Mover and shaker

MassChallenge Texas names former Houston Exponential leader as local exec

Jon Nordby, former exec at Houston Exponential, will lead the inaugural Houston MassChallenge cohort. Courtesy of MassChallenge

MassChallenge Texas in Houston, a zero-equity startup accelerator, has named its managing director. Jon Nordby, who recently served as Houston Exponential's director of strategy since its launch, will lead the organization's inaugural cohort.

"MassChallenge's not-for-profit, no equity model is uniquely suited to accelerate the development of Houston's innovation ecosystem and is the foundation early-stage startups need to get to the point of disruption or pivot as fast as possible," says Nordby in a release.

Before HX, Nordby served as vice president of talent and innovation at the Greater Houston Partnership, and was essential in creating the organization's Innovation Initiative.

"I was thrilled when MassChallenge established their first Texas office in 2017 and I'm excited to bring my experience leading Houston ecosystem efforts to attract founders from around the world and connect them with everything this city can offer, help them establish roots, and forge the partnerships they need for success," Nordby continues.

MassChallenge's first Houston cohort, which will accelerate 25 startups, begins in July. Applications are open until Friday, May 10, at noon.

The organization, which has locations around the world, looks for early stage startups that haven't raised more than $500,000 in equity-based funding and have generated less than $1 million in revenue over the past year. The selected startups will receive free GreenStreet office space, mentorship, investment opportunities, and more.

Also new to the team is Lauren Mitchell, who will serve as the local chapter's community manager. A native Houstonian, Mitchell comes from leading marketing and partnerships at Discovery Green. Yvette Casares Willis, who oversees statewide partnerships for the organization, is also based in Houston.

"MassChallenge Texas is providing innovation at scale in programs in Austin and Houston by connecting startups to resources throughout this great state," says Mike Millard, managing director of MassChallenge Texas, in the release. "The addition of Jon to our team will accelerate our pace in the state and advance our mission by connecting startups to deep industry resources and expertise that are available to startups in Houston."

At The Houston Innovation Summit's first panel of the week, representatives from The Cannon, Amergy Bank, and Central Houston discussed game-changing plans for the Downtown Launch Pad. Image courtesy of The Cannon

The Houston Innovation Summit is in full swing, and the first panel of the week's events started strong. Representatives from The Cannon Houston, Amegy Bank, and MassChallenge took the stage at Amegy Bank's downtown office — soon to be converted into the Downtown Launch Pad — to discuss big picture topics within Houston Innovation.

Grace Rodriguez hosted the panel that covered diversity and inclusion efforts, the growth of The Cannon, and what you can expect from Launch Pad. Here's what you may have missed from the event.

The Downtown Launchpad will shake up the innovation ecosystem

Robert Pieroni, director of economic development for Central Houston and an advisory board member for MassChallenge, set the scene for Houston innovation a few year ago. Houston was overlooked for the Amazon headquarters, and it was the wakeup call Houston needed.

Now, the city, with the help of organizations like Central Houston, has attracted major top 10 accelerators in the world to town and plans to house them in the same space — the Downtown Launch Pad, which is a joint venture project between Central Houston, Downtown Redevelopment Authority, The Cannon, and Amegy Bank.

The Launch Pad will occupy a few floors in the Amegy building to start. There will be coworking and event space, as well as a floor dedicated to MassChallenge and gener8tor — the two new-to-Houston accelerators.

"We'll be the only place in the United States that has co-located two top 10 accelerators," Pieroni says.

The project also is working with an incubator yet to be announced to help bring into the fold undeserved startups and entrepreneurs in Houston, and there will also be a bootcamp targeted directly at the disadvantaged within the innovation ecosystem.

From Amegy's perspective, the bank is committed to growing the building to being something unique and effective for startups, says Andy Buchmann, vice president of corporate real estate and property management at Amegy Bank.

"We are hopeful that this is only the first two floors that we have figured out, and we hope there are other three or four that come behind it as it grows into a real hub for startups in the years to come," Buchmann says.

The Cannon's new CEO has global growth on the mind

Earlier this month, The Cannon Houston brought on Jon Lambert to serve as CEO as the company plans to grow and scale. Lambert, who joined the panel, says that the Downtown Launch Pad was well timed for The Cannon as it's looking to find the optimal areas of the city to grow.

"The distribution of the city is unlike any other in terms of the pockets of where people live and work," Lambert says, adding that The Cannon has an opportunity to reach these pockets.

Looking beyond Houston — and even Texas, the company is poised for growth by taking its model to cities — nationally and even globally — that are underserved when it comes to coworking and incubation space.

"You'd be astonished at some of the people reaching out to us," Lambert says on the panel. Some of this interest, Lambert adds, is setting up The Cannon as a global entry point for international companies looking to do business in Houston.

Inclusivity is the priority

With global initiatives and with Houston being the most diverse city in America, the city's innovation ecosystem has a great responsibility to provide inclusion, and each of the panelists maintains that their organizations have that as a top priority.

The Launch Pad is being developed with this in mind, and Pieroni says it's in the perfect place to do that. Amegy Bank has long been committed to small businesses and the building's location — across the street from METRO's Downtown Transit Center — makes it so that anyone in Houston can get to the hub.

Gener8tor and MassChallenge are also committed to providing programming at no cost, which will open doors to the entire community to get involved.

"As a part of our agreement with gener8tor, the will host free lunch and learns with the community monthly," Pieroni says. "We are working with MassChallenge to make them even more frequent."