The Downtown Launchpad is officially open for business. Photo courtesy of the Downtown Launchpad

Almost exactly a year ago, Central Houston Inc. and the Downtown Redevelopment Authority announced the Downtown Launchpad to emerge as a "vertical village" of innovation space. Now, as of this week, the new space has been revealed at its official grand opening.

The 17,000-square-foot innovation hub, which is located on the 10th floor of Amegy on Main (1801 Main Street), is home to Houston's MassChallenge Texas and gener8tor accelerators and global nonprofit incubator Impact Hub Houston. The Cannon Houston is the operation partner for the space.

"Downtown Launchpad innovation hub starts at the edges of technology and entrepreneurship where cutting-edge ideas can quickly be cultivated and explored," says Bob Eury, president of Central Houston and Downtown Redevelopment Authority, in a news release. "We set out to recruit and develop partnerships with some of the nation's premier accelerators and incubators in order to build an inclusive vertical village with all the critical support functions just steps away. We are excited and look forward to the impact created by the hundreds of startups that will walk through our doors."

The "vertical village" features coworking and accelerator space. Photo courtesy of the Downtown Launchpad

The new space, which has been partially open since last December, celebrated the opening with a virtual event and panel on September 30. Mayor Sylvester Turner joined the programming to recognize the Launchpad.

"To meet the challenges of today, we must empower a can-do spirit by offering a framework of resources that includes supporting startups and entrepreneurs as they seamlessly navigate through the stages of startup production — from idea generation and incorporation to talent development, investment, and scaling, as well as ensuring upskilling and reskilling to provide economic vitality for all Houstonians," Mayor Turner says at the event. "Downtown Launchpad enables this to happen. Hundreds of new businesses will be built here in the coming years."

The space, which will be used for programming and events, features a communal ground-floor lobby area with meeting rooms, a game room, workstations, and a coffee bar and deli, according to the release. There's also a dedicated event space on the building's 11th floor.

Common space are designed to enhance collisions between entrepreneurs. Photo courtesy of the Downtown Launchpad

"In the 2017 Plan Downtown, a key business strategy focuses on facilitating the creation of a collaborative Innovation District within Downtown," says Curtis Flowers, Downtown Redevelopment Authority board chair, in the release. "The purpose is to incubate a vibrant, innovative economy where startups thrive, create jobs, and attract venture capital investments to Houston which will benefit the City's long-term economic vitality. We believe the investment in establishing Downtown Launchpad will garner long-term results for Downtown and the Houston region."

gBETA has five Houston startups growing through its early-stage program virtually. Getty Images

Early-stage accelerator announces inaugural Houston cohort

now streaming

Even amid a pandemic, a Houston startup accelerator focused on local, early-stage companies has announced its new cohort and is operating its program virtually.

International accelerator gener8tor announced last fall that its early-stage program, gBETA, was coming to Houston following a $1.25 million grant approved by Houston's Downtown Redevelopment Authority. gBETA, which named its local leader and opened applications in January, now has revealed the five companies that will participate in the free, no-equity accelerator.

"This cohort was selected from among a highly competitive pool of applicants, and I'm so pleased with how they have adapted to the impacts of COVID-19 on the program and their businesses," says Eleonore Cluzel, director of gBETA Houston, in a news release.

The program kicked off April 30 and the five companies will graduate at a virtual pitch event June 18. While completely virtual this time around, the plan was to co-locate the program with MassChallenge Texas in Amegy Bank's Downtown Launchpad. The program is expecting to continue with its second cohort later this year.

"We are committed to establishing Downtown as a nexus for innovation and a leader in urban entrepreneurship and we applaud the talent of the first cohort, especially under these unprecedented circumstances," says Jonathan Brinsden, Central Houston's board chair, in a news release. "We look forward to them joining MassChallenge in the Downtown Launchpad at Amegy at Main this coming summer."

The spring 2020 gBETA cohort includes:

  • Best Bites Houston — a food tourism company that conducts exclusive food tours both in-person and virtually, exploring culture within cuisine.
  • Blown Assignments LLC — a web tool geared at improving communication between student athletes and their coaches.
  • GRIND — a sportstech company that merges sports and design to create products and services for athletic training.
  • Learn2Code.Live — a provider of computer science programming company that serves both students and teachers virtually.
  • Zent LLC — the creator of an innovative toothbrush called the Zent Flex that improves oral disease prevention and — no matter how hard a user brushes — physically limits brushing pressure to the optimal pressure.


The cohort meets virtually via Zoom web meetings. Photo courtesy of gBETA Houston

The Cannon Houston's third location is planned to open on December 9. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

Photos: The Cannon Houston's downtown space expects to open its doors early next month

ready for liftoff

A Houston entrepreneurial hub plans to open its third coworking space location only a few weeks after its main campus debuted in West Houston.

The Cannon Houston's newest location will be a 17,000-square-foot space on the top floor of The Cannon Tower at Amegy on Main in Downtown Houston. The opening date for the new space is Monday, December 9.

The announcement follows the grand opening of The Cannon's 120,000-square-foot flagship space, which is now close to being completely leased by startups and small businesses, and represents another step in the company's ambitious expansion plan.

"We've long known that we will need multiple locations across Houston in order to serve our mission of supporting Houston's entrepreneurs, and we are thrilled to work with an incredibly forward-thinking organization like Amegy to continue to fulfill this mission," says Cannon founder and president, Lawson Gow, in a news release. "The Cannon Tower at Amegy on Main will be unlike any other space in the city, in which we will be developing a 'vertical village' of innovation, programs, and resources, transforming Amegy on Main into a hub for Downtown Houston's entrepreneurs."

Gow — who is the son of David Gow, owner of InnovationMap's parent company, Gow Media — recently transitioned into his position as The Cannon named Jon Lambert as CEO earlier this month.

The Cannon's space is just one part of the equation that is the Downtown Launch Pad — a joint project between Central Houston, Downtown Redevelopment Authority, The Cannon, and Amegy Bank. The Amegy building will also house MassChallenge and gener8or, as well as event and common space for programming on the 11th floor.

"Amegy Bank is thrilled to be a part of the expansion of the innovation community by offering space, amenities, and business development support," says Kelly Foreman, Amegy Bank's senior vice president and manager of corporate real estate and facilities, in a news release. "We have a long track record of helping businesses grow, and creating this space for a hub of start-ups and accelerators is yet another way to do just that."

Moving forward, The Cannon will play a role in expanding workspace, resources, and programming in the building. The space is now open for leasing, and the first 100 members to join the new space will receive free parking for the course of their membership.

Plans for growth

Photo courtesy of The Cannon

The Cannon Houston will be a major player as the Downtown Launch Pad expands throughout the building.

At The Houston Innovation Summit's first panel of the week, representatives from The Cannon, Amergy Bank, and Central Houston discussed game-changing plans for the Downtown Launch Pad. Image courtesy of The Cannon

3 takeaways from The Houston Innovation Summit's first panel

ICYMI

The Houston Innovation Summit is in full swing, and the first panel of the week's events started strong. Representatives from The Cannon Houston, Amegy Bank, and MassChallenge took the stage at Amegy Bank's downtown office — soon to be converted into the Downtown Launch Pad — to discuss big picture topics within Houston Innovation.

Grace Rodriguez hosted the panel that covered diversity and inclusion efforts, the growth of The Cannon, and what you can expect from Launch Pad. Here's what you may have missed from the event.

The Downtown Launchpad will shake up the innovation ecosystem

Robert Pieroni, director of economic development for Central Houston and an advisory board member for MassChallenge, set the scene for Houston innovation a few year ago. Houston was overlooked for the Amazon headquarters, and it was the wakeup call Houston needed.

Now, the city, with the help of organizations like Central Houston, has attracted major top 10 accelerators in the world to town and plans to house them in the same space — the Downtown Launch Pad, which is a joint venture project between Central Houston, Downtown Redevelopment Authority, The Cannon, and Amegy Bank.

The Launch Pad will occupy a few floors in the Amegy building to start. There will be coworking and event space, as well as a floor dedicated to MassChallenge and gener8tor — the two new-to-Houston accelerators.

"We'll be the only place in the United States that has co-located two top 10 accelerators," Pieroni says.

The project also is working with an incubator yet to be announced to help bring into the fold undeserved startups and entrepreneurs in Houston, and there will also be a bootcamp targeted directly at the disadvantaged within the innovation ecosystem.

From Amegy's perspective, the bank is committed to growing the building to being something unique and effective for startups, says Andy Buchmann, vice president of corporate real estate and property management at Amegy Bank.

"We are hopeful that this is only the first two floors that we have figured out, and we hope there are other three or four that come behind it as it grows into a real hub for startups in the years to come," Buchmann says.

The Cannon's new CEO has global growth on the mind

Earlier this month, The Cannon Houston brought on Jon Lambert to serve as CEO as the company plans to grow and scale. Lambert, who joined the panel, says that the Downtown Launch Pad was well timed for The Cannon as it's looking to find the optimal areas of the city to grow.

"The distribution of the city is unlike any other in terms of the pockets of where people live and work," Lambert says, adding that The Cannon has an opportunity to reach these pockets.

Looking beyond Houston — and even Texas, the company is poised for growth by taking its model to cities — nationally and even globally — that are underserved when it comes to coworking and incubation space.

"You'd be astonished at some of the people reaching out to us," Lambert says on the panel. Some of this interest, Lambert adds, is setting up The Cannon as a global entry point for international companies looking to do business in Houston.

Inclusivity is the priority

With global initiatives and with Houston being the most diverse city in America, the city's innovation ecosystem has a great responsibility to provide inclusion, and each of the panelists maintains that their organizations have that as a top priority.

The Launch Pad is being developed with this in mind, and Pieroni says it's in the perfect place to do that. Amegy Bank has long been committed to small businesses and the building's location — across the street from METRO's Downtown Transit Center — makes it so that anyone in Houston can get to the hub.

Gener8tor and MassChallenge are also committed to providing programming at no cost, which will open doors to the entire community to get involved.

"As a part of our agreement with gener8tor, the will host free lunch and learns with the community monthly," Pieroni says. "We are working with MassChallenge to make them even more frequent."

The Downtown Launch Pad will house accelerator programs MassChallenge and gener8tor and coworking space from The Cannon. Photo courtesy of Downtown Launch Pa

New innovation ‘vertical village’ announced for downtown Houston

Coming soon

The Cannon Houston, a startup incubator and coworking space, and Houston-based Amegy Bank announced a partnership to create a 17,000-square-foot innovation space in downtown.

The Downtown Launch Pad is expected to open on a few floors of the Amegy Bank building at 1801 Main St. in the spring. Along with coworking space, the new hub will house MassChallenge Texas, which had its inaugural cohort earlier this year, and gener8tor, an early acceleration program announced in last month.

Mayor Sylvester Turner announced the project at Central Houston Inc.'s annual meeting on October 24. Both the accelerators that will be in the new hub received a combined combined $4 million in economic development grants from the Downtown Redevelopment Authority to be distributed over the next five years.

"Central Houston and the Downtown Redevelopment Authority are committed to establishing Downtown Houston as a nexus for innovation and a leader in urban entrepreneurship," says Bob Eury, president of both entities, in a news release. "We've found strong, strategic partners in Amegy Bank and The Cannon, both of which are committed to fostering and sustaining a vibrant innovation culture in Houston, from startup to production."

Amegy Bank has tapped Gensler for the redesign. The 13th floor of the building will house the coworking space powered by The Cannon. This space is expected to open before the end of the year.

"We originally created The Cannon to be the missing piece in Houston's startup ecosystem," says Lawson Gow, founder and CEO of The Cannon and Cannon Ventures. Gow is the son of David Gow, owner of InnovationMap's parent company, Gow Media. "Through the Cannon Tower and The Downtown Launch Pad, we are excited to join up with Central Houston, the Downtown Redevelopment Authority and Amegy Bank to create an entire 'vertical village' of innovation—a system of floors at Amegy on Main that will provide Houston's entrepreneurs with all the programs and resources they need to thrive."

The building's 10th and 11th floors will also be a part of the Downtown Launch Pad. The 10th floor will house the two accelerators, and the 11th floor will be a dedicated event space. The lobby of the building will be a common space for all members of the Cannon Tower and will have meeting rooms, a game room, work stations, a coffee bar, and a deli.

"Amegy Bank has a long history of reinvesting in the local community and supporting Texas families and businesses," says Kelly Foreman, senior vice president and corporate real estate and facilities manager for Amegy. "Now, through our partnerships with The Cannon and The Launch Pad, we are taking our commitment to small businesses to the next level by converting a part of Amegy on Main into a hub for emerging technology and start-up companies that aligns all the players across the entrepreneurial spectrum—corporations, mentors, investors, service providers and the startups themselves. This combination of offerings and capabilities will unlock significant value for Downtown, helping to attract and retain companies from not only Houston, but from around the country."

The funds will go toward bringing a new, pre-accelerator program to Houston. Shobeir Ansari/Getty Images

Downtown Redevelopment Authority approves $1.25 million grant for new-to-Houston accelerator program

New to town

Houston has yet again attracted a nationally recognized accelerator program to downtown. Wisconsin-based genera8tor has announced its plans to launch its pre-accelerator program, gBETA, in Houston in spring of next year thanks to a $1.25 million grant approved by the Downtown Redevelopment Authority.

"With gener8tor joining nonprofit global accelerator MassChallenge in Downtown, the Houston innovation ecosystem will be home to two nationally ranked accelerators," says Bob Eury, president of Central Houston and the Downtown Redevelopment Authority, in a news release. "This agreement furthers Central Houston's long-term goal to create a collaborative Innovation District within Downtown and helps bridge the gap between small local startups and the city's growing innovation economy."

The grant will not exceed $1.25 million and will be paid out over the next five years. Gener8tor will have two gBETA cohorts a year, and the seven-week program will have a max of five teams across industries. The program will be equity-free and at no cost to participants accepted into the program. The program will also host six lunch-and-learn events that will be free and open to the Houston innovation ecosystem.

"The city of Houston's leadership is supporting its community members to be the economic drivers of tomorrow," says Abby Taubner, partner at gener8tor and managing director of gBETA, in the release. "We are humbled and excited to be part of the palpable excitement surrounding the local startup ecosystem, and cannot wait to roll up our sleeves and get to work."

According to gener8tor, a third of gBETA graduates will advance to a later stage equity-based accelerator program or raise a seed round of at least $50,000, and gBETA graduates from across the organization's eight states have collectively raised $57.7 million and created 716 jobs.

This announcement comes on the heels of MasChallenge Texas launching its Houston program earlier this year, as well as Silicon Valley's Plug and Play Technology Center entering the Houston market as well this year. Houston's downtown landscape has become a major hotbed for tech and innovation, with UiPath opening a major Houston office and coworking space popping up across downtown.

"Innovation is the next economic frontier for Houston, and gener8tor's gBETA program will help bridge the gap between the city's legacy industries—energy, medicine, space exploration and the port—and our growing innovation ecosystem of startup accelerators, investors and entrepreneurs," says Mayor Sylvester Turner in the release. "gBETA is the latest leap into that future, following in the exciting footsteps of The Ion innovation hub; the relocation or expansion of Silicon Valley firms to Houston such as Bill.com, UiPath and Google Cloud; the plans for the Texas Medical Center's TMC3 translational research commercialization campus; and so much more."

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston named a market to watch within the life science sector

h-town on the rise

Houston is receiving more kudos for its robust life sciences sector.

Bayou City lands at No. 13 in JLL’s 2022 ranking of the country’s top 15 metro areas for life sciences. JLL says Houston “is poised for further growth” in life sciences.

Here’s how Houston fares in each of the ranking’s three categories:

  • No. 12 for supply of life sciences-oriented commercial real estate
  • No. 14 for access to life sciences talent
  • No. 15 for life sciences grant funding and venture capital

Earlier this year, Houston scored a 13th-place ranking on a list released by JLL competitor CBRE of the country’s top 25 life sciences markets. Meanwhile, commercial real estate platform CommercialCafe recently placed Houston at No. 10 among the top U.S. metros for life sciences.

JLL applauds Houston for strong growth in the amount of life sciences talent along with “an impressive base of research institutions and medical centers.” But it faults Houston for limited VC interest in life sciences startups and a small inventory of lab space.

“Houston is getting a boost [in life sciences] from the growing Texas Medical Center and an influx of venture capital earmarked for life sciences research,” the Greater Houston Partnership recently noted.

Boston appears at No. 1 in this year’s JLL ranking, followed by the San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego, Washington, D.C./Baltimore, and Philadelphia.

Last year’s JLL list included only 10 life sciences markets; Houston wasn’t among them.

“The long-term potential of the sector remains materially unchanged since 2021,” Travis McCready, head of life sciences for JLL’s Americas markets, says in a news release.

“Innovation is happening at a more rapid pace than ever before, the fruits of research into cell and gene therapy are just now being harvested, and revenue growth has taken off in the past five years as the sector becomes larger, an atypical growth track.”

Texas startup developing lab-grown brisket earns national spotlight

futuristic food

Brisket, a barbecue staple in Texas, is as synonymous with the Lone Star State as the Alamo and oil wells. A Texas company recently recognized as the state’s most innovative startup wants to elevate this barbecue staple to a new high-tech level.

BioBQ is working on technology to bring its lab-created, cell-cultured brisket to the market in 2023. The Austin-based company made the Bloomberg news service’s new list of the 50 startups to watch in the U.S. — one startup for each state.

The co-founders of BioBQ are Austin native Katie Kam, a vegan with five college degrees (four from the University of Texas and one from Texas A&M University), and Janet Zoldan, a “hardcore carnivore” who’s a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. Kam is the CEO, and Zoldan is the chief science officer.

This kind of meat is genuine animal meat that’s produced by cultivating animal cells in a lab, according to the Good Food Institute.

“This production method eliminates the need to raise and farm animals for food. Cultivated meat is made of the same cell types arranged in the same or similar structure as animal tissues, thus replicating the sensory and nutritional profiles of conventional meat,” the institute says.

It turns that before becoming a vegan, Kam worked at the now-closed BB’s Smokehouse in Northwest Austin as a high school student. She’d chow down on sauce-slathered brisket and banana pudding during on-the-job breaks.

“But then over time, as I learned more about factory farming and could no longer make the distinction between my dogs and cats I loved and the animals that were on my plate, I decided to become vegan,” Kam writes on the BioBQ website.

Hearing about the 2013 rollout of the first cell-cultured hamburger set Kam off on her path toward starting BioBQ in 2018. Zoldan joined the startup as co-founder the following year.

Now, BioBQ aims to be the first company in the world to sell brisket and other barbecue meats, such as jerky, made from cultured cells rather than slaughtered animals.

According to BioBQ’s profile on the Crunchbase website, the startup relies on proprietary technology to efficiently produce meat products in weeks rather than the year or more it takes to raise and slaughter cattle. This process “allows control of meat content and taste, reduces environmental impacts of meat production, and takes BBQ to the next tasty, sustainable level consumers want,” the profile says.

In 2020, Texas Monthly writer Daniel Vaughn questioned BioBQ’s premise.

He wrote that “there is something about the idea of lab-grown brisket that keeps bothering me, and it has nothing to do with science fiction. If you could design any cut of beef from scratch, why choose one that’s so difficult to make delicious? Why not a whole steer’s worth of ribeyes?”

Kam offered a very entrepreneur-like response.

“I’m from Austin, and I know that brisket’s kind of a big deal here,” Kam told Vaughn. “It seemed like a great, challenging meat to demonstrate this technology working.”

Meanwhile, Zoldan came up with a more marketing-slanted reaction to Vaughn’s bewilderment.

“I don’t think cell-based meats will take over the market, but I think there’s a place for it on the market,” Zoldan she told Vaughn.

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This article originally ran on CultureMapCultureMap.

Why the banking biz is ripe for innovation, according to this Houston founder

guest column

After our doctor and our child’s school, a bank is an institution with which we share the relationship that is most personal and vital to our well-being in this world. Some might put a good vet third, but other than that, no private entity is more responsible for escorting us to a healthier and happier outcome over the course of our lives.

The bank vault is a traditional symbol of security and prosperity, and not just for our pennies. We safeguard possessions in banks that are so important we don’t even trust keeping them in our own houses. Wills, birth certificates, and the precious family heirlooms of countless families are held in safety deposit boxes behind those giant vault doors, and banks have been the traditional guardians not only of our wealth but our identity and future as well.

The importance of relationship banking

Faith and confidence in our banks is so fundamental to the customer relationship that it has evolved into a unique and otherwise unthinkable arrangement for any good capitalist in a healthy marketplace: banks pay us to be their customers. Imagine a doctor offering you $20 for trusting them to give you a colonoscopy and you’re on the road to understanding the sacrosanct union between bank and customer.

In fact, this trust is so deeply anchored in the American psyche that a new generation of digital banking companies has sprung up on the idea that it doesn’t need to exist in physical reality. The fintech industry has exploded in the last decade, and today, over 75 percent of Americans are engaged in online banking in one form or another. Every single one of those 200 million customers are taking for granted that they will be well served, despite having no personal guidance through any of the financial products and services that these online entities provide.

Benefits of fostering relationships with banking customers

In the late 90s and early 2000s brick-and-mortar banks realized that greater personalized care for their customers was going to be a critical point of competition. The in-person experience is an opportunity to offer advice and incentives for a wide range of products and financial management assistance. It’s rooted in an incredibly simple axiom that is taking hold in every aspect of modern society: everyone benefits if we all get along better.

There’s a lot of statistical traction behind this theory. Customers who report they are “financially healthy” are down 20 percent over the last year, which means people are looking for guidance. 73 percent of customers who visit a local bank branch report having a personal relationship with their bank, while only 53 percent say the same of their digital institution. Most importantly, although many digital banks are offering similar products and services to their real-world counterparts, customer engagement remains very low.

It starts with your products

The truth is, today’s bank customers still want that same personal relationship their great-grandparents had before they engage with deeper financial products and services. They believe it makes them more financially successful, and confirm that human connections and economic prosperity go hand-in-hand.

Products that are Challenging for Digital Markets

Residential mortgages, for example, are an $18 trillion dollar industry that deals in durations longer than most digital banking services have even existed. The perception of continuity and stability is highly valued by clients in the mortgage relationship. Today, most customers feel that only comes with a handshake and a smile from an employee who has to fit in a meeting before they pick their kids up from school.

While digital firms have proven themselves capable of offering savings and checking services, most have fallen flat on the mortgage front because of the premium on personal relationships. Loyalty is the reward for time, service, and shared experience, and financial institutions that cannot provide that package for their customers are never going to access a deeper and more meaningful portfolio of services.

Finding Well-suited Products for Digital Finance

The message for the digital finance world is as clear as it is pressing. The future of the industry will revolve around more personalized experiences, interactions, and long-term products. At the same time, the American public has embraced digital banking, and we are looking at a new generation of bank users who may never walk through a branch door in their life.

In order to compete, the digital industry will need to identify and develop a range of long-term products and services that make sense for customers in today’s environment. Mortgages may be out of the question, but the safety deposit box holds great promise for industry in-roads. Optimal services for deeper, more personal customer engagement include things like:

  • Legacy and estate planning
  • Will preparation and safeguarding
  • Preservation of cherished photos and videos
  • Important personal data storage


Because these things are product-based, they are well suited to the digital ecosystem. The cryptocurrency industry and modern online banking have solidified consumer confidence in the digital bank vault, and there is a great deal of faith in the perpetuity of electronic documents and storage.

The IRS estimates that upwards of 90 percent of Americans are E-filing their taxes and that only comes with a widespread belief that our highly sensitive information can and will be preserved and protected by digital architecture.

Secure your future

Digital banking firms that want to thrive in the upcoming decades are going to need to innovate in long-term financial planning products that bring their customers into a closer, more personal relationship with them.

The finance world will continue to change and develop, but the hopes, fears, and dreams of people trying to build and secure a better future for themselves and their children will remain the same for tomorrow’s customers as they were for their parents and grandparents.

It is up to the digital finance industry to adapt and develop to provide the customers of today—and tomorrow— with these invaluable services and securities.

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Emily Cisek is the founder and CEO of The Postage, a tech-enabled, easy-to-use estate planning tool.