By Jeff Barrett, CEO at Status Creative
⏰ 5-minute read
This post is part of a series on cities to consider while building your company. Stay tuned for more in the coming weeks.
When you go to a city for the first time, you really have no idea what to expect. Yet I quickly determined that Houston is unlike any place I’ve visited (and I’ve visited a lot of places).
Houston is a collection of pockets and neighborhoods, much like Los Angeles. Each pocket is unique and wrapped in one central identity. As the soon-to-be third-largest city in America (by population), Houston takes pride in how fast it’s growing. (Don’t tell them Chicago is bigger; they’re not buying it.)
It’s a city that had a national spotlight for the worst reason – 2017’s Hurricane Harvey – and came out the other end with plans to grow further, create faster public transportation and use its assets to become an attractive place for practically anyone. Its startup ecosystem, however, has special potential, which is why you should consider growing your business there.
Some reasons to consider Houston:
1. It’s building a whole startup village, basically.
Earlier this year, the City of Houston broke ground on what will be one of the largest (and certainly the most ambitious) innovation districts in the country: The Ion. It’s centered around an old Sears building, like a lot of good innovation districts. (Other notable ones include Seattle’s South Lake Union and Kendall Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts.)
Most innovation districts are built in low-rent, revitalizing neighborhoods on the outskirts of town. The Ion is right in the middle of Houston. When complete, the 16-acre corridor will connect Downtown, Midtown, Rice University and the Texas Medical Center.
The district aims to “act as a beacon in Houston for entrepreneurs around the globe,” said Gaby Rowe, CEO of Station Houston, the organization that will program The Ion.
Houston is not short on investment capital. But it has indeed been missing a beacon to tell startups that Houston is where they should build and grow. Set to be completed in late 2020, the 270,000-square-foot Ion building will anchor a 4-mile “innovation corridor.” The district already has four committed accelerators, including one backed by Microsoft and Intel.
When finished, The Ion building will be the heart of Houston's new innovation district.
2. And if medicine — or science in general — is your jam, you’re covered.
Startups in The Ion are going to have access to the largest health system in the world, Texas Medical Center (TMC). (When I visited, I learned you can literally look down a hallway for a mile.) TMC stands attract and nurture life sciences startups, said CEO William McKeon. The 1,400-acre campus, which serves 10 million patients annually, is the largest concentration of clinical research in the world.
Early next year, McKeon’s team will start work on the TMC3 life sciences translational research campus, to “attract the world’s best and brightest scientific minds …,” he added.
In short, your startup will have no lack of intellectual resources in Houston.
3. Houston is getting connected, literally and figuratively.
The Ion also stands to change Houston from a commuter city built on highways to a long stretch accessible through all kinds of transportation. Denver and Charlotte have done this well over the past decade and grown in connectivity because of it.
Rice University is invested heavily in this project, hoping to make Houston more inclusive demographically.
Part of the innovation district’s mission is to “generate economic opportunity and excellent jobs for citizens” and “create more interactions between our academic institutions, startups and corporate innovators, while building an inclusive and diverse community …,” said Alison Thacker, chief investment officer at Rice University.
Houston's innovation district comes with pathways to connect the city even further.
4. NASA is coming for startups.
Houston’s startups will also have access to NASA. Yeah, NASA. The typically closed off organization will have a continuous presence in The Ion to help startups grow in Houston.
The Air Force has attracted more public and private collaboration to Colorado Springs, but its focus is working with enterprises to create better solutions. In Houston, NASA’s primary goal will be to lend expertise to and grow entrepreneurs.
5. Houston has fuel for your coffee meetings, lunch breaks and late nights.
Houston’s food scene is unique. I watched an episode of “Ugly Delicious” in which David Chang tries Viet-Cajun crawfish, and I knew I had to do the same when I visited Houston. It was messy and an experience and everything I thought it would be. You seriously have to wash your hands with lemons afterward.
As a melting pot of backgrounds and tastes, Houston is now one of the fastest growing food cities in the country. And because of its size, you’ll likely never run out of spots to try. Like Las Vegas, some of the best chefs in the world have decided to make Houston their home. Austin Simmons and Hugo Ortega are big-name residents. And at least one more chef is leaving a Michelin-starred restaurant to start a concept in Houston.
Whether your taste is expensive or off the Dollar Menu, there’s something there. I expect Houston to be even more well-known for food in the future.
Houston has become a top-notch food city for new concepts, though BBQ still reigns.
6. It’s a blank canvas.
As much as Houston is defined, it’s not. (Notice that I intentionally didn’t bring up energy until now.) Houston has always been a source of natural resources. But now, the city’s resources also include world-class institutions and capital devoted to renewable energy.
“Traditionally, Houston has been known as the energy capital of the world, and we certainly continue to lead in that space,” said Bob Harvey, CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, an organization that enhances the economic development of Houston. “But that role has also positioned it to lead the energy transition to more renewable sources.”
Energy aside, Houston has further diversified its regional economy with investments across life sciences, manufacturing and logistics. And digital tech companies are finding that Houston is a place to scale. The past eight years have seen a deep variety of tech startups take root and grow.
Houston’s mix of industries has turned the region into a “hotbed for innovation with broader application of technologies,” said Harvey.
When you look for a startup location, you need capital. The second most important ingredient is visibility. Houston has the right combination of a large capital base and the ability for startups to get noticed quickly.
Startups find support both financially and strategically in Houston, thanks to groups like Station Houston.
7. It’s got heart.
The best example of Houston’s business-friendly nature is a small donut shop in Missouri City, 30 minutes outside of the city center. Earlier this year, the entire city rallied around one Tweet from a son about his dad’s new donut shop, which wasn’t getting many visitors.
Most news outlets that covered the story pointed to how “viral” the Tweet was, but likes and retweets don’t matter. The real spotlight belongs to the people who showed up by the thousands to buy every last donut the fledgling shop had.
There may be 7 million people in the Houston metro, but chances are they will notice you, care about your startup and want to share in your success.