Support Houston startups by shopping local this holiday season. Photo via Getty Images

It's giving season, and you need not look any further than Houston's startup and innovation community for some gift ideas.

This year's Houston startup gift guide includes experiences, sustainable shopping, and more.

Need some more ideas? Browse last year's roundup of Houston startup-created gift ideas, and check out the 2021, 2020 and 2019 startup gift guides as well for even more options.

For someone outdoorsy: An easy-to-book fishing trip

Mallard Bay, which won big at the Rice Business Plan Competition, expanded in Houston this year. Photo via Getty Images

After seeing success in last year's Rice Business Plan Competition, Mallard Bay, a marketplace for booking guided fishing and hunting trips, announced this year that it's moving half of its employees to Houston, InnovationMap reported. The company hopes the move will help it tap into the large corporate and convention entertainment market in Texas. You can book a trip for your family or shop gear on the startup's website.

For a wine lover: A quick cooling tool

The Cold Cork delivers 20-second beverage chilling. Photo via Facebook/Cold Cork

Perfect for someone who loves to entertain, The idea Cold Cork came from the brains of two Houstonians who love a chilled wine at the end of a long day. However, it often happens that while you're ready for wine, but the wine's not ready for you. The device, priced at $64.95, chills liquids 20 degrees in 20 seconds.

For the new mom in your life: A game-changing breastmilk service

Milkify secured a deal on Shark Tank. Photo courtesy of Milkify

As seen on Shark Tank, Houston-based Milkify provides a unique service to breastfeeding moms. The company freeze dries breast milk so that families can have the convenience of formula with the nutrition of breast milk. The startup, which won at this year's Houston Innovation Awards, secured an investment on the show and even got the nod of approval from Gwyneth Paltrow. Milkify has plans to scale, as the husband-and-wife team shared on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

For someone who loves a sweat sesh: Smell-free athletic wear

Houston-based Accel Lifestyle's innovative line of athleisure has made it into Talbots. Photo courtesy of Accel Lifestyle

For years, Houston athletic clothing brand Accel Lifestyle has been providing its customers with sporty outfits that are designed to not hold onto any stink resulting from bacteria from sweat. As of this summer, the brand is in Talbots, so you can shop in store, as well as online.

For the trendsetter: Sustainable fashion

A Houston innovator found second-hand shopping time consuming. So, she designed a better experience. Image courtesy of Trendy Seconds

Shop for one (or all) of your loved ones sustainably with Trendy Seconds, a website created by Houstonian Maria Burgos. There's likely something for everyone on your Christmas list — and no purchase can possibly considered naughty — at least when considering your carbon footprint.

For a party animal: Brews for every occasion

Bring these to your next holiday party. Photo by Emily Jaschke/InnovationMap

Two Houston companies formalized their partnership this year. Bayou City Hemp Company announced that it has purchased 8th Wonder Brewery, Distillery, and Cannabis. The acquisition deepens a relationship that dates back to 2021, when 8th Wonder and Bayou City Hemp partnered to create Wonder Water, a non-alcoholic beverage available with either CBD or Delta-8 that became the top-selling to-go product at 8th Wonder. Now, the combined company creates adult beverages by offering a full lineup of beer, spirits, and cannabis-infused drinks.

For a mother-daughter duo: A tool to enhance their relationship

Houston startup addresses mother-daughter dynamic with first app of its kindA Houston-founded company is targeting mothers and daughters with their teletherapy app. Photo courtesy of Passport Journeys

Passport Journeys, an app with a membership that helps cultivate mother-daughter relationships, can help you on your new year's resolution to heal your relationship with your mom or daughter. The intake process is $280 with monthly fees after and includes a slew of support for relationship building.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Ben Jawdat of Revterra, Pete O'Heeron of FibroBiologics, and Jay Manouchehri of Fluence Analytics. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from health tech to clean energy — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Ben Jawdat, CEO and founder of Revterra

Ben Jawdat, CEO and founder of Revterra, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

Ben Jawdat founded Revterra in Houston based on a unique kinetic energy storage technology. The company has created away to better optimize existing grid-based electric vehicle charging ports while still minimizing a carbon footprint. The startup hopes to be a major player within the energy transition.

"We really want to be an enabling technology in the renewable energy transition," Jawdat says. "One part of that is facilitating the development of large-scale, high-power, fast-charging networks. But, beyond that, we see this technology as a potential solution in other areas related to the clean energy transition."

He shares more about what's next for Revterra on the podcast. Read more and listen to the episode.

Pete O'Heeron, CEO and chairman of FibroBiologics

Pete O'Heeron leads FibroBiologics as CEO and chairman. Photo via Fibrobiologics.com

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. Read more.

Jay Manouchehri, CEO of Fluence Analytics

Fluence Analytics has exited to a multinational Japanese engineering and software giant. Image via FluenceAnalytics.com

Yokogawa, which has its US operations based in Sugar Land, acquired Fluence Analytics Inc. in a deal announced last week. The terms of the deal were not disclosed and, effective immediately, the company operate as Yokogawa Fluence Analytics. Jay Manouchehri, who joined the company in 2022, will continue to serve as CEO of the entity.

“Combining forces with Yokogawa Electric enables us to capture the full value of our unique data sets, and we can't wait to deliver this added value to our customers," Manouchehri says in a news release. "Together, we will enable autonomous operations and digital transformation in the polymer and biopharma industries."

Founded in 2012 in New Orleans, Fluence Analytics moved to Houston in 2021 following a $7.5 million venture capital raise led by Yokogawa Electric Corp., which has its North American headquarters in Sugar Land. Read more.

Here are three of the latest updates on new hires and promotions from these Houston organizations. Photos courtesy

3 Houston organizations announce strategic appointments

short stories

It's been a busy year so far for Houston organizations — three of which have made new appointments to their leadership.

In this round up of movers and shakers in Houston innovation, a venture capital firm names its newest principal, an astronaut gets a leadership role here at ground control, and a VR studio snags a leader to steer its growth.

Joe Acaba, chief of NASA's Astronaut Office at Johnson Space Center

Joe Acaba was promoted to a new role and will be responsible for crew assignments for future spaceflight missions. Photo via NASA

NASA tapped Joe Acaba as its chief of the Astronaut Office based in Johnson Space Center in Houston. He's served on multiple spaceflights and is a former U.S. Marine and former educator. According to NASA, he's the first person of Hispanic heritage selected to lead the office.

Acaba replaces Drew Feustel, who spent two years as deputy chief and has been acting chief of the office since NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman left the post late last year.

"Joe is an experienced space flyer and a proven leader, and he will undoubtedly inspire the next generation of NASA astronauts," says NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in a news release. " As we build on the International Space Station’s unparalleled success in low-Earth orbit with our eyes on the Moon and then Mars, Joe will play an integral role in ensuring our NASA astronauts are prepared for the challenges ahead."

Acaba, who spent a total of 306 days in space, has already supported the astronaut office in a few of roles, including director of operations in Russia and chief of the Vehicle Integration Test Office. In this new role, he will be oversee astronaut resources and operations and help develop astronaut flight crew operation concepts. Additionally, Acaba will make crew assignments for future spaceflight missions, including astronauts assigned to fly on Artemis missions.

“Our Johnson Space Center team congratulates Joe Acaba on his selection to chief of the Astronaut Office. We wish him well as he takes on this new and exciting leadership role,” says NASA Johnson Space Center Director Vanessa Wyche.

Samantha Lewis, partner at Mercury Fund

Samantha Lewis was promoted to partner at Mercury Fund. Photo courtesy of Mercury Fund

Samantha Lewis was promoted to partner from principal at Houston-based venture capital firm Mercury, per her LinkedIn. She previously was the investment director of investor network GOOSE Capital before joining the Mercury team just over two years ago.

Last year, Lewis — who also served on the board of two Houston-founded startups, Syzygy and Topl — was named a member of the Class 27 of the Kauffman Fellows Program, a group of global innovation investors.

Lewis is focused on what she calls the "power theme" at Mercury, which includes fintech, blockchain, web3, and more. She told InnovationMap on a recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast that these industries have been hit in particular within market uncertainty.

Bob Kleinhample, senior vice president of growth at HTX Labs

Bob Kleinhample joins HTX Labs at a time of strategic growth. Photo courtesy of HTX Labs

Virtual reality studio HTX Labs has named Bob Kleinhample as the company’s senior vice president of growth. He has more than 15 years leading business efforts in the tech space. A 20-year Army veteran, Kleinhample will oversee all aspects of HTX Labs' growth — including business development, product strategy, and marketing.

“Bob brings the right balance of market knowledge and product strategy, in combination with the commitment to bring immersive training and simulation to the warfighter, to really drive our EMPACT offering into the market,” says Scott Schneider, CEO and co-founder of HTX Labs. "We’re very excited to be adding this incredibly important role to our organization and having Bob lead these efforts as we expand the usage and adoption of EMPACT across the Department of Defense."

The appointment comes after the startup raised $3.2 million in its first outside capital round.

“Last year we secured funding from Cypress Growth Capital for the sole purpose of accelerating the growth of our EMPACT platform and our customer base, and we immediately began a search for the right person to lead these growth efforts," Schneider continues. "After performing an extensive search, we are fortunate to have connected with Bob Kleinhample who is coming on board to lead our company’s growth efforts“.

Here are the 10 Houston startups that closed venture capital investment in the fourth quarter of last year. Photo via Getty Images

10 Houston startups start 2023 with fresh venture capital funding

money moves

Houston startups saw a busy last quarter when it came to funding in 2022. From seed to series C, 10 Houston startups wrapped up the year with investment round closings.

In case you missed some of these headlines, InnovationMap has rounded up these 10 deals based on previous reporting. Scroll through to see which Houston startups are catching the eyes — and cashing the checks — of investors.

Houston-based virtual reality startup raises $3.2M in first outside capital round

VR training startup, HTX Labs, has raised funding from an outside investor for the first time. Courtesy of HTX Labs

HTX Labs, a Houston-based company that designs extended reality training for military and business purposes, announced last week that it has raised its first outside capital.

The company has received a $3.2 million investment from Cypress Growth Capital. Founded in 2017, HTX Labs — developer of the EMPACT Immersive Learning Platform — has been granted funding from the Department of Defense as well as grown its client base of commercial Enterprises. The platform uses virtual and extended reality that "enables organizations to rapidly create, deploy, measure, and sustain cost-effective, secure, and centralized immersive training programs, all within engaging, fully interactive virtual environments," per a news release.

“We have been looking to secure outside capital to accelerate the growth of our EMPACT platform and customer base but we hadn’t found the right partner who provided an investment vehicle that matched our needs,“ says HTX Labs CEO Scott Schneider in the release. “We found everything we were looking for in Cypress Growth Capital. They have a non-dilutive funding model that aligns with our capital expectations and have the level of experience that really makes this smart money." Read more.

Houston-based travel tech startup raises nearly $1M to continue expansion

A Houston company has raised additional funding as it grows its encrypted lodging booking platform. Photo via Gustavo Fring/Pexels

A travel booking technology company that's looking to alleviate some of the stresses of finding and making hotel reservations has raised additional seed funding.

Houston-based Pinktada has raised additional funding to the tune of $975,000. Ireland-based Selenean Capital contributed to the seed funding round, joining the company's previous investor True Global Ventures 4 Plus, which has invested $2 million to date. According to Crunchbase data, the latest investment brings the company's total to $3.9 million.

“Selenean Capital’s approach to partnership is identifying real world future needs and then working relentlessly to achieve those goals," says Davin Browne, Selenean’s CEO, in a news release. "Pinktada encapsulates this perfectly with a transformational approach to the hotel booking model built around a brilliant team. We look forward to the partnership and journey with them." Read more.

Houston microgrid tech company announces $150 investment

Houston-based VoltaGrid provides small-scale, self-contained microgrids that can operate independently of major power grids or in tandem with other microgrids. Photo via voltagrid.com

VoltaGrid, a Bellaire-based startup that specializes in distributed power generation via microgrids, has hauled in $150 million in equity funding.

Founded in 2020, VoltaGrid provides small-scale, self-contained microgrids that can operate independently of major power grids or in tandem with other microgrids. VoltaGrid’s product consists of natural gas engines, portable energy storage, natural gas processing and grid power connectivity.

Investors in the $150 million round include the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPP Investments), Longbow Capital, Walter Ventures, and Pilot Company (operator of more than 800 retail and fueling locations in the U.S. and Canada). The $150 million round comes less than a year after VoltaGrid announced a $100 million round featuring the same investors.Read more.

Houston SaaS company raises $15M series B, announces latest release

Houston-based GoCo.io has raised fresh funding and launched the latest version of its platform. Courtesy of GoCo

A Houston startup that is optimizing human resource operations for small businesses has raised fresh funding from an Austin-based venture capital investor.

GoCo.io raised $15 million in September in a funding round led by ATX Venture Partners. Founded in 2015, the company has raised $27.5 million to date, including its $7 million series A in 2019.

The fresh funding will be used to continue expanding on the company's software services operations and upgrades to its product, which is is modernizing HR, benefits, and payroll.

“We believe that GoCo is the company best positioned to provide HR departments at SMBs with the most flexible employee management software,” says Chris Shonk, general partner at ATX Venture Partners, in a news release. “In a crowded marketplace, GoCo clearly rises to the top with its ease-of-use, flexibility and unparalleled customization. Read more.

Houston tech startup raises $3.5M following industry expansion

Rivalry Tech's co-founders — Marshall Law and Aaron Knape — share news of the company's latest round of investment. Photo courtesy of Rivalry Tech

A Houston-based company that optimizes mobile ordering for large venues has closed its latest round of funding.

Rivalry Tech, originally founded as sEATz and tackling mobile ordering in sports venues, has raised $3.5 million following expanding with a new product, myEATz, that targets the health care, leisure, and business industries. The round was led by Houston-based Sightcast, with participation from Houston-based Softeq Venture Studio, Rice University’s Valhalla Investment Group, and more.

“Sightcast Capital Partners looks to invest in strong, founder-led companies that bring a forward-thinking solution to everyday problems," says Neal Simpson, managing partner of Sightcast Capital Partners, in a news release. "In Rivalry Tech, we saw a team that recognized an opportunity to streamline the way in which food and beverage transactions occur in the healthcare, leisure, sports, and entertainment markets. Their two-sided approach of using technology as a tool to increase vendor profitability and also positively influence consumer experience is what immediately attracted us to this opportunity." Read more.

Houston unicorn chemicals company raises $200M series D

Solugen closed its series D funding round at $200 million. Photo via Getty Images

Houston-based Solugen has announced its latest round of investment to the tune of $200 million. The company, which reached unicorn status after its $357 million series C round last year, uses its patented Bioforge processes to produce "green" chemicals from bio-based feedstocks.

"Solugen is reimagining the chemistry of everyday life with enzymes found in nature. We make chemicals better, faster, cheaper, and without fossil fuels from right here in Houston, Texas. Whether you care about the climate, local competitiveness, or just plain old profits, we have good news: it's working," the company states in its news release. Read more.

Houston company closes $76M series C round to fuel its mission of reducing carbon emissions

Syzygy Plasmonics has raised a series C round of funding. Photo courtesy of Syzygy

A Houston-based company that is electrifying chemical manufacturing has closed its largest round of funding to date.

Syzygy Plasmonics closed a $76 million series C financing round led by New York-based Carbon Direct Capital. The round included participation from Aramco Ventures, Chevron Technology Ventures, LOTTE CHEMICAL, and Toyota Ventures. The company's existing investors joining the round included EVOK Innovations, The Engine, Equinor Ventures, Goose Capital, Horizons Ventures, Pan American Energy, and Sumitomo Corporation of Americas. According to a news release, Carbon Direct Capital will join Syzygy's board and serve as the series C director.

"We were very attracted to the multiple use cases for the Syzygy reactor and the lifetime-value of each Syzygy customer," says Jonathan Goldberg, Carbon Direct Capital's CEO, in the release. "Emissions from hydrogen production total more than 900 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. Syzygy's photocatalysis technology is a key solution to decarbonize hydrogen production as well as other critical industries." Read more.

Houston SaaS startup raises $6M seed

Houston-based SynMax has closed its first round of funding. Photo via Getty Images

A Houston-based satellite data analytics company is celebrating an oversubscribed round of recent funding.

SynMax announced this week that it closed its seed round at $6 million with an oversubscription of $2 million. The startup is providing geospatial intelligence software as a service to customers within the energy and maritime industries. The technology combines earth observation imagery and key data sources for predictive analytics and artificial intelligence.

The company reports that all of the investment came from SynMax customers. The round was led by Houston-based Skylar Capital, an investment management firm focused on the natural gas market. Read more.

Houston health tech startup secures $27M in financing

A Houston startup that created a remote monitoring and care platform has raised millions in financing. Image via michealthcare.com

A virtual health care and analytics provider startup has closed its latest round of funding for a total of $27 million in financing.

Medical Informatics Corp. closed a $17 million series B co-led by Maryland-based Catalio Capital Management and California-based Intel Capital. The financing also includes an additional $10 million in debt led by Catalio through Catalio’s structured equity strategy, according to a news release.

“We are excited to have had this round co-led by Catalio and Intel Capital," says Emma Fauss, CEO and co-founder of MIC, in the release. "Catalio brings significant financial and technical resources, while Intel Capital possesses strong operational and industry experience, and we look forward to continuing to leverage both firms’ expertise as we continue to scale.” Read more.

Houston sportstech platform raises $1.3M seed round

This Houston startup has fresh funding to build out its data intelligence platform. Photo via aim7.com

How many times have you forced yourself to do an arduous workout when you just weren’t feeling it? Despite what some trainers will tell you, you probably didn’t feel any better after. Sports scientist Dr. Erik Korem could have told you that, but more importantly, so could his creation, AIM7.

Marketed as “the fastest, easiest way to change your habits and improve your health,” Korem just raised a $1.3 million seed round that will bring his ambitious app to consumers in its beta form early next month.

The data intelligence platform would know that on a day that you’re stressed, that Peloton tabata ride might not be in your best interest. How? “The data from your Apple Watch or your Fitbit is just data. ‘I walked 7000 steps or I slept 8 hours,’” explains Korem. “We are the recommendation engine that makes this usable for you.” Read more.

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Growing Houston startup moves into 43,000-square-foot facility amid 'hypergrowth phase'

major milestone

A Houston startup has moved into a new space that's more than four times larger than its previous setup — a move that's setting the company up to scale its business.

NanoTech Materials celebrated its move into a new facility — a 43,000-square-foot space in Katy, Texas, this week. The materials science company currently distributes a roof coating that features its novel heat-control technology across the company. Originally founded in a garage, the company has now moved from its 10,000-square-foot space at Halliburton Labs into the larger location to support its growth.

“The new facility allows us to not just focus on the roofing, and that’s growing at a pretty rapid pace, but also stand up different production lines for our next iteration of technologies coming-out," Mike Francis, co-founder and CEO of NanoTech tells InnovationMap.

The space allows for a 340 percent increase in the manufacturing and operational capabilities, including producing 55 million square feet a year of roof coating. Francis says the new products he's focused on launching and scaling include a wildfire protectant coating and liquid applied insulation for trucks and containers to control heat for driver and worker safety.

Francis adds that he will be expanding the company's team to support this growth.

“We’re constantly hiring now,” he says. “We have about 25 employees right now. Next year, we’ll probably be double that. We’re kind of in a hypergrowth phase."

Francis likes to credit Houston in part for NanoTech's ability to grow at this pace and to be successful.

Mike Francis is the CEO and co-founder of NanoTech Materials. Photo via LinkedIn

“Houston has a shot at being one of the top startup cities of the world — I think it’s going to take a lot of time and capital, but what makes Houston different is its ability to scale existing technologies,” Francis says.

“I really think that Houston is already the spot to take an existing technology and build a team around it to turn it into a company because you have all of the players — whether it’s the end customer or the incubators and 'scalerators' — and you have all of these pieces coming into place," he continues. "Maybe it’s not the best place to start a company, but it’s definitely the best place to scale a company because of the ecosystem is really willing to participate and raise up startups like ours."

As the first company selected for Halliburton's incubator, Halliburton Labs, when it launched in 2020, NanoTech has worked closely with the company that housed and supported them for years.

“Once you’re in the Halliburton Labs fold, they are always just a phone call away from making something happen," he says. “We’re transferring all that knowledge into a bigger facility — growing up and graduating from what they gave us.”

Last year, NanoTech raised an oversubscribed funding round that brought on a handful of new investors. The details of the round were not disclosed, but NanoTech did release that the round included participation from three institutional investors, two corporate-strategic investors, and seven family offices. The company originally raised its seed round in 2020.

The NanoTech team, including Francis and Carrie Horazeck, chief commercial officer, joined the Houston Innovators Podcast last year to discuss how they've rolled out their first line of business.


Texas lands in top 10 most-expensive cities for running a new business

pay up

Everything is bigger in Texas — or at least somewhat bigger — and that appears to include the cost of running a new business.

A new ranking from business consulting firm Venture Smarterputs Texas at No. 9 among the states with the highest expenses for starting and operating a business.

New York appears at No. 1 on the list, followed by Washington and Massachusetts.

The cheapest state? Mississippi. It was preceded in the ranking by Kentucky and North Dakota.

To come up with its list, Venture Smarter looked at eight metrics, including corporate tax rate, average LLC filing fees, average real estate costs, and minimum wage.

Texas scored 59.74 out of 100 for startup expenses, with a higher score being worse.

The Lone Star State tied with Tennessee for the highest initial LLC filing fees ($300). But unlike many other states, Texas doesn’t require business owners to pay LLC filing fees each year to keep a business incorporated.

Texas fared well on several counts, though, such as no corporate tax, a low state-mandated minimum wage ($7.25 an hour), and relatively low real estate costs.

“This research aims to provide valuable insights into the business climate across various states, offering new entrepreneurs the information they need to make well-informed decisions on their entrepreneurial journey,” Venture Smarter says in a statement. “By understanding the unique characteristics and challenges of each state, aspiring business owners can navigate the complexities of different markets and optimize their chances of success.”

How to evaluate an IPO, according to Houston researchers

houston voices

Many investors assume they can judge the strength of an IPO based on the reputation of the underwriter supporting it.

However, a recent study by Rice Business professors Anthea Zhang and Haiyang Li, along with Jin Chen (Nottingham University) and Jing Jin (University of International Business and Economics), proves this is only sometimes true — depending on how mature the stock exchange is.

Getting your company listed on the stock market is a big step. It opens new opportunities to raise money and grow the business. But it also means facing increased regulations, reporting requirements and public scrutiny.

To successfully launch an initial public offering (IPO), most companies hire “underwriters” — financial services firms — to guide them through the complex process. Because underwriters have expertise in valuations, filing paperwork and promoting to investors, they play a crucial role in ushering companies onto the market.

In well-established markets like the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), an underwriter’s reputation carries immense weight with investors. Top-tier banks like Goldman Sachs have built their reputations by rigorously vetting and partnering with only the most promising companies. When Goldman Sachs takes on the role of underwriter, it sends a strong signal to potential investors that the IPO has met stringent standards. After all, a firm of Goldman’s caliber would not risk tarnishing its hard-earned reputation by associating with subpar companies.

Conversely, IPO firms recognize the value of having a prestigious underwriter. Such an association lends credibility and prestige, enhancing the company’s appeal. In a mature market environment, the underwriter’s reputation correlates to the IPO’s potential, benefiting both the investors who seek opportunities and the companies wanting to make a strong public debut.

However, assumptions about an underwriter’s reputation only hold true if the stock exchange is mature. In emerging or less developed markets, the reputation of an underwriter has no bearing on the quality or potential of the IPO it pairs with.

In an emerging market, the study finds, investors should pay attention to how much the underwriter charges a given IPO for their services. The higher the fee, the riskier it would be to invest in the IPO firm.

To arrive at their findings, the researchers leveraged a unique opportunity in China’s ChiNext Exchange. When ChiNext opened in 2009, regulations were low. Banks faced little consequence for underwriting a substandard IPO. Numerous IPOs on ChiNext were discovered to have engaged in accounting malpractice and inaccurate reporting, resulting in financial losses for investors and eroding confidence in the capital markets. So, for 18 months during 2012-2013, ChiNext closed. When it reopened, exchange reforms were stricter. And suddenly, underwriter reputation became a more reliable marker of IPO quality.

“Our research shows how priorities evolve as markets mature,” Zhang says. “In a new or developing exchange without established regulations, underwriter fees paid by IPO firms dictate the underwriter-company partnership. But as markets reform and mature, reputation and quality become the driving factors.”

The study makes a critical intervention in the understanding of market mechanisms. The findings matter for companies, investors and regulators across societies, highlighting how incentives shift, markets evolve and economic systems work.

The research opens the door to other areas of inquiry. For example, future studies could track relationships between underwriters and companies to reveal the long-term impacts of reputation, fees and rule changes. Research along these lines could help identify best practices benefiting all market participants.

“In the future, researchers could explore how cultural norms, regulations and investor behaviors influence IPO success,” says Li. “Long-term studies on specific underwriter-firm pairs could reveal insights into investor confidence and market stability. Understanding these dynamics can benefit companies, investors and policymakers alike.”

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This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom and was based on research from Yan “Anthea” Zhang, the Fayez Sarofim Vanguard Professor of Management – Strategic Management at Rice Business, and Haiyang Li, the H. Joe Nelson III Professor of Management – Strategic Management at Rice Business.