By Katherine Blunt
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Some of Houston’s biggest oil and gas companies are trying to foster a startup scene as they look to develop a pipeline of innovative ideas and products.
The oil bust that devastated Houston’s energy sector also served to invigorate it.
In the years since crude markets crashed and forced hundreds of thousands of layoffs, many of the city’s most prominent oil and gas companies have embraced technology as a means to become nimbler and more competitive as energy needs change. They have built internal teams to vet and perhaps invest in promising technologies and partnered with the likes of Google and Microsoft to make better use of their data.
Now, some of Houston’s biggest companies are trying to foster a startup scene as they look to develop a pipeline of innovative ideas and products. But they face the same challenge that has long flustered entreprenuers, investors and economic development officials: how to build a launch pad for emerging companies in a city where the tech sector has remained stubbornly second-tier.
Those tracking the sector’s transformation agree that Houston has made substantial progress in leveraging some of its strongest attributes — its economic strength, university programs and engineering talent — to build a culture of innovation geared toward its industrial base. More startups are taking root, sometimes with help from experienced workers laid off during the bust.
Venture capital investors are starting to focus on energy. And oil and gas companies have, to varying degrees, become more open to disruption and talking with competitors to encourage experimentation across the board.
“How do we make sure this is sustainable?” said Jose Silva, lead strategist for advanced analytics and emerging technologies for Anadarko Petroleum in The Woodlands. “The ecosystem is starting to flourish, and now we need the ability to expand on those ideas to scale them up and see the returns.”