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3 Houston innovators to know this week

This week's Houston innovators are bringing new exciting things to town. Courtesy photos

New and exciting things are coming to town — from a data-focused conference two two startup development organizations announcing a Houston presence. Here are three Houston innovators making it happen in town.

James Y. Lancaster, Texas branch manager of VIC Technology Venture Development

A new venture development company has expanded into Houston with a Texas Medical Center office. Photo courtesy of James Lancaster

An Arkansas-based technology venture development firm had its eyes on Dallas for a Texas expansion, but James Y. Lancaster had a bigger plan. Lancaster, who was named as VIC Technology Venture Development's Texas branch manager, oversees the company's business in Dallas, Houston, and College Station, where he lives. Locally, he will work out of a TMC Innovation Institute office.

"I am excited to be working to TMC member institutions to provide a new avenue for commercializing their technologies, expanding on our fast start in Texas with an exciting opportunity in the Houston innovation ecosystem," Lancaster says in a release.

VIC specializes in taking university-founded research innovations to the marketplace by partnering with technology and business experts at every stage of the process. Read more.

Suzette Cotto, CEO of Innovate Social Media

Houston's DataCon can help prepare business leaders for the digital revolution in AI and machine learning. Photo courtesy of Suzette Cotto

Suzette Cotto, in a guest column for InnovationMap, warns of a not-so-distant future where artificial intelligence and machine learning are a daily business requirement. As companies ready themselves for this digital commonplace, its the C-suite that needs to do some homework in preparation.

DataCon Houston, which takes place on October 10, is one way for C-level execs to get some information. The annual conference brings important concepts around AI and Automation to business leaders, according to Cotto.

"The target audience is not IT professionals, although there will be some in attendance; it's meant primarily to help the C-suite and non-technical leaders know where to begin and where to find that new vocabulary and translative resources," Cotto writes. "AI will affect every person in every business, and we must be ready for the cultural shifts that will come with the technological shifts." Read more.

Ed Bosarge, founder and CEO of Houston Healthspan Innovation Group

Houston millionaire and serial entrepreneur Ed Bosarge has launched a new biotech accelerator. Courtesy of Houston Healthspan Innovation Group

A serial entrepreneur, Ed Bosarge has launched his latest venture. The Houston Healthspan Innovation Group is a biotech startup accelerator for companies in the regenerative medicine industry.

"From day one, Houston Healthspan will play a significant role in shaping Houston's vibrant life sciences scene with its seasoned leadership and state-of-the-art facilities," Bosarge says in a news release. "Houston Healthspan may be a tipping point for the region's life sciences community."

According to the release, the organization has already worked with two companies that have relocated their office to Houston. Read more.

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Building Houston

 
 

AvidXchange executives explain why a crisis like the pandemic can provide opportunities for growth or realignment. Photo via Getty Images

From esports to telemedicine, some technologies are having a major moment during the COVID-19 crisis. As many businesses are operating remotely with work-from-home policies in place indefinitely, payments automation is another technology that's seen an opportunity amid the pandemic.

AvidXchange, which has invoice and payment processes automation software for mid-market businesses, is one of the companies in this payment automation space that's seen growth in spite of the economic downturn caused by the virus. The Charlotte, North Carolina-based company was founded in 2000 and went on to acquire Houston-founded Strongroom Solutions Inc. in 2015.

Since the acquisition, AvidXchange has quadrupled its presence in Houston and does a good deal of business locally. Equipping companies with tools for remote work is crucial — now and especially in light of Houston's propensity for challenges. Tyler Gill, vice president of sales for AvidXchange based in the Houston office and former CEO of Strongroom, joined Houston Exponential on a virtual panel to discuss this topic.

"We've had a history of disasters in Houston. Any time we can help businesses move to a more cloud-based infrastructure is going to be better," Gill says on the livestream. "I think working from home is maybe the new normal for a lot of employees — so how do we enable this?"

Gill and his colleague, Chris Elmore, senior sales performance director at AvidXchange, joined Joey Sanchez of HX for the talk about the acquisition, the pandemic, and growth for the company. If you missed it or don't have time to stream the whole conversation, here are some impactful moments of the chat.

“Economic downturns have a tendency to put a very bright light on a feature set or a product or a service that’s underperforming."

— Elmore says on how the pandemic affects innovation and startups. "My hope is that entrepreneurs will see this as a real time to get focused on their business — what's working well and what's not working well — and my hope is that they'll say, 'I need to fix that,' not 'I wish this was better,'" he says.

“For a young entrepreneur looking to build a business, make sure you’re looking for the people who are germane to your business.”

— Gill says about starting his business in Houston. At first, he was trying to find investors in oil and gas, but he found more success working with companies with a background in finance technology. "Houston has a history and density in fintech — I just had to find it."

“The fact that Strongroom owned the automated payment process in HOA that made them so attractive to AvidXchange because we didn’t.”

— Elmore says on the 2015 acquisition. He explains that AvidXchange had set up a presence in multifamily and commercial real estate, while Strongroom had a hold on homeowner's association, or HOA, business. The two companies competed for a while, and if Strongroom hadn't had their HOA specialty that made the company ideal for acquisition, Elmore says the two companies would still be competing today.

“When Strongroom was added to AvidXchange, our culture improved. By the way, we went from 40 employees to 1,000 within 14 months, and Strongroom was right at the beginning of that.”

— Elmore says on growth following the acquisition. The company now has 1,500 employees across seven offices and just closed a $128 million round of fundraising in April.

“Customers don’t care how big you get or how much money you raise from investors. They care about if your service is still doing the things they need to operate their business.”

— Gill says, reminding entrepreneurs to always prioritize and be focused on the client experience — through mergers or acquisitions, fundraising rounds, growth, etc.

“When you replace human interaction with technology, what you have to do, is to now move that person on to something more impactful and more important for the business. I don’t like tech for tech’s sake.”

— Elmore says on the importance of automation. "When you automate something, the output of automation is time," he adds.

“Houston couldn’t be a better place to build a business — I found great investors and employees here. It’s a city that’s used to risk. But it’s got to be you, the entrepreneur, that’s got something festering — that’s how you know it’s a great idea.”

— Gill says on inspiring future innovators. "What kept me motivated was I wanted to win. I felt like we had a great product, and we had a big market to serve. … I wanted to build something lasting and build a great team."

“We continue to be a great Houston story — some of my angel investors in Houston are still benefiting."

— Gill says on AvidXchange's presence in Houston. He adds that he's proud of how his former Strongroom team members have risen through the ranks of the company following the acquisition and that he sees the company, which is still privately held, moving toward IPO.

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