When it comes to maintaining a good ecosystem, diversity is key. Houston learned that the hard way. Photo by Tim Leviston/Getty Images

Hello Bay Area! We Houstonians are concerned about you.

We think your economy is becoming overly dependent on Silicon Valley. In 2018, the technology industry accounted for around 62 percent of all office leasing activity in San Francisco. From September 2017 to September 2018, tech companies and realty investors bought $1.43 billion worth of San Jose downtown properties, nearly three times what they spent the year before on property in the city.

Some of your biggest search, social media, and database companies are expanding their headquarters in San Jose, San Francisco, and the rest of Silicon Valley. This is causing the construction industry to become more dependent on tech. But it's not just the construction industry that is becoming attached at the hip with Silicon Valley. According to the Bay Area Council, for every one high tech job created in the U.S., four more are created in industries as varied as education, law, dentistry, retail, and food. That means a lot of jobs in the Bay Area are, and are going to be, dependent on Silicon Valley.

Meanwhile, the Bay Area's high cost of living is pushing low and middle-income people further and further away from the state to places like Colorado, New York, and Texas (thanks for that by the way). The Bay Area had the highest income disparity between those migrating into the area and those leaving it than any major metro area in the country between 2010 and 2016. An economy can't last with just high-salaried tech workers.

We here in Houston have seen what happens when a metropolitan area becomes overly dependent on its dominant industry.

The 1980s were a tough time in Houston's history due to the huge fall in oil prices. In 1986, crude oil prices fell 52 percent to about $27 a barrel in today's dollars. The majority of Houston's economy was centered around the oil business at that time. The industries that were not directly related to energy, such as restaurants, car dealerships, and real estate were in a symbiotic relationship and were in some cases catastrophically hurt. When the oil industry took a hit, the entire economy took a hit. During this time, Houstonians lost 225,000 jobs, or one in eight jobs in the city.

Many young workers in petroleum engineering, geophysics, and other energy positions were laid off, many leaving the industry altogether. Older workers retired. In the mid-2000s, when the shale drilling revolution began, the needed manpower was just not there to meet the demand and it was expensive to hire and train a new workforce.

We were able to recover. Some 175,000 Houstonians are now working in oil production, oil field services, materials, and fabricated metals, and tens of thousands more are working as suppliers and contractors. We're more ethnically and industrially diverse than we ever were before, but it took time.

What did we learn from the 1980s?

First, diversify.

While we still have a vibrant oil and gas business in Houston, we've also expanded further into our other core industries: health care, technology and space. The Bay Area is fortunate in that it has strong banking, agriculture, and tourism industries. It ought to be putting more TLC into these industries or expanding into other fields.

We learned not to keep all of our wealth in the oil and gas companies in which we work. It's far too common for Silicon Valley workers to have too much trust in the companies they work for, hoping that their stock options will propel them to riches one day. As we learned in Houston, this can lead to disastrous results. Diversify your portfolios, but be careful. Houstonians over invested in real estate in the 1980s and miscalculated the future of that industry.

Second, Houston has also learned to keep well-educated professionals trained and capable of finding support for those in between jobs. Luckily this doesn't seem to be a problem for the Bay Area. While the Greater Houston Region keeps roughly 66.1 percent of its four-year college graduates in the area, the Bay Area keeps 65.2 percent of its graduates around. So, Bay Area, never take your universities, like U.C. Berkeley and Stanford, for granted.

We know the Bay Area has seen its own troubles before. The dotcom bust of the early 2000s was devastating to the local economy. We're just especially sensitive to what happened to us in 1980s and we'd hate to see the Bay Area go through something similar again.

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Elizabeth Biar is vice president of Strategic Public Affairs, a government elations and PR/communications firm based in Houston. Sam Felsing is a former reporter and who currently works as a senior account executive at Telegraph, a political consulting and public relations firm based in Oakland, California.

Gabriella Rowe took over as CEO of Station Houston in August. Courtesy of Gabriella Rowe

Station Houston CEO on the future of the city's innovation ecosystem

Featured Innovator

A third-generation educator, Gabriella Rowe vowed she'd never go into the family business, but, she says, never say never.

She instead went into oil and gas and banking before working at a startup that sold after only 10 months. She then worked as a consultant — both for a company and then for herself — assisting high-growth, high-impact industrial companies.

"I realized for the first time that no matter what your size or how long you've been around, you were vulnerable to innovation and change," says Rowe, who is now the CEO of Station Houston, a Houston-based acceleration hub. "Many of the companies we worked with ended up shuttering their operations, which didn't just shut down a company; in most instances, whole towns were destroyed."

While on the road 300 days of the year, enjoying every minute of her job, she fell in love with a client, her now husband, and they decided to settle down to start a family in New York right as her grandfather was taking ill. She stepped in to help run his school.

At that time, New Yorkers were doing outrageous things to get their children into top-tier preschools, one of which happened to be The Mandell School, Rowe's family school.

"So, the first thing I did in my newfound motherhood was to hire a nanny, and then focused on how we could be opportunistic on this market shift in education in New York, so there was born my third startup."

She turned the school around and grew it to two schools in Asia, three preschools in New York, as well as a Kindergarten through eighth grade school — a total of over 700 children across the schools. She sold it in 2013, which led her to Houston to take a position as head of school at The Village School. She grew that school 20 percent in the first year before selling it to private equity.

"I fell in love with Houston and became involved in the tech ecosystem," Rowe says. "I had been involved in New York's tech ecosystem, and I wondered why we didn't have that tech ecosystem in Houston."

Now, Houston's exploding with startups, technology, and entrepreneurs, and Rowe, who took her CEO position at Station Houston in August, is among the leaders bringing Houston to the country's forefront for innovation.

InnovationMap: Coming in as CEO, what were the first things you wanted to do at Station?

Gabriella Rowe: Station is a startup like any other startup. It's thinking: what are we good at that we want to do more of, and what are we doing that someone else does better. And then building out the framework and infrastructure necessary to do what you do well at scale. Having the right people in the right job with the right tools and at the right time is what allows scale to happen. That's what we've been working on for the past three months.

We're going to be doing a huge launch of Station 3.0 in January. It will really allow us to tell the world not just what we're going to be for the next three months, but what we're going to be over the next three years.

IM: What's Station Houston doing differently from other coworking spaces?

GR: Well, we're not a coworking space; we are an acceleration hub for startups. First and foremost, we don't have the space to be a coworking space. We may have functioned like a coworking space in the beginning. We're here to accelerate startups in their growth, and we do that in a variety of ways. We connect them with curated connections to corporations that can help them pilot their ideas. We connect them with capital they need to grow fast. And we connect them with subject matter experts that help them understand how to grow their company. In some instances how to fail fast or pivot in a way that's going to make them the most successful. Our focus is accelerating the startups. It's one of the reasons we take no equity investments, because we don't want to be judging the success of a startup based on whether or not they meet our investment criteria. We want to do what's right for the startup, no matter the type of startup. I don't believe we can do that with a straight face and in good conscience if on the side we are doing investments. That really does differentiate us.

IM: So, how is Station Houston different from an accelerator program?

GR: The real answer is that these things are becoming more closely put together. We are more similar to an accelerator than anything else, but we are not time limited, and we are not hyper selective in a cohort way. A typical accelerator has a theme and cohorts with companies to that theme. We do not yet have a cohort-based accelerator with that specific timing. We apply many of the exact same methodology that they'd get in that time frame, but we carry it over the course of the year. We shift the companies to different buckets of focus. It's really the timing that's different. It might take a company longer to get to specific benchmarks, but we're still working to accelerate them. We're the only one doing this in Houston.

IM: Would you switch to a cohort-based accelerator?

GR: We won't be changing what we do, but we might be adding a specific themed-based cohort for companies at a specific stage of acceleration — an energy-focused cohort, for example, which would be really low-hanging fruit. We are in talks with Rice University to do something like this. My guess is we will launch this type of acceleration as a sub-product of what we do sometime in the first or second quarter of next year.

IM: What's on the horizon for Station, especially regarding Station 3.0?

GR: It all relates, in some way, to our move to the innovation district in 2020. That's what we are focused on. We worked really closely with Rice University on this. We believe that this building needs to open fully functioning and full, at capacity or as close as we can get from day one. The only way for us to do that is to be building that density at our current location here, and just shifting our operations there when the time comes.

IM: What keeps you up at night, as it pertains to your business?

GR: Oh, I've got a long list. The thing that keeps me up at night is 2020 is around the corner. We have a lot of work to do to be ready for this Innovation Hub. And it's not just what's going in the hub. There's going to be a big spotlight shown on us to the rest of the world. We have to know now how to handle that when it comes. It's a lot of collaboration. It's a lot of leaving our politics and our agenda at the door. All of us have to be doing this for Houston. If we do it well, if we do this for Houston, and leave the other stuff aside, then we're all going to benefit. That's the thing I worry about most, that if we have these successes and wins, that maybe some territorial stuff comes into it and that politics creep back into it, and we don't focus on the collaboration.

The other thing that keeps me up at night, when I have the nightmares, is that we turn into a post-industrial ghost town because the energy capital of the world is somewhere else because we didn't innovate the way we were supposed to. That's a nightmare we can avoid by making sure we do what's needed — and a whole lot of that has to do with collaborating with each other.

IM: How is Houston's innovation ecosystem doing?

GR: I think we started to see something when the Crunchbase numbers that came out a couple weeks ago that showed Houston neck and neck with Austin from a VC investment standpoint, which is something we've never even come close to before and, all of the sudden, boom, we're right there. I think that's what we are going to continue to see in Houston. We're not going to see little wins now. We're going to start seeing big wins. The fact that I get a front row seat for that and get to invest my time and energy into something I care so much about makes me one of the luckiest people I know.

IM: What does Houston need to accomplish in the innovation community?

GR: Connective tissue — everyone knowing what's actually happening in Houston. Having resources, like InnovationMap, to tell us what's happening in Houston. I have been astonished for years now how much is happening here. Having resources like InnovationMap to tell us about what's happening here will make a huge difference.

The other piece we need that's on the way is a real focus on talent. We're beginning to see a lot of investment, and we're only going to see more of it over the next 12 months. And that's not just going to affect the talent, but also the types of companies we're attracting to Houston. The quality of life in Houston is phenomenal. That's what a lot of tech companies are looking for. There hasn't been enough yet to bring them to Houston, because we haven't been able to demonstrate the growth of our ecosystem.

We are going to have something big happening with either Google or Microsoft over the course of the next 12 months. That's only going to accelerate things for our startups.

IM: You moved here almost five years ago. What attracts you to Houston?

GR: First and foremost, the people. This is a city filled with some of the most amazing people I've worked with in my entire career anywhere in the world. We should not underestimate that as a city. The sense of humanity in Houston is like nothing I've ever experienced. It's not just what we saw in Hurricane Harvey, but it's exactly what happened in Hurricane Harvey, only it happens all the time in this city, it just isn't on the national news.

In Houston, everyone talks to each other all the time so you make connections all the time; you learn things about the community. I can't tell you how many Uber drivers I've had that have talked to me about their startup and then have ended up coming into the Station — that's the kind of stuff they say only happens in San Francisco, but it happens here for a different reason; it's because they really care. I hope that as we grow our ecosystem that we never forget that.

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Portions of this interview have been edited.

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Impact-driven Houston fintech startup emerges to streamline international remittance

money transfer tech

Africans living abroad send over $40 billion back to their home country annually — yet the process continues to be expensive, fraud-ridden, and complicated. A new Houston-area startup has a solution.

AiDEMONEY, based in Katy, has launched a money transfer app for mobile devices. The app enables digital transfers from the United States to five African countries: Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria

"International remittance has always been about people living in diaspora wanting to share their success with people back home," says Uzoma Eze, AiDEMONEY co-founder and CEO, in a news release. "By replacing profit as the point of the spear, we're helping Africans fund Africa and, ultimately, rewriting our motherland's story."

Eze co-founded the company with Felix Akompi, a fellow member of Houston's African diaspora community and the company's COO

The app, which is already available on the App Store and Google Play, focuses on blockchain-powered security and instant transfers. The company also designed the platform with a "give back" model that builds a stronger Africa.

With every transaction fee, users are funding progress in Africa. A portion of customer transaction fees to nonprofits in education and literacy, women's empowerment, and healthcare. Currently, AiDEMONEY partners with the Lagos Food Bank Initiative, Shalom Sickle Cell Foundation, Sharing Smiles Initiative, and Jenny Uzo Foundation.

"We're creating a superhighway for tens of billions in USD to flow from one part of the world to another," Eze says. "When you have the right people with the right vision, that capital tills the ground—tilling out profit, social advancement and a stronger Africa."

Doing Money Remittance Better | AiDEMONEY, The African Diaspora's Money Transfer App www.youtube.com

New Pearland healthcare training center will raise the bar for nursing in Houston

Training for More

As if those in the healthcare field needed another reason to relocate to Pearland: the HCA Healthcare Center for Clinical Advancement opened its doors on July 27.

Located at the Pearland Town Center at 11200 Broadway St., building 200, the two-story, 48,400-square-foot training center houses hospital simulation labs, virtually-connected classrooms, and debriefing rooms.

The center provides ongoing education for HCA Houston Healthcare's 7,000 nurses and will help standardize training across the system's 13 Greater Houston-area hospitals, outpatient surgery centers, emergency centers, and imaging facilities.

The utilization of simulcast technology will also facilitate education and training opportunities for colleagues working in locations across the HCA Healthcare Gulf Coast Division, which includes facilities in Corpus Christi and South Texas.

"The HCA Healthcare Center for Clinical Advancement is a significant part of our strategic nursing plan to support and grow our nurses as the differentiator at our hospitals and other facilities," says Kelli Nations, chief nurse executive at HCA Houston Healthcare, one of the city's largest healthcare systems. "It certainly helps us raise the bar for nursing care in Houston."

The first floor is designated for nurse training, which can last up to 22 weeks, depending on their specialty. Additional classroom and conference room space on the second floor will serve as a hub for new-hire orientations and the system's leadership and organizational development training for up to 250 employees at a time.

"Bringing the latest teaching technologies under one roof in a new, advanced facility is a major step in preparing our nurses to provide the highest level of care," says Nations.

Additional facility features include a simulated hospital supply room, a large break room, a mother's room for employees who are nursing, and several lounge areas.

Upcoming energy conference adds innovation focus for Houston-based event

innovating energy

The World Petroleum Congress, which plans to return to in-person status in December, is adding a new wrinkle — a pitch competition — to this year's event.

On August 4, the World Petroleum Congress announced the launch this year of the Innovation Zone, which will enable energy pioneers to showcase their offerings. The 2021 World Petroleum Congress — hosted in Houston this time around — is set for December 5-9 at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

Houston-based energy giant ConocoPhillips is sponsoring the Innovation Zone.

"For more than a century, innovation has enabled our industry to keep pace with the growing demand for safe and reliable energy," Bill Bullock, executive vice president and chief financial officer of ConocoPhillips, says in a news release. He adds that the Innovation Zone will highlight "innovations that can propel our industry's purposeful journey through the energy transition and into the future."

In all, 32 startups and individuals will pitch their products or practices on the World Petroleum Congress stage. One winner will be honored with the inaugural Energy Innovator Award.

The Innovation Zone is open to energy companies, private entities, and individuals working as independent contractors. Proposals will be evaluated on seven criteria:

  • Innovation
  • Creativity
  • Potential or actual technical or business success
  • Environmental impact
  • Stakeholder impact
  • Scalability
  • Broad-based uses

Applications for the Innovation Zone are due Aug. 20. To obtain an application, visit the World Petroleum Congress website. Representatives of ConocoPhillips and the World Petroleum Congress will sift through the applications and pick 32 finalists, who will be notified in early September.

"Startups, with their innovative business models, will play a decisive role in shaping a sustainable energy future, and for participating companies, this is a good opportunity to present and forge new links with key stakeholders and investors," says Serafina Lalany, interim executive director of entrepreneurship and innovation nonprofit Houston Exponential.

Aside from ConocoPhillips, sponsors of this year's World Petroleum Congress include Chevron, Halliburton, Accenture, Hess, ExxonMobil, BP, Qatar Petroleum, Baker Hughes, and Saudi Aramco.

The 23rd World Petroleum Congress was supposed to happen last year in Houston but was shifted to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 10,000 people are expected to attend this year's event. It's been estimated that the World Petroleum Congress will pump $60 million to $80 million into the Houston economy.

Staged by the World Petroleum Council, the event hasn't been held in North America since 1987, when Houston hosted it. It's known as the "Olympics" of the oil and gas sector.

The 24th World Petroleum Congress will be held in 2023 in Calgary, Canada. The event traditionally takes place every three years.