Podcast: The Houston founder's guide to navigating SXSW 2024

houston innovators podcast episode 227

Headed to SXSW? Here's what you need to know. Photo courtesy of SXSW

Tens of thousands of people are descending upon Austin for SXSW — many of whom are ambitious startup founders. For Houston entrepreneurs, there's a lot to consider before heading down the street to Austin, and Marc Nathan can help.

The native Houstonian, who works with startups as senior director of market development at Michael Best and is based in Austin, has attended the conference for over 20 years. Every year, he assembles a comprehensive SXSW guide including round up of must-attend events, tips, and more.

He joined the Houston Innovators Podcast this week to provide his thoughts on how Houston founders can make the most of the tech-focused Interactive track — or the unofficial experiences taking place around Austin.

"You do not need a badge to enjoy and get the most out of SXSW," Nathan says, explaining that having a badge is ideal for a first timer experience. "For struggling founders who are typically broke, if you can swing the travel to get to Austin — getting here, staying here, and eating here, which are all not very cheap to start with — if you can swing that, then a badge is not that critical."

He also reminds founders that getting an invite to speak on a panel, pitch in the competition, or volunteering can score you a free or discounted badge.

On the show, Nathan shares more tips — from registering to everything you're even remotely interested in to making sure you have on your comfiest walking shoes and bring your external phone charger — on the podcast, but explains that there's really one big mistake new SXSW attendees should avoid.

"The biggest mistake I see year after year — and it's really an entrepreneur problem — but don't be too sales-y. Listen before you talk," Nathan says. "Everybody at SX is going to get it — they are going to understand the language you're speaking. It's not like explaining what your startup is to your 80-year-old grandmother. But you gotta give them a reason and a way to help you."

Headed out to SXSW? Here are a few Houston-focused events to attend.

March 9 - A $20 Trillion Challenge: Financing the Energy Transition (badge required)

A couple of Houstonians join the panel of a topic that is very prevalent in the energy capital of the world: funding of the energy transition. Juliana Garaizar joins the conversation on Saturday, March 9, at 4 pm.

March 10 - How NASA Supports Startups and Individuals to Collaborate on its Mission (badge required)

Last month, a Houston tech company launched a lunar lander in collaboration with NASA — and that's just one of countless examples of NASA's work with tech and startup companies. Join NASA for a panel discussing innovative partnerships on Sunday, March 10, at 4 pm.

March 11 - Houston House @ SXSW 2024 (badge required)

On Monday, March 11, at the LINE Hotel, the Greater Houston Partnership is hosting four panels and a happy hour. More info on the full-day event, which features over a dozen Houston-based experts, startup founders, and more, is available online.

March 12 - Women in VC Breakfast (registration required)

Houston Women in VC and Austin Women in VC are teaming up to host a breakfast with partners JP Morgan Chase and Born Global Ventures for all the female investors headed to SXSW on Tuesday, March 12, at 9 am. Request your registration online.

PHIOGEN, based at Texas Medical Center Innovation, is headed to Austin next month. Photo courtesy of TMC

Houston biotech startup selected to pitch at SXSW

austin bound

Houston biotech startup PHIOGEN is among 45 finalists that will present at this year’s SXSW Pitch showcase in Austin.

PHIOGEN is one of five food, nutrition, and health startups that will participate in the pitch competition, set for March 9 and 10. A panel of judges will listen to the pitches and then pick the winners. Since 2009, SXSW Pitch finalists have raised more than $23.2 billion in funding.

PHIOGEN has developed the world’s first biogenetics technology platform to harness the power of bacteriophages in the fight against serious drug-resistant infections. Bacteriophages — viruses that are found in bacterial cells — “are ubiquitous in the environment and are recognized as the most abundant biological agent on earth,” according to an article published in 2022 by StatPearls.

Founded in 2023, PHIOGEN is a spinoff of the Baylor College of Medicine’s TAILOR Labs. The startup, based at the Texas Medical Center’s Innovation Hub, has attracted more than $5 million in funding.

“Nothing about our treatments is fabricated; it boils down to creating natural environments that mimic real-life infections, driving biological changes to create ‘super phages’ against the superbugs,” Amanda Burkardt, CEO of PHIOGEN, said in 2023. “As a result, we receive high-performing phage fighters that are trained and ready to deliver safe and effective treatments for clinical applications.”

Professional services firm KPMG is the main sponsor of SXSW Pitch.

Six of this year’s SXSW Pitch judges are from Houston:

  • Heath Butler of Mercury Fund
  • Jesse Martinez of LSA Global
  • Trevor Purvis of the Houston Astros
  • Anu Puvvada of KPMG
  • Irene Tang of StartOut
  • Nate Thompson of HTX Sports Tech

“2024 is an exciting year for startups, and we are looking forward to showcasing these inspiring companies that are making waves in their respective industries and the world as a whole, as well as help connect them with the resources needed to continue advancing,” says Chris Valentine, producer of SXSW Pitch.

Gaurab Chakrabarti, the CEO and co-founder of Solugen, shared his entrepreneurial journey on the SXSW stage this year. Photo courtesy of the Greater Houston Partnership

7 lessons from a Houston-based unicorn startup founder

taking notes

At a fireside chat at SXSW, a Houston founder pulled back the curtain on his entrepreneurial journey that's taken him from an idea of how to make the chemicals industry more sustainable to a company valued at over $2 billion.

Gaurab Chakrabarti, the CEO and co-founder of Solugen, joined the Greater Houston Partnership's Houston House at SXSW on Monday, March 13, for a discussion entitled, "Building a Tech Unicorn." In the conversation with Payal Patel, principal of Softeq Ventures, he share the trials and tribulations from the early days of founding Solugen. The company, which has raised over $600 million since its founding in 2016, has an innovative and carbon negative process of creating plant-derived substitutes for petroleum-based products.

The event, which quickly reached capacity with eager SXSW attendees, allowed Chakrabarti to instill advice on several topics — from early customer acquisition and navigating VC investing to finding the right city to grow in and setting up a strong company culture.

Here are seven pieces of startup advice from Chakrabarti's talk.

1. Don’t be near a black hole.

Chakrabarti began his discussion addressing the good luck he's had standing up Solugen. He's the first to admit that luck is an important element to his success, but he says, as a founder, you can set yourself up for luck in a handful of ways.

“You do make your own luck, but you have to be putting in the work to do it," Chakrabarti says, adding that it's not an easy thing to accomplish. “There are things you can be doing to increase your luck surface area."

One of the principals he notes on is not surrounding yourself with black holes. These are people who don't believe in your idea, or your ability to succeed, Chakrabarti explains, referencing a former dean who said he was wasting his talent on his idea for Solugen.

2. The co-founder dynamic is the most important thing.

Early on, Chakrabarti emphasizes how important having a strong co-founder relationship is, crediting Solugen's co-founder and CTO Sean Hunt for being his "intellectual ping-pong partner."

“If you have a co-founder, that is the thing that’s going to make or break your company,” he says. “It’s not your idea, and it’s not your execution — it’s your relationship with your co-founder.”

Hunt and Chakrabarti have been friends for 12 years, Chakrabarti says, and, that foundation and the fact that they've been passionate about their product since day one, has been integral for Solugen's success.

"We had a conviction that we were building something that could be impactful to the rest of the world," he says.

3. Confirm a market of customers early on.

Chakrabarti says that in the early days of starting his company, he didn't have a concept of startup accelerators or other ways to access funding — he just knew he had to get customers to create revenue as soon as possible.

He learned about the growing float spa industry, and how a huge cost for these businesses was peroxide that was used to sanitize the water in the floating pods. Chakrabarti and Hunt had created a small amount of what they were calling bioperoxide that they could sell at a cheaper cost to these spas and still pocket a profit.

“We ended up owning 80 percent of the float spa market,” Chakrabarti says. “That taught us that, ‘wow, there’s something here.”

While it was unglamourous work to call down Texas float spas, his efforts secured Solugen's first 100 or so customers and identified a path to profitability early on.

“Find your niche market that allows you to justify that your technology or product that has a customer basis,” Chakrabarti says on the lesson he learned through this process.

4. Find city-company fit.

While Chakrabarti has lived in Houston most of his life, the reason Solugen is headquartered in Houston is not due to loyalty of his hometown.

In fact, Chakrabarti shared a story of how a potential seed investor asked Chakrabarti and Hunt to move their company to the Bay Area, and the co-founders refused the offer and the investment.

“There’s no way our business could succeed in the Bay Area," Chakrabarti says. He and Hunt firmly believed this at the time — and still do.

“For our business, if you look at the density of chemical engineers, the density of our potential customers, and the density of people who know how to do enzyme engineering, Houston happened to be that perfect trifecta for us," he explains.

He argues that every company — software, hardware, etc. — has an opportunity to find their ideal city-company fit, something that's important to its success.

5. Prove your ability to execute.

When asked about pivots, Chakrabarti told a little-known story of how Solugen started a commercial cleaning brand. The product line was called Ode to Clean, and it was marketed as eco-friendly peroxide wipes. At the time, Solugen was just three employees, and the scrappy team was fulfilling orders and figuring out consumer marketing for the first time.

He says his network was laughing at the idea of Chakrabarti creating this direct-to-consumer cleaning product, and it was funny to him too, but the sales told another story.

At launch, they sold out $1 million of inventory in one week. But that wasn't it.

“Within three months, we got three acquisition offers," Chakrabarti says.

The move led to a brand acquisition of the product line, with the acquirer being the nation's largest cleaning wipe provider. It meant three years of predictable revenue that de-risked the business for new investors — which were now knocking on Solugen's door with their own investment term sheets.

“It told the market more about us as a company,” he says. “It taught the market that Solugen is a company that is going to survive no matter what. … And we’re a team that can execute.”

What started as a silly idea led to Solugen being one step closer to accomplishing its long-term goals.

“That pivot was one of the most important pivots in the company’s history that accelerated our company’s trajectory by four or five years," Chakrabarti says.

6. Adopt and maintain a miso-management style.

There's one lesson Chakrabarti says he learned the hard way, and that was how to manage his company's growing team. He shares that he "let go of the reins a bit" at the company's $400-$500 million point. He says that, while there's this idea that successful business leaders can hire the best talent that allows them to step back from the day-to-day responsibilities, that was not the right move for him.

“Only founders really understand the pain points of the business," Chakrabarti says. "Because it’s emotionally tied to you, you actually feel it."

Rather than a micro or macro-management style, Chakrabarti's describes his leadership as meso-management — something in between.

The only difference, Chakrabarti says, is how he manages his board. For that group, he micromanages to ensure that they are doing what's best for his vision for Solugen.

7. Your culture should be polarizing.

Chakrabarti wrapped up his story on talking about hiring and setting up a company culture for Solugen. The company's atmosphere is not for everyone, he explains.

“If you’re not polarizing some people, it’s not a culture,” Chakrabarti says, encouraging founders to create a culture that's not one size fits all.

He says he was attracted to early employees who got mad at the same things he did — that passion is what makes his team different from others.

Three Houston startup founders took the stage to talk product/market fit, customer acquisition, funding, and the rest of the startup journey at a panel at SXSW. Photo courtesy of the GHP

Houston founders demystify startup journey on SXSW panel

Houston innovators podcast episode 177

Editor's note: On Monday at Houston House, a SXSW activation put on by the Greater Houston Partnership, I moderated a panel called “Demystifying the Startup Journey.” Panelists included three Houston founders: Ted Gutierrez, co-founder and CEO of SecurityGate.io, Simone May, co-founder and CTO of Clutch, and Gaurav Khandelwal, founder and CEO of Velostics. The three entrepreneurs discussed their journeys and the challenges they face — from product/market fit and hiring to fundraising and customer acquisition. Listen to the full conversation on this week’s episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast below. Thank you to SXSW and GHP for the recording.


Just a few of the many SXSW events you should add to your agenda. Photo via SXSW

Houston innovators: Don't miss these SXSW 2023 events

where to be

Editor's note: SXSW has officially taken over Austin, and it can be a bit chaotic to try to make the most of the goings on. Here are a few things for Houston innovators to check out — panels, houses, happy hours, and more.

Friday, March 10, to Monday, March 13 — Funded House

Funded House, is on a mission to help funded startup leaders navigate the difficult task of growing their business; through an integrated series of meetups, lounges, panels and parties.

The house is open from Friday, March 10, to Monday, March 13, at 201 E 5th St. Startups and VCs need to apply for entry. Badges aren't required. Learn more.

Friday, March 10, to Tuesday, March 14 — Capital Factory House

Capital Factory is again hosting tons of events at its office. Don't miss the annual startup crawl on Friday, March 10, starting at 5 pm.

The events are happening from Friday, March 10, to Monday, March 13, at Capital Factory (701 Brazos St). Badges aren't required, but the crawl asks for RSVPs. Learn more.Learn more.

Friday, March 10 — DivInc presents "Just Us"

Join DivInc for an engaging conversation with leading BIPOC venture capitalists in the tech space as we have a frank discussion revolving around how its BIPOC VC community is helping founders reach their goals, and get real about how we can do better.

The event is from 5:30 to 8:30 at Brown Advisory (200 W 6th St.) Badges aren't required, but RSVPs are. Learn more.

Saturday, March 11, and Sunday, March 12 — The 15th Annual SXSW Pitch Competition

Announcing 40 finalists for the 15th annual SXSW Pitch competition, presented by ZenBusiness and supported by Collins Aerospace, representing the most cutting-edge technologies from across the globe at SXSW 2023.

The pitch competition is taking place Saturday, March 11, and Sunday, March 12, at the Hilton Hotel (fourth floor). Badges are required to attend. Learn more.

The SXSW Pitch Showcase is from 10 am to noon on Monday, March 13, at the Hilton Hotel (fourth floor). Badges are required to attend. Learn more.

Saturday, March 11, and Sunday, March 12 — Energizing Health

Energizing Health @ SXSW 2023 brings together an historic digital gathering of passionate health advocates to work on innovation problems. Energizing Health creates opportunities and connects partners to make health more fair and equitable for everyone, starting with people facing disproportional injury.

The programming takes place on Saturday, March 11, and Sunday, March 12, at The Line (111 E Cesar Chavez). Badges are required. Learn more.

Sunday, March 12, to Tuesday, March 14 — Shell House

Shell returns to SXSW this year with its three-day activation that focuses on thought leadership on reaching the goal of Net-Zero by 2050, plus entertainment, recharge stations, displays, and more.

The house is open from Sunday, March 12, to Tuesday, March 14, at Antone's (305 E 5th St.). Badges are required. Learn more.

Sunday, March 12 — Ground Zero: Creating Pathways from Research to Scale Deployment and HETI happy hour

The Greater Houston Partnership's Houston Energy Transition Initiative has organized a panel of Houston experts to discuss the energy transition.

Panelists:

  • Dr. Paul Cherukuri, Vice President for Innovation, Rice University
  • Juliana Garaizar, Chief Development & Investment Officer, Greentown Labs
  • Dr. Tara Karimi, Co-Founder and CTO, Cemvita Factory
  • Moderator: Jane Stricker, Executive Director, Houston Energy Transition Initiative (HETI)
The panel is Sunday, March 12, at 4 pm at the Austin Marriott Downtown (Waller Ballroom D). Badges are required.
Following the panel at 5 pm is the Energy Innovators Happy Hour at Moontower Hall Foyer. Learn more.

Monday, March 13 — Houston House

Join Houston industry leaders and startup founders for a series of thought provoking panels on today’s most prominent topics in tech. Relax in our lounge space, attend a session, and don't forget to stop by in the evening for the GHP's cocktail reception from 5:30 to 7 pm.

The programming takes place on Monday, March 13, at The Line (111 E Cesar Chavez), from 10 am to 5 pm. Badges are required. Learn more.

Monday, March 13 — Founded in Texas

Project W, The Artemis Fund, HearstLab, and Brown Advisory have joined forces to bring you Founded in Texas, an investor feedback session designed to support Texas-based female founders of B2B and B2B2C technology companies.

The programming takes place on Monday, March 13, at Brown Advisory (200 W 6th St., Suite 1700). Badges aren't required. Learn more.

The Greater Houston Partnership's Susan Davenport shares details on Houston House at SXSW, HETI House at CERAWeek, and taking the city on tour to spread awareness of the ecosystem. Photo via houston.org

Tapping into CERAWeek, SXSW to showcase and convene Houston tech

Houston innovators podcast episode 176

Every year, one of the biggest tech conferences in the world convenes right down the road from Houston in downtown Austin. That's a huge opportunity for the Greater Houston Partnership to showcase and congregate Housto's tech innovators.

Susan Davenport, senior vice president and chief economic development officer for the Greater Houston Partnership, shares on the Houston Innovators Podcast how the GHP has made an effort to increase Houston's presence at SXSW over the past few years. This year, the third year for Houston House, the GHP and the Houston Energy Transition Initiative are convening over 20 Houston innovators for two days of programming.

"We want to further the development of our ecosystem," Davenport says on the podcast. "Houston is so uniquely place for this — we have such well-developed industry sectors and a customer base. ... All entrepreneurs want to showcase their products and talk about what their doing. We'll have people there to answer questions and, most importantly, invite them to Houston."

Currently, the GHP is also hosting its second year of involvement at CERAWeek with its HETI team. HETI House, which is open at CERAWeek showcases unique energy transition technology originating in Houston. Returning this year is HETI's startup pitch competition on March 8 from 10 am to 3 pm.

SXSW and CERAWeek are just two examples of the GHP's mission of putting Houston tech on display. Davenport shares how every year, the GHP's team embarks on a handful of domestic and international mission trips to bring Houston to other major cities — as well as bring back ideas from other ecosystems.

"We go to these conferences to provide a glimpse into what we're doing and have an opportunity to connect, but we also take that message around the globe," Davenport says. "We believe we have a great story. We believe Texas has a great backdrop, and we put all this together and take it on the road."

She shares more about these trips and on what people can expect from Houston House at SXSW on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the CEO of a community-focused coworking space, a professor joining a major health care research project, and a guest columnist with advice on navigating the energy transition.

Jon Lambert, CEO of The Cannon

Jon Lambert, CEO of The Cannon, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the growth of The Cannon, including its newest location. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

For the past five years as CEO, Jon Lambert has faced some challenges leading The Cannon — from navigating a global pandemic to the subsequent evolved real estate market. But now, the coworking and community building company is poised for even more growth — especially with its ninth location opening up this month — thanks to its community-driven mission.

The Cannon Memorial opens its doors on Monday, May 13, with a week of free coworking and events. And while the new space, developed in partnership with MetroNational, is open for leasing, Lambert says on the Houston Innovators Podcast the first and foremost, The Cannon is a community.

"The Cannon wasn't created as a real estate play — we got into coworking because as we started supporting the community and asking the question of, 'what can we do for you?,' one of the highlights was, 'hey, we need space to work,'" he says on the show. "For us, we were going to provide space because that's one of the key needs of this community.

"Our measurement of success is not the buildings we have or the occupancy even — it's what's the success of the companies that are part of the community," he continues. Click here to read more.


Ken Cowan, senior vice president of Enchanted Rock

Ken Cowan writes a guest column for InnovationMap. Photo courtesy

As senior vice president of Enchanted Rock, a Houston-based provider of microgrid technology, Ken Cowan has seen how energy resilience has emerged as a key strategy for businesses across industries, as he writes in a guest column for InnovationMap.

"Executives must recognize the strategic imperative of investing in resilient energy infrastructure like microgrid systems, which can provide a competitive advantage against organizations that do not have similar measures in place," he writes. "In doing so, they can navigate uncertainty with confidence, set their business up for future success, and emerge stronger and more resilient than ever before."

In the piece, he explores the value proposition and other benefits to making these changes. Click here to read more.

Richard Willson, Huffington-Woestemeyer Professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Houston

Richard Willson (center) and his team are working to develop a mix-and-read antibody measurement system that uses fluorescent materials to determine the amount of antibody present in a sample. Photo via UH.edu

An engineering project at the University of Houston has been selected to join a $10 million effort to bring biopharmaceutical manufacturing into the future. The National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL) chose the lab of Richard Willson, Huffington-Woestemeyer Professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at UH, as one of eight development projects that it will fund.

Willson and his team are working to develop a mix-and-read antibody measurement system that uses fluorescent materials to determine the amount of antibody present in a sample. The funding for this project is $200,000. This is the first grant UH has received from NIIMBL.

“In the course of the manufacturing processes, it's important to know the concentration of antibody in your sample and this measurement needs to be made many times in a typical manufacturing process,” said Willson in a press release. In the realm of fluorescents, he is also working to pioneer the use of glow sticks to detect biothreats for the U.S. Navy. His discoveries include a fluorescent material that emits one color of light when excited with another color of light. Click here to read more.

UH experts join $10M initiative advancing biopharmaceutical manufacturing

teaming up

An engineering project at the University of Houston has been selected to join a $10 million effort to bring biopharmaceutical manufacturing into the future. The National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL) chose the lab of Richard Willson, Huffington-Woestemeyer Professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at UH, as one of eight development projects that it will fund.

Willson and his team are working to develop a mix-and-read antibody measurement system that uses fluorescent materials to determine the amount of antibody present in a sample. The funding for this project is $200,000. This is the first grant UH has received from NIIMBL.

“In the course of the manufacturing processes, it's important to know the concentration of antibody in your sample and this measurement needs to be made many times in a typical manufacturing process,” said Willson in a press release. In the realm of fluorescents, he is also working to pioneer the use of glow sticks to detect biothreats for the U.S. Navy. His discoveries include a fluorescent material that emits one color of light when excited with another color of light.

Antibodies are what immune cells produce in response to alien substances such as bacteria and viruses. Lab-made antibodies, called monoclonal antibodies, have been in use since the 1980s. Antibody treatments now account for some of the world’s top-selling drugs.

“The nice thing about this reagent is that it becomes more fluorescent in the presence of antibodies, and you can determine the amount of antibody present in a sample by using it,” said Willson. “Along with our industrial partners Genentech, Agilent and Bristol Myers Squibb, we think that this might be a useful tool for people who do everything from growing the cells that make the antibodies, to determining concentrations of antibody before purifying them.”

Willson’s team also includes Katerina Kourentzi, research associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at UH; Yan Chen, Agilent; Midori Greenwood-Goodwin, Genentech/Roche; and Mathura Raman, Bristol-Myers Squibb.

“One really distinguishing feature of this project is the tight coupling to industry,” said Kourentzi. “We got a lot of guidance from our industrial partners who volunteer to work with us through NIIMBL.” And through that, the technology could make it to the market in record time.

Here's what it takes to be a middle class earner in Houston in 2024

by the numbers

No one wants to hear that they aren't making enough money to be considered "middle class," but those income ceilings are getting more difficult to maintain year after year across the Houston area. And a new report has revealed The Woodlands has the No. 10 highest income ceiling for American middle class earners in 2024.

According to the 2024 edition of SmartAsset's annual "What It Takes to Be Middle Class in America" report, middle class households in The Woodlands would need to make between $91,548 and $274,670 a year to be labeled "middle class." Additionally, the suburb's median middle class household income comes out to $137,335 a year.

The report used a variation of Pew Research's definition of a middle class household, stating the salary range is "two-thirds to double the median U.S. salary." To determine income limits, the report analyzed data from the Census Bureau's 2022 one-year American Community Survey. New to the 2024 report, SmartAsset widened its analysis of income data from 100 to 345 of the largest American cities.

The Woodlands' middle class income thresholds are egregiously higher than the national average, the study found.

"In a large U.S. city, a middle-class income averages between $52,000 and $155,000," the report says. "The median household income across all 345 cities is $77,345, making middle-class income limits fall between $51,558 and $154,590."

Sugar Land was right behind The Woodlands, ranking No. 13 out of all 345 U.S. cities, with households needing to make between $88,502 and $265,532 a year to maintain their "middle class" status.

In a shocking turn of events, Houston plummeted into No. 254 this year after ranking among the top 100 in SmartAsset's 2023 report. At the time, a Houston household needed to make between $37,184 and $110,998 a year to be considered middle class. But the latest findings from the 2024 report show the necessary salary range to maintain a middle class designation in Houston is now between $40,280 and $120,852 a year.

The study's findings are shedding light on further growing financial stress and affordability struggles throughout the U.S., likely heightened by inflation and cost of living increases.

"As a middle-class American, there is some expectation for living a lifestyle of relative comfort," the report said. "But as costs have increased significantly over the last few years, the middle class is now feeling a squeeze in their finances."

Here’s what it takes to be middle class in other Houston-area cities:

  • No. 34 – Atascocita: between $71,748 and $215,266 a year
  • No. 39 – League City: between $69,904 and $209,734 a year
  • No. 45 – Pearland: between $69,990 and $206,992 a year
  • No. 211 – Conroe: between $43,814 and $131,456 a year
  • No. 273 – Pasadena: between $38,048 and $114,156 a year

Middle class income thresholds within the top 10 U.S. cities
The Woodlands wasn't the only Texas city to earn a spot in the top 10. Frisco, a suburb outside of Dallas, ranked two spots higher to claim No. 8 in the national comparison of U.S. cities with the highest income thresholds to be labeled middle class.

Middle class households in Frisco need to make between $97,266 and $291,828 a year, with the median household income at $145,914, according to the report.

Unsurprisingly, half of the top 10 cities with the highest middle class income ceilings are in California. The report found households in four of the five cities could be bringing in over $300,000 a year in income and still be classified as middle class.

California’s overall high cost-of-living means residents in the No. 1 city of Sunnyvale would need to make between $113,176 and $339,562 a year to be labeled middle class. Sunnyvale overtook Fremont for the top spot in the report in 2024.

The top 10 cities with the highest middle class ceilings are:

  • No. 1 – Sunnyvale, California
  • No. 2 – Fremont, California
  • No. 3 – San Mateo, California
  • No. 4 – Santa Clara, California
  • No. 5 – Bellevue, Washington
  • No. 6 – Highlands Ranch, Colorado
  • No. 7 – Carlsbad, California
  • No. 8 – Frisco, Texas
  • No. 9 – Naperville, Illinois
  • No. 10 – The Woodlands, Texas

The full report and its methodology can be found on smartasset.com.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.