Featured Innovator

Innovation leader discusses the future of HX and how the city of Houston is at an 'inflection point'

Harvin Moore, who has a 20-year career in tech and innovation, serves as president of Houston Exponential. Courtesy of HX

If there's one person optimistic about Houston's innovation ecosystem, it's probably Harvin Moore.

"There's no question that five years from now, or 10 years from now, Houston will be a very large and continually rapidly growing tech economy," Moore tells InnovationMap. "The question is just how fast it is going to get here."

Houston Exponential — the city's nonprofit meant to connect the dots within innovation in Houston — named Moore the president of the organization earlier this summer. He's hit the ground running since then.

Moore discusses with InnovationMap how his tenure is going and where the innovation ecosystem is at as the city dives into a busy fall season.

InnovationMap: How has your first few months at HX been?

Harvin Moore: It has been, I would say, chiefly defined by the fact that I've been on a grand listening tour. I went back over my calendar recently to count the number of meetings, because it really does seem like I don't come up for air. It's summer in Houston, and I've been getting in and out of a hot car like most of every day. I'm up to somewhere in the high nineties — like 95 of these meetings. And what has really kind of blown me way about that is that five years ago, there really wasn't an ecosystem. You could have had a listening tour in a week.

IM: How is HX's role in the ecosystem evolving with the ecosystem itself?

HM: HX's role from the start was to attract, promote, and connect. Let me first say that of those three, HX as a staff has been mostly focusing on promotion in the past. However, the board has been doing all three — attract, promote, and connect. We will be focusing more on connecting and attracting in the future.

Attract is bringing in big companies, small companies, and startups to Houston, as well as bringing in talent. It's the people who want to move to Houston because there are a lot of good job opportunities — not just in energy, medicine, and logistics. It's also an effort to attract capital so that there is more access to the enormous number of high net worth people in Houston for angel capital and investments, but also venture capital.

We're going to continue to promote. You're going to see a difference in how we promote. We're going to be more focused on shining this light all around the community, and we're going to be more focused on diversity.

Connect relates to how are we are helping startups — like by finding venture capital firms.

IM: So, how is HX looking to connect startups to investment opportunities?

HM: In the past and how the situation is now, there's something like 80 percent of venture is on the West and East Coasts. It's like all the attention is in the Bay Area and then New York and Boston. And, in Houston, we talk about how far behind we are of Austin. And, I guess that's true, but still — Austin is a blip on the map compared with San Francisco and the Bay Area for example.

But what's happening now is a shift. There are these venture capitalists that are really starting to look — in the last two or three years and for various reasons — at the growth of ecosystems. So, when a VC calls, in the past they would have looked for a company that they're interested in, and they would come down to visit and see it. Maybe to be a little bit more efficient, they might call TMCx, for instance, and say that they'd like to come down and ask for TMCx to find some other companies to meet with.

Now with HX active in this connecting role, that's what we'll be doing. Now if a VC calls on, let's say, Station Houston, Station will say, "OK, yes, we can help, but you can also call on HX because Houston has a lot more to offer." That's not the way it works in most cities because of competition, but this is one of the keys of how we're going to really break out in Houston because we have a collaborative nature in the city.

IM: What's a goal you have for HX?

HM: HX has not yet built out its data capabilities and responsibilities. You can't be a great connector at scale without a good system, like Hubspot, for instance. How many startups are there in Houston? Nobody knows. How many seats are there at the startup development organizations, or SDOs? Nobody's counted them. None of this stuff's been measured. I mean, there are some people that are trying to measure how much venture capital is coming into Houston, and it's amazing how much it is, but it's still missing data.

One thing I want to talk about is the startup database, which has never been done before. We really haven't even seen anyone make a real attempt to do this because it's such a daunting task. Of course, if we don't start quick, it's going to be pretty hard to do later. However, we as a board decided around a year ago that we were going to make this a priority to create a really good, useful, accurate database of as many of the startups and growth-stage technology companies in Houston as possible. We just reached an agreement with Texas A&M University to be the data partner. So, they're going to assign doctorate student up there who's going to be running the project.

IM: You have a long career in education with positions at Houston ISD as well as KIPP Houston Public Schools. How does education merge with your career now?

HM: Well, it's actually a question that makes sense now. Every time I've been asked that question throughout my entire career, it's been harder to answer. I started volunteering in education when I was living in New York as a banker, and I would take the subway up to Harlem and I would tutor up there. When I moved back to Houston, I found a place to tutor here, and my involvement got bigger and bigger until I ran for public office — and won with something like 74 percent of the vote and was re-elected three times serving HISD for 13 years.

Now, it looks like a brilliant career decision, although it never was meant to be. And the reason it makes so much sense is that academia and research and universities are huge parts of the ecosystem. During my time in education, I began to realize that the workforce development — particularly at the post high school level — was job skills. We did a study and found out where the jobs were and worked our way back from there. We redid our career technology programs because of this study.

How this experience ties into what I do at HX is that quality jobs skills credentialing is one of the most important things that the education system can do for the growth of the technology ecosystem.

IM: How have you seen the industry evolve recently?

HM: It's good advice to look around and remember how things look today cause we are living through an inflection point, and there's been several of those in our history. When people started looking around and seeing people walking around with these little PDAs, palm pilots, and things like that — that was the beginning of an inflection point. There are these inflection points in history, like whoever the hell put rollers on suitcases for the first damn time — that was not even long ago. And now no one carries a bag anymore. That was a silly example, but we are living through this inflection point here in Houston.

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Portions of this interview have been edited.

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.