HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 38

Local innovation leader to focus on diversity while standing up new-to-Houston cleantech incubator

Juliana Garaizar is working to help set up Houston's Greentown Labs incubator with diversity and inclusion in mind. Courtesy photo

As Greentown Labs, a cleantech startup incubator based outside of Boston, enters into the Houston market, it's doing so with diversity and inclusion in mind, says Juliana Garaizar, launch director at Greentown Houston.

Garaizar has been involved in the Houston innovation ecosystem for years from her stints at the Houston Angel Network followed by the Texas Medical Center's venture fund. She's also been involved with Portfolia — a female-focused venture network — and is president at the Business Angel Minority Association, or baMa. She's spent much of her time lately advocating and promoting diversity in investing — something that falls in line with Greentown's priorities as they enter into the most diverse city in the country.

"The latest founding partners that we've had at Greentown Labs when they were considering becoming a partner, they all asked what we are doing in terms of diversity and inclusion," Garaizar says in this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We are putting together a working group at Greentown for D&I. It's exciting that many of our partners are engaging."

She's referring to the 11 — and counting — corporate founding partners Greentown Houston has announced so far. Greentown's entrance into Houston has been long awaited, and Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs, hired Garaizar and her colleague, Jason Ethier, the operations lead for Greentown Houston, to be the boots on the ground during this time.

With COVID-19 affecting so much of the organization's roll out strategy, Garaizar says its actually been a blessing in disguise for the organization.

"I think the silver lining of this COVID-19 experience is that we are much more integrated with the Boston team, and we're learning at a much faster rate," she says. "That's why we decided to also open Houston for virtual memberships before we open our building in Q1 of 2021."

While launching during a pandemic isn't the most ideal, the timing for the new Houston location has been. Garaizer says she's seeing more and more energy companies prioritizing clean energy innovations and new technologies.

"I believe that Greentown Labs is going to be a catalyst for the energy transition here in Houston," she says. "There are several things that are changing in Houston, and I think we're coming in at the right time."

Listen to the full interview with Garaizer below — or wherever you get your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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Building Houston

 
 

New partnership chair, Amy Chonis, gave her address at the 2021 GHP Annual Meeting. Sky Noir Photography by Bill Dickinson/Getty Images

With 2020 in the rearview, the Greater Houston Partnership is looking into the new year with a new board chair. In the GHP's 2021 Annual Meeting, the organization introduced how important developing the innovation community is in Houston.

In her remarks, this year's Partnership Chair Amy Chronis, who is the Houston managing partner at Deloitte, shared what she hopes to inspire in her tenure. Her statement can be boiled down to three major points.

It's time to modernize Houston's economy

Chronis says it's time to focus on tech and innovation — and that requires support from all aspects of the city.

"Here in Houston, we must be laser-focused on building a strong, diverse, 21st century economy," she says. "Over the past few years, entrepreneurs, investors, academic institutions, local government, and the corporate sector have come together to unite, grow, and promote Houston's startup ecosystem. The progress since 2016 is staggering."

Since 2016, Chronis says, venture capital investment in Houston has increased almost 250 percent to a record $714 million dollars raised in 2020. Additionally, she calls out 30 new startup development organizations that have sprung up around town — like the East End Maker Hub, The Cannon, The Ion, Greentown Labs, and so much more.

Chronis also calls out the importance of educational institutions, such as Rice University and the University of Houston.

It's the industries that drive innovation

There is a growing need to diversify Houston's economy away from just oil and gas, Chronis says it's Houston's core industries — energy, life sciences, aerospace, along with manufacturing and global logistics — that have made transformative steps.

"We've got momentum, but we still need to double down with work to do," Chronis says, identifying energy, life sciences, and aerospace as three pillars to drive success.

Regarding energy, Chronis touts Greentown Labs opening in Houston — but warns it's increasingly important to have big corporations promote the energy transition.

"From the super majors to the service firms and the increasing presence of renewable companies, Houston is at the forefront of driving the Energy 2.0 sector," she says.

When it comes to health care, Chronis remarks on the Texas Medical Center's success with the TMC Innovation Institute and the development of TMC3, a 37-acre research commercialization campus.

"What's special about TMC3 is that it will create collaboration and innovation at scale," she adds. "It will be a catalyst that will advance Houston's position as the Third Coast for Life Sciences."

Lastly, Houston must maintain its moniker as the Space City — and the city has a lot of opportunities to do that with the development of the Houston Spaceport at Ellington Airport and the NASA Johnson Space Center.

"Houston is already home to a rich talent pool of nearly 23,000 aerospace manufacturing professionals and more than 500 aerospace and aviation companies and institutions, but the potential is so much greater," Chronis says.

Houston needs to focus on four areas to "drive a technological renaissance"

Chronis concludes her speech with some calls to action. She first acknowledges that corporations ask themselves about how they are promoting and valuing innovation.

"We must be committed to inspiring, cultivating and rewarding technological innovation," Chronis says. "How is your company partnering with startups, higher education institutions and other stakeholders to drive innovation?"

Next, Chronis calls out Houston's global diversity as a differentiator when it comes to attracting companies to Houston, and she cites HPE as an example.

"We know there are hundreds of tech companies in the Valley, and up and down the West and East coasts that are striving to build global diversity within their companies," she says. "There is no better place than Houston to do this."

Third, Chronis calls for everyone — from corporates to educations — to empower the next generation of innovators.

And, finally, she says it's time to spread the word about Houston.

"We are modern, sophisticated, and at our core, an incredibly global city. Global in a way that sets us apart from most U.S. metros," she says. "So, as we embark on this work to drive Houston's technology renaissance, we must ensure perceptions of Houston are aligned with reality."

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