Texas was named the second best state for business by Forbes, and Oxford Economics predicted Houston's economic growth to be more significant over the next few years than most other major metros. Getty Images

Houston and the rest of Texas received two early Christmas presents signaling that their economies continue to percolate.

In a report released December 23, economic forecasting and analysis firm Oxford Economics predicted Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth will enjoy a greater share of economic growth through 2023 than any other mega-metro area in the U.S. except San Francisco.

Meanwhile, Forbes magazine declared on December 19 that Texas is the second best state for business, behind only North Carolina. Texas previously sat in the No. 3 spot on the Forbes list, preceded by North Carolina and Utah.

Through 2023, Oxford Economics forecasts average compound GDP growth of 2.4 percent in Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth. Among the country's 10 biggest metro areas, only the projection for San Francisco is higher (2.7 percent).

For Houston, the 2.4 percent figure would be an improvement over recent economic performance. From 2014 to 2018, the region's GDP growth rate was 1 percent, while it was 1.5 percent for 2015-19. In the 2020-21 timeframe, the growth rate for Houston is expected to be 1.9 percent.

In a recent forecast, the Greater Houston Partnership envisions the Houston area adding 42,300 jobs in 2020, mostly outside the energy sector. Among the region's top-performing sectors in 2020 will be healthcare, government, food services, and construction, the partnership says. Meanwhile, the energy, retail, and information sectors are expected to shrink.

In November, Robert Gilmer of the University of Houston's Institute for Regional Forecasting explained that by the end of 2022, job losses in the oil industry should have a limited effect on the region's economy. Still, he anticipates Houston's job growth through 2024 will be "moderate and just below trend."

In forecasting strong economic growth for Houston and DFW, Oxford Economics says the "industrial structures" of the two regions "are not exceptional, but low costs and low regulation mean that the industries that they do have grow faster than elsewhere."

"San Francisco's very high costs are creating affordability problems and rising inequalities that may eventually undermine its model," Oxford Economics adds. "Competitive advantages never last forever. The Sunbelt cities [including Houston and DFW] may yet give it a run for its money."

Houston's and DFW's competitive advantages mesh with those of the entire state. Texas' high points include lower taxes, lower labor expenses, lower cost of living, and low levels of regulation, Oxford Economics says.

As noted by Forbes, Moody's Analytics predicts Texas businesses will add close to 1 million new jobs by 2023, which would be the third highest average annual job growth rate among the states. Meanwhile, the share of Texans who launched businesses last year was the fourth highest in the country, according to Kauffman Foundation data cited by Forbes. And just three states — California, New York and Washington — saw more venture capital flow into them in 2018 and 2019 than Texas did, according to PwC.

Texas earned these rankings on the Forbes list:

  • No. 1 state for growth prospects
  • No. 1 state for business costs
  • No. 4 state for economic climate
  • No. 10 state for labor supply
  • No. 15 state for quality of life
  • No. 21 state for regulatory environment
In his 2019 State of the State address, Gov. Greg Abbott praised Texas as "the most powerful state in America," thanks in part to healthy job growth, low unemployment, and rising wages. "Texas is the premier economic destination in the United States," he said.
Pipeline mogul and Memorial Park benefactor Richard Kinder (pictured with his wife, Nancy) leads the Houston billionaires. Photo by Michelle Watson/Catchlight Group

Houston billionaires named to Forbes' list of richest Americans for 2019

Seeing dollar signs

Who's the richest person in Texas? That title once again goes to Walmart heiress Alice Walton, of Fort Worth, according to the newly released Forbes 400 ranking. But seven very wealthy Houstonians also appear on the list of the 400 richest people in the country right now.

The top Houstonian on the list is Houston pipeline mogul Richard Kinder, who is tied with another Walmart heiress, Ann Walton Kroenke, for sixth place in Texas and No. 67 nationally. Forbes estimates they're each worth $7.5 billion.

The other Houston billionaires on the list are:

  • Randa Duncan Williams and her siblings Dannine Avara, Scott Duncan, and Milane Frantz, all of whom live in Houston. Each boasts an estimated net worth of $6.3 billion, tying them for the eighth place in Texas and 100th place nationally.
  • Restaurant mogul and Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, $4.9 billion. Tied for 15th in Texas and No. 140 in U.S.
  • Toyota titan Dan Friedkin, $4 billion. Tied for No. 21 in Texas. Tied for No. 187 in U.S.
  • Houston Texans co-founder Janice McNair, widow of businessman and Texans co-founder Bob McNair, $4 billion. Tied for No. 21 in Texas and No. 187 in U.S.
  • Energy executive Jeffery Hildebrand, $3.8 billion. No. 23 in Texas. Tied for No. 207 in U.S.
  • Former hedge fund manager John Arnold, $3.3 billion. No. 26 in Texas. No. 261 in U.S.
  • Energy mogul George Bishop of The Woodlands, $2.4 billion. Tied for No. 33 in Texas and No. 355 in U.S.

With an estimated net worth at $51.4 billion, Walton is the 11th richest person in the country (and the richest person in the Lone Star State). Second in line is Austin's Michael Dell, founder, chairman, and CEO of Round Rock-based Dell Technologies, who notches a net worth of $32.3 billion, which puts him at No. 18 on the list of America's billionaires. Holding down third place in Texas and 48th in the U.S. is Dallas banker and real estate titan Andy Beal, with an estimated net worth of $9.8 billion.

This year, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones got muscled out of the No. 4 spot in Texas by Stan Kroenke, whose professional sports holdings include the NFL's Los Angeles Rams. The estimated net worth of Kroenke, who owns a 520,000-acre ranch west of Wichita Falls, is $9.7 billion, compared with $8.6 billion for Jones. That puts Kroenke in 49th place and Jones in 56th place among the richest Americans.

Here are the other Texans who made it onto this year's Forbes 400, in order of ranking:

  • Omni Hotels and Gold's Gym king Robert Rowling of Dallas. $5.5 billion. No. 12 in Texas. Tied for No. 119 in U.S.
  • Oil and gas heir Ray Lee Hunt of Dallas. $5.2 billion No. 13 in Texas. No. 127 in U.S.
  • Venture capital entrepreneur Robert Smith of Austin. $5 billion. No. 14 in Texas. Tied for No. 131 in U.S.
  • Oil heir Robert Bass of Fort Worth. $4.9 billion. Tied for No. 15 in Texas and No. 140 in U.S.
  • Pipeline executive Kelcy Warren of Dallas. $4.3 billion. No. 17 in Texas. Tied for No. 159 in U.S.
  • Vodka tycoon Bert "Tito" Beveridge of Austin. $4.2 billion. Tied for No. 18 in Texas and No. 168 in U.S.
  • Margot Birmingham Perot of Dallas, widow of tech entrepreneur H. Ross Perot. $4.2 billion. Tied for No. 18 in Texas and No. 168 in U.S.
  • Tech entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban of Dallas. $4.1 billion. No. 20 in Texas. Tied for No. 179 in U.S.
  • Private equity giant David Bonderman of Fort Worth. $3.7 billion. Tied for No. 24 in Texas and No. 217 in U.S.
  • Oil and gas chief Trevor Rees-Jones of Dallas. $3.7 billion. Tied for No. 24 in Texas and No. 217 in U.S.
  • Investor and oil heir Sid Bass of Fort Worth. $3.1 billion. Tied for No. 27 in Texas and No. 275 in U.S.
  • John Paul DeJoria of Austin. $3.1 billion. Tied for No. 27 in Texas and No. 275 in U.S.
  • Tech entrepreneur Thai Lee of Austin. $3 billion. Tied for No. 29 in Texas and No. 287 in U.S.
  • Software entrepreneur Joe Liemandt of Austin. $3 billion. Tied for No. 29 in Texas and No. 287 in U.S.
  • Oil heir W. Herbert Hunt of Dallas. $2.6 billion. Tied for No. 31 in Texas and No. 333 in U.S.
  • Investor and former grocery distributor Drayton McLane Jr. of Temple. $2.6 million. Tied for No. 31 in Texas and No. 333 in U.S.
  • Hearing-aid titan Bill Austin of Brownsville. $2.4 billion. Tied for No. 33 in Texas and No. 355 in U.S.
  • Energy entrepreneur and Texas Rangers co-owner Ray Davis of Dallas. $2.3 billion. Tied for No. 35 in Texas and No. 363 in U.S.
  • Big-time banker Gerald Ford of Dallas. $2.3 billion. Tied for No. 35 in Texas and No. 363 in U.S.
  • Oil heir Edward Bass of Fort Worth. $2.2 billion. Tied for No. 37 in Texas and No. 370 in U.S.
  • Oil heir Lee Bass of Fort Worth. $2.2 billion. Tied for No. 37 in Texas and No. 370 in U.S.
  • Real estate developer H. Ross Perot Jr. of Dallas. $2.2 billion. Tied for No. 37 in Texas and No. 370 in U.S.
  • Private equity entrepreneur Brian Sheth of Austin. $2.2 billion. Tied for No. 37 in Texas and No. 370 in U.S.
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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Life Time Work opening its first Houston location is among this roundup of Houston innovation news. Courtesy of Life Time Work

Hypergiant receives funding from Japan, UH honored for entrepreneur program, coworking space opens, and more Houston innovation news

Short stories

In the Houston innovation news cycle, it's hard to keep up. Three higher education institutions are celebrating big wins within innovation and entrepreneurialism, a new coworking space joins the scene, and a health tech competition launches out of the Texas Medical Center.

Here are all the short stories within Houston innovation that you may have missed.

Texas AI company makes international partnership

Photo via hypergiant.com

Hypergiant Industries, a Texas industrial AI company with a presence in Houston, announced that it has received funding from and has entered into a partnership with Japan-based Sumitomo Corporation of Americas. The relationship will allow the company to enable and accelerate Hypergiant's AI-driven innovation initiatives across over 900 Sumitomo subsidiaries and associated companies.

"We're proud to be backed by a global leader like SCOA," says Ben Lamm, CEO and co-founder of Hypergiant, in a release. "SCOA is a company that has advanced so many industries with critical technological breakthroughs decade after decade. This relationship will ensure that both SCOA and Hypergiant remain ahead of the competition in AI for years to come."

The funding amount wasn't disclosed.

Bauer College of Business gets top marks

Photo via bauerticker.uh.edu

The Deshpande Foundation has selected The University of Houston for its 2019 Entrepreneurial University Award, recognizing the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship at the C.T. Bauer College of Business.

"Over the past decade, the Wolff Center's reputation as one of the nation's leading entrepreneurship programs has grown tremendously, and this award from the Deshpande Foundation reinforces that Bauer College is empowering students to innovate through a world-class program that emphasizes experiential learning and personalized attention by dedicated mentors," says Paul A. Pavlou, incoming dean of the Bauer College, in a release.

The award was announced by the Massachusetts-based organization at the Deshpande Symposium for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Higher Education at the University of Massachusetts Lowell on June 11.

Life Time Work opens its doors

Courtesy of Life Time Work

Life Time Work's first Houston-area location has opened its doors in City Centre Five at 825 Town & Country Lane. The next location has already been announced to open in downtown Houston next year.

"Life Time Work is a natural extension of the lifestyle brand we have built in our athletic resorts over the past 27 years," says Life Time Work president, James O'Reilly, in a release. "With Houston's continued growth and diversified business and entrepreneurial community, City Centre is the perfect location for us to unveil this concept. We look forward to helping our members in their pursuit of a fulfilling and healthy work life."

The 25,000-square-foot space features 79 desks, 48 offices, lounge spaces, eight phone booths, two phone rooms, five conference rooms, and more features.

JLABS @ TMC opens contest for health care startups

Photo via jlabs.jnjinnovation.com

Johnson & Johnson Innovation, the Texas Medical Center, and AngelMD have teamed up to launch the Breakthrough Medical Technologies QuickFire Challenge, which is looking for game-changing medical device ideas from all over the world for a chance to win prizes.

The winner — or winners — will "receive up to $250,000 in convertible notes funding from TMC, entry to the TMCx accelerator program, one year of residency at JLABS @ TMC in Houston, Texas, and access to the Johnson & Johnson, Innovation - JLABS global ecosystem," according to the website. Also on the line — an additional convertible note investment up to $100,000 from AngelMD's Catalyst Fund.

The competition is looking for innovations within a wide range of health technologies, from oncology to 3D printing.

Houston hospital ranks No. 1 in the state for being one of America's Best Employers

Courtesy of Methodist Hospital/Facebook

Forbes partnered with market research company Statista to identify the best employers in each state. In Texas, Houston was represented at the top. Houston Methodist ranked as the number one company on the Texas list.

Royal Dutch Shell, which ranks at No. 11, is the next Houston-headquartered company on the list, followed by The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (No. 19), Katy Independent School District (No. 22), and Texas Children's Hospital (No. 23.)

HCC recognized for innovation of the year

Photo courtesy of HCC

Houston Community College received the Innovation of the Year Award from the League for Innovation in the Community College. HCC won for its Zero Textbook Degree initiative, which launched in 2017 and has grown from 28 to 98 sections across five HCC campuses.

"The Z-Degree program is managed by an entire group of hardworking and forward-thinking HCC faculty who are all deserving of the accolades currently bestowed on them," says Chancellor Cesar Maldonado in a news release.

Textbook prices have increased 88 percent since 2006, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and, according to the release, textbooks could end up costing some HCC students more than their tuition.

Rice University hosts inaugural program for future entrepreneurs

Photo courtesy of Lilie



Rice's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship got a jump on molding its young minds. Lilie hosted 44 incoming freshmen as a part of its inaugural Lilie Change Maker Summit. For four days, the to-be students had the opportunity to get get a taste of the program and entrepreneurialism through workshops, guest speakers, and more.

The summit was led by Jamie Jones, executive director of Lilie, and Hesam Panahi, lecturer in entrepreneurship at Rice's Jones Graduate School of Business and a faculty member at Lilie.

"We truly believe this will be a game changer in the Rice entrepreneurial ecosystem," says Caitlin Bolanos, associate director at Lilie, in an email to InnovationMap. "We were able to connect with these students and build loyalty before they even officially started in the fall, and the students are so pumped to have found each other and to continue working on their ideas while at Rice."

Kendra Scott is one of the five richest self-made women in the state. Photo by Tyler Schmitt, ARF

5 Texas entrepreneurs rank among Forbes' richest self-made women

Must be the money

It's common knowledge Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta and Gulf States Toyota owner Dan Friedkin rank among the wealthiest people in Texas. But did you know that five other entrepreneurs — collectively worth more than $4 billion — stand among the richest self-made women in the country?

Billionaire Thai Lee and millionaires Kendra Scott, Kathleen Hildreth, Whitney Wolfe Herd, and Suzy Batiz appear on Forbes magazine's new list of America's 80 richest self-made women — women who garnered wealth on their own, rather than by inheriting or winning it. And they're in great company, joining the likes of Taylor Swift, Oprah Winfrey, Kylie Jenner, Rihanna, Madonna, Celine Dion, and Beyoncé.

Thai Lee, with an estimated net worth of $3 billion, appears at No. 5 on the Forbes list. She is president and CEO of SHI International Corp., a provider of IT products and services whose more than 17,000 customers include AT&T and Boeing. Revenue at the New Jersey-based company hit $10 billion in 2018; more than 4,000 people work at SHI. Austin is home to SHI's corporate call center and is the hub for its sales division catering to small and midsize businesses.

"In early 2015, we mapped a five-year goal to reach $10 billion in revenue by the end of 2019. Through the hard work of our employees, the strength of our partnerships, and our ability to discern and solve our customers' most pressing IT and business challenges, we reached that goal 12 months early," Lee says in a February release.

At No. 40 on the list, with an estimated net worth of $550 million, is Kendra Scott. She is founder and CEO of Kendra Scott Design Inc. Annual sales at the Austin-based jewelry company hover around $360 million.

In 2017, Boston-based private equity firm Berkshire Partners invested in Scott's company at a valuation of more than $1 billion. Scott started the company in 2002 in the spare bedroom of her home. Today, Scott's business operates 100 jewelry stores, runs massive e-commerce and wholesale units, and employs more than 2,000 people. Last year, the company opened its flagship store on South Congress Avenue.

"There were so many ups and downs through this journey. There were many times that I thought I was going to lose my business. I had no investment capital. I was carrying it all on my shoulders — bootstrapping it, literally," Scott told CNN in 2018.

Kathleen Hildreth, co-founder of aviation-maintenance company M1 Support Services, appears on the list at No. 57, with an estimated net worth of $370 million. She is a West Point graduate and Army veteran who served as a helicopter pilot. Before M1 Support, she worked with defense contractors, including Lockheed Martin and DynCorp. Hildreth calls Aubrey, Texas, in the DFW area, home.

"Anything in the government's [aircraft] inventory, we do work on," Hildreth told Forbes. "You name it." Forbes adds, "The U.S Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, and NASA are all clients of M1 Support, which relies entirely on the federal government for business. Most of its revenues come from maintaining military aircraft, including fighter jets such as F15s, F16s, and A10 Thunderbolts."

The fourth Texas entrepreneur on the list is Whitney Wolfe Herd, founder and CEO of Austin-based Bumble Trading Inc., developer of the Bumble dating app for women, and the related Bumble BFF friend-finding app and Bumble Bizz networking app. Herd launched Bumble in 2014 after co-founding dating app Tinder. With an estimated net worth of $290 million, Herd claimed the No. 72 spot on the Forbes list. This is her first year to be ranked.

Bumble counts more than 60 million users in 150 countries. The company's estimated annual revenue totals $175 million, according to Forbes. Russian billionaire Andrey Andreev is the majority owner of Bumble.

"I want to take this sucker around the planet," Herd told Marie Claire last year about the future of Bumble. "Then, who knows, maybe we'll work with [Jeff] Bezos and [Elon] Musk and take it beyond."

At No. 77, with an estimated net worth of $270 million, is Dallas' Suzy Batiz, founder of Poo-Pourri, the before-you-go toilet spray available at major retailers. More than 60 million bottles have sold since the company's founding in 2007; Pou-Pourri is now expanding into shoe and pet odors and a cleaning line.

Asked in 2016 what the riskiest thing was she had ever done professionally, Batiz said not selling her company or taking on investors.

"I had no idea if it was going to work out. It's like being on a game show," she told Forbes. "They hand you the big briefcase and you think, 'You can take this thing of money, or you can gamble and try to stay in the game.' Somehow I knew that my baby, the company, was very similar to a child. It just wasn't ready to be released into the world yet without me."

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This story originally appeared on CultureMap.

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Houston solar energy exec shines light on company growth and IPO

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 15

It was all about the timing for John Berger, founder and CEO of Sunnova, a Houston-based residential solar energy company.

When he founded his company in 2012 in Houston, solar energy wasn't the trendy sustainability option it is today, but Berger saw the potential for technology within the industry. So, with a lot of perseverance and the right team behind him, he scaled Sunnova through nationwide expansion, billions of money raised, and a debut on the stock market last July — something that also happened with great timing.

About 72 hours after Sunnova went public last July, the Federal Reserve System announced it was going to cut rates. Additionally, Sunnova's IPO occurred ahead of WeWork's failed IPO.

"We went public in a market that still isn't back open again, I think, for IPOs," Berger says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We had pretty good timing when we went out the door."

However great the timing was, Sunnova's success is built on the hard work and skills of the company's employees, Berger explains on the podcast, and now running a public company requires a dynamic leader.

"I really look at myself and how I can change myself," Berger says. "I'm a different CEO today than I was 12 months ago, and hopefully I'll be a different CEO in 12 months, because the company demands it."

In the episode, Berger lifts the curtain on Sunnova's IPO, explains where he sees the solar energy industry headed, how battery storage technology has evolved, and why he's not worried about who ends up in the White House. Listen to the full episode below — or wherever you get your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


California self-driving vehicle startup has all eyes on Houston — here's why

On a roll

Houston — with its sprawl and winding roads broken up across various neighborhoods — is particularly challenging when it comes to self-driving car navigation. And that's exactly why Nuro, a California-based tech startup that's raised over $1 billion in funding, decided to focus on the Bayou City for its autonomous vehicle delivery pilot programs.

"Houston is our first full-scale operations city," Sola Lawal, product operations manager in Houston, tells InnovationMap. "All eyes at Nuro are focused on Houston."

Last year alone, Nuro launched three pilots in six of Houston's ZIP codes from Bellaire to the Heights. The first of which was a partnership with Kroger in March, followed by the announcement of autonomous pizza delivery from Domino's in June. Last month, Nuro announced its latest delivery partner was Walmart.

Lawal explains Houston's appeal to Nuro in a few ways, but the challenging landscape is key. Nuro cars are learning from the narrow, tree-laden streets of West University or the pedestrian-heavy, ditch-lined paths in the Heights.

"There's a ton for us to learn, but it's a great microcosm of the United States in a number of different ways," he says.

In addition to its diversity within its street types, Houston, named the most diverse city in the country, represents an ideal customer base, says Lawal, a Houston native himself. Houstonians are open minded about new experiences.

"If you think and look across Houston, the average commute is over 60 minutes for people to get back and forth," Lawal tells InnovationMap. "As we surveyed across major cities we were interested in, Houston stood out as a place where customers said they don't want go to the grocery store if they don't have to or get in their cars again to pick up their pizza."

The third reason Houston was a great market for Nuro is the amount of regulatory support the state of Texas has — Gov. Greg Abbott announced the launch of the Texas Connected and Autonomous Vehicle task force a year ago — as well as the support at the city level.

"It's been a welcoming environment from the mayor's office down for us to be here," Lawal says.

Since entering the Houston market, Nuro's local operations have grown to over 100 employees. The company still has software operations out of California, and some work being done in Arizona, but the Houston is the largest — and growing as the company seeks new partnerships with more stores with a goal of eliminating errands once and for all.

"The way that we think about this is that this new technology and our mission of accelerating robotics for everyday life, is we will bring the people what they want," Lawal says when asked about what types of stores Nuro is looking to partner with.

Eventually, Lawal says, the plan would be to have every errand be delivery optimized with Nuro technology — from big-box stores like Walmart to your local florist.

"Our goal is to have a platform that retailers can connect to in order to provide easy and inexpensive delivery," he says.

Currently, Nuro's technology is still in learning mode. Nuro's fleet of Prius cars with staff onboard are driving up and down Houston streets mapping and taking notes on a daily basis. The company also has bots, called the R2 fleet, that are designed to be unmanned.

These bots are smaller than normal cars and are completely electric. Rather than being designed to protect passengers inside like traditional automobiles, the R2s are designed to be safe for people outside the vehicle.

"It's a new way of thinking about transportation and what our vehicles can and should do," Lawal says.

2020 is the year of these R2 bots, and some areas can expect to see them in action — specifically focused on Domino's pizza delivery — in just a matter of weeks.

Houston flight-tracking software company grows its local and international presence

taking flight

FlightAware LLC's business success has, for the most part, flown under the radar in Houston.

Many travelers know about the B2C flight-tracking functionality of FlightAware. "That's a very, very competitive space. We play in that space, but it's not our core business," founder and CEO Daniel Baker says.

These days, the privately held Houston company earns most its revenue from the B2B data it provides to airlines and other aviation clients, according to Baker. He declines to reveal revenue figures, but notes that the company — which bills itself as the world's largest flight-tracking and flight data platform — hasn't taken a penny of outside funding since it started in 2005.

Today, FlightAware employs about 110 people, with the majority of them located in Houston, Baker says. The company also maintains offices in Austin, New York City, London, and Singapore.

By the end of 2020, the companywide workforce should exceed 135, as FlightAware aims to add three new hires per month this year in areas such as Internet of Things, data science, sales, and administration, Baker says. Most of the new employees will work in Houston.

Baker says FlightAware takes an aggressive approach to hiring, with the goal of bringing aboard "really awesome people" who share levels of talent, collaboration, and "culture fit" similar to those of current employees.

By the end of 2021, FlightAware likely will run out of room in its 24,000-square-foot office at 11 Greenway Plaza in the Greenway/Upper Kirby area, Baker says. That means FlightAware will need to take about 15,000 additional square feet at 11 Greenway Plaza or relocate to a different building, he says. The company moved into its current home in 2017 from a 14,000-square-foot office at 8 Greenway Plaza.

Baker, who's a private pilot and a board member of the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum, launched the company 15 years ago as a way to combine two passions: software development and aviation.

"It was originally a hobby, and it became a business," Baker says. "It's an unlikely story. We're really, really fortunate that the timing was right."

Although FlightAware started off tracking flights in the general aviation space, it has since expanded to supply aviation data to both travelers and businesses. Each month, about 15 million passengers use the FlightAware app, which earns praise from a slew of travel critics.

Among flight-tracking apps, FlightAware "is a bit of a Swiss army knife," Condé Nast Traveler magazine observes. The FlightAware app lets you follow flights in real time, including where an incoming plane is coming from, how close it is to arriving, and what kind of weather it's encountering en route, the magazine notes. In addition, the app can send push notifications about arrivals, departures, gate changes, flight delays, and flight cancellations.

Now, FlightAware relies on the consumer-facing technology "as a stepping stone to have a bigger impact," Baker says. "Every project that we undertake is larger than the last one."

That "bigger impact" involves cranking out data that enables commercial airlines, cargo carriers, business aviation companies, and air traffic controllers to be proactive instead of reactive regarding flight activity, he says.

FlightAware's corporate customers include United Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, business-jet operator NetJets and GPS technology provider Garmin. Baker says a North American airline that he declines to name will soon roll out FlightAware technology to its airport gate agents.

For airlines, FlightAware's software delivers accurate data to help cut down, among other issues, on problems with flight delays, gate assignments, and flight connections, Baker says. FlightAware pulls data from more than 25,000 aircraft surveillance websites covering nearly 200 countries as well as air traffic control systems in more than 45 countries.

While the consumer-oriented features of FlightAware's technology face competition from the likes of FlightStats, FlightView, and The Flight Tracker, the B2B landscape is less populated. Over the years, corporate giants like Airbus, Boeing, and IBM have tackled aviation data on their own but have wound up forging data partnerships with FlightAware, according to Baker."

We see every potential competitor as a future customer," Baker says.