moving around Hou

3D-printing startup to move into rising Houston innovation and maker hub

Volumetric Biotechnologies has announced its moving its HQ to the East End Maker Hub. Image courtesy of East End Maker Hub

The East End Maker Hub has landed perhaps its most intriguing tenant thus far — a Houston startup that makes 3D-printed human organs.

Volumetric Biotechnologies Inc. has leased 11,200 square feet at the East End Maker Hub to serve as its headquarters and manufacturing center. Jordan Miller, co-founder of Volumetric, says one of the benefits of being located at the hub will be access to a cleanroom operated by Alchemy Industrial, a 3D manufacturer of medical devices. Earlier this year, Houston-based Alchemy leased more than 5,400 square feet at the East End hub.

Volumetric will occupy space in the first phase of the 307,000-square-foot project East End Maker Hub. That phase of the $37 million project is set to open soon. The startup's current 5,000-square-foot headquarters is at 7505 Fannin St., near the Woman's Hospital of Texas and south of the Texas Medical Center.

Miller says Volumetric's new home will help it "maintain and accelerate our already breakneck progress." Volumetric's 12 biological, chemical, mechanical, and electrical engineers focus on producing human organs and tissues like the liver, kidney, pancreas, lung, and heart using a mix of medical-grade plastics and human cells.

"We're straining to scale our company as fast as our team is inventing and progressing our technologies. It's an absolutely wonderful problem to have," Miller says.

Volumetric hopes to commercialize its 3D-printed organs in 2021. Founded in 2018, Volumetric is a privately held spin-out of Rice University's Department of Bioengineering. It has received $1.8 million in funding, according to Crunchbase. Investors include Silicon Valley-based Sand Hill Angels, and the Springfield, Virginia-based Methuselah Foundation and Methuselah Fund.

Local Realtor Mike Pittman, a development associate with Pearland-based project partner Urban Partnerships Community Development Corp., recruited Volumetric to the hub. He says he's also working with a distillery, a coffee roaster, and a medical gown manufacturer on leasing space there.

The first phase of the East End Maker Hub is set to open soon. Image courtesy of East End Maker Hub

Once the East End Maker Hub opens, Houston's East End District will be home to the largest maker hub in Texas and one of the largest such facilities in the U.S. Being built in three phases on a 21-acre site at 6501 Navigation Blvd., the East End Maker Hub aims to create an environment that gives members of the community access to trade skills and career opportunities, and to provide businesses a place for innovation and manufacturing. The hub's second and third phases are on track to be finished in 2021.

The soon-to-open first phase will feature "white box" suites, ranging in size from 420 square feet to 20,000 square feet, that cater to three sectors:

  • Innovation (robotics, 3D printing, and R&D)
  • Crafting (ceramics, fine woodworking, and screen printing)
  • Light fabrication (food production).

Aside from Alchemy, tenants recently lined up for the hub include Houston-based Waste Management Inc., whose R&D team will occupy more than 3,500 square feet, and Houston-based construction technology company Rugged Robotics Inc., which is renting 1,700 square feet.

"We're not the place for software companies, but our innovation area is the place for hardware companies — those that are into drones, robotics, 3D printing," Pittman says.

The project's hardware innovation element could boost Houston's manufacturing economy, he says. A recent analysis by the Smartest Dollar website found that 7.5 percent of the Houston metro area's workforce is employed in manufacturing. From 1999 to 2019, the number of manufacturing jobs in Houston grew by just 1.9 percent.

So far, the nonprofit TXRX Labs makerspace is the hub's largest tenant, having signed a lease for 65,000 square feet in the first phase. TXRX Labs and Urban Partnerships Community Development teamed up to develop the hub. TXRX contributed $1.25 million in equity, and Urban Partnerships Community Development raised $35.75 million in capital.

Houston-based Stewart Builders is the general contractor for the East End Maker Hub, and Houston-based Method Architecture is the architect of record.

Aside from supplying room for businesses and nonprofits to grow, the hub seeks to provide training and jobs for local residents. Pittman says the hub — located within a tax-advantaged Opportunity Zone — encourages its tenants to hire people who live within a three-mile radius.

"You don't have to go and get a Ph.D. in nuclear science for these jobs to be able to attain really good wages for your family," he says.

Phases two and three of the hub are expected in 2021. Image courtesy of East End Maker Hub

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Building Houston

 
 

2020 brought over $700 million in venture funding deals into Houston, and startups saw larger deals in the first half of the year with a growing interest in angel activity. Image via Getty Images

Houston startup's venture capital deals continue to grow in 2020, according to a new report from Houston Exponential. Last year, VC dollars were up, while deal count was down, representing more mature deals coming into the ecosystem — but the second half of the year was defined by a growth in angel investment interest.

The report by Serafina Lalany, chief of staff for HX, found that the Bayou City brought saw $715 million across 117 VC deals, according to Pitch Book data. It's the fourth year Houston has seen VC growth, and last year the city reported over $563 million across 168 deals.

"Houston has put concerted efforts into building its innovation ecosystem," says Harvin Moore, president of HX, in a release, "and 2020's record-breaking results show we are seeing not only resilience in the tech sector, but a significant increase in the rate of formation and success of growth-stage companies, which have an outsized effect on our local economy in terms of high paying job potential and Houston's increasing attractiveness as a great place to work."

Last August, HX published a report on the first half of the year and that study found that Houston — facing the challenges of both the pandemic and the oil price drop — managed to see a 7 percent increase in funding compared to the national average of 2.5 percent. With the second half of the year, the city's VC increase from last year was over 25 percent and up 252 percent since 2014.

The other difference between the first and second halves of the year for Houston VC was the stages of the deals made. Most of Houston's larger deals took place in the first and second quarters — and even the beginning of Q3 — of 2020:

But the second half of the year seemed like Houston's earlier stage VC activity returned, and Blair Garrou, managing partner at Houston-based Mercury Fund, confirmed this to InnovationMap on the Houston Innovator's Podcast in December.

"Seed rounds have definitely bounced back. We're seeing a lot of seed activity, because there's been a lot of seed funds raised," Garrou said on the podcast, adding that he's observed an increase in angel investment interest. "People are realizing that money is in innovation and tech — especially in software."

In her report, Lalany found that in Houston, angel investments are out-pacing seed, creating a "competitive environment."

"The addition of multi-stage and nontraditional investment firms into the arena has created upward pressure in deal valuations and sizes. The average seed round in 2015 was $1 million, whereas today it's double that," the report reads. "With these firms turning inward to focus on protecting their current investments at the start of the pandemic, the propensity for smaller, more riskier investments have declined."

Stephanie Campbell, managing director of the Houston Angel Network, said she's seen a rise in new membership for the organization. Last August, she was on track to get to 150 members — up from just 60 in 2018.

"Despite COVID, we've continued to grow," Campbell told InnovationMap, adding that she's heard investors express that they have more time now to dive in. "People are very much still interested in learning about deploying their capital into early-stage venture. They're looking for a network of like-minded individuals."

In contrast to this early stage activity, the VC activity that was still occurring was defined by larger deals. With VC essentially halting in March and April — especially in cities like Houston, Garrou adds — it makes sense that investors wanted more "sure things" and would invest more funds into companies they already know, versus being able to source new deals in person.

"When you go to later stages, there are a lot fewer deals going on," Garrou continues on the podcast. "Now, there may be larger investments being made, but I think they are into fewer companies, and I think that's just due to the the pandemic and the ability just to not be able to do face-to-face."

As Houston moves through 2021, the city is poised well for more growth and a continued diversification from just oil and gas, as Moore says in the release.

"Houston Exponential was created four years ago by civic and business leaders to deal with an existential problem: our dependence on the energy and medical sector without a thriving startup culture to lead us towards a future that will look very different from the past," he says. "COVID and the de-carbonization movement have made that need much more urgent — it's both a huge challenge and an enormous opportunity."

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