WeWork Labs and NextSeed have teamed up to help Houston's food entrepreneurs. Photo courtesy of WeWork

Two Houston programs that exist to help grow and develop food and hospitality startups have teamed up to combine their resources and programming.

WeWork Labs, a global acceleration program with a location in downtown Houston, and NextSeed, a Houston-based online investment platform, have announced a partnership set to begin in December. Together, the two entities will build a support system for Houston-based food entrepreneurs to provide workshops, programming, events, and more.

"Houston food entrepreneurs are keen to solve the big problems the food industry is facing today," says Carlos Estrada, head of WeWork Labs in Houston, in a news release. "Houston is among the leading cities for startup innovation and we see our partnership with NextSeed as an exciting first-of-its-kind initiative that will prove to support even more food entrepreneurs in the area, arming them with the network and tools they need to get their concepts off the ground and transform into leading businesses."

WeWork brings in its international food labs programming, and NextSeed will be able to provide access to capital through its platform. In March, the company launched NextSeed Space — a pop-up retail and kitchen space for startups to test their food and operations.

"Since inception, NextSeed has been focused on developing a world-class technology platform to democratize finance and strengthen local communities," says NextSeed CEO, Youngro Lee, in a news release. "By partnering with WeWork Labs, we are excited to be able to expand the level of support we can provide to our clients and member businesses through services like coaching, mentoring and dedicated workspace to help them ultimately reach their goals."

The first joint event hosted will be a reception and panel on December 12 from 6 to 8:30 pm at WeWork's Jones Building location in downtown. For event details, click here.

WeWork will have a fourth Houston location. Photo courtesy of WeWork

WeWork doubles down on downtown with its 4th Houston coworking space announced

Coworkers unite

WeWork has decided to open yet another coworking location in Houston — this time, the new office is just down the street from an existing location.

The New York City-based coworking company has opened three locations across Houston — one in downtown's The Jones Building, one in the Galleria Office Tower I, and one in Hughes Landing in The Woodlands, which was recently announced in May.

The new location will occupy 56,000 square feet of the 25th and 26th floors of 609 Main, Houston-based Hines' 48-story trophy tower that joined the Houston skyline in early 2017. The building now has tenants to the tune of United Airlines, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Orrick, and Hogan Lovells, to name a few.

"The modern office is evolving and providing a coworking component is essential to a building's long-term viability," says Philip Croker, Hines senior managing director, in a release. "Adding a tenant of WeWork's caliber further reinforces the strength of 609 Main and will deliver an outstanding amenity for the building and its future occupants."

In addition to the usual WeWork perks — like 24/7 building access, coffee, community events, and business resources — members will also have access to a 7,000-square-foot high-performance fitness center in the building and the lobby coffee shop.

Michael Anderson and Damon Thames with Colvill Office Properties represented Hines in the transaction and Mark O'Donnell with Savills Commercial Real Estate negotiated on behalf of WeWork.

"Houston is a thriving business hub and innovative city," says Nathan Lenahan, general manager of WeWork, in a release. "We are excited to expand our footprint with a second location downtown and continue to strengthen the WeWork network with the opening of 609 Main Street."

In May, WeWork announced that it would be opening 1,000 desks in its new Woodlands location, but the company also disclosed that 775 desks will be added to the Galleria location in 2019 too. In the same release, an additional 1,000 desks were noted to be in the works, pending new leases. This figure could have been referring to the then-unannounced downtown location.

"In 2018, WeWork grew its footprint in a very big way in Houston. Now, in 2019, we're growing even more, but in a way that's as much about desks as it is impact," says Roniel Bencosme, WeWork Houston's community director, in the news release. "In this next year, WeWork will build a constellation of opportunity through new spaces spread across Houston, and opening in the Woodlands is key to that effort."

Regionally, WeWork has a presence in five cities in Texas — Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Austin, and Plano — but will launch in its sixth Texas city, San Antonio, in early 2020.

Last month, WeWork announced that Houston's Jones Building location would be one of three WeWork locations selected for a 3D printing pilot program. Additionally, earlier this year the company announced its early-stage incubator program, WeWork Labs, also in the Jones Building location.

WeWork's newest Houston-area location is headed to The Woodlands. Courtesy of WeWork

WeWork announces its Houston-area third location in The Woodlands as the company expands locally

Coworking growth

In 2018, WeWork more than doubled its presence in Houston in terms of desks available. The company went from one location in the Galleria area with 1,100 desks to adding a second location in downtown with 1,500 desks. In 2019, WeWork is expected to again double the number of coworking desks the company will have by the end of the year — most new desk space will come from WeWork's new location in The Woodlands.

"In 2018, WeWork grew its footprint in a very big way in Houston. Now, in 2019, we're growing even more, but in a way that's as much about desks as it is impact," says Roniel Bencosme, WeWork Houston's community director, in a news release. "In this next year, WeWork will build a constellation of opportunity through new spaces spread across Houston, and opening in the Woodlands is key to that effort."

WeWork will have 1,000 desks at the new northwest location (1725 Hughes Landing) across two floors and 52,000 square feet of space, according to the release. WeWork Galleria will add 775 desks in the fourth quarter of 2019, and 1,000 more desks will be added by end of the year pending new leases, the release says. Regionally, WeWork has a presence in five cities in Texas — Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Austin, and Plano — but will launch in its sixth Texas city, San Antonio, in early 2020.

In 2019, WeWork will also be growing its social impact programs on a national level in addition to its footprint. Recently, WeWork formed a partnership with the Female Founders Alliance, the Tent Partnership for Refugees, to hire 1,500 refugees at WeWork over the next five years. The company's veterans hiring initiative will also be hiring 1,500 veterans over the next five years.

Houstonians can also expect to see new WeWork Labs, WeWork's accelerator concept, around town, as well as the Veterans in Residence third cohort. WeWork's Flatiron School, which is in its downtown Houston location, will see new cohorts and boasts of a 98 percent job rate placement rate. The school alsy awarded $200,000 in scholarship dollars last year.

"Impact for WeWork is about enabling opportunity. We unlock access to thriving workspaces for companies of all sizes that would otherwise be out of reach," Bencosme says in the release. "We help cities like Houston attract top companies and reduce friction for them to put down roots. We're creating synergies and connectivity across the metro region at a level and scale that's never been done before. That's impact.

WeWork recently released its Global Impact Report for 2019, and the research tracked specifics about its Houston membership. Here were some key findings of the study locally:

  • The majority of Houston WeWork members (83 percent) are in the innovation economy, compared to 12% in the region as a whole.
  • When it comes to sustainable commuting, 42 percent of WeWork members walk, bike, or use public transit to go to work.
  • The Houston WeWork economy contributes over $1 billion to the city's GDP — either directly ($480 million) or indirectly ($530 million)
  • WeWork's small and medium-sized member companies in Houston have an average job growth rate of 32 percent (compared to 1 percent for all companies in Houston).
  • In Houston, 58 percent of WeWork members say the organization has helped their company accelerate its growth.
  • While 44 percent of senior roles at U.S. WeWork member companies are held by women, Houston's percentage of female-led companies at WeWork locally is slightly lower at 36 percent.
  • Of WeWork members that are entrepreneurs in Houston, 26 percent are first-time entrepreneurs, and 1 in 20 of the city's first-time entrepreneurs are WeWork members.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

Houston is still — but most accounts — emerging as a tech and innovation hub, which could seem to mean that the startups that make up the innovation ecosystem reside in early stages of business scale.

However, this week's sampling of Houston innovators to know demonstrate the scope in scale of Houston's companies — from a CEO to a newly public company and recently hired CEO of a rapidly scaling software company to a health tech leader fresh out of the gates.

John Berger, CEO of Sunnova

Photo courtesy of Sunnova

Taking a company public brings on a slew of changes. One that might be overlooked is the change for the leader of that company. John Berger —CEO of Sunnova, a Houston-based solar energy company that went public last summer — joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the changes and where his company is headed.

Transitioning from a private company CEO to a public company CEO has been eye opening, Berger says on the podcast, joking that he now has to watch what he says. But change is ultimately something Berger says he embraces.

"I really look at myself and how I can change myself," Berger says. "I'm a different CEO today than I was 12 months ago, and hopefully I'll be a different CEO in 12 months, because the company demands it." Read more and stream the episode here.

Mary Beth Snodgrass, co-founder of Healthiby

Mary Beth Snodgrass is convinced she can help people make life-enhancing changes that affect health and financial situations because, well, science.

The co-founder of Healthiby created the platform to use financial incentives to drive positive health and wellness decisions. The Houston company is in pilot mode but has plans to expand.

"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." Read more.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software

Photo courtesy of Quorum

A new CEO is tasked with exponential growth at a Houston-based software company. Gene Austin joined Houston-based Quorum Software last year at a time of rapid M&A activity.

The energy industry software solutions provider, which is a portfolio company of California-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo LLC since 2018, has big plans to continue the exponential growth with more acquisitions that diversify their portfolio of services and a Houston office expansion later this year. According to Austin, he expects this growth spurred by M&A activity to double Quorum's revenue of $200 million in the next 3 to 5 years.

"We are always thinking about how to best serve our customers," Austin says. "We've made millions of dollars of investments in our support organization and cloud team services that are foundational to reinvigorate innovation and help our customers see how the future can unfold for them." Read more.

Houston listed among top cities expected to see office job growth

new hires

Texas cities — including the Houston area — will see a slew of new office jobs this year, according to a new projection.

Commercial real estate services company CBRE predicts Houston will see a 1.9 percent rise in office jobs this year compared to last year. That ranks Houston as the No. 4 spot for anticipated office-job growth in 2020 among U.S. markets with at least 37.5 million square feet of office space. Office jobs include those in the tech, professional services, and legal sectors.

"Tech, talent, and low taxes continue to fuel Texas' rising status as an inevitable, leading force in the U.S. economy," Ian Anderson, Americas head of office research at CBRE, says in the release. "2020 will be another year where companies and people from around the country relocate to the Lone Star State, leaving most of the rest of the country in envy of the growth in Dallas, Houston, and Austin."

Dallas only narrowly outpaced Houston in the ranking coming in at No. 3 with 2.1 percent expected growth. Austin, however, is the big Texas winner with an expected 2.6 percent rise in office jobs this year compared with last year. That puts Austin in first place on the ranking, edging out San Francisco for the top spot in CBRE's forecast, published January 9. The company predicts a 2.5 percent increase in San Francisco office jobs this year versus last year.

Personal finance website WalletHub recently ranked San Francisco and Austin third and fourth, respectively, on its list of the U.S. best cities to find a job.

"It's not surprising that the forecast for Austin is extremely bright, and we expect that technology companies and professional firms will still drive the demand for more [offices]," Troy Holme, executive vice president in the Austin office of CBRE, says in a January 22 release.

In November, Austin's unemployment rate decreased to 2.5 percent from 2.6 percent in October and 2.7 percent in September, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. Austin's jobless rate in November was the third lowest among the state's metro areas; Dallas-Fort Worth's rate was at 3 percent, while Houston's was at 3.6 percent.

CBRE says the growth of office jobs was more robust in the top U.S. markets last year than it is estimating for 2020. Dallas (5.7 percent) leads the 2019 list, followed by San Francisco (5.2 percent), Seattle (4.2 percent), Houston (3.7 percent), and Charlotte, North Carolina (3.6 percent).

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston-based energy logistics software prepares to hire, raise funds as it scales up

now hiring

Many startups turn to offshore outsourcing to fuel their growth. The Now Network, a Houston-based energy tech startup, is doing just the opposite — relying on stateside in-sourcing.

The SaaS company is in the midst of building out its in-house development team, including full stack developers and UX/UI designers. This year, The Now Network plans to add another four to six developers, on top of the six who already are on board. Stacey McCroskey, the company's director of product since September 2019, leads the team.

Previously, the development team consisted of more than a dozen contract workers in Ukraine and India, says Mush Khan, president of The Now Network. Khan assumed the president's role in May 2019.

"We believe that having our own in-house team drives a sense of ownership over the product. We have to eat our own cooking. because what we build, we have to support," Khan says.

Compared with the outsourcing model, the in-house team enables the company to more quickly release higher-quality products and more quickly respond to customers' needs, he says.

"Over the years, The Now Network has seen immense growth, consistently advancing its technology framework to drive faster payments, increased driver retention, an expanded 3PL network, and increased business revenue," Sam Simon, the company's founder, chairman, and CEO, says in a release. "The addition of an in-house development team will only amplify this growth, promoting more opportunities for cross-collaboration and customer feedback, to expand upon and refine existing features."

Members of the in-house development team are working on expansion of The Now Network's last-mile logistics platform for wholesalers, third-party logistics (3PL) carriers, drivers, and users of fuel. Khan says the platform offers "complete visibility and accuracy" throughout the fuel delivery process.

Competition for tech talent in Houston industries like energy and manufacturing is ramping up as the region evolves as "a fast-paced, innovative environment," he says.

"We believe companies like ours offer an opportunity to build a product from the ground up," Khan says, "and in an environment that allows them to express themselves creatively."

In June 2019, staffing firm Robert Half Technology put Houston in fourth place for the anticipated volume of IT hiring in U.S. cities during the second half of the year.

"The technology market in Houston remains strong as more companies are investing in systems upgrades, focusing on security, and taking on digital projects," Robert Vaughn, Robert Half Technology's regional vice president in Houston, said in a release. "The candidate market remains tight, and companies that prolong the interview process or don't make competitive offers tend to have the hardest time staffing open roles."

Today, The Now Network employs 15 people, all but one of whom works in Houston. The company expects to grow its workforce to around 30 by the end of 2020, Khan says. To accommodate the larger headcount, The Now Network is moving this month from WeWork at the Galleria to a 6,000-square-foot office in the Upper Kirby neighborhood.

To help finance its growth, The Now Network will soon launch its first-ever fundraising effort. Khan says the company will seek more than $5 million in investment capital.

Founded in 2015, The Now Network strives to simplify the last mile of the "energy ecosystem," which Khan describes as "slow, opaque, and expensive." Its SaaS platform automates delivery functions in the energy supply chain, doing away with manual labor and tedious paperwork, he says.

Since early 2018, the startup has handled more than 180,000 customer transactions involving over 1.8 billion gallons of fuel.

The Now Network is a portfolio company of Simon Group Holdings, a private equity firm based in Birmingham, Michigan. One of its key areas of focus is the energy sector.

In 2017, The Now Network (previously known as FuelNow Network) entered a strategic partnership with Houston-based Motiva Enterprises LLC, a fuel refiner, distributor, and retailer owned by Saudi Refining Inc. Khan says his company is collaborating with Motiva to roll out The Now Network platform to U.S. fuel wholesalers.

"As of now, Motiva doesn't have a stake in our company," he says.

Motiva owns East Texas' 3,600-acre Port Arthur Refinery, the largest oil refinery in North America, with a daily capacity of more than 600,000 barrels. State-controlled Saudi Aramco — which went public last year in an IPO valued at $2 trillion — owns Saudi Refining.