Houston has a lot going for it: An active professional sports scene, two international airports, delicious Tex-Mex. The fourth-largest city in the US (2.3 million residents) has also long held a reputation as a center for big business, boasting 20 Fortune 500 companies. But in recent years, it’s quietly been building one of the most extensive startup ecosystems in the country, too.
The city’s economy (as with much of Texas) is intrinsically linked to oil, which means it’s faced its share of adversity. Houston got hit hard in the 1986 oil collapse -- though the silver lining is that it escaped the 2008 recession relatively unscathed (it was the first major city to regain all its lost jobs, and then some). Credit the benefit of experience. “Thankfully, our financial system learned valuable lessons during the oil crash in the 1980s and resulting glut of speculative building,” says Rob Todd, a former Houston City Council member and founder of the telecom company Amplified Solutions.
Houstonians’ spirit of perseverance means that during the current oil downturn (which started in mid-2014), while sectors such as energy, manufacturing, and residential real estate were hit hard, according to Todd, others -- particularly tech and medicine -- have proved more resilient. Take TMCx, the business accelerator of the city’s enormous Texas Medical Center, which has fostered more than 75 health care startups over the past three years.
So what exactly makes Houston such a hotspot for budding entrepreneurs? Here’s a primer for would-be hustlers.