Q&A

New Greater Houston Partnership chair asks business community to spread the word

Houston, we have a perception problem — but the Greater Houston Partnership's new chair, Amy Chronis, is here to fix it. Photo courtesy Deloitte/AlexandersPortraits.com

If there's one thing Amy Chronis — the Greater Houston Partnership's 2021 chair and the Houston managing partner at Deloitte — wants you to know, it's that now's the time to spread the word about what's happening in Houston.

"We just don't brag enough about how much the city has changed and its trajectory," she tells InnovationMap.

While Houston has long been innovative in the health, space, and energy industries, it has a perception problem. Recently, Chronis addressed some of these concerns in her address at the GHP's 2021 Annual Meeting. She joined InnovationMap for an interview to zero in on how the business community can work to change this perception problem and continue to grow its innovation and tech community.

InnovationMap: You describe your new role at GHP as a convening one. As you begin your tenure, what do you have your eye on?

AmyChronis: Well, if you told me a year ago that we would still be virtual, I would never believe it. I think that's one thing. And I think the GHP staff is really doing a great job in trying to bring connectivity despite the virtual times. Expanding the programming to more opportunities for people to hear experts and to connect — that's positive. On the other hand, people are tired of virtual meetings, and there's a fatigue factor. So, I worry about how much longer we're going to be virtual and can't get back together safely. It hinders us making more progress.

IM: In your address, you highlighted the importance of fostering innovation. Why is this top of mind?

AC: A university board that I participate on basically said it had taken them seven to eight years to get an eighth of their curriculum online. They accomplished the other seven-eighths in three weeks last spring when they went completely virtual. And that happened over and over again in terms of whole companies, including ours, going virtual in the space of a week, basically. And now we are all very accustomed to using technology to get our work done, to do breakout sessions, to do strategy sessions, focus groups. We can do all kinds of things virtually that just a year ago. So, I think that's really positive though, because the digitalization needed to happen.

IM: Looking back over the past few years, what were some key indicators of progress within Houston innovation that you have seen?

AC: Well, TMC3 is one of those things. There are so many great things happening in and around the medical center and the development. And frankly, the pandemic forced parties that hadn't worked that well together in the past to work really well and really fast together in terms of the development of the vaccines. The fact that we can now do that and prove that can happen is just going to continue to accelerate the sharing of knowledge and data.

The Ion too — Rice University stepping up and thinking through a really generous lens to make it so all the higher institutions of education to use it through the business community can be part of this. That was a landmark decision that will change our landscape in terms of enabling that whole Midtown corridor and all the other accelerators and incubators that are creating a density hub in that area. That's another foundational accomplishment that we'll look back in Houston and say we needed to create those hubs of density.

IM: Have you seen the pandemic’s effect slow this type of growth in any kind of real major way? Or are we still kind of on track to promote these hubs that are popping up?

AC: No, I think it's making them move faster. And it's not just because of the pandemic, but it's also because of all the other societal pressures around climate change, renewables, and clean energy. And, it's a business opportunity — it really is like a new frontier where people are rushing in, like Greentown Labs deciding to be here. They very smartly said, "well, where's the smartest place for us to be?" And it's at the hub where the energy companies and the huge R&D capacity, budgets, and the expertise already reside. I like to think this is like the next iteration of our frontier.

IM: Of course in Houston, the energy transition is a big focus. Is Houston were it needs to be to maintain its title of Energy Capital of the world?

AC: I think there are many great things going on, but if you talk to a typical person in New York and they think of Houston is old energy. There is certainly a perception campaign to be waged. And we as individual citizens all need to help. I think both the industry and everybody in the industry needs to do a better job of educating the world. We power the world.

IM: What must Houston do to continue to attract big tech companies?

AC: We are blessed that Texas is almost always in the consideration is kind of companies on both coasts look to move to more business-friendly and lower cost places to put either their operations and or their headquarters. And so we're lucky, Texas almost always gets a look. I think we do lose out more than our fair share to some of the other cities in Texas — especially the tech companies coming from San Jose, with the exception of HPE recently. I do think there are so many coming to central Texas right now that the ability to get lower cost housing and infrastructure needs at some point is going to be an issue. I think Houston needs to step up and state our case as often as possible.

IM: Why does Houston struggle to compete with other Texas cities for new corporate business?

AC: There's this perception issue that Houston is just not a great place or an attractive place to live. And that a lot of executives and their families don't see themselves living in Houston, but they have kind of an image around Austin and Dallas from TV or music festivals. We need to get those aerial images out that show us as a city with a lot of green space and a lot of fun capabilities for families and people that live here.

IM: How can the city continue to support startups?

AC: I think we need to continue on all cylinders — both internally and externally. So, externally, that's really continuing to reach out in welcoming venture capitalists here. Even though we've accelerated greatly over the last four years, in terms of venture capital coming into the city, there are still impressions around old energy.

I think we need to continue to press our story of advancing and how not only are we part of the solution, but we will be the center for clean energy too. I think we need to really continue aggressively selling our story to venture capitalists, especially on the coast. And then internally, you know, I sound like a broken drum, but we need to keep educating people around the opportunities with these accelerators and startups.

IM: What do you hope to leave behind at the end of your tenure?

AC: Well, I'm hoping by the end of my tenure that we are back meeting and networking together in person — working in an easier way with all of our constituencies in our city and county region. I hope I'm into my tenure that we will announce several more really exciting relocations to Houston.

Lastly, I try to weave D&I into all my goals, both inside Deloitte and this role too. It's my job to bring along future leaders. I've been talking to former chairs about making sure we get more D&I leaders onto our committees and participating in the partnership. So they also can grow and become hopefully the future chairs of in future years. So I would to leave that as a legacy as well.

------

This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Trending News

Building Houston

 
 

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.

Trending News