Mover and shaker

Houston Exponential hires serial entrepreneur and investor as president

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

There's a new leader at the helm of the city's startup and innovation nonprofit — and he has some familiarity with the innovation ecosystem.

Harvin Moore was announced to be the new president of Houston Exponential, replacing Russ Capper, the inaugural executive director of HX. Capper has served since April 2018 and will stay involved with the organization, according to a news release.

Moore, a Houston native, has a 20-year career in tech and startups in Houston. He is a principal at an early-stage investment firm, Frontera Technology Ventures, and before that served as COO for Space Services Holdings Inc.

"We are excited to welcome someone with Harvin's track record to lead Houston Exponential through the next phase of growth in the ecosystem," says Gina Luna, chair of HX, in the release. "The Houston innovation community has made great strides in the last couple of years, and with Harvin's leadership, HX will take our work to the next level."

Moore, who was re-elected three times as Houston Independent School District's Board of Education, is described as an active advisor, mentor, and angel investor for the likes of Houston Angel Network, Capital Factory and Station Houston.

"As someone who has been involved in Houston's digital tech ecosystem since its earliest days, I am inspired by the tremendous momentum generated in just the last few years," Moore says in the release. "We are at an inflection point, and I believe Houston Exponential will continue to be a catalyst driving Houston to become a leading innovation hub within the next two to three years."

Moore joins HX at a pivotal moment as many exciting innovation projects are expected to deliver the next few years, such as MassChallenge Texas' inaugural Houston cohort, the Texas Medical Center's TMC3 campus, Rice Management Co.'s The Ion, the close of the HX Venture Fund and more.

"The pace of the wins and major announcements in our innovation space is rapidly accelerating, and I am pleased that HX has played a role in many of these, including being an enthusiastic champion for the work of many of our partners," Luna says in the release. "In this next phase of work, I expect we will continue to build valuable partnerships and will activate the venture capital firms that are showing tremendous interest in the Houston ecosystem and the startups here."

Houston small businesses are struggling to pay their rent with doors closed and operations ceased — but where should the relief come from? Getty Images

It's not too huge of an assumption to make that many Houston startups and small businesses failed to pay their rents in full yesterday. Since the city's stay-at-home mandate on March 24 — and even preceding that — most businesses have seen a slowdown of revenue as a result of COVID-19-caused business disruptions.

Business owners are frantically looking in their leases and searching online to see what rights they have and what sort of protection they have in such an unprecedented time.

"People are confused. They don't know what to do, and finding information is hard," says Meredith Wheeler, co-founder and chief creative officer of Sesh Coworking, which opened earlier this year.

Wheeler and Sesh's co-founder, Maggie Segrich, have created a petition to get on the radar of local elected officials to challenge them to pass legislation to protect small businesses in this time.

"At the end of the day, it would be so wonderful and idealistic to say that we could rely on the niceties and the moral compasses of our landlords, but it's probably not true for everyone and so that's why we need legislation to dictate what is right," Wheeler says.

But landlords are also in unchartered territory, says Josh Feinberg, who has worked in Houston as a commercial real estate broker and co-founded CRE tech platform, Tenavox.

"There's this idea that there's this acrimony between tenant and landlord, and I think, as a former broker, we're set up that way to get our side the best deal. But in reality, that's just not true," Feinberg says. "The majority of commercial real estate is owned by regular people — not usually some faceless, gigantic corporation."

And they have a piper to pay too, Feinberg adds. Ninety percent of CRE is owned by debt, he says. If the government steps in anywhere, it should be on the lender level, as well as creating some sort of tax relief.

"If there's any relief here, it's going to have to come from lenders, and I think you'd hear that from owners and brokers," Feinberg says.

In somewhat convenient timing, Tenavox has recently co-founded a new company that provides a bit of a solution for small businesses. Otso provides landlords with an alternative to cash security deposits. Traditionally, deposits are held onto by landlords — they aren't legally allowed to spend it unless the tenant defaults.

"In general, I think cash deposits are wasteful," Feinberg says. "It's critical capital that the business can hire with, invest, and use."

Tenavox teamed up with Euler Hermes, a 135-year-old credit insurance company, to create Otso, and the credit company backs the lease performance of each tenant that is approved by Otso. The transaction calls for a fee added to the rent, but no large cash deposit would be required.

The tool can be used on new leases, and, in light of the current situation, Otso can also be used to create an addendum in existing leases so that the tenant can get back their deposit and use it in this time of crisis. Either landlord or tenant can apply online and hear back that same day — Feinberg says he's focused on a speedy response to help get this deposit money back to the tenant.

"If we can get some liquidity back into the hands of the business, they have some a better chance of survival," Feinberg says.

Other than looking into Otso, Feinberg has some other recommendations for small business owners. He says they should be applying for relief from the Small Business Administration, which has more money to dole out than they have ever had. And, as it pertains to working with their landlords, communication is key. Show financials and specific information — like what March 2019 looks like compared to 2020 — so that landlords can take that to their lenders.

"An unprecedented crisis is going to require unprecedented solutions," Feinberg says.