pre-COVID employment levels at the end of 2022, the report surmises.

Despite Houston’s job market not having rebounded to its pre-pandemic level, Austin-based job website Indeed recently ranked Houston one of the best U.S. cities for recent graduates seeking employment. Indeed cited opportunities in Houston sectors such as aerospace, aviation, and digital technology.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Tesla's Austin factory could generate a $10 billion local investment, according to Musk. Courtesy of Tesla

Elon Musk says Tesla’s new Texas factory will drive $10 billion in total investment

revved-up ROI

With 66.8 million followers on Twitter, Elon Musk’s tweets attract an outsized amount of attention. So, when Musk tweeted December 16 that the new Tesla factory east of Austin would represent a long-term investment of at least $10 billion, generating over 20,000 direct jobs and 100,000 indirect jobs, it raised more than a few eyebrows.

Until that tweet appeared, Tesla — the Austin-based electric vehicle maker headed by Musk — had indicated it would invest $1.1 billion in the plant and would create at least 5,000 jobs and potentially 10,000 jobs there. As such, was Musk’s December 16 tweet promising far more than that a spot-on statement or a far-fetched embellishment? Musk hasn’t elaborated on his tweet, but experts believe his pronouncement isn’t in the wrong lane.

Corporate site consultant John Boyd doesn’t think the tweet is “hyperbole from larger-than-life Musk,” who is the world’s richest person.

“The magnitude of the Austin campus, the sea change transforming the North American auto industry, and Musk’s extensive business enterprises could easily support those kind of … numbers,” Boyd says. “I have found that the outspoken Musk is not prone to exaggeration and has no problem speaking his mind.”

Moreover, Boyd foresees Musk bulking up the Austin factory site — which is now Tesla’s corporate headquarters — with operations from his other ventures, such as SpaceX and Neuralink.

“Tesla is just a piece of the pie for Musk. Look for him to co-locate some of his other enterprises on his massive Austin site,” Boyd says. “It would be hard for him to find a better labor market and a more favorable state business and tax climate than he now enjoys in Austin.”

Tesla’s production capacity at the Austin plant for its Model Y, Cybertruck, and Semi vehicles could warrant Musk’s new claims about the size of the new factory’s investment and workforce, says Matt Patton, executive vice president of Austin-based economic development consulting firm AngelouEconomics.

“The potential for expanding the factory is there,” Patton says.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Texas Children's Hospital is opening a new 365,000-square-foot location in Austin. Rendering courtesy of TCH and Page

Houston hospital reveals renderings of Austin outpost ahead of groundbreaking

ATX by way of HOU

Texas Children's Hospital is working on its first freestanding location in Austin — and the hospital system just released a first look at what the state-of-the-art building will look like.

The new Texas Children's Austin campus — to be located at 9835 North Lake Creek Parkway — will be open in the first quarter of 2024, according to a news release. The $485 million project is expected to break ground this spring.

The 365,000-square-foot, 52-bed hospital will serve women and children and include neonatal and pediatric intensive care units, operating rooms, epilepsy monitoring, sleep center, emergency center, fetal center for advanced fetal interventions and fetal surgery, diagnostic imaging, acute care, and an on-site Texas Children's Urgent Care location, per the release.

The location will have an adjacent 170,000-square-foot outpatient building — for subspecialties such as cardiology, oncology, neurology, pulmonology, fetal care, and more — and over 1,200 free parking spaces.

The new hospital is expected in 2024. Rendering courtesy of TCH and Page

The project was originally announced in May of 2020. The announced general contractor is St. Louis, Missouri-based McCarthy Building Companies, which has an office in Houston and Austin, and the architecture and engineering firm is Houston-based Page.

"At Texas Children's, our breadth and depth of expertise allows us to provide the full-spectrum of health care services which we believe helps improve the overall health and well-being of Austin children, women and families," says Michelle Riley-Brown, executive vice president at Texas Children's, in the original announcement. "Our promise to Austin remains strong – to deliver specialized care closer to you through our multiple locations across the city so children and women can access the right care, in the right place, at the right time."

Houston-based Texas Children's first entered the Austin market in March of 2018 with the opening of Texas Children's Urgent Care Westgate at 4477 South Lamar Blvd. Later that year, TCH opened Texas Children's Specialty Care Austin at 8611 North MoPac, Suite 300.Texas Children's Pediatrics currently has 10 locations in Austin.

"Texas Children's came from humble beginnings, opening in 1954 with a 106-bed pediatric hospital. From there, we grew into the preeminent hospital we are today, delivering the highest quality care possible by serving the needs of the children of Texas and beyond," says TCH's president and CEO, Mark A. Wallace, in the original release. "Texas Children's, like Austinites, dwell in possibilities. Every facet of our new hospital will be designed, engineered and tailored with your family's needs and desired experience."

The 365,000-square-foot hospital will have 52 beds. Rendering courtesy of TCH and Page

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston innovator joins VC world to increase her social impact

Q&A

Kelly Avant didn't exactly pave a linear career path for herself. After majoring in gender studies, volunteering in the Peace Corps, and even attending law school — she identified a way to make a bigger impact: venture capital.

"VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems," Avant tells InnovationMap.

Avant joined the Mercury Fund team last year as an MBA associate before joining full time as investment associate. Now, after completing her MBA from Rice University this month, Avant tells InnovationMap why she's excited about this new career in investment in a Q&A.

InnovationMap: From law school and the peace corps, what drew you to start a career in the VC world?

Kelly Avant: I graduated from Rice University with an MBA, starting scouting for an investment firm in my first year, and by the summer after my first year I was essentially working full-time interning with Mercury. But, I like to tell people about my undergraduate degree in gender studies and rhetoric from a little ski college in Colorado. If you meet someone else in venture capital with a degree in gender studies, please connect us, but I think I might be the only one. I’ll spare you what I used to think — and say — about business students, but I have really come full circle.

I always thought I would work in a nonprofit space, but after serving in Cambodia with the Peace Corps, working for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and briefly attending Emory Law School with the intention of becoming a civil rights lawyer.I found that time and time again the root of the problem was a lack of resources. The world’s problems were not going to be solved with my idealism alone.

The problem with operating as a nonprofit in a capitalism is you basically always pandering to the interests of the donors. The NFL was a key sponsor of The National Domestic Violence Hotline. The United States has a complicated, to put it lightly, relationship with Cambodia and Vietnam. It became pretty clear that the donor/nonprofit relationship was oftentimes putting the wrong party in the driver’s seat. I was, and still am, very interested in alternative financing for nonprofits. I became convinced that the most exciting businesses were building solutions to the world’s problems while also turning a profit, which allows them to survive to have a sustainable positive impact.

VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems.

IM: What are some companies you’re excited about?

KA: There are a couple super interesting founders I’ve met directly engaging with . To name a few: CiviTech, DonateStock, and Polco.

I’m very proud to work on mercury investments like Houston’s own, Topl, which has built an extremely lightweight and energy efficient Blockchain that enables tracking of ethical supply chains from the initial interaction.
I’m also excited about mercury’s investment in Zirtue, which enables relationship based peer to peer lending to solve the massive problem of predatory payday loans.

We have so many awesome founders in our portfolio. The best part about working in VC is meeting passionate innovators every day. I get excited to go to work everyday and help them to build better solutions.

IM: Why are you so passionate about bringing diversity and inclusion into Mercury?

KA: I love working with exciting, highly capable, super smart people. That category includes so many people who have been historically excluded. As an investment team member at Mercury, I do have a voice, and I have an obligation to use that voice to speak highly of the best people in rooms of influence.

IM: With your new role, what are you most focused on?

KA: In my new role, I am identifying and researching high potential investments. We’re building out a Mercury educational series to lift the veil of VC. We want to facilitate a series that gives all founders the basic skills to pass VC due diligence and have the opportunity to build the next innovative companies. My goal is ultimately to produce the best returns possible for our investors, and we can’t accomplish that goal unless we’re building out resources to meet the best founders and help them grow.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Houston college system plans to open $30M resiliency-focused center

to the rescue

Houston’s initiative to protect the city from catastrophes is getting a big boost from Houston Community College.

The college is developing the Resilience Center of Excellence to aid the city’s resilience campaign. At the heart of this project is the 65,000-square-foot, $30 million Resiliency Operations Center, which will be built on a five-acre site HCC’s Northeast campus. The complex is scheduled to open in 2024.

HCC estimates the operations center will train about 3,000 to 4,000 local first responders, including police officers and firefighters, during the first three years of operation. They’ll be instructed to prepare for, manage, and respond to weather, health and manmade hazards such as hurricanes, floods, fires, chemical spills, and winter freezes.

According to The Texas Tribune, the operations center will include flood-simulation features like a 39-foot-wide swift water rescue channel, a 15-foot-deep dive area, and a 100-foot-long “rocky gorge” of boulders.

The college says the first-in-the-nation Resilience Center of Excellence will enable residents, employers, civic organizations, neighborhoods, and small businesses to obtain education and certification aimed at improving resilience efforts.

“Our objective is to protect the well-being of our citizens and our communities and increase economic stability,” Cesar Maldonado, chancellor of HCC, said when the project was announced.

Among the programs under the Resiliency Center of Excellence umbrella will be non-credit courses focusing on public safety and rescue, disaster management, medical triage, and debris removal.

Meanwhile, the basic Resilience 101 program will be available to businesses and community organizations, and the emergency response program is geared toward individuals, families, and neighborhoods.

HCC’s initiative meshes with the City of Houston’s Resilient Houston, a strategy launched in 2020 that’s designed to protect Houston against disasters. As part of this strategy, the city has hired a chief resilience and sustainability officer, Priya Zachariah.

“Every action we take and investment we make should continue to improve our collective ability to withstand the unexpected shocks and disruptions when they arrive — from hurricanes to global pandemics, to extreme heat or extreme cold,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said last year. “The time is now to stop doing things the way we’ve always done them because the threats are too unpredictable.”

In an InnovationMap guest column published in February 2021, Richard Seline, co-founder of the Houston-based Resilience Innovation Hub, wrote that the focus of resilience initiatives should be pre-disaster risk mitigation.

“There is still work to be done from a legislative and governmental perspective, but more and more innovators — especially in Houston — are proving to be essential in creating a better future for the next historic disaster we will face,” Seline wrote.