Historic Texas Southern University will host the September 12 Democratic debate, and Houston is expected to be the real economic winner. Courtesy photo

If past presidential debates are an accurate barometer, Houston stands to reap millions of dollars worth of benefits from what's been called the "Super Bowl of politics." However, one economist isn't casting his vote for any sizeable economic surge from the upcoming presidential debate in Houston.

On September 12, Houston's Texas Southern University, one of the largest historically black universities in the country, will host the third debate of the Democratic presidential primary season. The Democratic National Committee and ABC picked the 150-acre TSU campus for this showdown, where 10 Democratic candidates are set to take the stage at the 8,100-seat H&PE Arena.

While the Greater Houston Partnership isn't able to provide an estimated economic impact of the Houston debate, it still sees the value of Houston basking in the national spotlight.

"Texas Southern University hosting the third Democratic presidential primary debate here in Houston will focus national attention on the city for several days in much the same way the Republican presidential debate did back in 2016," Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, tells InnovationMap. "These events put Houston top of mind among people across the country — including the companies and talented individuals we're working to recruit to Houston."

The debate will help showcase Houston as a diverse city that's tackling presidential-level issues like education, infrastructure, and climate change, Harvey says. Climate change, in particular, hits close to home in Houston, as the city is "redefining its role" as the Energy Capital of the World through local initiatives taking on renewables, carbon emissions, and sustainability, according to Harvey.

Three years ago, the University of Houston hosted a Republican presidential debate featuring five candidates. For historical context, Houston hosted the Democratic National Convention in 1928 and the Republican National Convention in 1992.

Brandon Rottinghaus, a professor of political science at UH who's an expert on the presidency, says nationally televised debates serve as a "massive platform" for host colleges and universities to recruit faculty and students beyond their normal regional or local confines. Furthermore, he says, presidential debates can elevate the status of these schools in the realm of "public discourse."

"These debates are also a way to connect to alumni networks flung far across the nation," Rottinghaus tells InnovationMap, "and give them some something to brag about that isn't sports-related."

No estimates were provided of the economic impact for the University of Houston debate, but other spots in the U.S. — communities and college campuses — that have hosted presidential debates tout millions of dollars in value from debate-related spending and free publicity.

In October 2012, the Boca Raton, Florida, area realized an immediate economic impact of $13.1 million from hosting the final debate ahead of that year's presidential election, as well as $63.7 million in free publicity from news coverage of the nationally televised event. Those figures come from a study commissioned by Lynn University, which hosted the debate. An accompanying survey found that after watching the debate, 4.7 million American adults definitely wanted to visit the Boca Raton area over the next five years.

Also in October 2012, the University of Denver hosted a general-election debate that generated an estimated $56 million in free publicity.

Victor Matheson, an economist at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, dismisses those figures as inflated and irrelevant. And he says Houston shouldn't expect the city or TSU to receive any direct economic benefits from the September 12 debate.

For one thing, Matheson downplays the value assigned to free publicity surrounding a presidential debate. He complains that the methodology applied to tallying the benefits of so-called "earned media" coverage is flawed.

For another thing, Matheson notes that few people from outside the Houston area will be attending the debate at TSU, meaning little in the way of revenue from hotel stays, meals, and other visitor expenditures. "This isn't a Super Bowl," he says.

As a matter of fact, Houston hosted the 50th Super Bowl in February 2017 and fielded an economic impact of $347 million thanks to spending by 150,000 visitors, according to a study commissioned by the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee.

While not on the scale of a Super Bowl, the upcoming debate will attract positive attention for TSU, Matheson points out.

"This sort of debate can really put a college on the map, especially one like Texas Southern, a fairly obscure university from a national standpoint," he tells InnovationMap.

Matheson cites Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, as an example. Few people outside New England would have heard of Saint Anselm without its frequent hosting of presidential debates since the 1980s, he says.

The college has been dubbed the "academic epicenter" of the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary. During the 2015-16 political season alone, Saint Anselm hosted one Republican and one Democratic presidential debate, leading to more than 8,100 mentions in the news media of the college or its New Hampshire Institute of Politics.

"So, the effect for colleges is real, but there is still a question about how big it is," Matheson says. "And let's not pretend that the debate is somehow going to put Houston on the map. If Houston isn't already on your map, you really need to get yourself a new map."

Texas doctors and researchers received millions for their transformational work in cancer prevention and treatment. Getty Images

A Texas organization has doled out millions to Houston cancer-fighting professionals

granted

Researchers at medical institutions across the state have something to celebrate. The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas has made 71 grants this week to cancer-fighting organizations that total a near $136 million.

"CPRIT's priorities of pediatric cancer research and cancers of significance to Texans highlight this large slate of awards," says Wayne Roberts, CPRIT CEO, in a release. "Investments are made across the cancer research and prevention continuum in Texas unlike any other state in the country."

New to the awards this time around is the Collaborative Action Program for Liver Cancer, which has been claimed by Baylor College of Medicine's Hashem B. El-Serag.

"Texas has the highest incidence rates of hepatocellular cancer in the nation," El-Serag says in a release from BCM. "Our CPRIT funded Center will house infrastructure to support and enhance research collaborations among liver cancer researchers; to educate providers, researchers and the general public on best practices and opportunities to reduce the burden of liver cancer; and to engage private and public entities in policy initiatives."

Houston organizations also received recruitment awards, which reward Texas organizations for bringing in great minds from across the world. According to the release, CPRIT has brought in a total of 181 scholars and 13 companies to the Lone Star State.

Of the 71 grants, 58 represent academic research, 10 prevention, and three product development research. Here are the ones awarded to Houston organizations.

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

  • $900,000 granted for Shao-Cung Sun's research in regulation of CD8 T cell responses in antitumor immunity (Individual Investigator Research Award)
  • $897,483 granted for Alemayehu A. Gorfe's research in characterization and optimization of novel allosteric KRAS inhibitors (Individual Investigator Research Award)
  • $3 million granted for Hashem B. El-Serag's research at The Texas Collaborative Center for Hepatocellular Cancer (Collaborative Action Program to Reduce Liver Cancer Mortality in Texas: Collaborative Action Center Award)
  • $2.46 million to Jessica Hwang for patient-centered liver cancer prevention in the Houston community (Collaborative Action Program to Reduce Liver Cancer Mortality in Texas: Investigator-Initiated Research Awards)
  • $3.51 million for Kevin McBride's Recombinant Antibody Production Core at Science Park
  • $199,804 granted for Andrea Viale's epithelial memory of resolved inflammation as a driver of pancreatic cancer progression (High Impact High Risk Award)
  • $6 million for the recruitment of Christopher Flowers, M.D. (Recruitment of Established Investigator Awards)
  • $2 million for the recruitment of Kevin Nead, MD, MPhil (Recruitment of First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty Members Awards)
  • $2 million for the recruitment of Alison Taylor, PhD (Recruitment of First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty Members Awards)
  • $2 million for the recruitment of Mackenzie Wehner, MD, MPhil (Recruitment of First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty Members Awards)

Baylor College of Medicine

  • $5.38 million granted for Steven J. Ludtke's new capabilities for cancer research in the TMC CryoEM Cores (Core Facility Support Awards)
  • $1.35 million granted for Bryan M. Burt's novel endoscope-cleaning port for minimally invasive cancer surgery (Early Translational Research Awards)
  • $199,500 granted for Yohannes T. Ghebre's Topical Esomeprazole for Radiation-induced Dermatitis (High Impact High Risk Award)
  • $199,920 granted for Robin Parihar's targeting of cancer associated fibroblasts with anti-IL-11-secreting CAR T cells (High Impact High Risk Award)
  • $2 million for the recruitment of Umesh Jadhav, PhD (Recruitment of First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty Members Awards)
  • $2 million for the recruitment of Stanley Lee, PhD (Recruitment of First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty Members Awards)
  • $2 million for the recruitment of Ang Li, MD (Recruitment of First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty Members Awards)
  • $1.29 million for Jane R. Montealegre's expansion of "a Community Network for Cancer Prevention to Increase HPV Vaccine Uptake and Tobacco Prevention in a Medically Underserved Pediatric Population"

Texas Medical Center

  • $5.44 million granted for William McKeon's Business-Driven Accelerator for Cancer Therapeutics (Core Facility Support Awards)

The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

  • $5.95 million granted for Zhiqiang An's Advanced Cancer Antibody Drug Modalities Core Facility (Core Facility Support Awards)
  • $2 million granted for Qingyun Liu's discovery and development of novel peptibody-drug conjugate for treating cancers of the digestive system (Early Translational Research Awards)
  • $199,998 granted for Leng Han's expression landscape and biomedical significance of transfer RNAs in cancer (High Impact High Risk Award)
  • $2 million for Lara S. Savas' Salud en Mis Manos that delivers "Evidence-Based Breast & Cervical Cancer Prevention Services to Latinas in Underserved Texas South and Gulf Coast Communities"

The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston

  • $3.55 million granted for William K. Russell's A Targeted Proteomics and Metabolomics Mass Spectrometry Core Facility at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (Core Facility Support Awards)
  • $199,996 granted for Brendan Prideaux's novel cellular-level imaging approach to assess payload drug distribution in tumors following administration of targeted drug delivery systems (High Impact High Risk Award)
  • $200,000 granted for Casey W. Wright's targeting ARNT and RBFOX2 alternative splicing as a novel treatment modality in lymphoid malignancies (High Impact High Risk Award)

The Methodist Hospital Research Institute

  • $200,000 granted for Robert Rostomily's development of a mini-pig glioma model and validation of human clinical relevance (High Impact High Risk Award)

Texas Southern University

  • $200,000 for Song Gao's alleviating SN-38-induced late-onset diarrhea by preserving local UGTs in the colon (High Impact High Risk Award)

University of Houston

  • $200,000 granted for Sergey S. Shevkoplyas' Novel High-Throughput Microfluidic Device for Isolating T-cells Directly from Whole Blood to Simplify Manufacturing of Cellular Therapies (High Impact High Risk Award)

Rice University

  • $2 million for the recruitment of Jiaozhi (George) Lu, PhD (Recruitment of First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty Members Awards)
  • $1.67 million for the recruitment of Vicky Yao, PhD (Recruitment of First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty Members Awards)

The Rose

  • $2 million for Bernice Joseph's Empower Her To Care Expansion

Legacy Community Health Services

  • $999,276 for Charlene Flash's "Increasing Breast and Colorectal Cancer Screening Rates for the Medically Underserved using Population Health Strategies at a Multi-County FQHC"
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Houston health and wellness startup uses money as a motivator for lifestyle changes

health is wealth

Everything is different when money is on the line, and a Houston startup is using financial incentives as a motivator for its users to make smart, healthy lifestyle changes to enhance their wellness.

Healthiby, a cost-effective wellness program, is changing the game of health solutions by addressing chronic and pre-chronic conditions through innovative prevention and management methods, all incentivized by both short-term and long-term financial benefits.

"Healthiby incentivizes and empowers people to achieve better health outcomes in a team context," says Mary Beth Snodgrass, managing director and co-founder. "We're different from other wellness solutions because we're focused on changing habits, as well as incentivizing better health outcomes, providing both immediate and long-term rewards."

The company launched in May 2019 and is still in its pilot stage. Snodgrass and co-founder Dr. Tristan Hartzell, a surgeon based in Nebraska, have remained committed to their foundational concept for their startup, which is to empower people on their wellness journeys and spread knowledge about the financial benefits of leading a healthy lifestyle.

Mary Beth Snodgrass (pictured) founded Healthiby with Nebraska-based surgeon Dr. Tristan Hartzell. Photo courtesy of Healthiby.

Healthiby's notion that "health is wealth" relates to the idea that engaging in a healthy lifestyle will ultimately benefit individuals financially long-term, as healthcare costs can be avoided. Essentially, Healthiby qualifies health goals as preventative measures for chronic and pre-chronic diseases. Not only does Healthiby inform its users about the long-term financial benefits of healthy living, the program introduces exciting contests in which users are eligible to win financial rewards if they meet certain health-related criteria.

In time for the start of the new year and the health-related resolutions buzz, Healthiby enacts their user-friendly digital software application, social programs, expert health advice and financial incentives to serve their goal-oriented consumers with an engaging health management regiment that is sure to keep them on track throughout the year.

"What we're really focused on this year is, in addition to our incentives, digital content and coach guidance, is making sure that participants are engaging among themselves," Snodgrass tells InnovationMap. "Science shows there are benefits to surrounding yourself with other people who share similar health goals."

In what the program's founders refer to as a "wellness rewards solution," users are able to tap into the Healthiby digital platform to track their progress, participate in social wellness groups, invest in long-term financial incentives and access digestible, cutting edge wellness literature; all components of Healthiby's "journey goals," the program's building blocks to achieving a healthy lifestyle.

"Our software application manages our contests and our rewards, but we also have a very social component, in which participants are meeting online regularly with a dietician coach," Snodgrass explains. "The reason for this is because when we're talking about chronic and pre-chronic conditions, it's important for people to have a strong understanding of how these issues affect the body and what kinds of lifestyle changes are most effective at helping people better manage or reverse them."

Photo courtesy of Healthiby

For an annual minimum of $8 each month, individual consumers have the opportunity to invest in their own long-term wellness through this interactive, user-friendly health progress program.

"Healthiby is providing a really low cost solution for people to get additional social motivation, information, and incentives so that they can stick with their goals throughout the year," Snodgrass said.

Healthiby is currently available to individual consumers in Texas, but its founders have their sights set on expanding the business and sharing their solutions to companies vested in the importance of healthy living for their employees. For now, Houston's health and wellness consumers just got richer — both physically and financially — when Healthiby opened its digital doors to the city.

Real estate tech company founded by Houstonian launches locally, looks for office space

Homecoming

A New York-based company that uses technology to optimize the commercial real estate leasing process is expanding into Houston — and it's a bit of a homecoming for the company's CEO.

SquareFoot, which was founded by Houston native Jonathan Wasserstrum in 2011, has launched in Houston following the closing of a $16 million series B funding round led by Chicago-based DRW VC. The company uses tech tools — like a space calculator and online listings to help users find the right office space quicker and easier than traditional methods.

The Bayou City's growth in small businesses and startups makes for a great market for SquareFoot.

"Houston, in addition to being a leading market for business, is a city in transition," Wasserstrum says. "We've witnessed a growing trend of smaller companies cropping up, with startups showing that they're here to stay. I want SquareFoot to be a major part of the city's growth and evolution."

The idea for a company, Wasserstrum says, came from a friend in Houston who was struggling to find office space for his small company. Years later, that problem's solution would be SquareFoot.

SquareFoot's Houston operations are up and running online, and the listings and resources will continue to grow. Wasserstrum says the team will also open a physical office in Houston, and the team is currently looking for its own office space in a "highly-desirable" area, Wasserstrum says.

"That will not only make it easier for us to show office spaces to prospective clients, but it also sends the message that we understand these clients better than anyone," he explains. "Where you choose to open your offices is part of the story you're shaping for candidates and clients."

In regards to Houston-based employees, Wasserstrum says he will start with tapping a few Houston real estate experts. He will take the business model that was successful in New York and adapt it for Houston

"It's not only the East and West Coasts where innovation is taking place," Wasserstrum says. "We want to help Houston continue to grow as a stellar place to launch and grow a company."

National expansion is Wasserstrum's big goal, he says, and after settling in Houston, he plans to next enter into Washington, D.C., and a few other major markets.

Wasserstrum explains what the Houston expansion means to him, how tech is changing real estate, and trends he's keeping an eye on.

IM: What does it mean to be expanding in your hometown?

Jonathan Wasserstrum: Houston is where I grew up. My whole life has been shaped by what I saw and learned in Houston. I moved away for college, and have built my career on the East Coast, but Houston will always be a big part of me. My parents still live there so I have good reasons to fly home and to come home again.

As I've built out my company, SquareFoot, since 2012 at our NYC headquarters, I have dreamed of being able to expand our services nationally. We have helped over 1,200 companies find and secure office spaces in major cities. As our executive team considered where to invest in and to expand to next, Houston emerged at the top of the list. We made this decision for professional growth reasons, but that choice has an emotional element for me as well.

Going forward, I should have additional good reasons to fly home and to see my parents more often than I have had the occasion to over recent years. Plus, we save on hotel costs!

IM: What makes Houston a great place to expand into?

JW: From an office space perspective, Houston is an under tapped market. There are countless companies looking for the services we provide, but nobody has yet figured out how to build a company to serve them specifically.

We acquire many of our clients through online search — people looking for office space are literally searching online for solutions. We've seen in recent months and years a surge in searches from Houston, which indicated to us that there was a gap that had developed there. We've long had a digital presence there, thanks to these searches, but now we're increasing our physical presence on the ground. We'll hire a broker and put an office there in the coming months.

IM: What sort of trends are you seeing in office real estate? Are these trends happening in Houston already?

JW: Over the past years, we've seen a sharp increase in demand for flexible solutions. Traditional coworking spaces have worked out for many companies, but it's not for everyone.

At the same time, the long-term leases that are usually required upon signing on for an office space of your own has largely kept growing companies out of the market; it has scared them off. We realized there had to be a middle option so we launched FLEX by SquareFoot last year. Now, for the first time, all companies can find the spaces they want with the terms they want.

We are excited to introduce FLEX to the Houston market and to show companies there that there's more lease flexibility and opportunity available than they might think. Change in commercial real estate happens slowly over a long period of time. Houston has the chance now to be a part of their changing wave.

IM: How is technology changing the industry?

JW: For many decades, commercial real estate operated the exact same way. And it intended to stay that way because nobody had reason to believe anything was broken or wrong. However, there were several inefficiencies that clients just had to deal with because that was the industry standard.

The first one was the lack of transparency of which office spaces were unoccupied or what they'd cost. Brokers would lock up this information and keep clients at a distance, unless they were willing to sign on to work with them. With SquareFoot's online listings platform, we have unlocked that information, have educated countless people, and have made for a more seamless and enjoyable process for our clients as partners in their searches.

The other technological breakthrough we've made is in our mobile app. Still, in 2020, too many clients are taking tours of these offices with pen and paper and occasionally snapping a photo or video to send back to their stakeholders. Our app solved those issues once and for all, enabling better communication back and forth and a better user experience for all. Regardless of which team member goes on the office tour with our broker, everyone is clued in and on the same page.

We want everyone on the greater team to buy into the vision, and to recognize the potential, not just one representative who happened to be on the office tour one afternoon.