For decades, people looked at Houston as a “Big Oil” town but not much else. Yet, in the last few decades, Houston has grown to include world-renowned medical research and museum/arts districts.

As you’ll see, this Houston innovation is not enough for Mayor Sylvester Turner and leading entrepreneurs in the Texas city.

Often referred to as the “lifeblood” of innovation, startups can spur new industry developments. They can disrupt established norms and accomplish goals more swiftly than their larger corporate counterparts.

That’s why entities such as Station Houston have pushed for more Houston innovation. Mayor Sylvester Turner, elected in 2015, shares this sentiment, seeking to develop an Innovation district.

Up until last week, the location for this Houston innovation district was up in the air. But now, the city chose a location and has encountered some who disagree with their decision. Despite this, the bigger picture shows us that Houston innovation is at a turning point.

I have lived in Houston my whole life and I attended the University of Houston, so I know a thing or two about the city. I have seen it grow and change even in just my 28 years. Startups like Station Houston, Edgy Labs, and Droneworks Studios showcase Houston’s new vision for itself.

After missing Amazon HQ2 candidacy, what is Houston doing to boost Houston innovation? 

A Shared Vision Becomes an Action Plan

John S. Reale, known to his friends as “JR”, leads Station Houston and works with many startups. He contributes to Forbes and he leads workshops on how to pitch your startup.

But he also tells us in the above video that a shared vision needs an action plan.

Station Houston launched in 2016, but it already has more than 350 members and 130 mentors across 180 startups. They see Houston as the future of startup hotspots and won’t stop until they see this goal achieved.

They aren’t alone: the Texas Medical Center has its own Innovation Institute for medical startups. The 153 current and alumni companies have raised $146-million USD since the inception of the TMC Innovation Institute.

image of Droneworks Studios for article Station Houston and Mayor Turner Want Houston Innovation
Droneworks Studios

Other startups like Droneworks Studios showcase the versatility of the city of Houston. They have worked with major brands like NIKE, Coca-Cola/MLB, and Fox Sports.

They also partnered with Samsung to bring VR to the masses with the Samsung 360 Creators Lab. But these businesses and incubators couldn’t operate alone.

They need both community and government support to continue to grow, foster talent, and create new technologies. It is Mayor Turner’s involvement that catalyzed mere vision into pragmatic and decisive action.

A History of Innovation, a Present of Possibility, and a Future of Fortune and Growth

Mayor Turner previously discussed a trip to Tel Aviv where he saw the power of startups. He saw the same potential in his own city. In fact, he believes Houston has a history of innovation far outside just the energy industry.

After all, Houston adapts and changes based on the challenges at hand. During Hurricane Harvey last year, citizens banded together to help each other so much that the George R. R. Brown Convention Center had to turn away volunteers.

The tech communities helped, too, as described in this Forbes article. Perhaps due to recent events, new sources gave voice to the city of Houston. One fact emerged from all of this: Houston is a city that thrives because of diversity.

image of Houston chef Chris Shepard with David Chang for Ugly Delicious for article Station Houston and Mayor Turner Want Houston Innovation
Houston chef Chris Shepard with David Chang for Ugly Delicious | Netflix via Culturemap

Everything from our startups to our restaurants is infused with people from all walks of life and all cultures. Our chefs feature on various tv shows like Netflix’s Ugly Delicious with David Chang. Having tried the so-called “best” cities for food in the U.S., the Michelin-star filled New York and San Francisco, I can say somewhat unbiasedly that Houston is just as good. There might not be as many big names, but the food quality is strong. The prices are, as they are across markets in Houston, much less expensive.

Going further, the spectrum of Houston food highlights the diversity of the city. There are high-quality and affordable examples of Indian, Middle-Eastern, and Southeast Asian cuisine in addition to the city’s reputation for Tex-Mex and cajun-creole cooking.

This varied cultural representation comes from the diversity of those who call Houston home. It’s that same diversity that spurs innovation.

Station Houston’s JR wrote about this Houston spirit as a part of how entrepreneurial ecosystems affect innovation.

One thing he pointed out is that Houston innovation stalled due to a lack of startup support. The Houston Innovation District will transmute this inertia into forward momentum.

image of Beyonce at Coachella for article Station Houston and Mayor Turner Want Houston Innovation
Beyonce at Coachella via missinfo.tv

Moving Forward Together

There is a saying you might know of and it’s something like “lift as you climb.”

It comes from Mary Church Terrell address to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). You can see the philosophy of this played out in the actions of today’s black women like Houston’s own Beyonce.

At Coachella, she featured dozens of black performers from dancers to violin players. She is uplifting others now that she has reached a successful pinnacle.

It is this concept that startups embody, too. As they succeed, so does the system around them. With this in mind, Mayor Sylvester Turner, Station Houston, and the innovation task force chose a location last week for the Houston Innovation District.

The epicenter of the district is set for a location in the heart of Midtown Houston, right off the Metrorail. This isn’t too far from Edgy Labs’ HQ either and it is a central location to most of Houston’s top universities like Rice and the University of Houston.

It will be accessible to anyone who can hop on a Metro bus or the Metrorail.

image of Station Houston meeting for article Station Houston and Mayor Turner Want Houston Innovation
Houston Public Media

But the Growth is Already Happening

Some people have suggested that Houston may have missed its chance. But there is immense startup growth already happening right now. All you need to do is look around.

Edgy Labs, founded in 2016, has grown from five people to a team of almost 50. We have amassed almost a dozen clients and only want to grow more. Our approach fosters global and local growth simultaneously.

Station Houston is integral in this process by offering co-working spaces and guidance. With JR leading the charge, they have also been able to help augment Mayor Turner’s plans for adapting Houston beyond its present iteration.

But we aren’t alone. Just check out this simple Angel.co list of Houston startups. You can see more than 1,600 companies listed here alone. The average valuation is around $3.9-million USD.

Even the new ventures senior director at Johnson and Johnson Innovation lauded The Medical District’s Innovation Institute. All we need to do is keep that momentum going.

image of Houston innovation district map for article
Rice University via The Houston Chronicle

Why Pick This Location Over Others?

Houston is developing entrepreneurial ecosystems, art districts, and providing opportunities for as many people as possible.

With this kind of forward-thinking approach, the entrepreneurial ecosystem is not only advancing established startups, it is fostering new growth in communities all over the city.

But it is a few key things that signal Mayor Turner’s plan will be successful:

  • long-term goals and vision
  • collaboration between business leaders, civic visionaries, and citizens
  • “Small wonders” collide with “big moves”
  • Anchors — with people and with locations in various communities

Through the dedication of Mayor Turner, Station Houston, and the Greater Houston Partnership, Houston will once again transform.

It will no longer just be the city that got a vertical version of Chicago’s bean. It will be a powerhouse of technology, diversity, and innovation like never before.

Thinking about creating a startup in Houston? Let us know. We want to help.

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