Guest column

Why this Houston entrepreneur stuck with startups over a corporate gig

When Microsoft came knocking on this Houston entrepreneur's door, he realized leaving the startup world was not something he was willing to do. Pexels

Several ago, Microsoft dangled a senior leadership role in front of me, which included a high-compensation offer and the chance to move to Seattle. It was tempting. On the surface, this might seem like an easy choice. This kind of senior management position at Microsoft is something many people only dream of. And Microsoft was making a hard push for me.

Then, while pondering the offer, I imagined how I would change the company's website to capitalize on an urgent market opportunity, and then I thought about the bureaucracy I'd have to go through, which I imagined would have been like trying to get a bill through Congress. I called the hiring manager and asked for an example of his team advocating for such a change, and he confirmed that it would require jumping in slow motion through layers of hoops.

I couldn't get myself to leave the high-flying startup atmosphere where I had the freedom to move the needle in quantum leaps, not increments. It's a big decision to choose to share your talents with a startup versus a large corporation. Both options include benefits and risks. But if you have an entrepreneurial mind-set, you will discover, like I did, that startups can offer huge benefits. Here are what I see as the top four.

1. Fewery barriers of entry

While big corporations often choose to hire the candidates who went to Ivy League schools, are well-connected, or have loads of experience at higher-level positions, startups are interested in something else. They choose to hire people who think creatively, show a willingness to work hard, and demonstrate raw leadership qualities that, once cultivated, can help the company (and the individual) achieve breakthrough success. Startup entrepreneurs are creators, not maintenance workers, and startups need visionaries at every level.

2. Versatility in roles

Most jobs in big companies offer a limited range of authority, meaning no single individual, besides perhaps the CEO, has the ability to influence the entire company in a significant way. When you get hired to fill a role at an established business, that's exactly what they expect you to do: fill that role.

It's rare, if not impossible, to find the freedom to experiment and try your hand at filling different roles within various departments. Most startups don't hire with a set idea of your potential or career path, because the startup is young and undergoing massive change.

Founders may find it hard to predict what the company's needs will be as it grows. This is the perfect environment to try on different hats and find your zone of genius — the area where you work best — then move up quickly from there.

3. Financial rewards

Go to work for a big company, and you'll get a paycheck — a paycheck and a 4 percent annual raise along with a formal review from a manager who dreads delivering it. The potential upside is far greater at startups. And the initial financial rewards might not be too bad either.

Depending on the size and cash flow, a startup may offer a competitive salary right off the bat, or it may start you off with a modest salary with the potential to own a piece of the pie through stock options. The stock options could lead to astronomical compensation later on, if the company is successful. In my opinion, always go for the stock options.

4. Upward mobility

If you have enough drive, it is possible to climb the old guard corporate ladder but be prepared for a slow climb. Incumbent companies are burdened with incumbent mind-sets. Barriers to advancement are high, and opportunities are few. If you have set your sights on making it to the C-suite of a Fortune 500 company, your opportunities are severely limited. Among those companies, there can only be 500 CEO positions, maybe 5,000 in the rest of the C-suite. That means your odds of getting a job in the C-suite of a Fortune 500 company are lower than the odds of being drafted by the National Football League — way lower considering the NFL drafts 224 new players each year,and people tend to linger in the C-suite quite a bit longer than that.

Compare these numbers to the 46,500 startups in the United States, and it's easy to see there are far more executive leadership opportunities at startup companies. If you believe your corporate destiny is to become a leader, you can find a startup with a dynamic, fast-moving environment that values initiative and offers the opportunity to move up quickly.

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Steven Mark Kahan has successfully helped to grow six startup companies from early-stage development to going public or being sold, resulting in more than $3 billion in shareholder value. He is also the author of a the book Be a Startup Superstar.

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Check out these conferences, pitch competitions, networking, and more all happening in September. Photo via Getty Images

From networking meetups to pitch competitions, September has a smorgasbord of opportunities for Houston innovators.

Here's a roundup of events you won't want to miss out on so mark your calendars and register accordingly.

Note: This post might be updated to add more events.

Mark your calendars for November 8 for the annual Houston Innovation Awards, and nominate your company or another deserving business by September 19.

September 5 — Tech + Tequila Talk: Houston Innovation

Natara Branch, CEO of Houston Exponential, will delve into the most recent developments within the Houston Innovation Community, shedding light on Houston Exponential's latest initiatives. She will also provide insights into upcoming events, including the highly-anticipated Tech Rodeo and the forthcoming Innovation Awards Gala. After all of that education and conversation, unwind with an authentic tequila tasting and network with tech industry peers.

The agenda:

5:50 pm - 6 pm: Sign-in/Registration

6 pm - 6:30 pm: Tequila tasting

6:30 pm - 7 pm: Tech talk

7 pm - 8 pm: Networking & Tequilas

This event is Tuesday, September 5, from 6 pm to 8 pm at the Ion. Click here to register.

September 7 — Venture Houston 2023

Venture Houston 2023 is a major event for entrepreneurs, venture investors and ecosystem builders to plug into what is happening in Houston. Come learn how you can decarbonize in a digital world, connect with Houston's best founders, corporate leaders and top tier investors, and develop meaningful relationships.

The agenda:

7 am - 8:45 am: Registration

8:45 am - 12:30 pm: General Programming

12:30 pm - 1:45 pm: Networking Lunch

2:00 pm - 4:15 pm: General Programming

4:15 pm - 6 pm: Networking Cocktail Reception

This event is Thursday, September 7, from 7 am to 6 pm at Stude Concert Hall. Click here to register.

September 8 — Inspire & Transform: Celebrating Women In Data

Hosted by the Houston Chapter of Women in Data and Solidatus, this event will feature influential women who have made significant contributions to the field of data from the City of Houston, Exxon, EY, Google, Houston Methodist and more. The event will discuss and debate "The Intersection of Data, AI and Sustainability" and "What Does Good Look Like" through insightful panel discussions, and networking opportunities. Price of admission is $10.

The agenda:

9 am - Check-in and Network

9:15 am - Welcome

9:20 am - Panel 1: The Intersection of Data, AI & Sustainability

10 am - Networking Break

10:10am - Panel 2: "What Does Good Look Like"

10:45am - Scholarships Awarded

11am - End of event + Networking Opportunities

This event is Friday, September 8, from 9 am to 11 am at 200 Park Place. Click here to register.

September 9 — Revolutionizing Your Work: Eight Innovative Ways Entrepreneurs Can Leverage ChatGPT & AI to Scale, Grow & Succeed

Discover how successful entrepreneurs are harnessing the power of artificial intelligence and ChatGPT to drive their businesses forward. At this event, you'll gain valuable insights from industry experts who have leveraged AI and ChatGPT to grow, scale, and succeed. Learn how these technologies can enhance customer experiences, streamline operations, and drive innovation in your own entrepreneurial journey.

This event is Saturday, September 9, from 12:30 to 1:30pm at The R.O.C.K. - Broadway Campus. Click here to register.

September 13 — Small Business Exchange

The Small Business Exchange, powered by US SBA, is a lively and informative event designed to connect small business owners and entrepreneurs.

At the Small Business Exchange, you'll have the opportunity to network with like-minded individuals, share your experiences, and gain valuable insights from industry experts. Whether you're a seasoned business owner or just starting out, this event offers a unique chance to learn, grow, and collaborate.


This event is Wednesday, September 13, from 11 am to 2 pm at SBDC Office. Click here to register.

September 21 — 20th Rice Alliance Energy Tech Venture Forum

The Energy Tech Venture Forum, hosted by The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, will showcase energy tech innovations to shift towards a more sustainable, reliable and lower carbon future across interactive panels, inspiring keynotes and over 50 dynamic venture pitches, leaders.

At the 20th annual conference, discover more than 90 new technology ventures commercializing energy transition innovations and meet investors looking for disruptive energy technologies that can accelerate clean and renewable energy. Check to see if you are a Rice Alliance member or sponsor to confirm your free registration. Rice university faculty and staff can also attend for free. For non-Rice community members tickets are $245.

This event is Thursday, September 21, from 7:30 am to 5:15 pm at Rice University. Click here to register.

September 21 — UH Energy Symposium: Plastics, Chemicals, Circularity: What’s Next?

Focusing on the multifaceted nature and enormity of the challenge, this discussion will focus on what circularity means for the future of production and consumption, meeting consumer demand, and creating and preserving utility across the value chain, while addressing emissions reduction and waste management through new technologies, standards, regulatory mechanisms like extended producer responsibility, and stakeholder engagement.

This event is Thursday, September 21, from 6 to 7:30 pm at the University of Houston. Click here to register.

September 23 — OPEN Houston 11th Annual Conference

Head over to the OPEN Houston 11th annual conference which will focus on the important players building Houston’s emerging technology and startup ecosystem. Hear from and connect with the founders, executives, investors, and other leaders that are building Houston’s innovation economy. Admission is $25-$50.

The agenda:

9:00 AM - 10.00 AM - Registration

10.00 AM - 10:30 AM - Mayor Sylvester Turner Welcoming

10:30 AM - 11:30 AM - Keynote by Andrew Yang

11:30 AM - 12:30 PM - Founder’s Panel

12:30 PM - 1:30 PM - Lunch

1:30 PM - 3:30 PM - Business Pitch Competition

3:30 PM - 3:45 PM - Award Ceremony

3:45 PM - 4:00 PM - Happy Hour

This event is Saturday, September 23, from 9 am to 4 pm at Moran Hotel. Click here to register.

September 27 — Space IT UP: Demo Day

Presented by ITA and ASI in collaboration with the Space Foundation, this event celebrates the journey of six Italian companies as they launch their groundbreaking space ventures from Houston's thriving space ecosystem. Following a five-week accelerator program, these companies will be pitching their innovative space solutions at this Demo Day.

This event is Wednesday, September 27 , from 5:30 to 8 pm at the Ion. Click here to register.

September 27 — Pearland Innovation Hub Grand Opening

Come learn more about the Pearland Innovation Hub, tour the new space, and celebrate the expansion. Raffle prizes will be available for attendees and f ood and drinks will be provided for registered attendees.

This event is Wednesday, September 27, from 6 to 8 pm at Pearland Innovation Hub. Click here to register.

September 28 — Chevron Technology Ventures Pitch Competition

Chevron is looking for novel technologies or approaches that can be applied to transform their operations. With the goal of removing people from hazardous environments (e.g., confined spaces, working at heights), reducing the environmental impact (e.g., leak detection, emissions monitoring), and increasing the operational efficiency (e.g., autonomous operations, advanced inspection capabilities, predictive asset health capabilities) of their facilities in the decades to come.

Registered attendees will be able to take a tour of the Chevron workspaces within the Cannon West Houston, enjoy refreshments and network.

This event is Thursday, September 28, from 4 to 7:30 pm at the Cannon. Click here to register.

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