Houston adds yet another feather to its cap and has been recognized as the best place to be after graduating college. Photo via Getty Images

Recruiting talent in the Houston area? Might want to share this tidbit of information.

A new study by two California researchers names Houston as the No. 1 place among the country’s 50 largest spots for college graduates to enjoy the highest standard of living. Why? Because, the study says, “local income is relatively high, cost of living is moderate, and there are no state taxes.”

Among places of all sizes, the study ranks Houston second in terms of the standard of living for college graduates. McAllen nabs the No. 1 spot, followed by Houston; Huntington, West Virginia; Beaumont; and Charleston, South Carolina.

In December, job website Indeed named Houston one of the 10 best cities in 2022 for recent college graduates. The 10 cities offer “many outstanding entry-level positions in a range of industries,” Indeed says.

More good news for Houston: The study ranks puts it at No. 2 (behind Buffalo, New York) among the 50 largest places in the U.S. for providing the highest standard of living for high school graduates.

According to the study, the five places with the highest standard of living for those with a high school diploma are Gallup, New Mexico; Summersville, West Virginia; Natchez, Mississippi; Graham, a town in North Texas; and Marquette, Michigan.

The study characterizes Houston and other regions as “commuter zones.” Each zone encompasses urban, suburban, and rural areas that feed into a single labor market.

As NPR explains, the researchers — Stanford University economist Rebecca Diamond and University of California, Berkeley economist Enrico Moretti — spent four years assembling and crunching data about the finances of 3 million U.S. households to come up with their findings.

“With their treasure trove of data, Diamond and Moretti constructed a cost-of-living index that paints a vivid picture of prices and typical consumption patterns throughout the United States,” NPR says.

That index puts Houston in a good light when it comes to the standard of living for both high school and college graduates.

“When we look at the factors that go into where a person chooses to live and work, overall standard of living and quality of life are critical components,” says Susan Davenport, chief economic development officer at the Greater Houston Partnership. “Houston today offers abundant parks and green spaces with millions of dollars in new investments, a world-class arts and culinary scene that continues to grow in global awareness, and the lowest cost of living among major cities.”

These combined attributes create a quality of life that enables Houston employers to attract and retain a highly skilled workforce, Davenport says. This, in turn, helps Houston woo employers seeking access to that workforce.

“It’s a robust and thriving ecosystem,” she says, “and it continues to work to our advantage.”

Venture Houston brought together key innovators and investors focused on Houston — here's what they said. Photo via Getty Images

Overheard: Here's what experts say on the future of startup investment in Houston

eavesdropping in houston

Last week, over 2,500 people registered to Venture Houston to talk about startups and venture capital in Houston for two full days.

The two-day conference, which was put on by HXVF, the Houston Angel Network, the Rice Alliance, and Houston Exponential, took place February 4th and 5th and brought together startups, investors, corporations, and anyone who cares to advance the Houston tech ecosystem.

Click here to see what companies won big in the event's startup pitch competition.

Throughout the various panels and keynote addresses, Houston innovation leaders sounded off on what the future of Houston looks like in terms of venture activity. Missed the discussion or just want a refresher on on the highlights? Here are some significant overheard moments from the virtual conference.

“The way I look at it, Houston has an opportunity to really emerge as one of the leading startup cities in the country.”

Steve Case, chairman and CEO of Revolution Ventures and co-founder of AOL.

He makes a reference to the iconic line "Houston, we have a problem" — which now is defined by a time of opportunity. Case adds that his VC fund, Revolution, which has invested in Houston-based GoodFair, is looking for new investments in Houston.

“We were behind. We were slow to start, but in typical Houston fashion, now we are escalating with real momentum."

Amy Chronis, Houston managing partner of Deloitte and 2021 Greater Houston Partnership board chair.

Chronis notes on the fact that VC activity in Houston is up 250 percent since 2016, and in that time the city has focused on diversifying its business. Now, the city touts its active corporate community, global diversity, and more.

"In Houston, companies and talent are looking at ways to change the world," she adds.

“I see there being a significant amount of seed capital taking off.”

Stephanie Campbell, managing director of the Houston Angel Network and The Artemis Fund.

Campbell calls out new funds to Houston, like Golden Section Ventures and her own fund, Artemis. She adds that with over $700 million invested in Houston deals last year, the city is in a good place, and she is anticipating more angel activity.

"While this is really exciting progress, there's still a lot of work to be done in terms of seed and early-stage funding," she continues.

“I see there being billion-dollar venture funds here in Houston on the life science front over the next decade.”

John "JR" Reale, managing director of Integr8d Capital.

Reale, who's also the executive in residence at TMC Innovation, says he's seen the growth and potential of the life science industry in Houston.

"You can see the intentionality of the infrastructure that's being built that's going to attract diverse founders and all talent," he says.

“What I really see is the trajectory for Houston has been changing over the last couple years.”

Brad Burke, managing director for the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship.

Burke points to three things that have really moved the needle on Houston's progress as an innovative city. The first was the Texas Medical Center establishing its Innovation Institute a few years back, and the next is how Houston's top energy companies are making big moves to support the energy transition. Finally, he says, The Ion, which is set to open this year, is the third reflection point for progress.

“The Houston startup scene is a very special place. It’s a community I actively choose to be a part of, and it activates me every day.”

Rakesh Agrawal, CEO and founder of SnapStream.

“We’ve got a really incredible story to tell.”

Susan Davenport, senior vice president of economic development for the GHP.

Davenport adds that this is exactly what the GHP is doing — making Houston's story known. And she says they have talked to global business leaders and they describe the city as a modern, cosmopolitan, truly global city.

Greentown Houston has revealed what it will look like in the new Houston Innovation District. Graphic courtesy of Greentown

Greentown Houston shares progress on Midtown building and adds new corporate partners

seeing green

Construction is underway on the Bayou City's first-ever clean tech incubator known as Greentown Houston.

Via a virtual ceremony on Feb 2, Mayor Sylvester Turner and a team from Massachusetts-based Greentown Labs revealed what the massive space in the new innovation district will look and feel like from the outside in.

The building's exterior will be painted grey and will be flocked by verdant green accents and foliage. According to a statement, Greentown Houston is also working with the Houston Arts Alliance to create a large mural by a local artist on the east side of the building.

The 40,000-square-foot interior — though still very much a construction zone today — will also incorporate Greentown's signature use of the color green in its designs in a bright, airy, and modern setting. A sleek gathering place and entryway will reside under a towering atrium from the building's past life as a Fiesta Mart, while ample square footage leaves room for prototyping and wet lab space, offices, and community gathering areas for about 50 startup companies working to solve climate and environmental challenges.

The Greentown space is being built out from a former grocery store. Photo courtesy of Greentown

"We are the energy capital of the world and we are very proud of it," says Turner. "We plan to lead energy transition and we are very proud of that."

"Last year, we released our first-ever Climate Action Plan, and we believe organizations like Greentown Labs, its impressive network of partners, and climatech entrepreneurs will help us achieve the ambitious goals outlined in the plan," he added.

Greentown Lab first announced its entrance into the Houston market last summer. It currently operates a similar 100,000-square-foot lab outside of Boston and boasts partnerships with some of the largest energy companies in the world.

At the ceremony, the organizations announced that CenterPoint Energy, Gexa Energy of NextEra Energy Resources, EIV Capital, Wells Fargo, and Williams have come on board as foundation and grand opening partners.

The 14 inaugural partners were announced last year and include Chevron, NRG Energy and Reliant Energy, Shell, BHP, Vinson & Elkins, Microsoft, ENGIE North America Inc., Rice Management Company, Saint-Gobain, Sunnova Energy International Inc., The American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Impact, SCF Partners; Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. and Direct Energy.

Greentown Houston is also a member of the Greater Houston Partnership.

"We are thrilled to join Greentown Houston to celebrate this critical step forward in their much-anticipated expansion with the addition of these new partners," says Susan Davenport, chief economic development officer with the Greater Houston Partnership. "These organizations, and the expertise and resources they bring, join a thriving ecosystem built of major corporate energy R&D centers, corporate venture arms, and VC-backed energy startups. We are eagerly anticipating Greentown Houston's official opening."

Greentown Houston is slated to open this spring. The incubator has accepted 16 inaugural startups and is looking to bring more on board.

Greentown Labs,the City of Houston, and the Greater Houston Partnership will also be hosting a public, virtual preview of the new space at 4 p.m. on Thursday, February 4. Interested parties can register for the free EnergyBar event here.
Houston has been recognized as a city with high potential for global business. Photo by Tim Leviston/Getty Images

Houston ranked among world's top cities of the future for global business

we're no. 3

When it comes to global cities on track for continued global business success, Houston comes in third on a prestigious list recently released.

The new fDi Tier 2 Cities of the Future 2020/21 evaluated second tier cities — defined as non-capital cities with a population under eight million.

Last year, Houston ranked in the No. 5 position. This year, the city moved up in the ranking and held the No. 3 spot for human capital and lifestyle and the No. 7 spot for economic growth potential.

"This ranking is further evidence of Houston's place among the world's great global cities," says Susan Davenport, chief economic development officer for the Greater Houston Partnership, in a news release. "Houston today competes at a higher level than ever before when it comes to foreign direct investment and our business ties to cities and countries around the world.

"With superior global access, a business-friendly climate, exceptional quality of life and a highly educated workforce, Houston is well positioned to continue to build on that momentum in the years ahead."

San Francisco came in at No. 1 on the list and Montreal ranked as No. 2. Austin and Dallas made the top 20 at No. 11 and No. 19, respectively. The report evaluated 116 data points across the five categories: economic potential, cost effectiveness, business friendliness, connectivity, and human capital and lifestyle.

"Houston is a remarkable city, and we are proud to be recognized as one of the world's best cities for foreign direct investment. We are the energy capital of the world, alongside the largest medical center, the Port of Houston, two world-class airports, and a growing innovation ecosystem," says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in the release.

"Houston is also the most diverse city in the U.S. with one in four residents born abroad. The report is also a recognition of our work with community partners over the last five years to build a more livable city. We offer world-class education, art, and culture in addition to our standing as a global business leader."

According to a report, Houston lost over 3,000 innovation jobs between 2005 and 2017. Joe Daniel Price/Getty Images

Houston sees a decline in innovation jobs, according to a new report

Taking the "L"

You've heard of brain drain, the phenomenon of well-educated, highly skilled workers fleeing a geographic area for better opportunities elsewhere. It appears Houston is grappling with a different workforce affliction: innovation drain.

Houston is among several major business hubs in the U.S. — including Dallas-Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. — where tech-dependent "innovation" jobs evaporated from 2005 to 2017, according to report released December 9 by the Brookings Institution think tank and the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation. At those cities' expense, innovation jobs have clustered in Boston, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, and San Diego. Those five metro areas accounted for more than 90 percent of job growth in the innovation sector from 2005 to 2017, researchers found.

Today, one-third of innovation jobs in the U.S. are located in just 16 counties, and more than half are concentrated in 41 counties, according to the report.

The report shows the Houston metro area lost 3,281 tech-oriented innovation jobs during that period. Dallas-Fort Worth lost even more (8,969), while the Austin metro area gained 1,200 and the San Antonio metro area picked up 1,472.

Houston's loss represents a slippage of 0.2 percent in the region's share of innovation jobs in the U.S., the report notes. On a percentage basis, DFW sustained an even greater loss (0.5 percent), while Austin's share declined 0.1 percent and San Antonio's didn't budge.

On the positive side, Houston ranked 14th for its sheer number of innovation jobs, with Dallas-Fort Worth at No. 7 and Austin at No. 16. They were among 20 "superstar" metro areas singled out in the report.

In the report, researchers classify innovation jobs as those in 13 R&D-heavy sectors, including aerospace, computer manufacturing, chemical production, and telecom. While the 13 innovation segments account for only 3 percent of U.S. jobs, they represent 6 percent of the country's economic output (GDP), one-fourth of exports, and two-thirds of corporate R&D expenditures, the report says.

Responding to the Brookings analysis, Susan Davenport, senior vice president of economic development at the Greater Houston Partnership, notes the Houston area employs about 150,000 tech workers, many of whom are employed outside the 13 innovation industries mentioned in the report. In fact, she adds, Houston boasts the highest share of tech workers at non-tech companies among the country's 20 largest metro areas.

"That said, we recognize the need to build Houston's digital tech presence, an area where we have traditionally lagged," Davenport tells InnovationMap.

Houston is making headway on that front, though. Davenport cites the expansion of Microsoft Corp.'s local operations, the recent opening of Bill.com's Houston office, and the rise of three Houston entrepreneurship initiatives — The Ion, TMC3, and The Cannon — as examples of this progress.

"Houston continues to gain recognition as a leading tech city," Davenport says. "The region cleared $500 million in venture capital funding this year, a new high for Houston, and tech-related employment continues to grow within the energy industry. We continue working with our partners to grow Houston's innovation ecosystem and are excited for the great momentum in this area."

Investor and entrepreneur Harvin Moore, president of Houston Exponential, a nonprofit that promotes startups and innovation, acknowledges the region's historical lack of focus on the innovation economy contributed to Amazon bypassing Houston as a finalist in 2018 for the e-commerce giant's second headquarters. Despite that harsh reality, Moore says the Brookings report fails to take into account innovation jobs embedded in sectors like Houston's massive energy industry.

"That data issue will always penalize a city with a large energy sector until it is corrected," Moore says. "And as we know, the energy sector is starting to innovate rapidly, as it must. And that innovation draws more employees to those companies and to Houston."

Houston's ready for the artificial intelligence revolution. Yuichiro Chino/Getty Images

Houston ranks among the top cities ready for the rise of artificial intelligence

Ready for it

How ready is Houston for the rise of artificial intelligence? More ready than you might think.

In the recently released Global Cities' AI Readiness Index, Houston ranks ninth in the world among large cities (those with 5 million to million residents). Singapore topped the large-city list; Dallas appeared at No. 8.

"The age of technology is here, and we cannot afford to sit idle," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says in a recent release. "We must leap, not stroll, into the future."

The Oliver Wyman Forum, part of management consulting firm Oliver Wyman, based its AI ranking on surveys of residents and leaders in 105 global cities, along with a review of publicly available socioeconomic data. The group says its goal in compiling the ranking was to "start a data-informed conversation about how to address the very real opportunities and challenges of AI disruption."

"Houston has been working diligently over the past several years to grow a robust digital tech ecosystem," says Susan Davenport, senior vice president of economic development at the Greater Houston Partnership. "Previously, most surveys ranked Houston in the 30s in this area. When we see ourselves ranked ninth among large global cities and U.S. metros in AI readiness, it's a positive signal of our trajectory."

Signs of Houston's trajectory in the AI universe abound:

"When you think about Houston's core industries like energy, life sciences, and manufacturing, these are all data-intensive businesses that are ripe for disruption by AI and other digital technologies," Davenport says. "There is significant activity with AI already happening in the market, but I think we're still early on the growth curve, with a great deal of upside potential."

A recent search of job website LinkedIn found more than 200 AI-focused jobs available in the Houston area at employers like Shell, Accenture, Deloitte, Capgemini, HP, and EY.

Over the past year, the Greater Houston Partnership has led several trips to Silicon Valley to meet with companies involved in AI, cloud computing, and other technologies that enable businesses to harness the power of data.

"We are finding these innovative companies are very interested in tapping into the customer base here in Houston," Davenport says, "and we expect to see growth in this sector to continue over the next few years."

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3 businesses join Houston initiative for carbon capture and storage

seeing green

Three big businesses — Air Liquide, BASF, and Shell — have added their firepower to the effort to promote large-scale carbon capture and storage for the Houston area’s industrial ecosystem.

These companies join 11 others that in 2021 threw their support behind the initiative. Participants are evaluating how to use safe carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology at Houston-area facilities that provide energy, power generation, and advanced manufacturing for plastics, motor fuels, and packaging.

Other companies backing the CCS project are Calpine, Chevron, Dow, ExxonMobil, INEOS, Linde, LyondellBasell, Marathon Petroleum, NRG Energy, Phillips 66, and Valero.

Business and government leaders in the Houston area hope the region can become a hub for CCS activity.

“Large-scale carbon capture and storage in the Houston region will be a cornerstone for the world’s energy transition, and these companies’ efforts are crucial toward advancing CCS development to achieve broad scale commercial impact,” Charles McConnell, director of University of Houston’s Center for Carbon Management in Energy, says in a news release.

McConnell and others say CCS could help Houston and the rest of the U.S. net-zero goals while generating new jobs and protecting current jobs.

CCS involves capturing carbon dioxide from industrial activities that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and then injecting it into deep underground geologic formations for secure and permanent storage. Carbon dioxide from industrial users in the Houston area could be stored in nearby onshore and offshore storage sites.

An analysis of U.S Department of Energy estimates shows the storage capacity along the Gulf Coast is large enough to store about 500 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is equivalent to more than 130 years’ worth of industrial and power generation emissions in the United States, based on 2018 data.

“Carbon capture and storage is not a single technology, but rather a series of technologies and scientific breakthroughs that work in concert to achieve a profound outcome, one that will play a significant role in the future of energy and our planet,” says Gretchen Watkins, U.S. president of Shell. “In that spirit, it’s fitting this consortium combines CCS blueprints and ambitions to crystalize Houston’s reputation as the energy capital of the world while contributing to local and U.S. plans to help achieve net-zero emissions.”

Texas doctor dives into Shark Tank with invention that stops hiccups

shark bait

Humans are weird. Take, as a perfect example, the phenomenon of hiccups — the sudden and involuntary spasm of the diaphragm muscle between regular breaths. All humans experience them, and so do other mammals and even amphibians. But we’re guessing other animals don’t approach treating hiccups in the wacky ways humans do.

For instance, some less-than-successful hiccup remedies of lore include sipping water upside down (and subsequently trying to not drown), holding one’s breath for a long time (and often hiccupping throughout the hold anyway), sucking on a peppermint, gagging oneself or pulling on the tongue, and even gobbling up a spoonful of peanut butter to help change the breathing and swallowing pattern.

The truth is those ideas are mostly a waste of breath. Luckily, one San Antonio doctor has invented a device that supposedly instantly relieves hiccups — and his invention is getting so much attention that he’s even hooked a chance to pitch the product on a new episode of ABC’s entrepreneurial-focused reality show, Shark Tank.

Dr. Ali Seifi, a neurointensivist at UT Health San Antonio and the inventor of the aptly named HiccAway, will appear on an episode of Shark Tank that airs tonight, January 21 at 7 pm.

HiccAway, a straw-like device that a hiccup sufferer uses to sip water through, is likely to wow the sharks — maybe even take their breath away? — as it is the world’s first scientifically proven medical product that safely relieves hiccups.

In fact, HiccAway was recently the subject of an article in JAMA Network Open, a publication of the Journal of the American Medical Association Network. The article addresses a four-month cross-sectional study of 249 participants from multiple countries that found that HiccAway stopped hiccups in almost 92 percent of cases and was rated a heck of a lot more favorably than home remedies.

“I believe that the science behind our product is what makes our product trustworthy and reliable. There are many hiccup remedies that are all hit and miss with no exact science to them,” Seifi says. “Some healthcare products claim they can cure a medical condition, but they don’t have scientific backup to support the product. I can confidently state that HiccAway is one of the few products on Shark Tank so far with a strong published research study as a backup.”

While hiccups are simply an annoyance for most of us, they can also be chronic for patients with cancer, meningitis, multiple sclerosis, stroke, traumatic brain or thoracic injury, and even for patients who have had surgery that requires anesthesia.

“After I witnessed my own neurology patients suffering from hiccups without an effective treatment, I was inspired to develop a safe and effective device that would be simple to use and easily available to all people,” Seifi says. “When you forcefully sip water through the device, it keeps the phrenic and vagus nerves occupied, so they don’t have enough time to cause unwanted spasms in the diaphragm. This interruption stops the hiccups.”

While the HiccAway device is already available to purchase through hiccaway.com and on Amazon, as well as at walmart.com and even in H-E-B stores throughout South Texas and at heb.com, Shark Tank (which boasts a viewing audience of about 7 million) could propel HiccAway and Seifi into a new realm of entrepreneurial success.

“For me, the experience was surreal,” says Victor Fehlberg, president and CEO of Higher Innovations Inc., which manufactures and distributes HiccAway from the Denver area. “It took so long to prepare, so much time was spent waiting, that when the pitch and appearance were finally recorded, it went too fast. It was like I was dreaming because it had been so long in the making.”

The Shark Tank appearance is likely a dream come true for Seifi and the HiccAway team — and a total breath of fresh air for the hiccup-suffering public.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.