Houston Startup Hopes to Create Tech Cluster, Rebuild Neighborhood

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starting with the Houston Technology Center, which put down stakes just as redevelopment efforts began in 2000. Surge Accelerator, which runs a program for energy IT companies, has spent $2 million to refurbish a building that next month will become its new headquarters and a co-working space for cleantech startups.

A life sciences ecosystem has formed around the Texas Medical Center and Rice University, with groups such as Platform Houston, a co-working space, and Brightwork CoResearch, which is building a Biosafety Level-2 lab for scientists-entrepreneurs to pursue research.

Blair Garrou, managing director at the Mercury Fund, was a newcomer to the city in 1999 when he joined the newly formed HTC. He applauds tech entrepreneurs like Khandelwal and Surge founder Kirk Coburn, who he says are making decisions that are good not just for their companies and the tech-sphere, but also for the Houston economy at large.

“They realize that making individual decisions differently could have a lasting impact down the road,” says Garrou, who is also an Xconomist. “There needs to be more people thinking like that.”

Still, he wishes there wasn’t such a fragmentation of their efforts. “When VCs come to Austin, they just go to the Capital Factory,” which houses two seed accelerators, has a co-working space and has become the hub of entrepreneurial activity there.

“When they come to Houston, they don’t know where to go,” Garrou added. “It’s going to be challenging for Houston to find a true venture center.”

Still, Khandelwal says he believes EaDo represents the best place for ChaiOne to thrive and to bring a Silicon Valley-like community to Houston.

“We found a fantastic-looking space, one that we thought captured the spirit of what we wanted to do,” he says. “We want to attract the talent that’s going to Silicon Valley, Austin, and New York to come work for us. We are building that fabric.”

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3 responses to “Houston Startup Hopes to Create Tech Cluster, Rebuild Neighborhood”

  1. Rae says:

    I’m happy to see new development in EaDo, this article is a bit
    misleading. Sure, parts of the area contain ugly buildings and some
    areas aren’t at their highest and best use, but it’s not a wasteland!
    There are half-million dollar town homes just down the Street from
    Start! And surrounding this new facility location there are dozens of $250,000 brand new town homes. During the day, the area is hopping with industry. As a
    resident, I love how quiet the area is at night and on weekends; it
    really feels like a neighborhood and there are always people walking
    their dogs, running and riding bikes. This new business will help
    contribute to the betterment of the area, and it’s appreciated, but they
    aren’t “saving” us like the article implies. There are many other
    companies and home builders who are contributing quite significantly as

    • Hi Rae. Thanks for reading. I don’t think this article conveys that we think the area is a wasteland. I mention the townhomes and bars and restaurants that are there now, that are currently helping to change things. Certainly, this is an area in transition. While there is nothing wrong with the industrial type businesses that are located there, there is opportunity for the area to adopt higher and better uses for the land, something that would bring in more tax revenue to the area and contribute to a virtuous cycle of growth. ChaiOne’s efforts there symbolize that, and that is the purpose of the story.

    • grvaughan says:

      As a native Houstonian who’s been out in Sugar Land for decades, I’m having a hard time keeping up with the many positive changes happening downtown. I understand where the article’s coming from, it certainly speaks to the (mis?)perception many of us still have about east downtown, at least since the decline of the original Chinatown.

      There’s a good deal of skepticism in many oldtimers’ minds since earlier efforts to revitalize the area fell flat. Failure of the GRBCC to stimulate growth and the Mercado debacle are two examples.

      But things are different now, and I commend Gaurav Khandelwal for having the vision to try to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem. There’s not many places in sprawling Houston where you have relatively cheap space plus close access to universities, major businesses and so on, but maybe he’s found the spot.

      If we can just get the tree started, I’m sure in Houston’s dynamic economy, it will take off from there.