Applications are now open for Liftoff Houston. Photo courtesy of the City of Houston

The applications for the 2021 Liftoff Houston Startup Business Plan Competition opened this week and local businesses have less than a month to get their submissions in for a chance to be one of three companies to take home seed funds.

"I am excited to see what business ideas and concepts this year's contestants will bring to the table," says Mayor Sylvester Turner in a news release from the city. "We are grateful for Capital One Bank's commitment to helping Houstonians make their small business dreams come true. I encourage all aspiring entrepreneurs not to miss out on this wonderful opportunity that will help move our economy and city forward."

Liftoff Houston, sponsored by Capital One Bank and administered by the Houston Public Library and the Office of Business Opportunity, aims to empower Houston entrepreneurs through workshops and coaching sessions that take place from August through October. The program will name winners in three categories – service, product, and innovation – and award each $10,000 in seed money from Capital One Bank. Applications close Monday, Aug. 2.

"Startup businesses play a critical role in our City's economic future," says Houston Public Library Director Dr. Rhea Lawson in the release. "The Houston Public Library is pleased to support their development by providing access to free and vital business and investment reference resources, market research, state of the art technology equipment with high-speed Wi-Fi, and other valuable services such as fax and copy services and space for meetings and trainings."

The program, which has been supporting startups in town for almost a decade, has had over 12,623 participants and doled out more than $240,000 in prize money from Capital One Bank.

Liftoff Houston is looking for applicants who live and operate their business within the Houston city limits. Other requirements include:

  • must be a for-profit business
  • must be in operation for less than one year
  • must have verifiable revenue that does not exceed $10,000

If not selected for the program, applicants have the option to participate in the Liftoff Houston Educational Pathway, which offers access to all the business education opportunities provided by the program, but without the pitching component.

"Liftoff Houston will provide you with a wealth of knowledge and information about how to successfully start your business, and the Office of Business Opportunity is also available to assist," says Office of Business Opportunity Director Marsha Murray in the release. "I encourage contestants to connect with us for a host of free resources at our 'one stop business center' where you can receive guidance on business permitting, licenses, one-on-one business counseling, legal assistance and much more. These services can certainly supplement the learnings offered by Liftoff Houston, and assist contestants on their entrepreneurship journeys."

Past participants include:

For more information and to apply, interested parties can visit the website.

A new report finds Houston a top city for business friendliness and connectivity. Photo via Getty Images

Houston again recognized as a top major city of the future

Bragging rights

Houston, the future looks bright.

A new study from the fDi Intelligence division of the Financial Times places Houston at No. 7 among the top major cities of the future for 2021-22 across North, South, and Central America. Among major cities in the Americas, Houston appears at No. 3 for business friendliness and No. 4 for connectivity.

"Houston is known as one of the youngest, fastest-growing, and most diverse cities anywhere in the world. I am thrilled that we continue to be recognized for our thriving innovation ecosystem," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner is quoted as saying in the fDi study.

Toronto leads the 2021-22 list of the top major cities in the Americas, followed by San Francisco, Montreal, Chicago, and Boston.

The rankings are based on data in five categories:

  • Economic potential
  • Business friendliness
  • Human capital and lifestyle
  • Cost effectiveness
  • Connectivity

Houston's no stranger to the list. Last year, the city ranked No. 3 on the same study, and in 2019, claimed the No. 5 spot.

"The fact that Houston consistently ranks among the top markets for foreign direct investment speaks to our region's connectivity and business-friendly environment," says Susan Davenport, chief economic development officer at the Greater Houston Partnership. "Many of the industry sectors we target for expansion and relocation in Houston are global in nature — from energy 2.0 and life sciences to aerospace and digital tech. The infrastructure and diverse workforce that make these prime growth sectors for us among domestic players are equally attractive to international companies looking to establish or strengthen ties in the Americas."

International trade is a cornerstone of the Houston area's economy. In 2020, the region recorded $129.5 billion in exports, according to the Greater Houston Partnership. China ranked as the region's top trading partner last year, followed by Mexico, Brazil, Korea, Germany, the Netherlands, India, Japan, the United Kingdom, and Italy.

Houston's role as a hub for foreign trade and international business "is likely to support the region's economic recovery in the months and years ahead," the partnership noted in May.

"We talk often of Houston as a great global city — one that competes with the likes of London, Tokyo, São Paulo, and Beijing. But that's only possible because of our infrastructure — namely our port — and our connections around the world," Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the partnership, said last month. "Houston's ties abroad remain strong."

The East End Maker Hub, a public-private endeavor, aims to put Houston on the map for manufacturing. Photo by Natalie Harms

Photos: $38M innovative maker hub space opens in Houston's East End

new to hou

A new 300,000-square-foot innovation and manufacturing hub with a goal of creating 1,000 new companies in the next five years has officially celebrated its grand opening.

The East End Maker Hub — a $38 million public-private partnership — is anchored by TX/RX Labs, a makerspace nonprofit, and located at 6501 Navigation Blvd. So far, 25 companies have signed leasing agreements with the hub that has two of its three phases completed.

"Houston can become the next great manufacturing hub in America," says Roland von Kurnatowski, president at TX/RX Labs. "We can decrease our external reliance and increase our resilience."

The grand opening event, which was held June 3, was attended by makers, EEMH tenants and employees, and some of the local politicians that aided in making the hub a reality with grants, private funding, and more.

The EEMH has officially celebrated its grand opening. Photo by Natalie Harms

"We've always been a city of amazing innovation, whether it's been in energy, medicine, or space exploration," says Mayor Sylvester Turner. "And, we've led the world in whatever we have chosen as the pursuit of our endeavors. One thing about this city is that when we work together, we win."

"The East End Maker Hub provides an opportunity to reclaim our history of innovation and manufacturing and to ensure that the process of innovation is equitable," Turner continues. "It is not saying much to be diverse if you are not inclusive at the same time."

Through TX/RX and other tenants, the EEMH will aim to provide education, workforce development, jobs, and entrepreneurial space to innovators, students, and more.

The mission of the East End Maker Hub is to "drive advanced manufacturing by bringing together the brightest engineers, scientists, manufacturers, and makers to generate innovative advanced manufacturing solutions," according to Patrick Ezzell, president of the Urban Partnerships Community Development Corporation.

Six Houston startups recently announced their moves into the space, and the EEMH tenants represent everything from 3-D printing and unmanned aerial vehicles to vodka distilling and fragrance design.

Take a slideshow tour of the TXRX space below.

TX/RX Labs is the EEMH anchor tenant

Photo by Natalie Harms


NRG's sole HQ will be in Houston. NRG.com

Energy giant makes Houston sole headquarters in massive move

HQ move

Power player NRG Energy is laser focused on Houston. The Bayou City will be the energy giant's new sole headquarters; the company will no longer split between Houston and Princeton, New Jersey.

The move to a single headquarters simplifies business operations, as a large number of the company's employees and customers reside in Texas, the company noted in a press release and report.

The company, having recently acquired Direct Energy, will maintain regional offices in the markets that it serves and "evaluate real estate needs and consolidate as appropriate," the report adds.

Mayor Sylvester Turner welcomed the news in a statement, relaying that he and his team have had "substantive conversations" with NRG president and CEO Mauricio Gutierrez. "I believe the decision is confirmation that Houston is a smart city for business," said Turner.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also chimed in, adding in part:

With this move, NRG joins 50 other Fortune 500 companies headquartered in Texas, including 22 in the Houston area alone. America's leading businesses continue to invest in Texas — and grow jobs in Texas — because of our welcoming business climate, low taxes, reasonable regulations, and our young, growing, and skilled workforce.
I thank NRG Energy for designating Texas — the energy capital of the world — as their corporate headquarters, and I look forward to our continued partnership as we ensure a more prosperous future for all who call the Lone Star State home.

Turner noted that more than a year ago, the City of Houston committed to purchasing 100 percent renewable energy through a renewed partnership with NRG Energy as the City's retail electric provider. "The plan is helping us build a more sustainable future, save over $9 million on our electric bill, and reduce emissions," he said.

NRG Energy boasts some 3,000 employees in Houston alone. In its report, the company reported a net loss of $83 million due the impact of Winter Storm Uri.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Greentown Labs CEO Emily Reichert called on members of Houston's energy community to speak at Greentown Houston's grand opening. Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

Overheard: Houston's energy sector welcomes Greentown Labs

eavesdropping in Houston

Greentown Houston is officially open for business, and it's safe to say the energy innovation community is excited about it. The 40,000-square-foot space is expecting to move its inaugural 30 companies in throughout the summer.

The grand opening event, which was streamed online with an outdoor invite-only event, took place on Earth Day and featured speakers from across the energy sector. The speakers represented some of the almost 30 corporate partners Greentown Houston has announced.

Click here to read more about the grand opening and take a peek inside the facility.

Missed the discussion or just want a refresher on on the highlights? Here are some significant overheard moments from the Greentown Houston Grand Opening.

"Houston has all the necessary ingredients and it has momentum."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures. "Let's celebrate. And then let's get busy."

"Houston, as the energy capital of the world, has a moral obligation to reduce carbon emissions."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Mayor Sylvester Turner. "We need to invest in our innovation ecosystem and support the climatech and clean tech entrepreneurs who will be building Houston's new energy economy and creating the new jobs of tomorrow."

"Houston has the talent, know how, and can-do spirit to tackle the dual challenge of leading dual energy demand while aggressively lowering the carbon footprint."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership.

"Houston must remain the center of the future energy industry, and today is an important step in restoring that."

Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

— David Leebron, president of Rice University. "We look forward to our strong partnership."

"We can't solve climate change from the coasts. We need the whole United States to be engaged, and I'm bullish on Houston leading this transition for many reasons."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs. "Houston is home to world-leading energy organizations, incredible engineering strength, talent, and assets, that can, and frankly must, be redeployed to decarbonize resources."

"This is a city that does not stand still."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Ajay Mehta, General Manager of Shell. "At Shell, we have a mission to reach net zero emissions by 2050."

"For bp, partnering with Greentown Labs represents living our purpose to reimagine energy."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Jane Stricker, senior relationship manager, regions, cities and solutions at bp.

"Innovation is like oxygen, and it breathes life into hope and possibility. The work we are doing around the energy transition is hard and challenging, and frankly is going to take all of us."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Darryl Willis, corporate vice president, energy industry, at Microsoft. "We think that the future is all about partnerships and platforms, and our mission is to help from Microsoft's vantage point to accelerate the energy transition and to help the city of Houston around its aspirations around the energy transition as well."

"We appreciate being part of not only maintaining Houston's position as the energy capital of the world but also establishing it as the energy transition capital of the world."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Scott Burns, vice president of retail innovation, customer experience, and market intelligence at NRG.

"[Greentown Houston] will provide this center of gravity for the energy community to come together and work toward the transition plan."

Photo by Lee Bond/Greentown Labs

— Tim Ong, head of innovation at BHP Petroleum. "


Houstonians can now opt into a citywide solar co-op. Photo courtesy of Houston Mayor's Office

City of Houston joins forces with nonprofit to launch a citywide solar co-op

Climate action

One year ago, the city of Houston announced its Climate Action Plan and its goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. This year, the city has another Earth Day announcement that builds upon CAP.

Mayor Sylvester Turner and solar nonprofit group, Solar United Neighbors, announced a citywide solar co-op on Earth Day — exactly one year since CAP launched. For an update on the plan's execution in Houston, click here for a report from the Kinder Institute for Urban Research.

"As we celebrate Earth Day, I'm proud to welcome this community-driven initiative for local rooftop solar and thank Solar United Neighbors for being such a strong supporter of the Houston Climate Action Plan," says Mayor Turner in a news release. "I encourage Houstonians to take full advantage of this opportunity to learn more about the benefits of residential solar and how they can take part. Bulk buy programs like this will help our city meet our energy transition goals and grow local investment in renewable and resilient energy."

SUN is familiar with Houston, and, since 2018, the nonprofit has hosted six neighborhood solar co-ops in Spring Branch, Lake Olympia, East Houston, Central Houston, the Woodlands, and West Houston. According to SUN, Texas solar co-ops provide 569 kW of solar power, $1.64 million in local economic investment, and more than 18.4 million pounds of lifetime carbon offsets.

"The co-op will enable homeowners and business owners in and around the city of Houston to join the growing community of people taking control of their energy bills and improving grid resilience by harnessing solar power," says Hanna Mitchell, Texas program director for SUN, in the release. "Together, we're building a movement to transform our electricity system into one that is cleaner, fairer, and shares its benefits more broadly."

Data from Environment Texas shows that Houston's installed solar capacity has quadrupled from 2018 to 2020, and Houston is the nation's largest municipal user of renewable energy in the United States, according to the release. Additionally, Houston Permitting Center saw a 63 percent increase in solar installation permits from 2019 to 2020.

For more information on the co-op, visit SUN's Houston website. Or, sign up for one of the two information sessions on Thursday, May 6, at 6:30 pm, or Wednesday, May 19, at noon.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston founder using tech to disrupt the legacy planning industry eyes expansion

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 95

Anyone who's ever lost a loved one knows how stressful the process can be. Not only are you navigating your own grief, but you're bombarded with decisions you have to make. And if that loved one wasn't prepared — as most aren't — then the process is more overwhelming than it needs to be.

On top of that, Emily Cisek realized — through navigating three family deaths back to back — how archaic of a process it was. Rather than wait and see if anything changed, Cisek jumped on the market opportunity.

"I just knew there had to be a better way, and that's why I started The Postage," Cisek, co-founder and CEO of the Houston-based company, says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "My background had historically been in bringing offline businesses online, and I started doing some research on how I could make this space better. At the time, there really wasn't anything out there."

The tech-enabled platform allows users of all ages to plan for their demise in every way — from saving and sharing memories when the time comes to organizing pertinent information for the loved ones left behind. And, as of last month, users can no generate their own last will and testament.

"We launched the online will maker — it wasn't in my roadmap for another six months or so — because every single person that was coming in was looking at something else on our platform, but then going to the will part and asking, 'Hey is this something I can create here?'" Cisek says.

Recognizing that this was a good opportunity to generate new users, Cisek quickly added on the feature for a flat $75 fee. Then, members pay $3.99 a month to be able to edit their will whenever they need to and also receive access to everything else on the platform.

Cisek saw a huge opportunity to grow with the pandemic, which put a spotlight after-life planning. The silver lining of it all was that more people were discussing after-life planning with their family members.

"We're having more open dialogue about life and end-of-life planning that I don't see any other scenario really bringing that to light," she explains. "In some ways, it's been positive because having the conversation with people has been easier than it had been before."

While anyone can access The Postage's platform, Cisek says she's focused on getting the word out nationally. Following some imminent funding and partnerships, national marketing and growth campaigns are on the horizon.

Cisek shares more on her career and he unique challenges she faces as a B-to-C entrepreneur on the podcast. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Houston's post-pandemic economy slowly creeping back, new study says

bouncing back

While COVID-19 cases are alarmingly surging in Texas, here in Houston, businesses are slowly returning to a new normal (for now). So, just how well is the Bayou City recovering economically from the pandemic, compared to other big-city counterparts around the United States and in Texas?

So-so, according to a revealing new report.

A new list, published July 29 by financial advice website SmartAsset, ranks the U.S. cities with the strongest economic recoveries from the pandemic.

SmartAsset looked at five data points for 49 of the largest U.S. cities to determine the economic winners:

  • Percentage change in consumer spending
  • Percentage change in small businesses that are open
  • Percentage change in small business revenue
  • Percentage change in job postings
  • March 2021 unemployment rate

Houston performed slightly better than the studywide average in three of the metrics, (although some of the numbers still look pretty bleak). The Houston stats are:

1. Change in consumer spending (January 2020-April 2021)

  • Houston: 11.7 percent
  • Studywide average: 7.3 percent

2. Change in small businesses open (January 2020-April 2021)

  • Houston: -34.5 percent
  • Studywide average: -32.51 percent

3. Change in small business revenue (January 2020-April 2021)

  • Houston: -36.6 percent
  • Studywide average: -30.9 percent

4. March 2021 unemployment rate

  • Houston: 10.6 percent
  • Studywide average: 6.6 percent

Elsewhere in Texas, The SmartAsset ranking puts Dallas at No. 19, and Fort Worth, at No. 11. Among the most populous cities in the SmartAsset study, Dallas ranks highest. Austin lands at No. 23 for pandemic economic recovery, with San Antonio at No. 38.

Only one other Texas city, El Paso, appears in the top 20 (No. 8). Salt Lake City, Utah tops the list.

University of Houston's Bauer College of Business recently analyzed Houston's pandemic recovery. In its report, the Bauer study notes a bigger bounce-back in the U.S. than Houston — and that oil and gas downturns selectively hurt Houston more than the rest of Texas.

In some good news, the Bauer study reports the biggest sectors that have the biggest recoveries: healthcare, retail, and food service.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Coworking company targets downtown for latest Houston location

growing workspace

A Dallas-based coworking company is expanding its Houston presence into downtown.

WorkSuites plans to open its fourth Houston-area location on September 1 at 1000 Main, a 36-story, 837,161-square-foot office tower formerly known as Reliant Energy Plaza. The high-rise is bounded by Main, Lamar, Travis and McKinney streets.

The new WorkSuites location will be on the 23rd floor of 1000 Main. It will feature 10 private offices, along with coworking space, common areas, meeting rooms, and a kitchen. WorkSuites will share amenities with other 23rd-floor tenants. Those include pool tables, two golf simulators, a coffee and beer bar, and large meeting rooms.

WorkSuites also is setting up a "WorkTank" in the tunnel that connects 1000 Main with other downtown office buildings. This area will feature five private offices and additional coworking space.

"The amenities offered … will make our members feel like they've joined an exclusive country club — but with better views," Tosha Bontrager, senior director of brand and products at WorkSuites, says in a news release.

WorkSuites already operates three coworking spaces here — in Houston's Galleria area, as well as in Sugar Land and The Woodlands. The company also operates 15 locations in Dallas-Fort Worth.

"We've seen a dramatic increase in demand for hybrid, part-time office space and coworking — and who wouldn't want to spend a few days a week in a stunning WorkSuites-designed office in the nicest building in … downtown Houston?" WorkSuites founder and CEO Flip Howard says.

WorkSuites originated as Meridian Business Centers. The company adopted the WorkSuites brand name a few years ago.