Who's who

3 Houston innovators to know this week

This week's innovators to know represents a homecoming, an accelerator launch, and a call for tech education. Courtesy photos

This week's innovators to know span across industries — from sports tech to education, but they are all fighting for something here in Houston. Here's what they are focused on bringing to the Houston innovation ecosystem.

Mike T. Brown, founder of Win-Win

Courtesy of Win-Win

Mike T. Brown decided to move his Silicon Valley sports tech platform that gamifies charitable donations to his hometown of Houston. Win-Win, which launched in 2016 and since raised $1.2 million in funding, is ready to scale and launch full-scale during the 2019 NFL season.

"I couldn't be more excited about returning to Houston to become a part of the city's tech revolution," says Brown in the release. "After visiting The Cannon, I immediately felt the energy and have witnessed their commitment to pushing Houston's tech startup movement. I can't wait to get fully plugged into the city's ecosystem, to start hiring local talent and raising money from local investors." Read more about Brown and Win-Win here.

Yvette Casares Willis, director of strategic partnerships for MassChallenge Texas

Courtesy of MassChallenge Texas

Yvette Casares Willis has been working to put Houston on the map for MassChallenge Texas, and her work is finally coming to fruition. The organization opened applications for its inaugural cohort last week. As excited as she is to work with the cohort, Willis is looking forward to what it means for the program to arrive in Houston and help to connect the dots across the city's innovation ecosystem.

"I'm excited about what Houston has to offer," says Willis, who is the director of partnerships for the organization. "We have everything we could possibly provide in this ecosystem to be amazing, as long as we all work together. If we can all collaborate and if we all have the same mission, we can really make a difference in Houston." Read more about Willis and MassChallenge Texas here.

TeKedra Pierre, internship coordinator at The Village School

Courtesy of The Village School

Tekedra Pierre's job is to help students be aware of real-life needs in the workforce through internship programs. And what's extremely clear to Pierre is the need for more professionals in tech — specifically the cybersecurity space. She wrote a piece for InnovationMap on the subject.

"Employers struggle to keep employees up to speed on the latest technologies and skill sets needed to succeed and thrive in the rapidly changing and evolving business landscape," she writes. "To remain competitive, Houston businesses must attract qualified workers to fill these positions that range from cybersecurity to industrial technology, engineering and medicine. And the earlier we can reach them, the better." Read Pierre's piece here.

Corey Allen had entrepreneurialism in his blood — but it wasn't until he got involved with the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber that he got the courage to break out on his own. Courtesy of Corey Allen

Corey Allen grew up surrounded by entrepreneurship. His family owned several small businesses when he was growing up. But it took the support of his community to push him toward leadership.

From working in an accounting firm to dabbling in a few oil and gas companies, Allen's career trajectory changed when he joined the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce. Within the organization, for which he serves as treasurer, he met other motivated entrepreneurs and was given the support needed to open his own business, Ecotone.

Allen spoke with InnovationMap about his career and the importance of the LGBTQ community in entrepreneurship.

InnovationMap: How does Houston differ from other cities in the U.S. in terms of technology and entrepreneurship? What makes Houston different?

Corey Allen: I think everybody does default to Austin, right? People believe that that's the only technology hub in Texas. Houston is new and different from other cities in terms of tech and entrepreneurship, right now especially. In creating three local startups, we experienced tremendous support from well-established groups like the Greater Houston Partnership, the city of Houston with the Mayor's entrepreneurship program, the Greater Houston Chamber of Commerce. But, you know, what I think what is really new especially for Texas, within in Houston, is the local coworking spaces that are globally recognized brands and the coding camps. I think that is what is creating the infrastructure and ecosystem that we've been talking about for the last five years at least. I think that compared to other cities in the U.S., I don't see that type of energy and that type of investment being created in Houston right now.

IM: You mentioned a little bit about being involved in the process of creating three local startups. What makes Houston the right place to be involved in the startup culture that’s cultivating right now?

CA: I think there's two things that come to mind. Houston really is home, and it's always been home for me. And it really is a big, small town. I came from a small town in Texas, about halfway between Houston and Dallas, and our family always navigated to Houston for fun, but also for business. It was really the foundation for my own family, and I think what we get out of Houston is that southern hospitality is a real thing. So, that's certainly the first thing. And the second is that Houston has the foundation for a prosperous ecosystem. Obviously, there's a lot of oil and gas and the Texas Medical Center is already globally recognized. The more that we continue to focus on venture capital and innovation, which is what is wanted and needed right now, Houston is creating our own new technology and entrepreneurship to capture everybody's attention.

IM: What are some of the ways the tech and innovation community support their LGBTQ colleagues throughout the month of June?

Yeah, I love this question. I think it goes without saying for the community to come out and support the LGBTQ community by joining the chamber of commerce. Also, attending our second annual Pride in Business, which is June 28. That's been an outstanding event for all of the businesses in the community to be involved in the LGBT community. In three years time, (the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber) has been growing exponentially to over 125 visible members. And we have corporate partnerships that really speak to the impact that is being made in the community and in Houston. We have corporate partners like Shell and United. And also celebrate and attend the Houston Pride Parade, which is on June 22.

IM: What advice do you have for up-and-coming lgbtq entrepreneurs?

CA: The learning is the action. I used to really be annoyed by the phrase "sell faster." I actually live that now. You can't fail until you act, and now I know that you can't compete until you fail.

IM: That's great advice right there. What does pride month mean to you?

CA: It's very personal, and it hits home. My partner and I are going to be celebrating 19 years together in September, and I think that pride means celebrating a history that we don't stop to think about everyday. We were at a chamber meeting recently, and a member was sharing her experience of walking in the second pride parade. And she said that it wasn't the same. Even the police at the time did not protect the community. And that's a big difference from today. And I think anybody that goes out to the pride parade this year, I want them to know they're safe. And you know, I think that that's what we have to be thankful for today is to know that we can love without constant fear. It really just reminds us that we're not going to let anyone take that away again.

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Portions of this interview have been edited.