Featured Innovator

This Houston energy executive is helping to create more women mentors in business

When Myrtle Jones was rising through the ranks of an energy company, she didn't have a female mentor to look up to. Now, she hopes help connect young women with mentors digitally. Courtesy of Myrtle Jones

If you're a young woman in business, you're probably familiar with the struggle of finding a woman in business to be mentor. Here's some good news for those women: There's an app that's looking to change that, and there's a good chance you've already downloaded it on your phone.

In 2017, Austin-based Bumble, the dating and social mobile application, launched Bumble Bizz, an application that seeks to connect industry professionals and foster networking and mentoring opportunities. As of 2019, users have the option to see only women on the app, too, in order to foster their professional network of women.

Myrtle Jones, senior vice president at Houston-based Halliburton, knows a thing or two about the importance of mentorship, in large part because she went without it for much of her career. Jones, who's participating in Bumble Bizz's launch efforts, has become known as one of Houston's most influential and inspiring women in business. She spoke with InnovationMap about the importance of mentorship, how she wound up in the energy industry, and how interested professionals can become mentors to the next generation of professionals.

InnovationMap: What role did mentorship play in your career?

Myrtle Jones: I think people fail to realize that I came up in the industry before mentorship was really a thing. I started working in the energy business in the early '80s, and women were new to the industry. We were somewhat getting ourselves established in the business world – there was no such thing as someone saying, "We're going to get you linked up with mentors," so you had to find role models. I always had role models, and I always looked at the fact that women should have an equal opportunity in the workforce, and that we belonged in the workforce.

I was going to make my way in corporate America, and my motivation was believing that we had just as much right to be out here as men did.

IM: Did you have a mentor in your earlier days in the professional world?

MJ: A very wonderful sponsor came in as a treasurer when I was at GlobalSantaFe [now Transocean], and he was eventually promoted to CFO. He was someone who picked me out of the crowd and noticed I brought a lot of value. He brought me to executive meetings and board meeting and gave me an opportunity to show what I could do.

IM: How'd you get involved in the energy industry?

MJ: It wasn't that I was looking to go into energy. At the time I got out of school, the hottest job market was Houston, Texas, and it was the energy business. I went to Mississippi State, and the oil and gas companies were expanding their search outside of Texas and attracting people to move to Texas. So, that's how I ended up in the business. Other than the energy business, the economy was a bit slow around the rest of the country.

IM: What are some of the professional obstacles and adversities that you've faced as a female, especially in a stereotypically male-dominated industry?

MJ: First off, it was men getting used to seeing women in this industry, and just having to build those relationships and build mutual trust. A lot of it was just building trust, and overcoming a lot of prior stereotypes and beliefs that people had about the role [of women] in the workplace.

IM: Tell me about the role of technology and innovation at Halliburton.

MJ: There's so much technology development at Halliburton. A lot of people don't realize that Halliburton is a technology company. We have a fully fledged research and development center and we file hundreds of patents each year. The technology that Halliburton has developed has led to significant improvements in terms of oilfield services.

IM: What's your advice for folks reading this who are interested in mentoring, but aren't sure how to get started?

MJ: Make yourself open to it. When I'm in networking situations, and I'm meeting someone who's committed to their career, and they're looking for ways to talk to me, I open myself to that opportunity. I have a number of people who I mentor at Halliburton. For people who want to be mentors, it's really not that hard. [Mentees] are looking for that sounding board, and for someone who's "been there, done that."

So, even without having a formal organization to go through, people can become a mentor through their own network, or seek out organizations that have formal mentoring programs.

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Portions of this interview have been edited.

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Building Houston

 
 

Panelists from the University of Houston and Houston Methodist discussed tech transfer challenges and opportunities for academic innovators. Photo courtesy

Groundbreaking and disruptive innovations across industries are coming out of research institutions, and their commercialization process is very different from other startups.

An expert panel within Technology transfer discussed some of the unique obstacles innovators face as they go from academia into the market — like patenting, funding, the valley of death, and more.

Missed the conversation? Here are eight key moments from the panel that took place at the University of Houston's Technology Bridge on Wednesday, May 19.

This event was hosted by InnovationMap and University of Houston.

“If your technology can immediately impact some industry, I think you should license out your technology. But if you think that the reward is much higher and does not yet match something in the industry, you should go the high risk, high reward path of doing it yourself. That’s a much more challenging. It takes years of work.”

— Hadi Ghasemi, co-founder of Elemental Coatings and Cullen associate professor in the department of mechanical engineering at the University of Houston, says on how tech transfer usually happens via those two pathways. Ghasemi explains that it also depends on the academic's passion for the product and interest in becoming an entrepreneur.

“There’s a mismatch in that you can have a really clinically impactful technology but still not have money to develop it into a product.” 

— Rashim Singh, co-founder of Sanarentero and a research assistant professor of pharmaceutics at the University of Houston College of Pharmacy, says on the different priorities from within academia and within the market.

“What I’ve seen is if you know you want to patent something, tell the right people early. Make sure you have the right players involved. Our tech office already has venture, Pharma, etc. partners that can help with the patent process.”

— Ginny Torno, administrative director of innovation and IT clinical systems at Houston Methodist

“You don’t need to be fully transparent about your technology. As a company, you need to have some secret sauce."

— Ghasemi says on the patent and paper publishing process. Academics are used to publishing their research, but when it comes to business, you need to hold some things close to the chest.

“One of the most important piece the UH Tech Bridge has provided is the wet lab space to develop these technologies a little further toward commercialization. … Wet lab is very precious space in Houston specifically because there isn’t much here.”

— Singh says on how important access to lab space is to the entrepreneur.

"“You’re starting to see more and more organizations that have innovation arms. ... There are a lot of focus on trying to make Houston another innovation hub, and I think there is more support now than even a few years ago.”

— Torno says on what's changed over the past few years, mentioning TMC3 and the Ion.

“Try to serve private capital as soon as possible. The grant money comes, and those are good and will help you prove out your technology. But once you have private money, it shows people care about your product.”

— Ghasemi says as a piece of advice for potential tech transfer entrepreneurs.

“The biggest gap is to arrange for funding — federal, private, etc. — to support during the valley of death.”

— Singh says on the struggle research-based startups, especially in drug discovery, faces as they fight to prove out their product and try to stay afloat financially.

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