HX Venture Fund recently hosted a virtual panel on how the tide has turned in Houston when it comes to tech investment. Getty Images

When Joe Alapat, co-founder and CEO of Liongard, was first getting started on his company, he says a few people recommended he go to Austin or one of the coasts to give his software company a better chance.

"For me, the thought process never really entered my mind that Houston was a place where I would be challenged in doing what I do well. My network is here," Alapat shared on a virtual panel hosted by the HX Venture Fund.

Turns out, it was a good decision. Liongard recently closed a $17 million series B round led by Updata Partners, a portfolio fund of HXVF. Moderated by Brian Richards of Accenture's Houston innovation hub, the panel asked Alapat, Sandy Guitar of HXVF, and Carter Griffin of Updata why Houston is the next hub for tech investing. Here are some key moments from the discussion.

“We’re cautious when we go into places — like Austin and Boston — where there’s a lot of activity both on the company side and the investor side. We’d rather find the opportunities where things aren’t as competitive and frothy, and you’re really dealing with people trying to build a real business, serve customers, and build value in the right way, and not just catch lightning in a bottle and build the next unicorn.”

—says Griffin about Updata's strategy of looking at cities like Houston in the middle of the country.

“A lot has changed in the past couple of years — the thought process, the awareness, as well as the willingness for folks to think about Houston as a place where you can build a startup.”

— says Alapat about how Houston's startup ecosystem has evolved since he started Liongard in 2015. He later notes that Houston's innovation leaders have done well to not copy other metros, but listen and learn from the successes and mistakes of other innovation cities.

“There was this feeling that we needed to be uniquely Houston — we couldn’t replicate Silicon Valley or Austin, we needed to be us. But we were going to have to do things differently. We couldn’t keep doing the same things and expecting this [change.]”

— Richard says, noting the corporate mindset, among other aspects of the ecosystem, shifted to be more focused on startups.

“The VCs are very interested in engaging in this model. So, we’re spoiled for choices is one way of saying it.”

— Guitar says on interest from venture funds in HXVF, noting that the VCs see an opportunity for their portfolio startups to connect with HXVF's corporate partners.

This week's innovators to know are focused on using artificial intelligence in data management, banking for startups, and 5G awareness in Houston. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

This year, Houston's innovation ecosystem is set to change tenfold — from the rise of 5G to burgeoning startup and entrepreneurial hubs emerging across town.

Today's featured innovators know a bit about these movements — from an entrepreneur using artificial intelligence in data management for his clients to a banking exec who went all-in on startups.

Tony Nash, founder and CEO of Complete Intelligence

tony nash

Courtesy of Complete Intelligence

Every company wishes they have a crystal ball when it comes to making business decisions, and while a physical iteration of that wish isn't possible, Tony Nash has developed the next best thing for his clients at his startup, Complete Intelligence.

Founded in 2015, Complete Intelligence is an AI platform that forecasts assets and allows evaluation of currencies, commodities, equity indices and economics. The Woodlands-based company also does advanced procurement and revenue for corporate clients.

"We've spent a couple years building this," says Nash in a recent InnovationMap interview. "We have a platform that is helping clients with planning, finance, procurement and sales and a host of other things. ... We built a model of the global economy and transactions across the global economy, so it's a very large, very detailed artificial intelligence platform." Read more.

Brian Richards, Houston innovation hub director at Accenture and board member at Houston Exponential

brian richards

Courtesy of Accenture

The rise of 5G in Houston feels familiar to Brian Richards. He writes in a recent guest column that the development of the technology is similar to the moment in Houston's history when NASA landed a man on the moon.

There are a few similarities Richards expresses in his article, as well as providing more information about 5G itself, but the undeniable fact is 5G will create a lasting impact in Houston.

"Above all, as Houston continues to race toward building a world-class innovation ecosystem and a sustainable, thriving economy, we simply can't take our foot off the gas in the 5G race — much like the moon race," he writes. "It's an imperative that the region continue to lead in 5G network adoption and that our local industries and businesses envision, plan and develop new ways of working." Read more.

Jimmy Allen, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Texas Citizens Bank

jimmy allen

Courtesy of Texas Citizens Bank

It's become a bit of a trend to see banks taking a bet on startups — Capital One, for instance, has even entered the coworking industry itself. And one Houston-area bank has become an early adopter of this trend locally.

Jimmy Allen, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Texas Citizens Bank, says the bank's new 3,900-square-foot location — its seventh branch in the Houston area — fits perfectly within The Cannon's 120,000-square-foot building in West Houston, which Texas Citizens helped build. The branch opened in December 2019; the grand opening is planned for January 2020.

"Owner-operated businesses are both the genesis of our business model and [a] key customer segment served," says Allen, who was named to his position in November. "A subset of that group certainly includes young, relatively new companies, which favor the current trend in coworking or live-work-play communities." Read more.

No one knows the full scope of what 5G will bring, but there's no better time than now to brace for, and embrace, the possibilities of 5G. Getty Images

Here’s why you should pay attention to 5G in Houston

Guest column

Fifty years after Houston launched mankind to the moon, there's been a flurry of news about Houston launching 5G with claims of revolutionizing communication. However, some Houstonians are probably wondering — "why should I need faster internet to watch another YouTube video?" And, they're not alone. The truth is there are many questions unanswered around 5G — rightly so, because, similar to the moon-landing, its impact is more about what it will help create.

But, now is a good time to look ahead. As we ring in the New Year, I'd like to take a moment to review what 5G is, how the rollout is going, and importantly, why it matters to Houston and its future.

What's 5G again?

5G is the next generation of wireless technology after 4G (shocking, I know). Because 5G networks rely on much smaller and more closely-deployed antennae that can be fixed to existing physical structures (e.g. buildings, light poles) instead of traditional cell towers, signals can be carried faster and more reliably. It doesn't just mean faster streaming for your binge-worthy shows; it means better business opportunities. Nearly four in five (79 percent) Houston business executives agree that 5G will revolutionize their industry by offering new ways to provide products and services, according to Accenture's 2019 Technology Vision report.

Some of the winning characteristics of 5G include:

  • Speed: 5G is set to be much faster than previous generation networks, up to 100 times faster than existing 4G networks, offering speeds up to 10 gigabits per second.
  • Latency: We'll see much less delay or lag. To put it into perspective, 4G networks latency is typically around 40-50 milliseconds. With 5G, it should be one millisecond or less, going undetectable to the user.
  • Capacity: 5G has greater capacity, meaning networks will be able to cope better with many high-demand applications at once — from connected cars and augmented reality experiences and simultaneous HD video streaming.
  • Reliability: 5G is also expected to be ultra-reliable, allowing more critical use cases such as emergency responses and industrial applications.

How's it going?

2019 saw continued progress on 5G. All the four major U.S. mobile service providers have deployed 5G commercially in Houston, making it one of the leading U.S. cities when it comes to 5G deployment.

2020 will be a building block, and we're sure to see advancement across three key areas: networks, devices and experiences. These aspects are the three legs of the 5G stool and grow interdependently. For example, the network build-out will accelerate adoptions of devices and 5G-enabled experiences. In turn, demand for new, enhanced 5G-powered experiences will drive more network deployment and device purchases this year and beyond. There are also perceived barriers to adoption among business leaders, including the upfront investment, security, and employee buy-in, which will need to continue to be addressed.

Why should Houston care?

To begin, possibilities are countless for virtually all key Houston industries, including the energy sector, from transporting a technician to an oil rig via virtual reality or overseeing pipeline repairs remotely, to handling hazardous chemicals safely without direct human contact.

Another area 5G can be applied would be for smart vehicles, connected roads and other municipal infrastructure. It is estimated that smart city applications (which Houston is starting to make some real progress around) made possible by 5G networks could create three million new jobs and contribute $500 billion to U.S. GDP over the next seven years, while helping citizen lives be safer and more convenient.

Above all, as Houston continues to race toward building a world-class innovation ecosystem and a sustainable, thriving economy, we simply can't take our foot off the gas in the 5G race — much like the moon race. It's an imperative that the region continue to lead in 5G network adoption and that our local industries and businesses envision, plan and develop new ways of working.


When Henry Ford invented the automobile for the masses, he could not have foreseen how it would catalyze tourism, retail consumption, labor mobility or urbanization. Likewise, no one knows the full scope of what 5G will bring, but there's no better time than now to brace for, and embrace, the possibilities of 5G.

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Brian Richards is the Houston innovation hub director at Accenture and board member at Houston Exponential.

Houston's first Digital Fight Club will be November 20 at White Oak Music Hall. Courtesy of Digital Fight Club

Accenture and InnovationMap team up to bring innovative high-energy event to Houston for the first time

total knock out

The Houston innovation ecosystem has seen its fair share of panels. Whether the discussion is focused on digital health care or investing, it's structured the same way. However, one organization has redesigned what a typical innovation networking and panel event needs to look like, and Houston gets to see the Digital Fight Club in action in November.

Michael Pratt came up with the idea for Digital Fight Club as a way to liven up technology-focused events and networking opportunities. The plan was to pit two specialists against one another, with a referee steering the conversation. The audience is involved too and can vote in real time for the winner of the, for lack of a better word, debate.

"The notion of crazy fun wild entertainment was kind of in the back of our minds, but it exploded in that way more than we predicted it would," Pratt says.

Since Pratt premiered the concept in Dallas, where he is based, in 2016, he put on three more in Dallas and even hosted one in Boston in October 2018. The sixth Digital Fight Club will be hosted in Houston and presented by Accenture and InnovationMap, at White Oak Music Hall on November 20.

Brian Richards, managing director at Accenture and Houston Innovation Hub director, says he wanted to bring the concept to Houston because it's directly in line with what the city needs.

"We were just inspired by how completely different from a panel that it really brings out these core beliefs," Richards tells InnovationMap. "We thought it would be a great way to help spark the innovation community here in Houston."

The topics of discussion for the Houston edition include cybersecurity, future of the workforce, tech in oil and gas, health tech, and more. The event is structured very deliberately, Pratt tells InnovationMap. Five different 10-minute discussions take place between two fighters and a referee — all experts in their own ways on the topic at hand and selected by the event's partners and sponsors. Usually, the referees are a bit more senior with years of experience in an industry, and the fighters tend to be high-energy entrepreneurs.

"People that are founders and at that stage of their careers have no shortage of opinions, and that makes for great fighters," Pratt says.

Once the fight is over and the audience has decided the winner, conversations can continue at an after party. Pratt says he's e seen some pretty successful networking after his events, which is something that Richards is excited to bring to Houston.

"One of the things we've been trying to drive here in Houston is collisions — the ability to get our corporates, our investors, our startup founders to collide," Richards says. "We believe this is a way to help create that density of collisions and this is a format that helps spark that in an organic way."

Here's an example of what a Digital Fight Club match up looks like:

Digital Fight Club: Dallas 2019: Fight #3: Silence: To digitally disconnect or not www.youtube.com

Good things don't just come to those who wait. If you're wanting to get your startup in front of major corporations, you need to take matters into your own hands. Pexels

Overheard: Experts give advice for Houston startups looking for corporate partnerships

Eavesdropping in Houston

If you've ever wanted to know the best way to get your startup in front of a major corporation, according to experts from both sides of the table — here's your chance.

At the Houston Innovation Open Conference, five major players in Houston's innovation ecosystem sat on a panel and discussed startups, accelerators, and more. One question asked each panelist for their advice for corporate partnerships. Here's what they had to say.

“Go to one of our programs — even if you used to work at an oil and gas company, as a startup, you need new pathways and you need help and support and lots of love along the way.”

Gabriella Rowe, CEO of Station Houston. Even with a Houston business background, there's strength in numbers, she says.

“Keep your identity along the way.”

Haibin Xu, regional manager of Shell Research Connect & GameChanger US and Canada. From the corporate side of things. Xu said sometimes the Shells of the world can't help you — find the right company that best aligns with your startup.

“Do your research. … And have a clear value proposition, and put it on the table.”

Wade Bitaraf, head of energy and sustainability practice at Plug and Play. Preparation and research is extremely important before you meet with any potential corporate partners.

“Find a community to join … and don’t limit yourself to what you think is your industry.”

Brad True, managing director of The Cannon and Cannon Ventures. True gave an example of a Cannon company that found success outside the industry they thought they were confined to.

“You have to find the pathways that are going to make it as easy as possible.”

Brian Richards, innovation lead and managing director at Accenture. Richards emphasized that startups can go bankrupt waiting for something formal from a big corporation.

Speakers at the third annual Houston Innovation Open Conference discussed policy, performance, and more. Photo by Zview/Getty Images

Overheard: 5 powerful quotes from Houstonians speaking at the Houston Open Innovation Conference

EAVESDROPPING IN Houston

When it comes to Houston's innovation ecosystem, there's a lot to discuss. From accelerator programs to role of educational institutes, the third annual Houston Open Innovation Conference covered it all on Thursday, March 28.

I had the pleasure of attending the full-day conference, which was a meeting of the minds of Houston innovation. To catch you up and rid you of your fear of missing out, check out these five overheard quotes from the day.

“I’ve charged my board on Houston Exponential, and I say to them, ‘What good is it for us to be the most diverse city in the country if we’re not solving the challenges that impact diverse communities.’”

Amanda Edwards, Houston City Council Member in At-Large Position 4, in her keynote presentation calling for Houston to lead the charge in solving inequalities in innovation.

“Competition is good. I would rather have an abundance of an ecosystem than just one (accelerator). I think each different group — whether it’s MassChallenge, Station Houston, or The Cannon or any other current or future accelerator — all has their own value proposition.”

Brian Richards, managing director, Accenture Houston Innovation Hub, during the panel about startups and entrepreneurs. The quote was in response to an audience question about competition within Houston accelerators and programs.

“If we don’t create this ecosystem, others will tap into the resources we have, and we lose or we fall short.”

Mayor Sylvester Turner, in his keynote presentation, explaining why the city is focused on developing the city's ecosystem now — before it's too late.

“I think the more emphasis on incubators and accelerators has addressed the need for community. You have people who are like minded … and you have a community that cares about something more deep rather than just being in the same physical space together.”

Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston, on the panel about accelerators and incubators. The panel question was regarding how some coworking spaces have evolved to be accelerator or incubator programs.

“This is such a uniquely positioned city because of its corporate base, because of the strength of its university structure, and because of the combination of that and the ability to collaborate within those two is a different kind of runway or opportunity.”

Susan Davenport, senior vice president, economic development at the Greater Houston Partnership, during the "Houston Innovation Ecosystem" panel.

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Overheard: Experts share how Houston can lead commercial space exploration

Eavesdropping in houston

Is the Space City poised to continue its reign as an innovative hub for space exploration? All signs point to yes, according to a group of experts.

The Greater Houston Partnership hosted its annual State of Space this week. The virtual event featured a keynote address from Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA Johnson Space Center, and a panel moderated by David Alexander, chair of aerospace and aviation committee at the GHP and the director of the Rice Space Institute.

The conversations focused on the space innovation activity happening in Houston, as well as an update on the industry as a whole has space commercialization continues to develop. All the speakers addressed how Houston has what it takes to remain a hub for the sector.

"The future looks very bright for Houston that we will remain a leader in Houston spaceflight," Wyche says in her address.

Here are a few other memorable moments from the event.

"Houston, I feel, is poised to be a leader. We have led in human space flight, and we will a leader in commercialization."

— Wyche says in her keynote address, which gave a thorough overview of what all NASA is working on at JSC. She calls out specifically how startups are a driving force in commercialization. JSC is working with local accelerator programs at The Ion and MassChallenge.

"These startups help us to connect to tomorrow's space innovation leaders, and gives our team the opportunity to mentor these entrepreneurs as we work to advance both our scientific and technical knowledge," she says.

"The ability to have a place where government, academia, and industry can come together and share ideas and innovation is incredibly powerful."

​— Steve Altemus, president and CEO of Intuitive Machines LLC, specifically talking about the Houston Spaceport, where Intuitive Machines has signed on as a tenant. Altemus adds that a major key to leading space commercialization is a trained workforce, which the spaceport is focused on cultivating.

"We shouldn't discount the character that Houston has from the standpoint as a great place to build a business."

— Tim Kopra, vice president of robotics and space at MDA Ltd., says, adding that Houston is a big city that feels like a small town. "We need to incentivize companies to come and stay," he says.

"Great cities — like great companies — understand that if you're still, you're probably moving backwards. ... I think Houston gets it in that regard."

— Todd May, senior vice president of science and space at KBR, says, adding that Houston realizes it needs to be on the offensive side to bring innovation to the game, positioning the city very well for the future.

Houston's number of 'super commuters' driven up by almost 70 percent, says new report

on the road again

Long commutes are nothing new in Houston. The average worker in Houston spent nearly 27 minutes commuting to work each day — above the national average of 26.4.

A new development in shuttling to work has developed: super commuters. In fact, the number of so-called "super commuters" — those traveling at least 90 minutes to get to work, and another 90 minutes or more to get home, is on the rise.

According to newly released data from new analysis by Apartment List of data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Houston area boasts 85,000 super commuters in the region, representing 2.6 percent of our total workforce.

The number of super commuters in the Houston region grew by 68.3 percent from 2010-2019, compared to the 23.0 percent growth rate of the region's overall workforce.

Houston ranks tenth among the regions in the study for the number of super commuters in 2019.

Some 13 percent of the region's super commuters live within a 10-mile radius of downtown, says Apartment List data, demonstrating that not all super commuters travel long distances. Nationally, 13.5 percent of all workers who commute by public transit are super commuters, and transit riders are five times more likely to be super commuters compared to drivers.

In the Greater Houston region, super commuting is most prevalent in Trinity County, where 11 percent of all workers are super commuters, per Apartment List.

According to Apartment List, the rise of remote work "is unlikely to meaningfully alleviate" the long-term trend of more American workers becoming super commuters.

"Since the start of the pandemic, the fastest rent growth in large metros has been occurring in the further suburbs and exurbs, indicating that hybrid remote work arrangement[s] could create a new class of part-time super commuters," Apartment list notes.

In Texas, North Texas grew 49 percent in super commuters from 2010 to 2019.

Stockton, California, notched the biggest share of super commuters in the study (25 percent of the workforce). Elsewhere in Northern California, the San Francisco Bay Area saw the largest growth rate for super commuting from 2010 to 2019 — a whopping 255 percent.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.