Houston named among the most affordable cities for startups

Start up at a low cost

Houston has affordablility going for its startups. Photo by Zview/Getty Images

Houston has been long known for its great quality of life and low cost of living, and a new study found that when it comes to startup companies specifically, the greater Houston area has a lot to offer.

Clever, a real estate tool and blog, identified Houston as the sixth best metro in the United States for affordability for startups. The study looked into startup density, investment, the education level of the local population, and the cost of living, and more within the top 50 most populated cities in the U.S.

The resulting ranking had all four of Texas' major metros in the top 10. Austin ranked No. 1 overall, Dallas-Fort Worth ranked at No. 3 (after Atlanta), and San Antonio-New Braunfels came in at No. 8. The study ranked each city based on its density of startups, its growth, investment in business, and its cost of living.

At No. 6 for growth, Houston ranked the highest out of its Texas counterparts, but San Antonio and Houston share the ranking of No. 6 for investment.

"Considering Houston's metro is tied with San Antonio's for the highest average investment in small business, and the proximity to great food, the Gulf of Mexico coast, and attractions like Minute Maid Park and the NASA Space Center, we would definitely suggest considering starting a business here," reads the report.

The Houston area touts a startup density of over 25 percent, which earns it 12th place in that particular category. The report finds that Houston has 6.89 million residents across 8,265.8 square miles and 6.54 percent of Houstonians work at a startup, while 2.8 percent are self employed.

When it comes to GDP and education, Houston has a lot of bragging rights. The Houston area's GDP is reported to be $490 billion, which is the 7th highest in the country, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.Meanwhile, almost a quarter of the region's population has a bachelor's degree or higher.

Last month, InnovationMap reported that Inc. 5000 named Houston among its hottest startup cities, citing the three-year revenue growth of Houston's companies that made it on to the Inc. 5000 list. Just before that ranking, Business Facilities magazine named Houston the fourth best startup ecosystem in the U.S., as well as the fourth best city for economic growth potential. Similarly, Commercial Cafe recently named Houston a top large city for early stage startups.

From cancer-fighting companies raising millions to Houston area high school students learning how to start a company, here's some short stories on innovation you may have missed. Photo via inveox.com

TMCx company raises millions, Rice Business launches a podcast, and more Houston innovation news

Short stories

Even during the dog days of summer, Houston has innovation news from all industries. In case you missed something, here's a news roundup of some short innovation stories — from raised funds to launched apps, podcasts, and programs.

If you know of innovation-focused news happening, 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.

TMCx company raises 17€ million 

Photo via inveox.com

Munich-based Inveox, a, AI-enabled cancer-diagnosis technology startup, just set up shop in the Texas Medical Center as a part of TMCx's ninth cohort. The company now has another thing to brag about: 17 million euros worth of investment.

"My founding partner Dominik Sievert and I are very grateful that our investors put such great trust in us and our vision," says managing partner Maria Sievert in a release. "Together we are working towards the goal of using our innovation capacities to develop technologies that can be put to serve people. We want to help lab technicians who give their best every day at labs and we want to ensure the safety of patients as well as the speed and reliability of the entire diagnostic process. That's why we will use this further investment for our forthcoming series production and expansion into new markets."

The funds will go toward production of the company's technology.

Rice's Jones Graduate School of Business launches The Index podcast

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Rice University's Jones Graduate School of Business, has launched, The Index, a podcast that explores thought-provoking topics and business-related ideas.

According to a news release, The podcast grew out of a 2019 South by Southwest partnership between Texas Monthly and Rice Business — the two entities teamed up for a podcast taping about digital wildcatting.

Saul Elbein hosts The Index. He is a contributor to the New York Times Magazine, the NPR radio show "This American Life," and other outlets. Find the latest episode here.

Life science startup organization closes $5.25 million round

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With the close of its $5.25 million round, Fannin Partners LLC — a Houston-based early-stage life science commercialization company — has brought in over $155 million for its portfolio companies.

The funds in part will go toward developing Fannin Innovation Studio. The studio anticipates adding 15 new portfolio companies over the next five years.

"With our portfolio companies Procyrion and Pulmotect advancing in their clinical development and with BreviTest poised for market launch in 2020, our investor group has recognized the tremendous progress we've made," says Fannin founder and chairman Leo Linbeck III in a release. "We are pleased to welcome the additional investment from existing and new investors in this round."

Houston app relaunches following raising $150,000 from local investor

Courtesy of Social Mama

An app that connects moms based on children's ages and common mom problems has relaunched with major upgrades after a year in beta. That's not the only thing Social Mama is celebrating. The startup secured $150,000 funding from local female powerhouse and blogger, Carrie Colbert.

Founder Amanda Ducach says she wanted to create an app that could smartly link moms going through similar struggles — from teething and potty training to single parenting or postpartum depression.

"The social impact of the product is so important," Ducach says in a previous InnovationMap story. "I can't explain to you the isolation and the problem that exists in motherhood. I was completely unaware of it before I started the company."

Austin tech startup lands major Houston-based client

office space

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Houston-based Lionstone Investments has made a deal with Austin-based Bractlet, a smart building software company. The deal translates to Bractlet implementing its technology in Lionstone's 31 office properties across the United States.

"Lionstone is recognized in the industry for its commitment to a data-driven approach to real estate investing," says Lionstone's head of portfolio management and co-head of operations, Tom Paterson, in a news release. "Implementing Bractlet's technology at the portfolio-level allows us to make informed decisions that benefit our investors, conserve energy, and improve tenant comfort and productivity. In this manner, Lionstone is able to provide best-in-class management throughout the entire investment lifecycle."

Houston area high school launches entrepreneurship program

Texas Teacher

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It's never too early to learn the ins and outs of entrepreneurship. Friendswood High School has announced that it will be launching INCubatoredu, a program to help students learn important lessons in the startup world, this fall.

"The Mustang Business INCubator is that authentic experience we were looking for in our business, marketing, and finance program of study," Susan Kirkpatrick, executive director of career technical education at FHS, says in a release. "Students will research a real-world problem that is of interest to them and work to find a product or service solution."

The program will be housed in a newly renovated creative space on the FHS campus. According to the release, the school will host a launch party for the program in the fall.

Houston came in at No. 5 for best cities — with populations of more than 1 million residents — for startups. Photo by Tim Leviston/Getty Images

Houston named among the best large cities for early-stage startups

Start up here

When it comes to cities with over a million residents, Houston's at the front of the pack, according to a new study. But, there's a catch.

Last month, Commercial Cafe rounded up the 20 top cities for early-stage startups and entrepreneurs, and Houston missed the list. Now, the commercial real estate blog has broken down the data into three top ten lists based on city size, and Houston has claimed the No. 5 spot on the list of cities with 1 million or more residents.

The study took into account education, affordability, startup financial success (calculated from Kickstarter data), millennial population growth, among other aspects. Houston in particular was called out for being the most affordable major metro and for having the third best startup survival rate.

"The city is home to the fourth-largest percentage of millennial residents out of the total population, and saw the fourth-largest growth in number of millennial residents," the report reads. "Houston ranked fifth in group for the share of population holding a bachelor's degree or higher in a tech discipline. The rate at which the number of such residents has increased placed Houston seventh for tech education growth."

Outpacing Houston on the larger cities were Dallas at No. 1, San Diego, California, at No. 2, San Jose, California, at No. 3, and Los Angeles at No. 4. San Antonio also made the list, coming in at No. 7.

Texas cities were sprinkled throughout the two smaller cities list. Austin came in at No. 1 for the cities with 500,000 to 1 million residents, as well as claimed the top spot in the best cities regardless of population. Fort Worth ranked as No. 10 on this mid-sized city list.

On the small cities list for metros with less than 500,000 residents, Arlington came in at No. 6 for its location and startup density. The city also made the top 20 regardless of size, sliding into the No. 19 spot. Dallas, which topped the large cities list, came in at No. 15 on the size agnostic list for top startup cities.

Recently, Texas was named a top city to start a company by personal finance website, WalletHub, based on similar statistics.

"[I]t's clear why Texas would come in at No. 1," Susan Davenport, senior vice president of economic development for the Greater Houston Partnership, says responding to that study. "These are all areas where the Lone Star State consistently excels and why Texas continues to attract both entrepreneurs and existing companies across industry sectors."

United Kingdom-based smart technology company, Hive, chose Houston as the city to grow its United States presence. Photo courtesy of Hive

UK-based smart home products company focuses on Houston growth

Home sweet home tech

Hive, a smart product company with headquarters in the United Kingdom, has zoned in on Houston for growth in the United States. Drawn to the city's diverse population and tech growth, the company also has a preexisting connection to Direct Energy, which has a large footprint in Houston.

The two companies are connected under the umbrella of parent company Centrica, which is also based in the U.K. Most recently, the company appointed Leah Barton as North American Commercial Director to serve in the Houston office as of June 2019.

Barton tells InnovationMap that she feels Houston is increasingly becoming an innovation hub.

"We know we've got the technical talent, we've got people who are interested in technology, whether it's from the medical angle, energy angle, aerospace angle," she says.

Hive has been in Houston since 2017, but recently, especially with the appointment of Burton, the company has amped up its Houston presence.

"We're looking for solutions that engage the whole home, so in the 21st century a smart home is a key component of whole-home energy management and comfort management," says Barton.

In May 2019, the company launched security product packs into the Houston market. These packs combine a number of Hive products, including an indoor package, and outdoor package, and a combination pack. The packages include a camera, a light monitoring system, and sensors for doors and windows to capture any activity.

"Those very much had a home automation component to it, but also a peace of mind component," says Barton.

Hive plans to bring the smart products that have done well in its U.K market to its United States markets, including Houston. These products would be focused on ensuring air conditioners, heating units, boilers, are working correctly.

"We've been testing this air conditioning proposition with some of our home service providers within the broader Direct Energy network, that's what we're most excited to launch in the second half of the year," says Barton. "This air conditioning diagnostic product will give people advance warning if their air conditioning is going to run into trouble and will let them address it before it's too late and they are in a 'no cool' situation."

The Houston office is located in Greenway Plaza and the company currently has 25 employees in the United States, most who are based in Houston. Globally, Hive has a team of 500.

The companies most popular product is the smart thermostat, the product which the company was founded around and has remained a top seller. According to the website, the thermostat can be controlled from the user's smartphone. Through the Hive app, which launched in 2013, users can set daily schedules for the temperature as well as turn the unit on and off.

"Over time we've expanded that, we sell our own smart plugs, bulbs, sensors," says Peter Filcek, business development director for Hive. "Customers said they wanted more so we launched absolutely beautiful cameras about two years ago."

"Everything that we have brought to market, everything that we've built, is based on a real deep understanding of the problems and needs that our customers have," Filcek tells InnovationMap.

Hive products are available online anywhere in the United States or Canada.


Houston-based Pandata Tech uses its machine learning technology to advance oil and gas operations. Thomas Miller/Breitling Energy

Houston data startup plans to expand its technology from oil and gas to include health care and defense industries

Data diversifying

There are about 40,000 sensors on an offshore drilling rig, and each collects information about how the rig's many machines are operating. But sensors can fail or be miscalibrated and, in the relay between the rig and data scientists, data can pick up errors. The scientists will first have to clean and validate the information to ensure its credible.

That's where Pandata Tech comes in. The Houston-based company can run a data quality check for its oil and gas clients. But Gustavo Sanchez, co-founder and CEO of the company, is speeding up that process by automating it. Pandata Tech uses machine learning to review data generated by drilling rigs — and the algorithms determine how likely that data can be trusted. And for Houston's 175,000 residents employed in oil and gas, that data needs to be trustworthy.

"If the data's bad, then you're going to have a lot of bad decisions," Sanchez says.

The legacy of machine learning began in the 1950s, when computer scientist Arthur Samuel wrote a program for a computer to play checkers and improve at the game the more it played. Since then, the complex algorithms written for computers to learn and develop without human intervention have been implemented in industries like finance, sales, surveillance, and more.

Sanchez and his business partner, Jessica Reitmeier, met in China during graduate school. They founded the company after a stint for Sanchez in finance data science. He realized that small service companies had no control over their equipment operated and put data analytics in the hands of small, independent service contractors. So they developed Pandata Tech in January 2016, and today their core team has three people who manage data science, marketing and operations, and staff development.

Pandata Tech's software reduces the amount of time data scientists have to spend validating their data — from 80 percent of their time down to just 20 percent, Sanchez says. It works by using models to generate a data quality score.

For example, a sensor that monitors pressure levels is paired with a computer model of what those levels should be — and the software checks for missing or incorrect data, then uses statistics to determine how likely that the sensors are picking up correct data. It creates a quality score for that data between 0 and 100 in the short and long term; if it compiles the data for a 24-hour window, then the score should be close to 100, but the software can also analyze data for 90-day streaks. In this case, the ideal might be above 60. It's a lot like a credit check, Sanchez says.

And while Pandata Tech began in the energy industry, the team is now expanding to fields like defense and healthcare, which also generate hundreds of thousands of data points that need it be checked. The unique challenges of working with large drilling rigs have translated well to working with aircrafts. And the healthcare field is similar — with the Texas Medical Center, Houston's medical research centers can benefit from hastening the process of data validation.

"There's so much data, and it's so noisy, that it's hard to know whether the data can be trusted or not," Sanchez says.

Pandata Tech is focusing on its current revenue sources in these three fields. Recently, they closed on a deal with one of the largest offshore drilling companies in the world, and Sanchez hopes to double his team size within the year. But he's staying cautious — and the move to healthcare and defense industries is not just a move to expand the use of his company's technology. It's also a way of reducing risk, by not investing in just one industry.

"It's hard to sell scale to a startup," Sanchez says. "We've gotta reduce our risk so we can continue to grow."

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These Houston entrepreneurs and startups are searching for flooding solutions

Flood tech

The feeling is all too familiar for Houstonians. Tropical Storm Imelda hit Houston with devastating flood waters just two years after Hurricane Harvey did its damage.

With any obstacle or challenge, there is room for innovation. Over the past year, InnovationMap has covered various flood tech startups in Houston. Here are six innovations that can make a difference the next time a storm decides to take its toll on Houston.

Self-deploying flood protection for buildings

FloodFrame's technology can protect a home or commercial building from flood water damage. Photo via floodframe.com

A self-deploying flood damage prevention device caught Tasha Nielsen's eye on a trip to Denmark, and then launched the U.S. iteration of FloodFrame to bring the technology here.

FloodFrame works by using buoyancy. A lightweight cloth is wrapped around a tube is installed underground outside the perimeter of your home or business. One end of that cloth is attached to a box that is also installed underground. As flooding begins, an automatic system will release the lids to deploy the inflation of the tube that will protect the structure. When the flood comes in, the system will float on top of the flood — kind of like a pool noodle — and protect the structure from the water.

FloodFrame adds a level of security during flooding events and can be considered more cost-effective when compared to the high cost of renovating or rebuilding after flooding.

"Right now we are focused on residential but I think there's a huge potential for it to go commercial. A lot of commercial buildings are self insured, and commercial developers, industrial developers, this would be a drop in the bucket for the overall cost of the entire project," Nielsen tells InnovationMap. "For homeowners, it's kind of a bigger expense, but I think there is the potential for homebuilders to include it as an option in the entire package of a new house because when you put it in to a mortgage, it's only another like $0.50 a month."

A waterproof container for your car.

After the floods from Hurricane Harvey totaled her car, Rahel Abraham wanted to find a solution. ClimaGuard/Facebook

Floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey seriously damaged about 600,000 vehicles in the Houston area, which included Rahel Abraham's 2008 Infiniti G35. Now, Abraham's brainchild forms the backbone of her Houston-based startup, ClimaGuard LLC. The company's waterproof, temperature-resistant, portable Temporary Protective Enclosure (TPE) can entirely cover a compact car, sedan, or midsize SUV. It comes in three sizes; the cost ranges from $349 to $499.

To protect a vehicle, someone sets a TPE on the ground, a driveway, or another flat surface, then drives the vehicle onto the bottom part of the product, and connects the bottom and top parts with the zipper. Abraham likens it to a clamshell preserving a pearl.

"My goal is not to make it to where it's an exclusive product — available only to those who can afford it — but I want to be able to help those who it would make even more of an economic impact for," Abraham tells InnovationMap.

A network to find shelter.

Reda Hicks create GotSpot — a digital tool that helps connect people with commercial space with people who need it. Courtesy of GotSpot

It only took a natural disaster for Reda Hicks to make her startup idea into a reality.

"I had been thinking on what it would be like to help people find space to do business in and how businesses find a way to stay in business a long time," Hicks tells InnovationMap. "But, I was afraid of the tech."

Hicks, who has practiced law for almost 15 years, wanted to create a website that allows for people with commercial space — a commercial kitchen, conference room, spare desks, etc. — to list it. Then, space seekers — entrepreneurs, nonprofits, freelancers, etc. — can rent it. When Hurricane Harvey hit, Hicks was kicking herself for not acting on her idea sooner.

"It was really Harvey and having so many people desperate to find space for emergency purposes that made me realize there are so many contexts in which people need space right away for something specific," she says. "Certainly the primary user is the entrepreneur trying to grow their business, but there are so many other reasons why a community would need better access to the space it already has."

Now Hicks is growing GotSpot in hopes that short-term rental space and emergency housing can be smooth sailing no matter the circumstances. Recently, the company was named a finalist for MassChallenge Texas in Austin.

A water-absorbing tower. 

Fil Trat would be able to absorb water, filter it, and release it into the body of water when the time comes. Courtesy of Gensler's ByDesign

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, many Houstonians began to think of solutions for the next time Mother Nature struck with her full-force of flooding. Gensler designers Chelsea Bryant, Jordan Gomez, Luisa Melendez, Barbara Novoa, Benjamin Nanson, Maria Qi, and Melinda Ubera created a solution as a part of Gensler's By Design program called Fil Trat. The tower can absorb, filter, and store flood waters until the bayou is ready for the water to be released — cleaner than it was before.

During Harvey, thousands of people were displaced, but Fil Trat has a solution for that too. The tower's floors would alternate between filtration floors and shelters, which could house up to 24 families per floor.

While the suggested Houston locale would be by Buffalo Bayou, the group suggests putting the tower in other coastal cities at risk of devastating flooding.

Sensor-enabled rubber ducks that can track weather developments.

Sensor-enabled rubber ducks might be the solution to keeping track of major weather events. Courtesy of Project Owl

Nearly two years after Hurricane Harvey battered the Houston area, a flock of electronic "rubber ducks" flew above homes in Katy in a broader endeavor to keep first responders and victims connected during natural disasters.

Developers and backers of Project Owl, an Internet of Things (IoT) hardware and software combination, conducted a pilot test of this innovation June 1 — the first day of this year's hurricane season. In the Katy test, 36 "ducks" took flight.

"So, our technology can be deployed to help communities that have been destroyed after natural disasters by providing quickly accessible communications network to coordinate and organize a response," Bryan Knouse, co-founder and CEO of Project Owl, tells InnovationMap.

The DuckLink network comprises hubs resembling rubber ducks, which can float in flooded areas if needed. It takes only five of these hubs to cover one square mile. This network sends speech-based communications using conversational systems (like Alexa and Facebook Messenger) to a central application. The app, the Owl software incident management system, relies on predictive analytics and various data sources to build a dashboard for first responders.

Restored native wetland coastal prairies.

Memorial Park Conservancy is gearing up to unveil one if its first projects within its 10-year master plan redevelopment. Photo courtesy of MPC

Before it was the fourth largest city in America, Houston was a prairie. That type of ecosystem — thick with prairie grass — is very absorbing when it comes to rain water. Cassidy Brown Johnson, a Rice University lecturer and president of the Coastal Prairie Partnership, has been taking every opportunity to raise awareness on the importance of prairie restoration.

"It's really surprising to people that the trees and all this lushness is actually all artificial," Johnson says. "We know that this ecosystem evolved with the cyclical flooding events that happened here."

This movement to bring back Houston's ancient ecosystem is a new focus on a few prairie conservationist groups — and even the Harris County Flood Control. This has been going on for a while, but recent flooding events have opened the eyes of people now looking for reliable solutions to flooding problems.

"After Hurricane Harvey, people started realizing that this might be one of the solutions we could actually investigate and see if it can help us," Johnson says. "A green space is going to absorb way more water than a parking lot."

Memorial Park Conservancy's its master plan redevelopment project includes a lot of prairie restoration plans is expected to deliver by 2028.

The project is a collaborative effort between MPC, Uptown Houston TIRZ, and Houston Parks and Recreation Department to redevelop the 1,500-acre park. An ongoing part of the transformation will be stormwater management upgrades. MPC has budgeted $3 million to this asset of the renovation. While a part of the plan is tributaries for run-off water, bringing back prairie and wetlands will do a great deal to help abate stormwater.

"We're taking ball fields, parking lots, and roads and converting them back to what was here — native wetland coastal prairie," MPC president and CEO Shellye Arnold tells InnovationMap. "This serves important stormwater purposes."

Houston startup creates device to keep loved ones in touch with each other

Caring is sharing

When Charley Donaldson's mother-in-law was battling cancer, he and his wife had great support from their friends and family. But they also knew there were a lot of people who cared about them who didn't know what to say or do during such a challenging time.

"It's like, you want to show people that you care about them, but you don't want to interrupt their day, or you don't want to be a burden to them if they aren't up to company," Donaldson says about the common reactions he heard from others – and often felt himself when he had friends going through similar struggles. "There had to be a way to share the idea of, 'Hey, I'm thinking about you.'"

It took three years of rattling around that idea before CaringBand came to life. The light-up bracelet is Bluetooth enabled, and connects to a mobile app. A person gives the bracelet to a loved one, who then pairs it with his or her smartphone. App users can send and receive pre-set messages of encouragement to and from other app users.

Those wearing a CaringBand bracelet get alerted by a blinking light or vibration that lets them know someone is thinking about them. The wearer then reads these encouraging messages on the CaringBand app when convenient and with no need to respond.

"When we pilot tested it, we were super excited to find out what we thought was validated," says Donaldson. "People really loved knowing that others were keeping them in their thoughts, and those who sent messages liked that they didn't have to worry about saying or doing the wrong thing."

Donaldson says he wanted The CaringBand to be as easy as possible for people to use, and also ensure that it was a solid support system. When someone is going through medical treatments, he knows that can be exhausting, and he also realizes that friends and family want to be able to do something, anything, to express their love and support.

"If you're a normal, compassionate person, you want to show you care about someone," he says. "This lets you do that in your own way."

And while it might sound like The CaringBand is designed to make the senders of messages feel better about offering a good thought for someone, Donaldson says those going through treatments have really loved seeing their bracelets light to up to tell them they're on someone's mind. That small show of support has made a big difference, they told Donaldson in surveys.

"She is sitting on the couch having so much fun reading her messages," says one user in a testimonial. "The smile on her face is priceless." "People tell you they think of you and pray for you all the time," read another. "The bracelet gives you a reminder that they really are."

"We made it super easy," he says. "It's a hardware to software solution and we wanted to erase as many friction points as possible in its creation. This is two touches of a smart phone."

Currently, the CaringBand app is live and functional. The bracelet is still in developmental stages, and Donaldson says the team is working with individuals and groups such as the Tyler Robinson Foundation to further test it. The bracelet should be a go for full distribution and sale by the first quarter of 2020.

"Obviously, this doesn't replace driving over to see someone or having a cup of coffee with a friend," says Donaldson. "But it is a great supplemental tool to show your love and care when you might not know what else to do."