Dallas-based ridesharing app gears up for expansion across Houston and beyond

HOUSTON INNOVATOR PODCAST EPISODE 118

Winston Wright leads Houston operations for Dallas-based Alto, which is taking on the likes of Uber and Lyft. Photo courtesy of Alto

Before he started his current job, Winston Wright would have thought a startup attempting to compete with the likes of Uber and Lyft was going to fight an uphill battle. Now, he sees how much opportunity there is in the rideshare market.

Wright is the Houston general manager for Alto, a Dallas-based company that's grown its driving service platform into five markets — first from Dallas into Houston and then to Los Angeles, Miami, and, most recently, Washington D.C. Alto's whole goal is to provide reliability and improve user experience.

"We're elevating ridesharing," Wright says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "With Alto, you get a consistent, safe experience with. a high level of hospitality. And that's a key differentiator for us in the market, and we're able to replicate that time and time again."

Wright, whose background is in sales and operations in hospitality, says his vision for alto in Houston is to expand the service — which operates in the central and western parts of the city — throughout the greater Houston area.

"The vision I have for this market is that, as we move forward and continue to expand, that we're covering all of Houston," he says.

This will mean expanding the company's physical presence too. Alto recently announced its larger space in Dallas, and now the Houston operations facility will grow its footprint too.

Wright says he's also focused on growing his team. Over the past two years, pandemic notwithstanding, the company has maintained hiring growth. Alto's drivers are hired as actual employees, not contractors, so they have access to benefits and paid time off.

The company, which raised $45 million in its last round of investment, is expanding next to the Silicon Valley area, followed by three to five more markets in 2022. Then, by the end of 2023, it's Alto's mission to have a completely electronic fleet of vehicles.

"Our goal is to have over 3,000 EV cars and be the first company with a 100 percent electric fleet by 2023," Wright says.

Wright shares more on Alto's future in Texas and beyond, as well as what's challenging him most as he grows the team locally. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Houston's tech workforce makes double the average salary — but when it comes to job growth, the city needs improvement, according to a new report. Photo via Pexels

Report: Here's how Houston ranks when it comes to tech salaries and job growth

by the numbers

It truly pays to work in the tech sector in the Houston metro area.

A report published January 11 by Austin-based tech company Spanning Cloud Apps LLC shows workers in the Houston area can more than double their pay when they hold down a tech job. In fact, Houston ranks fifth among the country's largest metro areas for the pay advantage in tech occupations versus all occupations.

According to the report, the median annual pay for a Houston-area tech job stood at $91,190 in 2019. By comparison, the median annual pay for all occupations sat at $40,570. That puts the area's median tech pay 124.8 percent higher than the median pay for all occupations, giving Houston a fifth-place ranking in that category.

At 124.8 percent, Houston is sandwiched between fourth-place Dallas-Fort Worth (127 percent) and sixth-place San Antonio (124.7 percent) in terms of the pay premium offered by tech jobs. At No. 27 is Austin, with a 106.1 percent pay premium for tech jobs.

As for median tech pay, DFW ($91,760) claims the No. 12 spot among large metro areas. Meanwhile, Houston is in 15th place ($91,190), Austin is in 24th place ($85,640), and San Antonio is in 30th place ($81,870).

The report identifies 84,040 tech workers in the Houston area. In that regard, Houston ranks 13th among large metro areas, with DFW at No. 5 (158,490), Austin at No. 18 (66,800), and San Antonio at No. 35 (28,200).

While Houston earns a high ranking in the Spanning report for the pay gap between tech jobs and all jobs, it's toward the bottom of the pile when it comes to the share of tech jobs, the report indicates. Among large metro areas, Houston ranks 41st for the share of computer and math occupations in the workforce, 2.8 percent.

San Jose, California, takes the No. 1 spot in that category, with 12.7 percent of employees working in computer and math occupations. Austin ranks sixth (6.2 percent), DFW holds down the No. 13 spot (4.3 percent), and San Antonio comes in at No. 42 (2.7 percent).

Spanning based its report on data collected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In February 2020, the Greater Houston Partnership indicated the region was home to about 150,000 tech workers, far above the number tallied in the Spanning report. The partnership says the region boasts the 12th largest tech sector in the U.S., generating an annual economic impact of $28.1 billion. Among the country's 20 largest metro areas, Houston ranks first for the share of tech workers at non-tech employers.

From August to September, Houston saw an 11 percent rise in postings for tech jobs, according to a third-quarter report from tech career hub Dice. That was one of the highest growth rates among the country's largest metro areas.

"As the home of NASA's human space program and headquarters to the global energy industry, Houston has long been known for its engineering prowess," the Greater Houston Partnership says. "Although most of Houston's technology talent is embedded in some of the area's largest industries such as energy and health care, subsectors such as software development, programming, and database management are also growing."

In the tech sector, Houston is bound to benefit from Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. (HPE) shifting its headquarters from Silicon Valley to its campus under construction in Spring. The company praises Houston as "an attractive market for us to recruit and retain talent, and a great place to do business."

HPE already employs about 2,600 people in the Houston area. The move of its headquarters to Spring could mean the addition of hundreds of local jobs in the coming years.

"HPE's headquarters relocation is a signature moment for Houston, accelerating the momentum that has been building for the last few years as we position Houston as a leading digital tech hub," Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, said in December.

Chicago and New York residents are eyeing Houston. Getty Images

Report finds two major metros are the biggest sources of new Houstonians

new to hou

Despite the current state of things — a pandemic, historic unemployment numbers, and an unstable economy — people are still thinking of moving. And, according to Apartment List, they have eyes on Texas.

The website's quarterly Renter Migration Report is out, using searches made on its platform between January 1 and April 15, 2020, to map where renters are looking to make their next move.

Chicago (3.3 percent), New York (3.4 percent), and San Antonio (22.8 percent) are also eyeing Houston, while H-Town residents are looking to keep it close in Dallas (8.9 percent), San Antonio (6.8 percent), and Austin (6.6 percent).

Austin is the most popular Texas city in the report, with the region increasingly being seen as an alternative to the expensive coastal metros where tech jobs have historically clustered. A staggering 70.9 percent of searches for apartments in Austin come from outside the metro, Apartment List reports, the highest share among the nation's 50 largest metros.

Aside from the 25 percent searching from San Antonio, the 4.6 percent from Dallas, and the 4.5 percent from Houston, 4.2 percent of renters searching for apartments in Austin currently live in the New York City metro. Furthermore, 2.5 percent of inbound searches to Austin are coming from Los Angeles and an additional 2.5 percent are coming from the San Francisco Bay Area.

For as many people who want to enter Austin from San Antonio, there's nearly the same amount that would be doing the opposite. Austin renters searched for San Antonio (16.8 percent), Dallas (7.9 percent), and College Station (6.4 percent).

While current Chicago residents and New Yorkers are typing "Dallas" into their search bars, accounting for 3.6 percent and 3 percent of data exploring Big D, respectively, it's San Antonians who are truly interested. A whopping 23.1 percent of current Alamo City residents made exploratory apartment searches in Dallas this past quarter. Overall, 32.8 percent of those looking for a place to live in Dallas are searching from outside the metro.

Meanwhile, 8.7 percent of apartment hunters currently living in Dallas are looking to move elsewhere. They searched for Houston (4.9 percent), San Antonio (4.8 percent), and Los Angeles (4.5 percent).

And though we've heard about it several times, where does San Antonio fall in all this? Turns out renters who currently live there are thinking about moving to Dallas (17.7 percent), followed by Houston (12.4 percent) and Austin (8.4 percent). Residents of McAllen (5 percent), Dallas (3.9 percent), and Houston (3.5 percent) are considering making San Antonio home.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston usurped the Dallas metro to grab the No. 2 ranking in the United States for big cities attracting corporate relocation and expansion projects. Getty Images

Report: Houston ranked No. 2 in the country for corporate relocation, expansion projects landed in 2019

big business

In Texas, Houston rules the corporate relocation and expansion kingdom.

Site Selection magazine ranks Houston second among large U.S. metro areas for the number of corporate relocation and expansion projects landed in 2019. That's up two spots from the previous year's ranking.

On the new list, published in the magazine's March issue, Houston replaces Dallas-Fort Worth in the No. 2 spot among metros with at least 1 million residents, pushing DFW down to No. 3. Austin takes the No. 6 spot.

Last year, Houston landed 276 projects that met the magazine's ranking criteria. With 416 projects, Chicago earned the No. 1 spot. Dallas-Fort Worth scored 261 projects in 2019, while Austin snagged 95.

Qualifying projects for Site Selection's rankings must have a minimum investment of $1 million, create at least 20 new jobs, or involve at least 20,000 square feet of new space.

A couple of notable Houston corporate relocations or expansions in 2019 were:

"This latest ranking is more evidence of Houston's strength as a destination for corporate relocation and investment," Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, says in a March 3 statement. "Our low cost of doing business, access to quality talent, and pro-growth mentality continue to make Houston an attractive place for companies across the country and around the world looking for expansion and relocation opportunities. Our strong, diverse economy is a big part of what makes Houston a great global city."

Commercial real estate services company Colliers International notes that Houston is one of the country's most competitive cities for corporate relocation and expansion.

"Houston's ability to foster continued expansion in future-growth industries responsible for generating high-quality, well-paid jobs across all business sectors has placed it in the top tier among U.S. cities," Colliers International says. "With its numerous business advantages, Houston is well positioned to successfully compete in today's global marketplace."

Among those advantages, Colliers says, are:

  • Two major airports
  • Massive seaport
  • Extensive rail and road infrastructure
  • 90 foreign consulates

In February 2019, René Lacerte, founder and CEO of Bill.com, said the Palo Alto, California-based company picked Houston for its first U.S. outpost following an "extensive national search." Bill.com settled on Houston because of its talent pool, quality of life, and business-friendly environment, he said.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has said the Bill.com expansion represents a "another great example of Houston's building momentum as a leading digital tech hub."

A second example is Amazon Web Services' July 2019 expansion in Houston. Kris Satterthwaite, the company's Gulf Coast enterprise sales leader, praised the city as "a fantastic place to live and work," and as having "a strong local economy that we look forward to investing in and growing together [with]."

The Houston-DFW-Austin trifecta of top-performing markets for corporate relocation and expansion in 2019 helped propel Texas to win Site Selection's Governor's Cup Award for the eighth consecutive year.

In accepting the award, Gov. Greg Abbott called Texas "the most dynamic economy in the nation."

"Texas' skilled, diverse, and ever-expanding workforce drives our booming economy," Abbott said. "I want to thank all of our local, regional and statewide economic development teams for their work to expand economic opportunity in Texas, as well as the companies that continue to invest and create more jobs throughout the Lone Star State."

Where are all those new Newstonians coming from? Texas. Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Houston named on a new list of most popular places to move to in the U.S.

Still booming

A new study shows Texas' major metros are some of the hottest places to move to in the U.S. — and Houston tops them all.

Real estate site CommercialCafe recently looked at "metro-to-metro" migration to see which areas are "winning" in terms of new residents, and a trio of Lone Star cities appears in the top five.

With an average net gain of 32,821 residents, Houston ranks third overall. Dallas-Fort Worth, with an average net gain of 30,639, follows at fourth. And Austin, with an average net gain of 26,733 people, is fifth. (The migration data was based on U.S. Census yearly average estimates for 2013-2017.)

"Among the three Texas metros on our list, Houston saw the largest population increase through metro-to-metro migration," says the report.

So where are these new residents coming from? Elsewhere in Texas. Houston gained the most new residents from DFW (16,306), followed by Austin (9,304) and San Antonio (7,443).

Those are also the most popular locations for Houston residents to move to. On average, more than 15,000 Houston residents relocated to DFW, followed closely by Austin (14,082) and San Antonio (8,692).

Houston's growth "is visible in Space City's many business districts, which added almost 18 million square feet of office space between 2013 and 2017, according to Yardi Matrix data," says the report. "This amount surpasses that of any other metro in the top 10. The Houston housing market is also on the upswing. The number of housing units here increased by an average of 2.1 percent — or 52,841 units — each year."

Outside of Texas, the report shows that folks are flocking to Phoenix (No. 1) and California's Inland Empire (No. 2).

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston has affordablility going for its startups. Photo by Zview/Getty Images

Houston named among the most affordable cities for startups

Start up at a low cost

Houston has been long known for its great quality of life and low cost of living, and a new study found that when it comes to startup companies specifically, the greater Houston area has a lot to offer.

Clever, a real estate tool and blog, identified Houston as the sixth best metro in the United States for affordability for startups. The study looked into startup density, investment, the education level of the local population, and the cost of living, and more within the top 50 most populated cities in the U.S.

The resulting ranking had all four of Texas' major metros in the top 10. Austin ranked No. 1 overall, Dallas-Fort Worth ranked at No. 3 (after Atlanta), and San Antonio-New Braunfels came in at No. 8. The study ranked each city based on its density of startups, its growth, investment in business, and its cost of living.

At No. 6 for growth, Houston ranked the highest out of its Texas counterparts, but San Antonio and Houston share the ranking of No. 6 for investment.

"Considering Houston's metro is tied with San Antonio's for the highest average investment in small business, and the proximity to great food, the Gulf of Mexico coast, and attractions like Minute Maid Park and the NASA Space Center, we would definitely suggest considering starting a business here," reads the report.

The Houston area touts a startup density of over 25 percent, which earns it 12th place in that particular category. The report finds that Houston has 6.89 million residents across 8,265.8 square miles and 6.54 percent of Houstonians work at a startup, while 2.8 percent are self employed.

When it comes to GDP and education, Houston has a lot of bragging rights. The Houston area's GDP is reported to be $490 billion, which is the 7th highest in the country, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.Meanwhile, almost a quarter of the region's population has a bachelor's degree or higher.

Last month, InnovationMap reported that Inc. 5000 named Houston among its hottest startup cities, citing the three-year revenue growth of Houston's companies that made it on to the Inc. 5000 list. Just before that ranking, Business Facilities magazine named Houston the fourth best startup ecosystem in the U.S., as well as the fourth best city for economic growth potential. Similarly, Commercial Cafe recently named Houston a top large city for early stage startups.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston startups raise funding, secure partnerships across space, health, and sports tech

short stories

It's been a new month and a few Houston startup wrapped up November with news you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, three Houston startups across health care, space, and sports tech have some news they announced recently.

Houston digital health company launches new collaboration

Koda Health has a new partner. Image via kodahealthcare.com

Houston-based Koda Health announced a new partnership with data analytics company, CareJourney.

"This collaboration will aim to develop benchmarking data for advance care planning and end-of-life metrics," the company wrote on LinkedIn. "Koda will provide clinical and practice-based expertise to guide the construction of toolkits, dashboards, and benchmarks that improve ACP programs and end-of-life outcomes."

Koda Health announced the partnership in November..

“Beyond the checkbox of a billing code or completed advance directive, it’s important to build and measure a process that promotes thoughtful planning among patients, their care team, and their loved ones,” says Desh Mohan, MD, Koda's chief medical officer, in the post.

CareJourney was founded in 2014 in Arlington, Virginia.

"I'm hopeful next-generation quality measures will honor the patient’s voice in defining what it means to deliver high quality care, and our commitment is to measure progress on that important endeavor," noted Aneesh Chopra, CareJourney's co-founder and president.

Sports tech startup raises $500,000 pre-seed investment

BeONE Sports has created a technology to enhance athletic training. Photo via beonesports.com

Houston-founded BeONE Sports, an athlete training technology company, announced last month that it closed an oversubscribed round of pre-seed funding. The company announced the raise on its social media pages that the round included $500,000 invested.

Earlier in November, BeONE Sports completed its participation in CodeLaunch DFW 2022. The company was one of six finalists in the program, which concluded with a pitch event on November 16.

Space tech company snags government contracts

Graphic via cognitive space.com

The U.S. Air Force has extended Houston-based Cognitive Space’s contract under a new TACFI, Tactical Funding Increase, award. According to the release, the contract "builds on Cognitive Space’s work to develop a tailored version of CNTIENT for AFRL to achieve ultimate responsiveness and optimized dynamic satellite scheduling via a cloud-based API.

The $1.2 million award follows a $1.5 million U.S. Air Force Small Business Innovation Research award that the company won in 2020 to integrate CNTIENT with commercial ground station providers in support of AFRL’s Hybrid Architecture Demonstration program.

“The TACFI award allows Cognitive Space to continue supporting AFRL’s vitally important HAD program to help deliver commercial space data to the warfighter,” says Guy de Carufel, the company’s founder and CEO, in the releasee. “CNTIENT’s tailored analytics platform will enable HAD and the GLUE platform to integrate modern statistical approaches to optimize mission planning, data collection, and latency estimation.”

Houston airport powers up new gaming lounge for bored and weary travelers

game on and wheels down

Local gamers now have a new option to while away those flight delays and passenger pickup waits at Hobby Airport.

Houston's William P. Hobby Airport is now one the first airports in the country to offer what's dubbed as the "ultimate gaming experience for travelers." The airport has launched a premium video game lounge inside the international terminal called Gameway.

That means weary, bored, or early travelers can chill in the lounge and plug into15 top-of-the-line, luxury gaming stations: six Xbox stations, five Playstation stations, four PC stations, all with the newest games on each platform. Aficionados will surely appreciate the Razer's Iskur Gaming Chairs and Kraken Headsets, along with dedicated high speed internet at each PC station.

The Gameway lounge pays homage to gaming characters, with wall accents that hark to motherboard circuits Crucial for any real gamer: plenty of sweet and savory snacks are available for purchase to fuel up on those fantasy, battle, or sporting endeavors. As for the gaming console stations, players can expect high definition screens, comfortable seating, and plenty of space for belongings.

Make video games a part of your pre-flight ritual. Photo courtesy of Gameway

This gaming addition comes just in time for the holiday rush, when travelers can expect long lines, delays, and are already planning for extended time for trips. As CultureMap previously reported, Hobby will see a big boost in travelers this season — the largest since 2019. Now, those on a long journey can plug in, decompress, and venture on virtual journeys of their own.

Texan travelers may be familiar with Gameway; the company opened its first two locations at Dallas Fort-Worth Airport. The buzzy lounge an industry wave of acclaim: Gameway was awarded Best Traveler Amenity in 2019 at the ACI-NA Awards and in 2020, voted “Most Innovative Customer Experience” at the Airport Experience Traveler Awards, per press materials.

Two new locations followed in 2021: LAX Terminal 6 and Charlotte Douglas International Airport. The first of Gameway's Ultra lounge brand opened in September at Delta's Terminal 3 in LAX.

Gaming culture is a way of life in the Bayou City , which hosts Comicpalooza, the largest pop culture festival in Texas, and is home to several e-sports teams, including the pro esports squad, the Houston Outlaws.

A delayed flight never seemed so ideal for gamers flying out of Hobby. Photo courtesy of Gameway

“Gameway is the real reason to get to the airport early,” said Co-Founder Jordan Walbridge in a statement. “Our mission is to upgrade the typical wait-at-the-gate experience with a new stimulating, entertaining option for travelers of all ages.”

Here's guessing Hobby might just see an increase in missed or late flight arrivals — as travelers simply must beat those big bosses, solve puzzles, or win sports matches in the lounge.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.