Austin-based Firmspace opened its Houston location last year. Courtesy of Firmspace

Before the pandemic, Houston coworking demand mirrored that of the rest of the country: shared space was booming, new operators were opening up. Demand was growing in Houston, as it was in other markets.

When the pandemic arrived in Houston last spring, the city was hit with a crisis on two fronts: local public health challenges due to the arrival of COVID-19 were further complicated by a downturn in the price of oil and gas industry — the literal fuel of this city's dominant industry.

But coworking hasn't faded away as office spaces closed or reduced capacity – it's evolved. In fact, the ongoing pandemic has accelerated this changing space and pushed operators to adapt their offerings to meet the market's needs. The result in Houston is the emergence of three major trends that we expect to see persist beyond 2021.

Increased demand for private offices

According to a recent report from JLL, up to 70 percent of all office spaces were primarily or partially open plan in design by the first quarter of 2020. But few of us want to sit in an open plan office with a dozen other masked professionals while fielding Zoom calls, but working from home isn't an option for those who lack the space and privacy they need to effectively work from home.

This combination of pandemic-related stressors has driven more Houstonians to seek out private office space for rent. The basic requirements in the pandemic era look slightly different than what we might have observed a year ago. Professionals want:

  • Private office spaces with doors that close and lock
  • Walls that provide privacy and noise insulation
  • Secure IT infrastructure, chiefly high-speed internet access
  • Enhanced cleaning protocols in common spaces and high-touch areas
  • Closed ventilation loops and as much clean air piped in from the outdoors as possible

And coworking spaces are doing their best to deliver this calm, safe environment where busy professionals can come to do focused work.

More short-term arrangements

The future has never looked more uncertain to professionals and leadership in all sectors. Here at the end of 2020, many companies that have paid nearly nine months of rent on office space that they've been unable to safely use are weighing the benefits of breaking their years-long commercial leases.

Companies are not sure what the structure of their teams will be in three months, nevermind three years, and this is changing how leaders think about their real estate contracts. In this climate, many are turning to coworking spaces that offer six- and 12-month contracts with furnishes and IT infrastructure in place to lighten their financial commitments to physical spaces.

The other trend in short-term leasing that local coworking spaces have embraced is the day office. Given that many of us are planning to work at least part-time from our home offices for the near future, coworking spaces have spotted the opportunity to offer a pay-per-day model to engage professionals that only need a break from the home office one or two days a week.

A private office as a status symbol

The office used to be where we went to get away from home five days a week. For members of traditional coworking spaces in the startup and tech industries, the office often felt like an incubator where spontaneous connections happened.

But in light of the pandemic, private office space has become a refuge where professionals go to feel safe, achieve focused work, and execute sensitive tasks with assurance that they have a level of privacy that can't be achieved at home.

Whether you're looking to speak with clients or prospective employees remotely, private office space and polished meeting rooms have also come to be a status symbol. A video call with chic design elements visible in the background of their office space communicates something powerful – the people in those chairs are invested in the time they spend at work.


Moving into 2021, Houstonians are ready to return to work. Even before the pandemic arrived, commercial real estate was beginning to see that the future of work will be more flexible and more often remote than it was in the past. While we're not through this crisis yet, many professionals are already looking for a new kind of private office arrangement, and local coworking operators are working to deliver the space these Houstonians need.

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Anish Michael is the CEO of Austin-based Firmspace, which has a 32,000-square-foot space in BBVA Compass Plaza in Houston.

From enlightening talks to networking opportunities, here's where you need to be in April. Getty Images

10+ can't-miss Houston business and innovation events for April

Where to be

Happy Q2, everyone. With 2019 already a quarter of the way through, it's a bit overwhelming to prioritize what networking and thought talks to attend. We've rounded up a list of over 10 (and growing) events for you to consider adding to your calendar.

If you know of innovation-focused events for this month or next, email me at natalie@innovationmap.com with the details and subscribe to our daily newsletter that sends fresh stories straight to your inboxes every morning.

April 4 — FIRMSPACE Houston Grand Opening Celebration

A national high-end workspace brand has opened its latest location in Houston. Check out the space and network with potential coworkers.

Details: The event is from 7 to 10 pm on Thursday, April 4, at FIRMSPACE Houston (2200 Post Oak Boulevard). Learn more.

April 4 — Accelerator Info Session and Panel

Join the Social Enterprise Alliance for an info session on BBVA Momentum's accelerator program followed by a panel discussion led by Grace Rodriguez, CEO of Impact Hub Houston.

Details: The event is from 11:30 am to 1 pm on Thursday, April 4, at Station Houston (1301 Fannin, suite 2440). Learn more.

April 4-6 — Rice Business Plan Competition

This weekend, 42 teams will be competing for over $1.5 million in awards at the 19th annual Rice Business Plan Competition. Learn more about the awards and teams here.

Details: The three-day challenge takes place in a few different buildings on Rice University Campus. Learn more.

April 5 — ChIPs Texas' Houston Innovation Ecosystem

Gina Luna of Houston Exponential and Tom Luby of the TMC Innovation Institute will take the stage for a panel moderated by Payal Patel of Station Houston. It's the first ChIPs event in Houston. ChIPs is a nonprofit organization that advances and connects women in technology, law, and policy.

Details: The event is from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm on Friday, April 5, at TMC Innovation Institute (2450 Holcombe Blvd, Suite X). Learn more.

April 10 — MassChallenge Texas' Houston Launch Party

In case you missed it, MassChallenge Texas has a new Houston program and it's officially launching this month. Network with the international program, potential applicants, and other members of the Houston innovation ecosystem.

Details: The event is from 6 to 8 pm on Wednesday, April 10, at Four Seasons Houston (1300 Lamar St.). Learn more.

April 11 — 2019 Future of Leadership Luncheon

The annual event honors leadership and celebrates the important role of philanthropy in the Houston community. Tickets start at $250 for the luncheon that features a conversation between Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, and Laura Arnold, co-chair of Arnold Ventures, on the future of philanthropy.

Details: The event is from noon to 1:30 pm on Thursday, April 11, at the Hilton Americas (1600 Lamar Street). Learn more here.

April 11 — Startup Pains: What I Wish I Knew

This monthly series hosted by the University of Houston lets you learn from someone else's mistakes and successes. This month's speaker is Jason Eriksen, Ph.D.UH associate professor of pharmacy, and founder of Alzeca Biosciences and Teomics LLC.

Details: The event is from 4 to 5 pm on Thursday, April 11, at the UH Technology Bridge (Innovation Center, building 4, floor 2, 5000 Gulf Fwy). Learn more here.Learn more here.

April 11 — B2B Startup Pitch Party

Cannon Ventures is hosting another night of pitches. This event is focused on all things B2B and will feature some B2B startups looking for early stage funding in Houston.

Details: The event is from 6:30 to 9 pm on Thursday, April 11, at The Cannon (1336 Brittmoore Road). Learn more.

April 12 — The Agile Shift Conference

Join industry professionals to network and talk the unification of Agile and DevOps to build and deliver better teams and software.

Details: The event is from 8 am to 5 pm on Friday, April 12, at the Hyatt Regency Houston (1200 Louisiana St.). Learn more.

April 18 — Lemonade Day at Station Houston

Join Station Houston for what is likely going to be the cutest pitch competition you'll ever see. Ten teams made up of future entrepreneurs will pitch their ideas for a lemonade stand.

Details: The event is from 5:30 to 7:30 pm on Thursday, April 18, at Station Houston (1301 Fannin Street, suite 2440). Learn more.

April 18 — Rice Alumni | Entrepreneurs & Innovators, Houston Launch

A Rice University organization has a new name, and they are ready to celebrate it. Meet the new Rice Alumni | Entrepreneurs & Innovators network, or RA|EI, and discuss what you want out of the organization.

Details: The event is from 5:30 to 7:30 pm on Thursday, April 18, at Pitch 25 (2120 Walker Street). Learn more.

April 23 — Houston Female Founder Roundtable: How to Get Ahead in Entrepreneurship with Alice

A panel of entrepreneurial women will share their stories, challenges, successes, and tips.

Details: The event is from 11 am to 1 pm on Tuesday, April 23, at The Cannon (1336 Brittmoore Rd). Learn more.

April 25 — EO Talks Houston

Think TED Talks but from Houston entrepreneurs. The goal is to share success stories and inspire other entrepreneurs in town.

Details: The event is from 7:30 to 10:30 am on Thursday, April 25, at Houston Baptist University, Linda & Archie Dunham Theater (7502 Fondren Road). Learn more.

April 25 — 7th Annual City of Houston Investor Conference

The City of Houston is gathering professionals to talk money for a full day of presentations by local government CFOs and an update on the region's economy.

Details: The event is from 8 am to 5 pm on Thursday, April 25, at Hilton Americas-Houston (1600 Lamar Street). Learn more.

April 25 — Enterprise XR: How AR/VR is Preparing Modern Workers

Immersive technology is shifting the paradigm of corporate training, and you and your company need to learn about it. The event has a keynote speaker and networking before and after.

Details: The event is from 6:30 to 8 pm on Thursday, April 25, at Station Houston (1301 Fannin St., suite 2440). Learn more.

April 26 — Data Science and You: Ethics in Data Science

Visiting professor Lawrence Hunter, director of the Computational Bioscience Program and of the Center for Computational Pharmacology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, talks advances in data science and what you need to know.

Details: The event is from 3 to 5 pm on Friday, April 26, at the University of Houston Student Center (4455 University Drive).Learn more here.

April 26 — SPE Pitch Perfect

Join the Society of Professional Engineers' GCS Innovate! Committee for an event that will help you perfect your business plan.

Details: The event is from 9 am to 2 pm on Friday, April 26, at the Newpark Drilling Fluids (21920 Merchants Way). Learn more here.

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H-E-B leader gifts $5 million to historic Houston-area university for future students

HEB and PVAMU

The leader of the Lone Star State’s beloved H-E-B has bestowed a monumental gift upon a historic Houston-area university.

On November 17, Prairie View A&M University announced that H-E-B chairman Charles Butt — one of America’s favorite CEOs and member of one of Texas’ richest families — has donated $5 million to create Founders Scholarships for incoming PVAMU students.

“The $5 million gift will provide a permanent endowment to support students today and in the coming years,” a release notes. “Initially generating approximately $200,000 a year for scholarships, the fund will grow significantly in coming years, making even more available to support students.”

The scholarships will be available to students from public high schools in Texas graduating in the top quartile of their class, the release says. They must be incoming first-year students, enrolled in a full-time course load, and as scholarship recipients, they will benefit from “enrichment opportunities unique to their [Founders Scholarships] cohort.”

Scholarship disbursements will begin in fall 2022, a spokesperson confirms; the number of initial scholarships available has not been revealed.

“Charles Butt has been amazingly generous to our university. He has shown time and time again that he genuinely cares about the opportunities afforded to students at PV. We are indebted to him for his grace and his humanity,” says Ruth Simmons, president of PVAMU, in the release.

Prairie View A&M University is the second-oldest public institution of higher learning in the state and is one of Texas’ historically Black universities. It is located approximately 50 miles northwest of Houston and has a current enrollment of more than 8,000 undergraduate and graduate students.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston logistics software startup secures $8.4M series A from international investors

money moves

A Houston-based software company that's reducing cost and risk in the marine supply chain has closed its latest round of funding.

Voyager Portal, a software-as-a-service platform closed an $8.4 million series A investment round this week. The round was led by Phaze Ventures, a VC fund based in the Middle East, and included new investors — ScOp Venture Capital, Waybury Capital and Flexport. Additionally, all of Voyager's existing investors contributed to this round.

Voyager has reported significant growth over the past two years since its $1.5 million seed round. Between Q3 2020 to Q3 2021, the company's revenue has increased 13 times and was up 40 percent from Q2 2021. Voyager now manages over $1 billion in freight on the platform, according to a news release.

“Voyager Portal was created to significantly reduce cost, risk, and complexity when transporting bulk materials around the world,” says Matthew Costello, CEO and co-founder of Voyager, in the release. “The last two years have demonstrated just how critical shipping bulk commodities is to global markets – freight rates have increased and port congestion is at an all-time high – accelerating the demand for Voyager’s solution.”

Costello says the fresh funds will be used to support Voyager's continued growth.

“With our Series A funding, we’ll be able to expedite our product roadmap to support an international client base whilst expanding our engineering, development, marketing and sales teams internationally," he adds.

Matthew Costello Voyager Matthew Costello is the CEO and co-founder of Voyager.

Built from the ground up, Voyager's software was created to replace the antiquated and complex legacy systems the market has seen for decades. The platform allows companies to seamlessly collaborate in real time over a single shipment.

“Voyager's implementation has been hugely impressive,” says Adam Panni, operations manager at OMV, a multinational energy company based in Austria, in the release. “The low-code functionality allows almost real-time modifications to the developing workflows and reporting capabilities with no lengthy development and minimal testing prior to implementation. By digitizing data capture across all our physical movements, we are able to analyze our business much better, enabling faster and smarter decisions driven by data. This, in turn, will provide significant, quantifiable cost reductions for our business.”

Abdullah Al-Shaksy, co-founder and CEO of Phaze Ventures says the platform is evolving the industry as a whole at an important moment.

“Voyager is changing the way companies are thinking of their global shipping operations,” he says. “Global supply chains are becoming increasingly complex and strained, and there is an incredible treasure trove of data that organizations are underutilizing in their decision-making process. We believe what Voyager has created for their customers across the globe will revolutionize this space forever.”

Rice research: Revisiting the merits of nondigital data collecting

houston voices

Academics are learning quickly that investigations based on data from online research agencies have their drawbacks. Thousands of such studies are released every year – and if the data is compromised, so too are the studies themselves.

So it’s natural for researchers, and the managers who rely on their findings, to be concerned about potential problems with the samples they’re studying. Among them: participants who aren’t in the lab and researchers who can’t see who is taking their survey, what they are doing while answering questions or even if they are who they claim to be online. In the wake of a 2018 media piece about Amazon’s Mechanical Turks Service, “Bots on Amazon’s MTurk Are Ruining Psychology Studies,” one psychology professor even mused, “I wonder if this is the end of MTurk research?” (It wasn’t).

To tackle this problem, Rice Business professor Mikki Hebl joined colleagues Carlos Moreno and Christy Nittrouer of Rice University along with several other colleagues to highlight the value of other research methods. Four alternatives – field experiments, archival data, observations and big data – represent smart alternatives to overreliance on online surveys. These methods also have the advantage of challenging academics to venture outside of their laboratories and examine real people and real data in the real world.

Field experiments have been around for decades. But their value is hard to overestimate. Unlike online studies, field experiments enhance the role of context, especially in settings that are largely uncontrolled. It’s hard to fake a field experiment in order to create positive results since each one costs a considerable time and money.

And field experiments can yield real-life results with remarkable implications for society at large. Consider one experiment among 56 middle schools in New Jersey, which found that spreading anti-conflict norms was hugely successful in reducing the need for disciplinary action. Such studies have an impact well beyond what could be achieved with a simple online survey.

The best way to get started with a good field experiment, Hebl and her colleagues wrote, is for researchers to think about natural field settings to which they have access, either personally or by leveraging their networks. Then, researchers should think about starting with the variables critical for any given setting and which they would most like to manipulate to observe the outcome. When choosing variables, it’s helpful to start by thinking about what variable might have conditions leading to the greatest degree of behavior change if introduced into the setting.

Archival data is another excellent way to work around the limitations of online surveys, the researchers argue. These data get around some of the critical drawbacks of field research, including problems around how findings apply in a more general way. Archival data, especially in the form of state or national level data sets, provide information and insight into a large, diverse set of samples that are more representative of the general population than online studies.

Archival data can also help answer questions that are either longitudinal or multilevel in nature, which can be particularly tricky or even impossible to capture with data collected by any single research team. As people spend increasing amounts of time on social media, the internet also serves as a source of newer forms of archival data that can lend unique insights into individuals’ thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors over time.

With every passing year, technology becomes increasingly robust and adept at collecting massive amounts of data on an endless variety of human behavior. For the scientists who research social and personality psychology, the term “big data” refers not only to very large sets of data but also to the tools and techniques that are used to analyze it. The three defining properties of Big Data in this context include the speed of data processing and collection, the vast amount of data being analyzed and the sheer variety of data available.

By using big data, social scientists can generate research based on various conditions, as well as collect data in natural settings. Big data also offers the opportunity to consolidate information from huge and highly diverse stores of data. This technology has many applications, including psychological assessments and improving security in airports and other transportation hubs. In future research, Hebl and her team noted, researchers will likely leverage big data and its applications to detect our unconscious emotions.

Big data, archival information and field studies can all be used in conjunction with each other to maximize the fidelity of research. But researchers shouldn’t forget even more old-fashioned techniques, including the oldest: keen observation. With observation, there are often very few, if any, manipulations and the goal is simply to systematically record the way people behave.

Researchers – and the managers who make decisions based on their findings – should consider the advantages of old-style, often underused methodologies, Hebl and her colleagues argue. Moving beyond the college laboratory and digital data survey-collection platforms and into the real world offers some unparalleled advantages to science. For the managers whose stock prices may hinge on this science, it’s worth knowing – and understanding – how your all-important data was gathered.

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This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom and is based on research from Mikki Hebl, the Martha and Henry Malcolm Lovett Professor of psychology at Rice University, and Carlos Moreno and Christy Nittrouer, who are graduate students at Rice University. Additional researchers include Ho Kwan Cheung, Eden B. King, and Hannah Markellis of George Mason University.