2019 in review

Editor's picks: 5 best Houston innovation interviews of 2019

As the Houston innovation ecosystem prepares for 2020, InnovationMap's editor looks back on her favorite interviews of this year. Courtesy photos

Ever since the launch of InnovationMap, the site has featured an innovator weekly. That's over 50 interviews and more than a dozen episodes of the Houston Innovators Podcast, which launched this fall.

As editor of InnovationMap and the host of the Houston Innovators Podcast, I've conducted nearly all of these interviews. And, while parents aren't allowed to pick favorites between their children, I definitely have my favorite interviews. Looking back on this year, I've had the fortune of talking to innovators from all corners of Houston and across industries.

Looking back on 2019, I've plucked out my five favorites, and I thought I'd share why they stood out to me. I'm excited to continue these conversations in 2020 as Houston's innovation ecosystem grows — and as InnovationMap grows with it.

Samantha Lewis, director of The GOOSE Society of Texas

Samantha Lewis

Courtesy of Samantha Lewis

When I think of my favorite conversations I've had this year, Samantha Lewis immediately comes to my mind. If you've ever had the fortune of meeting Sam, you know her as high energy, kind, and full of opinions — all of these qualities make for a great interview, and, in this case, podcast episode.

Samantha's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast was only the second to be released, but, just due to scheduling, was actually the first episode I ever recorded. And, despite it's early release, is still the most listened to of the 13 that now are available. I credit Sam's candor, poise, and insight for that.

In the episode, Samantha and I discuss GOOSE's recent investments, her advice for startups looking for funding, the state of venture capital in Houston — and how it compares to the two coasts, and more. To read more or stream the episode, click here.

Steven Gonzalez, technology transfer strategist at NASA

Courtesy of NASA

This past summer, the Space City celebrated the 50th anniversary of the moon landing — 50 years since "Houston" was uttered from the surface of the moon. July brought many space celebrations as the city, state, and even country looked back on the legacy of the aerospace industry.

I took this anniversary as a chance to dive into the innovation of the industry on InnovationMap with a series of interviews with various space professionals. I spoke with the general manager of Houston's Spaceport, the founder of a Houston-based space startup, and Rice University's Space Institute director, but my favorite discussion I had about space was with Steven Gonzalez, technology transfer strategist at NASA.

Steven was so interesting to talk to because his job really represents the future of space exploration. As space travel shifts into the commercial space rather than just within the government-backed NASA operations, the need for the sharing of technology, research, and ideas is crucial. Through NASA's technology transfer, Steven is helping that effort. To read our full conversation, click here.

Ody De La Paz, founder of Sensytec

Courtesy of Sensytec

Throughout my now near 15 months at InnovationMap, I've had a growing appreciation of the guts and gumption it takes to take the leap and start a company. I love interviewing entrepreneurs — they all have such different perspectives on similar startup challenges. One of my favorite entrepreneur interviews I had this year was with Ody De La Paz, who founded Sensytec.

Ody started his company when he was an undergrad student at the University of Houston. Most college students just trying to get an entry-level job somewhere — anywhere, but Ody would go on to travel the world pitching — and winning — in competitions for Sensytec's technology, which is smart cement that can communicate risks for potential life-threatening damage.

Ody was my first startup founder guest on the Houston Innovators Podcast, and, if we're keeping track, still is the second most listened to episode behind Sam's episode. To read more or stream the episode, click here.

Harvin Moore, president of Houston Exponential

Courtesy of HX

This year, Houston Exponential — the city's nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting innovation in Houston — hired a new president. Harvin Moore joined the team to take HX into its next stage of attracting tech companies into the ecosystem.

Several months into his position, we sat down to discuss how he was doing and what some of his goals were for the organization. I admire Harvin's passion for the city. A serial entrepreneur and investor, he has a great frame of reference for startups, and his first point of action was to listen — to the ecosystem and its members — for what the city really wants and needs from its innovation leadership.

Our conversation was over an hour and bounced from HX and Houston startups to New York's real estate and the profitability of local journalism. Of course, not all that ended up in the article, but I look forward to seeing what all Harvin has up his sleeves for 2020. To read our full conversation, click here.

Roberta Schwartz, executive vice president and chief innovation officer at Houston Methodist Hospital

Courtesy of Houston Methodist

It's rare that I interview someone for the Featured Innovator section twice. In fact, I've only doubled up three times. Though, I'm sure it will continue to happen as InnovationMap and the Houston Innovators Podcast grows. Roberta Schwartz, executive vice president and chief innovation officer at Houston Methodist Hospital, was one of my interviews I've doubled up on this year — once for a Q&A and once for the Houston Innovators Podcast.

It's pretty easy to find new things to discuss with Roberta. Houston Methodist seems to constantly be launching new technology pilots within the system — from virtual reality in cancer treatment to telemedicine. Plus, just personally, Roberta is extremely interesting. At 27, she was diagnosed with a vicious strand of breast cancer — despite having no family history of the disease.

After getting through some of her early treatments, she co-founded an organization that helps to connect young women who were similarly diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age. I'm 28, and cannot fathom the cancer battle Roberta survived and the foresight she had to create an organization like she did. To read more on our most recent conversation or stream the episode, click here.

Elizabeth Gerbel, CEO and founder of Houston-based E.A.G. Services Inc., shares how to navigate M&A activity for both startups and large companies. Pexels

Nervous about an upcoming merger or acquisition? You're not alone. Last year, there were nearly 15,000 mergers and acquisitions in the U.S., according to the Institute for Mergers, Acquisitions and Alliances. These transactions, although executed with optimistic intentions, don't always work out. What is it that separates those that deliver from those whose results simply fall flat?

While you won the legal battle, the real culprit to a failed merger or acquisition transaction lies in post-deal activities such as integrating the divesting company's assets into the acquiring company's existing systems, processes, and organizational structure. If executed poorly, companies could face several hurdles, including:

  • Increased acquisition costs
  • Loss in previously efficient business processes
  • Reduced data quality in current and acquired assets
  • Extended TSA timeline

With the stakes being high, it is critical for each step of a merger or acquisition to be rock solid before moving on to the next stage. In fact, when executed successfully, an M&A transaction can significantly benefit both companies — from startups to well-established corporations.

A strategy for M&A data integration

In order to facilitate efficient and effective merger or acquisition, the critical success factors focus on these driving goals: Minimizing organizational disruption and Maximizing ROI. To achieve these goals, we execute three main stages for every merger and acquisition.

  1. Planning
  2. Analysis
  3. Execution

We start with thorough planning, think of planning as the foundation for a successful merger or acquisition. Without a good plan, the company will be vulnerable to all sorts of structural weaknesses. To prevent key elements from falling through the cracks, companies must define objectives and data requirements, maintain strong communications, and develop both short-term and long-term expectations.

The next step – analysis – since data is absolutely essential in mergers and acquisitions. There is a lot to watch out for: What's the best way to extract and convert the acquired data? Will IT or business support need to be permanently added? What system configuration changes are required? What are the impacts to current business processes and internal audit controls? Will additional training be required? The answers to these questions are highly individualized to each merger and acquisition, and they'll impact how seamless the transition will be. Many people gloss over this stage but then realize the criticality not only in the case of a merger or acquisition but also in the case of a future divestiture.

Finally, the last stage: Execution. This stage is one of the main reasons why some mergers and acquisitions may fall short of expectations. To avoid common issues stemming from poor execution – including disruption of previously effective business processes, impaired customer service, and increase in the cost of the merger or acquisition – we coordinate roles and responsibilities, ensuring that all key tasks are executed. From day one to full integration, we continually monitor to ensure the company is on track to meet its initially defined objectives.

The risks and benefits of a merger or acquisition

I'll be candid: Without a solid foundation through adequate preparation, a merger or acquisition is set up to fail. This risk can be higher for startups and small companies, which don't have the resource buffer that some larger firms can fall back on. Large companies may face a different risk, business processes and data may not be aligned with their current state. And yet, according to Economy Watch, an extensively strategized merger or acquisition transaction, beyond increasing the company's size, can yield significant benefits that include:

  • Improving its strategic position
  • Entering a new market
  • Developing new assets
  • Lowering operational costs
  • Expanding market influence

For smooth mergers and acquisitions, we recommend a multi-step process so that you can identify and reduce risks, condense your integration timeline, and quickly capture value. Because despite the challenges, not all is lost during a merger or acquisition – and there is much to be gained.

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Elizabeth Gerbel is the CEO and founder of Houston-based E.A.G. Services Inc.