Station Houston has a new hire. Christine Galib was named as the director of the Ion Smart Cities Accelerator. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

When Christine Galib moved to Houston, she knew two things: it was going to be hot, and there were going to be tacos. But when Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017, she learned something else: the resiliency of the city — and its people — was a thread that interwove the fabric of the metro.

And now that the Ion Smart Cities Accelerator, a program that would allow participants to find solutions to real-world problems in Houston, has now hired Galib as its first program director. Through her position, she'll be able to guide participants from all over the country find solutions to two of the city's biggest problems: transportation and mobility.

"Houston is international, resilient, and inspirational, powered by innovation, energy, and diversity that forms a strong foundation for our unique entrepreneurial ecosystem," Galib says in a news release announcing her hiring. "I am excited to serve Houston through leveraging and creating collaborations, partnerships, and solutions to differentiate Houston as a smart city that is building for its future."

Station Houston will host the accelerator through its first cohort, but it will move to The Ion when the innovation hub opens in 2020.

"When we look at The Ion being created as a center for entrepreneurship and innovation in Houston, there's no other city in the world has this type of level of collaboration and transparency of major players in the innovation space coming together to create, not only the physical space, but also the programming and mindset and the environment and the culture to sustain it," she tells InnovationMap.

"It was a pretty easy decision for me to be on board with the vision. It's not just a vision for a future which is far off … It's a vision for the future that we're actually creating today."

Galib, a former instructor at Rice University and the University of St. Thomas who has experience as a financial analyst on Wall Street, will spearhead the Ion Smart Cities Accelerator. For her, leading the Ion Smart Cities Accelerator allows her to take part in creating a forward-thinking, solutions driven program that will help usher in that culture into Houston's entrepreneurial atmosphere — collaboration is key.

"When I think of Houston and innovation, I think this collaborative approach to making something that is going to stick — sustainable change that sticks — and then making a future that is not just different but better for everybody," Galib says.

The accelerator, which was announced by Mayor Sylvester Turner at a Microsoft IoT in Action event, is now accepting applications for its first cohort. Galib says access is one of the biggest assets applicants are given if given the opportunity to join the accelerator.

"One of the goals is inclusion," Galib says. "You can't have a smart city and have that smartness benefit only one or two percent of the people. The inclusive nature of the accelerator in this entrepreneurial ecosystem is a major selling point."

Participants of the 10-month program will participate in structured curriculum and programming focused on mobility and resiliency and are tasked with creating feasible solutions to those problems within the city.

Galib, along with Station Houston, will offer participating entrepreneurs and startups with the resources they need to validate their solutions and prepare them for deployment, as well as create programming for participants and lead the research and analysis for the accelerator.

Galib is excited to attract talent into the first cohort and see what they do throughout their tenure in the accelerator.

"(We want to identify and recruit) talent to come to Houston and to stay in Houston, to be part of a family of entrepreneurs in innovation," she says. "I had no family here when I came here, and one of the reasons why I stayed here was because I found people who really got me excited about being a Houstonian."


Christine Galib will lead the Ion Smart Cities Accelerator program. Photo via StationHouston.com

Houston has seen four new accelerators enter the market this year. Photo by Zview/Getty Images

Breaking down Houston's 4 new startup accelerator programs

Excelling in accelerating

It's official — 2019 is the year of accelerators in Houston. Four different accelerator programs have announced plans to launch Houston programs this year so far — and they are all bringing something different to the table.

All four of the programs represent global programs or big companies recognizing the potential in Houston, which, according to Yael Hochberg, head of the Rice University Entrepreneurship Initiative, is a key part of the equation.

"When you're talking about a place like Houston, what we need here right now is interest from the outside," Hochberg says. "We need some certification by people from the outside that in fact this is a destination for innovation and entrepreneurship."

Houston's most successful accelerator has been homegrown — right out of the Texas Medical Center. TMCx is on its ninth cohort since it launched in 2014.

Also founded in Houston, SURGE Accelerator had a different fate. It launched in 2011 and closed in 2016. Hochberg says there are a number of reasons for the program's demise including disengaged corporations.

"I do feel there's a lot of opportunity around this, and I don't think we should look at SURGE as some sort of indicator of what will happen to an accelerator in the city," she says. "If anything, I would look at TMCx and look at the potential that we see from that."

The biggest benefit to these accelerator programs, Hochberg says, is the new influx of startups that come to Houston. It's not only the accelerators' cohorts, but just the feasibility of the success and resources available. More startups translates to more investments.

"When you have startup activity and good startups, then money, private investment money will follow," Hochbergs says. "Private investment money doesn't just show up."

But bringing in these programs puts the pressure on the city to focus on the environment it's providing new companies and talent. Innovative companies thrive in major metros with things like protected bike lanes, city living, sustainability — and Houston needs to work on these things, Hochberg says, adding that Houston's ability to boast on its single-family homes is less and less attractive to younger demographics.

Building the city up with these types of infrastructure is going to be key when it comes to retaining these startups that accelerators bring in.

"We can create accelerators from here until tomorrow," Hochberg says. "People will send a couple of people down for two days a week to Houston sit at the accelerator, but they'll keep their company somewhere else and not actually move to Houston. Maybe if you're lucky, they'll open up like a little satellite office. We don't want that."

So, what exactly are the differences between these four new startup accelerators? Here's a breakdown of each.

MassChallenge Texas

Photo via greenstreetdowntown.com

MassChallenge Texas first announced its Houston program in January. The Boston-based accelerator program is currently in its final phase of deciding its inaugural cohort. The program is for early stage companies, and is industry agnostic. Jon Nordby, former director of strategy at Houston Exponential, leads the Houston program as managing director.

Launch: July 2019
Location: Downtown Houston
Number of cohort companies: 25
Length: 6 weeks — July through August
Origin: Boston
Requirements: The program looks for applicants that haven't raised more than $500,000 in equity-based funding and have generated less than $1 million in revenue over the past year.
Equity requirements: None.
Prizes on the line: Free office space, mentorship, and, usually, monetary prizes. (Currently, the organization hasn't confirmed cash prizes for the inaugural cohort.)

Founder Institute

Houston's new Founder Institute chapter has teamed up with Alice. Image courtesy Founder Institute

Founder Institute Houston is the earliest stage accelerator that's not associated with a university. Companies must be in the pre-funding stage of growth, and, while 30 companies will be chosen per cohort, only a fraction will complete the full 14 weeks. The Silicon Valley-originated concept now has chapters in almost 200 cities around the world. FI announced its new chapter in Houston in March after first launching in Austin.

Launch: May 2019
Location: Downtown (out of Station Houston)
Number of cohort companies: 30
Length: 14 weeks
Origin: Silicon Valley
Requirements: Company must be pre-funding.
Equity requirements: 4 percent
Prizes on the line: Cash prizes, discounts, access to worldwide alumni network, etc.

Plug and Play Tech Center

Ahead of entering the Houston market later this year, Silicon Valley's Plug and Play hosted three days of programming surrounding innovation in energy and health care. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Plug and Play Tech Center confirmed they were entering the Houston market earlier this month. The Silicon Valley organization has 30 locations all over the world and plans to open five new locations in the United States over the next six months to a year — one being Houston.

Launch: Fourth quarter 2019
Location: Currently scouting for a location.
Number of cohort companies: 20
Length: Three months, twice a year.
Origin: Silicon Valley
Requirements: The program is stage agnostic, but cohorts are focused on a specific industry. Houston's likely to be health and energy/sustainability, though nothing is set in stone.
Equity requirements: None
Prizes on the line: In-house venture capital opportunities, corporate connections, etc.

Ion Smart Cities Accelerator

The historic Sears building in Midtown will transform into The Ion, a Rice University-backed hub for innovation. Courtesy of Rice University

In April, the city announced that Microsoft and Intel were backing a Smart Cities Accelerator program that would accelerate companies with solutions to some of Houston's key problems. The first cohort will be focused on solutions within resilience and transportation, but each cohort will have a different set of issues. With these rotating themes, every cohort will be different.

Launch: September 2019
Location: Station Houston (then later The Ion, when it opens)
Number of cohort companies: 10
Length: 10 months
Requirements: The first set of companies will be chosen for their ability to solve problems within mobility and transportation in Houston. (Other cohorts will have other topics.)
Prizes on the line: Pilot programs and permanent business from the city of Houston.

Midway's GreenStreet in downtown will be the site of MassChallenge Texas' Houston program. Photo via greenstreetdowntown.com

International accelerator launches next program in downtown Houston

Masschallenge accepted

Houston entrepreneurs will have a new accelerator program to choose from — and this one has an international presence.

MassChallenge Texas, which launched in Austin last year, has expanded to include a Houston program that will operate out of downtown's GreenStreet, which is owned and operated by Houston-based Midway Cos. Applications for the 2019 cohort open in April, and the six week program runs from July through August.

The program looks for applicants that haven't raised more than $500,000 in equity-based funding and have generated less than $1 million in revenue over the past year, a release says. The cohort will support 25 startups with free GreenStreet office space, mentorship, investment opportunities, and more, all the while taking no equity in the companies.

By expanding to Houston, MassChallenge Texas is continuing its commitment to strengthening and growing the innovation ecosystem across the Lone Star State, working to make Texas the best place in the world to innovate.

Almost two years ago, the city released a report in which a task force investigated matters pertaining to innovation in Houston.

"In this report, we realized that Houston has a thriving innovation economy, but its potential is limited by the absence of a flourishing startup community," says Mayor Sylvester Turner in a release. "A key recommendation was to create critical mass in a few key areas with access to 'legacy industry' and institutional players as well as an unparalleled array of amenities."

On par with this dedication to developing innovation in Houston, the Downtown Redevelopment Authority has approved an economic development grant to operate the program. The grant will cover up to $2.5 million of operation costs to be distributed to the organization over five years, the release says.

"MassChallenge is an opportunity that we pursued in earnest," says Bob Eury, president of Central Houston and the Downtown Redevelopment Authority, says in the release. "[The grant is] an investment that we believe will garner long-term results for the GreenStreet development, Downtown and the Houston region."

MassChallenge also has locations in Boston, Israel, Mexico, and Switzerland, as well as vertical programs focused on digital health and fintech. Its Texas program was the second location in the United States and the seventh in the world. Since the April 2018 launch in Austin, MassChallenge Texas and its partners have worked to accelerate 84 companies from 5 continents, 11 countries, and five Texas cities and doled out $500,000 to startups.

"The success of the inaugural MassChallenge Texas accelerator proves that the MassChallenge model works in Texas," says John Harthorne, CEO of MassChallenge, in the release. "Houston has a strong emerging entrepreneurial ecosystem and is home to technology-advanced legacy industries—such as energy, life sciences and aerospace — that can be leveraged to help startups at their earliest stages. We are excited to bring MassChallenge to Houston."

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Houston biopharma company launches equity crowdfunding campaign

money moves

A clinical-stage company headquartered in Houston has opened an online funding campaign.

FibroBiologics, which is developing fibroblast cell-based therapeutics for chronic diseases, launched a campaign with equity crowdfunding platform StartEngine. The platform lets anyone — regardless of their net worth or income level — to invest in securities issued by startups.

The funding, according to a press release, will be used to support ongoing operations of Fibrobiologics and advance its clinical programs in multiple sclerosis, degenerative disc disease, wound care, extension of life, and cancer.

"We're excited to partner with StartEngine on this campaign. StartEngine has over 600,000 investors as part of their community and has raised over half a billion dollars for its clients," says FibroBiologics' Founder and CEO Pete O'Heeron, in the release.

"This is an exciting time at FibroBiologics as we continue progressing our clinical pipeline and developing innovative therapies to treat chronic diseases," he continues. "This new funding will fuel our growth in the lab and bring us one step closer to commercialization."

The campaign, launched this week, already has over 100 investors, at the time of publication, and has raised nearly $2 million, according to the page. The minimum investment is set at around $500, and the company's indicated valuation is $252.57 million.

In 2021, FibroBiologics announced its intention of going public. Last year, O'Heeron told InnovationMap on the Houston Innovators Podcast of the company's growth plans as well as the specifics of the technology.

Only two types of cells — stem cells and fibroblasts — can be used in cell therapy for a regenerative treatment, which is when specialists take healthy cells from a patient and inject them into a part of the body that needs it the most. As O'Heeron explains in the podcast, fibroblasts can do it more effectively and cheaper than stem cells.

"(Fibroblasts) can essentially do everything a stem cell can do, only they can do it better," says O'Heeron. "We've done tests in the lab and we've seen them outperform stem cells by a low of 50 percent to a high of about 220 percent on different disease paths."


Texas ranks as a top state for female entrepreneurs

women in business

Texas dropped three spots in Merchant Maverick’s annual ranking of the top 10 states for women-led startups.

The Lone Star State landed at No. 5 thanks in part to its robust venture capital environment for women entrepreneurs. Last year, Texas ranked second, up from its No. 6 showing in 2021.

Merchant Maverick, a product comparison site for small businesses, says Texas “boasts the strongest venture capital scene” for women entrepreneurs outside California and the Northeast. The state ranked fourth in that category, with $6.5 billion invested in the past five years.

Other factors favoring Texas include:

  • Women solely lead 22 percent of all employees working for a business in Texas (No. 4).
  • Texas lacks a state income tax (tied for No. 1).

However, Texas didn’t fare well in terms of the unemployment rate (No. 36) and the rate of business ownership by women (No. 29). Other Texas data includes:

  • Average income for women business owners, $52,059 (No. 19).
  • Early startup survival rate, 81.9 percent (No. 18).

Appearing ahead of Texas in the 2023 ranking are No. 1 Colorado, No. 2 Washington, No. 3 California, and No. 4 Arizona.

Another recent ranking, this one from NorthOne, an online bank catering to small businesses, puts Texas at No. 7 among the 10 best states for women entrepreneurs.

NorthOne says Texas provides “a ton of opportunities” for woman entrepreneurs. For instance, it notches one of the highest numbers of women-owned businesses in the country at 1.4 million, 2.1 percent of which have at least 500 employees.

In this study, Texas is preceded by Colorado at No. 1, Nevada at No. 2, Virginia at No. 3, Maryland at No. 4, Florida at No. 5, and New Mexico at No. 6. The rankings are based on eight metrics, including the percentage of woman-owned businesses and the percentage of women-owned businesses with at least 500 employees.