The ultimate who's who of 2020 — favorite Houston Innovators Podcast guests of last year. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: With 2020 in the rearview, InnovationMap is looking back on the top stories of the year. With over 60 episodes of the Houston Innovators Podcast and about half of those being recorded in 2020, here are the top episides from the year.

Chris Buckner, co-founder and CEO of Mainline

With sports went offline, esports startup Mainline saw an opportunity for growth during the COVID-19 outbreak. Photo courtesy of Mainline

What happened when collegiate sport stadiums shut down and seasons were postponed? People started to turn to esports to get their competitive fix. And Houston-based esports tournament software company Mainline saw a huge boost to business.

"Everyone is looking for how to get sports, or esports, in front of people because everyone is just missing [sports] so much," Chris Buckner, co-founder and CEO of Mainline, says in a June episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We've been very fortunate to work in the industry we do."

On campuses this past spring, colleges are looking for a way to connect with and engage students, Buckner says. And, Mainline has even been able to attract interest on the professional level.

"Our June will pretty much be the best month of our company, and a lot of that is driven by the fact that everyone is looking for a digital solution rather than an in-person solution," Buckner says.

Read more and stream the podcast episode here.

Fiona Mack, head of JLABS @ TMC

Fiona Mack joined JLABS @ TMC as head of the incubator. Photo courtesy of JLABS

Last year, JLABS @ TMC — a local health tech startup incubator under the Johnson & Johnson arm — welcomed Fiona Mack as the new head of the program. On her plate was assessing the needs of the incubator's 49 member companies in the portfolio and understanding the needs of the Texas innovation ecosystem.

"As I learn more about the history of life science sector in Texas, over the past 20 years there has been an impetuous to build up this critical mass of companies here to really make it a strong hub that competes with the energy sector to make it a pillar of the economy here," Mack says in a November episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

One of the things that's top of mind for Mack is a focus on diversity — both from an entrepreneurship and a representation standpoint.

"From a research perspective, there's a strong effect of having a lack of diversity in a lot of the metrics we're looking at," she shares.

Read more and stream the podcast episode here.

Joe Alapat, CEO of Liongard

Joe Alapat is the CEO of Houston-based Liongard, which just raised a $17 million series B round. Courtesy of Liongard

Despite a pandemic that at least in some ways negatively affected venture capital investment, a Houston software startup managed to persevere with a $17 million series B. Liongard's CEO Joe Alapat, who co-founded the company with COO Vincent Tran in 2015, says in a May episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast that the round was the result of ongoing relationships with advisers and investors that meant a successful round — even in light of a pandemic.

In the episode, Alapat also shares his advice for Houston startups looking to tap into the Houston innovation ecosystem — something he's watched grow over the past five years. Now, he says, when it comes to new startups in Houston, "the waves are hitting the shore."

"Houston has always been an entrepreneurial city, and this is just that next stage," Alapat says on the episode. "For me, it's the technology side that excites me even more to see technology companies really succeeding."

Read more and stream the podcast episode here.

Megan Eddings and Amanda Cotler of Accel Lifestyle

Megan Eddings and Amanda Cotler of Accel Lifestyle joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to share how they made the pivot from making T-shirts to face masks. Photos courtesy

For years, Megan Eddings, founder and CEO of Accel Lifestyle, worked on perfecting the perfect antibacterial fabric for an anti-stink athletic clothing line, but it only took her a few weeks to pivot toward using the material to make masks.

On a May episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, Eddings and Amanda Cotler, director of operations, shared the story of how this pivot came to be and how they saw the Center for Disease Control was recommending wearing bandanas and cloth when face masks weren't available, they had an epiphany.

"Megan and I read that and immediately hopped on a call with our team," Cotler says. "We had a realization with our antibacterial fabric that a face mask made from it would be so much cleaner."

Within 24 hours, the duo had a sample in their hands, and they had 14,000 yards of their Prema fabric being shipped from California to Houston, where they had managed to find 60 local sewers ready to start making the masks.

Now, with the Houston workforce making moves to return to the workplace, Eddings says she's seen an increased interest in corporations wanting custom masks with the company logo on it for their employees.

Read more and stream the podcast episode here.

Durg Kumar and Allen Bryant,  partners at Knightsgate Ventures

Houston-founded venture capital firm heads into second fund focused on social impact Durg Kumar (left) and Allen Bryant, partners at Knightsgate Ventures, join the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss their second fund. Photos courtesy

Durg Kumar founded Knightsgate Ventures in order to find and fund startups with a social impact and a profitable business strategy. The Houston-based firm was founded in Houston and has since expanded to add a New York partner, Allen Bryant, to the operation. The duo joined the Houston Innovators Podcast in November.

"For a very long time, there was a perceived trade off between social returns and financial returns," Bryant says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "What we are seeing now is that's really not the case. You actually have businesses that are bringing impactful change and those businesses are propelled by that."

The VC's first fund invested in six startups — including Houston-based Voyager — and is now heading into its second fund. Kumar says the first fund's success was in part due to his network. Now heading into the second go around, Knightsgate's network has grown with the addition of Bryant.

The end of the year, Kumar and Bryant were focused on helping their portfolio startups focus on the next year.

"Now's a good time to retrench and focus on building product," Kumar says, "so that in 2021 when travel restrictions ease, then you've got your refined product to go out and take it to the customers."

Read more and stream the podcast episode here.

Joy M. Hutton, local leader of the Grow with Google in Houston

Joy M. Hutton leads the Grow with Google in Houston. Photo courtesy of Google

In November, when Google announced it was expanding its Grow with Google Digital Coach program to Houston, Joy M. Hutton was named the local leader. The entrepreneur and business consultant is hoping to help provide important business resources to entrepreneurs just like herself.

"In Houston, you have a lot of different resources that weren't available to startups before just within the past few years, and I think that's huge," Hutton says in a December episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Being more inclusive with people who need the resources who haven't traditionally had access to those resources is a big initiative. I personally am proud to be a part of that."

Hutton specifically calls out resources like MassChallenge and Founder's Institute — both of which she serves as a mentor for — as well as DivInc, gBeta, and of course the Grow with Google program. To get involved, Houston entrepreneurs can head online to learn more and keep an eye out for monthly classes online — and hopefully, in the future, in person events as well.

Read more and stream the podcast episode here.

Kyle Judah, executive director of Rice University's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Kyle Judah joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss his new role. Photo courtesy of Lilie

When Kyle Judah accepted his position as executive director at Rice University's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, he had spent less than 48 hours in the city of Houston. In fact, his first two months in the role have been spent completely remote and out of town.

Still, his limited in-person interaction with the city and with Rice made an impact.

"One of the things I found so exciting about what's going on in Houston right now that, quite frankly, was incredibly attractive about the opportunity to come and join Lilie and Rice was that Houston has these big pillar companies in energy and health care and all these critical areas that the world, the economy, and the society needs," Judah says in a September episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "That's all in Houston right now."

Judah and Lilie's goal is to help identify the innovation happening on campus at Rice and bring it to the world. And, he says, Rice as a whole has a huge place in the greater Houston innovation ecosystem. The challenge is identifying what industries Houston and Rice have an opportunity to disrupt.

"We can't just copy and paste what works for the Bay Area or what works for Boston," he says. "We have to figure out what is going to be the authentic right sort of centers of excellence for Rice and for Houston — areas like energy, health care, space. It just so happens that these areas that Houston and Rice have historically done better at than anyone else — those happen to be the most grand challenges for all of humanity."

Read more and stream the podcast episode here.

Rice University and the University of Houston each ranked No. 1 on lists on entrepreneurship programs. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Houston schools reign supreme on lists of best universities for entrepreneurship

we're No. 1

Perhaps Houston warrants a new nickname in addition to Space City and Bayou City. How about Entrepreneurship City?

Rice University tops a new list of the top 25 graduate entrepreneurship programs in the U.S., and the University of Houston lands atop a new list of the top 50 undergraduate entrepreneurship programs. Rice and UH repeated their No. 1 rankings from last year. The Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine published both lists November 17.

The Princeton Review ranked graduate and undergraduate entrepreneurship programs based on a survey of administrators at more than 300 graduate and undergraduate schools that offer entrepreneurship programs. Schools were rated according to more than 40 metrics, including the percentage of students taking entrepreneurship courses, the number of startups founded by recent alumni, and the cash prizes offered at school-sponsored business plan competitions.

The Princeton Review, a provider of tutoring, test prep, and college admission services, noted that businesses launched by graduates of Rice's program have launched have raised more than $5.5 billion in capital over the past 10 years. Meanwhile, graduates of UH's program have started over 1,300 businesses in the past 10 years.

Entrepreneurship initiatives at Rice's Jones Graduate School of Business include the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, which launched in 2000, and its annual Rice Business Plan Competition; the OwlSpark Accelerator, which began in 2012; and the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Lilie), which started in 2015. In addition, Rice is developing the Midtown innovation district anchored by The Ion, set to open next spring.

"Entrepreneurship and the creation of new businesses and industries are critical to Houston and Texas' future prosperity and quality of life," Rice Business Dean Peter Rodriguez says in a release.

Here are two highlights of Rice's offerings:

  • Lilie equips students, faculty and alumni with entrepreneurial prowess through courses, co-curricular opportunities, and resources for founders such as coworking space, mentorship, and equity-free funding. Lilie hosts the university's new venture competition, the H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge, in which Rice-founded teams compete for $65,000 in equity-free prizes.
  • The Rice Alliance's flagship event is the Rice Business Plan Competition, billed as world's richest and largest student startup competition. Startups from across the globe — including one team from Rice — compete in front of over 300 investor and industry judges. The competition awarded more than $1.3 million in prizes in 2020.

At UH, Paul Pavlou, dean of the C.T. Bauer College of Business, says the spirit of entrepreneurship is woven into the DNA of the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship and the Bauer College.

"Entrepreneurship is at the heart of American business life," Pavlou says in a release. "The culture and values of the Wolff Center allow our students to found successful new companies and bring new and innovative ideas to established organizations. We believe these skills will be even more crucial in the coming years as we seek to rebuild our economy post-COVID-19."

Between 35 and 40 students are accepted each year into the Wolff Center's entrepreneurship program. However, more than 3,000 UH students from 85 different majors took at least one entrepreneurship course last year.

"The students at the Wolff Center are not just passionate about entrepreneurship. They are eager to take the lessons learned in the classroom and enhance their lives," Dave Cook, executive director of the Wolff Center, says in a release. "Purpose isn't just a class in [the center]. It is a challenge to create the best life possible, with a focus on the student's values and on doing good in the world."

Other than UH, these Texas schools appeared on the list of the top 50 undergraduate entrepreneurship programs:

  • Baylor University, No. 7
  • University of Texas at Dallas, No. 18
  • University of Texas at Austin, No. 24
  • Texas Christian University, No. 27
  • Texas A&M University-College Station, No. 35

Aside from Rice, these Texas schools made the list of the top 25 graduate entrepreneurship programs:

  • University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business, No. 6
  • University of Texas at Dallas, Naveen Jindal School of Management, No. 10
  • Texas A&M University-College Station, Mays School of Business, No. 26

"The schools that made our ranking lists for 2021 all offer exceptional entrepreneurship programs," Rob Franek, The Princeton Review's editor in chief, says in a release. "Their faculties are outstanding. Their courses have robust experiential components, and their students receive outstanding mentoring and networking support."

Robyn O'Brien joined the Liu Idea Lab of Innovation and Entrepreneurship to discuss how she's found success in advocating for change with her latest startup. Photo via robynobrien.com

Rice University professor and startup founder talks advocating for change and strategy

Houston voices

Robyn O'Brien, co-founder of rePlant Capital and Rice adjunct professor, joined the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship for the first virtual Ladies who LaUNCH. RePlant Capital is working with food industry players to invest in resilient and sustainable agricultural practices. She continues working toward her goal to "make clean and safe food affordable and accessible to anyone who wants it."

After receiving an MBA from Rice, O'Brien found herself thrust into the world of food as a financial analyst. Years later when her one-year old child had a severe allergic reaction, Robyn's previous work experience in the food industry suddenly became much more personal. She dug into the data and unearthed injustice hidden in the US food industry, resulting in her book, The Unhealthy Truth. She brought to light some shocking realities about the rise in food related allergies in the US and the double standards of food quality in the US versus other international markets. Companies were selling one product in Europe with wholesome ingredients, while "the same" product in the US was made of artificial ingredients and chemicals.

As a rebel-rousing public figure, Robyn has received her fair share of push back, but she has come out of the storm more resilient and compassionate because of it. Over the course of her hour-long talk, Robyn shared some of the ways that she has been able to advocate for change, as a mom up against industry giants and those with power to silence her. A few of the strategies she has found to be fool proof are:

1. Although her story about the US food market is quite shocking, O'Brien explained that she has lead and advocated from a place of love, not fear. O'Brien reminds us, "The reason we're hurting… is because we love." Whether she's communicating with a national audience or working on a team, Robyn has found success by turning to empathy and encourages us to do the same. Even internally, when there is discourse in her team, she says, "Start with compassion."

2. Lead with data. Despite how personal the issue felt to Robyn and the anger we are justified in feeling about this issue, Robyn continually relies on the data to do the convincing as opposed to an emotional response. "Don't exaggerate… data will tell it's own story." She encourages us to do our homework, know our facts, and walk into meetings confidently.

3. You have to exercise courage daily. ""Courage is a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets." And when your internal meter senses something is misaligned, listen to it. There is room for change in departments and large organizations and it takes courage to address these issues. But it also takes courage to recognize the "gut check" and acknowledge when the misalignment is too great, and to walk away.

O'Brien is a great example of sticking to your guns, even when you're up against a global industry. Now, I leave you with the challenge of taking smaller steps – plant seeds of change where you are and advocate for individuals in need.

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This article originally appeared on Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship's blog.

Here's what interactive, virtual events to log on to this month. Getty Images

Updated: 15+ can't-miss virtual business and innovation events in Houston for October

where to be online

Every year, October is jam packed with tons of business events across Houston. Even in light of the pandemic, the shows must go on — online, that is.

From fireside chats and ask-me-anything meetings to summit and startup competitions, here are over 10 Houston innovation events you can attend virtually via online meetings. Be sure to register in advance, as most will send an access link ahead of the events.

Note: This post has been edited and republished to reflect new events.

October 5 — Introduction to the Latinx Startup Alliance

The Ion is hosting this fireside chat to allow attendees to learn what resources San Francisco-based Latinx Startup Alliance will bring to Houston and the importance of promoting opportunities and access for all Houstonians launching a tech startup and funding resources.

The event will take place online on Monday, October 5, at 5:30 pm. Register here.

October 6 — HXTV| VC Ask Me Anything Virtual Event ft Companyon Ventures

Houston Exponential is hosting a virtual ask-me-anything event with Companyon Ventures, which funds B2B software startups into their expansion-stage by injecting decades of startup and VC experience through operational hands-on investing.

The event will take place online on Tuesday, October 6, at noon. Register here.

October 6, 13, 20, & 27 — ABC's of Accelerators Series

Join The Ion for a series of virtual events throughout the month that tackle the ins and outs of startup accelerator programs.

The events will take place online on every Tuesday of the month at noon. Register here.

October 8 & 15 — Houston Low-Carbon Energy Innovation Summit

The Center for Houston's Future has put together two full days of programming centered around low-carbon innovation. Registration options $50 one-day passes or $75 two-day passes.

The event will take place online on Thursday, October 8, from 9 am to 1:30 pm, and Thursday, October 15, from 9 am to 3 pm. Register here.

October 14 — HXTV| VC Ask Me Anything Virtual Event ft IronSpring Ventures

Houston Exponential is hosting a virtual ask-me-anything event with IronSpring Ventures, a network-driven venture capital fund investing in digital industrial innovation.

The event will take place online on Wednesday, October 14, at noon. Register here.

October 14 — Pandemic Rising: The Threat to Female Ambition & Our Nation's Recovery

Join Sesh Coworking for a virtual town hall to discuss the impacts of the global pandemic and economic downturn on female career trajectory, female unemployment rates, increased childcare burdens and how the pandemic has thrust female equality in the workspace backwards by decades.

The event will take place online on Wednesday, October 14, at 1 pm. Register here.

October 14 — Core Conversations: Transition with Purpose

Join a Core Conversation with Brandy Guidry to learn how she leveraged her outreach and advocacy work to start consulting with startups.

The event will take place online on Wednesday, October 14, at 4 pm. Register here.

October 16 — Design Thinking for Tech and Innovation Workshop | Prototypes+User Testing

At this Ion Online event, learn some of the ways to prototype and identify features that will make up your MVP and usability testing techniques.

The event will take place online on Friday, October 16, at 11:30 am. Register here.

October 19 — PR 101 for Startups and Small Businesses

Want to generate press for your startup but have no budget? Join General Assembly for this PR 101 session to learn how to leverage PR strategies to grow your business. This session is ideal for startup founders and marketers and general enthusiasts who would like to learn PR strategies and tips. Our panelists will cover effective story telling, media relations, and content development.

The event will take place online on Monday, October 19, at 5 pm. Register here.

October 19-29 — Space Com Expo

We are dedicated to accelerating the global business of space. SpaceCom 2020's online event will feature eight days of unprecedented innovation, superior thought-leadership, and forward-thinking strategies all for free.

The event will take place online at various times from Monday, October 19, to Thursday, October 29. Register here.

October 20 — Houston, We Have a Leader: Fireside Chat with Head of JLABS @ TMC

Fiona Mack, the new regional head for JLABS @ TMC has landed in Space City, and she's sitting down with the one-any-only Melinda Richter, Global Head of JLABS, for a fireside chat on all things Lone Star State, JLABS and her Texas-sized plans for the future of JLABS @ TMC.

The event will take place online on Tuesday, October 20, at 11 am. Register here.

October 21 — Diversity Investor Academy's panel on cleantech

The Diversity Investor Academy has announced a panel will be discussing the latest reports published, the trends in Cleantech, and how it could affect early-stage investment from different perspectives: startups, BA, and VC.

The event will take place online on Wednesday, October 21, at 2 pm. Register here.

October 22 — MassChallenge 2020 Virtual Awards

MassChallenge Texas's Houston Cohort will reveal its top companies of 2020 at MCTX's first virtual awards. Cohorts from Austin, Boston, and Rhode Island will also be represented, and headliners for the event include Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of Thrive Global, and Linda Pizzuti Henry, managing director of the Boston Globe, and Chris Denson of Innovation Crush will be the host.

Click here to see the Houston finalists.

The event will take place online on Thursday, October 22, at 4 pm. Register here.

October 22 — How to Start a Startup: Heath Butler, Mercury Fund

Learn how to identify problems, needs, and trends worth pursuing and then how to create and evaluate possible solutions to these problems.

The event will take place online on Thursday, October 22, at 5:30 pm. Register here.

October 26-28 — 2020 Ken Kennedy Institute Data Science Conference

Now in its fourth year, the Ken Kennedy Institute Data Science Conference is a research, development, and innovation (RD&I) gathering, bringing together university and research labs (technology developers), key industry verticals (technology consumers), and IT industry (technology providers) that are looking at opportunities created by advances in AI, data analytics, machine learning and deep learning. It is structured to facilitate engagement and networking across all of these boundaries. The conference is specifically interested in highlighting use-cases that translate data to knowledge enabled by data and fueled by advances in data analytics, machine learning, deep learning, and AI.

The event will take place online on Monday, October 26, to Wednesday, October 28. Register here.

October 27-29 — ATCE Startup Village 

In addition to the Energy Startup Competition, the event will include expert presentations and table discussions. Participants will have opportunities to ask questions and hear advice from investors, industry representatives and veteran entrepreneurs. ATCE Startup Village is a partnership between the Society of Professional Engineers and the Rice Alliance.

The event will take place online on Tuesday, October 27, to Thursday, October 29. Register here.

October 28 — Venture Development Series #3: No Coding Required

In the last of its Venture Development Lilie workshop series, the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship will build upon the themes covered in previous events and show participants how to create low fidelity prototypes without spending a dollar or knowing how to write a single line of code.

The event will take place online on Wednesday, October 28, at 4 pm. Register here.

October 29 — Ignite Madness finals

Female-led health tech founders face off in a startup competition like none other. Catch the first round bracket on October 22 at 9:30 am, or just tune in to the finals to see who takes the win (and, more importantly, the investment prizes).

The event will take place online on Thursday, October 29, at 6 pm. Register here.

This week's innovators to know in Houston includes Kyle Judah of Rice University, and Devin and Peter Licata of Headquarters. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: This week's Houston innovators to know are each looking to positively effect Houston's startup and innovation ecosystem. From making innovation more representative starting with on campus to looking to help companies most affected by COVID-19, here's what these innovators are up to.

Kyle Judah, executive director of Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship at Rice University

Kyle Judah joins the Houston Innovators Podcast last week. Photo courtesy of Lilie

To Kyle Judah, who recently joined Rice University's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, establishing Houston's innovation ecosystem as unique and reflective of the city is of extreme importance. From diversity of people to diversity of industry, Judah is hard at work at making Rice's programs reflective of Houston.

"We can't just copy and paste what works for the Bay Area or what works for Boston," he says. "We have to figure out what is going to be the authentic right sort of centers of excellence for Rice and for Houston — areas like energy, health care, space. It just so happens that these areas that Houston and Rice have historically done better at than anyone else — those happen to be the most grand challenges for all of humanity."

Judah joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss this and what else he has on his radar in his new role. Read more and stream the episode here.

Devin and Peter Licata of Headquarters

Headquarters is looking to give away coworking space to two startups affected by the pandemic. Photo courtesy of Headquarters

A brother-sister team, Peter and Devin Licata are running Headquarters, a coworkering space just east of downtown Houston. And, after watching how COVID-19 has affected startups, they are looking to donate space to two deserving companies.

"For Devin and I being local Houstonians," says Peter. "It was very exciting to bring a product to Houston that we had never seen before in the city. When we started the search for a building, we had a very specific idea of how we wanted it to look and feel, and the amenities we wanted to provide."

Headquarters is currently accepting submissions from startups, founders, and entrepreneurs to be considered for free office space through Friday, October 2, with recipients set to be announced the week of October 5th.

Kyle Judah is executive director of Rice University's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Photo courtesy of Lilie

New innovation leader at Rice University plans to take campus innovations to the world

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 50

When Kyle Judah accepted his position as executive director at Rice University's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, he had spent less than 48 hours in the city of Houston. In fact, his first two months in the role have been spent completely remote and out of town.

Still, his limited in-person interaction with the city and with Rice made an impact.

"One of the things I found so exciting about what's going on in Houston right now that, quite frankly, was incredibly attractive about the opportunity to come and join Lilie and Rice was that Houston has these big pillar companies in energy and health care and all these critical areas that the world, the economy, and the society needs," Judah says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "That's all in Houston right now."

Judah and Lilie's goal is to help identify the innovation happening on campus at Rice and bring it to the world. And, he says, Rice as a whole has a huge place in the greater Houston innovation ecosystem. The challenge is identifying what industries Houston and Rice have an opportunity to disrupt.

"We can't just copy and paste what works for the Bay Area or what works for Boston," he says. "We have to figure out what is going to be the authentic right sort of centers of excellence for Rice and for Houston — areas like energy, health care, space. It just so happens that these areas that Houston and Rice have historically done better at than anyone else — those happen to be the most grand challenges for all of humanity."

Another priority Judah has leading Lilie, which was founded at Rice in 2015, is to make sure opportunities are available for everyone. This month, the university launched the Rice Experiment Fund — a $500 semesterly stipend available to all students. The funds are meant to be used on early market testing and experiments, which can be prohibitive obstacles for students.

"We want to make sure that the diversity of entrepreneurship at Rice speaks to the diversity of the city in our backyard," says Judah, adding that diversity and inclusion is at the top of mind for programs like this.

Judah shares more on where he plans to lead Lilie and his early impressions on Houston's startup scene in the podcast episode. Overall, he's found it extremely welcoming.

"I found that everyone here wants Houston to win," he says. "We're really playing as a broader collective, and that's incredibly special."

You can listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Texas named a top state for women-led startups

this one's for the ladies

Who runs the world? According to Merchant Maverick's inaugural Best States for "Women-Led Startups'' study, Texas is a great place for women to be in charge.

The Lone Star state cracked the top 10 on the list, earning a No. 6 spot according to the small business reviews and financial services company, which based the study on eight key statistics about this growing segment of the economy. Colorado (at No. 1), Washington, Virginia, Florida, and Montana were the only states to beat out Texas on the rankings—leading the Merchant Maverick team to conclude that "the part of the country that lies west of the Mississippi is great for startups led by women entrepreneurs."

Women-led startups in Texas received $365 billion in VC funding in the last five years, the report found. This is the seventh largest total among U.S. states. Too, about 20 percent of Texans are employed at woman-led firms, which is the fifth highest percentage among states. Roughly 35 percent of employers in Texas are led by women.

A few other key findings that work in female founders' favor: The startup survival rate in Texas is nearly 80 percent. And a lack of state income tax "doesn't hurt either," the report says.

Still there are shortcomings. On a per capita basis, only 1.27 percent of Texas women run their own business. The average income for self-employed women is also relatively low ranking among states, coming in around $55,907 and landing at 31st among others.

This is not the first time Texas has been lauded as a land of opportunity for women entrepreneurs. A 2019 study named it the best state for business opportunities for women. Houston too has proven to support success for the demographic. The Bayou City was named in separate studies a best city for female entrepreneurs to start a business and to see it grow.

Still, as many findings have concluded, the realities of the pandemic loom for all startups and small business owners. The Merchant Maverick study was careful to add: "The pandemic has changed the economic landscape over the past year, and often for the worse.

"This means that not every metric may be able to accurately gauge how a state might fare amidst the pandemic," the report continues. "To help factor in COVID's impact, we included some metrics that take 2020 into account, but it will be a while until we get a full picture of the pandemic's devastation.""

New downtown office tower will rise in bustling Discovery Green

new to hou

A new office tower will soon loom over the popular Discovery Green as the anchor of a new downtown district. Global development and construction firm, Skanksa, announced the new building at 1550 Lamar St. and its anchor tenant on January 13. The new 28-story, 375,000-square-foot Class-A office structure is dubbed 1550 on the Green, per a Skanska statement.

Global law firm Norton Rose Fulbright will relocate its Houston office in 2024 and acquire naming rights upon occupancy, according to a press release.

Bound by La Branch, Lamar, Crawford, and Dallas Streets, 1550 on The Green will feature extra-wide pedestrian zones with a canopy of trees, two tenant outdoor roof terraces, and wide views of the surrounding greenery.

International design firm BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group led the building's design; it is the company's first foray into Texas. BIG's design promises sustainability, energy efficiency, and an "airy" office environment for tenants, a release describes.

Some 7,000 square feet of retail space will greet first-floor guests. Michael Hsu Office of Architecture has been tapped to design the interior amenity spaces; those include a fitness center, rooftop event space and terrace, and community spaces.

The new 1550 on the Green tower is part of a new envisioned district that will be branded as Discovery West. The district will consist of 3.5 acres of mixed-use development boasting restaurants, retail, green space, and "world-class architecture," per a release.

Working with Central Houston Inc., Discovery Green, Bike Houston, the Kinder Foundation, as well as several brokers, Skanska and design firm of record, BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group, completed the master plan for Discovery West in early 2020.

Skanska has been noticeably active in the Houston office market, specifically with the development of Bank of America Tower, West Memorial Place I and II, and the future Discovery West. The company is behind the acquisition of a buzzy strip center in Montrose. Skanska also plans to multifamily to its Houston portfolio, the firm notes.

"As an organization that prides itself on building what matters to our communities, our team, made up of Houstonians, has been working alongside local stakeholders to develop a plan and a building that will transform this side of downtown Houston while still meeting the needs of the city," said Matt Damborsky, executive vice president for Skanska USA commercial development's Houston market, in a statement.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.