What's the latest in tech research in Houston? Here are three revolutionary research projects happening right under our noses. Getty Images

Tons of research happens daily at various Houston institutions — from life-saving medical developments to high tech innovations that will affect the greater business community.

In this Houston research roundup, three research projects from three Houston organizations are set to revolutionize their respective industries.

University of Houston researcher explores potential disruption in blockchain

blockchain

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A huge technology question mark within business has been blockchain — how it'll affect the sharing of information and industry as a whole. But, one University of Houston professor and his Texas A&M University colleagues are looking into that potential disruption in a recent paper.

"It's an emerging technology. It's evolving," says Weidong "Larry" Shi, associate professor of computer science at UH, in a UH news release.

Funded by the Borders, Trade, and Immigration Institute, the research has developed into the paper, which was published in the International Journal of Production Research.

A key focus of the research is how blockchain will affect cargo entering the United States, and identifies six pain points within adapting blockchain for cargo management: traceability, dispute resolution, cargo integrity and security, supply chain digitalization, compliance, and trust and stakeholder management, according to the release.

"The wide adoption of blockchain technology in the global SC (supply chain) market is still in its infancy," the article reads. "Industry experts project that on average, it may take about six years for the widespread adoption of blockchain."

Blockchain has the potential to prevent fraud within the global supply chain, among other things.

"The data can't be changed. Everyone (along the supply chain) has a copy. You can add information, but you can't change it," Shi says in the release.

The U.S. Army taps Rice University for network research

Photo by Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

Rice University and the U.S. Army have joined forces for a five-year, $30 million research agreement to modernize the Army — specifically for developing next-generation wireless networks and radio frequency (RF) electronics.

"[The Army Research Laboratory] and Rice will match the right people and capabilities to meet specific challenges, and the cooperative agreement is structured to allow the Army to partner widely across our campus," says Yousif Shamoo, Rice's vice president of research and lead on the ARL partnership, in a recent news release. "One exciting aspect of this partnership is the broader societal benefits. The technologies we're starting with are needed for Army modernization and they could also benefit millions of Americans in communities that still lack high-speed internet."

Without going into too much detail, the two entities are working to advance the Army's existing infrastructure to create networks that can sense attacks and protect themselves by adaption or stealth. The technology has the potential to affect the Army as well as civilians, says Heidi Maupin, the lead ARL contact for the Rice partnership.

"We want to deliver the capability of quickly deploying secure, robust Army communications networks wherever and whenever they're needed," Maupin says in the release. "The technology needed for that will benefit the world by transforming the economics of rural broadband, reducing response times to natural disasters, opening new opportunities for online education and more."

Research out of Baylor College of Medicine advancing information known about vision

Photo via bcm.edu

For humans, seeing is pretty simple — just open your eyes. But the process our eyes go through extremely complex, and scientists have had a hard time recreating the process — until now.

Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and the University of Tübingen in Germany have developed a novel computational approach that accelerates the brain's ability to identify optimal stimuli. The complete study by the scientists was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

"We want to understand how vision works," says senior author Dr. Andreas Tolias, professor and Brown Foundation Endowed Chair of Neuroscience at Baylor. "We approached this study by developing an artificial neural network that predicts the neural activity produced when an animal looks at images. If we can build such an avatar of the visual system, we can perform essentially unlimited experiments on it. Then we can go back and test in real brains with a method we named 'inception loops."

To track neurons and how they work, the researchers tracked brain activity scanning thousands of images.

"Experimenting with these networks revealed some aspects of vision we didn't expect," says Tolias, founder and director of the Center for Neuroscience and Artificial Intelligence at Baylor, in a release. "For instance, we found that the optimal stimulus for some neurons in the early stages of processing in the neocortex were checkerboards, or sharp corners as opposed to simple edges which is what we would have expected according to the current dogma in the field."

The research is ongoing and will only continue to help dissect how the brain sees and interprets visual elements.

Rice University and the University of Houston top lists for best graduate and undergraduate entrepreneurship programs. Photo by skynesher/Getty Images

2 Houston universities top list for best graduate, undergraduate entrepreneurship programs

Best of the rest

In Houston, a little bit of friendly competition between two universities goes a long way, but each gets a win according to a recent ranking.

The University of Houston's Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship within the C. T. Bauer College of Business claimed the top spot on the 2020 Princeton Review's top 15 programs for undergraduate entrepreneurship studies. Meanwhile, Rice University's Jones Graduate School of Business claimed the top spot on the graduate schools list.

Both schools have appeared on the list before, but it's the first time either has topped their categories.

"Entrepreneurship and the creation of new businesses and industries are critical to Houston and Texas' future prosperity and quality of life," says Rice Business Dean Peter Rodriguez, in a news release. "Today's ranking and our decades-long leadership in entrepreneurship education and outreach is a testament to our visionary and world-class faculty, the enormous success of the Rice Business Plan Competition and of our commitment to our students and the community we serve."

The Rice program, which in 1978, has appeared on the top-10 list for 11 years in a row, and it's the fourth time for the program to make it into the top three. According to the Princeton Review release, Rice grads have started 537 companies that went on to raise over $7 billion in funding.

A UH news release also calls out the fact that UH has seen more than 1,200 alumni-founded businesses, which have amassed over $268 million in funding over the past decade. UH's program, which began in 1991, has appeared in the top 10 list since 2007, and rose from the No. 2 position last year.

"The Wolff Center is the catalyst, but entrepreneurship goes beyond that to the entire Bauer College, including RED Labs, social entrepreneurship, energy, health care, arts and sports entrepreneurship, among many other programs," says Bauer Dean Paul Pavlou. "We're an entrepreneurial university, and innovation and the startup ecosystem we want to promote for the city of Houston starts with the Wolff Center and Bauer."

The ranking considered more than 300 schools with entrepreneurship studies programs and factored in over 40 data points. Some of the factors considered include: the percentage of students enrolled in entrepreneurship courses, mentorship programs, the number of startups founded and investments received by alumni, and the cash prizes at university-backed business plan competitions. The rankings will be published in the December issue of Entrepreneur magazine.

Here's what life science startups were named most promising at the recent Rice Alliance Texas Life Science Forum.. Getty Images

Rice Alliance names most promising life science companies at annual forum

Best of the best

Houston hosted an annual meeting of the minds that included thoughtful discussions, presentations, panels, and startup pitches within the life science industry.

The Texas Life Science Forum, organized and hosted by the Rice Alliance and BioHouston, took place on November 6 at Rice University's Bioscience Research Collaborative. Throughout the day, over 50 life science startups pitched to the audience. At the end of the forum, 10 startups — most of which are based in Houston — were recognized as being the most promising.

Here's what life science startups you should be keeping an eye out for.

Abilitech Medical

abilitech

Photo via abilitechmedical.com

A St. Paul, Minnisota-based medical device company, Abilitech Medical develops assistive technology to Multiple sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy, Parkinson's and stroke patients. The first product, Alibitech Assist, will be cleared by the FDA in 2020, with other devices to follow in 2022 and 2023.

AgilVax

agilvax

Photo via agilvax.com

Based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, AgilVax is a biopharmaceutical company that works with chemotherapy, checkpoint and KRAS inhibitors to fight various cancers. The company's AX09 is an immunotherapeutic that is headed for human clinical trials in 2020. Another product, M5, is a monoclonal antibody currently in preclinical trials.

Altoida

altoida

Photo via altoida.com

Altoida, based in Houston, has created a medical device that uses artificial intelligence and augmented reality to collect functional and cognitive data in patients to determine their risk Mild Cognitive Impairment from Alzheimer's Disease. The Altoida Neuro Motor Index has been cleared by the FDA and CE and detects cognitive decline with a 94 percent diagnostic accuracy six to 10 years ahead of the onset of symptoms.

ColubrisMX

Photo via Pexels

Houston-based ColubrisMX makes surgical robots specializing in minimally invasive and endoluminal surgeries. The company's team of engineers and surgeons works adjacent to the Texas Medical Center.

Cord Blood Plus

stem cell

Photo via Getty Images

Cord Blood Plus, based in Galveston, is working to commercialize its human umbilical cord blood stem cell technology. The company's primary mission is to use its research and treatment on breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy in order to prevent infections, speed up recovery, and shorten hospital stays.

CorInnova

CorInnova

Photo via CorInnova.com

Another Houston company, CorInnova is a medical device company that has developed a cardiac assist device to treat heart failure without many of the consequences from standard treatment. The device is able to self expand and gently compress the heart in sync with the heartbeat.

Mesogen

mesogen

Photo via Mesogen.com

Mesogen, which is based in The Woodlands, is in the business of using a patient's own cells to grow a human kidney for transplant. The tissue engineering technology allows for the creation of a kidney in less than a year with less risk of transplant rejection and a better quality of life over dialysis treatment.

Saranas

Courtesy of Saranas

Houston-based Saranas has created its Early Bird device to more quickly and more accurately detect bleeding in the human body. The company, which underwent successful clinical trials last year, recently received FDA clearance and launched the device in the United States.

Stream Biomedical

stream biomedical

Photo via streambiomedical.com

Stream Biomedical Inc. is tapping into a therapeutic protein that has proven to be neuroprotective and neuroreparative. The Houston company is aiming to apply the treatment in acute stroke cases and later for traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer's, and dementia cases.

VenoStent

Photo via venostent.com

Houston-based VenoStent has created a device that allows a successful stent implementation on the first try. VenoStent's SelfWrap is made from a shape-memory polymer that uses body heat to mold the stent into the vein-artery junction.

From enlightening talks and conventions to networking opportunities, here's where you need to be in November. Getty Images

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

Where to be

Looking for some help navigating an innovation-filled month in Houston? Look no further.

November is jam packed with Houston business and innovation events — from huge conventions like SpaceCom and Global Corporate Venture taking over downtown on the same days to the Digital Fight Club battling it out in Houston for the first time and The Houston Innovation Summit planning a week of programming.

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.

November 5 — Female Founder Luncheon with MassChallenge and HX

Houston is full of entrepreneurial women and this event aims to bring women together and give access to top female entrepreneurs and passionate women in local businesses. They will share their 'why,' their stories, challenges, successes, tips, and answer your burning questions about local entrepreneurship. Join us for a panel and lunch in a closed setting where we discuss what it takes to be a successful female entrepreneur.

Details: The event is from 11 am to 1 pm on Tuesday, November 5, at Houston Exponential (410 Pierce St.). Learn more.

November 6 — Texas Life Science Forum

Rice Alliance's Texas Life Science Forum brings together members from industry, emerging life science companies, academic, and investors. This is the "must attend" event for anyone in the life science industry in Texas or affiliated with innovation at the life science academic institutions.

Details: The event is from 8:30 am to 5 pm on Wednesday, November 6, at BioScience Research Collaborative (6500 Main St.). Learn more.

November 6 — Baker Tilly - Six Figure #Fail

Details: The event is from 11:30 am to 1 pm on Wednesday, November 6, at The Cannon (1336 Brittmoore Road). Learn more.

November 6 — Science First: Changing the Trajectory of Lung Cancer

In honor of Lung Cancer Awareness Month, JLABS sitting down with experts at The Lung Cancer Initiative at Johnson & Johnson and MD Anderson Lung Cancer Moon Shots as well as innovators in the field to present on and create dialogue around the core challenges faced by innovators in the field, new discoveries, emerging technologies, and potential solutions.

Details: The event is from 11 am to 1:30 pm on Wednesday, November 6, at JLabs @ TMC (2450 Holcombe Blvd.). Learn more.

November 7 — TMCx Demo Day: Medical Device 2019

TMCx's annual medical device cohort celebrates the end of another program as the participating entrepreneurs take to the main stage to pitch their solutions. During the event, 16 medical device startups will showcase the progress they have made on their solutions, and what they have planned for the future.

Details: The event is from 1:30 to 8 pm on Thursday, November 7, at TMC Innovation Institute (2450 Holcombe Blvd.). Learn more.

November 8-10 — Second Annual Health Equity Hackathon

CareSet presents the second annual Health Equity Hackathon using newly available data that will help address innovations for the underserved community in the U.S.

Details: The event is from November 8 through 10, at United Way of Greater Houston (50 Waugh Dr.). Learn more.

November 12 — Houston Forum for Equitable Development without Displacement

Rice University is planning to develop 16 acres around Houston's Wheeler Station to create a neighborhood centered around technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship. To demand that the developers sign a Community Benefits Agreement, we are establishing the Houston Coalition for Equitable Development without Displacement (HCEDD). All individuals, community groups, advocacy organizations, and supporting businesses/organizations who are interested in supporting this initiative are invited to attend.

Details: The event is from 6 to 8 pm on Tuesday, November 12, at Wesley AME Church (2209 Emancipation Ave). Learn more.

November 13 — Upstream Venturing + Technology Showcase

In collaboration and partnership with Equinor Technology Ventures, BP Ventures, Shell Ventures, Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures, and Cannon Ventures, hear the latest trends in upstream technology implementation.

Details: The event is from 5 to 8 pm on Wednesday, November 13, at The Cannon (1336 Brittmoore Road). Learn more.

November 14 — TopCoder Innovation Summit

The Topcoder Innovation Summit is the premier innovation event for industry leaders. At the Innovation Summit, you'll have the opportunity to speak with industry leaders, attend panels on innovation and emerging technologies, and meet with the Wipro and Topcoder executive teams.

Details: The event is from 8 am to 4:45 pm on Thursday, November 14, at InterContinental Hotel (6750 Main St.). Learn more.

November 14 — JLABS x UH: Startup Pains: From Academia to Startup (Therapeutics)

JLABS and the University of Houston Technology Bridge present a special installment of Startup Pains, a monthly talk given by entrepreneurs who share their journey of launching a company and overcoming unanticipated obstacles in order to find success in their industry. This month's focus is to arm those contemplating entrepreneurship with a road map for navigating the startup waters, specifically focused on therapeutics.

Details: The event is from 5:30 to 7 pm on Thursday, November 14, at JLabs @ TMC (2450 Holcombe Blvd.). Learn more.

November 15 — Tilting the Grid: How Electricity Companies Will Disrupt

Tilting the Grid is the conference where you can eavesdrop on what the most daring companies in the REP space are doing and discuss what the next "big" thing might be. Ready to learn what big data can reveal about customer behavior? Prepared for a deep dive into the latest customer acquisition trends?

Details: The event is from noon to 5 pm on Friday, November 15, at Whitehall Hotel Houston (1700 Smith St). Learn more.

November 18-24 — The Houston Innovation Summit

For the third year, Houston's innovation ecosystem is taking over the city for a week of events and programming coordinated by Impact Hub Houston. To check out the panels, meetups, and all other programming, click here. Note: Some of the specific events will also appear in this curated list of Houston events.

November 20 — Houston Digital Fight Club

Entrepreneurs and experts are taking the stage — or in this case ring — to battle out their ideas on tech and innovation in Houston. The high energy debate will take place across five fights and networking opportunities. Secure your tickets — it's expected to sell out.

Details: The event is from 6 to 10 pm on Wednesday, November 20, at White Oak Music Hall (2915 N Main St.). Learn more.

November 20 — Inside Billy's Brain: Surgeon, Inventor, Innovator

Join JLABS @ TMC and explore the mind and motivations of Dr. Billy Cohn, the renowned surgeon, inventor and innovator.

Details: The event is from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm on Wednesday, November 20, at JLabs @ TMC (2450 Holcombe Blvd.). Learn more.

November 20-21 — SpaceCom

SpaceCom, America's Commercial Space Conference and Exposition, addresses the strategic issues impacting the commercial space industry that will enable your business to set a clear course to gain a competitive advantage in the coming trillion-dollar space economy. SpaceCom is operating under a Space Act Agreement with NASA. In 2019, the Department of Commerce's Office of Space Commerce and the Department of Energy's Office of Technology Transitions join NASA and the commercial space industry in collaborating on the development of the show.

Details: The event is from Wednesday, November 20, to Thursday, November 21, at the George R. Brown Convention Center (1001 Avenida De Las Americas). Learn more.

November 20-21 — Global Corporate Venture 

Never has the energy industry been more vulnerable to disruption, but as open to change. The world's leading energy and transportation companies are using venture capital to invest in, and help deploy, new technologies and business models that will fundamentally change the way we generate, distribute and use energy.

Details: The event is from Wednesday, November 20, to Thursday, November 21, and takes place at various locations throughout the two-day conference. Learn more.

This Halloween, consider your office costume contest or luncheon social a productive part of the day. Socialization in the office has been linked to greater creativity, according to a Rice University researcher. Getty Images

Rice University research finds that office socializing can be a pathway to innovation and creativity

Houston voices

Innovation is a team sport. We know that creative workplaces represent a series of social networks, each brimming with useful ideas and expertise. And there is clearly a link between innovation within a firm and the colleagues and friends with whom employees hobnob off duty.

But how exactly does that alchemy happen? What's the relationship between creativity and the hive of direct and indirect contacts in an employee's cell phone?

A recent study by Jing Zhou of the business school, Giles Hirst of Australian National University, Daan Van Knippenberg of Erasmus University, Eric Quintane of the University of Los Andes and Cherrie Zhu of Monash University sheds new light on this. Mapping the social networks that underlie a creative workplace, the researchers showed that employee creativity rises when social networks are more diverse.

The researchers started with the premise that direct links in a network are offshoots of larger networks. The more diverse these indirect networks are, the researchers found, the more likely that innovative concepts will appear in a company's intellectual landscape.

The most efficient resources for gathering novel perspectives are networks made up of two-step "non-redundant ties"—that is, people you may not interact with directly, but with whom your direct ties do interact. These contacts are effectively the raw material employees use to come up with new ideas and ways of working. But why are these indirect networks so important? They diversify the thinking of the group, Zhou and her colleagues argue. Because these networks include individuals who are not necessarily linked, they lower the chances of groupthink or stale ideas.

To test their hypothesis, the researchers looked at the social networks of a large, state-owned pharmacy corporation in the People's Republic of China. Examining 11 divisions, each with roughly 25 sales representatives, the team studied creativity among the sales representatives. Evenly divided between men and women, the representatives were, on average, 35 years of age with approximately 10 years' of experience. Some had developed networks so large that they reached beyond the corporation's geographic territory.

The representatives' creativity manifested itself in a range of forms: new ways to promote products, strategies to cross-sell products, ideas for connecting with hard-to-access sales targets and plans for boosting client sales. The ideas included making products more visible in retail outlets and personalizing product launches to push customers to specific distributors. Because this kind of inventiveness is critical to gaining an edge, it's one of the most important tools in pharmaceutical marketing.

The researchers devised a matrix that matched sales metrics and managers' creativity rankings to the types of social networks the representatives had. The map showed clearly that a two-step, indirect network with few redundancies correlated to individual creativity. When networks were further removed than this, employee creativity was unchanged.

The implication: Firms should attend closely to the kind of social networks their workers cultivate. Not only that, it's possible to teach employees how to design networks for maximum efficiency. Persuading employees to make that effort might be another matter. Luckily, possible incentives abound, from bonuses to the satisfactions of a varied network to the simple pleasure of a more ample expense account. Executives just need to get creative in making their case.

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This story originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom.

Jing Zhou is the Mary Gibbs Jones Professor of Management and Psychology in Organizational Behavior at the Jones Graduate School of Business of Rice University.

Rice University — sometimes known as the "Ivy League of the South" — has been ranked as the best school in the Lone Star State. Courtesy of Rice University

Rice University tops best schools in Texas list

Top of the class

By any measure, Rice University is a top-tier academic institution, lauded locally and nationally for its innovative tuition programs and for boasting the highest-paid graduates in the state. Now, a new ranking names the "Ivy League of the South" the top university in Texas.

Personal finance website WalletHub has released its 2020's Best College & University Rankings, just in time for the looming November 1 "early decision" college application deadline. Rice takes the No. 1 Texas spot and comes in at No. 13 overall in the U.S.

In order to determine the rankings, WalletHub compared more than 1,000 colleges and universities across seven key dimensions: student selectivity, cost and financing, faculty resources, campus safety, campus experience, educational outcomes, and career outcomes.

Among Texas schools, Rice comes in first for the following individual metrics: admission rate, student-faculty ratio, graduation rate, and post-attendance median salary. The school places second for gender and racial diversity.

The University of Texas at Austin follows as the No. 2 best school in Texas, while Trinity University comes in third. Here are the top 10 schools in Texas, according to WalletHub:

  1. Rice University
  2. University of Texas at Austin
  3. Trinity University
  4. Baylor University
  5. LeTourneau University
  6. Texas Christian University
  7. Texas A&M University-College Station
  8. University of Dallas
  9. Southwestern University
  10. Southern Methodist University

At No. 13 on the overall list, Rice shares the spotlight with prestigious institutions, coming in behind the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Princeton University, Yale University, Stanford University, the California Institute of Technology, Duke University, University of Pennsylvania, Northwestern University, University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill, Vanderbilt University, and Columbia University. University of Chicago is No. 14.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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University of Houston rolls out food delivery robots

on the move

For a small delivery fee of $1.99, students, faculty, and staff across the University of Houston campus can now get their lunch delivered by self-driving robots.

Thirty of San Francisco-based Starship Technologies' autonomous delivery robots now roam the campus thanks to a partnership with New York-based Chartwells Higher Education. The Houston campus is the first to roll out robotic food deliveries.

"This revolutionary delivery method will make it more convenient for the campus community to take advantage of our diverse dining program from anywhere on campus while expanding the hours of operation," says Emily Messa, associate vice president for administration, in a news release. "By opening our campus to this innovative service, which is paid for by the customers, the university didn't have to spend any money purchasing the technology, yet we're enhancing our food delivery capabilities."

Through the Starship Deliveries app, which is available on iOS and Android, users can select from 11 dining institutions and then identify where they are on campus. The platform allows the user to track the progress, and the device can hold up to 20 lbs of food and has the space for about three shopping bags of groceries.

"This increases our capacity to reach more customers, and I expect the robots will quickly become part of campus life," says David Riddle, Chartwells resident district manager, in a news release. (Chartwells manages UH Dining). "Robot delivery will also grow opportunities for UH Dining employees by increasing service hours and growing sales. It has also created additional jobs for students dedicated specifically to servicing the autonomous robots. It's an important advancement for foodservice at UH."

Using machine learning, artificial intelligence and sensors, the company's robots have driven over 350,000 miles and completed over 150,000 deliveries. The Starship robots "can cross streets, climb curbs, travel at night and operate in both rain and snow," per the release.

"Robotic delivery is affordable, convenient and environmentally friendly," says Ryan Tuohy, senior vice president of business development for Starship, in the release. "We're excited to start offering students, staff and faculty at Houston delivery within minutes when they need it most."

Lawyers specializing in startups are hard to comeby in Houston — but here's what you need to know

Guest column

One of the worst, and most expensive, mistakes that we see startup founders make in the very early days of their company is not realizing that hiring lawyers is a lot like hiring doctors: when the stakes are high, you need a highly experienced specialist.

Law has numerous specialties and sub-specialties, and hiring legal counsel with the wrong specialty can mean paying to reinvent the wheel, or simply getting advice that is out of sync with the norms of your industry and the expectations of your seasoned investors.

This challenge can be particularly acute for founders of startups located in Houston. The legal market in any particular city tends to mirror the dominant industries of that city. Houston has some of the world's most prominent energy and healthcare lawyers in the country, for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who knows anything about Houston's economy.

Startup lawyers, or more formally —corporate/securities lawyers who are sub-specialized in "emerging companies" — are a different story entirely. Given the nascent status of Houston's startup ecosystem, finding local lawyers who work with emerging technology companies and early-stage funding day in and day out, and know all the norms and nuances, is a challenge.

Very often we see founders get referred to a local lawyer who is a broad generalist that dabbles lightly in many practice areas. Their lack of depth in startup or venture capital work usually leads to clients paying for things that a more specialized lawyer, with a deeper set of precedent forms and institutional knowledge, could simply pull off the shelf. In other cases, founders get referred to very expensive senior corporate lawyers from firms designed for billion-dollar public company representation; totally overkill (and overpriced) for an early-stage startup.

What the smartest Houston founders discover, if they do their homework, is that leveraging the broader "Texas ecosystem" can help not just with sourcing talent for their employee roster or finding venture capital, but with sourcing specialized legal talent as well. In the case of Startup Lawyers, Austin's venture capital and startup ecosystem has produced numerous highly specialized lawyers whose depth of startup/vc experience easily compares with lawyers found in Silicon Valley, but who also regularly interact with investors in the Houston market; and therefore know their expectations. In the case of our firm, Egan Nelson (E/N), a significant number of our clients are located in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and other markets in the general regional area.

Historically, businesspeople have assumed that if they really want top-tier, highly specialized counsel, they had to find that counsel at large, multi-national law firms. That is no longer the case. The broader Texas ecosystem has produced a thriving group of specialized, high-end "boutique" law firms that are recruiting top-tier lawyers away from the traditional mega-firms, and leveraging technology to deliver "leaner" legal counsel; saving hundreds of dollars per hour for entrepreneurs.

It is not uncommon for us to see Houston startups utilizing an emerging companies corporate lawyer in Austin, a regulatory specialist lawyer in Houston, and a tax lawyer in Dallas; all from different firms. This is the future for how emerging companies will source their legal talent, without the constraints of geography or old-fashioned "all in one" law firm structures.

This trend really isn't that new. VCs from Austin and other Texas cities (and the coasts) have regularly been visiting Houston to fund companies, and Houston companies have regularly leveraged contacts in other markets to source specialized resources for their companies. The same dynamics have extended to finding legal counsel. "Localism," and an over-preoccupation with hiring everyone in the same city, isn't really just last year, it's more like last century. There is nothing about legal services for startups that requires any of your lawyers to be within your same city. Videoconferencing works great.

The growth of the Texas ecosystem, and the emergence of specialized boutique law firms, mean that Houston entrepreneurs have far more options to choose from for sourcing specialized legal counsel. Leverage those options to avoid engaging lawyers who are insufficiently experienced, or overkill, for the needs of your company. For more resources on finding and assessing the right lawyers for your Houston startup, see Startup Lawyers, Explained.

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Jose Ancer is an Emerging Companies Partner at Egan Nelson LLP. He also writes for Silicon Hills Lawyer, an internationally recognized startup/vc law blog focused on entrepreneurs located outside of Silicon Valley, including Texas.

Houston blockchain company taps into a new industry, hires new exec

diversifying

A Houston blockchain company that makes it easier and faster to process industry contracts, payment, and more has diversified its business again.

After expanding into the water services industry in August, Houston-based Data Gumbo Corp. has announced its next market: Construction. The startup, which works out of The Cannon Houston, has hired industry veteran Michael Matthews hired as industry principal to work directly on the company's efforts in the $9 trillion sector.

"Construction is one of the world's largest industries, but it has clearly fallen behind others in adopting technology and driving efficiency," says Andrew Bruce, CEO of Data Gumbo, in a news release. "Michael is a recognized leader in the industry and his vision and experience make him an excellent fit to scale Data Gumbo into the construction sector."

Matthews has over 30 years of experience in construction. He says in the release that some of the issues of current practices result in 30 to 40 percent of project costs to be hidden, and he wants to use the GumboNet platform to provide solutions.

"The construction industry lags far behind other industries in both productivity improvement and technology adoption, resulting in billions of lost value," Matthews says in a news release. "The way companies come together to execute projects remains essentially the same despite technology's improvement and we have to make fundamental, disruptive changes to deliver more value."

The growing blockchain-as-a-service company closed $6 million series A round earlier this year. Courtesy of Data Gumbo

Originally built for upstream drilling and completions within the oil and gas industry, Data Gumbo has grown its clientbase over the past few years. The company provides its blockchain-as-a-service services as a subscription for its clients.

Recently, the company was announced to be one of the two Houston-based companies in Plug and Play Tech Center's inaugural Houston cohort, and, earlier this year, the company was named among Crunchbase's top 50 hottest tech companiesCrunchbase's top 50 hottest tech companies. The growing company also hired another executive this summer —the company's new chief commercial officer is Sergio A. Tuberquia — following the closing of a $6 million series A round.