New study found that Texas has the 9th largest economy. Photo by gguy44/Getty Images

If Texas were a country — and plenty of Texans wish that were the case — it would rank among the world's 10 largest economies. Economic development officials are now touting that fact as evidence of Houston and the rest of Texas being a great place to start or relocate a business.

In a January 27 news release, the nonprofit Texas Economic Development Corp. noted that based on 2019 data from the International Monetary Fund, Texas would boast the world's ninth largest economy if it were a country. The news release lists the state's gross domestic product, or GDP — a key indicator of economic size and strength — as $1.9 trillion.

Texas' GDP would put it ahead of 10th-place Brazil ($1.8 trillion GDP, based on 2019 data from the International Monetary Fund) and behind eighth-place Italy ($2 trillion GDP), the economic development group says. Previously, Texas had ranked 10th for GDP when compared with countries.

If you dig deeper into the data, the competition between Texas and Brazil is even closer than the news release reveals. Texas' 2019 GDP stood at $1.844 trillion, giving it a razor-thin edge over Brazil ($1.839 trillion). Nonetheless, Texas beats Brazil in terms of economic strength.

It turns out that the Houston metro area contributes about one-fourth of Texas' GDP. In 2019, the region's GDP stood at $472.1 billion. The size of Houston's economy ranks seven among U.S. metro areas. If the Houston metro area were a state, it would rank 15th for GDP.

In the wake of last year's pandemic-clobbered economy, the Greater Houston Partnership predicts the region will add 35,000 to 52,000 net new jobs this year.

"The virus has dealt this region a significant blow, and the reality is it will take many months — if not years — to regain the jobs lost and repair the damage," Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the partnership, said in December. "We have our work cut out for us in growing our economy out of the hole it is currently in. But we are Houston and I believe we will recover. We will continue to work to make this a truly global city, one with a strong, diverse, 21st century economy that provides a great quality of life and opportunity for all."

While the pandemic has strained the state's economy as a whole, the International Monetary Fund estimates Texas should maintain the No. 9 spot for GDP in 2021 when stacked against countries. Texas would be wedged between No. 8 France ($2.1 trillion GDP) and No. 9 Canada ($1.76 trillion GDP). This year, the U.S. GDP is projected to remain the world's largest ($21.9 trillion), with China in second place (nearly $16.5 trillion).

"This is more than just a statistic. The fact that our state, if it were a nation, would be the world's ninth largest economy shows that Texas is well positioned to outperform economically, regardless of the challenges that may lie ahead," Robert Allen, president and CEO of the Texas Economic Development Corp., says in the release.

Allen's group cites the pending move of Hewlett Packard Enterprise's headquarters from Silicon Valley to the Houston suburb of Spring as one factor demonstrating the power of Texas' economy.

"Why come to Texas from other states? Our highly competitive tax climate, world-class infrastructure, a skilled workforce of 14 million people, business-friendly economic policies, and abundant quality of life," Allen says. "Texas obviously has a lot to offer. Our standing as the world's ninth largest economy and our long-term expansion shows that Texas also offers rock-solid stability to companies that want to locate here."

Houstonians gained valuable time on the road in 2020. Photo by LUNAMARINA/Getty Images

New study drives home how drastically Houston traffic dropped in 2020

data-driven

Houstonians are still gauging all that they have lost during the pandemic, but one thing they gained in 2020 was time — specifically, in traffic.

Drivers who noticed less cars on the roads were witnessing a 33 percent drop in traffic in 2020, compared to 2019. That data comes courtesy of a new study by Rice University's Kinder Institute for Urban Research.

Houston traffic congestion levels dropped from 24 percent to an impressive 16 percent during the pandemic. In April, during the peak of area stay-at-home efforts, Houston's congestion level plummeted to 6 percent, the lowest of the year. February saw the highest congestion level of 2020 at 26 percent.

For some perspective, in 2019, a 30-minute took an extra 37.5 minutes than a trip during less congested conditions, the study notes.

Further illustrating the headache of 2019 commuting, local drivers lost some 119 hours of extra travel time during peak hours. The study also found that in 2019, Houston drivers lost 119 hours of extra travel time driving during peak hours.

Compare that to 2020, where local drivers lost a mere 71 hours of travel time, which is two full days less than 2019. What can one do with an extra two days? Besides the obvious Netflix and chill option, that savings offers enough time to read 3,588 pages of Marcel Proust's 4,211-page whopper, In Search of Lost Time, the study notes.

Less cars on the road was extremely beneficial for the environment, the study adds. U.S. greenhouse gas emission from energy and industry dropped more than 10 percent in 2020 — the lowest recorded level in 30 years.

Thus, the good news is that with more Houstonians working from home, commute times and the local environment benefitted. However, the study notes that with the advent of COVD vaccinations, a subsequent return to work, and with no real policy changes planned, Houston's traffic headaches could soon return.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Jim Havelka, founder and CEO of InformAI, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the difference his technology can make on the health care industry. Photo courtesy of InformAI

Houston health tech founder shares the monumental impact data can have on health care

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 68

Hospitals are processing massive amounts of data on a daily basis — but few are optimizing this information in life-saving capacities. A Houston company is seeking to change that.

InformAI has created several tech products to allow hospitals to tap into their data for game-changing health care.

"The convergence of technology, data, and deep learning has really opened up an avenue to look at large volumes of information and look at patterns that can be helpful in patient diagnosis and treatment planning," says CEO Jim Havelka on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

The InformAI team has developed two platforms that each of the company's tech products works within. One focuses on medical images and looks for subtle patterns of a medical condition, while the other can datamine patient information to identify patient risk predictors.

Currently, InformAI's sinusitis-focused product is undergoing Food and Drug Administration approval. About a quarter of the population has sinus-related issues, and the technology can help treatment and diagnosis, Havelka says.

"The data that we train our algorithms on are equivalent of 30 careers of a typical ear, nose, and throat surgeon. We see 30 times more patients in our training set than an ENT physician would see in a lifetime," Havelka says. "Being able to bring into play the patterns and unique subtleties that this data can bring into the decision making only makes the ENT more productive and more efficient, as well as creates better outcomes for patients."

InformAI has received venture capital support as well as a National Science Foundation award to advance its work. The company hopes to introduce a new round of funding later this year.

Havelka doesn't mince words when it comes to the importance of InformAI being located in Houston. The company's team works out of JLABS @ TMC as well as TMC Innovation Institute.

"Those relationships have been very helpful in getting data to build these particular products," Havelka says. "Just the Texas Medical Center alone has roughly 10 million patient encounters every year. The ability to get access to data and, equally important, the medical experts has been a tremendous benefit to InformAI."

Havelka discusses more about the revolutionary technology InformAI is working on — as well as advice he has for other health tech founders — on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Ryan Sitton's new book, "Crucial Decisions," touches on an array of topics and how data is the key to making the positive and impactful decisions. Photo via Getty Images

Houston energy expert on how big data yields more reliable results

Guest column

Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of need tells us that at our core, humans crave safety and sustenance. When you turn on the light each morning while getting ready for work, or when you check your bank account and see your paycheck arrived on schedule, we expect every aspect of our daily lives to work.

In today's world, we often take these things for granted, until reliability is threatened. Our dependency is revealed in the frenzy over a potential toilet paper shortage and in the panic buying of gasoline in a hurricane. When things in society are consistent, economies thrive. However, when you introduce fear and uncertainty, things begin to spiral. It is in these times that the decisions we make can have the biggest impact on the world around us.

The link between impactful decisions and reliability has brought our society to a pivotal moment in history. We have created a society so reliable and developed that even during the coronavirus lockdown, the basic needs of Americans could be met with only 25 percent of our workforce actively working. By increasing productivity using machines and systems, we have been able to improve our overall quality of life, but not without a price. As a result of such high improvement, we as a society have come to not only expect, but demand, reliability at all times.

When dependability waivers and anxiety rises, those in key decision-making positions are faced with unprecedented situations. Due to distress and a lack of understanding of certain situations, those in decision making positions are often times forced to make decisions based on rapid response and emotion. Because of this, consistency and reliability suffer.

A prime example of an emotional response is the coronavirus shutdown that occurred earlier this year. As a response to the growing fear and panic over the virus, major portions of our economy were shut down; schools were closed; and citizens were confined to their homes.

What followed was the bankruptcy of thousands of businesses, an unprecedented wave of fear throughout society and a disruption to the consistency of our daily lives. We have yet to know what lasting impacts this decision will have on our future economy or livelihood, but we now understand that rapid decision making is often met with long-term consequences.

While there will continue to be disagreements on all sides regarding the handling of the shutdown, what is undisputable is that we as a society have gained an opportunity to learn. We now have the unique advantage of using data in ways that has never been used before in order to make consistently better decisions, allowing us the opportunity to perform at levels we have never thought possible.

Whether it be data advancements in sports (think Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics), or the progression of technology (continuous iPhone updates), we are able to study the improvements of data on society in order to make more reliable decisions. With more powerful data analytics and innovations in data sciences, we are able to positively impact the most vital components of our society in order to make decisions that will drive evolution and reliability.

As the world continues to progress, the decisions we are forced to make have become more complex. With each complicated decision comes the potential for lasting positive or negative impact on society. In shifting from emotional, rapid reactions towards more data and quantitative focused methods, we have the unique and unprecedented opportunity to make our world a more reliable, stable and creative place.

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Ryan Sitton is the founder of Pinnacle and the author of "Crucial Decisions."

Houston-based Datagration Solutions Inc. has raised millions in its latest round — led partially by a local VC firm — to grow its local presence. Photo via Datagration Solutions/Facebook

Houston energy tech startup raises $11M to grow its team locally

now hiring

An $11 million round of funding will fuel national and international growth at Houston-based Datagration Solutions Inc., whose cloud-based software aggregates data to improve workflows and analytics at upstream oil and gas operators.

Houston-based venture capital firm Quantum Energy Partners LLC and New York City-based venture capital firm Global Reserve Group LLC led the round. Datagration represents the sixth investment in energy tech involving the duo of Quantum Energy Partners and Global Reserve Group.

Braxton Huggins, chief marketing officer at Datagration, says the new capital will enable the company to build a technology team in Houston; add to its operations, sales, and marketing team in Houston; and supplement its development team in Austria. These new hires will help Datagration expand its national and international market presence, he says.

Huggins says Datagration aims to more than double in size by the end of 2021. The startup currently employs more than 30 people.

Datagration, formerly known as Oilsphere Inc., is a relative newcomer in the oil and gas industry. In May, Datagration acquired Austria-based Myr:Conn Solutions GmbH, which had operated the PetroVisor platform since 2010.

The PetroVisor platform lets customers pull data from legacy systems to streamline processes, keep operating costs and capital expenses in line, and improve workforce efficiency, Huggins says. All of those outcomes are "precisely what is required, given today's low and volatile commodity price environment," he says.

"PetroVisor has already delivered game-changing financial results for many E&P companies and is ready to scale globally," Peter Bernard, executive chairman of Datagration, says in a release. "The platform increases returns [from] legacy brownfield and greenfield reservoirs, and gives engineers more time to make engineering decisions that will improve profitability."

Nine days after Datagration announced the $11 million in funding, the company formally unveiled its executive management team. Aside from Bernard and Huggins, team members are:

  • J. Ike Epley, vice chairman.
  • Jorge Machnizh, president and CEO.
  • Michael Stundner, executive vice president of technology.
  • Dale Sperrazza, chief commercial officer.
  • Kenton Gray, chief technology officer.
  • David Freer, chief financial officer.
  • Carol Piovesan, senior vice president.
  • Tom Jordan, vice president of corporate development.
  • Lars Olrik, vice president of sales.

"Datagration strongly believes that the next industry opportunity is to provide a platform ecosystem that enables open integration and agnostic access to the most valuable company asset, the customer's data," Machnizh says in a letter posted on the company's website.

Market research and advisory firm Mordor Intelligence LLC says price volatility and stepped-up competition in the oil and gas industry are driving the use of big data to make "smart decisions." As a result, the firm says, big data in oil and gas is expected to see "exponential growth" from 2020 to 2025. A paper published in 2018 in the journal Petroleum identified big data analytics as an "emerging trend" for exploration, drilling, reservoir engineering, and production engineering in the upstream sector.

Darryl Willis, global vice president for energy at Microsoft Corp., said at a conference last year in Norway that the industry should brace for a "tsunami" of big data. "Data is the new common denominator that every industry, including the oil and gas business, is grappling with," Willis said.

Ravindra Puranik, oil and gas analyst at data analytics and consulting company GlobalData PLC, says concerns over the decline of profits and the rise of renewable energy are propelling incremental growth of big data in oil and gas.

"The oil and gas industry has always generated huge volumes of data daily across the value chain. However, despite being awash with money, it has been poor at data management," Puranik says. "It is only when profits drop that the industry starts to investigate how to use data to improve operational efficiency. However, this laissez-faire approach is less prevalent now."

Josh Pherigo at GHP used data to look into what tech specialties are thriving in Houston — and what niches have shown promising growth. Photo via LinkedIn

Greater Houston Partnership researcher identifies the city's top tech specialties

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 48

When you look at Houston's venture capital investment patterns, what do they tell you? To Josh Pherigo, research director of data analytics at the Greater Houston Partnership, it paints a picture of what tech and startup niches are thriving.

Based on PitchBook data, Pherigo put together an analysis of what industries within Houston are attracting the most investments. The study came out of the fact that Houston's hold on oil and gas is going to shift as the industry goes through the energy transition. Since O&G is such a crucial part of Houston's economy, the city will have to see a rise in new industries to remain competitive with its economy.

"The idea was to look at the innovation ecosystem and see what the technologies are that are doing well here at at attracting VC funding," Pherigo says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "And by seeing how well certain technologies are doing, we'll be able to see if these are some areas that have some natural competitive advantages in Houston's economy that we can then use to spur growth in the next few decades — and even just out of the recession we're in right now."

The report found that life science and oil and gas currently attract the most VC investments in Houston, but Pherigo found potential in a few other industries like B2B payments technology — Houston-based fintech startup, HighRadius recently raised $125 million.

The study, which also compared Houston to Austin and Dallas, found that there was a cleantech war emerging between Austin and Houston. While Houston's ecosystem has a greater presence of cleantech startups, Austin cleantech is still bringing in more VC investments. However, in Houston, between new corporate incubators and Greentown Labs entering Houston, the city is creating a lot of infrastructure for this industry.

"It's going to be interesting over the next few years to see how Houston can position itself as the leader in Texas for this, because they are going to have a lot of competition from Austin," Pherigo says.

Pherigo goes into more detail about what he found interesting in the report, and even dives into what the data shows for the future of Houston's tech specialties in the episode of the podcast. You can listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

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Houston SaaS startup closes $12M series A funding round with support from local VC

money moves

A Houston startup with a software-as-a-service platform for the energy transition has announced it closed a funding round with participation from a local venture capital.

Molecule closed its $12 million series A, and Houston-based Mercury Fund was among the company's investors. The company has a cloud-based energy trading and risk management solution for the energy industry and supports power, natural gas, crude/refined products, chemicals, agricultural commodities, softs, metals, cryptocurrencies, and more.

"We led the seed round of Molecule upon their formation and are excited to participate in their series A," says Blair Garrou, co-founder and managing director of Mercury, in a news release. "Molecule's success in the ETRM/CTRM industry, especially in relation to electricity and renewables, positions them as the company to beat for the energy transition in the 2020s."

The company will use its new funds to further build out its product as well as introduce offerings to manage renewables credits, according to the release.

"In 2020, we realized that electricity — the growth commodity of the 2020s — represented over half of Molecule's customer base, and we decided to double down," says Sameer Soleja, founder and CEO of Molecule, in the release. "We were also rated the No. 1 SaaS ETRM/CTRM vendor. With this fundraise, we have the fuel to become No. 1 SaaS platform for power and renewables, and then the market leader overall.

"Molecule is ready to power the energy transition," Soleja continues.

Molecule's last round of funding closed in November 2014. The $1.1 million seed round was supported by Mercury Fund and the Houston Angel Network.

Houston-based afterlife planning startup launches new app

there's an app for that

The passing of a loved one is followed with grief — and paperwork. A Houston company that's simplifying the process of afterlife planning and decision making is making things even easier with a new smartphone app.

The Postage, a digital platform meant to ease with affair planning, recently launched a mobile app to make the service more accessible following a particularly deadly year. The United States recorded 3.2 million fatalities — the most deaths in its history, largely due to the coronavirus pandemic.

After losing three family members back-to-back, Emily Cisek dealt first hand with the difficulty of wrapping up a loved one's life. She saw how afterlife planning interrupted her family's grieving and caused deep frustration. Soon, she began to envision a solution to help people have a plan and walk through the process of losing someone.

The Postage, which launched in September, provides a platform for people to plan their affairs and leave behind wishes for loved ones. The website includes document storage and organization, password management, funeral and last wishes planning, and the option to create afterlife messages to posthumously share with loved ones.

"Right now, as it stands ahead of this app, end-of-life planning is really challenging. It's this daunting thing you have to sit down and do at your computer," says Cisek. Not only is it "daunting," but it's time-consuming. According to The Postage, families can expect to spend nearly 500 hours on completing end-of-life details if there is no planning done in advance.

With more than 74 percent of The Postage's web traffic coming from mobile users, an app was a natural progression. In fact, Entrepreneur reports the average person will spend nine years on their mobile device. Cisek wanted to meet users where they are at with a user-friendly app that includes the same features as the desktop website.

"What we wanted to do [with the app] is make it so easy to plan your life and the end of your life using one click — as easy as it was for posting and commenting on social media," explains Cisek. "People are so used to reflecting on those behaviors and clicking one button to add a picture ... we wanted to make it that simple," she continued.

Cisek and her team focused on providing a "seamless experience" within the app, which took approximately four months to build, which mirrors the desktop platform.

Though The Postage's website had mobile functionality, the app includes the ability to record and upload content. Whether snapping a picture of their insurance policy or recording a video to share with loved ones, The Postage app allows users to capture photos and videos directly within the app.

After snapping a picture, "the next step inherently is sharing it with your loved ones," says Cisek. Photos, family recipes and videos can easily be shared securely with loved ones who accept your invitation to The Postage so "that legacy continues on," she says.

Since The Postage's fall launch, the company has grown a steady base of paid subscribers with plans to expand.

"We're really starting to change the way people plan for the future," says Cisek.