Houston innovators podcast episode 6

Innovation leader wants Houston's diverse population to have the same access to entrepreneurial success

Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston, wants to set up the city's innovation ecosystem for success. Courtesy of Grace Rodriguez

It's not enough to Grace Rodriguez that Houston's been recognized as the most diverse city in the nation. She wants Houston's innovation ecosystem to have inclusion and opportunities for all.

One of the originals founders of Station Houston, Rodriguez saw that, while Station and others at the time were making huge moves for helping entrepreneurs, there were some that weren't having the same experience.

"Houston is so diverse, and there are so many entrepreneurs that weren't getting access to the same resources," she says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Rodriguez founded Houston's chapter of Impact Hub, a global organization that helps to accelerate nonprofits and startups working to advance the United Nations' sustainable development goals, last year. The organization now works with other entities, like The Cannon Houston, to provide useful and inclusive programming for the entirety of the city's innovation world.

Recently, organization hosted Houston's first Climathon — a hackathon for climate change solutions — and is currently working on programming for the city's upcoming The Houston Innovation Summit, or THIS. The week-long event takes place November 18 to November 24 and engages and activates organizations across the city — such as Bunker Labs, The Cannon, Houston Exponential, and more.

With the growth of startup development organizations and new accelerator programs entering the market, Rodriguez wants now for each organization to come together — like they will be doing for THIS.

"Now I think the conversation needs to be, 'How can all of us play well together?'" Rodriguez says.

On the podcast, Rodriguez discusses her career, the impact of Impact Hub, and more details about THIS. Check it out below and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.


Sandy Wallis, managing director of the HX Venture Fund, has seen investing in Houston change over her 20-year career. Courtesy of Sandy Wallis

After 20 years in the venture capital world, Sandy Guitar Wallis has seen the evolution of investing — on both coasts and here in Houston as well.

Now, as managing director of the HX Venture Fund, Wallis is playing the long game. The fund of funds acts as a broker to other venture funds, raising money from limited partners and then strategically doling out investments to non-Houston venture funds, with the hope that those funds circle back into the Houston innovation ecosystem with a multiplier effect.

"We have raised a fund of funds with the HX Venture Fund, and we're deploying that capital across probably 10 venture capital funds over time," Wallis explains on the most recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Each one of those funds, will invest in 15 to 20 underlying private companies. So, at the end of the day, HX Venture Fund 1 will have exposure to 10 VC funds, as an example, and — by virtue of those investments — maybe 300 private companies."

The HX Venture Fund is aiming to raise between $50 million and $70 million for its first fund. Last year, HXVF made six investments, and Wallis says she expects another three to five investments in 2020. Ultimately, Wallis says, HXVF is looking to get a wide range of of firms involved — from early stage to later, growth stages — as well as a diversity in industries of focus.

Beyond the money, HXVF is opening up the discussion on a national scale, with visiting VCs and potential investors.

"We are getting a lot of interest in coastal VCs who want to invest here," Wallis says on the podcast.

Wallis, who is a co-founder of Weathergage Capital, got her MBA at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, but has been in Houston for most of her career — traveling to each coast for business. Wallis shares her expertise, discussing everything from why the IPO process has slowed to what startups need to know about venture capital.

Listen to the full episode below — or wherever you get your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.