a day in the life

Here's how a visiting venture capitalist explores Houston's startup ecosystem for the first time

Pat Matthews of Active Capital visited Houston with a collaboration with the HX Venture Fund. Photo courtesy of Active Capital

When Houston Exponential established the HX Venture Fund, the goal was to bring out-of-town capital and investors into the city of Houston. The fund of funds invests in a portfolio of venture capital funds with the hope that those funds find a way back into the Houston startup ecosystem.

After a little over a year, HXVF has invested in five funds: Boston-based .406 Ventures, Austin-based Next Coast Ventures, Boston-based OpenView Venture Partners, Washington D.C.-based Updata Partners, and Austin-based LiveOak Venture Partners.

The fund of funds is also regularly hosting those five funds — as well as a mix of potential portfolio fund members — in Houston for what the HXVF calls "immersion days" where the venture capitalists can meet local startups, innovation leaders, and even fellow investors that they could eventually co-invest with.

"The goals of these days are to have venture capitalists travel to Houston, meet with our entrepreneurs (and the startup development organizations like Station, Cannon and WeWork that support them), and provide both capital and expertise in company building to the tech companies," says Sandy Guitar Wallis, managing partner at HXVF. "The venture capitalists also meet with HX Venture Fund corporate LPs, who can be customers or acquirers of their portfolio companies."

Just this month alone, HXVF is hosting four funds — two from their portfolio and two that they haven't yet invested in. San Antonio-based Active Capital, which has raised a $21 million fund, is among the visiting VCs this month. The fund's founder, Pat Matthews, an entrepreneur turned venture capitalist, has shared his busiest day — February 5 — as well as his perspective on Houston innovation with InnovationMap.

A morning too busy for breakfast

After waking up at the Hotel Derek, Matthews starts his second day in Houston by taking a Lyft to the Greater Houston Partnership for what he believes to be a breakfast meeting with Wallis and Guillermo Borda of HXVF, but the group has too much to discuss that a meal falls by the wayside.

Before this trip, Matthews hasn't visited Houston in a professional capacity. While Active Capital is based just down I10 in San Antonio, the firm's investments are split almost in half by deals done in Texas versus the rest of the world. Active Capital focuses on B2B SaaS investments — usually leading — in seed or series A rounds.

Matthews has called Texas home for around a decade. He founded an email marketing startup in Virginia, which was acquired by San Antonio-based Rackspace. He relocated to join Rackspace and worked on growing the organization for six years before creating Active Capital.

Following the meeting — still unfed, Matthews meets up with Serafina Lalany from Houston Exponential to carpool to The Cannon on the west side of town.

Loading up on carbs and fireside chats

Matthews forgoes his usual carb aversion to eat slices of Domino's pizza at The Cannon before beginning his first of three fireside chats with Houston innovators. Patrick Schneidau, CEO of Truss, leads the conversation at The Cannon. (Schneidau is a board member of InnovationMap's.) After the chat, Matthews has a meeting with a startup before heading back into town.

With one fireside chat down, Matthews heads into his second one of the day at Station Houston with Joe Alapat, founder of Liongard. Matthews observes that each of the entrepreneurs who interviewed him had great questions, and seemed to be far along with their companies. Meanwhile, any of the people he met before or after the chat seemed to be at a much earlier stage in their startup journey.

The last fireside chat was hosted by Rakesh Agrawal of Snapstream at WeWork's Jones Building location. Matthews and Agrawal attempted to set up a Facebook livestream for the conversation, but an issue with the technology wouldn't allow for the stream.

An evening of good food and great mentorship

With meetings and fireside chats done, Matthews heads straight to a dinner with Blair Garrou, founder and managing director of Mercury Fund. The two venture capitalists dine at Eunice and split several appetizers and a bottle of wine while discussing their own recent investments and interests. Matthews, who met Garrou in 2014, thinks of him as a great mentor in venture capital.

Matthews headed back to the hotel after dinner and crashes hard after the long day. He would head back to San Antonio on a Vonlane bus — he gets a lot of work done on his trips — the next day.

What's next for Active Capital and Houston?

Matthews says he left Houston with an overall positive opinion of the city, and says it's similar to other Texas cities, aside from Austin, in its startup presence and capacity. While he assumed he'd meet energy and space startups, he realized Houston had a lot more going on than that.

"It definitely seemed like there was a lot of passion and a lot of hustle," Matthews says. "And it seems like the city is really working to support and cultivate that and keep it in Houston. I was inspired."

Throughout the visit, Matthews handed out his business card and some conversations have developed from those connections, he says. Another representative from Active Capital who is focused on sourcing deals with startups will visit next, and Matthews says he also thinks that he'll return to Houston to continue conversations he's been having, including some with other investors.

"I could definitely see doing deals in Houston," Matthews tells InnovationMap.

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Building Houston

 
 

Gathering the right info was vital. Photo by Krisanapong Detraphiphat/Getty

It's there in their name, but how often does a human resources company actually put emphasis on the "human" part? If it's HR&P, the answer is "especially when it matters most."

Following the COVID-19 pandemic announcement, small businesses scrambled to get their Paycheck Protection Program applications and documents in order. Up for grabs was a government-funded $349 billion in forgivable loans to help pay salaries, utilities, and other necessary expenses while businesses weathered the medical and economic storm. And if a business didn't have a company like HR&P on its side, its chances at obtaining a PPP loan weren't nearly as high.

"The PPP loan process required a great deal of HR information, and the requirements seemed to keep changing," says David Gow, CEO of Gow Media (the parent company of InnovationMap). "So we reached out to HR&P a number of times with requests, questions, etc. And each time HR&P assembled a full team to help us. I eventually started calling them 'the dream team,' because the team at HR&P had all the answers."

"As soon as the banks got set up to process these loans, the funds were gone. Every second mattered," says Kris Osterman, HR&P's CFO. "The CARES act is over 800 pages long — our team divided it in sections, and quickly went through it to find the parts that mattered to our clients. We had to make sure we had what we thought the banks needed — the information coming from the treasury was vague at the start — we had to make interpretations and apply our technical knowledge to gather what was ultimately needed for each client. A rapid response was critical."

Working (often remotely) around the clock, through that first weekend, and then several others, HR&P's team was in constant communication with its clients and their SBA lenders. At the end of the day, it was the community-based companies like HR&P that shined over their larger, more bureaucratic counterparts. The blitz of ambiguous COVID-19 relief legislation was an incubator for chaos in the financial and human resource communities. Most payroll companies simply could not respond with a level of intimacy required to support a company's specific needs. HR&P had the agility to navigate these moving targets and swiftly personalize service for their clients.

"Everyone had a different interpretation of the legislation, and there were inconsistencies in what was being requested from each financial institution. Corroborating the requests and staying in constant communication with the client was imperative," says HR&P's VP of client relations, Kevin Roblyer. "They could literally get ahold of us on a Sunday, where other providers were not available or couldn't provide that localized presence."

"All the lenders and financial institutions were asking for different information," says John McKay, HR&P VP of operations. "HR&P is entirely customizable. Our development team can quickly create functionality and generate reporting capabilities for each individual client and their bank's needs."

More importantly, "being able to speak to a designated HR&P representative was very important to limit client anxiety," says Chris Fisher, HR&P's VP of sales.

Thanks to years of expertise and a deep knowledge of its clients, HR&P played a critical role in securing vital PPP funds for many small and mid-sized businesses.

"It took a lot of creativity," says Fisher. "And everything changed with the second round of funding in April. Because of our high touch service model, our clients were prepared and more equipped to succeed."

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