Skip to main content

New Generation of Startups Aim to Fuel Resurgence of Advanced Manufacturing in Houston

Published May 13, 2022 by Brina Morales

Rugged Robotics' "Layout Roomba"

Rugged Robotics' "Layout Roomba"

An autonomous rover dubbed the “layout Roomba” that marks architectural and engineering designs directly onto unfinished concrete floors is one of many examples of the innovation happening in Houston’s advanced manufacturing sector. The city boasts a thriving tech ecosystem and is considered a global manufacturing powerhouse due to its central geographic location, unparalleled infrastructure and talented workforce. 

Funding is now flowing into Houston to help drive the next wave of manufacturing innovation. According to the Partnership’s 2022 Houston Tech Report, more than 900 investors have funded over 1,500 venture capital transactions in the Houston region over the last five years. Data shows that 8.6% of all VC deals are funding manufacturing projects with another 8.7% funding AI and machine learning ventures. 

“I think Houston is a great place to start a company. It hosts a diverse pool of exceptional talent, a reasonable cost of living and a welcoming start-up community,” said Derrick Morse, CEO and founder of Rugged Robotics. “Houston is also home to a number of innovative companies that solve really hard and really important problems.” 

Rugged Robotics, a Houston startup company founded in 2018, hopes to revolutionize the construction industry by tackling the challenge of field layout by using its small robot to create a more detailed, more accurate and faster way of doing the work. Traditionally, a construction worker must do the marking manually using tape measures, chalk lines and surveying equipment. Morse, a construction industry veteran, said he saw a need to solve a pain point in the construction industry.

“By focusing on the problem, and by developing a practical solution, we’ve unlocked a very exciting opportunity” Morse said.

Rugged Robotics is operating out of the East End Maker Hub, a makerspace and manufacturing center in Houston’s East End. Morse said it was a no-brainer to choose the incubator as they started growing.

“The East End Maker Hub was initially attractive for two reasons,” Morse said.  “First, access to the machine tools and rapid prototyping equipment we were familiar with at TXRX, and second, flexibility.” He added that the flexibility of the leases allows the company to move into bigger spaces as they evolve.

Next month will mark a year since the $38 million innovation hub opened. Urban Partnerships Community Development Corporation says the facility is 95% occupied with 49 tenants from candle making to biotech/manufacturing, a sign of a successful first year. The East End Maker Hub aims to create 1,000 new companies over the next five years to boost Houston’s advanced manufacturing jobs. Houston has one of the largest manufacturing workforces in the country with more than 213,100 workers, but it declined by 8.6% between 2015 and 2020, according to the Partnership’s analysis.

“We've retained or created over 330 jobs thus far and aim for 500 in the coming years. We're a model for how to use public funding to jump start development to support the entrepreneurial ecosystem,” said Natasha Azizi, Executive Director of UP CDC and East End Maker Hub.

The East End Maker Hub is part of several landmark projects to position Houston as a national leader in tech innovation.  According to the Houston Tech Report, venture capital investments have grown 
from $423 million in 2017 to $2.02 billion in 2021, a near five-fold increase and an unprecedented 47.4% growth rate per year.

Rugged Robotics team

Rugged Robotics recently raised $9.4 million in Series A funding to help the company hire more people, expand its products and more.

“We’ve built an amazing foundation, and I’m excited by the road ahead.  Our team is truly inspiring.  I can’t wait to see what we’re capable of,” Morse said.

Learn more about Houston's advanced manufacturing sector and innovation ecosystem

 

Related News

Economic Development

Rice University to Open International Campus in Paris

6/27/22
Rice University is going international, announcing its first international campus is opening in Paris this week to expand global education and research opportunities. According to a press release, the Rice University Paris Center will operate out of a historic 16th-century building known as the Hotel de La Faye in the Le Marais neighborhood. The center will house student programs, independent researchers, international conferences and serve as a satellite and hub for European research activity.  “The opening of this dedicated overseas facility represents the next step in the long-standing plan we have been pursuing to internationalize Rice and the Rice experience in every dimension,” said outgoing Rice President David Leebron in the release. “This has included welcoming more international students to our campus in Houston, fostering international travel and programs by our students and faculty, and building strong relationships with the best universities across the globe. The Paris location offers an incredible range of opportunities, in fields ranging from art and architecture to international business and global relations and politics.” Caroline Levander, currently Rice’s vice president for global and digital strategy, is described as the leader who developed the new center and “extraordinary opportunity.” She will oversee the center in her new role as vice president global.  The Rice University Paris Center will have six classroom spaces that can seat about 125 students. The center is expected to be fully operational in January 2023. “Rice University’s mission statement commits us not only to pathbreaking research and unsurpassed teaching, but also to the betterment of our world,” said Provost and incoming Rice President Reginald DesRoches. “We’re eager to extend that mission internationally, and the opening of the Rice University Paris Center demonstrates that commitment.”   The Partnership and the City of Houston are currently leading a trade and investment mission in Paris, promoting Houston as a leader in innovation, education, the energy transition and strengthening business relationships between the Houston region and Paris. They will commemorate the opening of the new center on Wednesday, June 29.  Learn more about Houston's global ties and higher education institutions.
Read More
Economic Development

Economic Development, Public Policy and Addressing Violent Crime Among Topics in Partnership President's Address

6/21/22
The Partnership hosted the first in-person President’s Address this week for the organization’s members, with President and CEO Bob Harvey covering a variety of topics from economic development and public policy to energy transition and the rise in violent crime.  Harvey presented an overview of the organization’s recent work in these arenas before being joined by Partnership Chief Development Officer and SVP of Member Engagement Katie Pryor for a Q&A session.  Starting the conversation on the economic development front, Harvey said the Partnership has logged 14 project wins in the first five months of 2022. These represent $800 million in capital expenditures and 3,500 new and retained jobs in the region. In recent months, several Energy 2.0 companies announced plans in Houston, including Synthica Energy, which is developing a renewable natural gas facility on the Ship Channel, and Syzygy Plasmonics, which is moving its headquarters to Pearland to commercialize decarbonization technology for the heavy-chemicals sector.  Regarding public policy, Harvey told the audience that more than 60 members participated in the Partnership’s Washington D.C. Fly-In in the spring, which covered topics such as energy transition and large-scale infrastructure investments in the metro region. Looking ahead to the Texas Legislative Session that kicks off in January, Harvey said economic development incentives, higher education and energy transition are likely to be among the issues on the organization’s legislative agenda.  Harvey provided a brief update on the Partnership’s Houston Energy Transition Initiative, highlighting that four of the initiative’s working groups launched this spring. Those four working groups are focused on carbon capture use and storage, hydrogen, industry decarbonization and capital formation. A more robust update will come next week during the three-day Future of Global Energy conference June 28-30.  Noting the rise in violent crime here in Houston and around the country as well as growing anxiety around public safety, Harvey said a spectrum of local stakeholders will need to come together to identify solutions. A lack of courtroom availability as well as staffing shortages have led to a backlog in cases and a high rate of repeat offenders awaiting trial. Harvey said the Partnership is working in collaboration with local officials to help identify ways the business community can be part of the solution. He said he expects some movement in this arena in coming weeks.  Other topics of discussion included the region’s evolving innovation ecosystem, the Partnership’s racial equity work through One Houston Together and new workforce development efforts.   To attend an upcoming President’s Address and other Partnership events, view our events page and sign up for notifications when new events are posted.   
Read More

Related Events

Demography

Houston DiverseCity Summit

The Greater Houston Partnership proudly presents the Houston DiverseCity Summit, an inspiring one-day convening to advance equity and inclusion in the greater Houston region. This gathering of leading professionals…

Learn More
Learn More