Guest column

Houston needs to overcome its lack of density to continue to develop as an innovation ecosystem, says expert

Houston's density is possibly its biggest challenge when it comes to developing its innovation ecosystem, says a Houston expert. Getty Images

From the front porch of Houston, Texas, we solve some of humanity's hardest challenges. We're the ones who put humans on the Moon and rovers on Mars, go subsea in search of hydrocarbons, and are discovering a cure for cancer. We solve complex challenges, because of a characteristic seemingly embedded deep within our DNA — we are all explorers of the unknown.

Today, a new challenge is rallying our attention, inspiring us to push the boundaries yet again. And, that's the hard challenge of population density. Houston is fourth in population in the country, and yet 89th in the number of people per unit of area.

Why is this an issue, one might ask? Houston, like many other cities around the world, is racing to become a hub for innovation, a critical catalyst fueling the next generation of growth and economic prosperity. And, density is a key component of innovation — it brings divergent mindsets together to look at challenges from multiple perspectives and creates an environment that brings big bold ideas to life.

However, the nature of our geography has created silos that are not easily broken down and separates us by industries, communities, interests, mindsets, and access to transportation, among other things.

But, let's not underestimate our true spirit — and our ability to explore the unexpected, push the boundaries and tackle the challenges the world throws at us.

If I learned anything from living here my entire life, Houston has grit, imagination, and motivation and knows what it means to be a trailblazer. Houston is the most diverse city in the United States. Our culinary landscape is constantly pushing the boundaries of creativity and imagination. Local graffiti and modern art installations are reshaping the visual identity of our community. Our sports and performing arts "rockstars" consistently deliver real-time experiential immersion.

We need to recognize and embrace how these colors of Houston connect us all regardless of our geographic silos and push innovation forward. Said another way, we have all the colors; we just need to converge and paint the canvas together.

True to our nature, some of our Houstonian friends have begun chipping away at this challenge already. Central Houston is attracting world-renowned incubators and accelerators like MassChallenge and Gener8tor — and this scene alone is ever-expanding. The Cannon, The Ion, Impact Hub, Launchpad, Headquarters, and other players are creating environments that bring people together and meet the needs of an ever-evolving workforce through experiential community. We even have a dedicated publication for all things innovation — Innovation Map — sharing resources across our vast city and ensuring no great story is left untold.

Our rich diversity means we have access to human beings from a multitude of backgrounds, which in itself is a force to be reckoned with. By interacting with a variety of human beings, we become more empathetic, understanding, and celebratory of new ideas. This is fundamental to continuous innovation — how we interact and approach challenges, engage in new experiences, and become an inspirational leader in life and work. So, break down the silos and access the diversity of thinking that's already outside the door.

At the same time, the challenge of density must be tackled not only physically but also digitally. By converging the physical and digital ecosystem through a neural network, we can intelligently connect the activity with centralized access to start-ups, corporations, nonprofits, free-lancers, incubators, accelerators, maker-spaces, academia, local influencers, and public partners. Digitally bridging all of us can make one of the largest and most spread-out cities in the U.S. feel like a small Texas town with big ideas and an ever-stronger dimension of inclusivity.

So, join the movement, strike up a conversation, grab your metaphorical spray paint and converge with all the vibrant colors of Houston as we energize the future of humanity, navigate to Mars and back safely, and annihilate the existence of cancer.

As Steve Jobs said: "The people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do." Are we ready?

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Brad Rossacci is creative director at Accenture's Innovation Hub in Houston.

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Building Houston

 
 

These fast-growing companies have new personnel announcements to share. Photos courtesy

Three Houston startups have new hires they're excited about.

From new board members to c-level execs, here's who's moving and shaking in Houston innovation.

GoExpedi names senior vice president of sales

Michael Hanes will focus on sales at fast-growing GoExpedi. Photo courtesy of GoExpedi

E-commerce and supply chain company, GoExpedi, which is focused on transforming procurement for industrial and energy maintenance, repair and operations, has announced named a new executive.

Michael Hanes has been onboarded as senior vice president of sales. Hanes has over 20 years of experience in startups and emerging technologies. Most recently, Hanes worked at Heart Rhythm Society as its director of corporate relations.

"There are very few leaders that have the same level of sales experience and the diverse industry background as Michael. He is an outstanding addition to our team, as he's already started to build fruitful relationships with customers and partners, who are embracing change through the adoption of our interactive intelligence platforms," says Tim Neal, GoExpedi CEO, in a news release.

"Michael has also begun establishing a strong rapport with all of our sales leaders across the country, helping to further sharpen our processes and accelerate the growth of our already robust sales pipeline," Neal continues. "He will be instrumental for the expansion of our customer base and overall success."

Last fall, GoExpedi raised $25 million in a series C investment round in order to keep up with growth and demand.

"I am thrilled to join GoExpedi. What Tim and his team have built in just a few short years is nothing short of remarkable," says Hanes in the release. "Driving the sale of a truly innovative technology -- with the support of a deeply talented team of sales professionals -- is an amazing position to be in.

"I look forward to introducing fresh perspectives and bringing energy to further enhance our sales processes and market presence and accelerate the company's already fast-paced growth trajectory."

The Postage announces new board of directors member

Former startup CFO and venture capital adviser is joining a Houston tech company's board. Photo via liveoakvp.com

Lynn Atchison has joined the board of directors for Houston tech company The Postage, a full-service digital platform and mobile app for afterlife planning.

Based in Austin, Atchison most recently served as CFO at Khoros (née Spredfast) and also previously worked at HomeAway Inc. as CFO as well. She currently serves on other tech boards, such as Absolute Software, Bumble, Q2 Technologies and Convey, as well as being an advisory partner at LiveOak Venture Partners.

"As evidenced by her impressive experience, Lynn thrives when working with transformational and fast-growing companies, making The Postage a perfect fit," says Emily Cisek, CEO and co-founder of The Postage. "She has scaled operations, driven growth and improved profitability for companies in all lifecycle stages. We are absolutely thrilled to welcome Lynn to The Postage team."

The Postage launched last fall as a way to help simplify afterlife planning. Cisek was inspired to create her tech solution after she lost three family members back to back. This month, the company announced its new app.

During her time at HomeAway, Atchison oversaw more than 20 acquisitions and global expansions before the company went public in 2011 before being acquired by Expedia in 2015 for $3.9 billion.

"Throughout my career, I've worked with companies that redefined and established markets, ultimately becoming leaders in their respective industries, which is what I hope to do at The Postage," said Atchison. "Addressing the challenges associated with end-of-life planning is an exciting opportunity that I can personally relate to. I recently experienced a loss in my family, and I know there is something special about this idea. The Postage creates security of all users by ensuring that their families are taken care of after they pass."

Innowatts appoints new c-level exec

Energy software expert Jeff Wright has joined the globally expanding Innowatts. Photo courtesy of Innowatts

As Houston-based Innowatts continues its global expansion — most recently opening its European Union headquarters in Cork, Ireland, the energy software-as-a-service company has named a new member to its C suite.

Jeff Wright has been named the chief revenue officer of Innowatts. to drive continued expansion in the U.S. and also accelerate its growth globally. Wright was previously the global vice president of GE Digital's Grid Solutions business unit. During his tenure, GE's market position climbed from the No. 5 to No. 1 for its energy control room related software, according to a news release.

"Jeff's career can be summarized as 'Energy Meets Technology,'" says Innowatts CEO Siddhartha Sachdeva in the release. "As Innowatts business and global reach expands, we are grateful to have Jeff joining the company. He is a true energy tech leader who has second-to-none domain expertise across a diverse set of utility functions and operating units."

Wright will lead all aspects of the company's go-to-market initiatives and oversee global sales efforts and marketing channels.

"My passion to help companies disrupt and transform the utility industry aligns squarely with Innowatts' mission," says Wright in the release. "Innowatts is transforming the way energy providers will leverage data and AI to operate. Playing a pivotal role in the growth of the company coupled with driving the resilient and sustainable energy solutions of the future is a career opportunity that I am excited and passionate about. I'm truly delighted to be part of the Innowatts leadership team."

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