ICYMI

3 takeaways from The Houston Innovation Summit's first panel

At The Houston Innovation Summit's first panel of the week, representatives from The Cannon, Amergy Bank, and Central Houston discussed game-changing plans for the Downtown Launch Pad. Image courtesy of The Cannon

The Houston Innovation Summit is in full swing, and the first panel of the week's events started strong. Representatives from The Cannon Houston, Amegy Bank, and MassChallenge took the stage at Amegy Bank's downtown office — soon to be converted into the Downtown Launch Pad — to discuss big picture topics within Houston Innovation.

Grace Rodriguez hosted the panel that covered diversity and inclusion efforts, the growth of The Cannon, and what you can expect from Launch Pad. Here's what you may have missed from the event.

The Downtown Launchpad will shake up the innovation ecosystem

Robert Pieroni, director of economic development for Central Houston and an advisory board member for MassChallenge, set the scene for Houston innovation a few year ago. Houston was overlooked for the Amazon headquarters, and it was the wakeup call Houston needed.

Now, the city, with the help of organizations like Central Houston, has attracted major top 10 accelerators in the world to town and plans to house them in the same space — the Downtown Launch Pad, which is a joint venture project between Central Houston, Downtown Redevelopment Authority, The Cannon, and Amegy Bank.

The Launch Pad will occupy a few floors in the Amegy building to start. There will be coworking and event space, as well as a floor dedicated to MassChallenge and gener8tor — the two new-to-Houston accelerators.

"We'll be the only place in the United States that has co-located two top 10 accelerators," Pieroni says.

The project also is working with an incubator yet to be announced to help bring into the fold undeserved startups and entrepreneurs in Houston, and there will also be a bootcamp targeted directly at the disadvantaged within the innovation ecosystem.

From Amegy's perspective, the bank is committed to growing the building to being something unique and effective for startups, says Andy Buchmann, vice president of corporate real estate and property management at Amegy Bank.

"We are hopeful that this is only the first two floors that we have figured out, and we hope there are other three or four that come behind it as it grows into a real hub for startups in the years to come," Buchmann says.

The Cannon's new CEO has global growth on the mind

Earlier this month, The Cannon Houston brought on Jon Lambert to serve as CEO as the company plans to grow and scale. Lambert, who joined the panel, says that the Downtown Launch Pad was well timed for The Cannon as it's looking to find the optimal areas of the city to grow.

"The distribution of the city is unlike any other in terms of the pockets of where people live and work," Lambert says, adding that The Cannon has an opportunity to reach these pockets.

Looking beyond Houston — and even Texas, the company is poised for growth by taking its model to cities — nationally and even globally — that are underserved when it comes to coworking and incubation space.

"You'd be astonished at some of the people reaching out to us," Lambert says on the panel. Some of this interest, Lambert adds, is setting up The Cannon as a global entry point for international companies looking to do business in Houston.

Inclusivity is the priority

With global initiatives and with Houston being the most diverse city in America, the city's innovation ecosystem has a great responsibility to provide inclusion, and each of the panelists maintains that their organizations have that as a top priority.

The Launch Pad is being developed with this in mind, and Pieroni says it's in the perfect place to do that. Amegy Bank has long been committed to small businesses and the building's location — across the street from METRO's Downtown Transit Center — makes it so that anyone in Houston can get to the hub.

Gener8tor and MassChallenge are also committed to providing programming at no cost, which will open doors to the entire community to get involved.

"As a part of our agreement with gener8tor, the will host free lunch and learns with the community monthly," Pieroni says. "We are working with MassChallenge to make them even more frequent."

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Building Houston

 
 

Cloudbreak Enterprises is getting in on the ground level with software startups — quickly helping them take an idea to market. Photo via Getty Images

Lauren Bahorich is in the business of supporting businesses. In February 2020, she launched Cloudbreak Enterprises — B-to-B SaaS-focused, early-stage venture studio — with plans to onboard, invest in, and support around three new scalable companies a year. And, despite launching right ahead of a global pandemic, that's exactly what she did.

Bahorich, who previously worked at Golden Section Ventures, wanted to branch off on her own to create a venture studio to get in on the ground level of startups — to be a co-founder to entrepreneurs and provide a slew of in-house resources and support from development and sales to marketing and administration.

"We start at zero with just an idea, and we partner with out co-founders to build the idea they have and the domain expertise and the industry connections to take that idea and built a product and a company," Bahorich says.

Bahorich adds that there aren't a lot of venture studios in the United States — especially in Houston. While people might be more familiar with the incubator or accelerator-style of support for startups, the venture studio set up is much more intimate.

"We truly see ourselves as co-founders, so our deals are structured with co-founder equity," Bahorich says, explaining that Cloudbreak is closer to a zero-stage venture capital fund than to any incubator. "We are equally as incentivized as our co-founders to de-risk this riskiest stage of startups because we are so heavily invested and involved with our companies."

Cloudbreak now has three portfolio companies, and is looking to onboard another three more throughout the rest of the year. Bahorich runs a team of 15 professionals, all focused on supporting the portfolio. While creating the studio amid the chaos of 2020 wasn't the plan, there were some silver linings including being able to start with part-time developers and transition them to full-time employees as the companies grew.

"Within the first month, we were in shutdown here in Houston," Bahorich says. "But it's been a great opportunity for us. Where a lot of companies were pivoting and reassessing, we were actually able to grow because we were just starting at zero ourselves."

Cloudbreak's inaugural companies are in various stages and industries, but the first company to be onboarded a year ago — Relay Construction Solutions, a bid leveling software for the construction industry — joined the venture studio as just an idea and is already close to first revenue and potentially new investors. Cloudgate is also creating a commercial real estate data management software and an offshore logistics platform. All three fall into a SaaS sweet spot that Bahorich hopes to continue to grow.

"We are looking to replace legacy workflows that are still performed in Excel or by email or phone," Bahorich says. "It's amazing how many opportunities there are that fit into that bucket — these high-dollar, error-prone workflows that are still done like it's 1985."

Given the hands-on support, Bahorich assumed she'd attract mostly first-time entrepreneurs who don't have experience with all the steps needed to launch the business. However, she says she's gotten interest from serial entrepreneurs who recognized how valuable the in-house support can be for expediting the early-stage startup process.

"What I'm realizing is a selling point is our in-house expertise. These founders are looking for technical co-founders," Bahorich says. "We can both provide that role and be capital partners."

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