Greater Houston Partnership (GHP)

Houston Innovation Strategy Office

Houston Exponential

Houston Exponential

Houston Exponential was created through a combination of Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Innovation and Technology Task Force, the Houston Technology Center and the Greater Houston Partnership's Innovation Roundtable, to bolster Houston's innovation ecosystem and drive the regionto become a top 10 startup ecosystem by 2022.

Houston Exponential’s mission is to accelerate the development of Houston’s innovation economy by fostering a robust ecosystem that supports high-growth, high-impact startups. The formation of Houston Exponential comes after a year-long study linking the Roundtable’s and Task Force’s efforts by the professional services company, Accenture.

Houston Exponential will work toward its mission by convening the ecosystem, helping to build an innovation district in Houston and attracting talent to the region, among other key endeavors. It will also promote Houston's image, both locally and nationally, as a vibrant, innovative economy where startups thrive.

The organization will form a number of committees and working groups convening universities, incubators, entrepreneurs, technologists, corporations, investors, accelerators and other experts around issues and opportunities to further develop the innovation economy.

Houston Exponential will also launch and support a Fund of Funds with the primary goal of achieving a compelling return for investors while also attracting leading venture capital firms to bring their expertise and risk capital to the region. The Fund, known as the HX Venture Fund, will also create a key pathway for innovation and information to flow between corporations, startups and Innovators.

Innovation Strategy Office

The Greater Houston Partnership's Innovation Strategy Office is dedicated to supporting Houston’s innovation economy and boosting local startup activity. The launch of the Strategy Office represents the first step of a comprehensive strategic plan developed jointly by the Partnership and Accenture along with members of the startup community, academia, and venture capitalists, in conjunction with the City of Houston's Innovation and Technology Task Force (see Innovation in Houston plan and Houston Technology & Innovation Task Force Recommendations below).

The primary objective of this strategic plan is to catalyze the formation of highly-innovative startups driven by new technologies and business models that will grow Houston's innovation economy. The strategic plan aims for Houston to be – and to be seen as – an innovation city at a world-class level.

According to the Startup Genome Project, trillions of dollars in economic value is created by the technology sector, with much of that driven by startups. Read more about how Houston fits in the global startup ecosystem below (see Startup Genome report).

Questions & Answers

What is the state of innovation in Houston, and how can we compete with other innovation cities like San Francisco, Austin or Boston?

As a region, we have always been on the leading edge of innovation, particularly at the corporate and institutional levels. Houston has been the energy industry’s innovation hub for many years and the Texas Medical Center has been at the forefront for decades. Think about NASA and the incredible work that has been done there since the 1960s. Houston is an innovative city, but we can take it to the next level particularly as it relates to technology, entrepreneurship and commercialization.

One of Houston’s biggest advantages is our large supply of young talent and strong university systems. Houston has more than 300,000 educated millennials and 240,000 STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) workers, along with five nationally-ranked universities and graduate schools.

Another advantage is the launch of co-working spaces and accelerators like Station Houston, TMCx, UH's RED Labs, Rice's OwlSpark and JLabs among others. They are creating momentum and building density for more startups. We know that with entrepreneurship comes risk, and these physical spaces offer support and momentum to startup employees to achieve success.

What will a stronger innovation economy mean for Houston?

First and foremost, we believe that the development of our entire innovation economy, including a vibrant startup community focused on our core industries, is critical to our region's continued success and ability to attract companies, talent and capital to Houston.

Houston is the fourth largest city in the U.S. with a thriving innovation economy, yet the region has the 20th largest startup ecosystem.

Innovation and new technologies are the backbone of the rapid development of our key sectors including energy, life sciences, manufacturing, logistics and aerospace.

Our strategic plan is designed to leverage our community's strengths in our leading industries to build an environment that fosters innovation and collaborative partnerships that drive commercial success.

What does it take to develop a robust startup ecosystem?

According to Accenture’s framework, there are four key drivers of an innovative economy:

  1. Talent: you need the right mind and the right skill set to develop new idea
  2. Resources: there needs to be a high-density of capital, sponsorship and mentorship in the same area to create collisions between these resources
  3. Collision opportunities: make sure there is a place for startups to collide with the appropriate resources
  4. Impact: this is where the startup needs the capability to take off and grow if all these other items have aligned properly
What areas of innovation do you think Houston should focus on?

Our plan for startup ecosystem development will focus on building critical mass in:

  1. Industrial internet-of-things (IIOT)
  2. Robotics
  3. Cybersecurity

These areas have the most synergy across our key industry sectors including energy, life sciences, manufacturing, logistics and aerospace.

There's already a lot happening in these innovation areas. Bringing the right people and resources together with focus will help move our region forward.

What will the strategic plan involve?

The strategic plan is focused on building a robust startup ecosystem in our region and positioning Houston as an innovation city at a world-class level.

The plan has 10 initiatives to be driven by various players across the community. The initiatives include: defining themes and driving collaboration and consensus; assembling a fundraising and investment team; coordinating research focus; recruiting and matching startups with corporations; identifying target high-tech firms; and orchestrating a city image effort to position Houston as a world-class innovation city.

What areas will the Partnership focus on?

The Partnership's Innovation Strategy Office will drive this strategic plan forward.

This office will work to improve Houston's attractiveness to the startup community, including serial entrepreneurs, talent, and venture capitalists.

It will also help to establish a fund of funds to attract more venture capital activity in Houston. The intent of the fund of funds is to encourage investment from local corporations and foundations to finance venture capital funds that will cultivate local startups and eventually create viable companies.

What does a fund of funds do?

It’s a fund investing in other types of funds. Essentially, it’s a fundraising endeavor that attracts investment from corporate and ultra-high net worth entities and individuals. Then there is a funding mechanism in place with resources that can be distributed to properly screened VC firms for placement of the funds. The fund of funds aims to achieve broad diversification and appropriate asset allocation with investments in a variety of fund categories that are all wrapped into one fund.

What other cities did you look at for direction on this?

We looked at successes in Chicago, Cincinnati and St. Louis, as a few examples. Chicago has had some great success with their incubator, 1871, which is home to more than 400 early-stage, high growth digital startups. But as Mayor Turner said recently, "what Chicago can do, Houston can do better." Cincinnati saw a 74 percent rate of startup growth in 2016, measuring how much startups have grown five years after founding based on their number of employees, compared to negative 1.8 percent in 2015.

And St. Louis' Cortex West Redevelopment Corporation has also sparked 1.5 million square feet of office and research space, housing, infrastructure, and retail, leveraging $500 million in public, private, and civic capital and creating 2,850 direct jobs to date; over 10,000 jobs are projected upon completion of the $2 billion buildout.

What's the timeline to get this innovation initiative started?

The first phase of the Partnership’s effort is the establishment of our Innovation Strategy Office (announced May 15) and starting our work to establish champions for the fund of funds throughout the summer.

The Innovation Strategy Office will also work to improve Houston's attractiveness to the startup community, including serial entrepreneurs, talent, and venture capitalists.

An ecosystem of this magnitude will not be built overnight, but if you look at great programs that we’ve studied in Chicago, Cincinnati and St. Louis, you can drive a sea change over a 5 to 10-year period.

Who comprises the Partnership Innovation Strategy Office?

The strategy office will include an advisory board chaired by Blair Garrou of Mercury Fund and five other board members to include entrepreneurs and investors and those involved in other startup ecosystem development. Partnership Vice President of Innovation and Talent, Jon Norby, will manage the day-to-day operations of the office.

Who are the key players involved?

In the summer of 2016, the Partnership convened an Innovation Roundtable with members from Texas Medical Center, Houston Technology Center, NASA, Rice University, City of Houston, Accenture, McKinsey & Company, Chevron Technology Ventures, Shell Tech Ventures, Circular Board, Fannin Innovation Studio, Luna Strategies, Houston Angel Network, January Advisors, Mercury Fund, Station Houston, Unconventional Capital, and TMCx.

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