It pays to work at these four Houston companies. Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Facebook

Houston has already been heralded as a hotbed for innovation. Now, a handful of local companies are in the spotlight as the best places to work.

Four Houston companies are among 429 businesses named May 12 to Inc. magazine's 2021 list of the country's best workplaces. They are:

  • Marketing and PR firm CKP, Houston.
  • Environmental restoration company Ecosystem Planning and Restoration, Tomball.
  • IT automation platform Liongard, Houston.
  • Online recruiting service WizeHire, Houston.

"We've taken steps, especially during the pandemic, to build an amazing team and inclusive culture that is rooted in collaboration," Liongard CEO Joe Alapat says in a news release. "I am proud every day of the work this team is doing and the positive impact we're having on the managed services industry, and thrilled that our employees share our excitement and enthusiasm."

Meanwhile, 11 Austin companies receiving kudos are:

  • 9Gauge Partners, a business management consulting firm.
  • AgileAssets, a provider of transportation management software.
  • AlertMedia, an emergency communication and monitoring platform.
  • Decent, a provider of health insurance.
  • Fourlane, a provider of QuickBooks support.
  • Made In Cookware, an e-commerce startup that sells pots, pans, and other cookware.
  • Mighty Citizen, a branding, marketing, and communications firm.
  • OJO Labs, a platform for buying and selling homes.
  • Ontic, a company whose software helps companies address physical threats.
  • Q1Media, a digital media company.
  • The Zebra, an insurance marketplace.

Nick Soman, founder and CEO of Decent, says his company seeks to trust, respect, and appreciate every employee.

"This year that has meant quickly helping employees who lost power during an unprecedented snowstorm find a warm place to stay and offering unlimited time off," Soman says in a news release. "Being recognized as a top workplace is a special honor for Decent. Our people are at the heart of our company. They foster our amazing culture and drive our consistently outstanding customer service."

Lukas Quanstrom, CEO of Ontic, says his company is committed to upholding the core values, standards, and practices that contributed to the Inc. honor.

"Over the past year, the Ontic team has experienced rapid growth reinforcing how important our supportive, entrepreneurial culture is to nurturing talent and prioritizing our employees' overall welfare," Quanstrom says in a news release.

Each nominated company took part in an employee survey, conducted by Quantum Workplace, on topics including management effectiveness, perks, and employee growth. Also, an organization's benefits were audited to help determine the employer's standing.

Elsewhere in Texas, seven Dallas-Fort Worth employers, four Houston-area employers, and one San Antonio employer made the Inc. list.

Dallas-Fort Worth area

  • Staffing and recruiting firm BridgeWork Partners, Dallas.
  • Commercial real estate services company esrp, Frisco.
  • Staffing agency Frontline Source Group, Dallas.
  • PR and marketing firm Idea Grove, Dallas.
  • HVAC and plumbing warranty company JB Warranties, Argyle.
  • Technical consulting firm Stratosphere Consulting, Dallas.
  • NetSuite consulting firm The Vested Group, Plano.

Inc. highlights esrp's employee emergency fund, which offers "a financial lifeline for a range of life events, including funerals, medical emergencies, and welcoming new grandchildren. The omnipresent resource is funded through anonymous employee donations."

San Antonio

The only San Antonio company to make the 2021 list was IT services provider Mobius Partners.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

What are the best companies to work for in Houston? Inc. magazine has released its list. Getty Images

Inc. named the​ best workplaces in U.S. — and 6 Houston companies landed on the list

workers loving work

These days, finding work is a full-time job for thousands of struggling Houstonians. Some of those people might want to check out six employers from Greater Houston that were just named among the country's best workplaces.

On May 5, Inc. magazine revealed the 395 employers in the U.S. that made its 2020 list of the best workplaces. In all, 30 employers in Texas ranked among the country's top workplaces.

To develop the ranking, Omaha, Nebraska-based Quantum Workplace surveyed employees from more than 3,000 companies in the U.S. on topics such as trust, management effectiveness, perks, and confidence in the future. Quantum based the final list on a composite score of survey results.

Houston employers that appear on the 2020 list are:

  • Alliantgroup, a tax consulting firm
  • AMB Architects, an architecture firm that specializes in designing medical and corporate offices, stores, and building renovations.
  • Eagle Pipe, a distributor of pipes for industrial and municipal projects
  • G&A Partners, an HR outsourcing company
  • Rekruiters, a staffing firm
  • The Black Sheep Agency, a marketing, branding, and design firm

Here's a rundown of the other Texas companies that earned spots on Inc.'s list of the country's best workplaces.

Dallas

  • Dialexa, a provider of technology R&D and development
  • Embark, a financial consulting firm
  • January Digital, a digital marketing and consulting firm
  • Munck Wilson Mandala, a tech-focused law firm
  • OneDay, a provider of a video storytelling platform for senior living centers
  • OutMatch, a provider of a platform that helps employers hire, retain, and develop employees
  • Worldwide Express, a shipping company

Addison

  • Lone Star Analysis, a provider of analytics software

Fort Worth

  • Blue Jean Networks, an IT support and services company

Irving

  • 5, an energy advisory firm
  • JB Warranties, an insurance firm

Plano

  • LiquidAgents Healthcare, a staffing agency for nurses
  • The Vested Group, a consulting firm for users of NetSuite software
  • TRUth, an advertising and marketing agency

Austin

  • 9Gauge Partners, a business management consulting firm
  • Abilitie, a provider of simulation-based learning tools
  • AlertMedia, a provider of emergency notification software
  • AllPro Hospitality Staffing, a staffing service for hotels and caterers
  • OJO Labs, a maker of AI-powered software for homebuyers and home sellers
  • Personiv, an outsourcing company
  • Pushnami, a provider of digital marketing software
  • SourceDay, a maker of supply chain management software
  • The Zebra, an insurance comparison website

Round Rock-based Jacaruso Enterprises also showed up in the ranking. It offers sales training, technology, and consulting for hotels.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Inc. magazine has identified the fastest-growing companies in Houston. Nick Bee/Pexels

These are the 5 fastest-growing companies in Houston, according to a recent report

ready, set, grow

Bellaire-based startup Instafuel is pumping up its revenue in a big way.

Among the 250 fastest-growing companies in Texas identified by Inc. magazine, Instafuel tops the group of businesses based in the Houston metro area and ranks fifth statewide. Houston-based companies make up 68 of the state's fast-growing companies — eight Houston companies make up the top 25 list.

Instafuel, whose official corporate name is Fuel Husky LLC, provides mobile refueling services to B2B clients. The Inc. ranking, released March 13, shows Instafuel posted revenue growth of 1,353 percent from 2016 to 2018.

According to a November 2019 article published by CSP magazine, Instafuel has expanded to 30 trucks that have dispensed nearly 10 million gallons of fuel to more than 150 B2B clients in major Texas metro markets like Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Austin. CSP covers the convenience and petroleum retailing industry.

"We've been bootstrapping … in stealth mode for the last four years, just trying to grow this business one [client] by one, trying to truly understand what it means to be a mobile refueler, or what we call a compact mobile refueler, and trying to target and understand the business model for small- to medium-sized business fleets," Nour Baki, vice president and co-founder of Instafuel, told the magazine.

Ranked second in the Houston area and sixth statewide by Inc. is Spring-based Bellatorum Resources LLC, whose revenue shot up 1,261 percent from 2016 to 2018. Bellatorum, a veteran-owned and veteran-operated investment company, specializes in mineral rights and oil royalty acquisitions.

"I think our work ethic and customer service is what makes us different from our competitors," Chris Bentley, president and CEO of Bellatorum Resources, told the Oil & Gas Council in July 2018.

"Based on the feedback I consistently receive from mineral owners, they tell me that many of our competitors fail to return phone calls and emails, and sometimes even fail to treat them with common courtesy and respect during their business dealings," Bentley added. "We believe in putting the mineral owner first, which always pays off for us."

At No. 3 in the Houston area and No. 8 statewide is Houston-based Sarvicus LLC. Sarvicus, an IT services and utilities provider, grew revenue by 1,048 percent from 2016 to 2018.

"Whether it's a process, piece of equipment, or a tool, we try to optimize its efficiency. When we are successful, that often translates to benefits for our customers," Sarvicus co-founder and CEO Marc Packard told CIOReview magazine.

Houston-based SIA Solutions LLC appears at No. 4 among Houston-area companies and No. 9 among Texas companies. From 2016 to 2018, revenue at the professional services engineering and consulting firm soared 1,030 percent.

"Because of our client-first philosophy, we're willing to take on tough challenges and deliver. It's in our culture. It's natural to us," CEO Srini Neralla told the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship at Texas A&M University's Mays Business School in November 2019. We put together strong teams comprising of firms our size or larger, including universities, in order to deliver what our clients want."

With a 2016-18 growth rate of 824 percent, Houston-based Zahroof Valves Inc. nails down the No. 5 spot among Houston-area companies and No. 14 among Texas companies. Zahroof Values makes and markets specialized valves for reciprocating gas compressors. Its investors include Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures LLC, the investment arm of oil giant Saudi Aramco.

In an August 2019 release, Zahroof Valves CEO Tony Gioffredi said: "Our commitment to driving positive change [in] the oil and gas industry is shown through our innovative products … ."

Houston entrepreneur Megan Eddings' activewear brand has received national attention. Courtesy of Accel Lifestyle

Houston entrepreneur snags national spotlight and mentorship from Tilman Fertitta

featuring founders

Fashion and science have more in common than you think: Just ask Accel Lifestyle founder and CEO Megan Eddings, who spent three years developing the Prema fabric used in the ethical and environmentally friendly activewear brand she launched in Houston.

"I've always loved science. I've always been fascinated by things you can't see which is, to me, science and chemistry," Eddings tells CultureMap.

Her fascination with fashion and science has paid off: Eddings is one of 40 selected entrepreneurs across the United States to participate in Inc. Magazine's Founders Project. In honor of Inc.'s 40th anniversary, it launched the year-long project. Designed to assist entrepreneurs to grow their business, the initiative will match 40 established entrepreneurs, including Houston's billionaire Tilman Fertitta, MailChimp's Ben Chestnut, and Drybar's Ali Webb to provide advice, access to capital, marketing guidance, and other valuable assets.

Eddings says she was blown away and couldn't wait to learn about the new mentor-mentee relationship. "I was super excited to be paired with Tilman Fertitta," she says.

Fertitta, the sole owner of Fertitta Entertainment, the restaurant giant Landry's, the Golden Nugget Casinos and Hotels, and the NBA's Houston Rockets tells CultureMap he, "enjoyed meeting Megan and learning more about her unique product. She will surely be another successful Houston entrepreneur and look forward to following her growth."

Eddings says Fertitta has already shared his expertise as she continues pitching Accel Lifestyle to national retailers.

"We've already had a few conversations," she says. "One was about wholesale versus retail, which was printed in the November issue, and there was a video interview published on Inc.com."

With a degree in chemistry from the University of Virginia and experience working in labs at UVA and Brown University, Eddings put her education to use after pondering why her husband's sweaty gym clothes weren't coming out clean.

Her anti-stink fabric ensures consumers are less likely to throw away their clothing, which is a strong focus for the brand — not contributing to the landfill epidemic. With antimicrobial properties, the proprietary fabric is ideal for various industries besides fitness, including hospitality, medical, automotive, and more.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

As a a part of its annual Inc. 5000 findings, the magazine named Houston the ninth hottest startup city in America. Photo by Tim Leviston/Getty Images

National business magazine names Houston one of the 'hottest startup cities'

hot or not

It's not just Texas' weather that's hot. Three Lone Star State cities made Inc. magazine's list of hot startups cities — and Houston came in at No. 9.

The list came out of the Inc. 5000 report — the magazine's list of the fastest-growing 5,000 privately-held companies in the United States. The list was ranked by the three-year revenue growth of each of the cities' companies.

Houston had a three-year revenue growth 117 percent with 84 Houston companies on the 2019 Inc. 5000 list.

"After Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017, the Houston area's construction industry grew tremendously to help rebuild and repair the storm's damage," the short ranking blurb reads, mentioning two Inc. 5000 companies in Houston: oil pipeline services company JP Services (No. 792) and contractor services firm CC&D (No. 1,973).

Houston beat out Dallas (No. 10) by just 4 percent three-year revenue growth and 10 Inc. 5000 companies. The article calls out Dallas for its "low regulations, zero corporate income taxes, and the Dallas Entrepreneur Center, or DEC, which is a nonprofit organization serving as a hub for startup networking, funding, and mentorship."

Meanwhile, Austin, which ranked No. 2 on the list, had a three-year revenue growth 259 percent, and has 87 Inc. 5000 companies this year. Austin was praised for its "high rate of entrepreneurship and job creation" in the article, as well as for having outposts for top tech companies like Amazon, Apple, and Google.

Here's the full list:

  1. San Francisco
  2. Austin
  3. New York City
  4. San Diego
  5. Atlanta
  6. Denver
  7. Los Angeles
  8. Chicago
  9. Houston
  10. Dallas

Earlier this month, 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.

Susan Davenport, senior vice president of economic development for the Greater Houston Partnership, previously told InnovationMap that it's the city's diversity that keeps the city growing and resilient.

"The region's steady population increases, coupled with our relatively low costs of living and doing business, bode well for our economic growth potential reflected in this ranking," Davenport says.

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Overheard: Master P shares his entrepreneurial advice at Houston Tech Rodeo kickoff

eavesdropping in Houston

Percy Miller developed his music career as Master P, but it's far from his only entrepreneurial endeavor. At Houston Exponential's kick-off event for the 2021 Houston Tech Rodeo, Miller took the virtual stage with Zack O'Malley Greenburg, a journalist and author.

In the discussion, Miller shared his experience in his many fields of entrepreneurship, including music, fashion, consumer packaged goods, and more. He focused on trusting your own hard work, surrounding yourself with a good support system, and embracing failure — something he's done throughout his career.

"I don't look at it as a loss. I look at it as a lesson. Every 'L' is a lesson," he says. "Every time I had a business fail, I learned something from it and it opened up a door into a future."

To hit the highlights from the fireside chat with Master P, check out some overheard moments below. To stream the full broadcast, click here.

“A music career only lasts 3 to 5 years at the most. … I started diversifying my portfolio and I looked at the tech side and said, ’This is where you got to be at.’”

Miller says he was out in the Bay Area in the '90s and early '00s, and he saw first hand the tech scene developing in Silicon Valley. He even released an album in 2005 called Ghetto Bill, a reference to Bill Gates.

“I have failed a lot — don’t be afraid to fail. Get out and take that chance on yourself.”

Miller's music career mirrors, in some ways, the dynamic path of a startup. He received a $10,000 investment from his grandparents and used it to launch his career.

"I created an empire with $10,000," he says.

But It wasn't always easy, and Miller remembers the hustle, selling his music from the trunk of his car, and his many failures.

“You have to be committed to what you do — and you have to love it. It never was about money. When you’re passionate about something, you have a purpose. You’ll get there. If you do it for money, you’ll probably never be successful.”

Passion is a key ingredient in the recipe for success, Miller explains. It drives accomplishment and, "if you get it that easy, you'll probably lose it even quicker," he continues.

“I have an entrepreneurial spirit — I have to learn everything about what I’m doing.”

When it came to developing his music career, Miller says he wore every different hat in the process because he knew he would work the hardest.

"For me, if I can be the talent and the person who runs the company, I feel like there's no limit," Miller says. "I knew I could depend on myself."

“Show me your friends, and I can show you your future.”

Miller started his own record label, No Limit Records, and it was here he cultivated an environment of artists who didn't just want to perform, get pampered, and hang out at the club.

"People at No Limit — it was like a university," he says. "Everybody was coming to study to not only learn how to be an artist but also learn entrepreneurship and financial literacy."

“Most people wanted that advanced check, that money upfront. But my thing was I wanted the control in the end. When you come from a poor culture, you look at things differently. At least I did.”

Miller says he learned this at a young age, that if you hold the power, you make the decisions. "I want better for my kids and the only way I am going to do that is by creating longevity where I own the largest percent of the company," he says.

“It’s all about economic empowerment — we’re stronger together.”

Miller says he's focused on product and taking over the grocery stores, as well as driving economic empowerment for other BIPOC-founded companies and putting money back into the community.

"I want to focus on other minority-owned companies and brands get their products on the shelves,' he says.

Experts: Houston can win in the energy transition — here's how

Guest column

President Joe Biden recently announced his 2030 goal for the United States to achieve a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from its 2005 levels. This announcement comes on the heels of the American Jobs Plan, a $2 trillion infrastructure and climate-response program which offers a host of energy- and climate change-related initiatives, including a plan to speed up the conversion of the country to carbon-free electricity generation by 2035.

To reach these goals, companies of all industries are looking to implement clean energy investments and practices and do so quickly. Perhaps more than any major city in America, Houston faces fundamental questions about its economy and its future in the global Energy Transition. Some 4,600 energy companies, including more than a dozen Fortune 500 companies, serve as the foundation of the city's economy.

While many of these are working in the renewables space, the vast majority are rooted in fossil fuels. Many in Houston have long been anticipating this move towards renewables, but the new executive position on emissions has brought renewed pressure on Houston to take action and put investments behind securing its position as the Energy Capital of the World.

Houston's energy transition status

There has been an uptick in Energy Transition activity in Houston over the past several years. Currently, Houston boasts at least 100 solar energy-related companies and 30 wind energy-related companies. Environmental Entrepreneurs ranked Houston seventh among the top 50 U.S. metro areas for clean energy employment in the fourth quarter of 2019, with 1.9 percent of all clean energy jobs in the U.S. In 2019, Houston had 56,155 clean energy jobs, up nearly 4 percent from 2018, according to E2. However, by comparison, there are roughly 250,000 fossil fuel jobs in the area. (S&P Global)


Many traditional oil and gas companies have embraced this change, pivoting to more sustainable and resilient energy solutions. Companies working in tangentially related industries, like finance, infrastructure and services, are beginning to understand their role in the Energy Transition as well.

The challenge

While the Bayou City's proximity to the bay and natural oil supply may have set the scene for Houston's Energy Capital Status, the same geographic advantages do not exist in this new renewable space. As many have already begun to realize – Houston companies must make a concerted and timely effort to expend their focus to include renewables.

Greater Houston Partnership recently launched a new initiative aimed at accelerating Houston's activity around energy transition, while existing committees will continue efforts to bring energy tech and renewable energy companies to Houston. This initiative will bolster Houston's smart city efforts, explore the policy dimensions of carbon capture, use, and storage, and advocate for legislation that helps ensure the Texas Gulf Coast is positioned as a leader in that technology.

The Partnership estimates the city has seen $3.7 billion dollars of cleantech venture funding in recent years. Still, the infrastructure and services sector of the Energy Transition is vastly underinvested in, especially when compared to the tens of billions in the more traditional sector.

The opportunity

Houston, and the energy markets specifically, have always been great at raising capital and deploying it. The energy companies and capital needed to support them will continue to be in Houston as the energy markets transition to renewable sources in addition to fossil fuels.

The job opportunities in Houston and new energy are going to be significant. Texas is well suited to fit these needs as the technical skillset from fossil fuels to renewables is highly transferable. Given the technical expertise needed to manage energy—whether it's oil, gas or renewables—Houston and Texas will always have the universities here that feed the technical skills needed in energy.

Houston has always done a great job at attracting energy companies and related businesses to move their headquarters here or open and office in the area. Additionally, offering proper training opportunities for both oil and gas and renewable energy jobs has a proven track record of spurring growth and attracting talent to our area.

All of this, combined with a concerted effort from investors willing to double down on the sectors of solar, storage, electric vehicles and energy management sectors are critical. With swifter growth for jobs in the renewable space and incentivization of the next generation of energy companies, Houston can forge a clear path towards the "New Energy Capital of the World."

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Eric Danziger and Jordan Frugé are managing directors at Houston-based Riverbend Energy Group.

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 — sports tech, energy, and more — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Lawson Gow, founder of The Cannon

Lawson Gow is bullish on Houston becoming a sports tech hub. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

Is Houston the next hub for sports tech innovation? Lawson Gow thinks so.

"Sports tech is a thing we can win at. There's no global hub for sports tech — so Houston can do that," Gow says. "We've always had that in our heads as a direction we want the city to head down, so it just makes it so opportunistic to create a space for that kind of innovation at work for the city."

The founder of Houston coworking company, The Cannon, announced last week plans for a sports tech hub in partnership with Braun Enterprises and Gow Media (InnovationMap's parent company). Click here to read more.

Kate Evinger, director of gBETA Houston

Kate Evinger joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the latest from gBETA Houston. Photo courtesy of gBETA

Most accelerators are focused on growing startups in a specific way toward a specific goal. For gBETA Houston, that goal is toward a new round of funding or another accelerator, says Kate Evinger, director of gBETA Houston on last week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"We look at early-stage companies, so those that are pre-seed or seed-stage that are looking for mentorship or support," Evinger says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, "and we help get to that next step whether that's to raise an upcoming round or if they are looking to get into an equity-based accelerator program."

Evinger shares more details on the ongoing cohort on the episode. Click here to read more and stream the show.

Michael Lee, CEO of Octopus Energy US

A $2.23 million deal means a growing presence Texas for Octopus Energy. Photo via LinkedIn

A United Kingdom-founded energy company has expanded yet again in the Texas market. Octopus Energy announced the acquisition of Houston-based Brilliant Energy last week, and it's a huge opportunity for the company says Octopus Energy's United States CEO Michael Lee.

"This is a major moment for us, as we work to bring our 100% renewable energy supply and outstanding technology to more Texans and their homes," he says. Click here to read more.