VPC founder Claudio Gutierrez. Courtesy photo

Flexibility has always been a core component of Valens Project Consulting, but the unpredictable last year — as COVID-19 has ravaged the economy and oil industry, especially — has strengthened that vital skill even more.

"As the lockdown loomed and predictions of a closed economy foretold the massive loss of business, I was ready to hunker down and expect the loss of 100 percent of our customers," says VPC's owner and founder Claudio Gutierrez. "But by May, VPC had lost only a quarter of our customers, and by September we were down by just 50 percent — not nearly the disaster I had been prepared for."

Gutierrez understood that this situation was ultimately temporary, and when they were able to, these accounts would return as customers — with no hard feelings from his end.

Instead, VPC focused on what it could do to improve its own operations during the pandemic, and top of the list was growing the staff. Since the worst of the lockdown, VPC has expanded its permanent engineering resources in a variety of disciplines, including electrical engineer, process engineer, and reservoir engineer.

Its industries have expanded, too. VPC started out mainly in the engineering field, taking on project management, process improvement, cost reductions, and more on a contract basis.

Now, after a slight COVID delay, it has expanded its base of fabrication and industrial distribution companies to include those offering disaster relief (such as temporary emergency housing), automation companies, and construction companies.

VPC is even venturing into public projects, with a few in partnership with Harris County currently in the works.

Gutierrez also focused on the value of face-to-face meetings by traveling to seek out new markets, and now supports projects in Florida, Washington, and Louisiana. Next on the docket: expanding outside the U.S. and into Latin America.

But until these global plans can be realized, Valens Project Consulting has been organizing virtual activities and developing a podcast presence. You might have spotted them on LinkedIn, where Gutierrez's personal network has grown significantly and VPC has been adding followers daily.

The importance of in-person networking has not been lost on Gutierrez, however. He makes sure all precautions are in place for both his staff and clients, and that everyone's safety is top of mind.

"I've become an advocate for in-person meetings," he says. "I don't want virtual meetings to become 'the new normal.'"

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Visit the website learn more about Valens Project Consulting or its offshoot, Potens Energy.

When time is money, speed is everything. Photo by chain45154/Getty Images

Houston entrepreneur explains how aiming small generates big growth even in trying times

Project by Project

Since founding Valens Project Consulting in 2017, Claudio Gutierrez has seen his business continue a steady climb upwards as smaller companies discover the benefit of having engineering assistance on retainer.

While large firms might have an entire department dedicated to engineering, project management, process improvement, and cost reduction, it is the medium-to-small companies looking to fill that gap on a case-by-case basis that are Gutierrez's bread and butter.

"I attribute our success to our business model," he says. "The companies we work with may not always need our services, but when they do, they need them yesterday."

A low-cost retainer-like structure means that — even better — those services have already been paid for. Larger companies can blow through their budgets quickly, but Valens' small, consistent price tag means they are always available and ready to begin the next project.

"It sounds counterintuitive to seek out smaller companies, but it works for us," he says.

The Valens Project Consulting team can also leap into action immediately with an incredibly quick response time.

"Being so flexible has been very valuable to us," Gutierrez says. "Some large oil and gas companies tend to move slowly, but when time is money, small businesses need that speed."

Valens is ensuring even quicker response times during this current uncertain environment caused by COVID-19, with constant communication and greater flexibility with payments. And now, in the midst of the worst oil crash in history, he understands how important it is to be able to support his company's customers with flexible payment terms and going above and beyond what's expected of engineering support.

"We're all wearing different hats at various times these days — it's a policy that our current customers appreciate," says Gutierrez.

It's understanding what these companies need, and when they need it, that is Gutierrez's special skill, in addition to something unique for his industry.

"For an engineer, I've been told I have people skills," he says. In fact, his warm demeanor and amiable personality work in tandem with other "soft skills" such as being trilingual and growing up global (he's originally from Nicaragua), having experienced different cultures all over the world.

Claudio Gutierrez Claudio Gutierrez. Courtesy photo

Though Valens Project Consulting specializes mainly in the oil and gas industry, it has made inroads into food distribution and the medical field.

It's also expanding into a different vertical: the distribution of heavy industrial equipment. Potens Energy ("potens" means "power" in Latin, just as "valens" means "effective" or "strong") was recently formalized as a new company with Gutierrez's business partner, Danny Salinas, PhD.

"Diversification is key," says Gutierrez. "While the bulk of our business will always be energy and power generation, it doesn't hurt to explore necessary elements that all people need."

Claudio Gutierrez. Courtesy photo

Houston entrepreneur engineers support solutions for businesses

In the Lone Star State, size is often seen as a badge of honor — after all, "everything's bigger in Texas." However, small and medium-sized businesses are the bread and butter of Claudio Gutierrez's engineering consulting business, Valens Project Consulting.

Throughout his years as an engineer and manager at a variety of companies, Gutierrez noticed a gap.

"I found that smaller companies that didn't have a need for dedicated engineering departments occasionally did need help with engineering, project management, process improvement, cost reduction, and things of that nature," he says.

In 2017, Gutierrez decided to do something about it and officially launched Valens Project Consulting. The company specializes in helping small and medium-sized businesses grow their revenue by focusing on business efficiencies and strengthening an existing customer base.

Valens is a Latin word that translates to "effective" or "strong," and those are Gutierrez's goals for the companies with which he works.

Based in Houston since 2007, the Nicaraguan-born Gutierrez has worked at a variety of companies, ranging from an armored vehicle manufacturer to several cable management companies. At each company, Gutierrez's hard work was consistently rewarded with promotions and projects all over the world.

Throughout his years in the engineering world, Gutierrez honed his skills as a project manager and was also known for his great people skills. So he decided to combine his knack for sales with his engineering acumen and fill a void he'd begun noticing in the industry: that of reliable engineering staffing for companies that don't necessarily need an entire department.

Gutierrez started out as the sole employee of Valens Project Consulting, but now manages a growing staff of engineering professionals. The company has expanded its services from simply project management to include business development, lean manufacturing implementation, and more. They're currently in the initial phases of adding a new business vertical — industrial distribution — through which Valens Project Consulting will sell heavy equipment.

One factor that sets Valens Project Consulting apart is how nimble it is. A smaller staff, Gutierrez explains, can be "extremely flexible and have extremely fast reaction times." Valens Project Consulting achieves this through a combination of remote work and collaboration with other small companies.

"We understand our customers' intents and needs, and we're mindful of limited budgets, so we believe in fulfilling the spirit of the project, rather than being beholden to the letter of the project," says Gutierrez. "We can do this because we fully embrace technology that allows for remote work as much as possible, and by not being captive to a single, central location."

In addition to his contributions to Houston's business economy, Gutierrez is a staunch participant in and supporter of the arts. He has played classical piano for nearly three decades and used to be in a heavy metal band. Gutierrez is a huge fan of the Houston Symphony and is on the Houston Grand Opera board of trustees.

Gutierrez is both creative and analytical, and combines these two mindsets to create holistic business solutions for his clients.

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Houston named a market to watch within the life science sector

h-town on the rise

Houston is receiving more kudos for its robust life sciences sector.

Bayou City lands at No. 13 in JLL’s 2022 ranking of the country’s top 15 metro areas for life sciences. JLL says Houston “is poised for further growth” in life sciences.

Here’s how Houston fares in each of the ranking’s three categories:

  • No. 12 for supply of life sciences-oriented commercial real estate
  • No. 14 for access to life sciences talent
  • No. 15 for life sciences grant funding and venture capital

Earlier this year, Houston scored a 13th-place ranking on a list released by JLL competitor CBRE of the country’s top 25 life sciences markets. Meanwhile, commercial real estate platform CommercialCafe recently placed Houston at No. 10 among the top U.S. metros for life sciences.

JLL applauds Houston for strong growth in the amount of life sciences talent along with “an impressive base of research institutions and medical centers.” But it faults Houston for limited VC interest in life sciences startups and a small inventory of lab space.

“Houston is getting a boost [in life sciences] from the growing Texas Medical Center and an influx of venture capital earmarked for life sciences research,” the Greater Houston Partnership recently noted.

Boston appears at No. 1 in this year’s JLL ranking, followed by the San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego, Washington, D.C./Baltimore, and Philadelphia.

Last year’s JLL list included only 10 life sciences markets; Houston wasn’t among them.

“The long-term potential of the sector remains materially unchanged since 2021,” Travis McCready, head of life sciences for JLL’s Americas markets, says in a news release.

“Innovation is happening at a more rapid pace than ever before, the fruits of research into cell and gene therapy are just now being harvested, and revenue growth has taken off in the past five years as the sector becomes larger, an atypical growth track.”

Texas startup developing lab-grown brisket earns national spotlight

futuristic food

Brisket, a barbecue staple in Texas, is as synonymous with the Lone Star State as the Alamo and oil wells. A Texas company recently recognized as the state’s most innovative startup wants to elevate this barbecue staple to a new high-tech level.

BioBQ is working on technology to bring its lab-created, cell-cultured brisket to the market in 2023. The Austin-based company made the Bloomberg news service’s new list of the 50 startups to watch in the U.S. — one startup for each state.

The co-founders of BioBQ are Austin native Katie Kam, a vegan with five college degrees (four from the University of Texas and one from Texas A&M University), and Janet Zoldan, a “hardcore carnivore” who’s a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. Kam is the CEO, and Zoldan is the chief science officer.

This kind of meat is genuine animal meat that’s produced by cultivating animal cells in a lab, according to the Good Food Institute.

“This production method eliminates the need to raise and farm animals for food. Cultivated meat is made of the same cell types arranged in the same or similar structure as animal tissues, thus replicating the sensory and nutritional profiles of conventional meat,” the institute says.

It turns that before becoming a vegan, Kam worked at the now-closed BB’s Smokehouse in Northwest Austin as a high school student. She’d chow down on sauce-slathered brisket and banana pudding during on-the-job breaks.

“But then over time, as I learned more about factory farming and could no longer make the distinction between my dogs and cats I loved and the animals that were on my plate, I decided to become vegan,” Kam writes on the BioBQ website.

Hearing about the 2013 rollout of the first cell-cultured hamburger set Kam off on her path toward starting BioBQ in 2018. Zoldan joined the startup as co-founder the following year.

Now, BioBQ aims to be the first company in the world to sell brisket and other barbecue meats, such as jerky, made from cultured cells rather than slaughtered animals.

According to BioBQ’s profile on the Crunchbase website, the startup relies on proprietary technology to efficiently produce meat products in weeks rather than the year or more it takes to raise and slaughter cattle. This process “allows control of meat content and taste, reduces environmental impacts of meat production, and takes BBQ to the next tasty, sustainable level consumers want,” the profile says.

In 2020, Texas Monthly writer Daniel Vaughn questioned BioBQ’s premise.

He wrote that “there is something about the idea of lab-grown brisket that keeps bothering me, and it has nothing to do with science fiction. If you could design any cut of beef from scratch, why choose one that’s so difficult to make delicious? Why not a whole steer’s worth of ribeyes?”

Kam offered a very entrepreneur-like response.

“I’m from Austin, and I know that brisket’s kind of a big deal here,” Kam told Vaughn. “It seemed like a great, challenging meat to demonstrate this technology working.”

Meanwhile, Zoldan came up with a more marketing-slanted reaction to Vaughn’s bewilderment.

“I don’t think cell-based meats will take over the market, but I think there’s a place for it on the market,” Zoldan she told Vaughn.

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This article originally ran on CultureMapCultureMap.

Why the banking biz is ripe for innovation, according to this Houston founder

guest column

After our doctor and our child’s school, a bank is an institution with which we share the relationship that is most personal and vital to our well-being in this world. Some might put a good vet third, but other than that, no private entity is more responsible for escorting us to a healthier and happier outcome over the course of our lives.

The bank vault is a traditional symbol of security and prosperity, and not just for our pennies. We safeguard possessions in banks that are so important we don’t even trust keeping them in our own houses. Wills, birth certificates, and the precious family heirlooms of countless families are held in safety deposit boxes behind those giant vault doors, and banks have been the traditional guardians not only of our wealth but our identity and future as well.

The importance of relationship banking

Faith and confidence in our banks is so fundamental to the customer relationship that it has evolved into a unique and otherwise unthinkable arrangement for any good capitalist in a healthy marketplace: banks pay us to be their customers. Imagine a doctor offering you $20 for trusting them to give you a colonoscopy and you’re on the road to understanding the sacrosanct union between bank and customer.

In fact, this trust is so deeply anchored in the American psyche that a new generation of digital banking companies has sprung up on the idea that it doesn’t need to exist in physical reality. The fintech industry has exploded in the last decade, and today, over 75 percent of Americans are engaged in online banking in one form or another. Every single one of those 200 million customers are taking for granted that they will be well served, despite having no personal guidance through any of the financial products and services that these online entities provide.

Benefits of fostering relationships with banking customers

In the late 90s and early 2000s brick-and-mortar banks realized that greater personalized care for their customers was going to be a critical point of competition. The in-person experience is an opportunity to offer advice and incentives for a wide range of products and financial management assistance. It’s rooted in an incredibly simple axiom that is taking hold in every aspect of modern society: everyone benefits if we all get along better.

There’s a lot of statistical traction behind this theory. Customers who report they are “financially healthy” are down 20 percent over the last year, which means people are looking for guidance. 73 percent of customers who visit a local bank branch report having a personal relationship with their bank, while only 53 percent say the same of their digital institution. Most importantly, although many digital banks are offering similar products and services to their real-world counterparts, customer engagement remains very low.

It starts with your products

The truth is, today’s bank customers still want that same personal relationship their great-grandparents had before they engage with deeper financial products and services. They believe it makes them more financially successful, and confirm that human connections and economic prosperity go hand-in-hand.

Products that are Challenging for Digital Markets

Residential mortgages, for example, are an $18 trillion dollar industry that deals in durations longer than most digital banking services have even existed. The perception of continuity and stability is highly valued by clients in the mortgage relationship. Today, most customers feel that only comes with a handshake and a smile from an employee who has to fit in a meeting before they pick their kids up from school.

While digital firms have proven themselves capable of offering savings and checking services, most have fallen flat on the mortgage front because of the premium on personal relationships. Loyalty is the reward for time, service, and shared experience, and financial institutions that cannot provide that package for their customers are never going to access a deeper and more meaningful portfolio of services.

Finding Well-suited Products for Digital Finance

The message for the digital finance world is as clear as it is pressing. The future of the industry will revolve around more personalized experiences, interactions, and long-term products. At the same time, the American public has embraced digital banking, and we are looking at a new generation of bank users who may never walk through a branch door in their life.

In order to compete, the digital industry will need to identify and develop a range of long-term products and services that make sense for customers in today’s environment. Mortgages may be out of the question, but the safety deposit box holds great promise for industry in-roads. Optimal services for deeper, more personal customer engagement include things like:

  • Legacy and estate planning
  • Will preparation and safeguarding
  • Preservation of cherished photos and videos
  • Important personal data storage


Because these things are product-based, they are well suited to the digital ecosystem. The cryptocurrency industry and modern online banking have solidified consumer confidence in the digital bank vault, and there is a great deal of faith in the perpetuity of electronic documents and storage.

The IRS estimates that upwards of 90 percent of Americans are E-filing their taxes and that only comes with a widespread belief that our highly sensitive information can and will be preserved and protected by digital architecture.

Secure your future

Digital banking firms that want to thrive in the upcoming decades are going to need to innovate in long-term financial planning products that bring their customers into a closer, more personal relationship with them.

The finance world will continue to change and develop, but the hopes, fears, and dreams of people trying to build and secure a better future for themselves and their children will remain the same for tomorrow’s customers as they were for their parents and grandparents.

It is up to the digital finance industry to adapt and develop to provide the customers of today—and tomorrow— with these invaluable services and securities.

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Emily Cisek is the founder and CEO of The Postage, a tech-enabled, easy-to-use estate planning tool.