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Private equity executive talks diversifying and Houston's investment ecosystem

Taseer Badar is in the business of making money. Courtesy of ZT Corporate

It's Taseer Badar's job to keep 1,000 investors happy. As CEO and founder of ZT Corporate, that's just a day in the life for him.

Badar has been in the business for over 20 years, and before that, he was on Wall Street as a financial adviser for Morgan Stanley. He realized the dollar went further in his hometown of Houston, so he came back. He started advising on business plans for people he knew, and earned a lot of loyalty from these early entrepreneurs, and grew ZT from there. He found his way into health care, which made up a good majority of his holdings, until about four years ago when he diversified his company and got into the automotive industry.

Last year, the company celebrated its largest exit — Altus Infusion — and acquisition — six Neighbors ER clinics. He created a nonprofit foundation —The Altus Foundation — and raised over $1 million for assistance for underserved families. Over the past 20 years, Badar grew his company from $28 million in revenue to over $600 million — with no end in sight.

Badar spoke with InnovationMap about his career, the health care industry, and what its like to be in private equity in Houston.

InnovationMap: You've recently diversified to include a startup in your portfolio. Tell me about that company.

Taseer Badar: We have group called Accountable Care as an entity, which we are sustaining analytics. It's the opposite of a fee for service business. It used to be that if a patient got sick, we treat you. Now, it's preventive care. We have a pilot of around 40,000 patients right now. It has a lot of potential and it keeps people healthier. How it works is insurance companies pay you to keep their consumer healthy. Let's say an insurance company pays us $100, and we treat them for $85 and keep the rest for our investors.

IM: How does Houston’s investment ecosystem compare to other cities you work in?

TB: For me, it was really hard to move into that. I am very traditional. We're not a risk-based company; we're very risk averse. For me, this fit into our business. It fell in my lap. I do think generally it's a conservative ecosystem, in my opinion. We're not San Francisco — we're not built like that. Not saying no one does it. I was in New York, and those are the guys who understand [venture capital]. In Houston, we understand oil and gas, and we understand medical and real estate. I think we're way off for the startup [investment] here.

IM: With that being said, what is your advice for tech startups seeking capital, then?

TB: Investors in Houston want positive earnings before interest, tax, and amortization. But that doesn't mean it's not possible in New York, Dallas, Austin, or other cities. There are technology conferences everywhere, that's a great way to get known as a startup.

IM: How have you seen the health care industry evolve?

TB: Texas is a state that has a lot of doctors that are entrepreneurial. I personally feel as though that a lot of the Obamacare, and the accountable care, a lot of practices have been bought by hospitals, so you don't see a lot of freestanding medical practices as much as I used to. At the same time, a lot of the younger doctors aren't as business oriented and want more work-life balance. Because there's less of them, there are opportunities for companies like mine to take care of them. When I started, Altus was one of 50 companies of its kind. Now, we are one of two or three standing in Houston with that type of model.

IM: What are the challenges of managing investors?

TB: We have a lot of retail investors. They are great, and it's much more relation based. But, at the same time, a very high-touch business. That requires a lot of time and effort in a relationship. It's a lot more managing of the process.

IM: What do you look for in an investor?

TB: We look for investors that are accredited investors, and we want someone who understands there's a time horizon, who are looking for an income and an exit play between three and seven years. Someone who understands risk and that it's not buying a stock that can be liquidated.

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Portions of this interview have been edited.

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Building Houston

 
 

Kelly Avant, investment associate at Houston-based Mercury Fund, shares how and why she made her way into the venture capital arena. Photo courtesy of Mercury

Kelly Avant didn't exactly pave a linear career path for herself. After majoring in gender studies, volunteering in the Peace Corps, and even attending law school — she identified a way to make a bigger impact: venture capital.

"VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems," Avant tells InnovationMap.

Avant joined the Mercury Fund team last year as an MBA associate before joining full time as investment associate. Now, after completing her MBA from Rice University this month, Avant tells InnovationMap why she's excited about this new career in investment in a Q&A.

InnovationMap: From law school and the peace corps, what drew you to start a career in the VC world?

Kelly Avant: I graduated from Rice University with an MBA, starting scouting for an investment firm in my first year, and by the summer after my first year I was essentially working full-time interning with Mercury. But, I like to tell people about my undergraduate degree in gender studies and rhetoric from a little ski college in Colorado. If you meet someone else in venture capital with a degree in gender studies, please connect us, but I think I might be the only one. I’ll spare you what I used to think — and say — about business students, but I have really come full circle.

I always thought I would work in a nonprofit space, but after serving in Cambodia with the Peace Corps, working for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and briefly attending Emory Law School with the intention of becoming a civil rights lawyer.I found that time and time again the root of the problem was a lack of resources. The world’s problems were not going to be solved with my idealism alone.

The problem with operating as a nonprofit in a capitalism is you basically always pandering to the interests of the donors. The NFL was a key sponsor of The National Domestic Violence Hotline. The United States has a complicated, to put it lightly, relationship with Cambodia and Vietnam. It became pretty clear that the donor/nonprofit relationship was oftentimes putting the wrong party in the driver’s seat. I was, and still am, very interested in alternative financing for nonprofits. I became convinced that the most exciting businesses were building solutions to the world’s problems while also turning a profit, which allows them to survive to have a sustainable positive impact.

VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems.

IM: What are some companies you’re excited about?

KA: There are a couple super interesting founders I’ve met directly engaging with . To name a few: CiviTech, DonateStock, and Polco.

I’m very proud to work on mercury investments like Houston’s own, Topl, which has built an extremely lightweight and energy efficient Blockchain that enables tracking of ethical supply chains from the initial interaction.
I’m also excited about mercury’s investment in Zirtue, which enables relationship based peer to peer lending to solve the massive problem of predatory payday loans.

We have so many awesome founders in our portfolio. The best part about working in VC is meeting passionate innovators every day. I get excited to go to work everyday and help them to build better solutions.

IM: Why are you so passionate about bringing diversity and inclusion into Mercury?

KA: I love working with exciting, highly capable, super smart people. That category includes so many people who have been historically excluded. As an investment team member at Mercury, I do have a voice, and I have an obligation to use that voice to speak highly of the best people in rooms of influence.

IM: With your new role, what are you most focused on?

KA: In my new role, I am identifying and researching high potential investments. We’re building out a Mercury educational series to lift the veil of VC. We want to facilitate a series that gives all founders the basic skills to pass VC due diligence and have the opportunity to build the next innovative companies. My goal is ultimately to produce the best returns possible for our investors, and we can’t accomplish that goal unless we’re building out resources to meet the best founders and help them grow.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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