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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

 
 

From a low-cost vaccine to an app that can help reduce exposure, here are the latest COVID-focused and Houston-based research projects. Photo via Getty Images

While it might seem like the COVID-19 pandemic has settled down for the time being, there's plenty of innovative research ongoing to create solutions for affordable vaccines and tech-enabled protection against the spread of the virus.

Some of that research is happening right here in Houston. Here are two innovative projects in the works at local institutions.

UH researcher designs app to monitor best times to shop

A UH professor is putting safe shopping at your fingertips. Photo via UH.edu

When is the best time to run an errand in the pandemic era we currently reside? There might be an app for that. Albert Cheng, professor of computer science and electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston, is working on a real-time COVID-19 infection risk assessment and mitigation system. He presented his plans at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers conference HPC for Urgent Decision Making and will publish the work in IEEE Xplore.

Cheng's work analyzes up-to-date data from multiple open sources to see when is the best time to avoid crowds and accomplish activities outside the home.

"Preliminary work has been performed to determine the usability of a number of COVID-19 data websites and other websites such as grocery stores and restaurants' popular times and traffic," Cheng says in a UH release. "Other data, such as vaccination rates and cultural factors (for example, the percentage of people willing to wear facial coverings or masks in an area), are also used to determine the best grocery store to shop in within a time frame."

To use the app, a user would input their intended destinations and the farthest distance willing to go, as well as the time frame of the trip. The risk assessment and mitigation system, or RT-CIRAM, then "provides as output the target location and the time interval to reach there that would reduce the chance of infections," said Cheng.

There's a lot to it, says Cheng, and the process is highly reliant on technology.

"We are leveraging urgent high-performance cloud computing, coupled with time-critical scheduling and routing techniques, along with our expertise in real-time embedded systems and cyber-physical systems, machine learning, medical devices, real-time knowledge/rule-based decision systems, formal verification, functional reactive systems, virtualization and intrusion detection," says Cheng.

2 Houston hospitals team up with immunotherapy company for new vaccine for Africa

The new vaccine will hopefully help mitigate spread of the disease in Sub-Saharan Africa. Photo via bcm.edu

Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital have teamed up with ImmunityBio Inc. — a clinical-stage immunotherapy company — under a licensing agreement to develop a safe, effective and affordable COVID-19 vaccine.

BCM has licensed out a recombinant protein COVID-19 vaccine candidate that was developed at the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development to ImmunityBio. According to the release, the company engaged in license negotiations with the BCM Ventures team, about the vaccine that could address the current pandemic needs in South Africa.

"We hope that our COVID-19 vaccine for global health might become an important step towards advancing vaccine development capacity in South Africa, and ultimately for all of Sub-Saharan Africa," says Dr. Peter Hotez, professor and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor and co-director of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development.

ImmunityBio, which was founded in 2014 by Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, is working on innovative immunotherapies that address serious unmet needs in infectious diseases, according to a news release from BCM.

"There is a great need for second-generation vaccines, which are accessible, durable and offer broad protection against the emerging variants," says Soon-Shiong. "ImmunityBio has executed on a heterologous ("mix-and-match") strategy to develop a universal COVID-19 vaccine. To accomplish this, we have embarked upon large-scale good manufacturing practices and development of DNA (adenovirus), RNA (self-amplifying mRNA) and subunit protein (yeast) vaccine platforms. This comprehensive approach will leverage our expertise in these platforms for both infectious disease and cancer therapies."

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