In the major hubs of innovation, where coastal titans like Silicon Valley have long captured the limelight, a new chapter is quietly unfolding on the sprawling landscape of the Lone Star State.
Texas, a realm synonymous with oil fields and cowboy dreams, is undergoing an extraordinary metamorphosis. The state that once was defined by big physical industries like energy and manufacturing, even rockets, is now primed for disruption as startup founders, researchers, and corporate innovation teams converge in fields as diverse as human potential, biopharmaceuticals, logistics, and renewable energy.
Industries ranging from medical research powerhouses in Houston and Dallas to the intriguing “Texas Triangle” comprised of North Texas (greater Dallas-Ft. Worth), Central Texas (Austin and San Antoni), and Houston has propelled Texas to the forefront of global innovation discourse. These cities are experiencing dramatic population growth and are seeing large corporations set up new headquarters.
The essence of Texas has always been defined by contrasts—wide-open vistas juxtaposed with towering skyscrapers, historical tradition interspersed with cutting-edge innovation. And over the past decade, the state has significantly gone beyond its oil fields and NASA renown.
Houston and Dallas: Illuminating Medical Research
Houston is home to the “Innovation Corridor,” a 4 mile-stretch that includes the world’s largest medical complex, the Texas Medical Center. Anchoring this complex is the renowned MD Anderson Cancer Center, which consists of 60+ institutions and receives over $2 billion in research funding annually. Additionally, Rice University and the Baylor College of Medicine also drive Houston’s research capabilities.
Key areas of Houston medical research include:
- Cancer Research
- Genomics and Precision Medicine
- Cardiovascular Research
- Neuroscience and Neurological Disorders
- Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology
- Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research
- Medical Imaging and Biomedical Engineering
Houston’s dedication to fostering a collaborative environment among its institutions, along with its proximity to a diverse patient population, has created a fertile ground for medical research across a spectrum of fields. Houston’s population, in fact, has “no ethnic majority and where nearly one-in-four residents are foreign-born.”
Dallas, with its blend of corporate prowess and healthcare technology innovation, stands as a beacon of transformation. The rise of the Pegasus Park campus is emblematic of the city’s push towards new industries. In 2015, J. Small Investments took ownership of the campus from Exxon Mobil and, in partnership with Lyda Hill Philanthropies, redeveloped the campus into a bustling center for business, social impact, and biomedical innovation. Pegasus Park campus, spanning 26 acres, currently boasts over 750,000 square feet of office and warehouse space.
Lyda Hill Philanthropies is specifically championing biomedical research and startups with the BioLabs facility at Pegasus Park, 37,000 sqft of flexible and state-of-the-art co-working lab and office facilities (currently occupied at capacity). Additionally, Lyda Hill Philanthropies is pushing emphasis on Social Impact startups, in 2023 the main “Water Cooler” floor in Pegasus Park Tower included 35 nonprofit and social impact tenants.
The University of Texas Southwestern (UTSW) has emerged as a trailblazer in the realm of biotech commercialization, forging a formidable bridge between groundbreaking research and real-world applications. With a robust commitment to translating scientific innovation into tangible solutions, UTSW stands as a prime example of academic prowess harnessed for economic and societal impact. The university is one of the first institutions to convert its Tech Transfer office to an office of commercialization and move it off campus, signaling a strong move to focus on to-market speed.
UTSW’s achievements in biotech commercialization are evident through remarkable success stories. One notable example is the development of Exonics Therapeutics, a company founded based on the gene-editing research led by UTSW scientists. Exonics Therapeutics focuses on advanced treatments for genetic disorders, notably Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The company’s transformative approach holds the potential to revolutionize disease management and improve the lives of countless individuals.
Additionally, UTSW’s collaboration with Peloton Therapeutics, a biopharmaceutical company, led to the development of a novel cancer therapy. This collaboration exemplifies UTSW’s dedication to bridging the gap between academia and industry, resulting in the advancement of groundbreaking treatments for serious diseases.
The “Texas Triangle”: An Ecosystem with Huge Potential
At the heart of Texas’ innovation narrative lies the colloquial “Texas Triangle”—the trifecta of North, TX; Central, TX; and Houston. Each city, unique in its cultural DNA, contributes a distinct color to the innovation palette, creating an ecosystem where ideas flourish and industries intertwine.
However, how these cities (and industries within them) work in conjunction with each other is still in a state of progress. Innovation at these intersections exist in numerous goals and technologies that cut across industries like human potential (humans performing in harsh environment, sports medicine), robotics (space, energy, and health tech), finance (banking, energy trading, insurance).
Perhaps Texas’s only twin state with this type of vast cross-industry potential is California, where high tech, agriculture, and university research (to name a few) all have tentpoles in the state’s economy. Over the past 20 years, this has been especially pronounced, and we can see examples of legislation that incentivize collaborative efforts in intersections like renewable energy and agtech funding. How to further progress the connectivity of Texas remains both a challenge and a promise of its huge potential.
Dallas, with its a business-focus and access to capital, is reimagining its identity as an innovation nucleus. Google has recently expanded in the region, and North Texas area is comprised of 40 smaller cities. Population wise, it is the fastest growing region in the country with about approximately 30 million people in next 30 years.
Central Texas with Austin as its bohemian spirit and burgeoning tech scene, challenges the conventions of innovation hubs. The city’s live music culture with tech ingenuity births a unique environment that attracts startups and thought leaders (think South by Southwest). There’s a large pool of young talent in Austin, and huge companies like Whole Foods as headquarters there. San Antonio (never forget) is just an hour drive from Austin. The city has strengths of cloud computing and cyber security underpinned by the Air Force, home of its Air Forces Cyber. San Antonio is also a major location for the research and development organization MITRE, which Fast Company has called “the most important company you’ve never heard of.” MITRE is an essential organization that supports private-public innovation by driving emerging tech to be ready for government use.
And then Houston, often synonymous with NASA’s Johnson Space Center (Space City) and energy exploits, is expanding its canvas to embrace healthcare and aerospace innovation. In addition to the increasingly educated and highly diverse population covered earlier.
MassChallenge’s Expansion in Texas
MassChallenge has been active in Texas for close to a decade. Through mentorship, curriculum, and crucial connecting opportunities and introductions, MassChallenge empowers startups to traverse the tumultuous terrain of entrepreneurship with grit and resilience.
MassChallenge sees in Texas a highly diverse population that’s only growing, access to strong research universities, and business-friendly state laws. Additionally, with legacy industries such as Texas Instruments and other energy or telecommunications corporations, there is a substantial amount infrastructure already in place.
Its expansion over the last few years marks a commitment and understanding that Texas is one of the next major innovation hubs. Specifically, MassChallenge is uniquely positioned as a nonprofit organization that strives to better connect innovation ecosystems, without looking for profit gains.
While MassChallenge has had been active in Austin and Houston for over five years, its expansion to Dallas was announced in 2022. By establishing a footprint in the region and building community, MassChallenge will ramp up operations attracting early resources to the network and collect relevancy data from local business leaders. Over the next 3-5 years, MassChallenge plans to verify industry clusters and transition that work into startups that will have a significant impact on corporate innovation pipelines.
MassChallenge looks to help cohesively harness Texas’s innovation capacity and elevate voices and technologies with promising solutions. The organization largely operates by the following:
Incubating Innovation: MassChallenge’s accelerator programs have been instrumental in nurturing startups in Texas. By offering mentorship, educational resources, and workspace, MassChallenge creates an environment where early-stage startups can develop their ideas, refine their business models, and gain the skills needed to succeed in the competitive market.
Cross-Industry Collaboration: MassChallenge’s approach fosters cross-industry collaboration, creating a diverse ecosystem where startups from different sectors come together to exchange ideas and insights. This has led to the emergence of innovative solutions that bridge gaps between seemingly unrelated industries. For example, a healthcare startup might collaborate with a tech company to develop a new telemedicine platform, or a sustainability-focused startup could partner with a manufacturing company to create environmentally-friendly products.
Access to Capital: MassChallenge’s extensive network of investors, venture capitalists, and angel investors opens doors for startups seeking funding. By providing exposure to potential investors, MassChallenge helps startups secure the capital needed to scale their operations, develop products, and bring their innovations to market.
Global Reach: MassChallenge’s global network facilitates international partnerships, enabling startups in Texas to access markets and resources beyond their regional boundaries. This exposure not only increases the visibility of Texas startups but also provides them with opportunities to collaborate with companies and mentors from around the world.
Ready for Launch
In a world where established innovation hubs wield tremendous influence, Texas has embarked on a journey of reinvigoration. The initiatives over the past decade ultiamtely have the broader goal of seeding a culture of innovation, regardless of industry, technology or region. MassChallenge’s expertise and programs a work to change the way people (founders, corporates, governments, etc.) think about innovation creation and adoption.
A tapestry of industries—spanning medical research, SaaS, defense, renewable energy, and space exploration—threads through the fabric of Texas’s transforming identity. Texas and its Triangle offers a unique blend of culture, commerce, and creativity that’s setting new benchmarks for innovation ecosystems. As MassChallenge looks to fuels the state’s iniatives, the Texas takes center stage as a new fulcrum for global innovation.
Grab your cowboy boots.