Three's company

3 powerhouse Houstonians named to the state's economic development board

A oil and gas CEO, a serial entrepreneur, and a retail energy exec walk into the state capital. Getty Images

The Bayou City now wields some high-profile power in the state's economic development efforts.

The Texas Senate recently endorsed Gov. Greg Abbott's appointment of three business leaders with strong ties to Houston to the board of the Texas Economic Development Corp. — including the organization's new chair and vice chair.

Robert Allen, president and CEO of Texas' nonprofit economic development arm, says the Bayou City should feel well-represented on the board with former Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane as the new chair, Houston energy executive Vicki Hollub as the new vice chair, and Houston energy executive Scott Prochazka as a new member. That means Houston-connected business leaders hold three of the board's eight seats.

Allen calls McLane "the perfect Texas ambassador."

McLane, who lives in Temple, sold the Astros to Houston businessman Jim Crane in 2011 for $680 million. Forbes estimates McLane's net worth at $2.4 billion.

Today, McLane controls a Temple-based holding company with business interests such as food distribution, car dealerships and sports marketing. In 1991, he sold grocery distributor McLane Co. to Walmart, which later sold it to Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway.

"I can think of no one better to lead our efforts to market the state of Texas as the best state for business than Drayton McLane. He has achieved tremendous success in several areas of business, all while calling Texas home," Allen tells InnovationMap.

McLane also chairs the board of Texas Central Partners, the Dallas company developing high-speed rail service between Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth. In addition, he serves on the boards of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation, Baylor Scott & White Healthcare, and the Cooper Institute.

"I am privileged to be able to give service to our great state of Texas and honored by Gov. Abbott's appointment as chair of the Texas Economic Development Corporation," McLane says in a statement provided to InnovationMap.

"The goal of the corporation is to help market Texas as a place for businesses to grow and prosper," he adds. "Texas is a great state, and we have much to offer businesses in many sectors. I care deeply for Texas and improving the economy that will carry us into the future."

Hollub, president and CEO of Houston-based oil and gas company Occidental Petroleum, is the new vice chair of the Texas Economic Development Corp. She's spent 35 years at Occidental, which just hammered out a $57 billion deal to take over Anadarko Petroleum, an oil and gas company based in The Woodlands.

In addition to the board of the Texas Economic Development Corp., Hollub sits on the boards of Lockheed Martin and the American Petroleum Institute, and she is U.S. chair of the U.S.-Colombia Business Council.

"As the first female to head a major oil and gas company in the world, Vicki defines what it means to be a Texan — hardworking, determined, and incredibly smart," Allen says.

Prochazka, president and CEO of CenterPoint Energy, a Houston-based provider of electric and natural gas service, joins McLane and Hollub on the board of the Texas Economic Development Corp. Aside from his duties at CenterPoint, Prochazka is incoming chairman of the American Gas Association, chairman of Central Houston Inc., and a board member of the Greater Houston Partnership.

Given his roles with Central Houston Inc. and the Greater Houston Partnership, Prochazka knows Houston "intimately well," Allen says.

The Texas Economic Development Corp. is an independently funded and operated nonprofit that promotes economic development, business recruitment, and job creation in Texas. For instance, the nonprofit helped pave the way for a $15 billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility in Corpus Christi that recently made its first cargo shipment. Houston-based Cheniere Energy owns the facility.

With Abbott's appointment of eight members, the makeup of the economic development organization's eight-member board is entirely new. The governor appointed them in April, but the state Senate had to give its final approval, which came earlier this month.

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Building Houston

 
 

Panelists from the University of Houston and Houston Methodist discussed tech transfer challenges and opportunities for academic innovators. Photo courtesy

Groundbreaking and disruptive innovations across industries are coming out of research institutions, and their commercialization process is very different from other startups.

An expert panel within Technology transfer discussed some of the unique obstacles innovators face as they go from academia into the market — like patenting, funding, the valley of death, and more.

Missed the conversation? Here are eight key moments from the panel that took place at the University of Houston's Technology Bridge on Wednesday, May 19.

This event was hosted by InnovationMap and University of Houston.

“If your technology can immediately impact some industry, I think you should license out your technology. But if you think that the reward is much higher and does not yet match something in the industry, you should go the high risk, high reward path of doing it yourself. That’s a much more challenging. It takes years of work.”

— Hadi Ghasemi, co-founder of Elemental Coatings and Cullen associate professor in the department of mechanical engineering at the University of Houston, says on how tech transfer usually happens via those two pathways. Ghasemi explains that it also depends on the academic's passion for the product and interest in becoming an entrepreneur.

“There’s a mismatch in that you can have a really clinically impactful technology but still not have money to develop it into a product.” 

— Rashim Singh, co-founder of Sanarentero and a research assistant professor of pharmaceutics at the University of Houston College of Pharmacy, says on the different priorities from within academia and within the market.

“What I’ve seen is if you know you want to patent something, tell the right people early. Make sure you have the right players involved. Our tech office already has venture, Pharma, etc. partners that can help with the patent process.”

— Ginny Torno, administrative director of innovation and IT clinical systems at Houston Methodist

“You don’t need to be fully transparent about your technology. As a company, you need to have some secret sauce."

— Ghasemi says on the patent and paper publishing process. Academics are used to publishing their research, but when it comes to business, you need to hold some things close to the chest.

“One of the most important piece the UH Tech Bridge has provided is the wet lab space to develop these technologies a little further toward commercialization. … Wet lab is very precious space in Houston specifically because there isn’t much here.”

— Singh says on how important access to lab space is to the entrepreneur.

"“You’re starting to see more and more organizations that have innovation arms. ... There are a lot of focus on trying to make Houston another innovation hub, and I think there is more support now than even a few years ago.”

— Torno says on what's changed over the past few years, mentioning TMC3 and the Ion.

“Try to serve private capital as soon as possible. The grant money comes, and those are good and will help you prove out your technology. But once you have private money, it shows people care about your product.”

— Ghasemi says as a piece of advice for potential tech transfer entrepreneurs.

“The biggest gap is to arrange for funding — federal, private, etc. — to support during the valley of death.”

— Singh says on the struggle research-based startups, especially in drug discovery, faces as they fight to prove out their product and try to stay afloat financially.

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