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 fitness tech startup launches $1M crowdfunding campaign

money moves

Calling all cardio lovers, yogis, and strength trainers alike — a Houston fitness platform is opening up investment opportunities through a new crowdfunding campaign.

Kanthaka, a Houston-based app that connects clients to personal trainers and yoga instructors on-demand, announced it has launched a $1 million campaign through Republic, a crowdfunding platform. Kanthaka's users and trainers — or anyone interested — now have the option to become part owners in the company.

"We are very happy at Kanthaka to have been selected by Republic for their crowdfunding campaign," says Sylvia Kampshoff, founder and CEO of Kanthaka, in a press release. "I want our users as our evangelists.

"Since we started the company I've had clients reaching out wanting to invest but it was complicated — you had to be an accredited investor or VC," Kampshoff continues. "Now through this crowdfunding campaign, clients and trainers can participate in our journey."

According to the release, Republic, which is strategically partnered with Houston-based NextSeed, only accepts less than 1 percent of applicants interested in being funded on the platform. Kanthaka has reportedly raised over $850,000 from two venture capitalists and angels investors to date.

The company provides both live in-person and virtual sessions. Between March 2020 and March 2021, Kanthaka grew over 700 percent in sessions sold, per the release, and now, with the COVID-19 vaccines, the company is seeing a new spike in sessions.

"Our vision is to become Amazon for health & fitness and the go-to provider to live a longer, happier and healthier life," Kampshoff says in the release. "We couldn't be more excited about this journey."

Frustrated with the lack of ease in booking training sessions, Kampshoff launched Kanthaka in 2017 and has grown the company and expanded into 15 markets. Kanthaka participated in Austin-based accelerator Sputnik ATX.

Image via mykanthaka.com

University of Houston power couple prescribes major gift for college of medicine

funding future doctors

University of Houston medical students and staff will receive a gift that's just what the doctor ordered.

A prestigious and longtime UH power couple has bequeathed two major gifts a major gift to the school's burgeoning College of Medicine. Dr. Nicky and Lisa Holdeman — who together boast more than 45 years at the university — have established an endowed and chair/professorship and a scholarship for medical students, the school announced.

In their will/trust the Holdemans have established, per UH:

  • The Nicky R. and Lisa K. Holdeman Endowed Professorship/Chair, which will support a clinical teaching faculty member responsible for the oversight and strategic direction of the College of Medicine's clinics, as well as enhancing the student and patient experience.
  • The Nicky R. and Lisa K. Holdeman Endowed Scholarship, which will support students in the College of Medicine, which was founded in 2020 on a social mission to improve health and health care in underserved communities in Houston and across Texas.

The Holdemans say that they were inspired by the UH College of Medicine's mission to address a significant statewide primary care physician shortage and how social determinants of health, such as income, housing, food supply and transportation, contribute to health outcomes.

"I have a true admiration for the comprehensive physician, someone comfortable addressing multiple health issues," Nicky Holdeman relays in a statement. "The physicians being trained at the University of Houston will be well prepared to manage most of the patients, with most conditions, most of the time. That's really what primary care medicine is all about."

As previously reported, UH's medical school will welcome its second class of 30 students this summer and will have 480 students at full enrollment, within the decade.

More on the duo, who have been married for 38 years: A UH biography notes that Nicky, physician and professor emeritus at the UH College of Optometry, served as associate dean for clinical education and executive director of the University Eye Institute during his 30 years at the college. He retired in 2019.

Meanwhile, Lisa joined UH in 2006 and serves as vice chancellor for the UH System and vice president for UH marketing and communications. She works directly with UH System Chancellor and UH President Renu Khator and school leadership.

"This gift is especially gratifying because it comes from two dedicated UH leaders whose professional careers have already contributed so much to our University's success," said Renu Khator. "That kind of enlightened commitment on their part sets an admirable example. I know I speak for many when I express our deep appreciation for their generous support of the College of Medicine and the important work it is undertaking in our community."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston health tech company bounces back from COVID-19 in a big way

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 82

The pandemic hit life science innovation hard. And no one knows that better than Kevin Coker, co-founder and CEO of Proxima Clinical Research, a Houston-based contract research organization focused on supporting life science startups as they grow and scale.

"Last year from January to June, it was very tough," Coker says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Hospitals shut down, so any existing projects we had ongoing just halted."

Coker and his team of 12 — including co-founder and chairman, Larry Lawson — at the time didn't have any new projects coming in and were at the mercy of the pandemic.

"Everything was flat. In May, I was starting to worry. I didn't know how long we were going to have to weather the storm," Coker remembers.

Then, in June, things started changing, he says. As hospitals started to reopen and clinical research was reignited. Initially, some COVID diagnostic products were gaining momentum, as well as some emergency use authorization products.

"Things just really started taking off for us," Coker says. "I think it was really a product of investors and people being able to make decisions despite the pandemic."

Coker describes the experience not as a rollercoaster — it was all downhill for Proxima and then business took flight. Last quarter, the company was signing a new contract every two to three days. With the influx of projects, Coker says his team scaled to 50 full time employees and 75 part time team members — most of these new additions Coker hasn't even met yet, since the staff has been working remotely.

"We're a good barometer for what's happening not only locally but across the country," Coker says. "As Proxima has grown, it's really show how the Houston life science market is growing."

Now, Coker is focused on maintaining the company culture at Proxima as well as finding a new, larger office space in the Texas Medical Center — Proxima's current office is in the TMC Innovation Institute.

Coker says it's his intention to keep its operations smaller and more hands on than the usual CRO, which typically has 5,000 to 10,000 employees and multi-billion dollars in revenue, and focused on startups and small companies.

"That type of organization doesn't work well with a small med device or pharmaceutical company. We wanted to create a company that looked and felt like the startups," he says.

Coker shares more about Proxima's growth and Houston's potential of being a major life science hub on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.