Houston needs to lighten up a little, sheesh. Photo by Rome Wilkerson on Unsplash

Not-so-happy news for Texans living in Houston – they're living in one of the "unhappiest" cities in the nation.

A recent SmartAsset study ranked Houston the No. 81 happiest city in the U.S., based on an analysis of 90 large cities for their residents' quality of life, well being, and personal finances.

The city's rank in the bottom 10 — alongside Texas neighbors Dallas (No. 80), El Paso (No. 83), and Laredo (No. 89) – shows not everything about Houston is as easygoing as people think it is. We can hear Ken Hoffman's disagreement from here.

The study found 28.5 percent of all Houston households make a six-figure salary or more, and 16.2 percent of residents are burdened by their housing costs. Houston's poverty rate is 20.7 percent, so maybe it really is more difficult to live comfortably in the city, after all.

Houston has a marriage rate of 39.4 percent, and its residents have a life expectancy of 79 years old. Nearly 76 percent of residents have health insurance, and a Houstonian has nearly five "mentally unhealthy" days per month on average.

Our beloved city has had some bad press recently: H-Town isn't exactly revered for having the best drivers; the city and its suburbs are apparently less appealing for new residents making the move to Texas; and its popularity in the tech industry seems to be waning.

It's not all doom and gloom, though. There's always plenty of new restaurants to try, our city's inventive art scene remains unmatched, and plenty of hometown hero celebrities, Hall of Fame athletes, and talented musicians praise Houston for its culture and hospitality.

While money can't necessarily buy happiness, SmartAsset suggests that having a higher quality of life can influence a person's financial decisions, therefore leading to a greater probability of beneficial outcomes. Of course, that's assuming high financial literacy and strong money management skills.

"Depending where you live, certain quality of life factors, including metrics like life expectancy, infrastructure and the rate of marriage, can ultimately impact your happiness," the report's author wrote.

Elsewhere in Texas, the Dallas suburb of Plano soared to the top as the No. 2 happiest city in the nation. More than half (52.5 percent) of all Plano households make a six-figure salary or more, and only 12.1 percent of residents are burdened by their housing costs. Plano's poverty rate is less than five percent, its marriage rate is 56 percent, and nearly 90 percent of Plano residents have health insurance.

Other Texas cities that earned spots in the report, that notably aren't as happy as Plano, include: Fort Worth (No. 38), Arlington (No. 47), Irving (No. 64), Austin (No. 65), San Antonio (No. 70), Corpus Christi (No. 77), and Lubbock (No. 78).

The top 10 happiest cities in the U.S. are:

  • No. 1 – Arlington, Virginia
  • No. 2 – Plano, Texas
  • No. 3 – Fremont, California
  • No. 4 – San Jose, California
  • No. 5 – Seattle, Washington
  • No. 6 – Boise City, Idaho
  • No. 7 – Raleigh, North Carolina
  • No. 8 – Chesapeake, Virginia
  • No. 9 – San Francisco, California
  • No. 10 – Anchorage, Alaska
The report ranked the 90 most populous U.S. cities based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau 1-Year American Community Survey for 2022 and from the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps for 2023. Data that factored into each city's ranking included a city's household income, poverty level, life expectancy, health insurance rates, marriage rates, overcrowding rates, and more.The full report and its methodology can be found on smartasset.com

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

The Texas/California pipeline works both ways, a new study reveals. Photo via Getty Images

Texas and California battle it out for most relocating residents, Census report says

by the numbers

Texans love to joke about how many Californians are moving here, but a rising trend in Texas residents' relocation habits may have Californians saying the same thing about Texans soon.

A new U.S. Census report analyzing state-to-state migration has revealed new estimates regarding Texas' growing population in 2022. According to the report, more than 668,000 new residents relocated to Texas from out-of-state last year.

Not surprisingly, the highest number of new Texans hailed from California. More than 102,000 Californians made the move to the Lone Star State in 2022.

But in a fun population twist, California also received the most Texpats in 2022, the report showed, followed closely behind by Florida, then Oklahoma. Of the 494,077 people who left Texas last year, 42,279 went to California.

Why Californians move to Texas
Californians often seek out a lower cost of living by moving to the most "affordable" cities in the state. Houston has shown to be at the top of the priority destination list; Dallas usurped Austin as the No. 1 city for California movers earlier this year. And when a California transplant can save more than $646,000 by moving to Texas and buying a home in Houston, it's not hard to see the appeal

Other reasons for the California-to-Texas exodus include the lack of income tax and the flexibility of remote work opportunities, they say.

While California took the lead with the most new movers flocking to Texas, Floridians are also choosing to pack up and leave their Sunshine State for the Lone Star State, the report says.

The top 5 states with the most residents moving to Texas in 2022 were:

  • California – 102,442 new residents
  • Florida – 41,747 new residents
  • New York – 30,890 new residents
  • Illinois – 25,272 new residents
  • Louisiana – 25,192 new residents

Where Texans are moving
The Census report showed that less than half a million Texas residents relocated out-of-state last year, totaling 494,077 people.

"Texas had the country's lowest (11.7 percent) outmigration rate, with most of those who did move relocating to California (42,479) or Florida (38,207)," the report said.

The top five states where Texans moved in 2022 were:

  • California – 42,279 Texans
  • Florida – 38,207 Texans
  • Oklahoma – 26,440 Texans
  • Colorado – 25,466 Texans
  • Georgia – 23,754 Texans

New Texans from abroad
In addition to state-by-state migration data, the report also provided estimates for how many new Texans came from abroad. Out of 237,051 new residents, the majority – 233,751 people – relocated from outside the mainland last year.

About 2,441 people moved from Puerto Rico, and 859 arrived from unspecified U.S. island areas.

Texas has been a magnet for international homebuyers for several years. The state has held its position as the third hottest U.S. housing market for international homebuyers for the fourth consecutive year in 2023. A total of 9,900 Texas homes were purchased by buyers from outside the U.S last year, spending a gigantic sum of $4.3 billion.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

A new app, sEATz, is the UberEats of stadium food. You order right from your phone in your seat. Getty Images

Houston startup is making stadium food a whole new ballgame

Dining delivered

Marshall Law's wife, Melissa, surprised him and his two sons with tickets to see the Astros play at home in the 2017 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, but a rush to get to the game and a packed stadium lead to him waiting in a long concessions line in the second inning.

Law watched on a TV screen next to the food counter as the fourth pitch from Yu Darvish to Yuli Gurriel hit two rows past the Laws' seats, bouncing back toward where they were supposed to be sitting. Law couldn't shake the feeling of missing out on the homer. Why couldn't someone have brought them the food, he thought. He'd have paid $50 — maybe more — to not miss that moment.

"Everything gets delivered these days. Any kind of food to your groceries, all right to you. Why isn't someone doing this?" Law says he was thought as he walked out of the game.

From the parking lot, he called his friend, Aaron Knape, and an idea was born.

"I never want a dad to miss a moment as I did ever again," Law said.

Play in motion
Law and Knape set out on finding, designing, and implementing an app and process, now known as sEATz, that would keep fans from ever having to miss a moment of a game again.

Knape got his master's degree from Rice University and stayed in touch with his fellow alumni over the years. It was actually at Rice where Knape realized Houston might just be the perfect place for something like sEATz to get off the ground. Houston, he says, is in the midst of an entrepreneur revolution.

At the forefront of that revolution is Lawson Gow, founder, and CEO of The Cannon, a startup and tech hub for companies to grow and get support. Gow — son of David Gow, owner of InnovationMap's parent company Gow Media — says the Cannon houses almost 85 companies in a 20,000 square foot space where they attempt to meet all their companies needs. Cannon Ventures, one of those support systems, is an investment network which focuses on assisting startups.

"We ran into to Lawson at an event, and he loved the idea," Knape said.

Sports technology is a focus of one of The Cannon, and Gow says he feels like sEATz is "off to the races" as a startup, with hosting early events at Rice football and the Sugar Land Skeeters games.

Getting on base
Having met Tanner Gardner of Rice's athletics department, Knape approached him with the idea. When Gardner saw the opportunity to add concession stand deliveries to the Owls fan's experience with sEATz, he took it, though he said he was "cautiously optimistic."

"I told them I thought they had a solution to a problem that exists and the challenge for you is convincing the concessionaires that this is something worth their while."

He mentioned to sEATz he believed stadium concessions wasn't a type of business to easily to take innovation and change their style especially if they believed their model worked. Law said there were reservations from concessions at first but the vendors eventually saw the benefit. sEATz orders regularly exceeded the typical total of purchase by a customer.

Rice Stadium is the first of what Knape and Law hope will be many venues to offer sEATz compatibility. The two sEATz leaders aren't reinventing the wheel, but their wheel is finally ready for the road. For years, stadiums lagged behind the digital demands of fans. Many lacked the capability for in-venue phone usage just a couple of years ago. Most venues now support and even encourage the use of apps and phones to improve the fan experience.

"I think it's worked very well," Gardner added. "Often the best sign a new product or a new service is working at our events is the lack of complaints about it. People are always quick to provide you with constructive criticism on things that are not going well."

But Gardner hasn't heard much other than praise so far.

"I didn't hear one negative thing about sEATz during the season and I also heard positive things."

Gametime decisions
The positive feedback comes in part from the user-friendly interface of the app. From your seat, you open the app and select the venue you are in and then type in your section, row, and seat number. The next screen is the stadium's finest fare at your fingertips. While perusing the stadium's offerings — with pictures — you make your selections and head to your cart. There you check out with whatever credit or debit card you've added to your profile. Then, sit back and enjoy the game.

On the sEATz's end of things, their work has just started. One team member assigns the order to a runner. The runner can see the entire order on their phone through a web portal. They head to each vendor who has a particular item, sometimes involving stops at multiple locations. The runners have their own line. The vendors, depending on preference, either keep track of what sEATz picks up and settles at the end of the day or checks them out right there with a sEATz credit card. After all the items in the order are picked up the sEATz runner presses "picked up" in their web portal. Then they head off to the patron's seat to deliver the order. Then, after delivery, the runner presses "delivered" on their end and is ready to be assigned another order.

The sEATz runners currently carry their own trays which are repurposed drink crates. Law says that runners will eventually carry specially designed and branded sEATz trays. Runners have the option to call or text the person who has ordered through the sEATz app to clarify their location or if they aren't in their seat. Runners are assigned to different regions of the stadium, so they aren't running all around.

There's an educational component to the delivery process too.

"We get to teach the runners about the game while doing this too," Law said.

He says that when they are in Constellation Field for Sugar Land Skeeters games, runners try not to deliver in the middle of an at-bat or while the ball is in play. Law wants other fans to notice runners and be jealous by their speedy delivery — not angry for interrupting.

The sEATz runners are currently all Westbury High School football players. Law reached out to a friend to see if his athletes would be interested in making a few extra dollars on the weekends.

"You get into the game and you get to make a few bucks doing it, these kids have been great for us," Law said.

He mentioned initially there was concern over who would be the workforce for sEATz, but now both sides of the equation are happy. Users can tip the runner like most delivery services, and some runners have made over $100 in tips in one day. Eventually, sEATz wants to institute a runner grading system to assist in rewarding runners who consistently perform well.

The game plan
The immediate future is making sure all parties associated with sEATz are successful, according to Knape. He said they have to service the fan but also make sure the concession stand is successful as well. They never want to hinder the operating procedure of a vendor. They also want to continue to tweak the app's design to make it even easier to use for fans. Right now food and non-alcoholic beverages are available on the app. In the future, sEATz plans to deliver alcohol and even apparel from the team stores.

Then, of course, there is the process of scaling up for larger events. Right now, sEATz has run test events on about 5,000 fans. However, when Rice hosted Houston they easily handled the stadium full of nearly 10,000 fans. Law said being in every venue is the eventual goal, but, he always wants to be ready for the size of the crowd.

Gow says that sEATz will be able to scale its technology, which is far more advanced than most products this early in their lifespan.

"We've been doing some walking before we've been doing some running," Gow said. "But, you can imagine the domino effect of one major professional sports team embracing it and the fans almost demanding that it exists in other stadiums and other sports teams and it spreading like wildfire."

Law knew they were on to something bigger than just delivering a hot dog and a drink. During one event, a mother stopped him and mentioned she loved the idea of the app. Her son was special needs and required a wheelchair. She told Law she loved sEATz because her son now didn't have to miss a moment of the game and they didn't have to make the daunting trek to the concession stand and the inevitable line with his chair. Another time Law was stopped by an elderly Rice fan. She explained sEATz could take her order and deliver her food to her before she could even leave her seat in the first few rows and make it to the concourse.

"I was just thinking about dads and kids not missing the game," Law said. "I was blown away to hear those stories."

Ease of use

Courtesy of sEATz

Users can download the free app and pay a small fee to get food delivered to their seats.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston-based cleantech unicorn named among annual top disruptors

on the rise

Houston-based biotech startup Solugen is making waves among innovative companies.

Solugen appears at No. 36 on CNBC’s annual Disruptor 50 list, which highlights private companies that are “upending the classic definition of disruption.” Privately owned startups founded after January 1, 2009, were eligible for the Disruptor 50 list.

Founded in 2016, Solugen replaces petroleum-based products with plant-derived substitutes through its Bioforge manufacturing platform. For example, it uses engineered enzymes and metal catalysts to convert feedstocks like sugar into chemicals that have traditionally been made from fossil fuels, such as petroleum and natural gas.

Solugen has raised $643 million in funding and now boasts a valuation of $2.2 billion.

“Sparked by a chance medical school poker game conversation in 2016, Solugen evolved from prototype to physical asset in five years, and production hit commercial scale shortly thereafter,” says CNBC.

Solugen co-founders Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt received the Entrepreneur of The Year 2023 National Award, presented by professional services giant EY.

“Solugen is a textbook startup launched by two partners with $10,000 in seed money that is revolutionizing the chemical refining industry. The innovation-driven company is tackling impactful, life-changing issues important to the planet,” Entrepreneur of The Year judges wrote.

In April 2024, Solugen broke ground on a Bioforge biomanufacturing plant in Marshall, Minnesota. The 500,000-square-foot, 34-acre facility arose through a Solugen partnership with ADM. Chicago-based ADM produces agricultural products, commodities, and ingredients. The plant is expected to open in the fall of 2025.

“Solugen’s … technology is a transformative force in sustainable chemical manufacturing,” says Hunt. “The new facility will significantly increase our existing capabilities, enabling us to expand the market share of low-carbon chemistries.”

Houston cleantech company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

RESULTS ARE IN

Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

“This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

“At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

“The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.