A new coworking space plans to debut on Houston's northside. Photo courtesy of H-Town Incubator

Freelancers and small business owners might not miss the office politics or mandatory training seminars, but there are quite a few things like mentorship and health insurance that most coworking spaces don't provide. A new Houston company hopes to fill the void.

H-Town Incubator is a 30,000-square-foot coworking space on the northside of town with plans to launch officially in January. The space has desk, cubicle, or office membership options, but also provides its members with advisory services, like legal, accounting, marketing, and more.

"What if an entrepreneur, freelancer, or contractor were given access to an hour or so for a month with legal or accounting," says Stewart Severino, CEO of H-Town Incubator. "You have that real coaching available to you."

Another unprecedented perk is that entrepreneurs can have access to affordable health insurance for as low as $60 a month. Severino says that small businesses can even white label this plan so that their team can have their ID cards labeled with their company's information.

"There are so many underinsured and uninsured people and families out there. It's a big deal," Severino tells InnovationMap. "Because of the co-op we have with our insurance partners, we can put together our own plan and offer that to these individuals."

At this point, about 15,000 square feet of space built out with space for 80 to 100 coworkers to work out of 55 cubicles, 30 offices, and other desk space. The second half of the floor could also be developed for additional offices, desks, and cubicles. The space also has two kitchens and conference rooms that Severino says members won't have any limitations on access, like other models that use credit systems.

"Because we're smaller, we can do that," he says. "We don't have to go that route of being too structured."

With easy access to Bush Intercontinental Airport and neighboring communities like The Woodlands and Spring, Severino says he's already seen both local and international opportunities.

Severino says the idea for the space came organically. He was working out of this office and saw connections happening between various industries. That's how he got the idea to build it into coworking space.

With his 20-year marketing career, Severino says he's seen the smoke and mirrors of "dressed-up" coworking spaces on the market today, he wants to provide something deeper for entrepreneurs.

"When things lack substance, that really bothers me on a personal level," he says. "I want to go out and create something that can serve the individual as a whole."

H-Town Incubator will celebrate a grand opening in mid January, but Severino plans to offer free drop-in days for entrepreneurs to take a trial run. Ultimately, Severino hopes the initiative becomes a collaborative space for companies of all phases and industries to work as resources for each other.

"It will be a dynamic place for sure," he says, adding that he expects to add programming to the mix too.

Here's what all you should consider before settling into a coworking spot. Leanne Hope/Cresa

5 things to keep in mind when finding coworking space in Houston

Guest column

If you're in the market for office space you've undoubtedly heard a lot about one of the fastest growing trends in commercial real estate – coworking. What started as a simple idea to help freelancers and startups find workspace is now beginning to disrupt the traditional office market. More than 1,000 spaces opened in the US in 2018 alone, according to Coworking Resources.

But, as this trend continues to take off, tenants now face a wide range of potential options. So many, in fact, it can seem overwhelming weeding through them. Where does one even start? How do you find the right space? Here are five things you should keep in mind when conducting your search.

Location

We've all heard the old adage that the three most important things in real estate are location, location, location. Although it's become a well-worn cliché, it's overused because it's usually spot on. That doesn't mean, however, that you should limit yourself to the space just down the street. There are other factors you need to consider.

If you're looking to build a team, understanding where the labor force is can be vital for sustaining growth through recruiting. Some companies place value being in proximity to their client base to make visiting and hosting prospects easier. Others may want better access to area amenities such as gyms, restaurants and shopping that could help create a better work/life balance.

Fit

Coworking isn't a one-size-fits-all-solution. Each space has its own energy and community. Some are even specialized to tailor to unique niches. There are spaces for women only and the health conscious. There are others specifically designed for different industries, including tech firms, legal practices and even cannabis growers. Be sure to ask questions when touring to get a better sense of what each space is like.

Stylistically, coworking is also growing up. Bold colors and patterns are fun, but they may not be right for everyone. Your surroundings say a lot about your company's culture, and if you're hosting clients regularly you may opt for a more sophisticated space with higher end finishes. Understanding your business goals and needs should help you prioritize what's important.

Perks

Many perks, including access to coffee bars, high-speed WIFI, and conference rooms, have seemingly become commoditized by coworking operators. To help differentiate themselves, these operators are beginning to take a hospitality like approach.

Tenants today can find everything from on-site childcare and locker rooms to rentable private event space and organized networking events. Some providers also offer discounts to use preferred vendors for business services like payroll and technical support. Maximizing these added perks can really make or break the decision on a specific space.

Flexibility

One of the major advantages of coworking space compared to a traditional office lease is increased flexibility. Committing to space for a shorter period of time is great, but coworking space creates other ways to help tenants remain flexible.

If you're forecasting significant future growth, you may want to select a space with enough room to accommodate that need to avoid any interruption in business operations caused by relocation. Worried distractions could be overwhelming or that privacy could become an issue? There are plenty of options that offer a wide range of workspace solutions, from private desks to secured suites for teams.

Finding a coworking operator with multiple locations could provide a workspace solution for team members who are scattered across the country. This is also a great option if you find yourself traveling between the same locations repeatedly.

Price

Comparing pricing between locations isn't always apples to apples. Workspace providers may or may not include many things in their advertised pricing. Pay attention to the fine print as some coworking companies charge for things like parking, phone service, conference room time, printing/copying, admin services and coffee. Factor in any of these charges when comparing your options as sometimes a space may appear less expensive than it really is.

With more coworking options than ever before, find one that works for you. Don't settle. No two spaces are the same, but keep in mind that your surroundings say a lot about who you are. Pick one that conveys the message you want to send to employees and clients.

Maximizing perks could help offset some cost, but make sure you understand what you're being charged. If you do a little homework then you should be able to focus on what really matters most – your business.

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Sue Rogers is principal of Transaction Management Cresa in Houston.

WeWork will have a fourth Houston location. Photo courtesy of WeWork

WeWork doubles down on downtown with its 4th Houston coworking space announced

Coworkers unite

WeWork has decided to open yet another coworking location in Houston — this time, the new office is just down the street from an existing location.

The New York City-based coworking company has opened three locations across Houston — one in downtown's The Jones Building, one in the Galleria Office Tower I, and one in Hughes Landing in The Woodlands, which was recently announced in May.

The new location will occupy 56,000 square feet of the 25th and 26th floors of 609 Main, Houston-based Hines' 48-story trophy tower that joined the Houston skyline in early 2017. The building now has tenants to the tune of United Airlines, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Orrick, and Hogan Lovells, to name a few.

"The modern office is evolving and providing a coworking component is essential to a building's long-term viability," says Philip Croker, Hines senior managing director, in a release. "Adding a tenant of WeWork's caliber further reinforces the strength of 609 Main and will deliver an outstanding amenity for the building and its future occupants."

In addition to the usual WeWork perks — like 24/7 building access, coffee, community events, and business resources — members will also have access to a 7,000-square-foot high-performance fitness center in the building and the lobby coffee shop.

Michael Anderson and Damon Thames with Colvill Office Properties represented Hines in the transaction and Mark O'Donnell with Savills Commercial Real Estate negotiated on behalf of WeWork.

"Houston is a thriving business hub and innovative city," says Nathan Lenahan, general manager of WeWork, in a release. "We are excited to expand our footprint with a second location downtown and continue to strengthen the WeWork network with the opening of 609 Main Street."

In May, WeWork announced that it would be opening 1,000 desks in its new Woodlands location, but the company also disclosed that 775 desks will be added to the Galleria location in 2019 too. In the same release, an additional 1,000 desks were noted to be in the works, pending new leases. This figure could have been referring to the then-unannounced downtown location.

"In 2018, WeWork grew its footprint in a very big way in Houston. Now, in 2019, we're growing even more, but in a way that's as much about desks as it is impact," says Roniel Bencosme, WeWork Houston's community director, in the news release. "In this next year, WeWork will build a constellation of opportunity through new spaces spread across Houston, and opening in the Woodlands is key to that effort."

Regionally, WeWork has a presence in five cities in Texas — Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Austin, and Plano — but will launch in its sixth Texas city, San Antonio, in early 2020.

Last month, WeWork announced that Houston's Jones Building location would be one of three WeWork locations selected for a 3D printing pilot program. Additionally, earlier this year the company announced its early-stage incubator program, WeWork Labs, also in the Jones Building location.

Downtown Houston has over 100,000-square-feet of new coworking space expected to open by the end of 2020. Shobeir Ansari/Getty Images

These are the 3 downtown Houston coworking concepts expecting to deliver by end of 2020

Digesting downtown

Recently, Houston got a "needs improvement" on its coworking space report card — but the tide is changing as more and more coworking spaces plan to open in town — especially in the downtown sector.

Houston's current coworking space volume ranked it No. 15, according to a report from Colliers International, which fell behind Dallas and Austin. However, Houston has many future projects due to deliver in the next 18 months or so — including over 100,000 square feet of space in downtown alone.

Downtown has a slew of features that's made it attractive to coworking companies — public transportation, various retail and restaurant concepts, green spaces — but commercial real estate has typically been reserved for major corporations who can afford it, says Robert Pieroni, Central Houston's director of economic development.

"There's been a lot of new opportunities for companies — startups and companies who previously couldn't afford to be in the downtown market — to now be in the downtown market," Pieroni tells InnovationMap. "So, we've seen an influx of smaller companies particularly in the tech sector."

However, it's those major corporations sprinkled around downtown that have made Houston so attractive to startups and accelerators, Pieroni says, and these major corporations are willing to connect with entrepreneurs and startups.

"There's no difference on paper in our talent and the innovation hubs around the world," Pieroni says. "The one thing we have to offer startups that other places don't have to offer in Texas is we have the largest corporate presence in the state of Texas here in Houston."

The new coworking options are slowly changing the way commercial brokers approach leases for startups. Traditionally, brokers are wary of short-term leases.

"It's not because [the startups] are afraid they are going to go out of business," Pieroni says. "They're afraid that they are going to grow at such a rapid pace."

Two new-to-Houston tech companies opened offices in downtown Houston just this year. Oil and gas AI-enabled analytics platform, Ruths.ai, and global robotics company UiPath, which has a presence in 18 countries, moved into the Main&Co at 114 Main. And, Pieroni says, Central Houston expects more to come in that arena.

"We're having conversations daily with multiple companies that are evaluating coming to downtown Houston," he says.

Here's a breakdown of the three coworking spaces expecting to deliver in downtown Houston over the next 18 months.

Spaces brings second largest coworking space in downtown

Spaces, an Amsterdam-based coworking space company that entered the Houston market with a lease in Kirby Grove announced in 2017, has two more Spaces locations planned for end of 2019. Courtesy of Midway

Size: 63,000 square feet of workspace in repurposed retail space.

Estimated timeline: Opening later in 2019

Special features: Open space, smaller team rooms, private offices, phone booths, and a 3,000-square foot rooftop patio.

Other locations: Amsterdam-based Spaces has 3,300 flexible workspace locations across the world — another in Houston's Kirby Grove and one coming to Two Post Oak Central.

Overheard: "Spaces fits perfectly in GreenStreet, a mixed-use district that is being redeveloped as the new model of urban lifestyle," says Chris Seckinger, vice president and investment manager for Midway, in a release.

Life Time Work announces second Houston location

GreenStreet will soon have coworking space and a gym from Life Time. Courtesy of Midway Cos.

Square footage: 38,000 square feet of coworking space (additional 56,000 square feet of wellness space adjacent)

Estimated timeline: Opening in 2020.

Special features: Private offices, reserved desk, events, coffee, as well as other services.

Other locations: Last year, Minnesota-based Life Time Inc. opened its first location of Life Time Work in Pennsylvania as well as announced its second location headed to Houston's CIty Centre, which is expected to open later this year.

Overheard: "GreenStreet aligns well with our vision to meet the changing needs of consumers by bringing Life Time — through our athletic destinations and coworking space — as a lifestyle asset to bustling and successful developments," says Parham Javaheri, Minnesota-based Life Time's executive vice president of real estate and development, in a release. "We look forward to becoming an anchor to this new model of urban living in 2020."

Brookfield Properties' Houston Center renovation

Brookfield Properties is currently renovating Houston Center. One of the new amenities will be coworking space. Courtesy of Brookfield

Square footage: The total project is projected to be 4 million square feet, but it's unclear how much of that will be for the coworking aspect.

Estimated timeline: Construction should be concluded by late 2020.

Special features: A new central plaza and greenspace, a digital water wall, entertainment space, an iconic stair connection to new landscaped terraces, two-story glass façade, reclad skybridges, a new 10,000-SF fitness center, new dining and retail.

Other locations: Currently, Brookfield doesn't have any other coworking locations in Houston.

Overheard: "Brookfield continues to look to the future by transforming another of their Downtown properties into an amenity-rich development. This progressive, strategic shift accommodates the blurred lines of today's live-work-play corporate culture that tenants desire," says Bob Eury, Downtown District president, in a release. "In addition, the re-imagining of Houston Center and McKinney Street will add to Downtown's list of attractions creating a bustling linear space lined with restaurants, nightlife, parks and landscaping, connecting Main Street to Discovery Green and Avenida Houston."


The MKT expects to revolutionize the live-work-play model with everything from retail and restaurant to office and coworking space. Courtesy of The MKT

Massive mixed-use project to bring creative office and coworking space to the Houston Heights

Meet The MKT

On a stroll or a spin down the Heights Hike and Bike Trail, you might not notice a complete transformation is eminent. The MKT — a mixed-use renovation and build out project — is getting ready to break ground.

The five-building, 200,000-square-foot project will bring 30 retail and restaurant concepts, and 100,000 square feet of office space together along with four acres of green space, parking, and an outdoor venue alongside 1,000 linear feet of the trail between North Shepherd Drive and Herkimer Street. The MKT name comes from the Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroad — later known as the Katy Railroad — that was transformed into the Heights Hike and Bike Trail.

MKT is a joint partnership between Houston-based Radom Capital, which is behind Heights Mercantile down the street, and Triten Real Estate Partners with capital partner, Long Wharf. The architect behind the project is Austin-based Michael Hsu Office of Architecture. Shop Companies is doing the retail leasing, and JLL's Houston office is coordinating the office leasing space.

"There's nothing in Houston that's like this that's upscale creative office space with a huge retail and restaurant component that's located on a major hike and bike trail right in the city," Russell Hodges, managing director of agency leasing at JLL, tells InnovationMap.

Ultimately, the project, which will break ground in the next 60 to 90 days, is a renovation, as the five industrial buildings that make up The MKT currently exist and were built in the '70s. The transformation will include redoing the facades of the buildings and incorporating green space.

The creative office space, which will be in three of the buildings, is doing something a little different than most office buildings in Houston. Originally, Hodges says they expected interest from TAMI tenants — which stands for technology, advertising, media, and information companies — but the interest they have had so far has been diverse.

"The project caters to the tenant that's looking for something different — looking for, honestly for lack of a better word, cool space," Hodges says. "Someone looking for something to help differentiate their business to leverage their office space to recruit and retain talent."

Another unexpected interested party — coworking tenants. Hodges says the project could house anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 square feet of coworking space if the right coworking operator comes around.

"I don't think we were necessarily looking for coworking, per say," Hodges says. "But, we've had significant interest from coworking operators. Based on that level of interest, we think that there's demand for coworking in the area. We're looking for the right operator who's brand aligns with the brand of the project. I don't think that's every coworking brand, necessarily."

The team behind The MKT are also planning a second phase of the project for a large space just east of phase one. That concept has yet to be designed, and there aren't any specifics currently available.

Big picture

Courtesy of The MKT

On the project's website, this rendering can be interacted with to see 3D designs and before and after shots.

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

health is wealth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of Healthiby

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

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

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

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

Homecoming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IM: How is technology changing the industry?

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

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

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

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