paving the way

2022 Trailblazer Award recipient named for Houston Innovation Awards

Blair Garrou will be recognized as the 2022 Trailblazer Award recipient at the Houston Innovation Awards Gala on November 9. Photo courtesy

In less than a month, InnovationMap and Houston Exponential will honor dozens of movers and shakers within the Houston innovation community at the 2022 Houston Innovation Awards — and the first award recipient has officially been named.

Blair Garrou, managing director and founder of Houston-based venture capital firm Mercury, has been named the 2022 Trailblazer Award honoree. This award was established to honor a Houston innovation leader and advocate who's making a lasting impact on the Houston innovation community.

"I am very honored to be nominated and named the Trailblazer Award recipient. As many of us who contribute to Houston’s innovation community know, it’s a decades-long commitment," Garrou says.

Last year, the Trailblazer Award was introduced and honored Barbara Burger, former president of Chevron Technology Ventures. Garrou is the second individual to receive the recognition.

"This award is even more special for me since it’s the year after my good friend and colleague, Barbara Burger, was named as the inaugural award winner," he tells InnovaitonMap. "Barbara is a trailblazer for our tech ecosystem in so many ways, especially around diversity and inclusion. Her leadership has provided a framework for me, Mercury, and other leaders and organizations to continue growing Houston’s tech ecosystem in an inclusive, sustainable manner."

Mercury, founded in 2005 by Garrou and Dan Watkins, is an early-stage venture capital organization focused on software technology across the country — particularly focused on middle America or "fly-over" states. According to its website, the VC has created over $9 billion of value within is investment portfolio.

In addition to Mercury, Garrou helped launch and was the director of operations for the Houston Technology Center and led the formation of the Houston Angel Network. He also serves in board and/or advisory roles for The Artemis Fund, DivInc, Houston Exponential, HTX Impact Fund, UTHealth, and more.

"The main purpose of any innovation ecosystem is to help entrepreneurs succeed. These communities need leaders, feeders and instigators," says Scott Gale, executive director of Halliburton Labs and 2022 awards judge. "Blair transcends all of these distinct and critical roles for Houston."

Garrou will be honored among the finalists and winners at the Houston Innovation Awards Gala on November 9 at the Ion. Buy tickets now. For sponsorship information, email Chris Buckner at cbuckner@gowcompanies.com

"So many tiles in the mosaic of Houston’s Innovation Ecosystem have Blair’s fingerprints on them," Gale continues. "The earliest echoes of his influence include the Houston Technology Center (a pre-cursor in many ways to Houston Exponential) and the Houston Angel Network. Now decades later his influence continues to reverberate as he continues to be that first believer that Houston needed and that startups are so often looking for. A trailblazer in every sense of the word."

A brief Q&A with this year's honoree:

Houston's innovation ecosystem has evolved significantly since you founded Mercury in 2005. How would you describe your impact on that growth and evolution?

I’ve been helping to grow Houston’s tech ecosystem since 1999, when I joined the Houston Technology Center. Working at HTC, launching the Houston Angel Network, and then working at Genesis Park, gave me a foundation of venture experience, a network, and a community-oriented framework that helped guide my next twenty years. I was greatly inspired by the leaders of those organizations and how they gave back to the Houston community. I hope that my efforts have inspired other tech leaders to give of themselves, while they work on their own businesses, so that Houston can continue to reach its true potential.

​What excites you most about Houston's future as an innovation community?

The best is yet to come. When HX was formed in 2017, VC investment in Houston was less than $300 million per year. In 2021 that figure grew to over $2 billion. Over the last five years, our city has had major growth in almost all areas that matter for a tech ecosystem – the launch of accelerators and coworking centers, tech talent migration, venture capital investment, and venture capital fund formation. Although we are in the midst of a recession, Houston continues to grow in three key industrial sectors of innovation – EnergyTech/ClimateTech, HealthTech, and SpaceTech. Our city has the opportunity to be a national leader in each of these sectors, and drive tremendous job growth in the future.

What’s your favorite part of your role working with startup founders and other innovators?

I love helping founders navigate the ups and downs of the startup lifecycle. From providing founders frameworks to help grow their business, to taking midnight calls to “walk them off the ledge” of anxiety, my job is to be present and accountable for founders and truly advocating for their success.

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Building Houston

 
 

Here are some reminders of how to serve up a home-run of a pitch to potential investors. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

Pitching to a venture capitalist is not only the most challenging part of building a startup, it’s also the most important. You can have the next pet rock idea, but nobody will ever experience it and you’ll never make a dime if the genius of this product cannot be expressed in an investor pitch. Okay, so pet rock isn’t the best example.

Let’s say you have a product that gets rid of stretch marks overnight. Great idea, right? Of course. But if you’re in front of an investor and they ask you how your product works, and you can’t answer them, your idea will forever remain just that: an idea. It’ll never manifest itself materially, which is your goal.

Did you know that the average venture capitalist holds around 500 in-person meetings per year? Further, did you know that only one in every 10 startups will make it past the first meeting?

With so many meetings with startup founders, you better believe that investors are virtually looking for reasons to pass on you and your cordless extension cord. Or whatever fakakta contraption you’ve developed in your garage.

Well, with so much importance placed on first impressions, here are some of the most important things investors look for and notice when you pitch to them:

Value proposition

This is what separates you from the pack. This is what makes your startup a standout. A value proposition shows an investor your company’s competitive advantage. If you can explain to your potential investor why it would be their folly if they invested in a competitor over your startup, then you’ll be that much closer to rolling out your product to market. Investors want to see a product or service that is unique because that means less competition, and less risk involved.

Entrepreneurship

Sure, you might be a brilliant scientist. You may have developed nanotechnology that eviscerates dirt and bacteria so you don’t have to shower anymore. But have you put together a team that can make your company a successful business? Do you have team members with experience in whatever it is your startup does? Do you have people with credibility congruent with your startup? Your pitch is a way for investors to find these things out. If you can show them that your team has experience, passion, insightfulness, and expertise, investors will feel much better about taking a chance on you.

Confidence is key

Investors can tell if a founder is confident, but not overconfident about how far they’ve come and how far they know they can go. During a pitch, investors can tell if your team is a cohesive unit or parts of a fractured whole.

Anatomy of an investor pitch

Your potential investor will notice if your pitch is structured well. He or she will take not of whether or not your pitch is designed well. They’ll ask themselves if it’s authentic. Does it cover business metrics? Is it concise and to the point? Is the founder communicating something complex in a simple way? Doing so shows absolute understanding and a total grasp of your product and the science behind it, plus the business aspect of it.


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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Rene Cantu was the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

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