This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Zimri Hinshaw of BUCHA BIO, Kelly Klein of Easter Seals of Greater Houston, ad John Mooz of Hines. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from esports to biomaterials — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Zimri Hinshaw, CEO of BUCHA BIO

Zimri T. Hinshaw, CEO of BUCHA BIO, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how he's planning to scale his biomaterials startup to reduce plastic waste. Photo courtesy of BUCHA BIO

After raising a seed round of funding, BUCHA BIO is gearing up to move into its new facility. The biomaterials company was founded in New York City in 2020, but CEO Zimri T. Hinshaw shares how he started looking for a new headquarters for the company — one that was more affordable, had a solid talent pool, and offered a better quality of life for employees. He narrowed it down from over 20 cities to two — San Diego and Houston — before ultimately deciding on the Bayou City.

Since officially relocating, Hinshaw says he's fully committed to the city's innovation ecosystem. BUCHA BIO has a presence at the University of Houston, Greentown Labs, and the East End Maker Hub — where the startup is building out a new space to fit the growing team.

"By the end of this month, our laboratories will be up and running, we'll have office space adjacent, as well as chemical storage," Hinshaw says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. Listen to the episode and read more.

Kelly Klein, development director of Easter Seals Greater Houston

A nonprofit organization has rolled out an esports platform and event to raise awareness and funding for those with disabilities. Photo via Easter Seals

For many video games is getaway from reality, but for those with disabilities — thanks to a nonprofit organization —gaming can mean a lot more. On Saturday Dec. 3 — International Day of Persons with Disabilities — from 1 to 9 pm, Easter Seals Greater Houston will be joining forces with ES Gaming for the inaugural Game4Access Streamathon.

Gaming helps enhance cognitive skills, motor skills, improve mental well-being, and can help reduce feelings of social isolation due to the interactive nature of playing with others.

“This is really a unique way for (people) to form a community without having to leave their house, and being part of an inclusive environment,” says Kelly Klein, development director of Easter Seals Greater Houston. ”The adaptive equipment and specialized technology just does so many miraculous things for people with disabilities on so many levels — not just gaming. With gaming, it is an entrance into a whole new world.” Read more.

John Mooz, senior managing director at Hines

Levit Green has announced its latest to-be tenant. Photo courtesy

Levit Green, a 53-acre mixed-use life science district next to the Texas Medical Center and expected to deliver this year, has leased approximately 10,000 square feet of commercial lab and office space to Sino Biological Inc. The Bejing-based company is an international reagent supplier and service provider. Houston-based real estate investor, development, and property manager Hines announced the new lease in partnership with 2ML Real Estate Interests and Harrison Street.

“Levit Green was meticulously designed to provide best-in-class life science space that can accommodate a multitude of uses. Welcoming Sino Biological is a testament to the market need for sophisticated, flexible space that allows diversified firms to perform a variety of research,” says John Mooz, senior managing director at Hines, in a press release. “Sino is an excellent addition to the district’s growing life science ecosystem, and we look forward to supporting their continued growth and success.” Read more.Read more.

Zimri T. Hinshaw, CEO of BUCHA BIO, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how he's planning to scale his biomaterials startup to reduce plastic waste. Photo courtesy of BUCHA BIO

Houston sustainable materials startup moves into new facility, plans to hire

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 161

After raising a seed round of funding, an alternative materials startup is gearing up to move into its new facility.

BUCHA BIO, a climatetech company that's creating sustainable materials to replace plastics and leather for the fashion industry and beyond, closed its most recent round of funding at $1.1 million in September. Now, the company is full speed ahead getting ready to move into a larger office and lab space this month while hiring within technical roles, supply chain, quality control scientists, and more to make sure BUCHA BIO is ready to scale.

"That's the biggest deployment of capital — making sure we have the team that can scale this and so we can set up the logistics needed," CEO Zimri T. Hinshaw says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It's not all fun innovative materials — it's also really fun international supply chain logistics. Some of these things we don't always talk about are equally important to make sure we are creating a product that has the potential to displace plastic and leather at scale."

Hinshaw shares on the podcast how his technology takes the raw material from bacterial and plant-based ingredients — basically a thick malleable substance — and turns it into a durable sheet of material that can be used in fashion, but also automotive and energy-adjacent industries.

BUCHA BIO was founded in New York City in 2020, but after the company participated in SOSV's IndieBio program, Hinshaw shares how he started looking for a new headquarters for the company — one that was more affordable, had a solid talent pool, and offered a better quality of life for employees.

"Manhattan is a notoriously difficult place to live and work — and to grow a company like this. It just came to a point where we couldn't afford to give the talent a high quality of life, and that's important to me as a leader," Hinshaw says. "We couldn't afford the space. ... That was the tipping point for us."

Hinshaw says he looked at over 20 cities closely — Austin; Akron, Ohio; Dallas; Miami; and more. He narrowed it down to San Diego and Houston, before ultimately deciding on the Bayou City.

Since officially relocating, Hinshaw says he's fully committed to the city's innovation ecosystem. BUCHA BIO has a presence at the University of Houston, Greentown Labs, and the East End Maker Hub — where the startup is building out a new space to fit the growing team.

"By the end of this month, our laboratories will be up and running, we'll have office space adjacent, as well as chemical storage," Hinshaw says. "We aren't manufacturing onsite — we're prototyping and improving manufacturing onsite."

The technology BUCHA BIO uses to produce its materials is called an extruder, and the company has its own smaller scale model within its facilities. Hinshaw says the process includes outsourcing the larger scale process at existing facilities.

After fully moving in and hiring the new team members the company needs at this phase of scaling, Hinshaw says he'll execute on his current plan to raise more funding from investors.

"As of right now, we are looking to catch up to the competition and to be a major player," Hinshaw says, adding that, as of now, he's aiming for a $10 million series A round. "We're breaking out, and this next round is going to prove that."

Hinshaw shares more about his game plan for BUCHA BIO and his passion for helping to make Houston a leader within the sustainability space on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Here's why three New to Hou finalists from the Houston Innovation Awards have committed to Houston. Photo via Getty Images

Overheard: Why these 3 startups relocated to Houston

eavesdropping at the houston innovation awards gala

Houston is attracting more and more businesses big and small, old and new. So much that it seemed worthy of an award for the Houston Innovation Awards Gala.

The awards event, which is on November 9 and hosted by InnovationMap and Houston Exponential at the Ion, is honoring five finalists selected by judges — and naming one winner — who have recently relocated or significantly expanded to Houston.

Here's why three of these New to Hou finalists have committed to Houston.

"The move to the Houston area allowed us to be much closer to our strategic partners, customers and suppliers. We are also impressed by the vast talent pool in the area. Houston has a highly skilled workforce with diverse experiences, particularly in oil and gas, petrochemicals, and a broad range of technical areas."

Photo courtesy

Jay Manouchehri, CEO of Fluence Analytics, which relocated from Louisiana to Stafford last year, just outside of Houston. "We have been able to engage very actively with many customers since the move and also have developed valuable supplier relationships."

"In 2019, Chevron and EIC (both Houston based) became investors and we already had a lot of US clients, so we wanted to create a Houston footprint."

Photo courtesy

John van Pol, co-founder and CEO of INGU, which opened its new Houston office in 2021. Van Pol adds that the pandemic delayed their expansion initially.

"Houston has a quickly-growing biotechnology sector and already has existing oil and gas talent, making it an ideal place to find the people we need to grow our business."

Photo courtesy

Zimri T. Hinshaw, founder and CEO of BUCHA BIO, which relocated to Houston from New York in January 2022. "Our most prominent investor is Houston-based New Climate Ventures," he adds.

BUCHA BIO has raised over $1 million to grow its team, build a new headquarters, and accelerate its go-to-market strategy. Image courtesy of BUCHA BIO

Houston-based biomaterials company raises $1.1M to grow team, build new HQ

money moves

A Houston company that has created a plant-based material that can replace unsustainable conventional leathers and plastics has announced the close of its oversubscribed seed funding round.

BUCHA BIO announced it's raised $1.1 million in seed funding. The round included participation from existing partners New Climate Ventures, Lifely VC, and Beni VC, as well as from new partners Prithvi VC, Asymmetry VC, and investors from the Glasswall Syndicate, including Alwyn Capital, as well as Chris Zarou, CEO & Founder of Visionary Music Group and manager of multi-platinum Grammy-nominated rapper, Logic, the startup reports in a news release.

“I’m excited to back BUCHA BIO’s amazing early market traction," Zarou says in the release. "Their next-gen bio-based materials are game-changing, and their goals align with my personal vision for a more sustainable future within the entertainment industry and beyond.”

The company, which relocated its headquarters from New York to Houston in February, was founded by Zimri T. Hinshaw in 2020 and is based out of the East End Makers Hub and Greentown Houston.

BUCHA BIO has created two bio-based materials using bacterial nanocellulose and other plant-based components. The two materials are SHORAI, which can be used as a leather alternative, and HIKARI, a translucent material that is expected to be formally introduced in November.

The fresh funding will help the company to accelerate its move into the marketplace next year by securing co-manufacturers to scale production. Additionally, the company is growing its team and is hiring for a new supply chain lead as well as some technician roles.

Per the release, BUCHA BIO is working on constructing a new headquarters in Houston that will house a materials development laboratory, prototype manufacturing line, and offices.

BUCHA BIO has the potential to impact several industries from fashion and automotive to construction and electronics. According to the Material Innovation Initiative, the alternative materials industry has seen an increased level of interest from investors who have dedicated over $2 billion into the sector since 2015.

“The time for rapid growth for biomaterials is now," says repeat investor Eric Rubenstein, founding managing partner at Houston-based New Climate Ventures, in the release. "BUCHA BIO's team and technical development are advancing hand in hand with the demands of brand partnerships, and we are excited to support them as they capitalize on this global opportunity.”

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Eric Rubenstein of New Climate Ventures, Susan Davenport of Greater Houston Partnership, and Zimri T. Hinshaw of Bucha Bio. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from venture capital to sustainability — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.


Eric Rubenstein, founding managing partner of New Climate Ventures

Eric Rubenstein of New Climate Ventures joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the future of Houston as a clean energy hub. Photo courtesy of NCV

Houston has a big role to play in the energy transition, says Eric Rubenstein, a climatetech investor, on last week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"Houston's role (within the energy transition) is multifaceted," he explains. "We have a talent pool here that fits pretty well in climate tech, alternative materials, and other spaces. ...We have a customer base here that is going to adopt these new technologies."

Rubenstein founded New Climate Ventures to fund startups within the sustainability and climate tech space — which includes technologies that address circular economy, sustainably made materials, clean energy, and more. Click here to read more and stream the episode.

Susan Davenport, chief economic development officer for the Greater Houston Partnership

The Greater Houston Partnership's Susan Davenport shares details on Houston House at SXSW. Photo via houston.org

Last year, the Greater Houston Partnership created virtual content to shine a spotlight on Houston tech and innovation at SXSW. This year, the GHP is taking that same initiative in-person and in Austin. Susan Davenport, chief economic development officer at GHP, shared in a Q&A what people can expect fro Houston House at SXSW.

"Anyone who is interested in technology, commercial aerospace, life sciences, and how DEI traverses with these industries will find value in our rockstar lineup of industry leaders, investors, and startup founders," she says. "We hope to see young professionals, entrepreneurs, investors, and executives."

The activation runs Sunday, March 13, and Monday, March 14. Click here to read more.

Zimri T. Hinshaw, CEO of Bucha Bio

Bucha Bio has arrived to make an impact on the city of Houston. Image via LinkedIn

A sustainable fashion company has relocated to Houston. Bucha Bio, founded in 2019, creates in textiles and composite materials made from bacterial nanocellulose, a much more sustainable materials production, that can be used instead of animal leather, polyurethane, latex, vinyl, epoxy, and more. The company announced in a press release today that it's moving from New York City and opening a next-gen materials headquarters at the East End Maker Hub. Bucha Bio has also been accepted as a member company at Greentown Labs.

According to the release, over 20 locations were considered, and Houston stood out for its hiring potential, local universities, Texas's business-friendly regulation, and more.

“We’ve signed on senior scientists and their experiences from the oil and plastic industry are perfectly suited to biomaterials,” says Zimri T. Hinshaw, CEO of Bucha Bio, in the release. Click here to read more.

Bucha Bio has arrived to make an impact on the city of Houston. Image courtesy of Bucha Bio

Sustainable biomaterials startup expands to Houston

new to hou

A New York-founded biomaterials company has announced the opening of operations in Houston after research found the region's workforce “perfectly suited to biomaterials.”

Bucha Bio, founded in 2019, creates in textiles and composite materials made from bacterial nanocellulose, a much more sustainable materials production, that can be used instead of animal leather, polyurethane, latex, vinyl, epoxy, and more. The company announced in a press release today that it's moving from New York City and opening a next-gen materials headquarters at the East End Maker Hub. Bucha Bio has also been accepted as a member company at Greentown Labs.

According to the release, over 20 locations were considered, and Houston stood out for its hiring potential, local universities, Texas's business-friendly regulation, and more.

“We’ve signed on senior scientists and their experiences from the oil and plastic industry are perfectly suited to biomaterials,” says Zimri T. Hinshaw, CEO of Bucha Bio, in the release.

One of these new local hires was Alex Kalin, who joined the company as senior materials scientist from Halliburton.

“It’s a great time to be involved in developing sustainable materials technologies," Kalin says in the release. "Having the opportunity to make a positive impact on the environment was a key factor for me joining Bucha Bio.”

Houston's chemical plant carbon footprint includes 56 gigatons tons of carbon that will be produced from now until 2050 — this number could be shrunk with sustainable alternatives like the one Bucha Bio provides. This potential has been recognized by Greentown Labs.

“Bringing world class energy transition companies like Bucha Bio to Houston is a win-win; not only is Bucha positioned to tap into a diverse talent pool from Universities such as Rice, University of Houston, and Texas A&M, but a wealth of extant talent which is looking to transition their careers; Zimri and his team bring more than technology to Houston, they bring the knowhow, vigor, and network it takes to build meaningful disruptive technology company," says Jason Ethier, senior director of memberships at Greentown Houston.

Last fall, Bucha Bio raised $550,000 in funding led by Houston-based New Climate Ventures with support from SOSV’s IndieBio.

“Bucha Bio’s move to Houston marks a milestone for their ability to keep up with the growing demand for their products and for our shared vision of a clean environment for generations to come," Eric Rubenstein of NCV says.

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Houston data scientist joins medical device startup amid AI evolution in the sector

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 241

When most people hear about Houston startup Starling Medical, they might think about how much potential the medical device company has in the field of urinalysis diagnostics. But that's not quite where Angela Wilkins's head went.

Wilkins explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that when she met the company's co-founders, Hannah McKenney and Drew Hendricks, she recognized them as very promising startup leaders taking action on a real health care problem. Starling's device can collect urine and run diagnostics right from a patient's toilet.

"It was one of those things where I just thought, 'They're going to get a bunch of data soon,'" Wilkins says. "The opportunity is just there, and I was really excited to come on and build their AI platform and the way they are going to look at data."

For about a year, Wilkins supported the startup as an adviser. Now, she's working more hands on as chief data officer as the company grows.



Wilkins, who serves as a mentor and adviser for several startups, has a 20-year career in Houston across all sides of the innovation equation, working first at Baylor College of Medicine before co-founding Mercury Data Science — now OmniScience. Most recently she served as executive director of the Ken Kennedy Institute at Rice University.

This variety in her resume makes her super connective — a benefit to all the startups she works with, she explains. The decision to transition to a startup team means she gets to work hands on in building a technology — while bringing in her experience from other institutions.

"I think I've really learned how to partner with those institutions," she says on the show. "I've really learned how to make those bridges, and that's a big challenge that startups face."

"When we talk about the Houston innovation ecosystem, it's something we should be doing better at because we have so many startups and so many places that would like to use better technology to solve problems," she continues.

Wilkins has data and artificial intelligence on the mind in everything she does, and she even serves on a committee at the state level to learn and provide feedback on how Texas should be regulating AI.

"At the end of the day, the mission is to put together a report and strategy on how we think Texas should think about AI," she explains. "It's beyond just using an algorithm, they need infrastructure."

Colorado is the first state to pass legislation surrounding AI, and Wilkins says all eyes are on how execution of that new law will go.

"We should have technology that can be double checked to make sure we're applying it in a way that's fair across all demographics. It's obvious that we should do that — it's just very hard," she says.

Texas ranks as top state for interest in AI-related job postings

eye on AI

If internet search volume is an accurate barometer, Texas is a hotbed for interest in artificial intelligence jobs.

An analysis by Agility Writer, whose technology helps users produce AI-generated content, shows Texas ranks second among the states with the highest monthly search volume for AI-related jobs. The analysis puts Texas’ monthly search volume at 1,300, with California sitting in first place at 1,900 monthly searches.

“As the AI revolution continues to gain momentum, the geographic distribution of interest in AI careers is likely to evolve further, with states investing in AI education and fostering supportive ecosystems poised to reap the benefits of this transformative technology,” says Adam Yong, CEO of Agility Writer.

The analysis cites Amazon, Apple, and Tesla as three of the major employers in Texas pursuing AI initiatives.

Dice.com, a search engine for tech jobs, says AI roles that are in high demand include machine learning engineer, data scientist, AI research scientist, and robotics engineer.

“Looking forward, the demand for AI professionals is expected to intensify as technologies continue to advance and integrate into everyday business processes and consumer products. AI is not just creating jobs but also transforming them, requiring workers to adapt by gaining new skills,” says Dice.com.

A January 2024 report from career platform LinkedIn found that AI consultant and AI engineer are two of the 25 fastest-growing jobs in the U.S. this year. Most of these roles are concentrated in San Francisco, New York City, Washington, D.C.-Baltimore, and Boston, according to the report.

On the flip side, some analysts predict millions of jobs will be affected by or even lost to AI. For example, research from investment banking giant Goldman Sachs indicates roughly two-thirds of U.S. occupations “are exposed to some degree of automation by AI.”

A study released in 2023 by Chamber of Commerce, a business research company, anticipates as many as 12 percent of Houston-area workers could lose their jobs by 2027 due to AI.

"AI and technology in general may be taking certain jobs away, and yet we also see how it is changing the nature of jobs and even organizations and professions. In the ever-changing arena of AI, employees, job-seekers, and students will continue to adapt and learn new job skills that align with and anticipate workforce needs,” AI expert Fred Oswald, the Herbert S. Autrey Chair in Social Sciences at Rice University and a professor of psychological sciences, said in a 2023 news release.

Here's what it's like using new connection-focused app that just launched in Houston

Branching out

Editor's note: CultureMap Austin editor Brianna Caleri recently attended a dinner arranged by Timeleft, an app that helps people meet each other. The app just launched in Houston — read about Brianna's experience using the app below.

Conventional wisdom — if I may be so bold as to define it — would suggest that people who want to make friends should: select a genuine interest, join a group centered around it, and keep attending meetings. I have not quite been sold on the generic women's group meetups I see on Facebook; and even the most passionate conversations about my ramen bar neighbor's favorite noodle dishes at have never led us to hang out a second time.

I tend to look for friends who will suggest ethical shopping alternatives, make impassioned, over-intellectualized art recommendations, and stay up late workshopping existential dread. But I recognize that's a lot to ask after one dinner.

Thus, I was both surprised and not surprised at all to really enjoy Austin's second-ever Timeleft dinner, a lightly match-made night out for strangers. I don't think I've discovered a new portal to jump into and skip all the awkward early stages of making adult friends, but I had an energizing night with people who impressed me with their social ease and willingness.

The setup
When someone signs up for the French app Timeleft, they are greeted with a pleasantly detailed, yet broad personality test. First, a this-or-that rapid fire: things like, "Do you consider yourself more of a smart person or funny person?" (Smart.) "Would you rather listen to rock or rap?" (Rock.) "Are your opinions usually guided by logic and facts, or emotions and feelings?" (Tough, but I chose logic.) Next is a 1-10 rating scale in areas like intro/extroversion, stress, spirituality, loneliness, creativity, and habits.

Some of these, like "I enjoy going out with friends" and "How important is family to you?", felt neat and inspired concise answers. Others, like "I enjoy politically incorrect humor" and "I enjoy discussing politics/news," felt like minefields. I do enjoy a wicked joke, but are we talking politically incorrect like The Office, or politically incorrect like I got kicked out of my bookclub and believe no one can take a joke anymore? I selected 3 for political incorrectness, and 8 for discussing news and politics, angling hard toward sensitivity and away from potential, if unlikely belligerence.

According to Timeleft, its algorithm considers these answers and a few other logistics to pair users with a restaurant and with each other, resulting in two medium-size tables at each. Our group of seven met at 68 Degrees Kitchen in East Austin; It would have been eight, but one didn't show up. A Timeleft representative says the app overbooked from the intended five, expecting that some people would not show.

Quoted from Timeleft's algorithm explanation, it focuses on these "main ingredients":

  • "Language: Select yours for fluid dialogue[...]"
  • "Balance: A balanced mix of men and women. Note that Timeleft is favored by women, who often make up over 60 percent of participants (thus 4 per table). [Note: Although Timeleft only mentions men and women on this list, it also offered a nonbinary gender marker)"
  • "Temperament: A mix of introverts and extroverts for a balanced rhythm."
  • "Generation: An age gap of five to seven years for common life echoes."

Before we met, we got to see a basic rundown of who would be joining, detailing profession, nationality, and zodiac signs. (Not my ideal trifecta, considering that six-sevenths of us were American, and I'm fairly confident in my ability to interact with people born on any day.) I don't think it's incredibly open-minded of me, but I did feel slightly nervous that half the group worked in tech; I like tech workers, but can't say I really relate.

The dinner
An unexpected point of beauty in the often overwrought world of app-coordinated socializing: Beyond matching us and making our reservation, Timeleft left us to a normal dinner. We ordered from the regular menu, sat among the regular clientele, and handled the payment ourselves, opting to get in a group chat and Venmo one person for one clean bill. It offered a "game," which was really just a list of conversation topics; We only got through two before the topic changing ran cheerfully rampant.

A group of seven — although it did increase the likelihood that we would all like at least one of our companions — was perhaps a bit too large to get to know anyone especially well. We talked as a large group about as much as we split into side conversations. That was perfectly doable, but it made me wish a few times that we had a quiet table of three or four, where we didn't have to raise our voices past each other or inelegantly shift our attention from one conversation to the next.

We discovered a fair amount in common: places lived, schools attended, foods loved, places traveled, parties and underground scenes frequented. Although some of it dipped very lightly into taboos (Who has been to sex clubs? Who has been kicked out of restaurants?), most of these were surface-level parallels.

I learned that one of my dinner mates shared my lack of enthusiasm for school spirit as a concept, but couldn't say whether it was simply noncommittal or deep-rooted antiestablishmentarianism. I learned that at least one of my dinner mates likes to do yoga, but I don't know if they prefer to work up a sweat to EDM or study the Yoga Sutras.

It would be hard to suss out many of the deeper values behind these things, since seven people sitting at a dinner table together are generally trying to be agreeable — or at least entertaining. We're playing to the lowest common denominator, and we don't really know what our denominators are. We never found the gold thread running through — for instance, if we all rated our passion for working out similarly. But if we could narrow it down that much, it might be time to cut out the middle man and join a CrossFit gym.

The after-dinner drinks, and social patterns
After the small group dinners, all the diners from the various Timeleft tables in South and Central Austin were invited to meet up at Hold Out Brewing. Our group (less one person with a morning appointment) decided to head over. It was already 9:45 pm by the time we left the restaurant, having spent nearly 3 hours together already. We were surprised to see the dense crowd that gathered among the picnic tables.

In reporter mode, I started popping by different groups to find out how their night had gone. I talked to more than a dozen people, all of whom had entirely positive feedback about their evenings. The only criticism I heard was that one person felt the $16 "ticket" to the dinner (which was then priced à la carte) was a bit pricy.

Other groups went to Fresa's Chicken al Carbon, North Italia, and what I have to assume was QI Austin: Modern Asian Kitchen, although diners kept pronouncing it "key." Most groups had met members of the other table at the same restaurant, and some even wandered over during the dinner to see how the other half lived. Our group never found its counterpart.

It seemed to me that our group was objectively the most outgoing. Not only were we the last to arrive after our long dinner (as far as I noticed), but we were also (definitely) the last to leave the brewery. One duo from another group said theirs was a little awkward, in a pleasant way, so the two of them kept up most of the talking. One group said conversation flowed fairly easily, but when there was a lull, they returned to the provided conversation topics. It seemed about equally common to share meals or order for yourself, but our gang all shared everything.

Every group noticed their close ages beyond any other unifying factor. No one offered up any common threads, yet people responded in conversation as if they knew each other, with affectionate interjections like, "Of course he would say that!"

Brianna's gang at the Timeleft dinner in Austin. Photo by Brianna Caleri

Final impression
Most interesting to me was that nearly every single person I talked to all night, including in our own group, first heard about the dinner series on Instagram and just thought it sounded worth trying. Only one person specifically told me that they wanted to make new friends because theirs were mostly from work.

My biggest prejudice before the dinner was that the majority of attendees would either be new to Austin or in need of some outside help in making friends. I was right about the first thing; It seemed like most people had only been here a year or less.

But I was wrong about the second thing. In retrospect, it makes sense that a huge group of people who got together just to get together are deeply friendly. And while I still wouldn't expect long-lasting connections to come out of this Friendly People Convention, I can see that's not exactly what most people are aiming for, either.

The app has direct messaging, but I don't feel inclined to use it. Our group is already on an SMS thread, and I got so many new Instagram followers at the after-event that the next morning, I was not even sure who one of them was. We have started rating our compatibility on the app, and indicating who we would be open to seeing at future events, and who we wouldn't.

If I can have a silly dinner with someone who is investing in the world I want to see, I'll happily get silly. I'm sure some of the people I met yesterday are doing that, but I would have little way of knowing — or at least, a much harder time than if we had started on shared ground.

It's tempting, then, to see this as a way to meet people who are very different from you and expand your worldview. I do think it holds some promise for people who want to legitimately invest in becoming friends with each other and learning what's underneath the amiable surface, but I'm curious about where that sense of initiative will come from. Perhaps more regular dinners hold the answer.

I would be happy to see anyone I met yesterday again, if we end up in the same place at the same time. But I think my days of connecting with strangers over no common objective at all are limited.

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More information about Timeleft is available at timeleft.com, and the app is available via Apple's App Store and Google Play. Houston's next dinner happens Wednesday, June 19. Dinners happen weekly, and RSVPs must be made no later than Tuesday evening.

This article originally ran on CultureMap.