Guest column

Why this Italian tech company is betting on Houston

An Italian company has moved in on Houston. In an op-ed, the company's founder shares why he bet on the Bayou City. Photo via Getty Images

Earlier this year, I opened my company's U.S. headquarters and became an Italian transplant in Houston.

After establishing my additive manufacturing business in my home country, the company thrived in Europe and we began evaluating foreign markets to support our expansion. We considered several cities in North America and will likely establish operations in some of these regions in the coming years, but one thing will remain unchanged – our commitment to naming Houston the command post of our operations.

I have ambitious plans that Houston is uniquely positioned to address. Over the next 24 months, we expect to hire more than 100 employees to reshore domestic production, decrease carbon emissions, and mitigate supply chain challenges using super polymers in our 3D printing production system.

In order to meet these objectives, I am leveraging the city's business-friendly environment and thriving, international community to support several core industries, including energy, aerospace, medtech and transportation and logistics.

Convergence of Tech, Industry and Talent 

Across the world, Houston has long been known as the energy capital of the world. Over time, it is adapting a new image – one that unites all the prominent industries – a thriving tech hot spot. With cultural ties around the world, I am excited to immerse our team in industry events and take advantage of our proximity to exciting scientific initiatives, boundary-pushing engineers, new and existing customers, and renowned universities.

The city has been teeming with several tech giants who are driving the Texas tech boom after realizing the opportunities that also caught my attention. The tremendous increase in corporate relocations and expansions in Texas have shined a spotlight on Houston.

The evolution also highlights the opportunities the city presents for young engineers and recent college graduates chasing careers in evolving areas like advanced manufacturing, aerospace, and medtech. As I expand my engineering and production capabilities, I am captivated by the highly specialized and ever-growing workforce in legacy and emerging industries.

Building a More Sustainable Future and Revitalizing American Manufacturing 

As I get to know the local businesses making up the area, I am also discovering the ways in which Houston is playing a role in building the infrastructure that is advancing a more sustainable future. This joint effort, led by local businesses, educational institutions, policies, and people, leverages the technologies developed by stateside experts and attracting foreign executives, like myself, who bring fresh perspectives and solutions to accelerate our vision for the future.

At my company, for example, we are introducing technology to contribute to the global energy transition, incorporating more sustainable materials into production workflows to reduce industrial emissions. Through maturing printing networks in the region, manufacturers can print "parts on demand" whenever and wherever needed, which can reduce or eliminate the need to warehouse infrequently used parts as well as reliance on slower, more expensive traditional fabrication often located overseas.

As I immerse myself in the city's growing tech ecosystem, I am excited to play a role in building the additive manufacturing industry in Houston.

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Alessio Lorusso is founder and CEO of Roboze.

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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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