Eavesdropping in Houston

Houston experts talk tech and the city's future as an innovation hub

The Greater Houston Partnership hosted a panel of Houston tech experts for the second annual State of Technology event. GHP/Twitter

What's the future of technology in the Bayou City? Several experts sat down to discuss at a recent luncheon.

The Greater Houston Partnership hosted its second annual State of Technology event — the first to be hosted in person — this week, and panelists joined the stage to discuss ESG, venture capital, and what's next for Houston's growing tech scene. Missed the conversation? Here are several key moments from the event.

"We've got to keep our foot on the gas in Houston."

— Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the GHP, says at the start of the panel. "We were hardly in the game at all five years ago. We are clearly in the game today — we're being noticed," he continues. "But just being in the game is not what we aspire to. We aspire to be a leader and a major player, so we still have a lot of work to do."

"We have seen an incredible shift across all industries and sectors focused on the business impact of ESG. And Houston is in such an incredible place for that."

— Trinity Lloyd, sustainability and energy transition lead at Google Cloud. "Like technology, energy is at the core of every industry and sector," she shares. "We're seeing a ton of innovation around energy transition and climate tech."

"Venture capitalists are seeking the best ideas. Traditionally, VC has been about who you know, but that's changed drastically."

— Sandy Guitar, managing director of the HX Venture Fund. "We're not all the way there yet, but most venture capitalists we're working with are very focused on making sure they get the best ideas in the most democratic way," Guitar says of inclusion in VCs. "You really have to understand difference to solve important problems."

"Early stage venture is at its prime right now. ... It also happens to be the kind of environment that Houston has really been known for."

— Guitar says of the landscape of Houston's startup ecosystem. "We have great early stage venture capital opportunities," she says. "People are looking to get invested in earlier and earlier."

"Premium is now knowing where your products came from." 

— Ann Lai, vice president and general manager of displays solutions business group at HP Inc. "The progeny of your device or services is extremely important to the average user."

"While we seek to solve our own corporate social responsibility and innovate within our organizations to have better and more accurate reporting, we have this opportunity to create new markets."

— Lloyd says. "We're starting to see industry lines blurring," she continues. "In 10 years, the way we all do business is going to be different."

"How do we use all of us as grassroots ambassadors to talk about Houston as a strong place for technology?"

— Lai says on getting the word out about Houston's tech scene. "We also need to find ways to track talent earlier in the pipeline."

"It's about the venture capital community at large efficiently finding the fastest growing deals, and corporations having a risk tolerance to lean into that."

— Guitar says about what needs to happen in Houston. "It's about getting that match making right," "That can change the trajectory of Houston."

"Doing good in the world is critical to attracting talent."

— Lloyd says on the future of the workforce. "Houston has an infrastructure of intellectual capital unlike any other city in the world that is really critical across ESG and the climate spectrum."

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Building Houston

 
 

After working with thousands of interns, Allie Danziger of Ampersand Professionals says she's now got a product to upskill and train new hires for employers. Photo courtesy of Ampersand

After seeing success with her internship training and matchmaking platform, Allie Danziger, founder and CEO of Ampersand Professionals, has expanded the concept to include a new hire training service that allows employers to better optimize the onboarding process and have a well-trained new staff member from day one.

In just over a year, Ampersand has worked with over 7,000 professionals through its original concept of upskilling and matching young professionals to internship programs. A few months ago, Danziger and her team expanded to include career development training for students first entering the workforce with the City of Houston's Hire Houston Youth program. Danziger says it was developing out the platform for this program that proved there was a need for this type of training.

"While we have focused on matching professionals with businesses for paid internships, we recognized a further gap with employers that have their own recruiting/talent acquisition teams, or just their own preferred way of bringing on entry-level talent, and didn’t have a need for our matching platform," Danziger tells InnovationMap. "But, they recognized the benefit of our proven training platform that pre-vets and de-risks their hires, and still wanted access to the training for their own hires."

The new program has evolved from training interns to new hires, so parts of the program that focuses on interviewing or applying for a job have been removed. Instead, the 8.5 hours of training focuses on networking, best practices for working with a manager and team, performance reviews, common software training, and more.

Danziger says usually new hires need the most experienced mentor or manager, but they don't usually get that support — especially when it comes to businesses that don't have their own built-out mentorship or training program.

"Ampersand’s new training product fills that gap — it gives employers of any size any easy solution to provide basic job readiness training to employees, access to our team of dedicated coaches, and a detailed report at the end of their training summarizing how their new hire did in the training and any trends recognized and tips for managing this employee based on what the platform uncovered," she says. "Businesses can also sign up for additional coaching sessions and customize training materials, as an add-on if interested."

The program costs the employer $100 per new employee, and checkout online takes less than a minute. Through both this program and the original internship program, Ampersand is constantly evolving its training content.

"These professionals are going through the same training experience that we have proven out over the last year, and we are constantly adding to based on data we see in the user experience," Danziger says.

Danziger recently joined the Houston Innovators Podcast discuss some of the benchmarks she's met with Ampersand, as well as the importance of investing in Gen Z hires. Listen to that episode below.


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