Houston's access to lab space continues to be a challenge for biotech companies. Photo via Getty Images

In the decade prior to COVID, when it came to early stage biotech companies establishing a foothold in Houston, space-wise, there were only a handful of options to choose from. Because of specialized equipment needs, including in many cases, the requirement for vent hoods, multiple sinks, and 24/7 air-conditioned space, traditional flex type projects were not a ready-made option. UH’s Technology Bridge offered those amenities, and while it worked for some, it was not intended as a permanent business home. Most emerging biotech firms found space that was a partial fit, and modified it to work (at their cost).

Houston’s Rise on the National Stage

For a variety of reasons, including its broad talent pool, lower cost of operations, and more favorable business climate, Houston has continued to attract biotech companies from other states. Following on the heels of new and expanding life science firms, and a supportive ecosystem, investor interest in building and purchasing properties to meet their specialized requirements has been a natural result. Unlike traditional office occupiers, lab users need physical space, and are not candidates for a hybrid or work from home model.

TMC Proximity Premium

Land costs inside Loop 610 have historically trended higher than suburban alternatives. For this reason, the newest projects completed near TMC like Helix Park and the planned Bioport are focused on much larger firms and institutions with the ability to commit to a long lease term and pay a premium rent. A second tier of real estate investors has also entered the market, however, purchasing nearby 80’s vintage projects, upgrading them, and repurposing the space to meet demand from mid-size or less creditworthy biotech companies. Existing small to mid-size tenants currently housed in these projects can expect to see bumps in both rent and expenses.

As an alternative to close-in options, but within a reasonable drive of the TMC, Pearland, Sugar Land and Stafford have increasingly become a location choice for biotech firms. Pearland’s EDC has targeted life science companies needing custom-built manufacturing facilities with economic incentives for some time. Lonza, Merit Medical, and formerly St. Paul-based Cardiovascular Systems are just three recent examples touted on their website.

Planning for Affordable Lab Space Options

Management teams for early stage companies are stretched thin, and are not always prepared for the time and money it takes to find and equip office/lab space.

Not all suburban landlords want to incur the sizeable costs for a customized build out, which can range between $40 and $200 per square foot. Entrepreneurs are also surprised by the 4-6 months of lead time it typically takes to identify space options, negotiate a lease, and permit and build the improvements (including the unexpected costs of bringing an older project in compliance with current energy and building codes).

However, with realistic expectations about these challenges, the good news is that once settled into a facility that is a fit, Houston’s emerging biotech companies can thrive and grow.

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Julie King is President of NB Realty Partners. She has mentored and provided commercial real estate advice to technology, biotech, and early-stage companies for over 23 years.

What guest articles trended this year on InnovationMap in 2019? Photo by PeopleImages

Top 5 Houston innovation guest columns of 2019

2019 IN REVIEW

Editor's note: InnovationMap is Houston's only news source and resource about and for startups, and some of this year's top stories were penned — or, more realistically, typed — but the Houston innovation community itself. As we get ready for 2020, let's see what guest columns were most read in 2019.

How technology is disrupting — and improving — the real estate industry in Texas

Buying a home is more digitized than ever — and here's how that's affecting the industry. Photo courtesy of HAR

A recent lawsuit is rocking the residential real estate industry across the country. Home sellers whose properties were listed on one of 20 MLSs claim The National Association of Realtors, Realogy Holdings Corp., HomeServices of America, RE/MAX Holdings, Inc., and Keller Williams Realty, Inc. violated the federal antitrust law by conspiring the sellers to pay an inflated amount to the buyer's broker.

The lawsuit highlights a new need for home buyers and sellers: transparency. Gone are the days when real estate agents can take a hefty commission from his or her clients without providing value that is worthy of the price tag. The sellers who came forward to shed light on this issue have provided further proof that the current real estate model is outdated, and some serious changes could be on the way. Continue reading.

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Alex Doubet is the founder and CEO of Door, Inc. (Door.com), which is a residential real estate startup company based in Texas.

Why it's important for Texas startups to get funding within the Lone Star State

Texas startups should be getting funded with Texas money, and here's why. Getty Images

When you set out to disrupt a long-standing industry, one of the most important aspects is figuring out where you are going to get the money. Odds are, you are going to be OK with breaking the mold on other traditional practices such as forgoing the venture capitalist firms for smaller companies who share your innovative vision and want to invest in it.

That philosophy works well in Texas seeing as the big venture capitalists tend to stay on the East and West Coasts.

There are dozens of things to think about when starting a company. Funding can be the most important, and there are many ways to approach raising funding for your startup. Here are a few things to consider. Continue reading.

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Alex Doubet is the CEO and founder of Door Inc., a Texas-based, tech-infused real estate platform.

Houston expert shares her advice on how much startups should spend on marketing

When it comes to setting up a marketing budget for your startup, considering every angle is important. Getty Images

Industry research suggests spending 5 percent to 12 percent of total revenue on an annual marketing budget. At Integrate Agency, we believe marketing spend should be determined from key data points, versus current size. We shepherd our clients through a five-step process to calculate how much they should spend on marketing to maximize their ROI. Continue reading.

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Allie Danziger is the founder and president of Houston-based Integrate Agency, which focuses on digital marketing and public relations.

Finding lab space for startups and independent researchers in Houston needs to be easier, according to this expert

Rentable lab space is hard to come by. Getty Images

Finding coworking space is getting easier and easier for startups, but the same can't be said for startups looking for lab space. If Houston wants to continue to grow and develop its innovation ecosystem — specifically within research and development in the health sciences industry — the city needs more opportunities for small lab space real estate. Continue reading.

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Julie King is president of NB Realty Partners. She has mentored and provided commercial real estate advice to technology, biotech, and early-stage companies for over 20 years.

New technology gives this Houston hospital a competitive edge

A new prostate cancer treatment at Houston Methodist is enhancing the system's patient care. Getty Images

As the top ranking hospital in Texas and one of the biggest employers in Houston, Houston Methodist Hospital is poised to treat the thousands of Texan men who will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year.

Building on its legacy of delivering advanced cancer treatment, the healthcare giant is one of the first hospitals in the United States to offer men a benign approach to treating localized prostate cancer, using high intensity focused ultrasound, or HIFU. HIFU is a minimally invasive procedure that allows patients to maintain their quality of life with potentially fewer side effects. Continue reading.

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Brian Miles, M.D, is a practicing urologist and professor of urology at the Institute for Academic Medicine at Houston Methodist.

Rentable lab space is hard to come by. Getty Images

Finding lab space for startups and independent researchers in Houston needs to be easier, according to this expert

Lab space race

Finding coworking space is getting easier and easier for startups, but the same can't be said for startups looking for lab space. If Houston wants to continue to grow and develop its innovation ecosystem — specifically within research and development in the health sciences industry — the city needs more opportunities for small lab space real estate.

A little history

Houston has increasingly become a magnet for innovative life science companies, seeking to benefit from the Texas Medical Center's cadre of connections and the city's deep talent pool. While cutting edge research and licensed technology has long been a part of the TMC institutions and Houston landscape, until 2016, independent lab users had few options to start and grow their companies.

In March of 2016, JLabs at TMCx opened its doors, offering 34,000 square feet of shared office space, 22 private labs and two shared lab spaces. University of Houston's Innovation Center, located in a repurposed Schlumberger campus, began operation in September of the same year, offering 16 private labs and two shared lab spaces.

These two alternatives are fit out with benches and other specialized equipment and price their space similar to a furnished coworking model. However, both facilities have a preference for certain users.

In the case of UH's space, its priority is to accommodate companies that are licensing and commercializing university technology. JLabs also has a curated tenant pool — drawn from the local and national companies that fit their specific profile. Sharing lab space is not a fit for every company — especially those that are regulated or prohibited from doing so. What appears to be an unmet need is affordable independent lab space for companies ready to launch from shared space.

Unique requirements

Aside from equipment that must be purchased and installed, lab users require more electrical power, plumbing, and air-conditioning than typically found in available suites in independent office parks. Second generation lab space under 2,000 square feet is extremely hard to find, and traditional landlords prefer a 5-year lease commitment.

While several new projects have been announced — and a new crop of landlords are trying to capitalize on the city's increased demand for specialized space — their pricing model is a better fit for established companies. From a user perspective, given the capital constraints of early stage life science companies, it is worth exploring the option to convert traditional warehouse space for lab use in exchange for a medium term commitment.

Buyer beware

Migrating from a full service lab to an independent suite does come with a warning, however, especially if a company is regulated and the condition of the space is subject to inspection. Lab tenants are well advised to factor in issues like the age of the air-conditioning units, whether a future backup power source is permitted, and the method for removal of medical waste. For firms that are in the pre-revenue stage, they should also be prepared to pay some amount of prepaid rent and the cost of customized alterations.

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Julie King is president of NB Realty Partners. She has mentored and provided commercial real estate advice to technology, biotech, and early-stage companies for over 20 years.

Sharing common space or having a glass-wall office might not be ideal for your company. Getty Images

3 things to consider before investing in coworking space for your company

Pros and cons

While coworking is an established trend in many of the nation's larger metropolitan areas, the innovative approach to office space has been slower to gain momentum in Houston from a tenant's perspective, making up less than 1 percent of the city's total inventory of office space.

Coworking has tended to appeal to startups and one- or two-person consulting firms and is currently available in Houston in various forms and price points. Nationally branded WeWork and Techspace offer an amenity-rich and more expensive option geared toward corporate clients, while other coworking providers, like Station Houston and The Cannon, have targeted tenants seeking connections to investors and mentors.

Coworking options can now be found in many parts of Houston. Office landlords are even converting portions of their buildings to coworking suites to meet increased demand.

Before you invest in this new type of office space, consider the following aspects that come with coworking space.

1. Flexibility is the key driver
From a user experience point of view, coworking has both advantages and disadvantages. Flexibility and price are the key elements. In contrast to multiyear year lease terms required by traditional landlords, coworking is a shorter commitment. Terms of six to 12 months for fully furnished offices are the norm, but month-to-month leases are also common. Rent is calculated based on a per-person model, compared to the rent-per-square-foot structure of a traditional office or warehouse lease.

For a one-person company or a small team, sharing a kitchen and conference room can be well worth the lower monthly rent expense, ranging between $800 and $2,000 per month. Touch and go memberships are also available at most coworking locations, providing access to the common areas for a typical monthly fee of less than $200, but without the benefits of a private office. However, as companies scale up and grow, the per-person model for rent begins to make less economic sense.

2. Beware of the add-ons
Coworking typically provides shared use of conference rooms with a monthly allocation of time for each tenant. Some offer beer, coffee, and social and networking events, and a few even permit dogs. It is important to read the fine print of the agreements and be prepared to pay additional charges for extra amenities not included in the monthly rent — everything from garage parking to fees for internet, furniture rental, snacks, and kitchen use.

3. Privacy and identity
Sharing a glass-walled team office with coworkers and taking private calls in a shared space is not the right fit for every company. For some firms, their critical objective is a work environment that reflects company brand, culture, or professional image — a feature not necessarily offered with coworking.

However, as Houston has witnessed changing work patterns, commute issues, and the importance of work-life balance, our city has responded and can now offer many more flexible workspace options.

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Julie King is president of NB Realty Partners. She has mentored and provided commercial real estate advice to technology, biotech, and early-stage companies for over 20 years.

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Houston researchers create AI model to tap into how brain activity relates to illness

brainiac

Houston researchers are part of a team that has created an AI model intended to understand how brain activity relates to behavior and illness.

Scientists from Baylor College of Medicine worked with peers from Yale University, University of Southern California and Idaho State University to make Brain Language Model, or BrainLM. Their research was published as a conference paper at ICLR 2024, a meeting of some of deep learning’s greatest minds.

“For a long time we’ve known that brain activity is related to a person’s behavior and to a lot of illnesses like seizures or Parkinson’s,” Dr. Chadi Abdallah, associate professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor and co-corresponding author of the paper, says in a press release. “Functional brain imaging or functional MRIs allow us to look at brain activity throughout the brain, but we previously couldn’t fully capture the dynamic of these activities in time and space using traditional data analytical tools.

"More recently, people started using machine learning to capture the brain complexity and how it relates it to specific illnesses, but that turned out to require enrolling and fully examining thousands of patients with a particular behavior or illness, a very expensive process,” Abdallah continues.

Using 80,000 brain scans, the team was able to train their model to figure out how brain activities related to one another. Over time, this created the BrainLM brain activity foundational model. BrainLM is now well-trained enough to use to fine-tune a specific task and to ask questions in other studies.

Abdallah said that using BrainLM will cut costs significantly for scientists developing treatments for brain disorders. In clinical trials, it can cost “hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said, to enroll numerous patients and treat them over a significant time period. By using BrainLM, researchers can enroll half the subjects because the AI can select the individuals most likely to benefit.

The team found that BrainLM performed successfully in many different samples. That included predicting depression, anxiety and PTSD severity better than other machine learning tools that do not use generative AI.

“We found that BrainLM is performing very well. It is predicting brain activity in a new sample that was hidden from it during the training as well as doing well with data from new scanners and new population,” Abdallah says. “These impressive results were achieved with scans from 40,000 subjects. We are now working on considerably increasing the training dataset. The stronger the model we can build, the more we can do to assist with patient care, such as developing new treatment for mental illnesses or guiding neurosurgery for seizures or DBS.”

For those suffering from neurological and mental health disorders, BrainLM could be a key to unlocking treatments that will make a life-changing difference.

Houston-based cleantech unicorn named among annual top disruptors

on the rise

Houston-based biotech startup Solugen is making waves among innovative companies.

Solugen appears at No. 36 on CNBC’s annual Disruptor 50 list, which highlights private companies that are “upending the classic definition of disruption.” Privately owned startups founded after January 1, 2009, were eligible for the Disruptor 50 list.

Founded in 2016, Solugen replaces petroleum-based products with plant-derived substitutes through its Bioforge manufacturing platform. For example, it uses engineered enzymes and metal catalysts to convert feedstocks like sugar into chemicals that have traditionally been made from fossil fuels, such as petroleum and natural gas.

Solugen has raised $643 million in funding and now boasts a valuation of $2.2 billion.

“Sparked by a chance medical school poker game conversation in 2016, Solugen evolved from prototype to physical asset in five years, and production hit commercial scale shortly thereafter,” says CNBC.

Solugen co-founders Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt received the Entrepreneur of The Year 2023 National Award, presented by professional services giant EY.

“Solugen is a textbook startup launched by two partners with $10,000 in seed money that is revolutionizing the chemical refining industry. The innovation-driven company is tackling impactful, life-changing issues important to the planet,” Entrepreneur of The Year judges wrote.

In April 2024, Solugen broke ground on a Bioforge biomanufacturing plant in Marshall, Minnesota. The 500,000-square-foot, 34-acre facility arose through a Solugen partnership with ADM. Chicago-based ADM produces agricultural products, commodities, and ingredients. The plant is expected to open in the fall of 2025.

“Solugen’s … technology is a transformative force in sustainable chemical manufacturing,” says Hunt. “The new facility will significantly increase our existing capabilities, enabling us to expand the market share of low-carbon chemistries.”

Houston cleantech company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

RESULTS ARE IN

Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

“This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

“At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

“The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.