On purpose

3 Houston entrepreneurs changing the world with their B2B startups

The Cannon hosted a B2B pitch night, and all three companies have a mission to change the world. Courtesy of The Cannon

I think it's safe to say that most B2B startups don't have sustainability or a mission-driven purpose at the core of their business model. In fact, it's probably safe to say that about any for-profit company of any size.

Three Houston entrepreneurs pitched their companies at The Cannon's recent B2B pitch night, and they all have something in common: They're not normal B2B startups. Each company has a mission to change the way we're doing something — from hiring to construction — in a way that's better for the world.

Natalie Goodman, founder and CEO IncentiFind

Courtesy of IncentiFind

Natalie Goodman realized there was a disconnect between builders and green incentives the government provides.

"The government is strapped — they have all this money that they want to give away, but not the (marketing) money to get the word out," Goodman told InnovationMap last month. "That's where IncentiFind stepped in."

IncentiFind is a portal for green incentives and works in three steps. First, you do a search for green incentives in your area — this part is completely free to the commercial developer or home owner. Next, the user might opt to pay IncentiFind to find the exact incentives for the project and submits the applications for the project. The final step is a promise of a 10 times return on investment.

A million green projects are completed in the United States each year, and IncentiFind is getting in front of that by forming partnerships with lenders, commercial developers, architects, etc., Goodman says to the crowd. Read more about IncentiFind here.

Jeff Miller, CEO of Potentia

Courtesy of The Cannon

The facts and figures are pretty startling. One-in-40 school-age children are on the autism spectrum and one-in-five college-educated autistic individuals don't have a job when they graduate, Jeff Miller says during his pitch at The Cannon. Miller, who has a long career in staffing around the world, founded his company Potentia to help correct this growing employment problem.

"We're seeking to help employers build their 21st century workforce at the intersection of technology, leadership, and, most specifically, the autism spectrum," he says.

Potentia is a technology-focused recruitment firm with resources and opportunities for applicants on the Autism spectrum. For Miller, it's personal. His 16-year-old son has autism, and Miller wants a world where his son can have access to employment opportunities around the world.

"I think we're in a position to improve this model here in Houston, and take it to other cities," Miller says. "The reality is this is a challenge that exists in every major city."

Kim Raath, co-founder of Topl

Courtesy of Topl

Sure, blockchain is a major buzzword nowadays, but for Topl co-founder Kim Raath it means having the ability to track the sustainability of a purchase. Topl's technology is able to tell you if your diamond ring came from a war-torn country or if your coffee's farmer was paid fairly.

Raath says she's seen an increased need for sustainable and transparent businesses that can prove their impact, but it's expensive to do that.

"These businesses are spending so much money on trying to prove this impact," Raath says in her pitch at The Cannon. "We have customers spending close to 15 percent in operational expenses just to be able to trace their growth."

The company, founded by three Rice University students, is growing. In May, Raath says they have four new ventures being developed, and by 2020, they want to have 24 live ventures with a monthly revenue of over $30,000.

"At Topl, we are really going to change the world," Raath tells the crowd. "But I can prove it to you." Read more about Topl here.

As a part of a national trend, a Houston bank has moved into a space in Houston's largest coworking hub. Texas Citizens Bank/Facebook

Pasadena-based Texas Citizens Bank is getting cozy with current and potential customers at its new branch within The Cannon coworking campus.

Jimmy Allen, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Texas Citizens Bank, says the bank's new 3,900-square-foot location — its seventh branch in the Houston area — fits perfectly within The Cannon's 120,000-square-foot building, which Texas Citizens helped build. The branch opened in December 2019; the grand opening is planned for February 2020.

"Owner-operated businesses are both the genesis of our business model and [a] key customer segment served," says Allen, who was named to his position in September. "A subset of that group certainly includes young, relatively new companies, which favor the current trend in coworking or live-work-play communities."

Aside from offering traditional banking products like loans and checking accounts, Texas Citizens serves as a financial consultant to startups that are occupants of The Cannon, according to Allen. Texas Citizens is now the official bank for The Cannon and Cannon Ventures, an angel investment network housed at the coworking space.

The Cannon is at 1334 Brittmoore Rd. in the Energy Corridor. It operates two other entrepreneurial hubs in Houston — one downtown and the other in the Post Oak area. Allen says branches could pop up in other locations of The Cannon.

"When we first opened the bank in 2006, our goal was to advise and assist owner-operated businesses … in the greater Houston area," Duncan Stewart, chairman and CEO of Texas Citizens, says in a release. "Our new location helps further that goal. This unique placement allows us to tap into new markets and assist more entrepreneurs in their financial and operational development."

Stewart plans to spend time at his bank's new branch at The Cannon, according to Texas Citizens. Irene Duque, senior vice president, manages the branch.

Texas Citizens' other branches are in the West University area of Houston as well as Pasadena, Baytown, Clear Lake, Nassau Bay, and Rosenberg. Its assets exceeded $540 million as of June 30, 2019.

Texas Citizens' outpost at The Cannon is part of a growing relationship between coworking spaces and banks. In some cases, banks are leasing vacant space to coworking tenants or are creating flexible office space within empty square footage, according to American Banker. In other cases, banks are tenants in coworking spaces, as is the situation with Texas Citizens at The Cannon.

One banking giant, Capital One, has entered the coworking sector in a significant way. The bank has established free-to-use coworking cafés that offer traditional financial services but also furnish access to Wi-Fi, charging stations, workspaces, community rooms, coffee, and pastries.

Across the country, Capital One operates roughly 40 cafés. None of the them are in the Houston area.

"The space feels WeWork-y, with marble tables, brand new chairs, spotless concrete floors, and private study rooms. The aesthetic is 'venture capital,'" a writer for Los Angeles magazine observed in November 2019 after visiting a Capital One Café.

The first Capital One Café opened in 2015 in Boston.

"In modeling the cafés, Capital One responded to what it heard from consumers: Bank branches were intimidating and stressful," the Wall Street Journal reported in November 2019. "At the cafés and branches, the employee dress code is relaxed, and customers can open accounts on iPads. The cafés also host community groups and hold workshops such as 'Talking Money With Your Honey,' which focuses on finances in relationships."