This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Brad Burke of Rice University, Denise Hamilton of WatchHerWork, and Bart Womack of Eden Grow Systems. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: Every Monday, I'm introducing you to three Houston innovators to know — three individuals behind recent innovation and startup news stories in Houston as reported by InnovationMap. Learn more about them and their recent news below by clicking on each article.

Brad Burke, associate vice president for industry at Rice University

Brad Burke has been named associate vice president for industry and new ventures within Rice University's Office of Innovation. Photo by Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

Brad Burke, who has served as executive director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship for 20 years, has been named associate vice president for industry and new ventures, the university announced this week. He will take on this new role within the Office of Innovation, as well as continue leading the Rice Alliance.

Rice's Office of Innovation, which was established in 2022 with the appointment of Chief Innovation Officer and Vice President for Innovation Paul Cherukuri, exists to support new and innovative initiatives and technologies from the Rice community with mentorship, funding, pilots, and more.

“The Rice Alliance has played a key role over the past two decades in building Rice’s reputation as a leading institution for innovation and entrepreneurship,” Cherukuri says in a news release. “We are thrilled to have Brad Burke join the Office of Innovation to support our faculty and students in commercializing their inventions.” Read more.

Denise Hamilton, author of "Indivisible: How to Forge Our Differences into a Stronger Future"

Houstonian Denise Hamilton is coming out with a book she hopes helps leaders reach beyond inclusivity. Photo courtesy of WatchHerWork

Denise Hamilton says she's been used to looking around and realizing she's the only woman or African American in the room, and for the past nine years, she's been providing resources and education to trailblazing women like her. Now, she wants to prepare current and future leaders on how to go beyond inclusivity and work toward indivisibility.

Hamilton's book, "Indivisible: How to Forge Our Differences into a Stronger Future," publishes February 6 from Countryman Press. She explains that the book comes from years of her on personal experiences, as well as inspiration from the women she's met with her company, WatchHerWork, multimedia digital platform providing advice and resources for professional women.

"I've learned a lot of lessons about what skills work, what behaviors are not intuitive, and built WatchHerWork with the intention of creating a space where people can get all of that advice — and juicy goodness — so that they can learn what they needed to do to be authentically successful," Hamilton says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"This led to me being brought in as a speaker, and ultimately has led to me becoming an author," she continues. "It's always shocking when people want to listen to what you want to say. It's unbelievable."Read more.

Bart Womack, CEO and founder of Eden Grow Systems

Houston-based Eden Grow Systems hopes to disrupt the agtech industry and revolutionize — and localize — produce. Photo courtesy

Whether it’s on Mars or at the kitchen table, entrepreneur Bart Womack wants to change what and how you eat. But the CEO and founder of next-generation farming startup Eden Grow Systems is seeking crowdfunders to help feed the venture. The company has launched a $1.24 million regulated crowdfunding campaign to raise the money it needs to scale and expand manufacturing outside the current location in Washington state.

Additionally, the U.S. Air Force recently chose Eden as a food source for the U.S. Space Force base on remote Ascension Island, in the Atlantic Ocean, Womack tells InnovationMap. Another project with Space Center Houston is also in the works.

“We want to be the government and DOD contractor for these kind of next-generation farming systems,” he says.

The Houston-based company includes former NASA scientists, like recent hire Dr. L. Marshall Porterfield, of Purdue University, as an innovation adviser. Read more.

Houston-based Eden Grow Systems hopes to disrupt the agtech industry and revolutionize — and localize — produce. Photo via edengrowsystems.com

Houston startup with next-gen farming tech calls for crowdfunding as it plans to grow

seeing green

Whether it’s on Mars or at the kitchen table, entrepreneur Bart Womack wants to change what and how you eat.

But the CEO and founder of next-generation farming startup Eden Grow Systems is seeking crowdfunders to help feed the venture.

The company evokes images of a garden paradise on earth. But the idea behind the Houston-based NASA spinoff came from a more pragmatic view of the world. Womack’s company sells indoor food towers, self-contained, modular plant growth systems built on years of research by NASA scientists looking for the best way to feed astronauts in space.

The company has launched a $1.24 million regulated crowdfunding campaign to raise the money it needs to scale and expand manufacturing outside the current location in Washington state.

Additionally, the U.S. Air Force recently chose Eden as a food source for the U.S. Space Force base on remote Ascension Island, in the Atlantic Ocean, Womack tells InnovationMap. Another project with Space Center Houston is also in the works.

“We want to be the government and DOD contractor for these kind of next-generation farming systems,” he says.

The Houston-based company includes former NASA scientists, like recent hire Dr. L. Marshall Porterfield, of Purdue University, as an innovation advisor.

Womack, a former digital marketer, Houston public channel show host, night club owner and entertainment entrepreneur, left those ventures in 2012, after the birth of his first child. While taking a year to study trends research, in 2014, what he read intrigued and alarmed him.

“I’ll never forget, I came across a report from Chase Manhattan Bank….of the top 10 disruptive investment sectors, over the next decade,” he says. “At the very top of the list was food.”

Bart Womack founded Eden Grow Systems in 2017. Photo courtesy

His conclusions on the fragility of the world’s food supply system, due to overpopulation, and scarcer land, led him to launch Eden in 2017, funded by venture capital firm SpaceFund, Womack, his family, friends and angel investors.

Womack believes “black swan” events will only increase, disrupting the food supply system and further jeopardizing food supplies.

“We’re going to enter a period of hyper novelty in history,” Womack says.. "The system we’ve built for the last 100 years, the super optimized system, is going to begin to break apart."

To avert a centralized food production outcome, operated by corporate giants like Amazon or Walmart, Womack’s vision offers a decentralized alternative, leaving it in local hands.

With $2 million put into the company so far and a half million-dollars in sales last year, Womack argues that Eden has achieved much and can make food independence within reach for everyday families.

The company commercialized NASA technology to fill what it viewed as “a huge gap within the controlled…agricultural space.”

The tower is the building block of a modular, automated and vertical indoor plant growth system, with calibrated misting, fans, and LED lighting, controlled by an app.

The company website touts the towers as an easy way to grow plants like lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, and potatoes, with little water, no soil, and lots of air, without the expense and work of cultivating an earth-based garden.

For those who want to eat more than greens, the towers provide a way to breed fish and shrimp in an aquaponic version, recycling fish waste as plant fertilizer.

However, big plans come with big costs. The towers range in price from $5,000 to $7,000, although payment plans for those who qualify make it affordable.

Eden has sold around 100 of their towers so far, to a variety of customers. But rising costs and shipping delays have led to a a three-month backlog.

The manufacturing and shipping associated with larger installations means that even if the company made a million-dollar sale, delivery of the product would take a year.

“One of the hardest things…as a start-up, the last couple of years, is trying to narrow down exactly where the biggest payback is,” Womack says. “There is the lower hanging fruit, of small sales to individual buyers, but there’s the larger fruit of institutional buyers. But they can take months and years to convert into an actual buyer.”

Customers include several universities, including Texas A&M University and Prairie View A&M University, and talks are underway with other large academic institutions.

For now, attracting investors so the company can reach its funding goal poses the biggest challenge.

“Texas investors are very, very hard-nosed, and they’re not like West Coast investors. They want to understand exactly how they’re going to get their money back, and exactly how quickly,” he says.

Womack says the crowdfunding round would allow the company to expand manufacturing operations into Houston, deliver product faster, and invest in advertising.

“When we complete this round, and become completely self sufficient, we’re planning on moving to a $25 million valuation,” Womack says. “We can show, given money, we can scale the company.”

The city of Nassau Bay, next to NASA’s Johnson Space Center, has purchased towers and plans to purchase more, not for the production of food, but to grow ornamental flowers.

Womack says that city officials there found that it’s cheaper to grow the decorative plants themselves, rather than buying them.

The towers are adaptable, and can grow not only food but cannabis and other plants, and if buyers want to use them other purposes, that adds to the product’s appeal, Womack says.

Eden has also sold some towers to Harris County Precinct 2 and the city of Houston, as part of a project he says will turn food deserts throughout the area into “food prosperity zones.”

“Our goal is to be the farming equivalent of Boeing,” Womack says.

Get to know the startups in the running for the Houston Innovation Awards People's Choice award. Photos courtesy

Here's what companies are in the running for Houston's startup of the year

you decide

There's one category at the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards that's yet to be decided — and that's because the decision is up to you.

The People's Choice: Startup of the Year category will honor the fan favorite of this year's awards. Seven companies will be showcasing their unique technologies at the event, and attendees get to decide their fate.

Click here to secure your tickets to the November 8 event where you get to help choose the winner of this exciting category.

Here are the seven companies, selected by this year's judges, who are up for the honor.

Blue People, helping bring ideas to life through software development expertise.

Enrique Carro, CEO of Blue People. Photo courtesy of Blue People

What's the company culture like at your company? How big of a priority is maintaining it as the company grows?

At our company, culture isn't just a buzzword; it's the heart of who we are. We have this fun concept called the "Blue Tags" where everyone picks a cool, sometimes hilarious, nickname—it's our way of saying, "Hey, we love your uniqueness!" And guess what? Fridays are special because we gather employees for a celebratory meeting where tequila shots are allowed that we call Viernes De Shots (Friday's Shots). However, it's not just about the shots; it's about building connections and recognizing our achievements as a team. Furthermore, our "Blue Principles", or what other companies call core values, guide us every day, woven into everything we do. As we grow, keeping this inclusive vibe alive is at the top of our to-do list! Cheers to a unique and awesome workplace!

How would you describe your leadership style in three words?

Adaptive, inspirational, and empowering

How has your company given back to the community in the past year or so?

In the past year, our company has been deeply committed to giving back to the community through various initiatives. We actively engaged in the Tejano Tech Summit and fostered dialogue with Tech & Tequila talks. Moreover, we dedicated our time as judges in the Young Inventors competition, encouraging and supporting young talent. Our CTO played a pivotal role by mentoring students in software engineering projects, emphasizing cloud technology, modern stack, and agile methodologies. We also proudly emerged as winners in the 50 cent G-Unity Business Lab Pitch competition and actively participated in programs like gener8tor gBeta accelerator and Codelaunch. Additionally, we extended our outreach to the academic realm, coaching and mentoring participants in events such as the Sam Houston State University Innovation Pitch Competition, where we achieved 1st place, and collaborating with Latin Venture Studio as partners. As a testament to our commitment to community engagement, we are part of the DevOpsDays Houston organization committee, contributing to a series of technical conferences. Furthermore, we play a role in The Houston Tech Rodeo, showcasing the best of the Houston startup community through conferences and friendly competitions, reinforcing our dedication to the growth and development of the community we are part of.

DrySee, innovative waterproof dressing with liquid intrusion technology.

Robert Bradley Greer is the CEO of DrySee. Photo via LinkedIn

What's the company culture like at your company? How big of a priority is maintaining it as the company grows?

DrySee has an adaptive environment with open communication and transparency. Our leadership is available to receive and provide regular feedback, and values the spirit of entrepreneurship. DrySee feels that the imaginative and engaged atmosphere is important to our growth and success.

How would you describe your leadership style in three words?

Inclusive, team-oriented, and consensus-driven.

How has your company given back to the community in the past year or so?

We donated thousands of DrySee bandages to the medical efforts in Ukraine.

Eden Grow Systems, next generation farming technologies.

Leo Barton Womack Jr is the CEO of Eden Grow Systems. Photo courtesy of Eden Grow

What's the company culture like at your company? How big of a priority is maintaining it as the company grows?

We are on a mission to bring food sovereignty to the people. Our vision is that our world is A Garden OF Eden, and we are here to serve it.

How would you describe your leadership style in three words?

Service, example, and commitment.

How has your company given back to the community in the past year or so?

We are deploying our systems into food desserts, schools, Ukraine, and around the world helping underserved communities begin their journey to food independence.

Feelit Technologies, nanotechnology for preventive maintenance to eliminate leaks, fires and explosions, increase safety and reduce downtime.

Shoshi Kaganovsky, president of North America at Feelit Technologies. Photo courtesy of Feelit

What's the company culture like at your company? How big of a priority is maintaining it as the company grows?

Culture is people-oriented. We are focusing on building a team that lasts. Diversity is key. Giving chances and creating opportunities is what will advance our world further. We believe that the human asset is the most important asset we have. It's a huge priority for us to maintain this is make sure that as we grow, our culture leads the way for us, with respect, dedication and innovation.

How would you describe your leadership style in three words?

Lead by example.

How has your company given back to the community in the past year or so?

School supplies, mentorship programs for children, sponsorship and hiring people from war zones/conflicted territories.

Fervo Energy, leveraging proven oil and gas drilling technology to deliver 24/7 carbon-free geothermal energy.

Tim Latimer, CEO and co-founder of Fervo Energy. Photo via LinkedIn

What's the company culture like at your company? How big of a priority is maintaining it as the company grows?

Fervo's culture revolves around four core values: build things that last; innovate through collaboration; do what we say we're going to do; stop and smell the roses. Taken together, these values create a highly creative, collaborative, and optimistic culture in which employees are encouraged to be open-minded, honest, and supportive. Maintaining this culture as Fervo's scales is one of the executive team's highest priorities.

How would you describe your leadership style in three words?

Visionary, determined, and collaborative.

How has your company given back to the community in the past year or so?

Fervo has joined the Real Energy Alliance of Houston and the Greater Houston Partnership to contribute to the broader Houston business and environmental community. Fervo also sponsored a class at Rice University to provide undergrads with clean energy mentorship and experiential learning opportunities. Fervo also recruited summer interns from the University of Houston Bauer College of Business.

Rhythm Energy, 100 percent renewable electricity service for residential customers in Texas.

P.J. Popovic, CEO of Houston-based Rhythm Energy. Photo courtesy of Rhythm

What's the company culture like at your company? How big of a priority is maintaining it as the company grows?

At Rhythm Energy, our company culture is defined by several key aspects: Passionate: Our team is genuinely passionate about renewable energy and our mission to make a positive impact on the planet. Collaborative: Collaboration is at the heart of our culture. We encourage cross-functional teamwork and open communication. Encouraging: We foster an environment that encourages innovation and supports employees in pursuing their ideas and initiatives. Flexibility: Our employees appreciate the flexibility we offer, allowing them to balance work and life effectively. Impact: Everyone at Rhythm Energy understands the meaningful impact our work has on the environment and society. Maintaining this culture is a top priority for us as we grow. We take proactive steps, such as quarterly surveys and team discussions, to gather feedback and implement positive changes. Our commitment to preserving this culture remains unwavering.

How would you describe your leadership style in three words?

Visionary, resilient, and approachable.

How has your company given back to the community in the past year or so?

Rhythm gives back to the community in a variety of ways. First, we have a very sustainable approach to our work environment, which promotes a remote first work culture, recycles, composts, and uses sustainable office supplies. Second, we actively participate in community service projects, whether volunteering at the Houston Food Bank, doing park clean up at Buffalo Bayou Park or planting trees at Memorial Park. Last, but not least, we partner with many local organizations, such as elementary school PTOs, youth sports clubs and performing arts education programs like Theatre Under the Stars, and really focus on giving back and educating the youth in the community, as they are the future and most impacted by our sustainable decisions today.

The Postage, a comprehensive life planning and succession software platform for families and small businesses.

Emily Cisek, CEO and co-founder of The Postage. Photo courtesy of The Postage

What's the company culture like at your company? How big of a priority is maintaining it as the company grows?

At The Postage, our company culture is all about understanding, supporting, and empowering each other. We're like a team of sailors, believing that when we lift one boat, we lift all. We value empathy, making sure we put ourselves in our customers' shoes, understanding their needs, and building solutions that truly matter. Everyone is encouraged to go that extra mile, take initiative, and embrace challenges as opportunities to learn and grow. We believe in transparency, keeping communication open, honest, and straightforward. As we grow, keeping this culture alive and thriving is a big deal for us. It's what makes us who we are, and we'll keep nurturing it because it's key to our success and how we want to make a positive mark in the world.

How would you describe your leadership style in three words?

Empathetic, transparent, and empowering.

How has your company given back to the community in the past year or so?

At The Postage, we're all about giving back and spreading kindness in the community. For the past three years, we've been honored to partner with the Smilin Rylen Foundation, a cause that truly hits home for us. Rylen's spirit is a big inspiration for us. He's a driving force behind our dedication to making a positive impact every day. So, to celebrate his life we encourage acts of kindness within our team and community. Small gestures, like helping out or sharing a kind word, mean a lot to us and embody the positivity Rylen always shared. Our commitment doesn't stop there. We proudly support the Smilin Rylen Foundation, not only financially but by getting involved in their events. We believe in spreading kindness and compassion, just as they do. At The Postage, we're all about making a positive mark, and Houston is our hub to make that happen. We're committed to uplifting our diverse and vibrant community, embracing the opportunity to lead the way. Even though we're a young company, our goal of creating a positive impact on people's lives remains strong, and we're thrilled about the future and the potential to keep making a meaningful difference, right here in Houston and beyond.

SpaceFund, based in Houston and Austin, has almost reached halfway for its $20 million fundraise. Photo via NASA/Unsplash

Space-focused fund with HQ in Houston rockets toward $20M goal

money moves

A venture capital firm co-located in Houston and Austin has announced a recent closing of a $20 million fund.

SpaceFund has raised $9 million toward its its $20 million BlastOff Fund as of this week — surpassing its initial first close goal of $5 million.

"We are thrilled to see how many investors are placing their trust in our team," says SpaceFund founder Rick Tumlinson in a news release. "We spent a lot of time slowly and carefully developing our processes and credibility, so we can better serve both investors and the amazing space startup community, and it's paying off."

Launched in 2019 with an initial fund that closed in August of 2020, SpaceFund has already invested in 13 exciting space startups. The new fund will build on those investments while also expanding its portfolio, according to the release.

"SpaceFund is about combining a bold approach with a very conservative diligence and investment process," says Meagan Crawford, SpaceFund's managing partner, in the release. "The BlastOff Fund continues our careful growth plan but is designed to accelerate our ability to place investment into those companies that are leading the Space Revolution."

San Francisco-based innovator Jed McCaleb — co-founder and the CTO of Stellar Development Foundation, a nonprofit building an accessible cryptocurrency platform — anchored the BlastOff Fund.

"I came to SpaceFund to ask questions because they are seen as credible thought leaders in the space investment industry," McCaleb says in the release. "By the time we finished talking, it was clear they were an obvious choice to help me invest in this amazing field."

McCaleb has a keen interest in commercial space, according to the release.

"Jed is a well-informed investor and one who deeply cares about the future of space and humanity," adds Crawford. "He is exactly the kind of investor we hope to attract into the SpaceFund family. For us, this isn't just about money. It is about how we can best impact the future. Jed and the other investors in the fund get that."

Houston-based space companies Axiom Space, Eden Grow Systems, and Cognitive Space are among SpaceFund's current portfolio.

"There is a reason we call this the BlastOff fund," says Tumlinson. "Anyone who follows what is happening in space can see that after almost 60 years, this industry is taking off. Our job is to help investors climb aboard the right companies to carry them to their financial destinations as we open the Frontier."

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$100M Houston VC fund launches to back technical founders

show me the money

A new venture capital fund has launched with an initial $100 million mission of supporting founders with innovative critical infrastructure solutions.

Fathom Fund, which is looking to build out a portfolio of advanced computing, material science, climate resilience, and aerospace startups, announced they've launched with an initial close of over $100 million. The fund is founded by longtime investors Managing Partners Paul Sheng and Eric Bielke.

"We believe recent technological advances have accelerated the pace of scientific discovery, increasing the pool of technology companies that can produce venture-scale returns," Sheng says in a news release.

According to the fund, it hopes to bridge the gap for early stage capital for physical innovations and "moonshot" projects.

“What’s lacking in venture is rigorous technical diligence at the early stages and a playbook to scale these innovations at the pace necessary to lead industries," Bielke adds. "With this launch, we are looking forward to supporting founders with some of the most disruptive and novel ideas.”

The founder duo will bring each of the career expertise to their future portfolio companies. Sheng spent decades at McKinsey & Co and was the firm's head of the Global Energy & Materials practice. Bielke is a former director at Temasek’s Emerging Technologies Fund.

Houston is the 4th best U.S. city for Black professionals, report finds

Black History Month

In acknowledgement of Black History Month 2024, a new report compiled by Black employees at online rental marketplace Apartment List has ranked Houston the No. 4 best U.S. city for Black professionals.

Apartment List reviewed 76 cities across four major categories to determine the rankings: community and representation; economic opportunity; housing opportunity; and business environment.

Houston earned a score of 63.01 out of a total 100 points, making it the second-highest-ranked city in Texas for Black professionals, behind San Antonio (No. 3).

The city earned top-10 rankings in three out of the four main categories:

  • No. 3 – Business environment
  • No. 4 – Community and representation
  • No. 10 – Economic opportunity
  • No. 21 – Housing opportunity

Houston is commended for its strong Black business environment and economy, but there is some room for improvement when it comes to housing. Similarly to Apartment List's 2022 report – which also placed Houston at No. 4 – a little less than half (44 percent) of all Black Houston households are spending over 30 percent of their income on housing, which has increased two percent since 2019.

Houston has a larger Black population than San Antonio, at 19 percent, but its Black population share is overall lower than other cities in the top 10.

"Furthermore, the community is well-represented in some critical occupations: 20 percent of teachers are Black, as are 21 percent of doctors," the report said. "Houston is also home to the HBCU Texas Southern University, helping a job market when the median Black income is several thousand dollars above average."

Houston also has the highest rate of Black-owned businesses in the entire state, at 18 percent.

"From the Mitochondria Gallery to Ten Skyncare and Wisdom’s Vegan Bakery, Houston has it all!" the report said.

Here's how Houston stacked up in other metrics:

  • Black homeownership: 42 percent
  • Black lawyers: 14 percent
  • Black managers: 14 percent

Elsewhere in Texas
Texas cities dominated the overall top 10. San Antonio ranked just above Houston, with Dallas (No. 6) and Austin (No. 7) not too far behind.

San Antonio came in less than 2.5 points ahead of Houston with a total score of 65.44 points. The report praised San Antonio's scores across its economic opportunity (No. 2), housing opportunity (No. 7), and community and representation (No. 10). The city ranked No. 20 for its Black business environment.

But like Houston, San Antonio also fell behind in its Black homeownership rates, according to the study.

"While the Black homeownership rate is higher than average at 44 percent, the homeownership gap (Black homeownership rate - non-Black homeownership rate) quite low at -19 percent," the report's author wrote. "Perhaps this could be explained by San Antonio’s overall homeownership rate, which is also lower than the state’s average. Additionally, the lower homeownership gap could explain the cost burden rate also being lower than average at 41 percent."

The top 10 cities for Black professionals are:

  • No. 1 – Washington, D.C.
  • No. 2 – Atlanta, Georgia
  • No. 3 – San Antonio, Texas
  • No. 4 – Houston, Texas
  • No. 5 – Palm Bay, Florida
  • No. 6 – Dallas, Texas
  • No. 7 – Austin, Texas
  • No. 8 – Colorado Springs, Colorado
  • No. 9 – Lakeland, Florida
  • No. 10 – Charlotte, North Carolina
The full report and its methodology can be found on apartmentlist.com.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston expert: Can Houston replicate and surpass the success of Silicon Valley?

guest column

Anyone who knows me knows, as a Houston Startup Founder, I often muse about the still developing potential for startups in Houston, especially considering the amount of industry here, subject matter expertise, capital, and size.

For example, Houston is No. 2 in the country for Fortune 500 Companies — with 26 Bayou City companies on the list — behind only NYC, which has 47 ranked corporations, according to Fortune.

Considering layoffs, fund closings, and down rounds, things aren’t all that peachy in San Francisco for the first time in a long time, and despite being a Berkeley native, I’m rooting for Houston now that I’m a transplant.

Let’s start by looking at some stats.

While we’re not No. 1 in all areas, I believe we have the building blocks to be a major player in startups, and in tech (and not just energy and space tech). How? If the best predictor of future success is history, why not use the template of the GOAT of all startup cities: San Francisco and YCombinator. Sorry fellow founders – you’ve heard me talk about this repeatedly.

YCombinator is considered the GOAT of Startup Accelerators/Incubators based on:

  1. The Startup success rate: I’ve heard it’s as high as 75 percent (vs. the national average of 5 to 10 percent) Arc Search says 50 percent of YC Co’s fail within 12 years – not shabby.
  2. Their startup-to-unicorn ratio: 5 to 7 percent of YC startups become unicorns depending on the source — according to an Arc Search search (if you haven’t tried Arc Search do – super cool).
  3. Their network.

YC also parlayed that success into a "YC Startup School" offering:

  1. Free weekly lessons by YC partners — sometimes featuring unicorn alumni
  2. A document and video Library (YC SAFE, etc)
  3. Startup perks for students (AWS cloud credits, etc.)
  4. YC co-founder matching to help founders meet co-founders

Finally, there’s the over $80 billion in returns, according to Arc search, they’ve generated since their 2005 inception with a total of 4,000 companies in their portfolio at over $600 billion in value. So GOAT? Well just for perspective there were a jaw-dropping 18,000 startups in startup school the year I participated – so GOAT indeed.

So how do they do it? Based on anecdotal evidence, their winning formula is said to be the following well-oiled process:

  1. Bring over 282 startups (the number in last cohort) to San Francisco for 90 days to prototype, refine the product, and land on the go-to-market strategy. This includes a pre-seed YC SAFE investment of a phased $500,000 commitment for a fixed min 7 percent of equity, plus more equity at the next round’s valuation, according to YC.
  2. Over 50 percent of the latest cohort were idea stage and heavily AI focused.
  3. Traction day: inter-portfolio traction the company. YC has over 4,000 portfolio companies who can and do sign up for each other’s companies products because “they’re told to."
  4. Get beta testers and test from YC portfolio companies and YC network.
  5. If they see the traction scales to a massively scalable business, they lead the seed round and get this: schedule and attend the VC meetings with the founders.
  6. They create a "fear of missing out" mentality on Sand Hill Road as they casually mention who they’re meeting with next.
  7. They block competitors in the sector by getting the top VC’s to co-invest with then in the seed so competitors are locked out of the A list VC funding market, who then are up against the most well-funded and buzzed about players in the space.

If what I've seen is true, within a six-month period a startup idea is prototyped, tested, pivoted, launched, tractioned, seeded, and juiced for scale with people who can ‘make’ the company all in their corner, if not already on their board.

So how on earth can Houston best this?

  1. We have a massive amount of businesses — around 200,000 — and people — an estimated 7.3 million and growing.
  2. We have capital in search of an identity beyond oil.
  3. Our Fortune 500 companies that are hiring consultants for things that startups here that can do for free, quicker, and for a fraction of the extended cost.
  4. We have a growing base of tech talent for potential machine learning and artificial intelligence talent
  5. A sudden shot at the increasingly laid off big tech engineers.
  6. We have more accelerators and incubators.

What do we need to pull it off?

  1. An organized well-oiled YC-like process
  2. An inter-Houston traction process
  3. An "Adopt a Startup" program where local companies are willing to beta test and iterate with emerging startup products
  4. We have more accelerators but the cohorts are small — average five to 10 per cohort.
  5. Strategic pre-seed funding, possibly with corporate partners (who can make the company by being a client) and who de-risk the investment.
  6. Companies here to use Houston startup’s products first when they’re launched.
  7. A forum to match companies’ projects or labs groups etc., to startups who can solve them.
  8. A process in place to pull all these pieces together in an organized, structured sequence.

There is one thing missing in the list: there has to be an entity or a person who wants to make this happen. Someone who sees all the pieces, and has the desire, energy and clout to make it happen; and we all know this is the hardest part. And so for now, our hopes of besting YC may be up in the air as well.

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Jo Clark is the founder of Circle.ooo, a Houston-based tech startup that's streamlining events management.