Leaders across the spectrum are coming together this week to shine a spotlight on the future of tech jobs in Houston. Photo via Getty Images

This week, leaders in government, business, and academia are convening to work within the community to explore how we can leverage partnerships and new federal programs to drive investment into Houston’s burgeoning innovation ecosystem.

At AI Across America: Houston, we’ll begin forming plans and partnerships capable of sparking an innovation ecosystem, fueling AI education, training, research, development, and job creation. We’ll also examine how students, workers, businesses, and academics in the community can prepare for upcoming opportunities and challenges.

Why Houston

Besides being near Texas’ 10th District, choosing Houston was easy in its own right. According to a study by Axios and LinkedIn, between 2020 and 2021, while the traditional tech hubs bled top talent, Houston gained 10.6 percent new tech workers. Those workers arrived to a solid foundation; in 2022 the Houston metro area had net tech employment of 134,436 people. The growth is steady too. From 2010 to 2019, the Houston area tech workforce grew 12.3 percent.

Recently, Houstonians are leveraging federal programs and public-private partnerships to build innovative, collaborative environments. These include places like The Ion, East End Maker Hub, and Houston Community College.

Defining the project

The AI Across America project is a collaboration between SeedAI, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, and the Congressional AI Caucus. Working in conjunction, the organizations support efforts in the public and private sectors to expand access to AI education, training, development, testing, and job creation for communities across the country.

The AI Caucus is a group of U.S. Representatives working together to better understand their constituent's interests and those of all Americans as it pertains to AI. The organization works to explain the underlying technology and the ecosystem.

SeedAI does the groundwork to build collaboration across the private sector, government, academia, and civil society to support community-driven AI investments. The work of SeedAI focuses specifically on people who have been historically-marginalized and overlooked.

This is a critical moment for AI in America and beyond

AI is the battleground of the next great global competition. We have to be the first to build and master AI technology. Yet, because AI is a reflection of the people creating it and historical data, pursuing technology through the perspective of only a small group of people opens us to disproportionate harm and unknown risks.

Worse still, if the barrier to entry for AI is allowed to continue growing, we risk losing our most precious resource – the ingenuity waiting to be unleashed across the country. How, in those circumstances, can we succeed when faced with a nation like China with a population dwarfing the U.S. alongside an ability to spend far more agilely and extensively?

How can we succeed, and what is Houston’s role?

Fortunately, through recently-passed legislation called the Chips and Science Act, we have an opportunity to reclaim international leadership in a quintessentially American way: by leveraging the diverse strengths of communities across the country.

Houston already has a head start and an expanding tech economy – with planning and collaboration, Houstonians can be first in line to build new resources for AI education and development. When every state and community begins to realize their potential in the AI-powered future, Houston can play a leading role in guiding others to success and enabling their transformation.

If we succeed, we’ll uncover ingenuity and inventions we would’ve never anticipated. And as AI becomes easier to apply, we’ll have a real chance to build an AI-first generation of workers and builders from coast to coast.

Once we become competitive internally, we will be unbeatable internationally. If we succeed, we’ll lead the world in economic competitiveness and national security for decades to come.

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Austin Carson is the founder of SeedAI, a nonprofit established to work with a diverse group of policymakers, academics, and private sector experts to help communities across the United States access the resources they need to engage with AI. Congressman Michael T. McCaul, Republican Leader for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Vice Chair of the Congressional AI Caucus, is currently serving his ninth term representing Texas' 10th Congressional District which stretches from the city of Austin to the Houston suburbs.

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Report: Houston's hot medical office market might be on track to cool

by the numbers

Houston’s medical office market is on a roll.

A report from commercial real estate services company JLL shows net absorption and transaction volume saw healthy gains in 2022:

  • The annual absorption total of 289,215 square feet was 50.5 percent higher than the five-year average.
  • Transaction volume notched a 31.7 percent year-over-year increase.

Meanwhile, net rents held steady at $26.92 per square foot, up 1.3 percent from the previous year. The fourth-quarter 2022 vacancy rate stood at 15.9 percent.

Despite those numbers, the report suggests a slowdown in medical office rentals may be underway.

“Tenants who may have previously considered building out or expanding their lease agreements are now in a holding pattern due to increased construction costs and higher interest rates,” the report says. “These factors are having a direct impact on financial decisions when it comes to lease renewals, making it more likely that tenants will remain in their existing location for the foreseeable future.”

Still, the report notes “a number of bright spots for the future of healthcare in Houston.” Aside from last year’s record-high jump in sales volume, the report indicates an aging population coupled with a growing preference for community-based treatment “will lift demand even higher in coming years.”

The report shows that in last year’s fourth quarter, 527,083 square of medical office space was under construction in the Houston area, including:

  • 152,871 square feet in the Clear Lake area.
  • 104,665 square feet in the South submarket.
  • 103,647 square feet in Sugar Land.
Last fall, JLL recognized Houston as a top city for life sciences. According to that report, the Bayou City lands at No. 13 in JLL’s 2022 ranking of the country’s top 15 metro areas for life sciences. JLL says Houston “is poised for further growth” in life sciences.

Houston financial services firm announces acquisition, plans to grow

M&A radar

A Houston-based financial services company has made a recent strategic acquisition that gives it a new banking status.

LevelField Financial, which is creating a platform that combines traditional banking and digital asset products and services, announced this week that it is acquiring Burling Bank, an FDIC-insured, Illinois state-chartered bank. According to the company, once it receives regulatory approval, "LevelField will be the first full-service bank to offer fully compliant traditional banking and digital asset services."

The financial terms of the deal's transaction, which is expected to close later this year, were not disclosed.

The combined company will be able to provide traditional banking services, as well as LevelField's digital asset management. Burling Bank's senior management team will join LevelField's leadership, per a press release. They will focus on serving the bank's existing clients and growing the banking business nationwide.

"We conducted a broad review of banks in the U.S. to find the ideal institution with both an existing business and a management team who are aligned with our vision; we exceeded our expectations with Burling Bank. With this acquisition, LevelField will become a traditional bank, albeit one serving customers interested in the digital asset class," says Gene A. Grant II, CEO of LevelField Financial, in the release.

"We are thrilled to have the Burling executives join our leadership team, and together we intend to deliver fantastic customer service and well-designed products to customers who have an interest in accessing the digital asset class through a traditional bank," he continues.

Founded in 2018 by former banking executives, LevelField's leadership believes "the future of money is digital and that banks will continue to be a trusted provider of financial services," according to the website. This acquisition comes ahead of the company's plans to expand nationally.

"LevelField's strategic approach presented a tremendous opportunity for the bank to expand beyond our local footprint and serve customers with shared interests across the nation," says Michael J. Busch, Burling Bank president and CEO. "Together, we will continue to provide superior service and demonstrate that we truly understand the expanding and unique needs of our customers. Additionally, through the carefully developed suite of products we can address our customers' interests in digital assets and introduce them to LevelField's safe, simple, and secure platform."

How this Houston innovator's tech is gearing up to impact EV charging, energy transition

houston innovators podcast episode 172

With more and more electric vehicles on the road, existing electrical grid infrastructure needs to be able to keep up. Houston-based Revterra has the technology to help.

"One of the challenges with electric vehicle adoption is we're going to need a lot of charging stations to quickly charge electric cars," Ben Jawdat, CEO and founder of Revterra, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "People are familiar with filling their gas tank in a few minutes, so an experience similar to that is what people are looking for."

To charge an EV in ten minutes is about 350 kilowatts of power, and, as Jawdat explains, if several of these charges are happening at the same time, it puts a tremendous strain on the electric grid. Building the infrastructure needed to support this type of charging would be a huge project, but Jawdat says he thought of a more turnkey solution.

Revterra created a kinetic energy storage system that enables rapid EV charging. The technology pulls from the grid, but at a slower, more manageable pace. Revterra's battery acts as an intermediary to store that energy until the consumer is ready to charge.

"It's an energy accumulator and a high-power energy discharger," Jawdat says, explaining that compared to an electrical chemical battery, which could be used to store energy for EVs, kinetic energy can be used more frequently and for faster charging.

Jawdat, who is a trained physicist with a PhD from the University of Houston and worked as a researcher at Rice University, says some of his challenges were receiving early funding and identifying customers willing to deploy his technology.

Last year, Revterra raised $6 million in a series A funding round. Norway’s Equinor Ventures led the round, with participation from Houston-based SCF Ventures. Previously, Revterra raised nearly $500,000 through a combination of angel investments and a National Science Foundation grant.

The funding has gone toward growing Revterra's team, including onboarding three new engineers with some jobs still open, Jawdat says. Additionally, Revterra is building out its new lab space and launching new pilot programs.

Ultimately, Revterra, an inaugural member of Greentown Houston, hopes to be a major player within the energy transition.

"We really want to be an enabling technology in the renewable energy transition," Jawdat says. "One part of that is facilitating the development of large-scale, high-power, fast-charging networks. But, beyond that, we see this technology as a potential solution in other areas related to the clean energy transition."

He shares more about what's next for Revterra on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.