Guest column

Houston expert: Why tech companies can benefit from building an ambassador ecosystem

Tech companies located in Houston should consider creating ambassador programs to leverage the deep bench of talent and experience locally. Photo via Getty Images

Innovation isn't born in a vacuum nor is the adoption of a new technology. Often the broader path to tech disruption is through groundwork and that's a system best laid by a well-connected network.

The urban megaregion that spans from Austin to San Antonio and Houston to Dallas comprises the largest single regional economy in the world. Furthermore, it is projected to expand its population density 65 percent to an astounding 10 million in the next two decades. In recent years, Houston's reputation has earned numerous nods as a growing tech hub, with many local startups employing entrenched talent from the specialized sectors a startup serves — for example, the digitization of oil and gas or maritime shipping.

Invigorated by its depth of industries including energy, the medical complex, transportation, real estate and education, Houston and its nearby economies are home to a vibrant presence of spirited entrepreneurs and tech-focused universities that are expected to keep pace with much anticipated growth. With nearly 3,000 startups and as the hub of major industries including oil and gas, health care and aerospace among others, the cross-pollinating capabilities of the city is nearly unlimited. Tech companies located here should consider creating ambassador programs to leverage the deep bench of talent and experience in Houston, and tap networking capabilities to drive value and adoption of their offerings.

All changes start small

Ambassador programs undertake the formalization of relationships with respective influencers in target industries to develop deep understanding and engagements with a company's product or service. Depending on the aim, an ambassador program can function similarly to an executive referral program with underpinnings to educate, promote, connect and incentivize adoption.

While each company's process may be unique, the general outcomes of ambassadorship can be shared. According to HubSpot, 90 percent of individuals believe brand recommendations from friends, 70 percent trust recommendations from other consumers, while a reported 71 percent are likely to make purchases based on social media referrals. By providing independent validation, a company's ambassadors can synergistically generate instant credibility that proliferates as an ecosystem expands. And therein lies the magic.

The first step in implementing an ambassador program is to identify relevant industry-specific enthusiasts to form initial connections or tap existing individuals that are particularly helpful or influential. Then create ongoing educational initiatives and offer certifications that reflect company objectives; as a company scales, it's offerings to an ambassador audience should mature to accommodate the company's growth.

Ambassador programs are often built atop reward referral programs to further incentivize knowledge transfership within a community and to galvanize opportunities. With the quality and quantity of companies and industries in the Houston area, a robust intercompany ambassadorship presence can create an enriching environment, generating a breadth of advocates who can spread the word and play an integral role in achieving wider success for the company.

Value begets value

Collectively, startup culture has a history of competition but also of coopetition. While evangelizing tech solutions, the bigger play at hand for ambassadors is to create a robust network that embodies passion, positivity, adoption of valuable technology and the most critical aspect: community.

Change needs a channel to cut its new grooves on, and a knowledgeable ambassador network primed to mutually drive engagement and community around a startups' brand is one of the fastest methods to do just that while also building fruitful relationships for now and into the future.

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Andrew Bruce is the founder and CEO of Data Gumbo.

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Building Houston

 
 

Here's what companies are in the latest cohort for gBETA. Photo courtesy of gBETA

An early-stage accelerator has picked its latest cohort of five Houston companies.

The Fall 2020 cohort of gBETA Houston includes:

  • AllIDoIsCook is founded by Tobi Smith and focused on exposing the world to Africa's cuisine by manufacturing gourmet food products delivered directly to customer doors and available at grocers. Since launching, AllIDoIsCook has built out a manufacturing facility, shipped over 8,000 boxes and generated $1.1 million in revenue all without outside funding.
  • Chasing Watts makes it easy for cyclists to coordinate or find rides with fellow riders in their area with its web-based and native application. The company has over 3,000 users and grew 135 percent from Q2 to Q3 in new ride views.
  • DanceKard, founded by Erica Sinner, is a new dating platform that connects individuals and groups with one another by bringing the date to the forefront of the conversation and making scheduling faster and easier with special promotions featuring local establishments. Since launching in August of 2021, DanceKard has over 170 users on the platform.
  • Dollarito is a digital lending platform that helps the low-income Hispanic population with no credit history or low FICO score access fair credit. Founded by Carmen Roman, Dollarito applies AI into banking, transactional and behavioral data to evaluate the repayment capability more accurately than using FICO scores. The company has1,000 users on their waitlist and plans to beta test with 100 or more customers in early 2022.
  • SeekerPitch, founded by Samantha Hepler, operates with the idea that jobseekers' past job titles and resumes are not always indicative of their true capabilities. Launched last month, SeekerPitch empowers companies to see who jobseekers are as people, and get to know them through comprehensive profiles and virtual speed interviews, and the company already has 215 jobseekers and 20 companies on the platform, with one pilot at University of Houston and three more in the pipeline.

The companies kicked off their cohort in person on October 18, and the program concludes on December 14 with the gBETA Houston Fall 2021 Pitch Night. At this event, each company will present their five-minute pitch to an audience of mentors, investors, and community members.

"The five founding teams selected for our gBETA Houston Fall 2021 cohort are tackling unique problems they have each experienced personally, from finding access to cultural foods, fitness communities and authentic dating experiences to challenges with non-inclusive financing and hiring practices," says Kate Evinger, director of gBETA Houston, in the release. "The grit and passion these individuals bring to their roles as founders will undoubtedly have a tremendous impact in the Houston community and beyond."

The accelerator has supported 15 Houston startups since it launched in Houston in early 2020. The program, which is free and hosted out of the Downtown Launchpad, is under the umbrella of Madison, Wisconsin-based international accelerator, gener8tor.

"Downtown Launchpad is an innovation hub like no other, and I am so proud of what it is already and what it will become," says Robert Pieroni, director of economic development at Central Houston Inc., in the release. "The five startups selected for the gBETA Houston Fall 2021 cohort are exploring new challenges that can become high-impact Houston businesses."

gBETA announced its plan to launch in Houston in September 2019. The program's inaugural cohort premiered in May and conducted the first program this summer completely virtually. The second cohort took place last fall, and the third ran earlier this year.

"These founders are building their companies and benefiting from the resources Downtown Launchpad provides," Pieroni continues, "and the proof is in the data – companies in these programs are creating jobs, growing their revenues and exponentially increasing their funding, which means these small starts up of today, working in Downtown Launchpad, are growing into the successful companies of tomorrow."

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