The panel of experts discussed the Space City's history — but also its future as a leader in space exploration. Photo courtesy of SpaceCom

Houston's been known as the Space City for about 50 years since "Houston" was the first word spoken from the surface of the moon. But whether or not that nickname will continue to stick was up for debate at a 2019 SpaceCom panel on November 21.

The panel, entitled "Regional Benefits of a Commercial Space Economy: Case Study Houston," the panelists set out to discuss the city's rich history of space exploration, as well as to answer the question of where Houston's space industry is headed.

"We could ask that question in a passive way, but my preference is that here in Houston we ask the question now, answer it, and be very proactive and deliberate about making sure we get the outcome that we want," says Vernon McDonald, senior vice president at KBR and moderator of the discussion.

If you missed the enlightening discussion, here are a few takeaways from the panelists.

"Houston is in this great position to be this beacon to lead entrepreneurs and inspire other regions to explore further."

Rick Jenet, director of the Center for Advanced Radio Astronomy. Jenet, who is based in Brownsville, Texas, is working to develop a vibrant commercial space hub in South Texas. In a lot of ways, the area looks to Houston's history for its development, he says.

"We built a community of engineers and scientists and a workforce that's all vested in the outcome of the human space flight program."

Steve Altemus, president and CEO of Intuitive Machines. The creation of the Johnson Space Center developed generations within the community of scientists and engineers, but, moving forward, Houston has to be intentional about building its talent base. "I'm very passionate about doing that here in Houston," Altemus adds.

"There's a beacon of hope for our community if we can organize around it and attract commercial business here to keep this city the Space City, but redefine ourselves as a commercial space hub."

Altemus says, adding that it's going to take further development, talent, and funds — like what's happening at the Houston Spaceport — to make this transition.

"Over the years, Houston took space for granted. Houston started to focus on the bigger industries that brought in funding and jobs."

Steven Gonzalez, technology transfer strategist at NASA's Johnson Space Center. At the risk of being unpopular, Gonzalez mentions that the city's attention has been diverted from space exploration. However, he adds, there are new initiatives from the Greater Houston Partnership and Houston First that are picking up the slack.

"The answers to Houston delivering on its potential is going to be collaborations — how well we collaborate."

Harvin Moore, president at Houston Exponential. Houston is collaborative, and the city needs to make sure its resources are inclusive as commercial space develops in town.

"I'd like to say that Houston is the birthplace of human space flight, and in 50 years, I'd like to see the city be the leader and the point of the spirit for human exploration internationally and commercially out in mars and beyond.

Altemus responds when asked about the Space City's next 50 years.

"I think what Houston will be most proud of in 50 years is that we played an extremely important role in shaping how Texas leads the world in commercial space exploration."

Jenet, who mentions that there's space exploration innovation happening statewide.

"When you think about what [leading space exploration] company will be here fifty years from now, I don't think it's been created yet. But I would like that company to be here in Houston."

Gonzalez says, adding that the first trillionaire is likely to make his or her fortune in the space industry, and he wants that money here in Houston.

"A lot of our future is not going to be based on what huge companies or government are doing but much more about entrepreneurs."

Moore says, emphasizing the need for developing startup resources in Houston.

In his SpaceCom 2019 keynote address, Bill Nye shares the breakthrough technology he's been able to develop at The Planetary Society. Photo courtesy of SpaceCom

Bill Nye shares the future of space exploration at Houston's annual SpaceCom

out of this world

According to Bill Nye, known to most as "The Science Guy" but who now leads the largest non-government space exploration nonprofit, humanity has always asked two questions: How did we get here and are we alone.

"If you want to answer those two questions, you've got to explore space," Nye, CEO of The Planetary Society, says in his keynote address at Houston's annual SpaceCom.

The conference, which took over downtown Houston's George R. Brown Convention Center for November 20 and 21, welcomed a record number of attendees from all over the world. Throughout the two days, 2,500 space fans, experts, and professionals from around the world engaged with panels and programming as well as the exhibit hall full of dozens of space companies.

In his keynote address, Nye walked through the history of solar space studies and breakthroughs, from Johannes Kepler's 17th century observation of the sun's solar force on comets to Carl Sagan's work to develop a completely solar powered spacecraft. Sagan, who was a mentor to Nye, passed away in 1996 and didn't get to see his dream become reality.

Nye, however, has accomplished Sagan's goals, and the technology he and The Planetary Society has developed is low cost and completely citizen funded, representing a huge step toward democratizing space.

"We built two spacecrafts for $7 million," Nye says of LightSail 1 and 2.

The first iteration didn't last long, but LightSail 2 equipped with CubeSats — small but mighty satellites — became the first controlled solar sail spacecraft completely propelled by the sun. Solar sails use radiation pressure from the sun as an energy source reacting with extremely thin reflective material that makes up the sail.

The device, which is still in space, represents a lot of potential for long-term space missions since no fuel is needed. While there have been light sails launched in the past, LightSail 2 was the first iteration to be able to be steered from earth in a timely manner. (The device can be turned in a matter of minutes.)

"With this technology, we can democratize space," Nye tells the crowd, sharing that just a few hours before, Time magazine named the technology as the most innovative invention in aerospace.

Nye says that while the work he is doing at The Planetary Society came about as a group of engineers trying to solve a specific problem, the results they have found and the feedback they received represent the world's interest in continuing space exploration in a cost-effective and feasible way.

"Space brings people together," Nye says.

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.

SpaceCom is the place for NASA, aeronautics, and anyone intersted in space. Photo courtesy of SpaceCom

NASA's SpaceCom lands in downtown Houston

Out of this world

The galaxies of science, astronomy, and pop culture have collided with the November 26 landing of NASA's InSight probe on Mars. As the world celebrates this critical mission, locals can explore the worlds of NASA, aerospace, and industry with SpaceCom — The Space Commerce Conference and Exposition, a two-day space extravaganza running November 27 to 28 at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

SpaceCom invites industry professionals, global leaders, and decision makers shaping the commercialization of space to discover where technology and innovation can take us, according to a release. Focusing on Earth and in near and deep space, SpaceCom provides attendees a chance to rub elbows with NASA departments, discuss the International Space Station, and exchange ideas on deep space exploration.

The convention will also integrate international space agencies and companies, providing a chance to form partnerships and collaborate on space initiatives with professionals from more than 30 countries. Industry pros can see how the world of space exploration can improve improve the tools, machines, devices, and services we use every day here on Earth in the fields of energy, advanced manufacturing, medicine, agribusiness, and maritime, per the statement.

It wouldn't be a convention without a chance to roam the interactive exhibit hall, plus there's a chance to participate in NASA presentations. Given the recent Mars news and the Johnson Space Center connection, this event promises to be a real blast for space fans.

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This story originally appeared on CultureMap.

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Houston scores lofty ranking in new study of America’s best cities

h-town proud

Buoyed by diversity, fine food, and Fortune 500 companies, Houston ranks as the 11th best city in the country and the top city in Texas, according to a consulting firm's annual study.

"Smart, skilled, and soulful, Houston is the American city of the future," says the study, published by Vancouver, Canada-based Resonance Consultancy Ltd., which specializes in marketing, strategy, and research for the real estate, tourism, and economic development sectors.

In last year's study, Houston also held the No. 11 ranking.

The 2020 study praises Houston for its:

  • Ethnic diversity, with more than 145 languages spoken in Houston-area homes.
  • Highly regarded restaurants, rated fourth behind Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago.
  • Healthy concentration of Fortune 500 companies, representing the country's biggest businesses. Twenty-two companies based in the Houston area are listed on this year's Fortune 500.
  • Airport connectivity (No. 7 ranking).

The study further lauds the city for development of the Houston Spaceport, a hub for the region's space industry. However, the study notes that Houston ranks 47th for prosperity, 74th for employment, and 99th (next to last) for income equality.

"From medicine to space to energy, we are at the forefront of innovation. We are resilient problem-solvers who work together to find common solutions, no matter if we're facing Hurricane Harvey or a global pandemic," real estate developer David Mincberg, chairman of Houston First Corp., says in an August 6 release. "Houston continues to grow and get better, so we invite those who live here to rediscover our city and visitors to come as soon as it is safe and enjoy all that Houston has to offer."

Houston First promotes the city as a destination for leisure and business travelers.

Resonance Consultancy ranks large U.S. cities by relying on a mix of 26 performance and quality measures. This year, New York City tops the list, followed by Los Angeles; San Francisco; Chicago; Washington, D.C.; San Diego; Las Vegas; San Jose, California; Miami; and Boston.

Three spots behind Houston is Dallas, at No. 14. Austin comes in at No. 17 and San Antonio at No. 28. Fort Worth isn't included in the ranking.

Highlights for Dallas include:

  • No. 1 ranking for airport connectivity, thanks largely to the presence of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
  • Country's highest concentration of corporate headquarters (more than 10,000).
  • Country's third largest grouping of Fortune 500 companies (24 in Dallas-Fort Worth).
  • Sixth largest LGBTQ community in the U.S.
  • Dallas Arts District, the country's largest contiguous urban arts district.

"Dallas inspires big ideas. This big and bold approach has resulted in world-class arts, culture, architecture, dining, business, and more, which are changing the face of the city," VisitDallas, the city's convention and tourism arm, says on its website.

Sitting at No. 17, Austin boasts No. 8 rankings for educational attainment and nightlife, the study says, along with a vibrant cultural scene anchored by events such as SXSW and a flourishing tech landscape dotted by the likes of Apple, Dell, Facebook, Google, and Oracle.

Austin's showing in the Resonance Consultancy study comes on the heels of the city being hailed by U.S. News & World Report as the No. 1 place to live in the country, with particularly high marks for desirability, jobs, and quality of life.

"With a strong, continually growing tech-talent labor force and an overall lower cost of living and doing business, I think Austin could end up being a beneficiary market in the recovery of the pandemic as many tech users look to move out of more densely populated areas like New York City or San Francisco," Erin Morales, senior vice president of commercial real estate services company CBRE, said in a July news release.

At No. 28, San Antonio earns kudos from Resonance Consultancy for its plethora of attractions, including the River Walk, five colonial missions, San Antonio Zoo, San Antonio Museum of Art, and Texas Golf Hall of Fame. Alamo City shows up at No. 7 in the study's attractions category.

In addition, the study highlights San Antonio's popular mixed-use Pearl district, whose assets include a campus of the Culinary Institute of America. "Around the esteemed school, a host of grads and chefs have clustered, creating a smorgasbord of choices from Italian to 'cue to bakery to vegetarian cuisine," according to the study.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: All three of this week's Houston innovators to know started something new amid a global pandemic — a new job at a Texas-wide accelerator, a new app to help shops and businesses safely serve customers, and a new resilience-focused hub that launched just in time for hurricane season.

Richard Seline, managing director of ResilientH20

Richard Seline of ResilientH2O Partners explains how he's helping foster new hurricane and flood prevention technologies in the Bayou City. Photo courtesy of ResilientH20

Following Hurricane Harvey, Richard Seline saw several emerging startups focusing on flood tech. Meanwhile, he saw insurance companies very interested in finding new technologies in the same space. But, these two entities were not talking.

"It's two different languages," Seline says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "There's a whole language and a whole mindset within the insurance industry that is not real well known."

Seline, managing director of ResilientH20, along with the Insurance Information Institute and The Cannon, has launched the Gulf Coast & Southwest Resilience Innovation Hub to foster this type of technology and bring insuratech startups and the big insurance players to the table. Stream the podcast and read more.

Adrianne Stone, venture associate for Capital Factory

Adrianne Stone has joined Capital Factory's Houston operations as the company prioritizes digital startup interaction. Photo courtesy of Capital Factory

After spending a year and a half in Silicon Valley on the products team for 23andme, Adrianne Stone is back in Houston, filling the venture associate role for Capital Factory. Stone got her Ph.D from Baylor College of Medicine and replaces Brittany Barreto, another BCM Ph.D who left the position to pursue a new venture.

"The mindset in Silicon Valley is different from how it is here in Texas — in good ways and bad ways. It was interesting to be exposed to a very potent startup vibe," Stone tells InnovationMap. "I'm looking forward to being able to meet all the cool companies, founders, and investors we have here in the Houston area." Read more.

Ethan Saadia, app developer and creator of Wayt

Ethan Saadia, a 17-year-old high school student, created an app to improve the user experience of shopping during a pandemic. Photo courtesy of Wayt

Like most of the world, Ethan Saadia has seen small, local businesses suffer from the social distancing mandates amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Saadia, a rising high school senior, wanted to do something to help.

He created Wayt, a smartphone app that provides businesses and their customers with a platform to communicate making curbside pickup, booking appointments, and even join a virtual line. Ultimately, Wayt has a great opportunity to help businesses — even outside of a pandemic

"From my perspective and experiences from my friends and family," says Saadia, "curbside pickup and virtual lines are definitely here to stay because even before the pandemic, popular places used to have long lines and that presented many new challenges. The pandemic is just accelerating technological change that will make our lives easier." Read more.

Ventilator designed by Rice University team gets FDA approval

in the bag

A ventilator that was designed by a team at Rice University has received Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ApolloBVM was worked on March by students at Rice's Brown School of Engineering's Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen, or OEDK. The open-source plans were shared online so that those in need could have access to the life-saving technology. Since its upload, the ApolloBVM design has been downloaded by almost 3,000 registered participants in 115 countries.

"The COVID-19 pandemic pushed staff, students and clinical partners to complete a novel design for the ApolloBVM in the weeks following the initial local cases," says Maria Oden, a teaching professor of bioengineering at Rice and director of the OEDK, in the press release. "We are thrilled that the device has received FDA Emergency Use Authorization."

While development began in 2018 with a Houston emergency physician, Rohith Malya, Houston manufacturer Stewart & Stevenson Healthcare Technologies LLC, a subsidiary of Kirby Corporation that licensed ApolloBVM in April, has worked with the team to further manufacture the device into what it is today.

An enhanced version of the bag valve mask-based ventilator designed by Rice University engineers has won federal approval as an emergency resuscitator for use during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo courtesy of Stewart & Stevenson

The Rice team worked out of OEDK throughout the spring and Stewart & Stevenson joined to support the effort along with manufacturing plants in Oklahoma City and Houston.

"The FDA authorization represents an important milestone achievement for the Apollo ABVM program," says Joe Reniers, president of Kirby Distribution and Services, in the release. "We can now commence manufacturing and distribution of this low-cost device to the front lines, providing health care professionals with a sturdy and portable ventilation device for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic."

Reniers continues, "It is a testimony to the flexibility of our people and our manufacturing facilities that we are able to readily utilize operations to support COVID-19 related need."

The device's name was selected as a tribute to Rice's history with NASA and President John F. Kennedy's now-famous speech kicking off the nation's efforts to go to the moon. It's meaningful to Matthew Wettergreen, one of the members of the design team.

"When a crisis hits, we use our skills to contribute solutions," Wettergreen previously told CultureMap. "If you can help, you should, and I'm proud that we're responding to the call."