Houston entrepreneurial hub plans to scale with new virtual platform

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 49

Jon Lambert, CEO of The Cannon, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss Cannon Connect and the growth of The Cannon. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

When Jon Lambert joined The Cannon as CEO about a year ago, he was preparing to grow the coworking company across Houston and beyond. However, In March, when COVID-19 turned into a pandemic and forced the closure of The Cannon's three campuses, Lambert's goals instead shifted to how to keep a company so focused on fostering an in-person community going.

"Nothing prepares you for this kind of situation," Lambert says on the Houston Innovators Podcast about how COVID-19 has affected the organization.

But The Cannon had something they were working on up their sleeves. Cannon Connect — an online platform for community tools like a resource center, forums, calendar, and more — launched a few weeks ago in order to help connect The Cannon community virtually. The plans for Cannon Connect, as Lambert says, were actually concocted prior to the pandemic as a way to connect the coworking company's multiple locations as it continued to expand.

"We pretty quickly identified that our vision and our desire to provide value to the entrepreneurial ecosystem went well beyond what we had the ability to do in the physical spaces we had," Lambert says. "We started thinking through the need to have a digital experience that was aligned with the physical experience."

Lambert says the pandemic — as well as the launch of this platform — has adjusted the expansion track The Cannon was on. Prior to the coronavirus, The Cannon's team had conversations with about 30 different cities around the world that wanted to explore the process of getting their very own coworking hub. Now, instead of entering into these places with a physical space first, it might make more sense to begin with the digital product first.

"[We can] bring the players of the ecosystem together inside the digital component so that we can then use those connections and that dialogue to then determine the right time and place to do the physical hub development," Lambert says, adding that the these pre-pandemic conversations have picked up again. "That's where we are right now."

Lambert shares more on where he plans to lead The Cannon and other challenges his team has overcame this year in the podcast episode. You can listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

The Cannon launched Cannon Connect — an online platform that takes its community of entrepreneurs, investors, and more online — amid the pandemic and plans for growth. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

Exclusive: Houston entrepreneurial hub launches 'future-proofed' online platform

Cannon Connect

When the team at The Cannon — a Houston coworking company with three locations across town — was planning an online platform that would connect members across their properties in January, they didn't see a global pandemic enroute to upend how Houstonians work. It did, however, make the need for an online platform all the more relevant.

Now, Cannon Connect has launched to its members — and it comes equipped with virtual networking, job hunting, resources, and more. The whole goal of the platform is to democratize the programming, resources, and culture The Cannon has created.

"Our recognition was that we have a lot of value we can deliver," says Jon Lambert, CEO of The Cannon. "We want to provide the value that we have to entrepreneurs anywhere and everywhere — we don't want to preclude entrepreneurs, investors, advisers, and service providers from being part of what The Cannon is trying to build just because you're not close to one of our facilities."

Cannon Connect acts as a virtual hub for networking, resources, and more. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

A pivot toward a virtual platform isn't a novel idea, Lambert admits, and other Houston organizations have rolled out their platforms — like Houston Exponential's HTX TechList and Sesh Coworking's Inner Circle. However, The Cannon's main goal is replicating the community it has in its locations and creating an online space for that.

"Having a portal is one thing — creating an environment and an experience where people want to spend their time is another," Lambert says, comparing Cannon Connect to social media platforms and how people use them regularly to stay connected to what's going on.

Another differentiating factor is The Cannon is planning to have its platform used by more than just the Houston ecosystem. Lambert says that over the past year, he's talked to around 30 cities from around the world who are interested in The Cannon's concept. The "future-proofed" virtual platform will enable connectivity and consistency as the company grows.

Current members have access to the portal, and new members can opt in for $30 a month. Image courtesy of The Cannon

"If we're really going to create and grow this community, there's not a building that's big enough for every entrepreneur out there, but certainly in a digital environment, we have the ability to pull those folks in," Lambert tells InnovationMap.

While the conversations on physical spaces in these cities has stalled, Lambert says entering into new markets with a digital-first plan has become the new priority.

The online community is made up of a forum section, jobs board, knowledge center, and more. In the future, The Cannon, which recently acquired Houston crowdfunding platform LetsLaunch, will add in a crowdfunding capability to the site. Live streaming events is another tool that's in the works.

Cannon Connect is available to all Cannon coworking members, and online-only registration is $30 a month or $300 a year. The Cannon team is also working on creating a student membership option, which should be available in the near future.

Learn more in The Cannon's promotional video below:

The Cannon is an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem www.youtube.com

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

3 crisis management tips for Houston business leaders

houston voices

The great pandemic of 2020 has brought to the surface the issue of crisis management. Especially with nationwide business shut downs in the last eight months, many companies are on a rocky road of uncertainty. Entrepreneurs are unsure of what the future holds after seeing revenues slow or halt in some cases. Layoffs, RIFs, budget cuts, departmental downsizing; all inevitable.

Way too many startup founders aren't equipped or experienced when it comes to crisis management. "In order to keep your startup going, you have to know how to identify a crisis before it spreads like a cancer and how to make big changes and big decisions fast and often," says Gael O'Brien, the ethics coach for Entrepreneur.com.

"Any time in which the world stops functioning in a way we're used to, a deviation from the norm, that might be the biggest early sign of a crisis about to rear its head," she continued.

Admitting you have a problem

O'Brien stresses that a leader should create an easy process whereby one can identify a crisis in its infancy. The key here, she says, is to make sure to recognize a crisis before it starts to consume your company. You'll have to learn how to contain the crisis by leading the charge in rapid decision making. Many entrepreneurs simply refuse to admit there's a problem at hand. Many times, admitting there's a crisis means admitting one was wrong. It also means they may have been wrong for years.

These entrepreneurs that refuse admitting there's a crisis often do so with common refrains like "I didn't want to scare anyone" or "if I admit I was wrong this whole time I'll lose respect."

"Great leaders aren't afraid to put their company first, even if it means a blow to the ego. These leaders are not afraid to inform everyone that might be affected know there is a crisis," O'Brien explained.

"They contain the problem and prevent it from becoming unmanageable. Good leaders don't opt for a temporary Band-Aid-like fix either. They aim for a permanent solution."

Casting for a crisis management team

There are two common mistakes startup leaders make when it comes to crisis management. The first is that they can miscast a crisis management team. Meaning, they put the wrong people in decision-making roles. You want people on your crisis management team who are not going to feel they will be blamed for a crisis or for controversial decisions.

When one is afraid of being blamed for something, they are more likely to obstruct and lie so that the team's focus is diverted. "These are people that will omit objective and relevant information if it means saving their own reputation or job. You want people that put the team first," said O'Brien.

Communication during a crisis

The second common mistake startup leaders make during a crisis is that they tend to under-communicate. It becomes habitual to keep things close to the chest. To become secretive during a crisis. Managers might feel that the less people know, the less chance there is of panic. However, doing this opens your company up to wild speculation among employees. Assumptions. And these assumptions are never good.

"You have to be forthright. It's not just that people have a right to know what's going on in their own company. It's also that if you leave yourself up to speculation, people will grow frustrated and worse, scared. Scared people make crises worse," said O'Brien.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Rene Cantu, the author of this piece, is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

Cleantech incubator announces location in Houston, names newest partners

Greentown's moving in

After announcing its plans to expand to Houston in June, Boston-based Greentown Labs has selected its site for its cleantech startup and tech incubator.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and the Greater Houston Partnership announced that Greentown Houston will be opening in the Innovation District, being developed by Rice Management Co. and home to The Ion. The site is located at 4200 San Jacinto St., which was Houston's last remaining Fiesta grocery story before it closed in July.

The facility is expected to open this coming spring and will feature 40,000 square feet of prototyping lab, office, and community space that can house about 50 startups, totaling 200 to 300 employees.

"We are thrilled to announce the selection of Greentown Labs' inaugural location in partnership with RMC, the City of Houston, the Partnership, and leading global energy and climate impact-focused companies," says Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs, in a press release. "In order to meet the urgent challenge of climate change, we must engage the talent and assets of major ecosystems around the country. We look forward to catalyzing the Houston ecosystem's support for climatetech startups as we work together toward a sustainable future for all."

Emily Reichert is the CEO of Greentown Labs. Photo courtesy of Greentown Labs

Greentown Labs launched in 2011 as community of climatetech and cleantech innovators bringing together startups, corporates, investors, policymakers, and more to focus on scaling climate solutions. Greentown Labs' first location is 100,000 square feet and located just outside of Boston in Somerville, Massachusetts. Currently, it's home to more than 100 startups and has supported more than 280 startups since the incubator's founding. According to the release, these startups have created more than 6,500 jobs and raised over $850 million in funding

"We are so pleased that Greentown Houston will locate in the heart of the Innovation District, where they will seamlessly integrate into the region's robust energy innovation ecosystem of major corporate energy R&D centers, corporate venture arms, VC-backed energy startups, and other startup development organizations supporting energy technology," says Susan Davenport, chief economic development officer at the Greater Houston Partnership, in the release. "Houston truly is the hub of the global energy industry, and Greentown Houston will ensure we continue to attract the next generation of energy leaders who will create and scale innovations that will change the world."

Greentown Houston, which previously announced several founding partners in June, has just named new partners, including: RMC, Microsoft, Saint-Gobain, and Direct Energy. According to the release, Greentown Houston is also looking for Grand Opening Partners. Naturgy and and FCC Environmental Services (FCC) are the first to join on as a grand opening partners, and startups and prospective partners can reach out for more information via this form.

Reichert previously told InnovationMap that it was looking for an existing industrial-type building that could be retrofitted to meet the needs of industrial startups that need lab space. She also said that this approach is very similar to how they opened their first location.

Rice Management Company is developing the Innovation District in the center of Houston. Screenshot via ionhouston.com

The new location will be in the 16-acre Innovation District that's being developed by RMC, which will be anchored by The Ion, a 270,000-square-foot hub that is being renovated from the former Sears building.

"What we love about Greentown Labs as much as its commitment to helping Houston become a leader in energy transition and climate change action is its proven track record of job creation through the support of local visionaries and entrepreneurs," says Ryan LeVasseur, managing director of Direct Real Estate at RMC, in the release. "Greentown Houston, like The Ion, is a great catalyst for growing the Innovation District and expanding economic opportunities for all Houstonians. We're thrilled Greentown Labs selected Houston for its first expansion and are honored it will be such a big part of the Innovation District moving forward."

Acquiring the new Greentown location is a big win for the mayor, who released the city's Climate Action Plan earlier this year. The plan lays out a goal to make Houston carbon neutral by 2050.

"We are proud to welcome Greentown Labs to Houston, and we are excited about the new possibilities this expansion will bring to our City's growing innovation ecosystem," says Turner in the release. "Organizations and partners like Greentown Labs will play a vital role in helping our City meet the goals outlined in the Climate Action Plan and will put us on the right track for becoming a leader in the global energy transition. The City of Houston looks forward to witnessing the innovation, growth, and prosperity Greentown Labs will bring to the Energy Capital of the World."

Greentown Labs will host a celebratory networking event on September 24 at 4 p.m. Registration for the EnergyBar is open here.

Houston's fund of funds announces 2 new investments

money moves

The HX Venture Fund, which invests in out-of-town venture capital funds that have their eyes on Houston startups, has grown its portfolio.

The fund of funds now has a portfolio of 10 VCs from across the country, across industries, and across startup stages. According to a recent announcement, the HX Venture Fund has invested in New York-based Greycroft Venture Partners and Washington D.C.-based Revolution Ventures. The announcement also included Boston-based Material Impact and San Francisco-based venBio Global Strategic Fund, however those had been previously reported by InnovationMap.

"We are delighted to partner with the general partners of Greycroft Venture Partners, Material Impact, Revolution Ventures, and venBio Global Strategic Fund," says Sandy Guitar, managing director of HX Venture Fund, in the release. "With their proven expertise and exceptional track records, we are excited to integrate them into Houston networks and not only give them access to the Fund's innovative corporate limited partners, but also harness their knowledge to empower Houston entrepreneurs."

These four VC funds join six others that HXVF has invested in: Austin-based LiveOak Venture Partners and Next Coast Ventures, Washington D.C.-based Updata Partners, Chicago-based Baird Capital, and Boston-based .406 Ventures and OpenView Venture Partners.

"The receptivity of the HX Venture Fund model has exceeded all our expectations. Since early 2019, over 217 venture capital funds across the U.S. have expressed definitive interest in participating in our model," says Guillermo Borda, managing director of HX Venture Fund, in the release.

"It is especially noteworthy that collectively, the ten funds selected for HX Venture Fund's portfolio have $3.7 billion in committed capital in their funds to be invested with Houston on their investment radar," Borda adds. "This is at a time that provides compelling investment opportunities in the economic cycle. This is an exciting time for Houston entrepreneurs and our innovation ecosystem."

Guitar previously told InnovationMap that she's looking to curate a portfolio of VCs that is diverse in industries and stage. Additionally, before investing in a VC, the HX Venture Fund looks for an interest in investing into Houston startups. The hope is that, while not required, the HXVF portfolio funds invest in a Houston startup down the road. Earlier this year, Houston-based Liongard became the fund of funds' first example of that.

"The innovation and talent in Houston are best-in-class; we want to be investing there," says Tige Savage, managing partner at Revolution Ventures, in the release.