3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Eric Rubenstein of New Climate Ventures, Susan Davenport of Greater Houston Partnership, and Zimri T. Hinshaw of Bucha Bio. Courtesy photos

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from venture capital to sustainability — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.


Eric Rubenstein, founding managing partner of New Climate Ventures

Eric Rubenstein of New Climate Ventures joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the future of Houston as a clean energy hub. Photo courtesy of NCV

Houston has a big role to play in the energy transition, says Eric Rubenstein, a climatetech investor, on last week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"Houston's role (within the energy transition) is multifaceted," he explains. "We have a talent pool here that fits pretty well in climate tech, alternative materials, and other spaces. ...We have a customer base here that is going to adopt these new technologies."

Rubenstein founded New Climate Ventures to fund startups within the sustainability and climate tech space — which includes technologies that address circular economy, sustainably made materials, clean energy, and more. Click here to read more and stream the episode.

Susan Davenport, chief economic development officer for the Greater Houston Partnership

The Greater Houston Partnership's Susan Davenport shares details on Houston House at SXSW. Photo via houston.org

Last year, the Greater Houston Partnership created virtual content to shine a spotlight on Houston tech and innovation at SXSW. This year, the GHP is taking that same initiative in-person and in Austin. Susan Davenport, chief economic development officer at GHP, shared in a Q&A what people can expect fro Houston House at SXSW.

"Anyone who is interested in technology, commercial aerospace, life sciences, and how DEI traverses with these industries will find value in our rockstar lineup of industry leaders, investors, and startup founders," she says. "We hope to see young professionals, entrepreneurs, investors, and executives."

The activation runs Sunday, March 13, and Monday, March 14. Click here to read more.

Zimri T. Hinshaw, CEO of Bucha Bio

Bucha Bio has arrived to make an impact on the city of Houston. Image via LinkedIn

A sustainable fashion company has relocated to Houston. Bucha Bio, founded in 2019, creates in textiles and composite materials made from bacterial nanocellulose, a much more sustainable materials production, that can be used instead of animal leather, polyurethane, latex, vinyl, epoxy, and more. The company announced in a press release today that it's moving from New York City and opening a next-gen materials headquarters at the East End Maker Hub. Bucha Bio has also been accepted as a member company at Greentown Labs.

According to the release, over 20 locations were considered, and Houston stood out for its hiring potential, local universities, Texas's business-friendly regulation, and more.

“We’ve signed on senior scientists and their experiences from the oil and plastic industry are perfectly suited to biomaterials,” says Zimri T. Hinshaw, CEO of Bucha Bio, in the release. Click here to read more.

The Greater Houston Partnership's Susan Davenport shares details on Houston House at SXSW. Photo via houston.org

GHP introduces in-person Houston House for SXSW 2022

Q&A

Texas is just about two weeks away from SXSW's return to in-person activations and events since pre-pandemic times. The two-week conference includes conversations and activities within music, film, education, tech, and more. And this year, the Greater Houston Partnership is shining a spotlight on the Bayou City at the festival.

"With the return of the conference in person for the first time since 2019, we are thrilled to build on that momentum and host Houston House — a two-day activation featuring programming and networking opportunities for guests attending the conference," says Susan Davenport, chief economic development officer for the GHP.

Houston House, which first originated last year in digital form, will be held in Austin on Sunday, March 13, and Monday, March 14. Davenport shares more details on the activation in a Q&A with InnovationMap.

InnovationMap: Why did the Greater Houston Partnership decide to have a presence at SXSW this year?

Susan Davenport: As one of the premier tech conferences in the U.S., SXSW provides an incredible platform to promote Houston’s position as the most prominent emerging innovation hub in the country.

Houston was a featured partner at last year’s SXSW Online Conference, where the Partnership rallied innovative leaders from across the region for a series of virtual programming. With the return of the conference in person for the first time since 2019, we are thrilled to build on that momentum and host Houston House – a two-day activation featuring programming and networking opportunities for guests attending the conference.

With an expected attendance of 45,000 bright minds from around the globe, it’s the perfect venue to showcase Houston’s tech leadership and cultivate relationships that support the growth of our ecosystem.

IM: What can attendees expect from Houston House?

SD: This year’s activation will be held at the Line Hotel, an established SXSW venue in the heart of the action. Consistent with what attendees have come to expect from South by, Houston House will offer thought leadership programming featuring industry leaders and startup founders in a series of panel discussions on today’s most prominent topics in tech.

In addition to main stage programming, Houston House will also offer a lounge space that will serve as a landing pad for stakeholders and attendees to cultivate relationships. Each day of programming will conclude with a networking reception.

IM: The programming is geared around a few topics — what are some of these themes and how do they pertain to Houston innovation?

SD: On Sunday, March 13, our programming will be focus on topics like commercial aerospace, medical device innovation, cell therapy, and investment for diverse entrepreneurs. These panel sessions will showcase Houston’s leadership through the incredible work taking place at the Ion, Houston Spaceport, Johnson Space Center, and the Texas Medical Center.

On Monday, March 14, our programming will kick off the start of the SXSW Climate Change track and focus primarily on how Houston is leveraging its energy leadership to accelerate solutions for a low-carbon future. Topics will include VC investment in climate tech, corporate and startup partnerships, emerging low-carbon energy technologies, and ensuring an equitable energy transition.

Our full lineup of Houston House programming and speakers can be found online, along with an overview of the 2022 SXSW Conference.

IM: Who should stop by Houston House at SXSW?

SD: Anyone who is interested in technology, commercial aerospace, life sciences, and how DEI traverses with these industries will find value in our rockstar lineup of industry leaders, investors, and startup founders. We hope to see young professionals, entrepreneurs, investors, and executives.

For fellow Houstonians attending the conference, Houston House will serve as a home base to kick off your SXSW experience. For those who are not currently involved in our tech ecosystem, this will be the perfect opportunity to dive in and learn more about the amazing things taking place in our great region.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

A new report from the Greater Houston Partnership analyzes the city's startup ecosystem's banner year of VC activity. Photo via Getty Images

New analysis puts Houston's leap in venture capital investment in perspective

by the numbers

Houston-area startups raked in the cash last year, setting a record for the region’s annual tally of venture capital.

In 2021, Houston startups collected $2.02 billion in VC funding, according to a Greater Houston Partnership analysis of data from PitchBook. That’s up 175 percent from the $734.2 million raised in 2020.

Three startups (Solugen, HighRadius, and Lancium) accounted for more than $800 million of last year’s VC haul.

“This record year in venture capital funding for Houston companies is another important example of the positive momentum building around our innovation ecosystem,” says Susan Davenport, chief economic development officer for the Greater Houston Partnership.

“In just the last year alone, we saw the opening of The Ion, East End Maker Hub, Greentown Labs as well as the growth of other startup development organizations,” Davenport adds. “We also witnessed two of our startups — Solugen and Axiom Space — grow into unicorns, achieving a valuation of more than $1 billion. Add to this the expanded local presence of tech giants such as Microsoft, Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud, and it’s clear that Houston is rapidly building on its reputation as an innovation and technology hub.”

Here’s a breakdown of last year’s record-shattering year for VC in Houston.

Funding

  • $188.5 million in angel and seed funding, up 92.6 percent from $97.9 million in 2020.
  • $687.4 million in early-stage funding, up 361 percent from $149.1 million in 2020.
  • $1,144.3 billion in late-stage funding, up 134.9 percent from $487.3 million in 2020.

Deal volume

  • 219 deals, up 26.6 percent from up from 173 deals in 2020.
  • 122 angel and seed deals, up 9.9 percent from up from 111 deals in 2020.
  • 49 early-stage deals, up 58.1 percent from 31 deals in 2020.
  • 48 late-stage deals, up 54.8 percent from 31 deals in 2020.

Average deal size

$11.6 million average deal size, up 110.3 percent from $5.5 million in 2020.

Industries receiving the most VC in 2021

  • Information technology, $632.1 million.
  • Health care, $518.4 million.
  • Materials and resources, $426.5 million.

Serafina Lalany, executive director of Houston Exponential, told InnovationMap in January that tracking VC data offers her organization a metric for growth of the local innovation ecosystem.

“It gives us insights into the rate of capital that is deployed and how that’s growing over time and where it’s getting deployed. [It also] gives us the signal as to what our strengths are and the areas that we need to continue to build out infrastructure,” Lalany said.

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

Houston ranks as top spot for young professionals based on standard of living

moving to Houston

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.
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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

7+ can't-miss Houston business and innovation events in July

where to be

Houstonians are transitioning into a new summer month, and the city's business community is mixing in networking and conference events with family vacations and time off. Here's a rundown of what all to throw on your calendar for July when it comes to innovation-related events.

This article will be updated as more business and tech events are announced.

July 10 — Have a Nice Day Market at the Ion

Stop by for a one-of-a-kind vendor market - #HaveANiceDayHTX - taking place at the Ion, Houston's newest urban district and collaborative space that is designed to provide the city a place where entrepreneurial, corporate, and academic communities can come together. Free to attend and free parking onsite.

Have a Nice Day is a creative collective with a goal of celebrating BIPOC makers, creators, and causes.

The event is Sunday, July 10, 4 to 8 pm, at The Ion. Click here to register.

July 12 — One Houston Together Webinar Series

In the first installment of the Partnership's One Houston Together webinar series, we will discuss supplier diversity an often underutilized resource for business. What is it and why is it important? How can supplier diversity have long-term impact on your business, help strengthen your supply chain, and make a positive community impact?

The event is Tuesday, July 12, noon to 1 pm, online. Click here to register.

July 14 — Investor Speaker Series: Both Sides of the Coin

In the next installment of Greentown Labs' Investor Speaker Series, sit down with two Greentown founders and their investors as they talk about their experiences working together before, during, and after an equity investment was made in the company. Attendees will get a behind-the-scenes look at one of the most important relationships in a startup’s journey and what best practices both founders and investors can follow to keep things moving smoothly.

The event is Thursday, July 14, 1 to 2:30 pm, online. Click here to register.

July 15 — SBA Funding Fair

Mark Winchester, the Deputy District Director for the Houston District Office of the U.S. Small Business Administration, will give a short intro of the programs the mentors will discuss. There will be three government guaranteed loan mentors and two to three mentors co-mentoring with remote SBIR experts.

The event is Friday, July 15, 10:30 am to 1 pm, at The Cannon - West Houston. Click here to register.

July 16 — Bots and Bytes: Family STEAM Day

Join the Ion for a hands-on learning experience to learn about tech and robotics and gain insight into the professional skills and concepts needed to excel in a robotics or tech career. This event will be tailored for 9-14-year-olds for a fun STEM experience.

The event is Saturday, July 16, 10 am to 1 pm, at The Ion. Click here to register.

July 19 — How to Start a Startup

You have an idea...now what? Before you start looking for funding, it's important to make sure that your idea is both viable and valuable -- if it doesn't have a sound model and a market willing to pay for it, investors won't be interested anyway.

The event is Tuesday, July 19, 5:30 to 7:30 pm, at The Ion. Click here to register.

July 20 — Perfecting Your Pitch

Join the Ion for their series with DeckLaunch and Fresh Tech Solutionz as they discuss the importance and value of your pitch deck when reaching your target audience.

The event is Wednesday, July 20, 5:30 to 6:30 pm, at The Ion. Click here to register.

July 21 — Transition On Tap: Investor Readiness with Vinson & Elkins LLP

Attorneys from Greentown Labs’ Gigawatt Partner Vinson & Elkins LLP, a leading fund- and company-side advisor for clean energy financing, will present an overview of legal considerations in cleantech investing, geared especially toward early-stage companies and investors. The presentation will cover the types of investors and deals in the cleantech space and also provide background on negotiating valuation, term sheets, and preparing for diligence.

The event is Thursday, July 21, 5 to 7 pm, at Greentown Houston. Click here to register.

July 28 — The Cannon Community 2nd Annual Town Hall Event

Partner of The Cannon, Baker Tilly, has played an integral part in the success of Cannon member companies. Join the Cannon community for The Cannon's 5-year anniversary celebration!

The event is Thursday, July 28, 4 to 7 pm, at The Cannon - West Houston. Click here to register.

Texas-based dating app sponsors 50 female athletes to honor 50 years of Title IX

teaming up

Bumble is causing a buzz once again, this time for collegiate women athletes. Founded by recent Texas Business Hall of Fame inductee Whitney Wolfe Herd, the Austin-based and female-first dating and social networking app this week announced a new sponsorship for 50 collegiate women athletes with NIL (name, image, and likeness) deals in honor of the 50th anniversary of Title IX.

Established in 1972, the federal law prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or other education program or activity that receives federal money. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, the number of women in collegiate athletics has increased significantly since Title IX, from 15 percent to 44 percent.

That said, equity continues to lag in many ways, specifically for BIPOC women who make up only 14 percent of college athletes. The findings also share that men have approximately 60,000 more collegiate sports opportunities than women, despite the fact that women make up a larger portion of the collegiate population.

With this in mind, Bumble’s new sponsorship seeks to support “a wealth of overlooked women athletes around the country,” according to the beehive’s official 50for50 program page.

“We're embarking on a yearlong sponsorship of 50 remarkable women, with equal pay amounts across all 50 NIL (name, image, and likeness) contracts,” says the website. “The inaugural class of athletes are a small representation of the talented women around the country who diligently — and often without recognition — put in the work on a daily basis.”

To celebrate the launch of the program, Bumble partnered with motion graphic artist Marlene “Motion Mami” Marmolejos to create a custom video and digital trading cards that each athlete will post on their personal social media announcing their sponsorship.

“These sponsorships are an exciting step in empowering and spotlighting a diverse range of some of the most remarkable collegiate women athletes from across the country. Athletes who work just as hard as their male counterparts, and should be seen and heard,” says Christina Hardy, Bumble’s director of talent and influencer, in a separate release. “In honor of the 50th anniversary of Title IX, we are so proud to stand alongside these women and are looking forward to celebrating their many achievements throughout the year.”

“Partnering with Bumble and announcing this campaign on the anniversary of Title IX is very special,” said Alexis Ellis, a track and field athlete. “I am grateful for the progress that has been made for women in sports, and am proud to be part of Bumble’s ’50for50’ to help continue moving the needle and striving for more. I look forward to standing alongside so many incredible athletes for this campaign throughout the year.”

“I am so grateful to team up with Bumble and stand alongside these incredible athletes on this monumental anniversary,” said Haleigh Bryant a gymnast. “Many women continue to be overlooked in the world of sports, and I am excited to be part of something that celebrates, and shines a light on, the hard work, tenacity, and accomplishments of so many great athletes.”

Last year, the NCAA announced an interim policy that all current and incoming student athletes could profit off their name, image, and likeness, according to the law of the state where the school is located, for the first time in collegiate history.

The 50for50 initiative adds to Bumble’s previous multi-year investments in sports. In 2019, Bumble also launched a multi-year partnership with global esports organization Gen.G to create Team Bumble, the all-women professional esports team.

To see the 50for50 athletes, visit the official landing page.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.