Digesting downtown

These are the 3 downtown Houston coworking concepts expecting to deliver by end of 2020

Downtown Houston has over 100,000-square-feet of new coworking space expected to open by the end of 2020. Shobeir Ansari/Getty Images

Recently, Houston got a "needs improvement" on its coworking space report card — but the tide is changing as more and more coworking spaces plan to open in town — especially in the downtown sector.

Houston's current coworking space volume ranked it No. 15, according to a report from Colliers International, which fell behind Dallas and Austin. However, Houston has many future projects due to deliver in the next 18 months or so — including over 100,000 square feet of space in downtown alone.

Downtown has a slew of features that's made it attractive to coworking companies — public transportation, various retail and restaurant concepts, green spaces — but commercial real estate has typically been reserved for major corporations who can afford it, says Robert Pieroni, Central Houston's director of economic development.

"There's been a lot of new opportunities for companies — startups and companies who previously couldn't afford to be in the downtown market — to now be in the downtown market," Pieroni tells InnovationMap. "So, we've seen an influx of smaller companies particularly in the tech sector."

However, it's those major corporations sprinkled around downtown that have made Houston so attractive to startups and accelerators, Pieroni says, and these major corporations are willing to connect with entrepreneurs and startups.

"There's no difference on paper in our talent and the innovation hubs around the world," Pieroni says. "The one thing we have to offer startups that other places don't have to offer in Texas is we have the largest corporate presence in the state of Texas here in Houston."

The new coworking options are slowly changing the way commercial brokers approach leases for startups. Traditionally, brokers are wary of short-term leases.

"It's not because [the startups] are afraid they are going to go out of business," Pieroni says. "They're afraid that they are going to grow at such a rapid pace."

Two new-to-Houston tech companies opened offices in downtown Houston just this year. Oil and gas AI-enabled analytics platform, Ruths.ai, and global robotics company UiPath, which has a presence in 18 countries, moved into the Main&Co at 114 Main. And, Pieroni says, Central Houston expects more to come in that arena.

"We're having conversations daily with multiple companies that are evaluating coming to downtown Houston," he says.

Here's a breakdown of the three coworking spaces expecting to deliver in downtown Houston over the next 18 months.

Spaces brings second largest coworking space in downtown

Spaces, an Amsterdam-based coworking space company that entered the Houston market with a lease in Kirby Grove announced in 2017, has two more Spaces locations planned for end of 2019. Courtesy of Midway

Size: 63,000 square feet of workspace in repurposed retail space.

Estimated timeline: Opening later in 2019

Special features: Open space, smaller team rooms, private offices, phone booths, and a 3,000-square foot rooftop patio.

Other locations: Amsterdam-based Spaces has 3,300 flexible workspace locations across the world — another in Houston's Kirby Grove and one coming to Two Post Oak Central.

Overheard: "Spaces fits perfectly in GreenStreet, a mixed-use district that is being redeveloped as the new model of urban lifestyle," says Chris Seckinger, vice president and investment manager for Midway, in a release.

Life Time Work announces second Houston location

GreenStreet will soon have coworking space and a gym from Life Time. Courtesy of Midway Cos.

Square footage: 38,000 square feet of coworking space (additional 56,000 square feet of wellness space adjacent)

Estimated timeline: Opening in 2020.

Special features: Private offices, reserved desk, events, coffee, as well as other services.

Other locations: Last year, Minnesota-based Life Time Inc. opened its first location of Life Time Work in Pennsylvania as well as announced its second location headed to Houston's CIty Centre, which is expected to open later this year.

Overheard: "GreenStreet aligns well with our vision to meet the changing needs of consumers by bringing Life Time — through our athletic destinations and coworking space — as a lifestyle asset to bustling and successful developments," says Parham Javaheri, Minnesota-based Life Time's executive vice president of real estate and development, in a release. "We look forward to becoming an anchor to this new model of urban living in 2020."

Brookfield Properties' Houston Center renovation

Brookfield Properties is currently renovating Houston Center. One of the new amenities will be coworking space. Courtesy of Brookfield

Square footage: The total project is projected to be 4 million square feet, but it's unclear how much of that will be for the coworking aspect.

Estimated timeline: Construction should be concluded by late 2020.

Special features: A new central plaza and greenspace, a digital water wall, entertainment space, an iconic stair connection to new landscaped terraces, two-story glass façade, reclad skybridges, a new 10,000-SF fitness center, new dining and retail.

Other locations: Currently, Brookfield doesn't have any other coworking locations in Houston.

Overheard: "Brookfield continues to look to the future by transforming another of their Downtown properties into an amenity-rich development. This progressive, strategic shift accommodates the blurred lines of today's live-work-play corporate culture that tenants desire," says Bob Eury, Downtown District president, in a release. "In addition, the re-imagining of Houston Center and McKinney Street will add to Downtown's list of attractions creating a bustling linear space lined with restaurants, nightlife, parks and landscaping, connecting Main Street to Discovery Green and Avenida Houston."


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Building Houston

 
 

Cheers Health has expanded its product line as it evolves as a wellness-focused brand. Photo courtesy of Cheers

Houston-based startup Cheers first got a wave of brand devotees after it was passed over by investors on Shark Tank in 2018. In the years since, Cheers secured an impressive investment, launched new products, and became a staple hangover cure for customers. When the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted businesses, the company rose to the occasion and experienced its first profitable year as drinking and wellness habits changed across America.

Cheers initially started its company under the name Thrive+ with a hangover-friendly pill that promised to minimize the not-so-fun side effects that come after a night out. The capsules support the liver by replacing lost vitamins, reduce GABAa rebound and lower the alcohol-induced acetaldehyde toxicity levels in the body. The company's legacy product complemented social calendars and nights on the town, providing next day relief.

With COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing measures, the days of pub crawls and social events were numbered. Cheers founder Brooks Powell saw the massive behavior change in people consuming alcohol, and leaned into his vision of becoming more than just a hangover cure but an "alcohol-related health company," he says.

When the pandemic first hit, Powell and his team noticed an immediate dip in sales — a relatable story for businesses in the grips of COVID-19.

"There is a three day period where we went from having the best month in company history to the worst month in company history, over a 72 hour stretch," he remarks.

He soon called an emergency board meeting and rattled off worst-case "doomsday" scenarios, he says.

"Thankfully, we never had to do any of these strategies because, ultimately, the team was able to rally around the new positioning for the brand which was far more focused on alcohol-related health," he says.

"We found that a lot less people were getting hangovers during 2020, because generally when you binge drink, you tend to binge drink with other people," he explains.

He noticed that health became an important focus for people, some who began to drink less due to the lack of social gatherings. On the contrary, some consumers began to drink more to fill the idle time.

According to a JAMA Network report, there was a 54 percent increase in national sales of alcohol for the week stay-at-home orders began last March, as compared to the year prior.

"All of a sudden, you have all of these people who probably aren't binge drinking but they're just frequently consuming alcohol. Their drinks per week are shooting up, and they're worried about liver health," explains Powell.

Outside of day-after support, Cheers leaned into its long-term health products to help drinkers consume alcohol in a healthier way. Cheers Restore, a dissolvable powder consumers can mix into their water, rehydrates the body by optimizing sodium and glucose molecules.

For continued support, Cheers Protect is a daily supplement designed to increase glutathione — an antioxidant that plays a key role in liver detoxification — and support overall liver health. Cheers Protect, which was launched in 2019, became a focus for the company as they pivoted its brand strategy and marketing to accommodate consumer behavior.

"The Cheers brand is just trying to reflect the mission statement, which is bringing people together through promoting fun, responsible and health-conscious alcohol consumption," says Powell. "It fits with our vision statement, which is a world where everyone can enjoy alcohol throughout a long, healthy and happy lifetime,."

At the close of 2020, Cheers had generated $10.4 million in revenue and over $1.7m in profit — its first profitable year since launch.

During the brand's mission to stay afloat during the pandemic, the Cheers team was also laying the groundwork for its entry into the retail space. When Powell launched the company during his junior year at Princeton University, bringing Cheers to brick-and-mortar stores had always been a goal. He envisioned liquor and grocery stores where Cheers was sold next to alcohol as a complementary item. "It's like getting sunscreen before going to the beach, they kind of go hand in hand," he says.

"When we spoke with retailers, specifically bars and liquor stores, what we learned is that a lot of these places were hesitant to put pills near alcohol," he says. Wanting an attractive and accessible mode of alcohol-support, the Cheers team created the Cheers Restore beverage.

Utilizing the technology Cheers developed with Princeton University researchers, the Cheers Restore beverage incorporates the benefits of the pill in a liquid, sugar-free form. The company states that its in-vivo study found that the drink is up to 19 times more bioavailable than pure dihydromyricetin (DHM), a Japanese raisin tree extract found in Cheers products and other hangover-related cures.

"What we figured out is that if you combine DHM — our main ingredient — with something called capric acid, which is an extract from coconut oil, the bioavailability shoots way up," says Powell. He notes the unique taste profile and the "creaminess" capric acid provides. "Now you have this lightly carbonated, zero-sugar, lemon sherbert, essentially liver support, hangover beverage that tastes great in 12 ounces and can mix with alcohol," he explains.

The Cheers Restore beverage is already hitting the Houston-area, where its found a home on menus at Present Company. The company has also run promotions with Houston hangouts like Memorial Trail Ice House, Drift, and The Powder Keg.

Currently, the beverage is only available in retail capacity and cannot be ordered on the Cheers website. As Powell focuses on expanding Cheers Restore beverage presence in the region, he welcomes the idea of expanding nationally in the future to come. While eager customers await the drink's national availability, they can actively invest in Cheers through the company's recently-launched online public offering.

Though repivoting a company and launching a new product is exciting, the process did not come without its caveats and stressors. While Cheers profited as a business in 2020, the staff and its founder weren't immune to the struggles of COVID-19.

"I think 2020 was the first year that it really became real for me that Cheers is far more than just some sort of alcohol-related health brand and its products," says Powell. "Cheers is really its employees and everything that goes into being a successful, durable company that people essentially bet their careers on and their family's well-being on and so forth," he continues.

"It really does weigh on you in a different way that it's never weighed on you before," says Powell, describing the stress of the pandemic. The experience was "enlightening," he says, and he wants others to know it's not embarrassing to need help.

"There is no lack of great leaders out there that at long periods of their life they needed help in some way," he says. "For me that was 2020 and being in the grinder and feeling the stress of the unknown and all of that, but it could happen to anyone," he continues.

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