Q&A

Houston native brings LatinX startup support to the Ion with HQ move

Jesse Martinez, founder of the LatinX Startup Alliance, joins InnovationMap for a Q&A on why he's relocating his nonprofit to Houston. Photo courtesy of LSA

Jesse Martinez was working in Silicon Valley before it was Silicon Valley. He took his years of experience within that tech ecosystem and launched the LatinX Startup Alliance to support his fellow Hispanic entrepreneurs — and now he's bringing that support to his hometown.

The LatinX Startup Alliance will move its headquarters into The Ion in 2022, Martinez tells InnovationMap. He's excited to finally make his professional return to Houston and to help support the diverse ecosystem — one that has been created with diversity at the forefront, unlike Silicon Valley and other coastal tech hubs.

"We're on the ground floor. We're helping to build that foundation. It's not an afterthought. It's not something that now we're trying to go back and think of diversity," Martinez tells InnovationMap. "I think that's the beautiful thing about Houston and everyone that I've met is that it's been so diverse and inclusive. That spirit is already there. So, how do we just maximize that?"

Martinez joined InnovationMap for a Q&A about the new HQ announcement and what he's excited about in terms of DEI in Houston's tech scene.

InnovationMap: Tell me a little bit about your own tech and entrepreneurship journey.

Jesse Martinez: In 1996, one weekend I was at Barnes and Noble reading the newspaper, and, for whatever reason, I went through the classified ads and this one ad caught my eye. It said, "internet sales for internet company." So I faxed in my resume and I got a call back, did my phone screens, and they flew me out to San Jose. I interviewed with the founders in Sunnyville where the startup was based. The name of the startup was Internet Systems Inc., funded by Sequoia Capital and I ended up joining as employee number 27.

I was new to this whole world. We were one of two pioneers in the web hosting services space — pre-Rackspace, pre-AWS, et cetera. In less than a year, we went from startup to public company trading at $35 a share via two acquisitions. So that was my whole intro into the world of tech startups, Silicon Valley, and stock options.

Because of that work, I caught the startup bug and did my first startup with my brother in 2000. We had two acquisition offers. We turned one down, and we were entertaining the second one, which was between $8 and $10 million. And then the market crashed in March of 2000. Those offers went away, and we tried to raise more money, but just couldn't do it. And then we ended up shutting down December of 2000.

IM: How did you come to start the LatinX Alliance?

JM: In 2010, I was looking to do my second startup. And it was early days of community-based organizations providing services for their founders — Black founders, Jewish founders, and others. And I did a set of Google searches to try to find something for myself. I'm like, "I'm Latino, I'm a tech and founder what's available for us?" And there was nothing. That left me scratching my head. Like how can this be? This is the global mecca of tech. That became the beginning of Latino Startup Alliance. We launched in 2011 in the Mission District of San Francisco with six people with their mission to empower Latino tech founders. Fast forward to today, we're over a thousand members globally. Our mission is still the same. And last year, we changed our name from Latino to LatinX to be more supportive and inclusive.

IM: You’re from Houston originally, but when did you have the idea of bringing the alliance to Texas?

JM: I was super excited to meet Bob Harvey (from the Greater Houston Partnership) and team, when they did a delegation to Silicon Valley. I met them at the Salesforce Tower, and we started talking about tech and Aggies and all the above. And they're like, "by the way, do you know that we're know committing to tech? We're finally making that commitment from the city on down, you should be there." And I'm like, "well, I've been waiting for this all my life." Houston was so engaged in oil, gas and energy. And so it was finally refreshing to hear that Houston had made that commitment. It felt right and it made sense to move our headquarters to Houston, and we'll officially launch in 2022.

IM: The new headquarters of the LatinX Startup Alliance is in The Ion. How will you work with them collaboratively and what can people expect from your organization?

JM: One of the things that we did early on as an organization is do a series of events — weekly events as well as a yearly summits. We were actually going to host our first summit in October of this year, because of the pandemic and the uncertainty, we decided to postpone it just because we wanted to be respectful for everyone's health and safety. We pushed it to next year, targeting the same month — October of 2022. And that'll be two days of programming focused on tech and also tech careers. So, there'll be a Friday and a Saturday. One of the things we want to ensure is that by hosting something on Saturday on tech careers, is that more people will be able to attend. And then Friday we'll focus on tech, founders, and startups.

Through our monthly events, we'll have office hours, we'll have meetups, and what we call LSA founder dinners. We just hosted one last week in Oakland, and we used to do these all the time. We're going back to that now that we can, and especially as we launch in Houston is ensuring that we have that consistency as we start building that community. It's like starting over, which is great. The biggest part is being able to support and champion the LatinX tech community here in Houston and also the state of Texas.

IM: How do you envision growing the LatinX Startup Alliance internationally? 

JM: We've always been global from day one. We've had founders come from other cities and countries to Silicon Valley because it was such a hub for many, many years. It'll be interesting to see what happens moving forward. A lot of people have moved away to their hometowns or new cities. So now we have a more distributed network of founders and startups and also investors. So when you talk about access and access to opportunities, it's certainly a big win for those founders and startups across the west.

IM: What should people know about LSA? 

JM: We operate under three pillars, which are awareness, access, and acceleration. Through the awareness piece, it's creating awareness around LatinX tech, startups and founders, both of those that are in the ecosystem and those that want to learn more. Access is being able to include people in tech programming, again for founders or for the public to participate in whatever it is we post, you know, from a founder perspective, it could be an invitation to attend Techcrunch or SaaStr Annual— either virtually or in person in San Francisco. We've had a partnership with both of them. So, we have diversity scholarships for our members.

IM: How have you seen things change in terms of connecting LatinX founders with funding?

JM: There is more access, and we help facilitate some of the awareness. You might not be aware of all the investors angel investors. And so that's where we try to be the bridge and be able to make those warm introductions between investors and also the startup founders. There are a lot more diverse funds. There's a lot more diverse general partners, which is awesome. And I think there's access to more. Does that mean that everyone's getting funded? No. It's not easier to get money, but there's just more money to go around. But you still have to go through the same steps and follow the process.

IM: Ahead of the launch of the LatinX Startup Alliance in Houston, who are you looking to connect with?

JM: Everyone, because you never know who that one person's going to be —corporates, companies, startups, founders, investors, other nonprofits. One of things that I've been doing as I've been going back to Houston is just meeting people from the ecosystem.One of the things that we're working on right now is setting up a group of key stakeholders for LatinX Houston Alliance. Who are those key players that we can bring together on a monthly basis? I'm thinking like a town hall of 40 or so people talk about what we need to do to better support and champion the ecosystem.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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Building Houston

 
 

Check out these conferences, pitch competitions, networking, and more in the month of November. Photo via Getty Images

Hold onto your hats, Houston. If you thought October was a busy month for business events, November even more exciting and full of pitches, conferences, summits, and more. Here's a rundown of what all to throw on your calendar for November when it comes to innovation-related events.

This article will be updated as more business and tech events are announced.

FEATURED: November 9 — Houston Innovation Awards Gala

Find out what Houston startups and innovators go home with the big win at InnovationMap and Houston Exponential's gala. Learn more about this year's finalists by clicking here.

The event is Wednesday, November 9, at 6 pm, at the Ion. Click here to register.

November 1-3 — Urban Manufacturing Alliance's Houston Gathering

Learn about the unique challenges and opportunities within manufacturing in the current economy, as well as network with Houston manufacturing professionals.

The event is Tuesday, November 1, to Wednesday, November 3, at West Houston Institute. Click here to register.

November 2 — Greentown Labs Climatetech Summit

Hear from the climatetech industry's leaders at Greentown Labs' annual event. The morning features panels and pitches, followed by lunch, networking, and an expo. The summit continues on November 3 in Boston, and both days will be streamed for viewers.

The event is Wednesday, November 2, at 8 am, at Greentown Houston and streaming online. Click here to register.

November 4 — Enventure's 10-Year Anniversary

Join Enventure as we celebrate its 10th Anniversary — from the organization's accomplishments to a look toward what the future brings to Enventure.

The event is Friday, November 4, at 7 pm, at III by Wolfgang Puck. Click here to register.

November 5 — Tech Fest Live in-person Experience at the Ion

The Ion as partnered with Tech Fest Live to bring your family to an engaging Family Tech Day experience, designed with middle and high school students in mind.

The event is Saturday, November 5, at 9:30 am, at the Ion. Click here to register.

November 8 — Texas Life Science Forum

The Texas Life Science Forum, co-hosted by BioHouston and Rice Alliance, is the premier life science and healthtech event in Texas that brings together members from industry, emerging life science companies, academic and investors. Hear pitches from innovative and early stage life science companies, network and enjoy exciting panels, keynotes and speakers.

The event is Tuesday, November 8, at 8:30 am, at Rice University. Click here to register.

November 9 — The Future of Industrial Automation Lunch & Learn with Yokogawa

In this Lunch & Learn, Elbert van der Bijl (Director of Marketing & Solutions Consulting for Yokogawa North America), will talk about the journey from industrial automation to industrial autonomy (IA2IA). He will also speak about how new technologies are being embraced to be able to make this transition. The presentation will highlight some key developments like Open Process Automation (OPA), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), and mobile Robotics and how they will play a role in the future of Industrial Automation.

The event is Wednesday, November 9, at 11:30 am, at The Cannon-West Houston. Click here to register.

November 10 — Greater Houston Partnership's State of the Port

Join the Greater Houston Partnership at the annual State of the Port featuring Ric Campo, Chairman of the Port Commission of the Port of Houston Authority. Campo will discuss innovations taking place at Port Houston and Project 11. The highly anticipated Project 11 will deepen and widen the Houston Ship Channel and increase economic impact, jobs and address supply chain challenges.

The event is Thursday, November 10, at 10:30 am, at The Omni Riverway. Click here to register.

November 10 — BGV Pitch Tour Houston

The BGV Pitch Tour is coming to Houston November 10th in partnership with Omaze and the aid of our amazing 6 Change Agents to throw a BGV Pitch Competition. Thee BGV Change Agents are amazing Black and/or Brown women-identifying founders who are actively working to uplift and grow the city's ecosystem for Black and Brown founders in their area.

The event is Thursday, November 10, at 6 pm, at The Cannon-West Houston. Click here to register.

November 15 — Lilie's Community Celebration

Celebrate the end of the semester and take a peek into what all the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship community has going on.

The event is Tuesday, November 15, at 6 pm, at the Lilie offices at Rice University. Click here to register.

November 19 — Pearland Innovation Hub Pitch Competition

Come attend this event open to the community to hear pitches from local small business owners, network, and learn about the Pearland Innovation Hub.

The event is Tuesday, November 17, at 4 pm, at Pearland City Hall. Click here to register.

November 30 — Commercial ZEV Event

This event by Houston-based Evolve is your chance to drive zero-emissions commercial vehicles and learn how you can convert your fleet to save on costs.

The event is Wednesday, November 30, at 8:30 am to 5 pm, at NRG Park. Click here to register.

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