Houston could have ranked higher on a global report of top cities in the world if it had a bit more business diversification. Photo via Getty Images

A new analysis positions the Energy Capital of the World as an economic dynamo, albeit a flawed one.

The recently released Oxford Economics Global Cities Index, which assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the world’s 1,000 largest cities, puts Houston at No. 25.

Houston ranks well for economics (No. 15) and human capital (No. 18), but ranks poorly for governance (No. 184), environment (No. 271), and quality of life (No. 298).

New York City appears at No. 1 on the index, followed by London; San Jose, California; Tokyo; and Paris. Dallas lands at No. 18 and Austin at No. 39.

In its Global Cities Index report, Oxford Economics says Houston’s status as “an international and vertically integrated hub for the oil and gas sector makes it an economic powerhouse. Most aspects of the industry — downstream, midstream, and upstream — are managed from here, including the major fuel refining and petrochemicals sectors.”

“And although the city has notable aerospace and logistics sectors and has diversified into other areas such as biomedical research and tech, its fortunes remain very much tied to oil and gas,” the report adds. “As such, its economic stability and growth lag other leading cities in the index.”

The report points out that Houston ranks highly in the human capital category thanks to the large number of corporate headquarters in the region. The Houston area is home to the headquarters of 26 Fortune 500 companies, including ExxonMobil, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Sysco.

Another contributor to Houston’s human capital ranking, the report says, is the presence of Rice University, the University of Houston and the Texas Medical Center.

“Despite this,” says the report, “it lacks the number of world-leading universities that other cities have, and only performs moderately in terms of the educational attainment of its residents.”

Slower-than-expected population growth and an aging population weaken Houston’s human capital score, the report says.

Meanwhile, Houston’s score for quality is life is hurt by a high level of income inequality, along with a low life expectancy compared with nearly half the 1,000 cities on the list, says the report.

Also in the quality-of-life bucket, the report underscores the region’s variety of arts, cultural, and recreational activities. But that’s offset by urban sprawl, traffic congestion, an underdeveloped public transportation system, decreased air quality, and high carbon emissions.

Furthermore, the report downgrades Houston’s environmental stature due to the risks of hurricanes and flooding.

“Undoubtedly, Houston is a leading business [center] that plays a key role in supporting the U.S. economy,” says the report, “but given its shortcomings in other categories, it will need to follow the path of some of its more well-rounded peers in order to move up in the rankings.”

Houston can learn a lot from the decades of success from Silicon Valley, according to this Houston founder, who outlines just what all the city needs to do to become the startup city it has the potential to be. Photo via Getty Images

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.

The Bayou City claims the second most Fortune 500 companies in Texas. Tomasz Zajda/EyeEm/Getty Images

22 Houston companies score a spot on Fortune 500 ranking

h-town proud

A pandemic can't stop the highly anticipated release of the Fortune 500, an annual ranking of the country's most profitable companies. And the Lone Star State has made another impressive showing.

Now back for its 66th year, the Fortune 500 is ranked according to total company revenue for the last fiscal year (in this case 2019), while calculating profits, return to investors, number of employees, assets, and earnings per share.

But, of course, it all comes down to the money. According to a release, these companies represent a mind-boggling two-thirds of the U.S. gross domestic product, with $14.2 trillion in revenues, a 4 percent leap over last year. The revenue threshold to even make this year's Fortune 500 list was $5.7 billion, the magazine notes.

In total, Texas has the third most companies on the list with 50, just behind California and New York, with 53 spots each. And though it always stings to be just behind California when it comes to business, Texas does claim the most spots among the top 10.

Irving-based Exxon Mobil takes the highest spot among Texas companies at No. 3, followed by medical supply and pharmaceutical company McKesson, also headquartered in Irving, at No. 8. Telecommunications giant AT&T, which calls nearby Dallas home, ranks No. 9.

Houston
The Bayou City claims the second most Fortune 500 companies in Texas, largely in the energy and oil sectors. Twenty-two Fortune 500 companies call Houston or The Woodlands home, including:

  • Phillips 66 (No. 27)
  • Sysco (No. 56)
  • ConocoPhillips (No. 93)
  • Plains GP Holdings (No. 98)
  • Enterprise Products (No. 101)
  • Baker Hughes (No. 129)
  • Halliburton (No. 142)
  • Occidental Petroleum (No. 148)
  • EOG Resources (No. 186)
  • Waste Management (No. 207)
  • Kinder Morgan (No. 242)
  • Center Point Energy (No. 260)
  • Quanta Services (No. 261)
  • Group 1 Automotive (No. 264)
  • Calpine (No. 319)
  • Cheniere Energy (No. 329)
  • Targa Resources (No. 365)
  • National Oilwell Varco (No. 374)
  • Huntsman (No. 382)
  • Westlake Chemical (No. 391)
  • Apache (No. 465)
  • Crown Castle (No. 496)

Dallas-Fort Worth
Along with claiming three companies in the top 10, Dallas-Fort Worth is home to 23 Fortune 500 companies, the most of any Texas metro. As a result, Dallas also claims the second most revenue of any city in the U.S.

The Fortune 500 companies located in the greater Dallas area include:

  • Energy Transfer (No. 59)
  • American Airlines Group (No. 70)
  • Southwest Airlines (No. 141)
  • Tenet Healthcare (No. 174)
  • Kimberly-Clark (No. 175)
  • Fluor (No. 181)
  • D.R. Horton (No. 183)
  • HollyFrontier (No. 184)
  • Jacobs Engineering (No. 206)
  • Texas Instruments (No. 222)
  • Core-Mark Holding (No. 240)
  • Vistra Energy (No. 270)
  • J.C. Penney ( No. 286)
  • Pioneer Natural (No. 341)
  • Yum China Holdings (No. 361)
  • Dean Foods (No. 421)
  • Builders FirstSource (No. 425)
  • GameStop (No. 464)
  • Celanese (No. 470)
  • EnLink Midstream (No. 483)
  • Commercial Metals (No. 491)

Austin
Austin doesn't technically have any spots in the top 10, but it does have two prominent area employers. Amazon, owner of Whole Foods Market, comes in at No. 2, and Apple follows at No. 4. Though based in Cupertino, California, the computer giant is currently building a $1 billion second headquarters in Austin. Once open, the corporation should add 5,000 new jobs in the Capital City, making it one of the region's largest employers.

Along with Amazon and Apple, the Austin area claims one other spot on the Fortune 500 list. Round Rock-based Dell earned $4.6 billion in profits, giving it the No. 34 spot.

San Antonio

Coming in third among Texas' biggest metro areas is San Antonio with three companies on the Fortune 500 list. Though Valero Energy had a rough 2019 and is on track for an even rougher 2020, its revenues surpassed a trillion dollars, and its net income was still $2.4 billion, enough to take the No. 32 spot.

Employee favorite USAA, which also landed on Fortune's 100 Best Places to Work list in February, ranks No. 94 — its highest spot ever on the Fortune 500 list. As Fortune notes, "USAA provides banking and insurance offerings to U.S. military members and their families; it routinely scores at the top of customer-satisfaction surveys in an industry that isn't generally beloved by consumers."

And New Braunfels-based Rush Enterprises, a company that specializes in commercial vehicle sales, parks itself at No. 492.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Research from a former Rice University professor linked the size of CEO signatures to ego. CEOs with big egos entered into more risky, unreliable deals. Pexels

Rice research reveals that narcissistic CEOs sabotage their firms

Houston Voices

You've just been named CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Your ego fills the room. The laws of gravity don't apply to you.

And naturally, you want to make an impact. So you pour money into mergers and acquisitions, and when you're not trying to acquire another firm, you guide company resources into research and development. You're a genius, and the world will soon be clinging to your every new product.

The only problem: your company will likely underperform. Research by former Rice Business visiting professor Sean Wang (now at Cox School of Business as SMU), along with Nicholas Seybert of the University of Maryland and Charles Ham of Washington University at St. Louis, reveals the high costs of an out of control CEO ego.

The researchers' first challenge was establishing who could legitimately be called a narcissist. What does the term mean, exactly? While there are varying definitions, Wang's team focused on narcissism as a basic personality trait rather than a mental illness. As a personality trait, narcissism is associated with entitlement, vanity, authority, and a sense of superiority.

To spot narcissists, the team took a novel approach: they examined their research subjects' signatures. Signature size turns out to be a handy measure for egos, because it doesn't require participants to answer direct questions about their personalities — and because participants are unlikely to know that ego can affect something as simple as a signature.

Just having a big ego, though, does not a narcissist make. To validate a link between a person's signature and narcissism, the researchers asked 53 graduate business students to provide their signatures by signing a document, and then to take a personality survey that measured narcissism. The findings documented that indeed there was a strong correlation between signature size and narcissism.

Next, the researchers obtained data from prior psychology research on employee perceptions of 32 technology-firm CEOs. Of the 24 CEOS for whom the researchers also had signature samples, they found a significant correlation between narcissism and signature size.

Armed with these findings, Wang and his colleagues were able to extrapolate the narcissistic traits of thousands of CEOs whose signatures were readily available on proxy statements and other corporate documents. The researchers ultimately studied 741 CEOs from 411 firms during the period between 1992 and 2015, corresponding to 6,361 firm-year observations with a median of eight fiscal years per CEO.

They found a pronounced behavior pattern. Firms led by narcissistic CEOs invested more in high-exposure areas such as research and development and mergers and acquisitions, but shied away from routine capital expenditures for day-to-day productivity. This trend was even more pronounced during periods of financial slack, suggesting that narcissistic CEOs prefer an aggressive management style whenever possible. Financial productivity delivered by these narcissistic CEOs in terms of profitability was lower than their less egotistic counterparts.

The research has multiple implications. Narcissistic leaders, past research shows, are prone to make bad decisions — in part because they are bad listeners. As a result, they often dominate the decision process without incorporating feedback or ideas from others. Ironically, they mistakenly perceive this behavior as a signal of competence and strong leadership.

To counter these bad habits, the researchers say, during periods of financial sluggishness investors and corporate boards should combat excessive narcissist-led investment by pushing for higher dividend payouts. Given that narcissistic CEOs overinvest in R&D, investors also need to closely monitor whether such investments represent real innovation or just vanity. Finally, boards of directors should be aware that narcissistic leaders tend to command higher salaries — and consider whether their CEO falls into this category, and is essentially getting higher pay for inferior performance.

In short, to really be as boss as they see themselves, narcissistic corporate leaders need to recognize their tendencies and rigorously check their egos. Boards, meanwhile, should closely monitor their CEO's priorities in directing firm resources. It could be the writing on the wall.

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This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom.

Sean Wang is a former visiting assistant professor of accounting at Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University. He is now an assistant professor at Cox School of Business at SMU.

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6 Houston startups graduate early-stage accelerator

ready to grow

The latest cohort of promising Houston startups has made it through the local program for the the world's largest pre-seed startup accelerator.

The Houston Founder Institute graduated its 2024 cohort this month, celebrating the class on May 21. The organization also opened applications for its next round.

"After meticulous selection process and intense four months of aggressive business-building sprints, constant evaluation, and feedback from investors and mentors, just 6 companies were able to make it through," the organization writes in a blog post. "Each of these Founders have demonstrated a high level of perseverance and creativity, and their businesses have been thoroughly vetted and supported by a panel of Houston's top startup experts and investors."

The newest alumni of the Houston program include:

  • Quickgredients, a company that's empowering diners with dietary needs and attract new customers for food businesses through targeted marketing and efficient management.
  • Truckersfinder, a platform connecting trucking companies to essential service providers to streamline their operations.
  • SEKCO, which is developing a technology to help laundry business operators offer a service to wash and press in five minutes or less by integrating wet vacuum cleaning and pressing in manual or automated stations.
  • Gym Rat, a hardware-software integration to improve and better track the fitness experience.
  • ReachAI is impowering small and medium-sized enterprises to elevate their digital footprint and online visibility through cutting-edge marketing strategies and comprehensive web presence optimization solutions.
  • STEMperts, a platform that's helping students learn better and improve grades by engaging them through a combination of interests and learning styles.

Houston Founder Institute is run by local directors James Phelan, Martín Martinez, Mery Ramirez, and Natasha Gorodetsky.

Following the completion of the program, the portfolio companies continue to have access to the Founder Institute's global network and post-graduate support programs to continue building their business.

How this Houston innovator is using his personal connection to ALS fuel his fight for a cure

guest column

We can never predict how our lives will turn out, but then maybe some of us can. Genetic testing showed that I, like my grandfather, aunt, uncle and father before me, would most likely die of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as ALS, and/or frontotemporal degeneration (FTD) in my 40s.

Being 36, it’s possible that fear could have overtaken my life, but instead I chose to fight for every chance to change not only my life, but the lives of millions who are suffering or may one day suffer from neurodegenerative disease.

ALS is a rare disease that robs one of their ability to control their muscles, leading them to lose their ability to walk, talk and eventually breathe. Eighty percent of cases are sporadic (of unknown origin) and 20 percent have known genetic causes.

When I learned that I carried the C9ORF72 genetic variant, a causative genetic variant for ALS/FTD) my first instincts were to help others understand their status and where they could turn for help. I saw a vacuum for resources and understanding in the genetic ALS space and I knew that thousands were suffering in darkness.

Through the efforts of many, we created the first ever nonprofit – Genetic ALS & FTD: End the Legacy – focused on fighting for the genetic ALS and FTD communities. After making great strides to fight for our rights and access to care, I was asked if I could help my current CEO, Howard Berman, commercialize Dr. Stanley Appel’s regulatory T Cell (Treg) therapy for ALS.

I joined Coya Therapeutics in 2021 as the first employee, working to build a company that would one day bring life changing therapies to patients. Coya’s therapies are based on Dr. Appel’s discovery that neurodegenerative diseases drive an inflammatory response. As inflammation rises, it damages regulatory T cells, and when Tregs are damaged, inflammation becomes a persistent condition driving degeneration and eventually death.

It was at that point that my life changed from the advocacy world to the therapeutic world. Now over three years later, we are closer than ever to making a paradigm change for how patients with ALS and other neurodegenerative diseases are treated.

At Coya, we believe that combination biologics are the future of treating neurodegenerative diseases. COYA 302 is our lead asset, which has shown promising results in a proof-of-concept study released in March of 2023. We are currently working towards a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial for COYA 302 in ALS set to kick off later this year.

I never wanted to live a life so damned by disease, but when put between a rock and a hard place, the only choice is to fight. I don’t know how my life will end, but I hope that my children will know that I faced a great challenge head on with pride and resilience.

In the end, it is the combination of both the worlds I work in that lead to better outcomes for patients, raising awareness and lifesaving research. This ALS Awareness Month, please join us and our partners like the ALS Association, End the Legacy, and I AM ALS in raising awareness about these conditions, their risks, and treatment options.

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Daniel Barvin is the vice president of operations and patient advocacy at Coya Therapeutics.