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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5 can't-miss innovation events at CERAWeek featuring Houston speakers

where to be online

While usually hundreds of energy experts, C-level executives, diplomats, members of royal families, and more descend upon Houston for the the annual CERAWeek by IHS Markit conference, this year will be a little different. Canceled last year due to COVID-19, CERAWeek is returning — completely virtually.

The Agora track is back and focused on innovation within the energy sector. The Agora track's events — thought-provoking panels, intimate pods, and corporate-hosted "houses" — can be accessed through a virtual atrium.

Undoubtedly, many of the panels will have Houston representatives considering Houston's dominance in the industry, but here are five innovation-focused events you can't miss during CERAWeek that feature Houstonians.

Monday — New Horizons for Energy & Climate Research

The COVID-19 pandemic has made vivid and real the risks of an uncontrolled virus. Risks posed by climate change are also becoming more palpable every day. At the forefront of understanding these risks, universities are developing solutions by connecting science, engineering, business, and public policy disciplines. Along with industry and governments, universities are critical to developing affordable and sustainable solutions to meet the world's energy needs and achieve net-zero emission goals. Can the dual challenge of more energy and lower emissions be met? What is some of the most promising energy and climate research at universities? Beyond research, what are the roles and responsibilities of universities in the energy transition?

Featuring: Kenneth B. Medlock, III, James A. Baker, III, and Susan G. Baker Fellow In Energy And Resource Economics, Baker Institute and Senior Director, Center For Energy Studies at Rice University

Catch the panel at 1 pm on Monday, March 1. Learn more.

Tuesday — Conversations in Cleantech: Powering the energy transition

With renewables investment outperforming oil and gas investment for the first time ever in the middle of a pandemic, 2020 was a tipping point in the Energy Transition. Low oil prices intensified energy majors' attention on diversification and expansion into mature and emerging clean technologies such as battery storage, low-carbon hydrogen, and carbon removal technologies. Yet, the magnitude of the Energy Transition challenge requires an acceleration of strategic decisions on the technologies needed to make it happen, policy frameworks to promote public-private partnerships, and innovative investment schemes.

Three Cleantech leaders share their challenges, successes, and lessons learned at the forefront of the Energy Transition. What is their vision and strategy to accelerate lowering emissions and confronting climate change? Can companies develop clear strategies for cleantech investments that balance sustainability goals and corporate returns? What is the value of increasing leadership diversity for energy corporations? Can the Energy Transition be truly transformational without an inclusive workforce and a diverse leadership?

Featuring: Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs, which is opening a location in Houston this year.

The event takes place at 11:30 am on Tuesday, March 2. Learn more.

Wednesday — Rice Alliance Venture Day at CERAWeek

The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship pitch event will showcase 20 technology companies with new solutions for the energy industry. Each presentation will be followed by questions from a panel of industry experts.

Presenting Companies: Acoustic Wells, ALLY ENERGY, Bluefield Technologies, Cemvita Factory, Connectus Global, Damorphe, Ovopod Ltd., DrillDocs, GreenFire Energy, inerG, Locus Bio-Energy Solutions, Nesh, Pythias Analytics, REVOLUTION Turbine Technologies, Revterra, ROCSOLE, Senslytics, Subsea Micropiles, Syzygy Plasmonics, Transitional Energy, and Universal Subsea.

The event takes place at 9 am on Wednesday, March 3. Learn more.

Thursday — How Will the Energy Innovation Ecosystem Evolve?

Although the cleantech innovation ecosystem—research institutions, entrepreneurs, financiers, and support institutions—is diverse and productive, converting cleantech discoveries and research breakthroughs into commercially viable, transformative energy systems has proven difficult. With incumbent energy systems economically efficient and deeply entrenched, cleantech innovation faces a fundamental dilemma—the scale economies necessary to compete require a large customer base that does not yet exist. How is our clean energy innovation ecosystem equipped to be transformative? What needs to be strengthened? Is it profitable to focus on individual elements, or should we consider the system holistically, and reframe our expectations?

Featuring: Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president at Chevron Technology Ventures

The event takes place at 7:30 am on Thursday, March 4. Learn more.

Friday — Cities: Managing crises & the future of energy

Houston is the capital of global energy and for the past four decades the home of CERAWeek. Mayor Sylvester Turner will share lessons from the city's experience with the pandemic, discuss leadership strategies during times of crisis, and explore Houston's evolving role in the new map of energy.

The event takes place at 8 am on Friday, March 5. Learn more.

Rice University develops 2 new innovative tools to detect COVID-19

pandemic tech

Rice University is once again spearheading research and solutions in the ongoing battle with COVID-19. The university announced two developing innovations: a "real-time sensor" to detect the virus and a cellphone tool that can detect the disease in less than an hour.

Sensing COVID
Researchers at Rice received funding for up to $1 million to develop the real-time sensor that promises to detect minute amounts of the airborne virus.

Teams at Rice and the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston are working to develop a thin film electronic device that senses as few as eight SARS-CoV-2 viruses in 10 minutes of sampling air flowing at 8 liters per minute, per a press release.

Dubbed the Real-Time Amperometric Platform Using Molecular Imprinting for Selective Detection of SARS-CoV-2 (or, RAPID), the project has been funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Rice notes. Further funding will be contingent upon a successful demonstration of the technology.

Attacking with an app
Meanwhile, the university announced that its engineers have developed a plug-in tool that can diagnose COVID-19 in around 55 minutes. The tool utilizes programmed magnetic nanobeads and a tool that plugs into a basic cellphone.

First, a stamp-sized microfluidic chip measures the concentration of SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein in blood serum from a standard finger prick.

Then, nanobeads bind to SARS-CoV-2 N protein, a biomarker for COVID-19, in the chip and transport it to an electrochemical sensor that detects minute amounts of the biomarker. Paired with a Google Pixel 2 phone and a plug-in tool, researchers quickly secured a positive diagnosis.

This, researchers argue, simplifies sample handling compared to swab-based PCR tests that must be analyzed in a laboratory.

"What's great about this device is that it doesn't require a laboratory," said Rice engineer Peter Lillehoj in a statement. "You can perform the entire test and generate the results at the collection site, health clinic or even a pharmacy. The entire system is easily transportable and easy to use."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.