HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 158

New HX leader strives to unlock Houston's potential

Meet Natara Branch — the new CEO of HX. Photo courtesy of Natara Branch

For the past few weeks, Natara Branch has been on a listening tour of Houston's innovation ecosystem. Recently named the CEO of Houston Exponential, Branch says one word comes to mind when she thinks of the future of HX: Potential.

"I know that's an overused word," Branch says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, "but I think we really have to get everyone in Houston galvanized around the fact that we do have this potential so that people can see it and invest in Houston — both internally and externally. I really do believe Houston has so much to offer people who live or want to live here."

After spending over 18 years at the National Football League driving that organization forward, Branch says she was looking a role that would bring her back to her adopted hometown of Houston — a city she's been cheering on from afar during her tenure at the NFL based in New York City.

Branch joins HX as the organization changed ownership — it was acquired by Gow Companies, a company founded by Lawson Gow (who is the son of David Gow, InnovationMap's parent company's CEO) — and transitioned from being a nonprofit into being a for-profit company. Branch says that this transition shouldn't affect Houston entrepreneurs' interaction with HX other than improve on the experience as now HX is an entity for entrepreneurs and by entrepreneurs too.

"I'm an entrepreneur, I'm a consultant, I invest, and I work with entrepreneurs all the time," she says on the podcast. "I'm an entrepreneur at heart. ... If you're a founder, you know it's a unique experience. If you're an investor, it's a risky experience, and I've been on both sides."

Branch shares more on the show about her passion for the city of Houston, and how she's got open ears to anyone in the ecosystem who wants to contribute to the advancement of the city's tech ecosystem. And, as she explains, she is getting her fair share of feedback — but she has an ask for anyone who she's met.

"I am challenging people. You're not just going to give me feedback and sit back and watch. You're going to participate," Branch says. "I have not met one person who doesn't want Houston to win — they wouldn't be here if they didn't."

Next week, Branch is making her Houston debut to the greater community at the Houston Innovation Awards Gala, a collaborative event hosted by HX and InnovationMap, on November 9 at the Ion. She shares what all she's excited about for the event on the show. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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Photo courtesy of Lonza

Biotech companies in Pearland are thriving, with big names such as Lonza, Millar Inc. Inc., and Abbott all experiencing tremendous growth in recent years.

The only challenge to this success is the increased demand for a faster workforce pipeline. Fortunately, the Pearland Economic Development Corporation (PEDC) has a solution.

PEDC has partnered with Alvin Community College (ACC) and Lonza to create a two-level Biotechnology Certificate Course designed to address the need for a better-equipped entry-level workforce.

This initiative offers two options to quickly train individuals for employment in the biotech field: Level 1, a six-week commitment for Biotech: Material Handler; and Level 2, a twelve-week commitment for Biotech: Lab Technician. Each level consists of 64 contact hours, with lectures delivered online and labs and assessments conducted on-site.

Alvin Community College is offering this course, which commenced on August 21, under its Continued Education and Workforce Development (CEWD) department. This department provides programs that incorporate current and new technical courses, training partnerships with businesses and industries, and other opportunities for individuals to acquire and upgrade skills or pursue personal enrichment.

Before this initiative, the region's two- or four-year programs were only graduating a dozen or so individuals. Early discussions focused on how to expedite workforce development through a local community college's certificate program. Alvin Community College was prepared to respond to the local workforce's needs.

PEDC played a pivotal role in establishing an advisory committee comprised of industry partners responsible for vetting the Biotechnology Certificate Course curriculum. Industry partners included the University of Houston Clear Lake (UHCL) at Pearland, Lonza, Millar Inc., Merit Medical, and the nonprofit organization BioHouston.

These partners are invaluable as plans continue to expand these certification programs.

Given the ever-increasing demand for a biotechnology workforce in the Pearland area, the future wish list includes expanding the certification program to other education partners.

For more information about the Biotechnology Certificate Program at Alvin Community College, visit this link.

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