Q&A

Houston founder talks growth and innovation in the pharmaceuticals industry

Shaun Noorian, founder and CEO of Empower Pharmacy, joined InnovationMap for a Q&A on his rapidly growing compounding pharmacy business. Photo courtesy of Empower Pharmacy

When Shaun Noorian encountered what he felt was a poorly ran process, as an engineer, he built something better. Now, he runs one of the nation's largest compounding pharmacies that's at a pivotal time for growth.

Headquartered in Houston, Empower Pharmacy is opening two new facilities locally — one debuts later this year and the other in 2022. Ahead of this milestone for his company, Noorian joined InnovationMap for a Q&A about how he decided to start his company and how he's grown it from a small office to two 85,000-square-foot facilities — as well as how Houston has been a big part of his company's success.

InnovationMap: Why did you decide to form Empower Pharmacy?

Shaun Noorian: I initially started Empower Pharmacy as a patient that was frustrated with the medication that I was receiving from a local compounding pharmacy in Houston.

I'd been working as a hydraulic fracturing field engineer at Schlumberger after graduating from college with a degree in mechanical engineering and was injured after several months on the job. I hemorrhaged three of my lower vertebrae and was put into physical therapy to try and fix my back. One of the doctors that was treating me noticed that I was very skinny for my age. I was probably 25 years old at the time. He decided to test my blood for the hormone testosterone, which is responsible for muscle growth and many other important factors in both men and women. The test determined that I had the testosterone level of an elderly man. The doctors sent me to Baylor College of Medicine for MRI blood tests, and they determined that I had a pituitary disorder and that I couldn't create the hormones responsible to tell my body to create testosterone. They put me on testosterone replacement therapy and it completely changed my life. Being testosterone deficient my entire life, I didn't realize what normal should be.When I was put on the medication, it was like a new lease on life. And I became very interested in the medication that I was taking, and how it worked. I studied everything I could. I was getting my medications from a local compounding pharmacy here in Houston, and I wasn't very satisfied with the quality of the service or the costs. Getting these medications was a very large percentage of my, what I was living off of. I couldn't figure out why this medication was so expensive when it cost just a few cents to make.

IM: How did you turn that passion into a business?

SN: I guess like most engineers, I decided I wanted to build — to make my own pharmacy. And make my own drugs and offer them to patients in a manner that I would want to it be from a patient's perspective when dealing with the compound pharmacy. I leased about 100 square feet in the back of the doctor's office. I pretty much converted one of his exam rooms and started my pharmacy there. I hired a pharmacist and did all the technician duties myself. I wanted to apply the patient experience that I would've wanted.

Slowly but surely, patients and prescribers around the area were very happy with the level of service and quality that they were receiving from our pharmacy. And we would get more requests through simple word of mouth and reputation. We grew pretty quickly out of that space and then built out a 1,500-square-foot space in a shopping center a couple of years later.

Following several more expansions and new locations throughout the years, we're now gearing up to open our new facility (7601 N. Sam Houston Parkway W., near the intersection of Highway 249 and Beltway 8), which will be the most advanced compounding pharmacy ever built. It has a lot of automation, and utilizes the same processes and equipment that Big Pharma uses to make their drugs. We're trying to better the system and continue to bring automation into the compounding industry so we can continue to scale and set a standard for the rest of the industry.

IM: What sets your business apart from what else is out there?

SN: We're a pharmacy that wants to do everything in house. We want to integrate our supply chain, and that means removing low value middleman from the health care ecosystem and streamline the medical distribution process. This means being the manufacturer, distributor, and regional pharmacy all in one, so we can really control our supply chain and integrate it. And at the same time, we can really be able to control and customize the consumer experience for both our patients and prescribers in a way that we would want. It's been a lot of fun being able to create your own healthcare ecosystem and building software for that your for patients that I'd want to use.

I'm an engineer. It's more fun talking about my equipment than anything else.

If you walk into a Walgreens, it's a simple repackaging operation. You're taking pills from a big bottle and putting them in a smaller bottle. What differentiates us from them and what's unique about this facility is that it's really built the same way as traditional pharmaceutical manufacturing is built using the same exact processes, systems, layout, etc.

We create our own purified water. We create our own clean, dry compressed air. We create our own clean steam that we use in our compounding processes, which are built to CGMP — current good manufacturing practices — specifications. We adopt a lot of those processes into the facility, and we built the facility around those standards that the FDA requires.

IM: You mentioned a new facility — but Empower is actually opening two new facilities within a year of each other. Tell me about those.

SN: Each facility is a mirror of each other — they are both 85,000 square feet. The one that's opening this year is going to be a pharmacy, so it'll just be dealing with patients. The next one is going to be licensed with the FDA and will work with larger institutions, selling medications in bulk for office use to institutions, hospitals, clinics, and prescribers. They will administer those medications to their patients in office. It's our way of being able to integrate that supply chain, so we can be that one-stop shop. So, physicians don't have to go to different vendors to source their medications — we can be an all-encompassing partner and vendor for them to source all their medical needs.

IN: How else are you expanding your business model?

SN: We've always concentrated on — since the inception of the company — quality, service, and cost. And we're always working to figure out how to increase quality, how to decrease costs, and how to make it easier and more convenient for our customers to use us. Some projects that we've been working on that are set to launch in the next few years is building out our own API – application programming interface – so that our telemedicine and other clients that are using electronic versions of health care record software can easily interface with our systems and vice versa.

IM: How has Houston been for you as a home base for Empower?

SN: I think being in Houston is one of the reasons why we've grown to become the largest compounding pharmacy in the nation. It's really just a lot of luck of being in Houston. I'm sure we're all aware that having the largest medical center in the world in your own backyard is a great way to have more prescribers than pretty much any other city in the country. That definitely helped us and continues to help us grow. Additionally, being the third largest city by population means we have a large workforce to pull a diverse workforce for whatever this company needs. Having a diverse workforce has been integral in our growth. Also, having two schools of pharmacy in our backyard has also helped.

There's a reason why, as we grow, we always stay in Houston. It doesn't make sense for us to go anywhere else. This is a great city and a great state to do business.

IM: Are you hiring?

Oh, we're always hiring. I think we currently have around 50 positions open and there's everything from pharmacy operations, all the way to manufacturing and marketing to sales, logistics, legal, you name it.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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Check out these conferences, pitch competitions, networking, and more all happening in September. Photo via Getty Images

From networking meetups to pitch competitions, September has a smorgasbord of opportunities for Houston innovators.

Here's a roundup of events you won't want to miss out on so mark your calendars and register accordingly.

Note: This post might be updated to add more events.

Mark your calendars for November 8 for the annual Houston Innovation Awards, and nominate your company or another deserving business by September 19.

September 5 — Tech + Tequila Talk: Houston Innovation

Natara Branch, CEO of Houston Exponential, will delve into the most recent developments within the Houston Innovation Community, shedding light on Houston Exponential's latest initiatives. She will also provide insights into upcoming events, including the highly-anticipated Tech Rodeo and the forthcoming Innovation Awards Gala. After all of that education and conversation, unwind with an authentic tequila tasting and network with tech industry peers.

The agenda:

5:50 pm - 6 pm: Sign-in/Registration

6 pm - 6:30 pm: Tequila tasting

6:30 pm - 7 pm: Tech talk

7 pm - 8 pm: Networking & Tequilas

This event is Tuesday, September 5, from 6 pm to 8 pm at the Ion. Click here to register.

September 7 — Venture Houston 2023

Venture Houston 2023 is a major event for entrepreneurs, venture investors and ecosystem builders to plug into what is happening in Houston. Come learn how you can decarbonize in a digital world, connect with Houston's best founders, corporate leaders and top tier investors, and develop meaningful relationships.

The agenda:

7 am - 8:45 am: Registration

8:45 am - 12:30 pm: General Programming

12:30 pm - 1:45 pm: Networking Lunch

2:00 pm - 4:15 pm: General Programming

4:15 pm - 6 pm: Networking Cocktail Reception

This event is Thursday, September 7, from 7 am to 6 pm at Stude Concert Hall. Click here to register.

September 8 — Inspire & Transform: Celebrating Women In Data

Hosted by the Houston Chapter of Women in Data and Solidatus, this event will feature influential women who have made significant contributions to the field of data from the City of Houston, Exxon, EY, Google, Houston Methodist and more. The event will discuss and debate "The Intersection of Data, AI and Sustainability" and "What Does Good Look Like" through insightful panel discussions, and networking opportunities. Price of admission is $10.

The agenda:

9 am - Check-in and Network

9:15 am - Welcome

9:20 am - Panel 1: The Intersection of Data, AI & Sustainability

10 am - Networking Break

10:10am - Panel 2: "What Does Good Look Like"

10:45am - Scholarships Awarded

11am - End of event + Networking Opportunities

This event is Friday, September 8, from 9 am to 11 am at 200 Park Place. Click here to register.

September 9 — Revolutionizing Your Work: Eight Innovative Ways Entrepreneurs Can Leverage ChatGPT & AI to Scale, Grow & Succeed

Discover how successful entrepreneurs are harnessing the power of artificial intelligence and ChatGPT to drive their businesses forward. At this event, you'll gain valuable insights from industry experts who have leveraged AI and ChatGPT to grow, scale, and succeed. Learn how these technologies can enhance customer experiences, streamline operations, and drive innovation in your own entrepreneurial journey.

This event is Saturday, September 9, from 12:30 to 1:30pm at The R.O.C.K. - Broadway Campus. Click here to register.

September 13 — Small Business Exchange

The Small Business Exchange, powered by US SBA, is a lively and informative event designed to connect small business owners and entrepreneurs.

At the Small Business Exchange, you'll have the opportunity to network with like-minded individuals, share your experiences, and gain valuable insights from industry experts. Whether you're a seasoned business owner or just starting out, this event offers a unique chance to learn, grow, and collaborate.


This event is Wednesday, September 13, from 11 am to 2 pm at SBDC Office. Click here to register.

September 21 — 20th Rice Alliance Energy Tech Venture Forum

The Energy Tech Venture Forum, hosted by The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, will showcase energy tech innovations to shift towards a more sustainable, reliable and lower carbon future across interactive panels, inspiring keynotes and over 50 dynamic venture pitches, leaders.

At the 20th annual conference, discover more than 90 new technology ventures commercializing energy transition innovations and meet investors looking for disruptive energy technologies that can accelerate clean and renewable energy. Check to see if you are a Rice Alliance member or sponsor to confirm your free registration. Rice university faculty and staff can also attend for free. For non-Rice community members tickets are $245.

This event is Thursday, September 21, from 7:30 am to 5:15 pm at Rice University. Click here to register.

September 21 — UH Energy Symposium: Plastics, Chemicals, Circularity: What’s Next?

Focusing on the multifaceted nature and enormity of the challenge, this discussion will focus on what circularity means for the future of production and consumption, meeting consumer demand, and creating and preserving utility across the value chain, while addressing emissions reduction and waste management through new technologies, standards, regulatory mechanisms like extended producer responsibility, and stakeholder engagement.

This event is Thursday, September 21, from 6 to 7:30 pm at the University of Houston. Click here to register.

September 23 — OPEN Houston 11th Annual Conference

Head over to the OPEN Houston 11th annual conference which will focus on the important players building Houston’s emerging technology and startup ecosystem. Hear from and connect with the founders, executives, investors, and other leaders that are building Houston’s innovation economy. Admission is $25-$50.

The agenda:

9:00 AM - 10.00 AM - Registration

10.00 AM - 10:30 AM - Mayor Sylvester Turner Welcoming

10:30 AM - 11:30 AM - Keynote by Andrew Yang

11:30 AM - 12:30 PM - Founder’s Panel

12:30 PM - 1:30 PM - Lunch

1:30 PM - 3:30 PM - Business Pitch Competition

3:30 PM - 3:45 PM - Award Ceremony

3:45 PM - 4:00 PM - Happy Hour

This event is Saturday, September 23, from 9 am to 4 pm at Moran Hotel. Click here to register.

September 27 — Space IT UP: Demo Day

Presented by ITA and ASI in collaboration with the Space Foundation, this event celebrates the journey of six Italian companies as they launch their groundbreaking space ventures from Houston's thriving space ecosystem. Following a five-week accelerator program, these companies will be pitching their innovative space solutions at this Demo Day.

This event is Wednesday, September 27 , from 5:30 to 8 pm at the Ion. Click here to register.

September 27 — Pearland Innovation Hub Grand Opening

Come learn more about the Pearland Innovation Hub, tour the new space, and celebrate the expansion. Raffle prizes will be available for attendees and f ood and drinks will be provided for registered attendees.

This event is Wednesday, September 27, from 6 to 8 pm at Pearland Innovation Hub. Click here to register.

September 28 — Chevron Technology Ventures Pitch Competition

Chevron is looking for novel technologies or approaches that can be applied to transform their operations. With the goal of removing people from hazardous environments (e.g., confined spaces, working at heights), reducing the environmental impact (e.g., leak detection, emissions monitoring), and increasing the operational efficiency (e.g., autonomous operations, advanced inspection capabilities, predictive asset health capabilities) of their facilities in the decades to come.

Registered attendees will be able to take a tour of the Chevron workspaces within the Cannon West Houston, enjoy refreshments and network.

This event is Thursday, September 28, from 4 to 7:30 pm at the Cannon. Click here to register.

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