Texas’s Innovative 2014: IPOs, Startup Funding Programs & SXSW

Xconomy Texas — 

Another year comes to a close. Before you pop that champagne-bottle cork, let’s pause to remember the top innovation themes in Texas in 2014.

The funding environment was brisk with Texas VCs deploying capital to startups in energy, life sciences, and IT. Two Texas biotechs made stock market debuts—the first ones in many years.

While startup accelerators at the University of Houston and Rice University joined forces, the Houston Area Translational Research Coalition called it a day. A revamped Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas restarted its life sciences commercialization grant program after a year-long hiatus.

Here is an assortment of the top news this last year based both on reader traffic and my observations from Xconomy’s Texas helm.

IPOs & other exits
—Fort Worth, TX-based ZS Pharma and Houston’s Bellicum Pharmaceuticals had successful IPOs in June and December, respectively.
—Global corporate names went shopping in Texas, too. Fuji Diosynth Technologies, a subsidiary of the Tokyo-based conglomerate, bought Kalon Biotherapeutics, which was spun out of Texas A&M University in College Station, TX.
—Daimler AG of Germany scooped up Austin, TX-based RideScout, which has an app that gives users real-time information on transit options such as bus and rail service, taxis, and car and bike-sharing services.
Adometry, also based in Austin, was purchased by Google for its online marketing dashboard.
GlobeRanger, a Dallas-area company that makes software to manage data generated by radio-frequency identification devices for largely military customers, was bought by the Japanese electronics giant Fujitsu.

The granddaddy of the Texas startup scene, the Rice University Business Plan competition, continues to dominate the landscape. The weekend of “April madness” is now the richest of such competitions worldwide with a total purse of $2 million. This year, more than 50 awards were handed out, resulting in a contest record of about $3.5 million.

Houston may be home to Big Oil, but it’s also where advocates for algae biomass as an alternative fuel congregate—thanks to efforts by Greg Mitchell, an algae research biologist at the University of California San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the son of George Mitchell, the father of fracking.

No list of Texas innovation would be complete without the South By Southwest interactive festival. Around 30,000 swarmed Austin’s downtown for events that featured hometown entrepreneur Michael Dell and satellite speeches by Edward Snowden and Julian Assange.

The Texas Medical Center stepped into the spotlight in a big way this year by announcing it was starting its own biotech accelerator, called TMCx.  A few weeks later, pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson said it was opening in Houston a branch of its J-Labs startup incubator program.

Related to the TMC is a general sense of building momentum in the Houston startup scene. You can see it in efforts by Chai One and Start Houston to renovate an Art Deco building in “EaDo,” new investment partnerships with the University of Houston, and a Houston-focused (think biotech and energy) SXSW-style conference called TechStreet. Knowing that entrepreneurial spark can be fanned with even the smallest of investments, Houston entrepreneur Prasad Menon decided to start the Bayou Microfund as a way to support the smallest and least experienced of entrepreneurs.

And, of course, we can’t leave out the slideshows.
BioHouston’s annual chili cookoff featured about two dozen varieties of the dish—I was judge for about eight recipes—and also performances by zombies.
—More than 100 hackers gathered at Rice’s Bioscience Research Collaborative last winter for the Space Hackathon, which aimed to advance innovations that would improve astronauts’ health in space. Among the projects included the “Space Hospital in a Toilet,” which purported to track dehydration by evaluating an astronaut’s urine.