Houston's ranking on this global report improved 14 spots between now and last year. Photo via Getty Images

As a startup hub, Houston is movin’ on up.

In a new report from Startup Genome and the Global Entrepreneurship Network, Houston ranks fifth among the world’s top 100 emerging ecosystems for startups. Last year, the groups’ report put Houston at No. 19 in the same category.

Ahead of Houston on the list of the top emerging ecosystems for startups are first-ranked Detroit; second-ranked Hong Kong; third-ranked Dublin, Ireland; and fourth-ranked Minneapolis.

Further bolstering Houston’s status as a rising startup hub, Bayou City ranks third among the top North American challengers to traditional startup anchors like Silicon Valley, Boston, and Seattle. Joining Houston on the challengers’ list are first-ranked Detroit; second-ranked Minneapolis; third-ranked Research Triangle, North Carolina; and fifth-ranked Pittsburgh.

A recent report from Houston Exponential, which was recently acquired by InnovationMap's parent company, emphasizes Houston’s position as the third fastest-growing tech ecosystem in the U.S. for early-stage startups. Houston sits behind Miami (No. 2) and Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Connecticut (No. 1).

Houston startups at all stages raised $2.34 billion in 2021, setting a record for the region’s annual VC haul, the HX report says. Of that total, early-stage startups collected $618.9 million in 46 deals.

Health and information technology startups dominate the VC landscape in Houston, with each accounting for 30 percent of VC deals in 2021, according to the HX report.

Elsewhere in Texas, Austin ranks 25th among the world’s top 100 ecosystems for startups, while Dallas ties for 31st place, according to the Startup Genome and Global Entrepreneurship Network report. San Antonio is wedged into the 91-to-100 range in the ranking of the world’s top 100 ecosystems.

“The importance and dispersal of tech startups have amplified the influence — for both good and ill — of geopolitics,” the report notes. “Where once the sector was sufficiently small to avoid the kind of pressures experienced by large industries such as energy and travel, those garage-spawned entrepreneurs have grown into a major economic force. Keeping their heads down is no longer an option.”

Domino's and Nuro have picked Houston to launch a self-driving pizza delivery vehicle pilot program. Courtesy of Nuro and Domino's

Self-driving pizza delivery vehicles will hit Houston's roads later this year

Order up

Unmanned vehicles are taking over Houston, any way you slice it. Nuro, the robotics company specializing in commercialized self-driving cars, first entered the Houston market earlier this year with its grocery delivery partnership with Kroger. Now, the company has teamed up with Domino's Pizza to deliver an autonomous pizza delivery pilot program in Houston.

Only a select group of Houston Domino's customers will be able to have the option to choose an unmanned delivery process from the R2 vehicles. Currently, Nuro and Domino's have not revealed who will be able to use the service or when. In a news release from Domino's, the company notes that the technology will be available later this year.

"We are always looking for new ways to innovate and evolve the delivery experience for our customers," says Kevin Vasconi, Domino's executive vice president and chief information officer, in the release. "Nuro's vehicles are specially designed to optimize the food delivery experience, which makes them a valuable partner in our autonomous vehicle journey. The opportunity to bring our customers the choice of an unmanned delivery experience, and our operators an additional delivery solution during a busy store rush, is an important part of our autonomous vehicle testing."

On online orders, select customers will have the option to choose to receive delivery from one of the R2 vehicles. Once the order is in, the customers would receive a PIN code to unlock the compartment to access the pizza upon its arrival.

"We are excited to expand our autonomous delivery service in Houston with Domino's delivery," says Cosimo Leipold, Nuro's head of partner relations, in the release. "Domino's delivers millions of pizzas around the world every day, and the company shares our passion for focusing on the customer experience. We see incredible opportunity in offering Nuro's world-class autonomous technology to Domino's customers, accelerating our shared mission to transform local commerce."

Self-driving vehicles are sure to change Houston's landscape, according to Rand Stephens, managing director of the Houston office of commercial real estate services company Avison Young.

"I think forward-thinking tenants, developers, brokers, architects, and engineers will design interim solutions with lower ratios," Stephens says in another InnovationMap article. "They'll really take the time to understand the occupants' commuting patterns and steer away from one parking space for one person."

Nuro Co-Founder Jiajun Zhu and Domino's CEO Ritch Allison in front of one of Nuro's R1 vehicle.sCourtesy of Nuro and Domino's

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Rice University rises to No. 1 spot in new ranking of best college investments

money moves

By one measure, earning a degree at Rice University is the smartest move in the Lone Star State.

In its eighth annual ranking of colleges and university that give students the best return on their educational investment, personal finance website SmartAsset places Rice at No. 1 in Texas and No. 10 in the U.S. It’s the only Texas school to break into the national top 10.

To determine the best-value colleges and universities in each state, SmartAsset crunched data in these categories: scholarships and grants, starting salary for new graduates, tuition, living costs, and retention rate.

While the tuition ($47,350) and student living costs ($17,800) at Rice are the highest among the top 10 Texas schools on the list, the average amount of scholarships and grants ($43,615), average starting salary ($77,900), and retention rate (97 percent) also are among the highest.

According to Rice, tuition, fees, on-campus room and board, books, and personal expenses for the 2022-23 academic year add up to $74,110. That figure, which excludes financial aid, applies to a full-time, degree-seeking student living on campus.

“Rice University is consistently ranked as a best value in higher education and is one of America’s leading teaching and research universities,” the school’s Office of Financial Aid says. “By attending Rice, you will not only receive a superior education at a reasonable cost, you also will benefit from having a Rice degree long after graduation.”

Three other schools in or near the Houston metro area appear on SmartAsset’s list of the biggest-bang-for-your-buck schools in Texas:

  • Prairie View A&M University, No. 4. The university posted the lowest retention rate (74 percent) among the 10 schools. The remaining figures sit roughly in the middle of the pack.
  • University of Houston, No. 5. The university’s tuition ($8,913) was the lowest in the top 10, as was the average amount of scholarships and grants ($6,544).
  • Texas A&M University-College Station, No. 6. The university’s living costs are the second highest among the top 10 ($17,636), while its average starting salary for new grads lands at No. 3 ($64,400).

Other schools in the state’s top 10 are:

  • University of Texas at Austin, No. 2.
  • University of Texas at Dallas (Richardson), No. 3.
  • Texas Tech University in Lubbock, No. 7.
  • LeTourneau University in Longview, No. 8.
  • University of North Texas in Denton, No. 9.
  • Texas State University in San Marcos, No. 10.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston expert addresses the growing labor shortage within health care

guest column

Long before COVID-19 became a part of our new normal, the concerns around shortages in health care staffing were present.

To put this in real terms, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the latest projection of employment through the end of this decade is an increase of nearly 12 million jobs. A fourth of those — 3.3 million to be exact — are expected to go towards health care and social assistance roles.

Before the pandemic, the concerns centered around managing a growing retired population and a slowing in higher education nurse enrollment. Then amid the growing shortage concerns surrounding the support for aging baby boomers, we were all thrusted into a pandemic.

The stressors on health care professional staffing have doubled down and what the increased shortage has shown us is the need to intervene and change the traditional hiring practices. Speed to place a nurse on assignment doesn’t just ensure productivity — it is a matter of life or death.

Over the past several years, the evolution of technology has drastically changed how health care facilities operate and interact with their employees as well as patients. There was a point in time where the structure in health care staffing was rigid without flexibility or varieties of employment type. Conversations around travel positions, per diem, and permanent are all now commonplace as the recent shortages caused us to normalize the discussion around role type and use of technology to influence speed to hire.

This whole evolution was put to test when April 2020 came, and the initial brunt of the pandemic was in full swing. The entire world was in panic mode. During these quarantine times, we were in a state of a health care emergency with thousands of patients seeking health care. Unfortunately, hospitals could not keep up with this demand with their existing nurse professionals, and became severely overloaded and dangerous. Due to this the United States saw unprecedented labor shortages, impacting a large number of nurses and health care workers as it pertains to both their physical and mental health.

What we are seeing now is a period classified as the “The Great Rethinking,” where nurses and health care workers alike are speaking up for what they believe in and deserve. Salary transparency and flexibility are just the tip of the iceberg for this movement.

SkillGigs is unique in that we are giving the power back to registered nurses and health care professionals, while meeting the demand created by the pandemic. Our team has been fortunate to be a catalyst to direct the change in the future of work, and we look forward to continuing to innovate.

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Bryan Groom is the division president of health care at Houston-based SkillGigs.

Houston energy giant expands implementation of Canadian startup's tech

big, big energy

CruxOCM, a startup with a significant Houston presence that specializes in robotic industrial process automation for energy companies, has secured even more business from energy giant Phillips 66.

The value of the deal wasn’t disclosed.

Houston-based Phillips 66 has agreed to expand it use of CruxOCM’s pipeBOT technology to cover even more pipelines. The pipeBOT technology is designed to improve the safety and efficiency of control room operations for pipelines and reduce control room costs.

CruxOCM and Phillips 66 launched a test of pipeBOT in 2020.

CruxOCM, based in Calgary, Canada, says pipeBOT is engineered to decrease manual controls through intelligent automation. With this technology in place, the fatigue of control room operators declines, because as many as 85 percent fewer manual commands must be entered, according to CruxOCM. Therefore, control room operators can focus on higher-level tasks.

“At CruxOCM, we empower control room operators with modern software that enables the autonomous control rooms of tomorrow, within the safety constraints of today. We look forward to continuing to strengthen our relationship with Phillips 66 for many years to come,” Adam Marsden, chief revenue officer at CruxOCM, says in a news release.

Founded in 2017, Crux OCM (Crux Operations Control Management) established its Houston presence last year. Also in 2021, the startup raised $6 million in venture capital in a “seed extension” funding round. Bullpen Capital led the round, with participation from Angular Ventures, Root Ventures, Golden Ventures, Cendana Capital, and Industry Ventures.

In 2019, Angular Ventures and Root Ventures co-led a $2.6 million funding round.