HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 28

Houston's innovation ecosystem can't lose momentum amid COVID-19, entrepreneur says

Innovation leaders have worked hard to advance its innovation infrastructure, and Lawson Gow doesn't want to see COVID-19 hold Houston back. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

If you would have asked Lawson Gow a few weeks ago how he was feeling about the coronavirus closing down all three of his company's coworking spaces, his answer would have been pretty bleak. But now, as The Cannon has turned its attention to creating crisis-focused programming and digital resources and support for startups, he has a much more optimistic outlook on the future of his company.

What he's worried about now is the city as a whole losing its traction in developing its innovation ecosystem. Pre-COVID-19, the city was on a path to a robust and developing environment for startups and technology. Now, the city's innovation leaders need to stick together to keep from backtracking.

"We've got more momentum than we've ever had before," Gow says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "What keeps me up at night is trying to consider how we don't lose any of this momentum. We're in a good, exciting spot. It's not an option for us as a city to lose this momentum right now."

While Gow — who is the son of David Gow, owner of InnovationMap's parent company, Gow Media — is optimistic about Houston's future, he notes how there will be a significant shift in the city's developing innovation districts present themselves.

"What's interesting is if you read the academic literature on innovation districts, it talks about density, collisions, interactions, and an ecosystem of swirling hustle and bustle of people interacting with each other," Gow says. "It reads like a how-to manual for how to spread disease."

When it comes to the future of coworking, Gow observes that, after companies have downsized and even let go of some physical space they have, shareable spaces — with the proper precautions — might be even more in demand.

"I think coming out of this, there's going to be a real place in the world for coworking. It's not going away, and, in fact, it's going to be even more necessary than ever," he says. "There's going to need to be policies and procedures that are much more mindful of health and wellness and the spread of infection."

There's still a lot to be determined on how The Cannon will emerge from the shutdown and what sort of new methods of keeping members safe and healthy they will implement — but Gow says knows those days are coming.

"There's a resiliency to the human spirit — and also an insistence on living life uninterrupted," Gow says on the episode. "We will get back to normalcy. I think it'll be gradual."

Gow shares his thoughts on the pandemic, as well as his advice for struggling startups on the podcast. Listen to the full episode below — or wherever you get your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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Building Houston

 
 

Just after announcing an investment from United, NEXT Renewable Fuels Inc. scored a SPAC-based IPO. Photo via nextrenewables.com

It’s been a momentous month for Houston-based NEXT Renewable Fuels Inc.

On November 15, United Airlines Ventures announced an investment of up to $37.5 million in the next-generation, low-carbon fuel producing company.

Just a week later, the company revealed it’s going public through a SPAC merger with Industrial Tech Acquisitions II Inc. The deal, expected to close in the second quarter of 2023, assigns a $666 million equity value to NEXT. The publicly traded company will be named NXTCLEAN Fuels Inc.

NEXT, founded in 2016, produces low-carbon fuels from organic feedstock. The company plans to open a biofuel refinery in Port Westward, Oregon, that’s set to start production in 2026. The refinery could produce up to 50,000 barrels per day of sustainable aviation fuel, renewable diesel, and other renewable fuels.

“West Coast states are demanding a clean fuels conversion of the transportation and aviation industries with aggressive targets necessitating rapid increases in clean fuel supplies,” Christopher Efird, executive chairman and CEO of NEXT, says in a news release. “[The company] is advancing toward becoming one of the largest U.S.-based suppliers of clean fuels for these markets, and is investigating and pursuing potential vertical expansion into other clean fuels.”

The proposed public listing of NEXT’s stock on the Nasdaq market and United’s investment are poised to help NEXT reach its goal of becoming a leader in the clean fuel sector. United’s investment appears to be the first equity funding for NEXT.

“Right now, one of the biggest barriers to increasing supply and lowering costs of sustainable fuel is that we don’t have the infrastructure in place to transport it efficiently, but NEXT’s strategic location and assets solve that problem and provide a blueprint for future facilities that need to be built,” Michael Leskinen, president of United Airline Ventures, says in a news release.

United’s investment arm, launched in 2021, targets ventures that will complement the airline’s goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

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