Success stories

Here's what startups can learn from Houston exits

At Houston Exponential's second annual HX Capital Summit, four Houston entrepreneurs turned investors discussed their lessons learned. Getty Images

One way to evaluate a city's innovation ecosystem is by the number of successful exits they've had. From startups being acquired by big companies to bringing in a private equity partner, exits can put a city on the map.

Houston has quite a few exits under its belt, and some of those entrepreneurs have stayed in town to fund future success stories. At Houston Exponential's second annual HX Capital Summit, four entrepreneurs discussed their exits, providing key lessons learned for entrepreneurs.

Houston has some perks. 

One thing moderator Samantha Lewis, director at the GOOSE Society of Texas, asked each panelist was what made each entrepreneur start their companies in Houston — and furthermore, what made them stay here after their successful exit.

Panelist Ashok Gowda co-founded and served as COO at Visualase Inc., a real-time tissue monitoring system that exited to Medtronic for over $100 million. He now leads Biotex, a Houston-based medical technology investment firm and accelerator, as president and CEO.

For Gowda, Houston was obviously a key market for med tech, but it provided something even more once he reached the commercialization phase of a product.

"From a commercial standpoint, once the technology became commercial, it was an ideal location," Gowda says. "We were traveling all across the US, and it was a nice hub. We're right in the center of the country, and you can get to either coast very quickly."

The panel also agreed that the quality of life in Houston played a major role in settling down.

You might need to rethink your executive team. 

The panel full of venture capitalists of course touched on the ability to fundraise in Houston, as each panelist had been on both sides of the table. For Gowda, it's pretty simple.

"If you're struggling to raise money, you either have a bad idea or the wrong team," he says, adding that if you really believe in your idea, take a good hard look at who's at the leadership level of your team.

Talent is still a challenge in Houston.

Of course, if you do identify a problem within your team, finding the right leader for your technology might be difficult in Houston.

Keith Kreuer, who was also on the panel, is principal at RedHouse Associates, a group of angel investors that invest like a find would, but without having a fund. Between Kreuer and his team, they were involved in 10 startups before forming the investment group.

"We could find developer and sales talent here, but to get to that higher executive talent, we had to go out to other places," Kreuer says.

However, not all of the panelists agreed that talent was a major challenge they faced. Some noted that they got lucky with the talent they found.

Don Kendall, CEO of Kenmont Capital Partners, came to Houston to run a power company and family office. He turned $100,000 into $1.6 billion and now is a member of GOOSE.

"We had no problem getting the engineering talent," Kendall says. "We really found Houston to be a good environment, and it's only just continued to improve."

Playing to Houston's strengths might be key to success.

For Gray Hall, managing director at Austin-based BuildGroup, which focuses on writing big checks to a small amount of software startups, he knew how to play to his company's and Houston's strengths.

Hall previously served as CEO of AlertLogic, which had a private equity exit in 2013, and Hall stayed on until 2018 as the company continued to grow. He also co-founded Veracenter, which had a strategic exit after growing to $80 million in annual revenue.

"The common theme across both companies and why we were able to grow is real simple: Customer and people," Hall says.

Houston might be one of the country's best kept secrets when it comes to midmarket activity, Hall notes — midmarket companies being defined as those with $50 million to $1 billion in revenue.

"What Houston doesn't get enough credit for is the midmarket in Houston, which I think is tremendous," Hall says. "It's as strong as anywhere else in the country."

AlertLogic was able to tap into this midmarket to quickly grow its client base.

Something else that differentiates Houston from other cities is its culture, which is less focused on the glitz and glam and more focused on hard work.

"Engage with people that have a credible story and a credible plan to solve a problem," he says.

Houston is growing. 

One thing each of the entrepreneurs agreed on is that the city is only growing its resources and quality of startups.

"I see Houston as sort of a startup in the startup world," Kreuer says. "And, what we're trying to do is grow and catch up to the West Coast and the East Coast, but I think Texas as a whole is going to be pretty powerful, and Houston is going to be a central part of that mainly because we have the markets here, and the people in the area and the talent to do that."

As Houston's success stories become more frequent, this provides an avenue for more entrepreneurs turned investors.

"When you've done it before, you've learned the lessons, and you feel like you can do it again and again," Gowda says. "That's what we're trying to do. You see all the possibilities here."

From enlightening talks and conventions to networking opportunities, here's where you need to be in November. Getty Images

Looking for some help navigating an innovation-filled month in Houston? Look no further.

November is jam packed with Houston business and innovation events — from huge conventions like SpaceCom and Global Corporate Venture taking over downtown on the same days to the Digital Fight Club battling it out in Houston for the first time and The Houston Innovation Summit planning a week of programming.

If you know of innovation-focused events for this month or next, email me at natalie@innovationmap.com with the details and subscribe to our daily newsletter that sends fresh stories straight to your inboxes every morning.

November 5 — Female Founder Luncheon with MassChallenge and HX

Houston is full of entrepreneurial women and this event aims to bring women together and give access to top female entrepreneurs and passionate women in local businesses. They will share their 'why,' their stories, challenges, successes, tips, and answer your burning questions about local entrepreneurship. Join us for a panel and lunch in a closed setting where we discuss what it takes to be a successful female entrepreneur.

Details: The event is from 11 am to 1 pm on Tuesday, November 5, at Houston Exponential (410 Pierce St.). Learn more.

November 6 — Texas Life Science Forum

Rice Alliance's Texas Life Science Forum brings together members from industry, emerging life science companies, academic, and investors. This is the "must attend" event for anyone in the life science industry in Texas or affiliated with innovation at the life science academic institutions.

Details: The event is from 8:30 am to 5 pm on Wednesday, November 6, at BioScience Research Collaborative (6500 Main St.). Learn more.

November 6 — Baker Tilly - Six Figure #Fail

Details: The event is from 11:30 am to 1 pm on Wednesday, November 6, at The Cannon (1336 Brittmoore Road). Learn more.

November 6 — Science First: Changing the Trajectory of Lung Cancer

In honor of Lung Cancer Awareness Month, JLABS sitting down with experts at The Lung Cancer Initiative at Johnson & Johnson and MD Anderson Lung Cancer Moon Shots as well as innovators in the field to present on and create dialogue around the core challenges faced by innovators in the field, new discoveries, emerging technologies, and potential solutions.

Details: The event is from 11 am to 1:30 pm on Wednesday, November 6, at JLabs @ TMC (2450 Holcombe Blvd.). Learn more.

November 7 — TMCx Demo Day: Medical Device 2019

TMCx's annual medical device cohort celebrates the end of another program as the participating entrepreneurs take to the main stage to pitch their solutions. During the event, 16 medical device startups will showcase the progress they have made on their solutions, and what they have planned for the future.

Details: The event is from 1:30 to 8 pm on Thursday, November 7, at TMC Innovation Institute (2450 Holcombe Blvd.). Learn more.

November 8-10 — Second Annual Health Equity Hackathon

CareSet presents the second annual Health Equity Hackathon using newly available data that will help address innovations for the underserved community in the U.S.

Details: The event is from November 8 through 10, at United Way of Greater Houston (50 Waugh Dr.). Learn more.

November 12 — Houston Forum for Equitable Development without Displacement

Rice University is planning to develop 16 acres around Houston's Wheeler Station to create a neighborhood centered around technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship. To demand that the developers sign a Community Benefits Agreement, we are establishing the Houston Coalition for Equitable Development without Displacement (HCEDD). All individuals, community groups, advocacy organizations, and supporting businesses/organizations who are interested in supporting this initiative are invited to attend.

Details: The event is from 6 to 8 pm on Tuesday, November 12, at Wesley AME Church (2209 Emancipation Ave). Learn more.

November 13 — Upstream Venturing + Technology Showcase

In collaboration and partnership with Equinor Technology Ventures, BP Ventures, Shell Ventures, Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures, and Cannon Ventures, hear the latest trends in upstream technology implementation.

Details: The event is from 5 to 8 pm on Wednesday, November 13, at The Cannon (1336 Brittmoore Road). Learn more.

November 14 — TopCoder Innovation Summit

The Topcoder Innovation Summit is the premier innovation event for industry leaders. At the Innovation Summit, you'll have the opportunity to speak with industry leaders, attend panels on innovation and emerging technologies, and meet with the Wipro and Topcoder executive teams.

Details: The event is from 8 am to 4:45 pm on Thursday, November 14, at InterContinental Hotel (6750 Main St.). Learn more.

November 14 — JLABS x UH: Startup Pains: From Academia to Startup (Therapeutics)

JLABS and the University of Houston Technology Bridge present a special installment of Startup Pains, a monthly talk given by entrepreneurs who share their journey of launching a company and overcoming unanticipated obstacles in order to find success in their industry. This month's focus is to arm those contemplating entrepreneurship with a road map for navigating the startup waters, specifically focused on therapeutics.

Details: The event is from 5:30 to 7 pm on Thursday, November 14, at JLabs @ TMC (2450 Holcombe Blvd.). Learn more.

November 15 — Tilting the Grid: How Electricity Companies Will Disrupt

Tilting the Grid is the conference where you can eavesdrop on what the most daring companies in the REP space are doing and discuss what the next "big" thing might be. Ready to learn what big data can reveal about customer behavior? Prepared for a deep dive into the latest customer acquisition trends?

Details: The event is from noon to 5 pm on Friday, November 15, at Whitehall Hotel Houston (1700 Smith St). Learn more.

November 18-24 — The Houston Innovation Summit

For the third year, Houston's innovation ecosystem is taking over the city for a week of events and programming coordinated by Impact Hub Houston. To check out the panels, meetups, and all other programming, click here. Note: Some of the specific events will also appear in this curated list of Houston events.

November 20 — Houston Digital Fight Club

Entrepreneurs and experts are taking the stage — or in this case ring — to battle out their ideas on tech and innovation in Houston. The high energy debate will take place across five fights and networking opportunities. Secure your tickets — it's expected to sell out.

Details: The event is from 6 to 10 pm on Wednesday, November 20, at White Oak Music Hall (2915 N Main St.). Learn more.

November 20 — Inside Billy's Brain: Surgeon, Inventor, Innovator

Join JLABS @ TMC and explore the mind and motivations of Dr. Billy Cohn, the renowned surgeon, inventor and innovator.

Details: The event is from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm on Wednesday, November 20, at JLabs @ TMC (2450 Holcombe Blvd.). Learn more.

November 20-21 — SpaceCom

SpaceCom, America's Commercial Space Conference and Exposition, addresses the strategic issues impacting the commercial space industry that will enable your business to set a clear course to gain a competitive advantage in the coming trillion-dollar space economy. SpaceCom is operating under a Space Act Agreement with NASA. In 2019, the Department of Commerce's Office of Space Commerce and the Department of Energy's Office of Technology Transitions join NASA and the commercial space industry in collaborating on the development of the show.

Details: The event is from Wednesday, November 20, to Thursday, November 21, at the George R. Brown Convention Center (1001 Avenida De Las Americas). Learn more.

November 20-21 — Global Corporate Venture 

Never has the energy industry been more vulnerable to disruption, but as open to change. The world's leading energy and transportation companies are using venture capital to invest in, and help deploy, new technologies and business models that will fundamentally change the way we generate, distribute and use energy.

Details: The event is from Wednesday, November 20, to Thursday, November 21, and takes place at various locations throughout the two-day conference. Learn more.