Startup wishlist

Houston needs 4 things to emerge as a startup hub, according to this entrepreneur

Houston has the potential to be a great place for startups, but it might need some fine tuning. Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

I often think about why Houston's entrepreneurship ecosystem hasn't taken off as much as it should, given the talent pool and the industrial gravity that's concentrated here.

I joined Station Houston as one of the very early members in January of 2016 and since then been watching all the moving parts in the Houston innovation ecosystem as an entrepreneur. I wanted to share four practical ideas on how Houston can emerge as a startup hub.

1. Houston entrepreneurship needs to focus on deep tech and multidisciplinary endeavors
I believe a lot of breakthrough innovations will come from the interaction between different scientific disciplines or industries. We can target startups built on multidisciplinary sciences and provide a support system for them to thrive in Houston. We have the absolute best engineers, rocket scientists, and doctors in Houston, yet they aren't talking to each other as much as they should. Programs like Pipes and Pumps are great, but we need a modernized initiative that goes beyond holding a one-day event per year. A methodical and continuous program that brings professionals from energy, space, and medicine together to address the challenges these industries face. This may sound crazy, but it works. For example, my last startup commercialized DNA Sequencing in the oil and gas industry. Another startup is using microfluidics to simulate the reservoir, and there are startups using satellite data to identify methane emissions. Now, imagine if we were systematically identifying these opportunities and incubating these startups in Houston. We would be unstoppable and, more importantly, we would be ourselves. Let's help our entrepreneurial doctors, scientists, and engineers launch deep technology startups instead of trying to make apps.

2. Houston needs a structured startup program
Let's be honest, coworking space and 30-minute sessions with mentors isn't going to cut it. First-time entrepreneurs need a lot of help to gain experience and kick start their business model. What's missing is a structured program that can take a talented entrepreneur from the idea stage to raising their seed round (better or at least similar to Creative Destruction Lab or Breakout Lab).

3. Focus on helping the entrepreneurs, and the ecosystem will flourish
Any initiative around entrepreneurship that doesn't boil down to helping entrepreneurs is effectively useless. We need to pass all activities through the "entrepreneur benefit" filter. The current suite of entrepreneurship activities in Houston are skewed towards self-celebratory warm and fuzzy feeling for the ecosystem; we need to shift the attention and resources to entrepreneurs who are in the trenches trying to make it to the next level. Once we have good entrepreneurs, we will have good exits which makes investors happy and incentivize them to invest more. Those entrepreneurs then start building other companies or turn investor and this cycle gradually builds the ecosystem. What's happening now is quite the opposite; all the attention is on building the ecosystem and hoping that it's going to make everything else happen/

4. Houston could be the home for moonshots
Moonshots come from the application of deep technology, and I can't think of a better place to be the home for moonshot startups than Houston. From cure for cancer to rockets to Mars, to reversing climate change via CO2 capture and utilization. That said ideating and incubating moonshots requires vision and the appetite for risk-taking. The good news is that this model really works. As proof look at the OS Fund amazing and astronomically successful portfolio of the companies. According to Bryan Johnson, "OS Fund is investing in deep tech companies that marry hard science and technology to solve big problems and make money." We need a new breed of investment firms such as OS Fund in Houston.

Imagine if we had a portfolio of multidisciplinary deep technology startups in Houston, going through a rigorous program and had the support of the Houston industrial magnets and investors to take off. Now that's what Houston deserves.

------

Moji Karimi is co-founder and CEO of Houston-based Cemvita Factory Inc.

Houston-based HATCH Pitch has revealed its four finalists. The startups will take the stage during SXSW in March. Courtesy of HATCH Pitch

For the eighth year, Houston-based HATCH Pitch is headed to Austin for SXSW to host its pitch competition focused on startups making the world a better place.

This year's competition, which takes place on March 11, will be between four finalists. While the competition is invite only to guests, the pitches will be streamed online in an interactive way, so viewers can post comments or questions to the mentors, pitchers, and judges.

  • Sydney-based Edwel Energy is an app that allows users to compare the carbon footprint of millions of different products and services to enhance their eco-friendly decision-making process.
  • eHealthNow, based in Philadelphia, is the first HIPAA compliant platform that optimizes treatment plans for cancer patients in China by using oncologists overseas.
  • Dallas-based Mambo, an innovative webapp, allows for communities to customize member experiences, increase the sense of belonging, and grow revenue.
  • Neuroflow, another Philadelphia-based startup, is a health tech and analytics company that has a tool that promotes behavioral health access and engagement in order to improve outcomes, overall wellness, and cost of care.

"We chose these four startups because they are solving difficult problems that have real impact on real people," Greg Wright, founder of HATCH, says. "Their focus is on health, wellness, and environmental sustainability. Their success will make life better for overlooked groups and communities."

HATCH, a nonprofit organization that began in 2012, has dozens of alumni that have gone on to raise over $340 million and had 10 exits. The contest's 2019 mentors and judges have yet to be announced, but some of the past judges include Werner Vogels of Amazon, Kerry Rupp of True Wealth Ventures, Juliana Garaizar of TMCx, and more.

"The goal of HATCH Pitch is to provide coaching and connections to tech startups making life better," Wright says. "I'm proud that we have remained focused on this objective by evolving our summit event to provide maximum benefit to the selected finalists by surrounding them with the experience of our accomplished alumni, mentors, investors, and potential customers."