In this roundup of short stories, Houston has been recognized as an emerging hub for life sciences, HCC wins an award for entrepreneurship, and more local innovation news. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Houston's innovation ecosystem has been booming with news, and it's likely some might have fallen through the cracks.

For this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, see why Houston has been named a top emerging hub for life sciences, Hatch Pitch reveals its cybersecurity startup winners, and more.

Houston named an emerging life science hub

A new report finds that Houston's life sciences scene — soon to be home to TMC3 — is growing. Courtesy of Elkus Manfredi Architects

According to a new report from CBRE, Houston is on track to be a top market for life sciences. The report factored in size and growth of life-sciences employment, the venture capital and National Institutes of Health funding, and more.

"Interest in Houston's life sciences sector from developers, investors and financial backers has grown significantly in recent years," says Nelson Udstuen, senior vice president at CBRE, in a press release. "Several factors have contributed to this, including an increase in both federal funding from NIH and private venture capital, a growth in R&D employment and commitments from Texas Medical Center member institutions and other private developers to establish new life science buildings and campuses."

Houston's life-sciences industry, which comes in at No. 2 on the list behind Pittsburgh and ahead of Austin, ranks within the 20 largest in the U.S. by employment. In terms of growth, Houston is expanding at a 6.5 percent pace from 2018 to 2019. Houston institutes received around $600 million in funding from NIH last year, which amounted to the 12th-largest sum by market.

"Houston is also a draw for the life sciences industry due to its large cluster of life science employees," continues Udstuen. "Our market is home to a large population with the technical ability to perform Research and Development, meaning employers do not have to focus as heavily on recruiting from other markets."

Inaugural pitch competition names winners

pitch

Hatch Pitch named the winners of its inaugural cybersecurity-focused competition. Photo via Getty Images

Houston-based Hatch Pitch announced its Cyber Pitch competition in December, and, other than having to pivot to virtual, the competition went off without a hitch. The winners at the Houston Cyber Summit were revealed on October 22.

  • Toronto-based Paqt took first place
  • PixoAnalytics, based in Bonn, Germany, came in second
  • And Austin-based Clocr placed in third place as well as the Audience Favorite.

Hatch Pitch will return in March 2021 for the Hatch Pitch Digital Summit, but until then, check out video clips and the pitches from Cyber Pitch 2020 online.

Houston college receives national entrepreneurship award

Houston Community College has been named the 2020 Heather Van Sickle Entrepreneurial College of the Year. Photo via HCC.edu

The National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship has named Houston Community College as the 2020 Heather Van Sickle Entrepreneurial College of the Year at its 18th Annual Conference in Nashville, Tennessee, earlier this month.

"Houston Community College is a model of how colleges contribute to their local entrepreneurial ecosystems," says Rebecca Corbin, president and CEO of NACCE, in a news release. "Through persistence and entrepreneurial mindset and action, HCC has scaled replicable and sustainable entrepreneurial programs that have impacted thousands of students over the past several years. It is a pleasure to recognize this outstanding college, which was selected by an independent judging panel, as the winner of NACCE's 2020 Entrepreneurial College of the Year Award."

Energy tech startup names new CEO

Tachyus has a new head honcho. Photo via tachyus.com

Data-focused energy software startup Tachyus has announced the promotion of Fernando Gutierrez to CEO — formerly vice president of customer success.

"We are in a unique time within the upstream oil and gas space, and I truly believe Tachyus has the ability to pioneer the acceleration of the digital transformation within the industry," says Gutierrez, in a news release. "We are at the intersection of innovation and conventionalism, and I'm excited to lead the organization in a movement that continues to establish our technical solutions with our unique product signature."

Tachyus was founded in 2013 in Silicon Valley and recently relocated to Houston. The fresh funds will go into growing its cloud-based, artificial intelligence-enabled platform. Last year, the company raised $15 million in a round led by Houston-based Cottonwood Venture Partners.

Former CEO and Co-Founder Paul Orland has assumed the role of chairman.

Female founder selected for new program backed by Houston organization

Kim Roxie, founder of LAMIK Beauty, is among the 15 recipients of a new initiative. Photo via stacysrise.helloalice.com

Plano, Texas-based Stacy's Rise Project expanded its annual grant and mentorship program in order to give more aid to Black female business founders, who on average only receive 0.2 percent of venture capitalist funding, according to a press release. The organization teamed up with its longtime partner, Houston-founded Hello Alice, to back an additional 15 Black female founders with a total of $150,000.

Among the 15 recipients was Houston's own Kim Roxie of LAMIK Beauty. LAMIK Beauty is a beauty-tech company designed for multicultural women with products made with natural and organic ingredients.

Houston-based Tachyus closed a $15 million Series B round. Photo courtesy of Thomas Miller/Breitling Energy

Houston oil and gas software company closes $15 million round led by local PE firm

Money on the mind

It's pay day for Houston-based Tachyus. the data-driven software company has closed its Series B fundraising round at $15 million. The round was led by Houston-based Cottonwood Venture Partners, a private equity firm that funds companies using technology to solve problems within the energy industry.

Tachyus was founded in 2013 in Silicon Valley and recently relocated to Houston. The fresh funds will go into growing its cloud-based, artificial intelligence-enabled platform.

"In this economic environment, oil and gas operators need disruptive tools to optimize their fields," Tachyus CEO and co-founder, Paul Orland, says in a release. "This investment allows us to reach more customers and accelerate the delivery of new technology that improves our clients' business performance."

The company has already grown its client base and has customers in Argentina, Europe, and Asia. Tachyus joins several other tech-focused energy startups in CVP's portfolio, including Ambyint, Novi Labs, and SitePro. Houston-based Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. served Tachyus as its financial adviser.

"As the oil and gas industry evolves in the face of new commercial challenges, operators need to focus on getting the best performance from their assets, and Tachyus' technology has a track record of doing just that," says Jeremy Arendt, managing partner of CVP, in the release. "We are excited to partner with the Tachyus team to expand their reach and empower customers to optimize production across their fields."

Tachyus closed its last round in 2016 with a $4 million investment from Primwest, according to CrunchBase. Before that, the company had raised several million.

Last year, the startup restructured its C-suite. Tachyus co-founder Dakin Sloss transitioned from CEO to chairman, and Orland, who was previously CTO, took the reins, according to a release.

Paul Orland is CEO of Tachyus. Photo via tachyus.com

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Rising Houston innovation hub announces real estate partners

eye on the ion

Last week, Rice Management Co. announced the latest partners for The Ion. A Houston-based real estate management firm and a Dallas-based coworking company have signed onto the project.

Texas coworking company Common Desk, which recently opened a new space in Houston's east downtown, was tapped to develop and manage The Ion's more than 58,000 square feet of experiential, flexible office space on the second floor of the building.

"For a project as special as The Ion, it was important that we selected a flexible office space operator that understood the building's ethos as a space for collaboration and innovation," says Ryan LeVasseur, managing director of Direct Real Estate at RMC, in a news release. "From the moment we met with the Common Desk team, it was clear they represented the right balance of sophistication and excitement and shared a commitment to creating a sense of community."

Additionally, Common Desk will be responsible for a coffee bar and maintaining a vibrant and engaging space for tenants, startups, and community members.

"We're thrilled to be a part of this prestigious project and are looking forward to offering individuals, small businesses, and high-growth companies the chance to experience the unique programming and innovative spirit of the building," says Dawson Williams, head of real estate at Common Desk, in the release. "We're excited to be a strategic gateway to helping Houstonians experience all The Ion has to offer."

RMC tapped Transwestern to oversee property management for all of The Ion through its building, tenant, vendor, compliance, client, and administrative services.

"Very few companies have Transwestern's breadth of experience and proven success of managing high-quality, talent-attracting workplaces," LeVasseur says in the release. "Add to that the company's deep roots in Houston, and we're confident we're working with the best team to ensure a flawless, attractive, activated, and efficiently operated hub for the growth of Houston's innovation ecosystem."

Based in Houston, Transwestern has over 400 properties locally across office, multifamily, health care, and other industries.

"Transwestern is excited to work alongside Rice Management Corporation as property and facilities manager for The Ion, while contributing to its mission of innovation, collaboration and inclusion," says Kevin Roberts, Southwest President at Transwestern, in the release. "As Transwestern continues to elevate our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, we are proud to stand alongside The Ion in supporting minority and women-owned businesses in enabling innovation that will shape the future of Houston."

Houston hospital in line to receive COVID-19 vaccine

getting ready

Americans could be just weeks away from getting a COVID-19 vaccine, but who will get it first and how fast will it be distributed to the rest of us?

A lot goes into planning the distribution of a vaccine, and here in Houston, some hospitals have already identified places where the public could go to get vaccinated.

Houston Methodist is on the list to get the Pfizer vaccine once it rolls out in the middle of December. It'll ship to them within 24 to 48 hours after the vaccine gets Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA.

"We put in our orders and have been named as a pre-position site, which means we have the facilities and the freezers to accommodate receiving the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccine, and then be able to break into smaller quantities and distribute it out to our workers," says Roberta Schwartz, executive vice president of Houston Methodist Hospital.

Roberta Schwartz is leading the innovation initiative at Houston Methodist. Courtesy of Houston Methodist

Pfizer's vaccine must be kept at extremely cold temperatures so before giving the vaccine, employees must be trained on when to take it out from the freezer and how long it can be left out.

According to Texas' vaccine distribution plan, the first group that's set to get it are health care workers. That includes workers who provide direct care for COVID-19 patients and vulnerable residents, including staff at hospitals and long-term care facilities.

Once Houston Methodist is able to deliver it to the public, they have a plan in place.

Promising news from Pfizer and Moderna about their potential breakthroughs on a COVID-19 vaccine offer hope. In order for any vaccine to be effective, people must be willing to take the injections. But here's why some people are already saying why they won't take it.

"We've located, we believe, 14 different places where we will distribute vaccines to the public. We know how many people we can safely get through there a day and how we would do it. We're working through the last of how you would make your appointment, how you would get that scheduled," says Schwartz.

Their hospitals are among the 14 locations, and a lot was factored into making those locations accessible, like parking.

With all the planning comes flexibility. Schwartz said they're ready to adjust for what could be a big change in just a matter of weeks.

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For more on this story, including video, visit our content partner ABC13.

How to safely promote holiday cheer in the workplace

guest column

With the 2020 winter holiday rapidly approaching, time is running short to plan festivities that are fun, engaging — and safe — amid a global coronavirus pandemic.

While many companies are planning to forego holiday parties this year, there is a strong case to be made that it is more important now than ever to host something special for employees.

It would be difficult to find a company that hasn't somehow been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. As companies have had to be nimble, reacting to rapidly changing environments, the work aimed at staying relevant and profitable has likely been carried out by loyal employees dedicated to ensuring success. Whether they pivoted to work-from-home, often using their personal resources and spaces to get the job done in sometimes-difficult environments, or they stayed on the front lines as the coronavirus circulated in their communities, employees should be heralded as the year's MVP.

Business leaders should consider hosting holiday celebrations that honor their employees and align with their ongoing safety protocols. For companies that continue to conduct in-person business, holiday celebrations may be safely held outside in Houston's temperate climate. For companies that plan to proceed with virtual celebrations, think outside the box for developing an event that colleagues will enjoy.

Virtual events open up new opportunities

Particularly for companies that have hosted lavish year-end parties but who are concerned about safety, consider providing an unforgettable experience for your employees while they come together separately.

Hire an engaging expert to take your staff on a virtual culinary or cocktail adventure — it might be a mixologist, sommelier, cicerone or chef. Send a curated package containing everything they'll need: cheese board and a mix of local meats, cheeses, nuts, and olives. The expert can teach the co-workers how to assemble a charcuterie board or delve into the history of various cheeses and which wines would pair well. Another might teach how to construct a craft cocktail.

If you are looking for something a bit more cheeky, consider hosting a virtual cookie-decorating event complemented by an ugly-sweater contest. Or, hire a local band to perform a private, virtual concert just for the company.

There is also a host of companies that are working in the virtual space, creating turnkey events that include games, delivered gift boxes and other methods of bringing teams together when they're physically separated. Consider holding such events during work hours: Employees will likely be more willing to participate, and it doubles as a holiday gift that provides a fleeting workday distraction during typically slower periods.

Even for companies with sizable staffs, for those that generally host extravagant parties, these virtual events may cost less than normal holiday celebrations.

Hosting safe in-person events

For companies planning on hosting socially distant in-person celebrations, consider using parking lots to ensure everyone has enough space to stay safe and enjoy themselves. Forego buffet service and either use a catering staff wearing masks and gloves to serve food, or use pre-packaged food and beverages to reduce risk.

Live music or other artistic performances can be a welcomed event during these times.

Or, if there's a desire to bring people together but concerns about safety, consider hosting a drive-in movie for employees and their families. Companies specialize in providing the necessary equipment for such events, and attendees can pick up a goodie box with prepackaged food and drinks to enjoy while the event takes place.

The keys to success are ensuring the events are safe and accessible to everyone who wants to participate, that they provide employees with a feeling of gratitude from their employer and, these days, a nod to the unparalleled times we are facing. Whether companies spend lavishly this year, or reduce cost but still provide heart-felt events, employees will feel the sense of gratitude and appreciation, and that's a big win heading into 2021.

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Jill Chapman is a senior performance consultant with Insperity, a leading provider of human resources and business performance solutions.