From entrepreneur networking opportunities to thought-provoking panels, here's where you need to be in December. Getty Images

Before everyone checks out of 2019, Houston has a couple more weeks filled with exciting entrepreneurial networking opportunities. Scroll through the curated list of innovation events you can't miss.

For a full calendar of Houston innovation events, head to Houston Exponential's page.

If you know of innovation-focused events for this month or next, email me at natalie@innovationmap.com with the details and subscribe to our daily newsletter that sends fresh stories straight to your inboxes every morning.

December 3 — Intro to the Houston Startup Scene & Ask Me Anything with Omair Tariq and Dr. Brittany Barreto

Are you new to the Houston tech startup community? Thinking about moving here? Trying to figure out how to plug in? Come hear a comprehensive overview from local community leaders and get a chance to introduce yourself and ask questions at the Intro to the Houston Startup Scene & Ask Me Anything. Tickets are $10.

Details: The event is from 4 to 7 pm on Tuesday, December 3, at The Cannon (1334 Brittmoore Road). Learn more.

December 3 — Houston Coalition for Equitable Development without Displacement community forum

The Houston Coalition for Equitable Development without Displacement is gathering for a second time to discuss securing a Community Benefits Agreement with Rice Management Company as they develop the 16-acre Innovation District around the old Sears building and Fiesta at the edge of Third Ward.

Details: The event is from 6 to 8 pm on Tuesday, December 3, at Wesley Chapel AME Church (2209 Emancipation Ave.). Learn more.

December 3-4 — InvestH2O 2019 Forum: Investing in Resiliency

With nearly $1 trillion in losses over the past 5-7 years for FEMA and other federal agencies, states-counties-cities, private insurance and reinsurance companies, industry and business operations from water- and weather-related incidents, the need for alternative investment and resource allocation could not be more obvious. The event's programming will be focused on innovating solutions.

InnovationMap readers can attend for free through this link.

Details: The event is from Tuesday, December 3, to Wednesday, December 4, at various locations. Learn more.

December 4 — The Cannon & EPIcenter - Jumpstart your innovation Happy Hour

In partnership with The Cannon, EPIcenter's Incubator and Accelerator will be hosting a six-week seminar using the Wendy Kennedy curriculum, "So what? Who cares? Why you?" for innovators in any industry. Director of the EPIcenter Energy Incubator and Accelerator and certified Business Coach Andi Littlejohn will lead participants through a proven methodology to discover, define and describe the commercial opportunities of innovations.

Details: The event is from 4 to 6 pm on Wednesday, December 4, at The Cannon (1334 Brittmoore Road). Learn more.

December 4 — The Ion Smart Cities Accelerator Demo Day

The Ion Smart Cities Accelerator will present its inaugural cohort of companies that are addressing the needs of Houston's people by deploying technology into the infrastructure and civic fabric that makes Houston so strong.

Details: The event is from 5 to 8 pm on Wednesday, December 4, at ion Accelerator and Prototyping Lab (1301 Fannin Street, Suite 2100). Learn more.

December 5 — Houston Region Economic Outlook

The Greater Houston Partnership's Annual Houston Region Economic Outlook event will feature Partnership Senior Vice President of Research Patrick Jankowski who will deliver the 2020 employment forecast for the region. ConocoPhillips Chief Economist Helen Currie will follow with a presentation on the national economy.

Details: The event is from 9:30 am to 1:30 pm on Thursday, December 5, at the Royal Sonesta (2222 West Loop S.). Learn more.

December 5 — Evening of Pediatric Device Innovation

Please join JLABS @ TMC for the 5th Annual Evening of Pediatric Device Innovation as top experts from Houston and across the country will discuss the latest in pediatric medical device innovation and updates on bringing a pediatric medical device to market.

Details: The event is from 3 to 6:30 pm on Thursday, December 5, at the TMC Innovation Institute (2450 Holcombe Blvd). Learn more.

December 5 — Meet & Greet with Flyover Capital

Meet Flyover Capital's Dan Kerr on his last night in town and learn how they are working to creating the next generation of technology success stories outside the coastal tech hubs.

Details: The event is from 6 to 7:30 pm on Thursday, December 5, at WeWork (708 Main Street, 3rd Floor). Learn more.

December 11 — ENRICH/LEAP Information Session

ENRICH and LEAP are 6-8 week fellowship programs where you and a team of your peers will work directly with established companies on one of a wide scope of projects. These invaluable programs allow people the ability to gain skills and insights that only professional work can offer. Come hear Enventure leadership discuss these programs and learn how you can get involved.

Details: The event is from 5:30 to 8 pm on Wednesday, December 11, at the TMC Innovation Institute (2450 Holcombe Blvd). Learn more.

December 12 — WeWork Labs x NextSeed Launch Event

WeWork Labs, a global acceleration program with a location in downtown Houston, and NextSeed, a Houston-based online investment platform, have announced a partnership set to begin in December. Together, the two entities will build a support system for Houston-based food entrepreneurs to provide workshops, programming, events, and more.

Details: The event is from 6 to 8:30 pm on Thursday, December 12, at WeWork (708 Main Street). Learn more.

December 14 — Smart Infrastructure Hackathon

On Saturday, December 14, join Microsoft and The Cannon for a smart infrastructure hackathon. Bring your own ideas and team, or join a team when you arrive. Everyone is welcome, regardless of skill level.

Details: The event is from to 9 am to 7 pm on Saturday, December 14, at The Cannon (1334 Brittmoore Road). Learn more.

December 14 — TEDxHoustonWomen 2019 : BOLD + Brilliant!

Connect with a locally rooted, globally connected community of people interested in leading the change they wish to see in the world; and sow the seeds to collaborate with innovative thinkers who catalyze ideas toward action.

Details: The event is from 10:30 am to 4 pm on Saturday, December 14, at Unity of Houston (2929 Unity Dr). Learn more.

December 17 — The Future of Work: Closing the Skills Gap

GA gathers Houston industry leaders to share how they approach the challenge of upskilling the workforce. In this discussion, we'll cover how to bridge the gap between current team capabilities and the skills needed to stay competitive. Whether radically reskilling existing teams or onboarding new talent, the companies who adapt fastest will stand the test of time.

Details: The event is from 8:30 to 11 am on Tuesday, December 17, at Station Houston (1301 Fannin Street, 21st Floor). Learn more.

WeWork Labs and NextSeed have teamed up to help Houston's food entrepreneurs. Photo courtesy of WeWork

WeWork accelerator partners with Houston-based investment platform for food entrepreneurship

food for thought

Two Houston programs that exist to help grow and develop food and hospitality startups have teamed up to combine their resources and programming.

WeWork Labs, a global acceleration program with a location in downtown Houston, and NextSeed, a Houston-based online investment platform, have announced a partnership set to begin in December. Together, the two entities will build a support system for Houston-based food entrepreneurs to provide workshops, programming, events, and more.

"Houston food entrepreneurs are keen to solve the big problems the food industry is facing today," says Carlos Estrada, head of WeWork Labs in Houston, in a news release. "Houston is among the leading cities for startup innovation and we see our partnership with NextSeed as an exciting first-of-its-kind initiative that will prove to support even more food entrepreneurs in the area, arming them with the network and tools they need to get their concepts off the ground and transform into leading businesses."

WeWork brings in its international food labs programming, and NextSeed will be able to provide access to capital through its platform. In March, the company launched NextSeed Space — a pop-up retail and kitchen space for startups to test their food and operations.

"Since inception, NextSeed has been focused on developing a world-class technology platform to democratize finance and strengthen local communities," says NextSeed CEO, Youngro Lee, in a news release. "By partnering with WeWork Labs, we are excited to be able to expand the level of support we can provide to our clients and member businesses through services like coaching, mentoring and dedicated workspace to help them ultimately reach their goals."

The first joint event hosted will be a reception and panel on December 12 from 6 to 8:30 pm at WeWork's Jones Building location in downtown. For event details, click here.

Here's your one-stop shop for innovation events in Houston in September. Getty Images

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

Where to be

The busy fall event season is kicking off this month with tons of Houston innovation pitch events, educational panels, and networking opportunities.

If you know of innovation-focused events for this month or next, email me at natalie@innovationmap.com with the details and subscribe to our daily newsletter that sends fresh stories straight to your inboxes every morning.


September 5 — MassChallenge Texas in Houston Finale and Startup Showcase

The top startups from the inaugural MassChallenge Texas cohort in Houston will be recognized by community leaders to a room full of potential investors and customers, MassChallenge mentors, VIP community leaders, and their loved ones.

Details: The event is from 6 to 8 pm on Thursday, September 5, at House of Blues Houston (1204 Caroline St.). Learn more.

September 5 — Frost Bank: Fail Forward Series

Join Impact Hub Houston for an evening of #FailForward — behind-the-scenes stories straight from entrepreneurs on the challenges they faced trying to access and raise funding for their small business or startups. And, learn from bankers and financial experts what those entrepreneurs could have done to make their journey easier and more successful.

Details: The event is from 6 to 8 pm on Thursday, September 5, at BakerRipley Leonel Castillo Community Center (2101 South Street). Learn more.

September 6 — Finding your Product-Market fit via the W3 method

Amos Schwartzfarb, Author of Sell More Faster - The Ultimate Sales Playbook for Startups and Managing Director of Techstars Austin will deliver a hands-on workshop for founders (seed through Series A) that will enable you to identify the path to achieving product-market fit. Included in the $25 workshop is a signed copy of Sell More Faster.

Details: The event is from 11 am to 12:30 pm on Friday, September 6, at WeWork Labs (708 Main St., 3rd floor). Learn more.

September 10 — Founder Institute's inaugural cohort graduation showcase

The fresh (and first) graduates of the Founder Institute in Houston are celebrating the completion of their program. The graduation celebration will consist of a leadership focused commencement speech, hearing from the graduates (remarks and pitch), and showcase where each company will have a display table and be able to be speak one-on-one.

Details: The event is from 6 to 9 pm on Tuesday, September 10, at Station Houston (1301 Fannin Street, #2440). Learn more.

September 11 — Energy and Clean Technology Venture Forum XVII

The Rice Alliance's Energy and Clean Technology Venture Forum is the largest energy and clean technology venture capital conference in the U.S. open, to all emerging energy technology companies (both traditional energy and alternative energy).

Details: The event is from 8:30 am to 5 pm on Wednesday, September 11, at Jones Graduate School of Business (Rice University, 1900 Rice Blvd.). Learn more.

September 12 — HX Capital Summit 2019: Presented by JPMorgan Chase

Join Houston Exponential for its 2nd Annual Capital Summit, which will focus on the latest activity amongst Houston investments. This one-day event will highlight panel discussions from all aspects of Houston's innovation scene.

Details: The event is from 7:30 am to 3 pm on Thursday, September 12, at the Shell Auditorium (Rice University). Learn more.

September 12 — Cooley x JLABS @ TMC: Medtech Startup Fundamentals

Join Cooley, JLABS, and TMC Innovation for a half-day seminar gathering leading executives, investors, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders in the medical technology industry. Speakers will explore market trends and share strategies on how to position your startup for growth and success.

Details: The event is from 12:30 to 5:30 pm on Thursday, September 12, at the JLABS @ TMC (2450 Holcombe Blvd). Learn more.

September 17 — Raising Capital with Investment Crowdfunding

Station Houston, NextSeed, and the Greater Houston Black Chamber of Commerce are putting on a discussion about fundraising online.

Details: The event is from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm on Tuesday, September 17, at Station Houston (1301 Fannin Street, #2440). Learn more.

September 19 — The Cannon Grand Opening

The Cannon, an entrepreneurial hub in West Houston, is celebrating its new digs. Join the party to learn about coworking at The Cannon, to network with Houston's innovation ecosystem, and more.

Details: The event is from 4 to 9 pm on Thursday, September 19, at The Cannon (1336 Brittmoore Road). Invite only.

September 19 — JLABS x UH: Startup Pains: From Academia to Startup

JLABS and the University of Houston Technology Bridge present a special installment of the university's monthly Startup Pains. This month the focus is on licensing and technology transfer.

Details: The event is from 5:30 to 7 pm on Thursday, September 19, at the JLABS @ TMC (2450 Holcombe Blvd). Learn more.

September 24 — The Future of Payments: How Fintech, Crypto, and Blockchain are Transforming E-Commerce

The global economy is powered by 125 million business and payments between those businesses transacted over a variety of technologies. In the US, $2 trillion of the $58 trillion in payments generated by small business are "other" — new digital payment technologies including cryptocurrency and blockchain created by fintechs, banks and large players like Facebook and JP Morgan. Over time, the remaining $56 trillion will shift from paper checks to more digital forms. A change in the payments landscape is imminent, and in many ways, the US is behind in digital acceptance. What will this change look like? Join Vinay Pai, senior vice president of engineering at Bill.com, as he discusses.

Details: The event is from 4 to 5 pm on Tuesday, September 24, at Duncan Hall (Rice University). Learn more.

September 24 — The Eco-System of the Language Industry: Panel and Networking Event

Introducing the first Women in Localization Texas Chapter Houston Event. Winnie Heh, associate chapter manger - mentoring for the Silicon Valley Chapter, and Middlebury Institute of International Studies Career Advisor, Translation, Interpretation & Localization Management, will be presenting on importance of localization and various localization job functions available in our rapidly globalized world.

Details: The event is from 6 to 8 pm on Tuesday, September 24, at Station Houston (1301 Fannin Street, #2440). Learn more.

September 24 & 25 — Innovation Engineering Quick Start Class

Bruce G. Hall, CEO and president of eureka! inventing is teaching an abridged version of his innovation engineering course that's offered at the University of Houston. InnovationMap readers can get half off by registering through this link.

Details: The course is on either Tuesday, September 24, or Wednesday, September 25, at Energy Corridor Marriott (16011 Katy Fwy).Learn more.

September 25 — Third Coast Innovators Mixer

Calling all innovators and entrepreneurs in the Third Coast. JLABS @ TMC is hosting a networking event with fellow innovators and entrepreneurs in the ecosystem as well as current JLABS residents and the JLABS @ TMC team.

Details: The event is from 5 to 7 pm on Wednesday, September 25, at the JLABS @ TMC (2450 Holcombe Blvd). Learn more.

September 25 — Energy Tech Night

Energy Tech Night offers insights from energy digitalization/innovation/emerging tech experts and rapid-fire pitches from the cutting edge in startups offering solutions for the energy challenges of today & tomorrow.

Details: The event is from 6:30 to 8:30 pm on Wednesday, September 25, at Saint Arnold Brewery (2000 Lyons Ave) Learn More

These three Houstonians have a lot up their sleeves for their companies. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

This week's three Houston entrepreneurs are all about improving access for startups — either to capital or to resources — and that's no small undertaking in a market like Houston. With its urban sprawl and large population, Houston's been considered to have a connectivity problem. Luckily, these three folks have solutions.

Grace Rodriguez, executive director and co-founder of Impact Hub Houston

Grace Rodriguez is the co-founder and executive director of Impact Hub Houston. Courtesy of Grace Rodriguez

Grace Rodriguez has been working to launch Impact Hub Houston for a while now, but her and her team's moment has come. For Rodriguez, the goal is to both advance Houston startups, as well as the innovation ecosystem as a whole.

"Our real vision is to help Houston become a role model for how the world solves the most pressing issues," she says. "We want to show the rest of the world that Houston has the talent, expertise, insight, and resources to solve issues around the world." Read more about Rodriguez and Impact Hub Houston here.

Nicolas Carnrite, co-founder of LetsLaunch

Nicolas Carnrite founded LetsLaunch to improve access to funding. Courtesy of LetsLaunch

Something didn't add up for Nicolas Carnrite. The opportunity to invest in companies was limited to such a small percentage of the population.

"There's something like 30 million people globally that have a $1 million net worth, which is the definition of being an accredited investor," Carnrite says. "Thirty million people out of 7.7 billion, so it's a little less than half a percentage."

This translated into an opportunity to create LetsLaunch, a securities investment online platform that democratizes investment. The Houston company has taken it a step further in its recent partnership with The Cannon. Read more about this partnership here.

Youngro Lee, co-founder and CEO of NextSeed

Youngro Lee NextSeed

Youngro Lee, co-founder and CEO of NextSeed, wants to create a connection between business and their communities. Courtesy of NextSeed

Thanks to a recent SEC accreditation, Youngro Lee is now able to announce that his Houston online fundraising platform, NextSeed, is a broker-dealer. The platform, which has helped the likes of Buffalo Bayou Brewery and The Waffle Bus raise thousands of capital dollars, is now able to offer its community more investment opportunities. Read more about what the deal means for the company here.

Houston-based NextSeed has been approved as a broker-dealer platform, allowing for larger investments. Getty Images

Houston-based investment platform expands capabilities for local deals

Nextseed's next phase

NextSeed, which launched in Houston four years ago as a crowdfunding online investment platform, has expanded its services to become a broker-dealer. The platform also rolled out a new website.

Now that NextSeed Securities LLC is a SEC-registered broker-dealer, NextSeed campaigns aren't limited to the $1 million cap instated by crowdfunding rules, according to a news release. The new function also means that, rather than just debt securities (where investors are paid back based on revenue of the company), investors can also engage in equity investing (where money can be exchanged for ownership of the company).

"We previously focused only on debt securities, in part because we wanted to facilitate the right type of capital to the local small business community," says CFO Tae Mi Lee in the release. "With the launch of our broker-dealer practice, we are able to expand our services to offer both debt and equity offerings for different types of issuers and investors."

In the past, NextSeed deals have focused on local brick-and-mortar companies. However, this new capability opens doors to other types of deals.

"We have always wanted investors on the platform to have the ability to diversify their investment portfolios across multiple industries and asset classes, while providing the right investment structure for our business clients through a broader range of options," Tae Mi Lee continues. "We are excited about what this expansion means for our NextSeed community."

The broker-dealer model shifts more responsibility on NextSeed as the vehicle for trading securities, but also represents a growth in investing in Houston.

"The standards of review and compliance obligations for both issuers and investors become stricter and more comprehensive for offerings made via our broker-dealer, but we wanted to be able to offer a more extensive and flexible service to our community," says CEO and Co-Founder Youngro Lee in the release. "Since day one of our funding portal operations, we tried to adhere to certain standards above and beyond the minimal legal requirements. We're now just taking another leap forward into a new phase of NextSeed."

Since its launch in 2015, NextSeed has raised $11 million for companies on its platform. While not all in Houston, NextSeed focuses on funding its portfolio by locals who want to support nearby establishments. Here are some examples of deals made on the platform:

  • Buffalo Bayou Brewery in Houston raised $1,000,000.
  • Alkalign Studio in Menlo Park, California, raised $100,000.
  • The Native Hostel Bar & Kitchen in Austin raised $396,500.
  • Fair Isle Brewing in Seattle raised $327,800.

Earlier this year, NextSeed announced another new capability for its portfolio of companies. NextSeed Space launched to help provide local entities turnkey retail space with short-term leases. The space is located in Greenway Plaza, and the first tenant was announced as The Waffle Bus, however NextSeed moved in traditional Mexican restaurant, Tlahuac, which will reside in the food court until the end of June.

The Waffle Bus' brick-and-mortar location is NextSeed Space's first tenant. Courtesy of NextSeed

Houston-based online fundraising platform launches new turnkey retail space opportunity

what's next for NextSeed

Houston-based NextSeed makes it easier for retail and restaurant startups to get funding, and the company is releasing a new line of services to help these startups on the next step after funding: Finding retail space.

NextSeed Space now exists to help consumer-facing companies have access to move-in-ready spaces with short-term leases. The idea is to give the concept a low-risk place to debut their business, generate customers, and work out the kinks of their business model before locking in a permanent location.

"One of the biggest hurdles for a small business is the build-out process," Abe Chu, CMO of NextSeed says in the release. "A talented chef or designer might be very skilled at their craft, but many other factors are critical to opening a storefront including the capital raise, lease negotiation, design, permitting, construction and marketing. Finding ways to assist the entrepreneur in reducing complexity and controlling risks at this juncture is critical."

NextSeed has partnered with Greenway Plaza, where it offices, to bring turnkey retail space in The Hub, a new, recently renovated space in the office park.

The first NextSeed Space tenant is Houston's The Waffle Bus, which just raised $107,000 on the NextSeed fundraising platform. While the company has a popular brand and fleet of trucks, retail space has changed in Houston, and leasing companies are looking for safe tenants, the release says, meaning it's become more difficult for new tenants to find an ideal space.

"We see what's happening in the marketplace as our window to minimize obstacles for everyone's gain," Chu says in the release. "You've got creative small businesses that lack experience and funds, banks and investors that rely on longer leases for capital, and landlords who are not always equipped to handle the additional time and resources necessary to curate and nurture a revolving mix of pop-up tenants."

NextSeed's fundraising platform launched around four years ago and, since then, has helped almost 50 companies raise money totaling more than $10 million. NextSeed co-founder and CEO, Youngro Lee, spoke to InnovationMap last fall about how the company has grown and is always looking to expand.

"The goal was for NextSeed to keep innovating and bring in new technologies and processes," Lee says.

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Houston experts give advice for startups seeking financial aid from the CARES Act

from the profesisonals

The United States Congress recently passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or the CARES Act, and it includes several initiatives that provide financial relief for startups and small businesses — but there are a few things these companies should know about the programs.

Houston Exponential hosted a virtual panel with Carolyn Rodz, CEO of Hello Alice, and Aziz Gilani, managing director of Mercury Fund. They broke down some of the concerns with some of the most popular programs.

The Payroll Tax Deferral stipulation allows you to push back paying your payroll tax, which is 6.2 percent of payroll, Gilani says in the livestream. Companies will be required to pay back half that tax in a year's time and the other half in two year's time.

Small businesses can also apply for emergency Economic Injury Disaster Loans, or EIDL loans, that won't require the first payment for a full year. The interest rate is 3.75 percent for for-profit businesses and 2.75 percent for nonprofits with up to a 30-year term. Businesses could even submit to receive a $10,000 grant on their application.

Then, there's the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP.

"The PPP program is probably the most lucrative of the three programs for startups," says Gilani, "It's the one that has the largest financial impact."

To submit for PPP, business owners look at their last year's worth of payroll and utility expenses, then average out their monthly expenses, and multiply that by 2.5. Small businesses can submit for that amount or up to $10 million. If the loan is spent on their employees and utilities, it's turned into a grant and not required to be paid back. Gilani recommends checking with the SBA for the specific details, but notes that contract workers can't benefit from PPP and must submit individually for aid.

Regarding these programs, Rodz and Gilani shared some other advice as it pertains to Houston's small businesses and tech startups.

Apply ASAP

Banks are already overwhelmed with applications, and some have paused accepting new applications from some entities. Plus, you have no excuse, Rodz says, since the application is simple and can be completed in one sitting.

"Compared to what a normal government loan application looks like, it is light years better in terms of simplicity," says Rodz.

Go to your own bank

Banks are giving priority to existing customers, Rodz explains.

"Go talk to your banker, and really take the time," Rodz says. "They are prioritizing the clients they have relationships with."

There's a technical reason too, Gilani adds. It's easier for banks to submit for a pre-existing customer, and new customers require more paperwork.

Document everything

Currently, Gilani says, the way the program is working right now is it relies on good-faith self-certification of the business owner. The banks, based on approval, will just put the federal money into your bank account. However, there are people put in roles for this act that will come back to verify that everything was honest.

"Lying to the federal government about money they grant you is a felony that comes with jail time," Gilani says. "It's very important that — after all this craziness passes by and the government comes back to audit what happened — you have a lot of documentation in place in order to show that you were fulfilling your good-faith requirement of answering these questions honestly."

Gilani recommends keeping track of how you calculated your payroll, as well as being able to show the effect of the crisis is key. Then, after you receive the funds, you need to be able to show that you used the funds on your employees.

Consult a lawyer if you have questions on eligibility

There's been a lot of discussion on whether or not venture-backed startups qualify for PPP.

"One of the challenges of the program is that it is being administered by the Small Business Administration, which traditionally hasn't worked with venture-backed and angel-backed companies," Gilani says.

Usually, the SBA requires startups to indicate their employee count, which is not to exceed 500. However, if the company is venture-backed, the SBA requires the inclusion of all the employees of all the portfolio companies. Certain legislators have expressed that this wasn't the intention of the program and are working to provide solutions, Gilani explains, and he and Mercury Fund have been working with a legal team to find immediate work arounds.

"There have been lots of lawyers who have been working really hard on trying to solve this problem," Aziz "If anything, we've now created the lawyer stimulus act in the amount of billable hours we've had trying to figure out this problem."

Gilani also recommends getting your lawyer to sign a document confirming that, especially if you are a venture-backed company, that you intended to adhere to the rules of the program.

Now is the time for Houstonians to invest in solar energy, says expert

Guest column

Largely due to the growing popularity and falling prices of solar energy in Texas, including incentives at the federal, state, and local level, the number of solar panel installations continues to trend upward throughout the state and especially in Houston.

For the third year in a row, Houston was named the top municipal user of green energy in the nation by the United States EPA, using more than 1 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) of solar and wind power. With 92 percent of the city of Houston's energy coming from green power, solar has solidified its place in the Houston energy market.

With solar panel system prices dropping 38 percent over the past five years, solar power is also growing in popularity among individual homeowners and business owners who want to take control of their energy costs and become more self-sufficient.

As the recent COVID-19 pandemic continues to shake industries across the nation, Freedom Solar is working tirelessly to keep our team safe, healthy, and employed. Solar installers provide critical electric generation infrastructure that helps us reduce the strain on the ERCOT grid, especially with higher electricity usage as people stay at home under local shelter in place orders and as we head into the warmer spring and summer months.

The health and safety of our customers and employees is our top priority, and as an essential business we are following strict operating protocols that are in line with the guidance provided by local, state, and federal authorities. Although these challenging times often result in a pause in investments, I argue that for customers who have been considering investing in solar, now is still the time to do so.

During these tumultuous times, for many home and business owners, investing in solar energy remains appealing as a smart and stable financial decision. A solar power system is an income-producing asset that will generate a stable return for 25 or more years. The ability to finance that investment without putting cash down upfront allows customers to get the financial benefits of solar now while keeping their money in the securities markets until they recover from the current economic downturn.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, overseas manufacturing has been disrupted for months, resulting in shortages in the global supply chain across many industries. These shortages could increase the price of solar panels, inverters and related equipment if US warehouses run low on inventory. For customers who have long been on the fence about investing in solar, I would urge them to reevaluate the numbers now in anticipation of potential price increases in the coming months in the wake of COVID-19.

Additional macro trends and current events continue to demonstrate the value of home solar power. According to a 2020 study by the financial institution Fundera, the number of regular telecommuting employees has grown by 115% since 2005. As more and more people are required to work remotely, especially during the current and indefinite "Stay in Place" orders, electricity usage and utilities have inevitably increased for many households.

Investing in solar for your home can help offset increased utility costs, especially while working remotely and in the rapidly approaching summer months. Current events may be accelerating the long-term trend, and even when the immediate crisis is over, the way many people work could be transformed.

As the energy industry continues to evolve, the reasons why Houston customers choose to invest in solar power evolve and grow. Going solar is no longer solely a testament to your sustainability practices but also a sound long-term investment. The federal solar tax credit — also known as the investment tax credit (ITC) — allows homeowners and businesses to deduct a significant percentage of the cost of installing solar from their federal income taxes.

The credit remains at 26 percent for the remainder of 2020 but will decrease to 22 percent in 2021 and then in 2022 will drop to 10 percent for businesses and will go away entirely for homeowners. With more than 90 percent of Houston's energy consumption deriving from green power, it is clear that solar is here to stay.

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Bret Biggart is the CEO of Texas-based Freedom Solar.

Economists dive into the economic impact of COVID-19, low oil prices on Houston

double teamed

Houston's economy continues to suffer as a result of the coronavirus-fueled economic slide and the collapse in oil prices. But just how much are these twin crises injuring Bayou City?

Economic data and forecasts present an increasingly grim outlook for Houston.

A new Moody's Analytics analysis commissioned by the Wall Street Journal provides one measurement of the economic damage being inflicted on Houston. The analysis, published April 2, indicates business closures in Harris County — which represents two-thirds of the region's population — have caused a 27 percent drop in the county's daily economic output.

Ed Hirs, an economics lecturer at the University of Houston, says the 27 percent figure is likely lower than the actual number. He thinks it's closer to 50 percent.

"The reason is that we are talking about output — actual work getting done — and not including monetary transfers from the bailout bill or unemployment insurance," Hirs says.

The lingering daily decline undoubtedly will bring down the Houston area's total economic output for 2020. In 2018, the region's economic output (GDP) added up to nearly $478.8 billion. By comparison, the 2018 economic output for the nation of Austria totaled $455.3 billion, according to the World Bank.

Harris County ranks as the third largest county in the U.S., as measured by population. The Moody's Analytics study shows the country's two largest counties — Los Angeles County in California and Cook County in Illinois — have been hit with even bigger decreases in daily economic output. Los Angeles County's loss sits at 35 percent, with Cook County's at 30 percent.

Patrick Jankowski, senior vice president of research at the Greater Houston Partnership, says in a podcast interview published April 2 that it's difficult to accurately gauge how the economic climate is hurting Houston right now. That's because economic data lags present-day economic reality.

"The situation is changing daily," Jankowski says. "There's so many unknowns out there. This is unprecedented."

Economists predict the Houston area's workforce will see massive losses as a result of the coronavirus and energy downturns.

Economist Bill Gilmer, director of the Institute for Regional Forecasting at the University of Houston's Bauer College of Business, says a moderate recession could siphon as many as 44,000 jobs from the region's economy by the end of this year. A more dire forecast from The Perryman Group, a Waco-based economic analysis firm, envisions the Houston area losing nearly 256,000 jobs due to the COVID-19 shutdown and racking up $27 billion in coronavirus-related economic losses.

Jankowski anticipates the Houston area tallying job losses of at least 200,000, meaning losses would be less severe than the 1980s energy bust but more severe than the Great Recession.

"If we're still working from home after May, everyone's job is at risk," says Jankowski, adding that this would trigger more furloughs, layoffs, and pay cuts.

Aggravating Houston's situation is the coronavirus clampdown on restaurants and hotels.

According to survey data released March 30 by the Texas Restaurant Association, 2 percent of the state's more than 50,000 restaurants already had closed permanently, and another 32 percent had closed temporarily. An additional 12 percent of Texas restaurants anticipated shutting down within the next 30 days.

If you add the 2 percent of restaurants that have closed to the 12 percent that expect to close, that would equal roughly 7,000 shuttered restaurants.

"Restaurants are in a fight for survival. The statistics from this survey provide a mere snapshot of the extreme economic impact the COVID-19 crisis is having on one of the most important industries in Texas," Emily Williams Knight, president and CEO of the Texas Restaurant Association, says in a release.

In the lodging sector, Texas is projected to lose 44 percent of its jobs, or more than 64,000 positions, according to a mid-March forecast from the American Hotel & Lodging Association. Experts predict some Texas hotels won't survive the coronavirus crisis.

"COVID-19 has been especially devastating for the hotel industry. Every day, more hotels are closing, and more employees are out of a job," Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the hotel association, says in a March 26 release.

While the restaurant and hotel sectors face a shaky future, the energy industry is grappling with the oil war between Russia and Saudi Arabia as well as depressed demand for crude oil and gasoline. Jankowski says gas prices could stay low through mid-2020 or even the end of 2020 as the energy industry copes with a prolonged oil glut.

Relief funds coming from Washington, D.C., will help stabilize the energy sector and other industries, Jankowski says, but will not "juice" the economy and spark growth.

"We're going to need to move beyond the pandemic," he says, "and we're going to need for some consumer confidence and business confidence to come back before we start to see growth returning again."