Nuro is now able to roll out its new model of self-driving vehicles in Houston thanks to a recent announcement from the government. Photo courtesy of Nuro

A California-based tech company has got the green light today to move forward a new line of autonomous vehicles that will soon hit Houston streets.

Nuro, which has a few self-driving delivery pilot programs across Houston, has been granted its exemption petition from the United States Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This move is a first for DOT, and it allows Nuro to roll out its vehicles on public roads without the features of traditional, passenger-carrying vehicles — like side mirrors or windshields, for instance.

"Since this is a low-speed self-driving delivery vehicle, certain features that the Department traditionally required – such as mirrors and windshield for vehicles carrying drivers – no longer make sense," says U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao in a news release.

Now, with this permission, Nuro has unveiled its newest model — the R2. The new model is more narrow than the R1, and has 65 percent more climate-controlled space for its food deliveries. The vehicle also has new safety features, like 360-degree vision using lidar, radar, and cameras and even has a pedestrian-protecting feature that enables the car to collapse on impact.

Image courtesy of Nuro

"We founded Nuro on the belief that we could reimagine, design, and develop an autonomous vehicle that would make the world a safer place," says Nuro co-founder and president, Dave Ferguson, in a release. "Our second-generation vehicle will advance our goal of transforming local commerce, and we are gratified that the Department of Transportation, under Secretary Chao's leadership, is promoting public safety and providing regulatory certainty for the self-driving industry."

The R2 models are being assembled in the U.S. with Nuro's partner, Roush Enterprises, which is based in Michigan. Per the NHTSA announcement, Nuro can deploy up to 5,000 R2 vehicles during the two-year exemption period. According to the DOT release, the organization will be monitoring Nuro's work throughout those two years.

"NHTSA is dedicated to facilitating the safe testing and deployment of advanced vehicle technologies, including innovative vehicle designs, which hold great promise for future safety improvements," says NHTSA Acting Administrator James Owens in the release. "As always, we will not hesitate to use defect authority to protect public safety as necessary."

Nuro currently has three pilot programs — all of which were announced last year. The company is working with Domino's, Kroger, and Walmart on food and grocery deliveries in six Houston ZIP codes. Since entering the Houston market, Nuro has been using its fleet of self-driving Prius vehicles to research and map the city's roads.

With this permission granted from DOT, Nuro can start making deliveries using its R2 fleet with its three retail and restaurant partners.

"Today's decision shows that 'exemption' can mean more safety," says Ferguson. "Our world-class team solved countless novel problems to create this design, and, after extensive modeling, research, and testing, created a vehicle unlike any other on the road today."

Photo courtesy of Nuro

Last year, California-based Nuro, a self-driving car tech company, launched three pilots in Houston. Courtesy of Nuro

California self-driving vehicle startup has all eyes on Houston — here's why

On a roll

Houston — with its sprawl and winding roads broken up across various neighborhoods — is particularly challenging when it comes to self-driving car navigation. And that's exactly why Nuro, a California-based tech startup that's raised over $1 billion in funding, decided to focus on the Bayou City for its autonomous vehicle delivery pilot programs.

"Houston is our first full-scale operations city," Sola Lawal, product operations manager in Houston, tells InnovationMap. "All eyes at Nuro are focused on Houston."

Last year alone, Nuro launched three pilots in six of Houston's ZIP codes from Bellaire to the Heights. The first of which was a partnership with Kroger in March, followed by the announcement of autonomous pizza delivery from Domino's in June. Last month, Nuro announced its latest delivery partner was Walmart.

Lawal explains Houston's appeal to Nuro in a few ways, but the challenging landscape is key. Nuro cars are learning from the narrow, tree-laden streets of West University or the pedestrian-heavy, ditch-lined paths in the Heights.

"There's a ton for us to learn, but it's a great microcosm of the United States in a number of different ways," he says.

In addition to its diversity within its street types, Houston, named the most diverse city in the country, represents an ideal customer base, says Lawal, a Houston native himself. Houstonians are open minded about new experiences.

"If you think and look across Houston, the average commute is over 60 minutes for people to get back and forth," Lawal tells InnovationMap. "As we surveyed across major cities we were interested in, Houston stood out as a place where customers said they don't want go to the grocery store if they don't have to or get in their cars again to pick up their pizza."

The third reason Houston was a great market for Nuro is the amount of regulatory support the state of Texas has — Gov. Greg Abbott announced the launch of the Texas Connected and Autonomous Vehicle task force a year ago — as well as the support at the city level.

"It's been a welcoming environment from the mayor's office down for us to be here," Lawal says.

Since entering the Houston market, Nuro's local operations have grown to over 100 employees. The company still has software operations out of California, and some work being done in Arizona, but the Houston is the largest — and growing as the company seeks new partnerships with more stores with a goal of eliminating errands once and for all.

"The way that we think about this is that this new technology and our mission of accelerating robotics for everyday life, is we will bring the people what they want," Lawal says when asked about what types of stores Nuro is looking to partner with.

Eventually, Lawal says, the plan would be to have every errand be delivery optimized with Nuro technology — from big-box stores like Walmart to your local florist.

"Our goal is to have a platform that retailers can connect to in order to provide easy and inexpensive delivery," he says.

Currently, Nuro's technology is still in learning mode. Nuro's fleet of Prius cars with staff onboard are driving up and down Houston streets mapping and taking notes on a daily basis. The company also has bots, called the R2 fleet, that are designed to be unmanned.

These bots are smaller than normal cars and are completely electric. Rather than being designed to protect passengers inside like traditional automobiles, the R2s are designed to be safe for people outside the vehicle.

"It's a new way of thinking about transportation and what our vehicles can and should do," Lawal says.

2020 is the year of these R2 bots, and some areas can expect to see them in action — specifically focused on Domino's pizza delivery — in just a matter of weeks.

Nuro has teamed up with Walmart for self-driving grocery delivery. Courtesy of Nuro

Nuro and Walmart select Houston for self-driving delivery pilot program

Look ma, no hands

A California-based autonomous vehicle robotics company that has deployed self-driving delivery cars in Houston already has announced another pilot program.

Nuro and Walmart announced a new collaboration for high-tech, affordable grocery delivery — first to a select group of shoppers, and then, later in 2020, to a wider range of customers.

"Walmart is committed to serving our customers whenever and however they choose to shop," says Tom Ward, Walmart's senior vice president of digital operations, in a news release. "We are excited to work with Nuro and continue to learn as we are incorporating self-driving technology in our delivery options, learning more about our customers' needs, and evolving Walmart's future delivery offerings."

Nuro's fleet of custom R2 delivery vehicles as well as its autonomous Toyota Priuses powered by Nuro's software have already been deployed in Houston through a couple of partnerships launched earlier this year. This summer, Nuro premiered its pizza-delivery option through a collaboration with Dominos after first entering the Houston market in March with its Kroger grocery delivery.

The new Walmart partnership adds variety and affordability to Nuro's suite of partnerships.

"Walmart's dedication to its customers aligns with our desire to help people save time and money while making shopping easier. We are excited to join forces with Walmart to help provide the best possible delivery experience to customers," says Cosimo Leipold, Nuro's head of partner relations, in the release. "Working alongside Walmart gives us an incredible opportunity to improve our door-to-door operations, serve Walmart's loyal customers, and continue to integrate and engage with the Houston community."

The new opportunity comes for Walmart as the company is expanding its access. The company has expanded to offer pickup options at 3,100 locations and deliveries from more than 1,600 stores — all supported by a team of over 50,000 personal shoppers, Ward writes in a blog post.

"We're already bringing the best of Walmart to our customers through Grocery Pickup and Delivery," Ward writes. "By continuing to test autonomous vehicle capabilities, we're better able to understand the path self-driving technology can take us down the road."

METRO is launching a self-driving car pilot program. What does that mean for all our parking garages? Photo by Tim Leviston/Getty Images

Self-driving cars are en route to Houston — here's what that means for the city's parking garages

Put it in park

As the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County gets ready to rev up its test of autonomous vehicles at Texas Southern University, a question looms over the commercial real estate sector in Houston: How much change will be driven by the no-driver trend, particularly as it relates to parking?

In an interview and a recent blog post, Rand Stephens, managing director of the Houston office of commercial real estate services company Avison Young, says it's difficult to envision that self-driving vehicles will make parking garages and lots in Houston obsolete.

Rather, Stephens says, some parking garages and lots will become "staging areas" for autonomous vehicles where they can wait for their next trip, be recharged, and be maintained.

Stephens adds that street parking is poised to transform into zones for dropping off and picking up people, and for deliveries of groceries and other goods. "Instead of vehicles sitting all day in one spot," he says, "they will be on the move from spot to spot."

Other parking structures, however, will simply be razed to make way for office or residential high-rises, Stephens says. Adaptive reuse of parking garages isn't feasible, he says, as that could prohibitively cost as much as $90 to $100 per square foot.

One bump in the road for commercial real estate developers will figuring out how to put up buildings that can accommodate traditional parking but that later might need to adapt to self-driving vehicles, according to Stephens. He notes that suburban office buildings typically offer a ratio of four parking spots for every 1,000 square feet of space.

"I think forward-thinking tenants, developers, brokers, architects, and engineers will design interim solutions with lower ratios," Stephens tells InnovationMap. "They'll really take the time to understand the occupants' commuting patterns and steer away from one parking space for one person."

On the horizon, though, are even more dramatic changes for parking in Houston and elsewhere.

A 2017 report from the Urban Land Institute and Green Street Advisors LLC, a commercial real estate research and advisory firm based in Newport Beach, California, predicted driverless vehicles and ride-sharing services could eliminate the need for half of U.S. parking spaces — as much as 75 billion square feet. Under that scenario, Houston would lose nearly half (close to 5.1 million square feet) of the roughly 100,000 parking spaces at garages in the Central Business District.

While we likely won't see parking garages and lots in Houston vanish anytime soon, we already are witnessing the rise of driverless vehicles.

In March, grocery chain Kroger revealed self-driving delivery vehicles would hit the streets this spring in four Houston ZIP codes. Kroger's Houston market is the second stop in Kroger's pilot program for autonomous delivery vehicles.

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (METRO) is gearing up to test a self-driving vehicle at the Texas Southern University campus. The first phase of the pilot project will kick off June 5.

During the summer session at Texas Southern, an EasyMile EZ10 Gen-1 bus will run along the campus' one-mile "Tiger Walk" — closed to public traffic — at up to 12 mph. The battery-powered vehicle can accommodate six seated passengers and six standing passengers.

Although the shuttle will drive itself, a trained operator will be on board at all times to monitor it, METRO says. Rides will be provided at no cost, but Texas Southern students, professors, employees, and visitors will be required to swipe their METRO Q-card and sign a liability waiver before hopping aboard.

"This pilot puts us on the path of testing the technology in a mixed-use traffic environment," Kimberly Williams, chief innovation officer at METRO, says in a news release.

If the $250,000 first phase succeeds, the second phase — on tap for this year's fall semester — will extend the route to a nearby rail station and possibly offer a connection to the Texas Medical Center's TMC3 research campus. METRO says the second phase would require third-party funding.

Kroger's self-driving cars are coming to Houston. Courtesy of Kroger

Kroger's autonomous car fleet heads to Houston for a new grocery delivery service

Look ma, no hands

Hold on to your hats, Houston. Autonomous cars are hitting the streets this spring as Kroger rolls out its fleet of self-driving, grocery-delivery cars.

Two Houston Kroger locations will provide the service to four ZIP codes — 10306 South Post Oak Road, servicing 77401 and 77096, and 5150 Buffalo Speedway, servicing 77005 and 77025.

Kroger, along with California-based robotics company, Nuro, has been operating self-driving cars delivering groceries in Scottsdale. Arizona since August. According to the release, the service has delivered thousands of orders in the self-driving vehicles.

"We've seen first-hand in Arizona how enthusiastic customers are about getting their Kroger groceries delivered by a Nuro self-driving vehicle," says Nuro co-founder, Dave Ferguson, in a release. "Texas has been a leader in encouraging self-driving innovation, and we're excited to help deliver that future for Houston — a dynamic, diverse, and welcoming metropolitan city that we're excited to soon explore and serve with this autonomous delivery service."

The service costs a flat fee of $5.95, and users can order in the app or online for same-day or next-day delivery, seven days a week. The program will launch using Toyota Prius vehicles. Currently, the exact start date of the service hasn't been provided.

"Our Arizona pilot program confirmed the flexibility and benefits provided by autonomous vehicles and how much customers are open to more innovative solutions," says Yael Cosset, Kroger's chief digital officer, in a release. "It's always been our shared vision to scale this initiative to new markets, using world-changing technology to enable a new type of delivery service for our customers. We operate 102 stores in Houston—an energetic market that embraces digital and technology advancement. The launch is one more way we are committed to sustainably providing our customers with anything, anytime, and anywhere, the way they want it."

In January, the Texas Department of Transportation created the Connected and Autonomous Vehicle Task Force to focus on being a comprehensive resource for information on all Texas CAV projects, investments, and initiatives.

"With our world-class universities, top-notch workforce and startup culture, Texas is a national leader in the development of new technologies," says Gov. Greg Abbott in the release. "As transportation technology advances, the CAV Task Force will ensure that the Lone Star State remains at the forefront of innovation."

Courtesy of Kroger

TxDOT has a new task force focused on keeping Texans informed on self-driving vehicles that are getting road ready. Getty Images

Texas forms task force geared at autonomous vehicle development

Road to unmanned driving

Self-driving cars are en route to Texas, and the state government wants to ensure Texas is ready for the ride. The Texas Department of Transportation announced the creation of a Connected and Autonomous Vehicle Task Force on Jan. 24.

The CAV Task Force will focus on being a comprehensive resource for information on all Texas CAV projects, investments, and initiatives, the press release says. The organization will also host events surrounding CAV progress and education around the topic.

"With our world-class universities, top-notch workforce and startup culture, Texas is a national leader in the development of new technologies," says Gov. Greg Abbott in the release. "As transportation technology advances, the CAV Task Force will ensure that the Lone Star State remains at the forefront of innovation."

TxDOT's interest, the release reports, is in hopes that the self-driving technology will minimize accidents and maximize safety, as well as expand opportunities for residents, especially within the elderly and disabled populations who currently don't have reliable transportation to their errands and appointments.

In 2017, in the 85th Texas Legislative Session, Abbot signed Senate Bill 2205 into law. The legislation identifies key requirements for CAVs, such as insurance and adhering to traffic laws, like normal vehicles, as well as requiring video recording devices in the car, the Texas Tribune reported. However, it's worth nothing that self-driving vehicles were already being experimented with in Austin by the likes of Google, the Tribune notes.

"Our goal is to further build on the momentum already established with the Texas Technology Task Force and the Texas Innovation Alliance, and work with interested parties on the latest and greatest in CAV projects and enhancements," says TxDOT Executive Director James Bass. "We look forward to furthering these important efforts as connected and autonomous vehicles become reality."

TxDOT is also focusing on rail planning, as the Houston-Dallas high-speed rail chugs along. Earlier this month, the state asked for Texans' feedback on the projects.

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11 startups pitch top Houston angel investors at biannual summit

money moves

The Houston Angel Network checked in with their investors and portfolio companies at their biannual Houston Angel Summit that gathered HAN members, local investors, and startup founders for a day full of educational opportunities, pitches, and fireside chats.

The event, which took place last week at Rice University's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, featured 11 startups – both new and more familiar to HAN members – pitching their growing companies in hopes of catching the interest of potential investors.

BioMedical Music Solutions

Austin-based BioMedical Music Solutions has a SaaS platform that uses artificial intelligence and music to accelerate rehabilitation at a lower cost. Founder Hope Young explained her years-proven therapy can work its magic in one-third of the time and one-tenth of the cost of traditional physical therapy sessions.

Optelos

Houston-based Optelos has a patented SaaS solution that can transform physical asset images, videos, and documents into what's known as a "Digital Inspection Twin" that can enabling knowledge workers utilizing our unified data management, reality modeling, and in-process artificial intelligence solution, to digitally visualize, analyze and manage their entire asset base.

Pocket Naloxone

Maryland-based Pocket Naloxone is attempting to solve the opioid crisis. The company has a portfolio of over-the-counter drug overdose reversal agents, including a naloxone OTC product.

AI Driller

Houston-based AI Driller is using mathematic algorithms to apply automation on rigs for drilling. The startup can also offer its clients real-time data and cuts out the opportunity for human error.

Cavu Biotherapies

Houston pet immunotherapy company, Cavu Biotherapies, has seen a tremendous amount of growth and is now a treatment partner at 43 clinic providers in 18 states and Canada. Founder Colleen O'Connor says she's seen a near 600 percent growth in revenue over the past year and treated 38 dog cancer patients in that timeframe.

CorInnova

Another Houston company, CorInnova, has created a device from a soft, flexible material that can be easily inserted through a 1-inch incision, and then be used for increase blood pumping in the heart by 50 percent.

Hive Genie

Houston-based Hive Genie is using technology to help beekeepers optimize their pollination operations and monitor hive operations remotely. Gone are the days, Hive Genie hopes, that beekeepers need to suit up to track and maintain their colonies physically.

Siera AI

Austin-based Siera AI is using its AI-enabled cloud IoT platform for logistics solutions and safety improvements in warehouse settings. A goal of the company's, according to its website, is to free humans from these types of dull, dangerous, dirty tasks.

Skycom

The sky's not even the limit for Austin-based Skycom and its airship technology that supplies low-cost cell towers in orbit. The technology can bring down the cost of mobile service providers and allow for growth into new markets.

Tevido

Another Austin company, Tevido uses a pigment cell graft process to use patients' own skin cells to restore normal skin color for patients with vitiligo and pale scars.

Tot Squad

Los Angeles-based Tot Squad emerged as a service-focused company for baby-related tasks and now has emerged as a digital marketplace connecting service providers online to parents and to-be parents for needs like stroller cleaning or carseat installation.


Here's what lean startup tips founders can learn from this Houston restaurateur and Rice University MBA

Houston voices

It was one of those toasty, 95-degree evenings in late September in Houston, and we were clinking our craft cocktails to a full house at ChòpnBlọk's latest pop up concept – the fifth restaurant takeover in his series. I don't know what was hotter… outside, the vibe, or the spice in the ata rodo (scotch bonnet) maple syrup our plantain pancakes were lathered in. But one thing is for sure, as he prepares to open a brick and mortar location in 2020, Ope Amosu, a Rice University MBA graduate and the founder of ChòpnBlọk, is proving himself to be a mean, lean (startup) machine.

After getting his MBA from Rice Business in 2014, he began traveling extensively for work and was frustrated with his inability to easily access authentic West African cuisine in Houston and beyond. He was able to conveniently experience other cultures through successful restaurant concepts, but not his own. So in order to see if he had what it take to bring high quality, convenient West African inspired cuisine to Texas, he did what every MBA graduate dreams of: he rolled up his sleeves and secured a part-time job working the line at Chipotle.

Chipotle taught Ope the art of restaurant operations, and he made money learning it. Pulling together his lessons learned, he began building out his business plan. He identified a large West African population in Houston that was being under-served and was confident in his ability to address this market gap with his fast-casual concept. From his time working with various engineering groups, he knew that he needed to test his idea early so he could fail early and fail fast without breaking the bank.

This led to the inception of ChòpnBlọk. Ope knew acquiring a food truck would be too timely and too expensive, so he went a more creative, cost–effective route. He began hosting private dinners where his guests experienced a multi-course dining program rich with West African flavor.

Those full and happy guests unknowingly were participating in a fun focus group. He leveraged these dinners to collect data from each diner. What did they recommend he charge per meal? Did they like what they were eating? What was their current dining out behaviors? After hosting over ten smaller private dinners, he had collected valuable pieces of information that would inform his business plan including:

  1. He had market data from over 200 diners.
  2. He proved that there was an appetite for West African cuisine in Houston. His fears that the common stigmas about African culture would hinder his growth seemed unfounded.
  3. He quickly optimized operational efficiency in feeding his guests.

Having validated customer demand, honed in on customer preferences, and demonstrated that the market opportunity he believed existed could be captured, all without taking on investors, it was time to take the next step. ChòpnBlọk began efforts to scale, finding a way to re-engage customers who were hungry for more.

This is how the pop-up experiences came to life. With his restaurant takeovers, Ope is able to serve well over 100 paying customers per dinner and gain all the operational know-how that goes along with such an affair. In a risk-free environment, he gets to test various creative concepts and fine-tune logistics…all with almost zero overhead and very minimal risk.

You can probably guess what is next. It should come as no surprise that ChòpnBlọk has been approached by funders and developers to launch a brick and mortar location for 2020. With hundreds of paying customers, a net promoter score staying high at 9/10, and an entrepreneur's tenacity like his, I have a feeling ChòpnBlọk will be coming for Chipotle in just a matter of time.

Want to learn more? Visit their website and follow them on Instagram.

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Caitlin Bolanos is the senior associate director at the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship.

This article originally appeared on Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship's blog.

Capital Factory founder plans to double portfolio companies in Houston this year

Q&A

A statewide accelerator program has doubled down on Houston, and it's just the beginning.

Austin-based Capital Factory, which also has a presence in Dallas, recently merged with Station Houston in an effort to expand their mentor network and grow its startup portfolio with the addition of Houston companies.

As of today, Capital Factory has 40 startups from Houston in its portfolio, says Josh Baer, founder and CEO of Capital Factory, and Baer says he expects to add an additional 40 in 2020. The Station merger will help spur that growth and also play into Capital Factory's greater Texas Manifesto mission to advance innovation statewide.

"This is not just about adding one more city," Baer says. "It's really about how there's a lot of unique things that Houston brings that are going to make the whole picture a lot stronger."

Baer sat down with InnovationMap to discuss the details of the merger, how Capital Factory will be tuned into The Ion, and how Houston startups can tap into Capital Factory — both locally and at this year's SXSW.

InnovationMap: Capital Factory has been active in Houston for a few years and announced a partnership with The Cannon last year. How has that activation been going?

Josh Baer: We've been in Houston for quite a while now. We started off with our Texas Manifesto almost three years ago and the first thing we did was a listening tour of all the different cities, and we spent a bunch of time in Houston.

Part of the growth we've seen in part is from our partnership with The Cannon as they've opened. They've been a great partner allowing us to reach all of Houston because Houston is really big. It's not like Austin where you can primarily service from one place. We're not builders, that's not our role. We want to be wherever everybody else is doing great things. And that's The Cannon, The Ion, and the Texas Medical Center and all the other places too. There's lots of room for different flavors and focuses and groups, and we need to be at all those places.

IM: What's Capital Factory's presence in Houston and how do you see it growing?

JB: Last year, we hired our first two employees in Houston — that was Kendrick and Brittany, our mentor coordinator and venture associate — so that we could build our mentor network and connect them into the rest of Texas and source the best companies and connect them to the rest of Texas. Last year with those two employees, we brought in 14 Houston companies into our accelerator.

In total right now, we have 40 companies ever that have joined our accelerator from Houston, which is still a pretty significant number. This year, we expect more than 40 companies to join the accelerator from Houston.

IM: How will Capital Factory be involved in The Ion?

JB: Well we are so happy that we have exactly the role we would want to have at The Ion. And that is having some prime space right in the middle of it, and we're located not in the coworking space but in the event space because that's really, we want to be — we want to be where everyone is meeting and activating.

One of the things that we'll focus on is building out the mentor network at The Ion and connecting it into the rest of our mentor network. We're not going to be the only accelerator there. There's going to be a bunch of accelerators there. There's gonna be a bunch of mentor networks. And we're excited to partner with all of those and many more probably bring great people into our networks. I'm pretty confident we'll be the biggest mentor network there and we'll be the default one. We'll be the main one that everybody's part of, and particularly because it connects into everything else. But we'll do that in a really collaborative way.

IM: You kind of dove headfirst into the Dallas innovation ecosystem with a real estate play. Why did making these partnerships make more sense for Houston?

JB: Well, Capital Factory isn't backed by a big university or a billionaire, or a pension fund or something. It's really backed by entrepreneurs. And so while we're fortunate that we do have capital to invest in these startups, our value is not really like the capital like that builds buildings. It takes a lot of money and a lot of capital and that comes from universities and different types of investors and from communities right from the city and others that are part of that.

And so in Dallas, when we looked at that market, there was a real need — nobody was building a place like this, so we had to. We needed a center of gravity. Dallas is big too — other people will build more and we're going to need to be at those places too, just like in Houston.

But in Houston, not only did we are Texas Medical Center, and then we already had The Canon and there's going to be The Ion, which are hundreds of thousands of square feet of prime real estate that's going to be amazing. We don't want to recreate that or compete with that. We want to be part of that.

So, if somebody else is already putting up tens or a hundreds of millions of dollars to build the building, I don't need to do that. I want to be part of that. My value is not capital. It's bringing the people into the building. It's activating the building and bringing programming into it, and that's where Capital Factory really adds the most value.

IM: How exactly did the merger with Station Houston come about?

JB: You know, it goes all the way back to the very beginning. I'm pretty sure that I was one of the first people that the founders of Station talked to when they were getting started when Emily and Blair and others were working on it. You know, Capital Factory was the place they came to look at. And, I was friends with all of them, and we were very open book about it, and said, "Hey, you know, here's how we work. We should see how we can work together." Because of that, we've always had a good relationship — Station was the first place that we ever went on a bus trip to Houston. We've had lots of overlap between our mentor networks and startups that we work with and others.

And Station has gone through some different changes over the years — leadership and their model evolved from one profit to nonprofit and onward. And through those changes, we just kept moving closer and closer together. It became really clear, especially with the launch of The Ion, that it was really the perfect opportunity for us to align ourselves even more closely and really connected fully into the rest of what's happening in the rest of the state.

IM: I’ve spoken to Gabriella Rowe, former CEO of Station, about it and she really sees it as a return to Station’s roots as an organization. How do you see the merger for Capital Factory?

JB: Well for us, you know, I really like the analogy of a stool. Everybody knows that to have a good foundation, a stool needs to have three legs. And, our mission in connecting Texas together through our Texas Manifesto. [Austin and Dallas were] working and working well, but it still wasn't a strong foundation. Ramping this up across Dallas and Houston, it completes the foundation and gives it a really strong footing and a really powerful footing to make it a Texas wide play.

We don't see this as a cookie cutter kind of thing. Each city is different. Each city has different needs and brings different things [to the table]. And we see that for sure from Houston. The type of entrepreneurs and companies that we've worked with are different. They're working on big, messy problems — robots and dangerous things. And that is exciting and attracts other partners — the big companies and the army and others that want tap into that too. And so, this is not just about adding one more city. It's really about how there's a lot of unique things that Houston brings that that's going to make the whole picture a lot stronger.

IM: What’s the status of the merger at this point?

JB: The paperwork's done, and we're taking a very intentionally slow process with [the execution of the merger]. We told everybody, "you shouldn't expect to see a lot to change fast." We want to be careful and thoughtful. So, we're going to listen a lot, and we're going to make changes slowly. And our goal is that for all the Station members, this is just a value add. They get everything they had before, plus now they get more. Now they get access to the Capital Factory network now, and they get access over time to more at the ion.

[But bigger picture,] it's not done at all. We barely started. We're still really listening and learning, so I don't feel like much has happened yet. The beginning part is, right now, every station Houston member has access to the rest of the Capital Factory network — both physically and virtually. They can go to Austin or Dallas. They can go to The Cannon. And more importantly than that, they can use our online network of union.vc, which is a website where they can log in, create a profile, and they can see all the other startups and mentors across the state and they can be seen by them. And that's what we can do to help connect them all together.

IM: Capital Factory kept Station’s remaining staff, right? Will Capital Factory be hiring more staff in Houston? 

JB: Right, we now have five Houston employees, three of them used to be Station's. We do expect to hire, but we don't have any specific roles to announce, but we have over a dozen people on the team in Dallas now two years into it.

IM: How can Houston startups make the most of SXSW this year?

JB: Honestly, our goal is to be the easy button. The first thing is come to Capital Factory. Capital Factory is an official South by Southwest house. This year, it's all official programming. And of course, the type of programming that you're going to see is focused on startups and government and defense.

We'll have Fast Company, Deloitte, Booz Allen, the army, and the air force — all kinds of other people there. And so that's an easy place to plug in. And for entrepreneurs who are part of our network, they don't have to have South badge to do that. They can be part of what's going on at Capital Factory as members.

IM: For startups wanting to get involved with Capital Factory, what's step one?

JB: The first step is to come to The Canon or Station and meet us possible. And the person that first person they want to meet is Brittany Barreto, who's our mentor associate. That's her job is to scout startups and meet them and help kind of bring them into the funnel.