At a recent virtual event, experts discussed the hard tech wave that's coming for Houston. Photo via Getty Images

The past couple decades of innovation has been largely defined by software — and its been a bit of a boom. However, lately it's become evident that it's time for hardware innovation to shine.

At the HX Venture Fund's recent conference, Venture Houston, a few hard tech innovators joined a virtual discussion on the future of hardware — and what Houston's role will be in it.

When it comes to advancing technology for humankind, Adam Sharkawy, founder and managing partner of Boston-based Material Impact, a HXVF portfolio fund, says it's time to expand the walls of what is possible.

"Unlike other types of technologies that may facilitate the possible, deep and hard technologies expand what is in the realm of the possible," he says on the panel. "Software has caught up, and we need a new deep tech wave."

And the future looks promising, as Sharkawy says he's seen hard tech grow over the past 5 to 7 years by about 22 percent. Nic Radford, president and CEO of Houston Mechatronics agrees it's time to shift the focus to hard tech.

"The Information Age was the ubiquitous manipulation of the virtual world, but now we need to uncover the ubiquitous manipulation of the physical world is," he says. "And we need to make those investments toward that."

But investments seem, at least in the recent past, harder to come by for hard tech startups compared to software companies with quick exit strategies.

"Deep tech is traditionally thought of as requiring deep pockets," Sharkawy says.

Radford says there was over $167 billion in capital deployments last year, and only 8 percent of that went to industrial or hard tech. Hardware, he says, is tougher to evaluate, they take longer to exit and are tougher to scale.

"To me that's what makes them a gold mine," Radford adds. "It's an underserved market for sure, and that's because we're tougher to evaluate."

Something to note though, he continues, is that hard tech is going to have a bigger societal impact, but maybe it's not the one with the biggest return.

"I think corporates have an special role to play in the inevitability of hard tech," Radford says. "They aren't completely motivated by financial returns."

Gaurab Chakrabarti, CEO and co-founder of Solugen, says he's had a different experience with raising funds. The Houston entrepreneur has raised over $100 million and is planning to go public soon. He's achieved this by attracting investment from the top VC funds in the country. If you zero in on these powerful funds, you can see they are dedicating more and more funds to this arena. And, he predicts, other VC funds will follow.

"This is a unique time for hardware companies to go and and raise from the top venture capitals of the world," Chakrabarti says.

The city of Houston, with its firm footing in the energy and space industries has an important role to play in this new era.

"The Houston area has all the key ingredients to be an innovation hub — no question," Sharkawy says.

The panelists identified Houston's fine education institutions, major corporations present, access to talent, and more as indicators for success. But the innovation here needs to continue to develop intentionally.

"I'd love to see Houston not try to copycat into a general tech hub," Sharkawy says. "Instead it would be great for Houston leverage its unique position as a leader in energy and space and help its constituents of more traditional energy — big corporates, for example — transform into the new frontier."

Vanessa Wyche, deputy director at NASA's Johnson Space Center, says she's seen the space industry take off as the field becomes more and more commercialized. And locally there's a lot of potential for Houston and all the resources and infrastructure that already exists.

"It's about taking what you're good at, and making it better," she says.

Each of the panelists expressed confidence in this evolving wave of hard tech — and are keeping a close watch on the major players as well as the city of Houston.

"We're going to have to get into the world and do something," Radford says. "That next wave of innovation is specifically interacting with our environment, in my opinion."

The HX Venture Fund has grown its portfolio of venture capital firms with its latest investments. Getty Images

Houston's fund of funds announces 2 new investments

money moves

The HX Venture Fund, which invests in out-of-town venture capital funds that have their eyes on Houston startups, has grown its portfolio.

The fund of funds now has a portfolio of 10 VCs from across the country, across industries, and across startup stages. According to a recent announcement, the HX Venture Fund has invested in New York-based Greycroft Venture Partners and Washington D.C.-based Revolution Ventures. The announcement also included Boston-based Material Impact and San Francisco-based venBio Global Strategic Fund, however those had been previously reported by InnovationMap.

"We are delighted to partner with the general partners of Greycroft Venture Partners, Material Impact, Revolution Ventures, and venBio Global Strategic Fund," says Sandy Guitar, managing director of HX Venture Fund, in the release. "With their proven expertise and exceptional track records, we are excited to integrate them into Houston networks and not only give them access to the Fund's innovative corporate limited partners, but also harness their knowledge to empower Houston entrepreneurs."

These four VC funds join six others that HXVF has invested in: Austin-based LiveOak Venture Partners and Next Coast Ventures, Washington D.C.-based Updata Partners, Chicago-based Baird Capital, and Boston-based .406 Ventures and OpenView Venture Partners.

"The receptivity of the HX Venture Fund model has exceeded all our expectations. Since early 2019, over 217 venture capital funds across the U.S. have expressed definitive interest in participating in our model," says Guillermo Borda, managing director of HX Venture Fund, in the release.

"It is especially noteworthy that collectively, the ten funds selected for HX Venture Fund's portfolio have $3.7 billion in committed capital in their funds to be invested with Houston on their investment radar," Borda adds. "This is at a time that provides compelling investment opportunities in the economic cycle. This is an exciting time for Houston entrepreneurs and our innovation ecosystem."

Guitar previously told InnovationMap that she's looking to curate a portfolio of VCs that is diverse in industries and stage. Additionally, before investing in a VC, the HX Venture Fund looks for an interest in investing into Houston startups. The hope is that, while not required, the HXVF portfolio funds invest in a Houston startup down the road. Earlier this year, Houston-based Liongard became the fund of funds' first example of that.

"The innovation and talent in Houston are best-in-class; we want to be investing there," says Tige Savage, managing partner at Revolution Ventures, in the release.

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Houston tech founder shines spotlight on small businesses with new awards initiative

houston innovators podcast episode 234

For decades, small businesses have operated in essentially the same manner — handwritten notes to request time off, manual punch cards to clock in, and verbal agreements to swap shifts. And 10 years ago, Houstonian Rushi Patel thought it was time to upgrade these local shops, eateries, and other businesses.

Homebase, which was founded in San Francisco in 2014 and has its largest office in Houston, provides a suite of software tools for employee scheduling, time tracking, communication, and task management for its users, most of which are small businesses.

After a decade of growing its technology and clientbase, Patel, co-founder and COO of the company, explains the unique challenges these small businesses face on the Houston Innovators Podcast — as well as how Homebase helps.

"It's a bit of an orchestra in terms of what entrepreneurs have to do. Your job is to compose a little, but conduct as well," Patel says on the show. "You've built the song of what you want to have happen, but you're conducting lots of different things to make it a reality as a small business owner."



Patel explains how optimizing these personnel aspects of the business frees up founders and managers and improves the employee experience too. Currently, the job market is competitive for these types of businesses, and retention and hiring are major focus points for entrepreneurs.

With 10 years of data and experience of working with small businesses, Homebase introduced a new awards program this week in honor of National Small Business Week. The inaugural Top Local Workplace Awards honored over 50,000 businesses across the country for a range of positive workplace factors — like pay transparency and employee engagement.

"There are over 2 million employee-centric, main street type of businesses in the United States," Patel says, "these are the restaurants, the retailers, and the service providers. They employ north of 70 million people, so there's a lot of impact that these businesses can have. But what we found was they deserve recognition, and there wasn't recognition for the good practices that these employers were doing."

Using its data, which includes over 2.5 million hourly worker data points, Homebase's team implemented the awards to highlight the companies providing their employees — who are in most cases considered a work family, as Patel says — with a great experience.

10+ can't miss Houston business and innovation events for May

WHERE TO BE

From pitching competitions to expert speaker summits, May is chock-full of opportunities for Houston innovators.

Here's a roundup of events you won't want to miss out on so mark your calendars and register accordingly.

Note: This post may be updated to add more events.


May 2 — State of Houston's Global Economy

Explore the complexities of Houston's global economy, dissect the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead and chart a course for sustainable growth in the years to come at this business conference sponsored by the Greater Houston Partnership. Highlighting the day will be a presentation by the Partnership’s Chief Economist, Patrick Jankowski who will share his insights into the role global trade plays in the region’s growth.

Panel conversation speakers include:
  • Kurt Heim, Vice President of Environmental Advancement, Daikin Comfort
  • Moderator: George Y. Gonzalez, Partner, Haynes Boone, LLP
This event is Thursday, May 2, from 8:15 to 10 am at Partnership Tower. Click here to register.

May 3 — Transformative Healthcare Innovations Across the TMC

This symposium is filled with discussions, presentations, and networking opportunities. Discover the latest advancements in healthcare technology and how they are shaping the future of medicine. The event will be held in person at the TMC3 Collaborative Building, so come ready to engage with industry experts and fellow healthcare enthusiasts.

This event is Friday, May 3, from 9 am to 3:30 pm at TMC3 Collaborative Building. Click here to register.

May 6 to 9 — Offshore Technology Conference.

Since 1969, the Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) has served as a central hub convening energy professionals from around the world to share ideas and innovations, discuss, debate, and build consensus around the most pressing topics facing the offshore energy sector.

This conference is Monday, May 7, to Thursday, May 9, at NRG Park. Click here to register.

May 7 — Small Business Awards Houston 

This year's awards luncheon event theme will be "The SBA Awards presented by SCORE are going to Space" celebrating Houston's advances into space with two fantastic guest speakers and the optional “How to do business with NASA” workshop. The keynote speakers will be Stephanie Murphy, Aegis Aerospace and Arturo Machuca, Director of the Houston Spaceport.

This event is Tuesday, May 7, from 11 am to 1:30 pm at Royal Sonesta Galleria Houston. Click here to register.

May 7 — Tech + Tequila Talk: Goal Park Innovation

At the upcoming edition of Tech+Tequila talk, hear the process behind activating public spaces like Goal Park. Specifically, explore how innovation plays a key role in creating a safer and more dynamic environment for the community. Join in discussions on the intersection of art, philanthropy, and urban development, and learn how projects like Goal Park are shaping the future of our cities.

This event is Tuesday, May 7, from 6 to 8 pm at Niels Esperson Building. Click here to register.

May 13 — TECHSPO Houston 2024 Technology Expo

TECHSPO Houston brings together developers, brands, marketers, technology providers, designers, innovators and evangelists looking to set the pace in advancing technology. Watch exhibitors showcase the next generation of advances in technology & innovation, including; Internet, Mobile, AdTech, MarTech and SaaS technologies.

This event is Monday, May 13, from 9 am to 7 pm at Marriott Marquis. Click here to register.

May 14 — An Evening with Johnson & Johnson's Immunology Team

Johnson & Johnson Innovative Medicine Immunology Team will present our strategic priorities in the space as part of our search for promising scientific innovations.

The focus areas of the program include bispecifics for auto-immune and inflammatory diseases, multispecific T-cell engagers for deep cell depletion, and tissue T-Reg / stromal immune modulators. After the programming concludes, there will be an opportunity to network at the reception with industry leaders and like-minded innovators. This networking session will provide attendees with a chance to discuss ideas, and further explore collaboration opportunities

This event is Tuesday, May 14, from 4 to 7 pm at Texas Medical Center. Click here to register.

May 16 — Energy Underground

The Energy Underground is a group of professionals in the Greater Houston area that are accelerating the Energy Transition. Make industry contacts, secure financing, share deals, recommend talent looking to enter the energy workforce at this meeting of like-minded innovators.

This event is Thursday, May 16, from 12 to 1 pm at the Cannon West Houston. Click here to register.

May 16 — UH Tech Bridge: Innov8Hub Pitch Day

This event is your chance to immerse yourself in the vibrant startup ecosystem, network with industry experts, and discover the next big thing. Get ready to witness groundbreaking ideas and cutting-edge pitches from talented individuals.

This event is Thursday, May 16, from 5 to 7:30 pm at UH Tech Bridge. Click here to register.

May 18 — Create by Getty Images Houston 2024

Head to this event to shoot a variety of ready-to-upload content for your portfolio and enjoy priceless creative development opportunities. Connect with fellow creators, collaborators, and peers to expand your network and build meaningful relationships. Participate in interactive workshops to enhance your skills and knowledge and gain actionable takeaways for creative endeavors.

This event starts Saturday, May 18, at 8:30 am at The Cannon West Houston. Click here to register.

May 22 — Pearland Innovation Hub Anniversary

Come for an evening filled with innovation, creativity, and fun. Attendees will have an opportunity to meet some members, partners, and sponsors of Pearland Innovation Hub.

This event is Wednesday, May 22, from 6 to 8 pm at Spacio.us. Click here to register.

May 28 — Texas Small Business Expo

Texas Small Business Expo is a trade show, educational business to business conference, exhibition & networking event for entrepreneurs, start-ups and anyone that owns a business or looking to start their own business. Learn how to solve challenging business issues by discussing strategies, acquire valuable knowledge from those in your business and connect with top vendors in various industries.

This event is Tuesday, May 28, from 4 to 9 pm at Wakefield Crowbar. Click here to register.

May 29 — Bayou City Bio Pulse at Gensler

Join the GHP for its next Bayou City Bio Pulse, hosted by global architecture, design and planning firm, Gensler. This event will feature panel discussions, tours of Gensler’s space, VR walkthroughs and more.

This event is Wednesday, May 29, from 4 to 6 pm at Gensler's office (2 Houston Center). Click here to register.

Texas lands in top 10 states expected to be most financially affected by weather events

report

Texas — home to everything from tornadoes to hurricanes — cracks the top 10 of a new report ranking states based on impact from weather-related events.

SmartAsset's new report factored in a myriad of data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to identify which states face the most financial risk due to various weather events. In the report, the states were ranked by the total expected annual financial losses per person. Texas ranked at No. 10.

"With a variety of environmental events affecting the wide stretch of the United States, each state is subject to its own risks," reads the report. "Particularly, tornadoes, wildfires, hurricanes, flooding, landslides, lightning and drought, among other events, can cause damage to buildings, agriculture and individuals alike. When considering insurance, residents and business owners in each state should account for historic and projected losses due to environmental events in their financial plans."

In Texas, the total expected annual loss per person is estimated as $283.15. The report broke down each weather event as follows:

  • Coastal flooding: $1.49
  • Drought: $3.48
  • Earthquake: $1.71
  • Heat wave: $8.16
  • Hurricane: $89.22
  • Riverine flooding: $66.05
  • Strong wind: $5.37
  • Tornado: $71.04
  • Wildfire: $8.26
  • Winter weather: $1.96
Louisiana ranked as No. 1 on the list with $555.55 per person. The state with the lowest expected loss per person from weather events was Ohio with only $63.89 estimated per person.


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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.