Houston fell on the international list of emerging startup hubs, but — when it comes to North America — Houston still ranks favorably. Photo via Getty Images

The evolution of Houston’s startup scene continues: A new report awards the region a No. 1 ranking for the robustness of early-stage funding among North America’s emerging startup ecosystems.

Policy advisory and research firm Startup Genome reports that startups in the Houston area attracted $884 billion in early-stage funding from the second half of 2020 to the end of 2022. Early-stage funding generally refers to a startup’s seed and series A rounds.

The $884 million figure puts Houston at No. 1 for early-stage funding among emerging startup ecosystems in North America and at No. 9 globally. Istanbul, Turkey, grabs the top global spot. Startup Genome characterizes the funding meccas in this ranking category as “Strong Starters.”

Startup Genome’s 2023 report on startup ecosystems emphasizes that early-stage funding “is an important indicator of potential success,” since most startups that receive series A rounds have demonstrated their potential by generating revenue, creating a minimal viable product, or being close to launching a product.

In Startup Genome’s global ranking of emerging startup ecosystems as a whole, Houston falls to No. 11 this year from No. 5 in 2022. The report doesn’t cite a reason for the drop. Copenhagen, Denmark, takes the No. 1 ranking in this category.

While its global ranking slipped, Houston still makes this year’s list of the top five emerging ecosystems in North America:

  1. Detroit (same position as last year)
  2. North Carolina’s Research Triangle (up two spots from last year)
  3. Minneapolis (down one spot from last year)
  4. Houston (down one spot from last year)
  5. Phoenix (up two spots from last year)

Startup Genome pegs the value of Houston’s startup ecosystem at $22 billion, based on startup exits and valuations from the second half of 2020 to the end of 2022.

A 2022 report from the Greater Houston Partnership noted that the Houston area is home to more than 60 organizations that foster startup growth. These include incubators, accelerators, coworking spaces, makerspaces, college and university programs, and nonprofit initiatives.

“These organizations have formed a growing web of resources assisting tech entrepreneurs across the Houston region,” says the report.

Silicon Valley once again tops Startup Genome’s list of the world’s leading startup ecosystems, followed by New York City and London (tied at No. 2), Los Angeles (No. 4), and Tel Aviv, Israel (No. 5).

Startup Genome defines a startup ecosystem as a shared pool of resources generally within a 60-mile radius of a central point, such as the city of Houston. These resources include accelerators, incubators, funding groups, coworking spaces, schools, and policymakers.

Startup Genome’s six ranking factors for ecosystems are performance, funding, talent and experience, market reach, knowledge, and “connectedness.”

“Despite current economic challenges, we are confident that, equipped with the right knowledge, entrepreneurs, policymakers, and community leaders everywhere can leverage opportunities to come together and show how innovative technologies can not only continue to drive growth and job creation, but simultaneously help save the planet and ensure a better future for everyone,” JF Gauthier, founder and CEO of Startup Genome, says in a news release. “This essential mission cannot be put on hold while we wait out rocky economic times.”

Houston's ranking on this global report improved 14 spots between now and last year. Photo via Getty Images

Houston tech ecosystem ranks as No. 5 in the world for emerging startup hubs

tech in texas

As a startup hub, Houston is movin’ on up.

In a new report from Startup Genome and the Global Entrepreneurship Network, Houston ranks fifth among the world’s top 100 emerging ecosystems for startups. Last year, the groups’ report put Houston at No. 19 in the same category.

Ahead of Houston on the list of the top emerging ecosystems for startups are first-ranked Detroit; second-ranked Hong Kong; third-ranked Dublin, Ireland; and fourth-ranked Minneapolis.

Further bolstering Houston’s status as a rising startup hub, Bayou City ranks third among the top North American challengers to traditional startup anchors like Silicon Valley, Boston, and Seattle. Joining Houston on the challengers’ list are first-ranked Detroit; second-ranked Minneapolis; third-ranked Research Triangle, North Carolina; and fifth-ranked Pittsburgh.

A recent report from Houston Exponential, which was recently acquired, emphasizes Houston’s position as the third fastest-growing tech ecosystem in the U.S. for early-stage startups. Houston sits behind Miami (No. 2) and Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Connecticut (No. 1).

Houston startups at all stages raised $2.34 billion in 2021, setting a record for the region’s annual VC haul, the HX report says. Of that total, early-stage startups collected $618.9 million in 46 deals.

Health and information technology startups dominate the VC landscape in Houston, with each accounting for 30 percent of VC deals in 2021, according to the HX report.

Elsewhere in Texas, Austin ranks 25th among the world’s top 100 ecosystems for startups, while Dallas ties for 31st place, according to the Startup Genome and Global Entrepreneurship Network report. San Antonio is wedged into the 91-to-100 range in the ranking of the world’s top 100 ecosystems.

“The importance and dispersal of tech startups have amplified the influence — for both good and ill — of geopolitics,” the report notes. “Where once the sector was sufficiently small to avoid the kind of pressures experienced by large industries such as energy and travel, those garage-spawned entrepreneurs have grown into a major economic force. Keeping their heads down is no longer an option.”

According to a new report, Houston is among the top emerging ecosystems. Photo by Zview/Getty Images

Houston rise in the ranks of the top emerging ecosystems in the world

stacking up

If you need evidence that Houston's startup ecosystem is flourishing, look no further than a new report from Startup Genome and the Global Entrepreneurship Network.

This year's Global Startup Ecosystem Report, released September 22, places Houston at No. 19 among the world's top 100 emerging startup ecosystems. Furthermore, it puts Houston at No. 4 among the top regional challengers in North America. Last year's report lumped Houston with other emerging startup ecosystems in the 31-to-40 ranking range.

Mumbai, India, appears at No. 1 among the world's top 100 emerging startup ecosystems this year, while Miami lands at No. 1 among the top regional challengers in North America.

According to Houston Exponential, the city's startup ecosystem "is experiencing a growth spurt that appears to show no signs of abating."

Case in point: Houston startups raised more than $1 billion in the first six months of 2021, surpassing all annual totals from previous years. In 2020, Houston startups reaped a record-high $753 million in venture capital.

"Venture capital invested in Houston startups has nearly quadrupled since 2016," according to a recent Houston Exponential report. "The sustained level of progress we've seen in startup formation and growth over the past four years shows that Houston has what it takes to build a vibrant, healthy innovation economy with an emphasis on equity."

Collectively, the health care and information technology sectors accounted for nearly 60 percent of Houston's VC deals in the first half of 2021, the report says.

Another sign of the expansion of Houston's startup ecosystem: the rising number of workspaces, incubators, and accelerators designed to foster startups.

"These key institutions create density and drive collisions among founders, investors, and talent, significantly increasing the rate of startup formation and growth," according to the Greater Houston Partnership.

Those institutions include The Ion entrepreneurial hub, the Greentown Labs climate-tech incubator, and the DivInc startup accelerator. All are new arrivals on the Houston startup scene.

"DivInc is about broadening the startup ecosystem by making it more authentically diverse, equitable, and inclusive of underrepresented entrepreneurs," Preston James II, CEO of DivInc, said in April. "When we, as a community, do this successfully, we optimize our opportunities for economic GDP growth, we can help reduce racial/gender wealth divide, and drive greater innovation."

Elsewhere in Texas, Austin ranks 20th among the leading startup ecosystems in the Global Startup Ecosystem Report, down from No. 19 last year, and Dallas repeats its 31st-place tie. Silicon Valley tops the global list.

The report says North America represents half of the top 30 ecosystems in the world.

"Entrepreneurs, policymakers, and community leaders in North America have been working hard to build inclusive innovation ecosystems that are engines of economic growth and job creation for all," JF Gauthier, founder and CEO of Startup Genome, says in a news release.

San Francisco-based Startup Genome is a research and advisory firm specializing in startup ecosystems.

A new hub on Rice University campus, Houston receives national rankings, and more local innovation news. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Shell commits to $10M carbon initiative with Rice University, Houston startup acquired by Honeywell, and more innovation news

Short Stories

Even toward the end of the year and amid the holiday season, Houston's innovation news can be a lot to keep up with. Here are seven short stories of Houston innovation — from an exit for a Houston startup and a multimillion-dollar clean energy commitment from Shell to new national recognitions for Houston and 2020 plans unveiled for MassChallenge in Houston.

Shell commits $10 million to new Carbon Hub at Rice University

Matteo Pasquali will lead the new hub at Rice University. Courtesy of Rice University

Rice University has introduced its Shell-backed Carbon Hub — a research initiative to innovate zero-emissions technologies. According to a news release, Shell has committed to a $10 million arrangement for the hub.

"Trying to address climate change is like playing whack-a-mole; you think you're making something better, and you realize that made something else get worse," says Carbon Hub director, Matteo Pasquali, in the release. "For example, you make cars more fuel efficient by removing weight, and then realize you've increased CO2 emissions by using more aluminum and carbon fibers. Or you try to fix CO2 into a useful product, and you realize you now need much more energy than you had gotten by making the CO2 in the first place."

The plan is to "fundamentally change how the world uses hydrocarbons," reads the release. Rather than burning hydrocarbons for fuel, creating carbon dioxide, the hydrocarbons "will be split to make clean-burning hydrogen fuel and solid carbon materials that can be used to make buildings, cars, clothing and more."

Through the partnership with Shell — and other potential partners — the hub will help fund and lead $100 million of science and engineering initiatives. The inaugural meeting for the hub is expected to be early next year and will be hosted by The Center for Energy Studies at Rice's Baker Institute for Public Policy.

"Providing energy to the world's population in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner is the global energy challenge," says Ken Medlock, senior director of the Center for Energy Studies, in the release. "In part, this will require new technologies and forward-looking, creative thinking, which is exactly what Carbon Hub offers."

Houston-based Rebellion Photonics acquired by Honeywell

Photo via rebellionphotonics.com

Innovative gas monitoring technology company, Rebellion Photonics, founded by Allison Sawyer and Robert Kester in Houston in 2009, has been acquired by Honeywell for an undisclosed amount.

The business will be rolled into Honeywell's Safety and Productivity Solutions business, as well as through Honeywell's Performance Materials and Technologies business, according to a press release.

"Honeywell is an amazing company and a recognized leader in our industry. We are excited to be part of their world-class family," Kester, who serves as CEO of Rebellion Photonics, says in the release. "Automated visual monitoring is the future of gas leak detection. Combining our products with Honeywell's platform will make this the new industry standard for safety and environmental monitoring globally."

MassChallenge to announce details of its second Houston cohort

Photo courtesy of MassChallenge

MassChallenge Texas has released new details of its second cohort in Houston. The zero equity startup accelerator based in downtown will run its second cohort from June to September of next year. Up to 100 startups will be selected for the Houston program, and another cohort of up to 100 startups will run along the same timeline in Austin.

On the line for prizes this year is six months of free office space, experts and mentors, the MassChallenge curriculum, access to top corporate leaders, as well as cash prizes and in-kind support — valued at over $500,000.

Both Austin and Houston will celebrate the launch of the two programs on January 29 — Houston's event will take place at the Four Seasons Hotel (1300 Lamar St.) from 5:30 to 7:30 pm.

MassChallenge recently announced its new home in The Cannon's Downtown Launch Pad in partnership with Amegy Bank.

Houston named in Inc.'s top 50 cities to start a business

houston skyline

Getty Images

Houston just made it onto the list of the top 50 cities to start a business, according to Surge Cities index, Inc., and Startup Genome. Coming in at No. 45, the Bayou City ranked behind Austin (No. 1) and Dallas (No. 29).

"Houston wants to be known as the Third Coast, a place that is both a business and cultural hub," the blurb on Inc. reads. "A place where people want to be. And this city, one of the most diverse in the country, is well on its way."

The report highlights Houston's historic hold on the oil and gas industry, the Texas Medical Center's established presence, and the space innovation happening at NASA. Roger Griesmeyer, a partner at Hunton Andrews Kurth, says in the article that Houston has low regulations and taxes coupled with "a highly educated populace, great weather, and a bunch of money."

"There's such diversity and a confluence of talent and opportunity in one place," says Griesmeyer in the article. "Houston is selling a lifestyle brand with all the resources to bear."

Houston was ranked highly on three factors:

  • No. 23 for job creation
  • No. 20 for wage growth
  • No. 25 for population growth

Accenture announces finalists for Houston-based competition

Courtesy of Accenture

In February, Accenture's Houston innovation hub will host the fourth annual Accenture HealthTech Innovation Challenge. Eleven companies have been named finalists and are headed to Houston in the new year.

"This annual HealthTech challenges creates an exciting opportunity to connect healthcare incumbents with emerging businesses to drive health system evolution focused on improving the lives of consumers and clinicians by enhancing access, affordability, quality and experience," says Brian Kalis, managing director of digital health and innovation services at Accenture, in the news release. "We are all looking forward to the final round and awards ceremony on February 6, 2020 in Houston when the finalists will present to an exclusive panel of healthcare executive judges."

No Texas companies were selected as finalists. The 11 selected startups are: New York-based Capital Rx, Minneapolis-based Carrot Health, San Francisco-based Cleo, Boston-based DynamiCare Health, San Francisco-based InsightRX, United Kingdom-based Lantum, Washington, D.C.-based Mira, Denver-based Orderly Health, New York City-based Paloma Health, St. Louis-based TCARE, and Seattle-based Xealth.

Houston area ranked the 18th best-paying city for software developers

Chart via heytutor.com

According to a new report from HeyTutor.com, the Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land metroplex is the 18th best-paying city for software developers. The report factored in salary and employment statistics for Houston and other U.S. metropolitan areas using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics.

Houston's mean adjusted software developer salary is $107,672 annually, according to the report. Here are some other interesting statistics regarding the Houston area from the data:

  • Mean software developer salary (adjusted): $107,672
  • Mean software developer salary (unadjusted): $109,503 — compared to $109,914 nationally
  • Mean salary across all occupations (unadjusted): $54,290 — compared to $51,960 nationally
  • Number of software developer jobs: 20,400 — compared to $51,960 nationally
  • Median home price: $205,600 — compared to $226,800 nationally

Business idea competition calls for applications

Photo courtesy of LILIE

The Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship has announced the applications for the 2020 H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge business idea competition, which will take place on March 25. On the line is $60,000 in prize money to the teams, and the applications are open to Rice-affiliated teams until 11:59 pm on January 20.

To apply, click here.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Texas nonprofit grants $68.5M to Houston organizations for recruitment, research

Three prominent institutions in Houston will be able to snag a trio of high-profile cancer researchers thanks to $12 million in new funding from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

The biggest recruitment award — $6 million — went to the University of Texas MD Anderson Center to lure researcher Xiling Shen away from the Terasaki Institute for Biomedical Innovation in Los Angeles.

Shen is chief scientific officer at the nonprofit Terasaki Institute. His lab there studies precision medicine, including treatments for cancer, from a “systems biology perspective.”

He also is co-founder and former CEO of Xilis, a Durham, North Carolina-based oncology therapy startup that raised $70 million in series A funding in 2021. Before joining the institute in 2021, the Stanford University graduate was an associate professor at Duke University in Durham.

Shen and Xilis aren’t strangers to MD Anderson.

In 2023, MD Anderson said it planned to use Xilis’ propriety MicroOrganoSphere (MOS) technology for development of novel cancer therapies.

“Our research suggests the MOS platform has the potential to offer new capabilities and to improve the efficiency of developing innovative drugs and cell therapies over current … models, which we hope will bring medicines to patients more quickly,” Shen said in an MD Anderson news release.

Here are the two other Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) awards that will bring noted cancer researchers to Houston:

  • $4 million to attract David Sarlah to Rice University from the University of Illinois, where he is an associate professor of chemistry. Sarlah’s work includes applying the principles of chemistry to creation of new cancer therapies.
  • $2 million to lure Vishnu Dileep to the Baylor College of Medicine from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he is a postdoctoral fellow. His work includes the study of cancer genomes.

CPRIT also handed out more than $56.5 million in grants and awards to seven institutions in the Houston area. Here’s the rundown:

  • MD Anderson Cancer Center — Nearly $25.6 million
  • Baylor College of Medicine — Nearly $11.5 million
  • University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston — More than $6 million
  • Rice University — $4 million
  • University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston — More than $3.5 million
  • Methodist Hospital Research Institute — More than $3.3 million
  • University of Houston — $1.4 million

Dr. Pavan Reddy, a CPRIT scholar who is a professor at the Baylor College of Medicine and director of its Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Care Center, says the CPRIT funding “will help our investigators take chances and explore bold ideas to make innovative discoveries.”

The Houston-area funding was part of nearly $99 million in grants and awards that CPRIT recently approved.

Houston space company's lunar lander touches down on the moon in historic mission

touchdown

A private lander on Thursday made the first U.S. touchdown on the moon in more than 50 years, but managed just a weak signal back until flight controllers scrambled to gain better contact.

Despite the spotty communication, Intuitive Machines, the company that built and managed the craft, confirmed that it had landed upright. But it did not provide additional details, including whether the lander had reached its intended destination near the moon’s south pole. The company ended its live webcast soon after identifying a lone, weak signal from the lander.

“What we can confirm, without a doubt, is our equipment is on the surface of the moon,” mission director Tim Crain reported as tension built in the company’s Houston control center.

Added Intuitive Machines CEO Steve Altemus: “I know this was a nail-biter, but we are on the surface and we are transmitting. Welcome to the moon.”

Data was finally starting to stream in, according to a company announcement two hours after touchdown.

The landing put the U.S. back on the surface for the first time since NASA’s famed Apollo moonwalkers.

Intuitive Machines also became the first private business to pull off a lunar landing, a feat achieved by only five countries. Another U.S. company, Astrobotic Technology, gave it a shot last month, but never made it to the moon, and the lander crashed back to Earth. Both companies are part of a NASA-supported program to kick-start the lunar economy.

Astrobotic was among the first to relay congratulations. “An incredible achievement. We can’t wait to join you on the lunar surface in the near future,” the company said via X, formerly Twitter.

Intuitive Machines “aced the landing of a lifetime,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson tweeted.

The final few hours before touchdown were loaded with extra stress when the lander's laser navigation system failed. The company's flight control team had to press an experimental NASA laser system into action, with the lander taking an extra lap around the moon to allow time for the last-minute switch.

With this change finally in place, Odysseus descended from a moon-skimming orbit and guided itself toward the surface, aiming for a relatively flat spot among all the cliffs and craters near the south pole.

As the designated touchdown time came and went, controllers at the company's command center anxiously awaited a signal from the spacecraft some 250,000 miles (400,000 kilometers) away. After close to 15 minutes, the company announced it had received a weak signal from the lander.

Launched last week, the six-footed carbon fiber and titanium lander — towering 14 feet (4.3 meters) — carried six experiments for NASA. The space agency gave the company $118 million to build and fly the lander, part of its effort to commercialize lunar deliveries ahead of the planned return of astronauts in a few years.

Intuitive Machines' entry is the latest in a series of landing attempts by countries and private outfits looking to explore the moon and, if possible, capitalize on it. Japan scored a lunar landing last month, joining earlier triumphs by Russia, U.S., China and India.

The U.S. bowed out of the lunar landscape in 1972 after NASA's Apollo program put 12 astronauts on the surface. Astrobotic of Pittsburgh gave it a shot last month, but was derailed by a fuel leak that resulted in the lander plunging back through Earth's atmosphere and burning up.

Intuitive Machines’ target was 186 miles (300 kilometers) shy of the south pole, around 80 degrees latitude and closer to the pole than any other spacecraft has come. The site is relatively flat, but surrounded by boulders, hills, cliffs and craters that could hold frozen water, a big part of the allure. The lander was programmed to pick, in real time, the safest spot near the so-called Malapert A crater.

The solar-powered lander was intended to operate for a week, until the long lunar night.

Besides NASA’s tech and navigation experiments, Intuitive Machines sold space on the lander to Columbia Sportswear to fly its newest insulating jacket fabric; sculptor Jeff Koons for 125 mini moon figurines; and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University for a set of cameras to capture pictures of the descending lander.