eavesdropping at tech rodeo
It's an election year in Houston, and one of the big topics on the minds of the candidates is how to continue the momentum of Houston's developing innovation ecosystem.
Houston Exponential put three of the declared candidates on the stage yesterday to ask them about their vision for Houston on the final day of Houston Tech Rodeo 2023. HX CEO Natara Branch moderated the discussion with Chris Hollins, Lee Kaplan, and Amanda K. Edwards. Each candidate addressed issues from diversity and equity, the energy transition, and more.
Missed the conversations? Here are a few overheard moments and highlights of the panel.
“It’s integral to our vision for the future of Houston that this is a place where small businesses, entrepreneurs, and creatives can thrive. We want to grow this economy to be one of the strongest economies in the United States — and we know that startups and small businesses are the powerhouse for that.”
— says Chris Hollins, who explains that he's a small business owner himself and also served as interim Harris County Clerk from June 2020 to November 2020, overseeing the 2020 United States presidential election in Harris County.
“Houston has an energy-centric community, and a lot of people who have money have gotten too comfortable investing in just oil and gas. … I understand how hard it is to run a business, and I understand (it) from representing entrepreneurs and investors.”
— says Lee Kaplan, a founding partner at law firm Smyser Kaplan & Veselka LLP.
“One of the things that’s important in a leader is making sure that they understand your issues, but most importantly that they can execute. That has been something that has been chief in concert in the way that I have served in public service, but of course the way that I’ve been a part of the startup economy.“
— says Amanda K. Edwards, who contributed to the establishment of the city’s tech and innovation task force as an at-large Houston City Council member. The task force resulted in the creation of HX Venture Fund and the Innovation District, she explains.
“When we think about cities that have done this really well — Silicon Valley, The Bay Area, Boston, Austin — what’s key in many of those cities is institutions around education. … We have to lean into Rice University and the University of Houston — making these centers for talent, excellence, and innovation so that we’re developing the thinkers, the engineers, the creators of the future, and then we’re giving your businesses a crop of new hires.”
— Hollins says responding to a question about Houston's challenges.
“The thing that I think is the most important for the city is to be rigorous with what we do. We’re not going to get around the fact that it’s hot and we have mosquitos. But we can sell the fact that we have a city that’s improving.”
— Kaplan says on Houston's progress.
“I don’t want to compete or lose to any city in America. When I think about Houston, I’m bullish. I know that we are the place that is home to innovation, and it’s about time that people know us as that."
— Edwards says, referencing how Houston is known nationally for its problems — she gives the example of Hurricane Harvey. “We have major challenges in our city, but we can innovate using our innovation economy to provide answers and solutions to them.”
“Energy has to be a part of our story. We are where we are today because we’re the energy capital of the world. And we know that the energy transition is happening, and if we don’t lean into that, our region stands to lose hundreds of thousands of jobs.”
— Hollins says on the types of emerging tech in Houston.
“You often hear it said that Houston is the most diverse city in the nation, but I pose this challenge: What good is it to be the most diverse if we’re not solving the challenges that diverse communities face? And that includes equity in tech. We have all of the raw ingredients here in the Houston community to make Houston the home of where tech and innovation is diverse and equitable.”
— Edwards says on Houston's diversity and the challenges the city faces.