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

 
 

Houston-based Zeta Energy has fresh funding from the government. Image via Zeta Energy

Houston-based Zeta Energy announced this week that it was selected to receive $4 million in federal funding for the development of efficient electric vehicle batteries.

The funds come from the U.S. Department of Energy's ARPA-E Electric Vehicles for American Low-Carbon Living, or EVs4ALL, program, which aims to increase the number of EVs on the roads by boosting the country’s supply chain of affordable, convenient, reliable and safe batteries.

Zeta Energy is one of 12 groups in the U.S. to receive funding from the program, which awarded $42 million in total.

“Electric vehicle sales in America have tripled since the start of this Administration and by addressing battery efficiency, resiliency and affordability, the projects announced today will make EVs attractive to even more drivers,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm said in a statement released earlier this week. “This is a win-win for our efforts to fight climate change and power America’s clean transportation future with technologies produced by researchers and scientists right here at home.”

Other teams to receive funding include 24M Technologies, national laboratories and universities like The Ohio State University, University of Maryland, Virginia Tech, among others. Zeta is the only Texas-based company to receive funds. It received one of the largest grants among the group.

"We are thrilled to have been selected for funding by the ARPA-E EVs4ALL program," Zeta Energy CEO Tom Pilette said in a statement. "We have been working hard to make this technology a reality, and we are really grateful to receive this recognition of the promise of our technology and the progress we have made on it."

Zeta Energy is known for its lithium sulfur batteries that traditionally have not been long lasting. While sulfur is an economical and abundant material, it traditionally would dissolve after a few uses in lithium sulfur batteries.

However, Zeta uses its proprietary sulfur-based cathodes and lithium metal anodes that have shown to have higher capacity and density and better safety profiles, according to the company's website.

According to ARPAE, the company will create a new anode that will "be highly accessible and rechargeable" with the funding.

Zeta Energy

closed a $23 million series A round led by New York VC firm Moore Strategic Ventures about a year ago. In addition to applications for electric vehicles, the company's technology is also expected to have uses in grid energy storage.

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