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

money moves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Houston-based afterlife planning startup launches new app

there's an app for that

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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