SXSW was canceled this year due to the rising threat of COVID19, aka the coronavirus, but these events are still ones to check out if you are still planning on attending. Marie Ketring/via sxsw.org

With SXSW canceled — and now the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has followed suit — and Austin and Houston entrepreneurs are reeling from the loss of networking, pitch competitions, and business opportunities. But unaffiliated organizations are trying to keep some of the spirit of SXSW alive in both Texas cities and online.

"Coronavirus dropped an economic bomb on Austin, and we are trying to triage the scraps," says Marc Nathan, vice president of client strategy at Egan Nelson, an Austin-based, startup-focused law firm.

The economic impact of SXSW 2019 was reported by the organization to have been over $350 million, and, even assuming this year's festival was on par with that, the city of Austin has lost more than that — from the affect on restaurants, lodging, and more. At this point, refunds are not being given out to badge holders.

Additionally, the organization itself is hurting. The 10-day festival has a year-round staff of over 150 people, and SXSW has recently laid off around 30 percent of those employees. Nathan, who says he highly suspects the organization will have to look into restructuring or even bankruptcy, also notes the cancelation will hurt individuals in a way that's not so easy to track.

"This did affect individuals," Nathan says. "Yes, the big brands were hurt and lost a lot of money, but it's not about them. It's about the little guys — the startups that wanted to launch, the bands that wanted to play, or the films that were selected for the contest. It's all the people who use SXSW as a platform, and that platform just disintegrated."

A group of scrappy Austinites have banded together to create Rally Austin and are putting together resources and events online for those still coming into the city and are looking to network responsibly. A few events are also taking place digitally. Here's a list of events to attend, and keep an eye on Rally Austin for any last-minute updates.

Houston-based WatchHerWork's Female Founders Day (March 12 in Austin)

Two Houston female founders — Reda Hicks and Denise Hamilton — saw an opportunity to make SXSW more female friendly, and that's what they've done by introducing this new unofficial SXSW event. Click here for more.

Hicks recently joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the opportunity. Click here to listen.

SoFin @ SXSW 2020 (March 13 in Austin)

Focused on fintech solutions, SoFin will go on as planned and will feature Houston-based iownit.us, a blockchain-enabled investment platform. Click here for more info.

The Austin Tech Happy Hour will also still be held on Friday, March 13, in Austin. Click here for more info.

Houston-based Hatch Pitch Competition (March 16 hosted online)

The annual pitch competition, which is usually streamed online, will switch to completely online only. Click here for more info.

Hatch Pitch is also expected to host a Houston-based, cybersecurity-focused competition next month. Click here to read more.

OpenCoffee Club (March 16 in Austin)

Open Coffee Club, a monthly networking opportunity, will continue as planned. Networking is encouraged, handshaking is not. Click here for more info.

Digital Pitch - An Alternative to SXSW2020 (March 17 hosted online)

Houston's Startup Grind has organized a digital pitch competition that will be hosted completely online. Click here for more info.

Startup of the Year Virtual Pitch Competition (March 17 hosted online)

The Established's annual pitch competition is going online, despite The Established House's physical location being canceled. A Houston-based company will still pitch and the competition has Houston judges involved as well. Click here for more info.

Marc Nathan, Meredith Wheeler, and Maggie Segrich are this week's Houston innovators to know. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Passion is usually the motivator for starting a business, and this week's innovators to know have an undeniable passion for what they are doing.

Marc Nathan is passionate about Texas startups — it's why he started and still maintains a comprehensive newsletter of Texas innovation news. Meanwhile, Maggie Segrich and Meredith Wheeler are passionate about bringing together a community of women with Sesh Coworking.

Here's more of what you need to learn about this week's innovators to know.

Marc Nathan, vice president of client strategy at Egan Nelson and publisher of Texas Squared

Marc Nathan shares how he's seen the city of Houston's innovation world change dramatically over the past few decades. Photo courtesy of Marc Nathan

While he technically lives in Austin now, Marc Nathan is extremely proud of his Houston heritage. A third generation Houstonian, Nathan worked as an entrepreneur before getting involved with the Houston Technology Center. The University of Texas alum's current role at Egan Nelson — an Austin-based, startup-focused law firm, that brought him back to Austin a few years ago.

As much of a Houstonian at heart he is, Nathan is a major player in the entire Lone Star State's innovation world. He publishes a weekly newsletter, called Texas Squared, that he hopes can connect the dots between Texas's four innovation ecosystems — Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and Houston, or DASH, as he likes to call them.

"I can tell you 10 years ago being an innovation person in Houston, I couldn't have told you anything about what was going on in Dallas or Austin," Nathan says on the most recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Now, we're seeing a lot more collaboration among cities, and I think it's very important and useful."

Read more and stream the episode here.

Meredith Wheeler and Maggie Segrich, co-founders of Sesh Coworking

sesh coworking

Meredith Wheeler and Maggie Segrich founded Sesh Coworking after years of working from home and feeling the need for a community. Photo courtesy of Sesh

Working from home can be extremely isolating, but Meredith Wheeler found the "bro culture" of coworking off putting. For years she craved a female-focused community, and now with her business partner, Maggie Segrich, she's created exactly that with Sesh Coworking.

"We come at the creation of this space and the running of this community from the female experience," Wheeler tells InnovationMap. "Most coworking spaces, when they are run only by men, it's natural that they are coming from their perspective and experience."

The coworking space in Montrose officially opened for business on Feb. 3. Sesh has memberships and day passes available for anyone who wants to cowork, but the space is designed from the female perspective.

"For me, starting Sesh is kind of like giving women that space and opportunity to let their guard down, and feel like they can be their actual selves," Segrich says.

Read more and check out photos of the Sesh space here.

Marc Nathan shares how he's seen the city of Houston's innovation world change dramatically over the past few decades. Photo courtesy of Marc Nathan

Lifelong Houstonian weighs in on growth within the city's innovation ecosystem over the past 20 years

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 17

Houston's innovation ecosystem might not have a bigger advocate based in Austin than Marc Nathan. The third generation Houstonian is one of the few people to see the city go through its highs and lows as a developing innovation ecosystem over the past few decades.

While his full-time job is working in marketing for Egan Nelson, an Austin-based, startup-focused law firm, Nathan's greatest contribution to the Texas startup scene is his weekly newsletter, Texas Squared, that gathers up the Lone Star State's innovation and startup news.

Nathan also used to work at the Houston Technology Center years before it converted into Houston Exponential and focused specifically on helping startups raise money.

"Finding money was relatively difficult, and it's not any easier now," Nathan says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. He notes that organizations like the Houston Angel Network and local venture capital firms like Mercury Fund have made a huge difference.

A lot has changed within Houston, Nathan says. There's more startups, money, and press around Houston innovation. He's also seeing more collaboration between the Texas cities he calls DASH —Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and Houston.

"I can tell you 10 years ago being an innovation person in Houston, I couldn't have told you anything about what was going on in Dallas or Austin," Nathan says on the podcast. "Now, we're seeing a lot more collaboration among cities, and I think it's very important and useful."

Nathan discusses his experience in both Houston and Austin's startup scene, and where he sees this collaboration going. Plus, he weighs in on The Ion, the merge between Capital Factory and Station Houston, funding and accelerator trends, how to make the most out of SXSW and more.

Listen to the full episode below — or wherever you get your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Is Texas still full of wildcatters — but for tech and innovation? Some say yes, but with one caveat. Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Houston's innovation ecosystem channels the wildcatter's spirit — but with one major difference

Tech boom

Historically, Texas has been a land of opportunity, and that might ring true now more than ever since the state's oil boom. As Houston's innovation ecosystem grows and develops, are these entrepreneurs reminiscent of the wildcatter days of the early 1900s? Well, sort of.

"Wildcatting is supposed to be really wild. You're supposed to go out in the field and drill some holes and hope that you find something," says Marc Nathan, vice president of strategy at Egan Nelson in Austin. "Truth is, we're a lot more deliberate than that these days."

Wildcatting and deliberate innovation development were the topics of discussion at a panel in Austin during SXSW. The panel, which was hosted by Rice Business and Texas Monthly, was comprised of three panelists with Houston ties: Gabriella Rowe, CEO of Station Houston, Lawson Gow, CEO and founder of Houston-based The Cannon, and Nathan, who, though based in Austin now, was born and raised in Houston and has done business in town too.

Wildcatting new industries
All three panelists agreed that the entrepreneurial nature of the wildcatters is alive and well within Texas entrepreneurs, just now spread apart multiple industries. Among all of the major Texas cities — or DASH, as Nathan calls it, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and Houston — each has its specialty. Austin tends to specialize in consumer-facing technology, Dallas has a hold on B-to-B and transportation, and San Antonio has the military.

For Houston, which is most known for its energy, life sciences, and space technology, has some new territories it's growing in, says Rowe, from cybersecurity to sports technology. And all of these different industries seem to work together, which is encouraging to see for Rowe.

"That's the secret sauce that Houston has in many ways," Rowe says.

This ability to specialize is also what's also special about Houston. Rather than trying to compete with Austin and its consumer technology — Gow gave an example of a startup focusing on a doggy dating app — Houston is doing its own thing.

"What I love about Houston is we're trying to solve big problems," Gow, who is the son of InnovationMap's parent company's CEO, says. "We're not going to be the consumer software capital of the world and, for the most part, we're not going to mess around with doggy dating apps."

Houston's problems to overcome
One of the challenges Houston faces as an innovation ecosystem is access to funds. According to Nathan, putting money into tech is just not Houston investors are used to doing.

"Houstonians invest in the ground, with oil and gas, and on the ground, with real estate, but not in the cloud," Nathan says.

The reason being, Gow says, is investors tend to put money into industries they know, and there's a need for educating these investors in new industries.

"To compare to Austin, more people in Austin have tech startups that have been successful and they turn around and invest in what they know, which is tech startups," Gow says. "There's a generational effect."

Another challenge Houston faces is competition — but not with other Texas cities or the rest of the country. Competition between startups and accelerators for resources has the potential to hinder the city's growth as an ecosystem.

"We are fighting for very scarce resources — and it's not just money," Nathan says. "It's also talent."

Texas Monthly's chief innovation officer, Tim Taliaferro, moderated the panel. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

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Houston Innovation Awards winners revealed at 2023 event

drum roll, please...

Who are the top innovators and startups in Houston? We just found out for you.

The Houston Innovation Awards honored over 50 finalists categories, naming the 12 winners at the event. The 2023 Trailblazer Award recipient, Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, was also honored at the event by inaugural winner, Barbara Burger.

The 2023 judges — who represent various industries and verticals in Houston — scored over 200 submissions. The event, hosted November 8 in partnership with Houston Exponential and emceed by Scott Gale, executive director of Halliburton Labs, revealed the winners.

The event's sponsors included Halliburton Labs, Microsoft, The Ion, Houston Community College, Houston Energy Transition Initiative, NOV, Tito's Handmade Vodka, Uncle Nearest Premium Whisky, 8th Wonder Brewery, and 8th Wonder Cannabis.

Without further adieu, here the winners from the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards.

BIPOC-Owned Business: Milkify

The winner of the BIPOC-Owned Business category, honoring an innovative company founded or co-founded by BIPOC representation, is Milkify, a service that turns breast milk into a shelf-stable powder.

Female-Owned Business: The Postage

The winner of the Female-Owned Business category, honoring an innovative company founded or co-founded by a woman, is The Postage, a comprehensive life planning and succession software platform for families and small businesses.

Hardtech Business: Syzygy Plasmonics

The winner of the Hardtech Business category, honoring an innovative company developing and commercializing a physical technology, is Syzygy Plasmonics, a deep decarbonization company that builds chemical reactors designed to use light instead of combustion to produce valuable chemicals like hydrogen and sustainable fuels.

Digital Solutions Business: RepeatMD

The winner of the Digital Solutions Business category, honoring an innovative company developing and programming a digital solution to a problem in an industry, is RepeatMD, software platform for customer loyalty, eCommerce, and fintech solutions to enhance the patient experience and provide a new source of revenue for the aesthetics and wellness space.

Social Impact Business: ALLY Energy

The winner of the Social Impact Business category, honoring an innovative company providing a solution that would enhance humanity or society in a significant way, is ALLY Energy, helping energy companies and climate startups find, develop, and retain great talent.

Sustainability Business: Fervo Energy

The winner of the Sustainability Business category, honoring an innovative company providing a solution within renewables, climatetech, clean energy, alternative materials, circular economy, and beyond, is Fervo Energy, leveraging proven oil and gas drilling technology to deliver 24/7 carbon-free geothermal energy.

Life Science Business: CellChorus

The winner of the Life Science Business category, honoring an innovative company within the health and medical industries designing a treatment or technology, is CellChorus, using AI to evaluate immune cell function and performance to improve the development and delivery of therapeutics.

Corporate of the Year: Houston Methodist

The winner of the Corporate of the Year category, honoring a corporation that supports startups and/or the Houston innovation community, Houston Methodist, a hospital system and health care innovation leader.

DEI Champion: Calicia Johnson

The winner of the DEI Champion, honoring an individual who is leading impactful diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and progress within Houston and their organization, is Calicia Johnson, chair of Blacks at Microsoft Houston.

Ecosystem Builder: Joey Sanchez

The winner of the Ecosystem Builder category, honoring an individual who has acted as a leader in developing Houston’s startup ecosystem, is Joey Sanchez, founder of Cup of Joey and senior director of ecosystems at the Ion.

Mentor of the Year: Wade Pinder

The winner of the Mentor of the Year category, honoring an individual who dedicates their time and expertise to guide and support to budding entrepreneurs, is Wade Pinder, founder of Product Houston.

People's Choice: 

The winner of the People's Choice: Startup of the Year category, selected via an interactive voting portal during the event, is Blue People, helping bring ideas to life through software development expertise.

Report: Texas remains a top state for Black entrepreneurs

by the numbers

The Lone Star State has again ranked among the top states for Black entrepreneurs, but Texas didn't rank as highly as it did in 2022.

According to Merchant Maverick’s latest annual report on the state of Black businesses, Texas has landed in the No. 8 spot for the best states for Black entrepreneurs. While the state maintains a position in the top 10, Texas has dropped from its No. 3 spot last year.

Guided by metrics including Black-owned businesses per million residents, percentage of the state’s workforce employed by Black-owned businesses, average annual payroll of Black-owned businesses, average annual income of Black business owners, regional price parity, a cost of living indicator, unemployment rate, and Top state income tax bracket rates, the report also noted the following key takeaways:

The Lone Star State is:

  • No. 9 for highest average annual income.
  • Home to 360 Black-owned businesses per capita.
  • No. 15 highest in the nation for percentage of the workforce working for Black businesses.

Black businesses continue to see success all over the state.

The largest Black tech conference in the country, the 2023 AfroTech Conference, recently returned to Austin for the second straight year at the Austin Convention Center. The five-day conference united over 300 companies – including Amazon, Meta, and Google – to expand the representation of Black Americans in STEM fields.

In 2022, a ranking by Black employees at Apartment List put Houston at No. 4 among the best cities for Black professionals. The Apartment List employees judged 82 cities in four categories: Business environment for Black professionals. Houston ranks third. Black community and representation. Houston ranks fourth. Economic opportunities for Black professionals. Houston ranks seventh. Housing opportunities for Black professionals. Houston ranks No. 20.

Growth also was reflected post-pandemic for Black-owned startups in Houston according to study by economists at Rice University, Boston University, Columbia University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The study found that from 2019 to 2020, the startup rate rose 32 percent in four largely Black areas of Houston: Kashmere Gardens, Missouri City, South Acres, and Sunnyside. The statewide startup rate during that period was 10 just at percent.

Texas recently landed on another Merchant Maverick report, also dropping a few spots in Merchant Maverick’s annual ranking of the top 10 states for women-led startups. The Lone Star State landed at No. 5 for women-led startups in 2023, down from No. 2 in 2022. Last year, Texas ranked second, up from its No. 6 showing in 2021.

Hardtech startup adviser on mentorship, Houston's past and future as an innovation hub

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 211

To Wogbe Ofori, the definition of entrepreneurship is simple: "To be more opportunity centric than risk averse." And Houston, as he says, has be entrepreneurial for a very long time — despite it being considered the specialty of a certain coastal region.

"Silicon Valley has hijacked the concept of innovation and entrepreneurship, and this city has been filled with entrepreneurs long before the concept of 'tech entrepreneurs,'" Ofori says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Ofori, the founder and chief strategist of WRX Companies, has developed a keen eye for entrepreneurship and innovation activity in Houston and shares his observations on the show. An adviser to Nauticus Robotics and strategist to Intuitive Machines and Jacobs, he's also served as a mentor across the local innovation community.

In fact, on the episode, he explains what makes a good mentor for founders in tech. Ofori says he specializes in helping entrepreneurs see around corners and think things through, make wise decisions, and get things done.

"It starts with an ability to listen," Ofori says of advisers and mentors. "One of the keys to my advisory practice is to not only listen but reframe and ask a lot of questions."

"What differentiates this from therapy — and sometimes the line can be fine," he continues, "is that as a mentor or adviser in the context of commerce, is you're always thinking about it toward a transaction in the marketplace."

As he's spent a lot of time working with hardtech founders, Ofori has observed a momentum within energy transition innovation — specifically Houston's role in it.

"It's difficult for an incumbent to disrupt itself. We’ve been positioning ourselves as moving from the energy capital of the world to the energy transition capital," he says. "Now we are just at the place where we're really going to start to see the difference between those who were caught up in the excitement of the energy transition, and those who really have the faith to see this thing through."