Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The amazing growth of technology entrepreneurship in Houston

Tonight I attended a Houston TeXchange event titled "A Look at the State of Entrepreneurship in Houston." I've followed the technology entrepreneurship scene in Houston for at least ten years, at it is making progress by leaps and bounds. The crash of 2000 was really only a small hiccup for Houston, and we have progressed far beyond where we were at the height of bubble and have really closed in on matching the activity in Austin and Dallas (maybe even surpassed on some measures). I was stunned to hear that the Houston Angel Network, which helps with seed investing for very small tech companies, is now the second largest in the nation in people and funding, after a group in California - while the Austin angel network essentially vaporized after the crash.

Another tidbit I picked up is that UH is really growing and pushing its undergrad entrepreneurship program:
Bauer's Entrepreneurship program is ranked as a top tier program by Entrepreneur magazine, and we develop winners. In the past four years, undergraduate students from the Bauer Entrepreneurship program have won awards in 10 national business plan competitions, and more than $60,000 in prizes.

There are now a tremendous number of entrepreneurship support groups in Houston, many of which made short presentations tonight:
It's really an incredible array of resources to help local entrepreneurs get off the ground and grow.

The new President of the Greater Houston Partnership, Jeff Moseley, spoke about a range of topics related to Houston, economic growth, and technology entrepreneurship: the Governor's Emerging Technology fund, the Texas Industry Cluster Initiative, NAFTA, CAFTA, clean air, quality of place, the largest medical center in the world, citywide wi-fi, biotech, nanotech, new energy technologies, and even supporting the post-Katrina rebuilding. The range of activities vs. even just a few years ago is amazing. I was able to speak with him briefly afterwards about the importance of getting Tier 1 research funding status for the University of Houston and my local venture capital idea, and they are wide open to any ideas that help accelerate Houston's high-tech growth.

There is definitely a strong entrepreneurial spirit that runs through this city and this state. Some people trace it to the oil wildcatting mentality. California may have been the last hotbed of entrepreneurship during the go-go 90s, but their costs have spiraled out of control (a $700K+ mortgage tends to cut down on quit-your-job entrepreneurial risk-taking), and I think you'll see Texas emerge as the next great entrepreneurial region in this country.

4 Comments:

At 6:08 PM, September 14, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

An interesting counterpoint to the Pasadena editorial.

 
At 6:51 PM, September 14, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

go COOGS

 
At 7:10 PM, September 14, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just like countries with oil tend to have industry monoculture, Houston's economy is almost entirely dependent on energy companies. And because of this fact, the area's economy is not particularly diverse.

A major problem is that UH isn't a major state institution (but luckily they are trying to be) Rice isn't a major research institution (though it is a great college) and the medical center has not produced much of a biotech park between Baylor, UT-Houston, and MD-Anderson. Couple that with a lack of a nationally recognized business program here, and you can see why Austin is the center of innovation in Texas and not Houston. In fact, Austin is the largest biotech center in Texas even though it has no academic medical center. So that goes to show the power of a huge research powerhouse.

Improving the college and medical schools in Houston is a great first step. But we also need incentives for companies to show up here. We need to find a huge plot of land and designate it a "tech park" much like what has been done in Boston, San Francisco, and especially in the Research Triangle of North Carolina. Couple tax incentives with cheap land and venture capital and companies will start to migrate here. Give the major academic institutions in Houston discounts so they can set up startups in this park and draw other companies there.

Of course, we are so comfortable with our energy monoculture that it is unlikely this will occur for another 20-30 years, and by then, all the top tech and biotech firms will be entrenched on the coasts. But at least we can try by setting up a research park.

 
At 10:58 PM, September 14, 2005, Blogger Owen said...

anon,

Houston's economy is almost entirely dependent on energy companies...

I don't think that's really been true for 15 years... Houston's economy has shifted greatly from the days when oil was king. That's just my perception, but I'm pretty sure I'm right on this. You can argue that Houston should do more to bolster tech and the medical professions, but I don't think it's a valid criticism to claim we have an energy "monoculture."

 

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