A Houston founder explains why you should shift the way you think about cybersecurity from a cost to an investment in your business. Photo via Getty Images

For companies big or small, scaling your revenue securely is about building people, processes, and technology to help you deliver your value to market in the most efficient way possible. But shifting cybersecurity as a cost to an investment takes a shift in thinking.

Here are three tips to make cyber a business decision for your company.

Don’t fail at digital transformation. Whether you’re considering a digital “initiative” to stay ahead of competitors, reduce operational expenditure when possible, or simply drive efficiency to customer value delivery, transforming how you’re doing business should rest upon a foundation of security across your existing people, process, or technology. An effective cybersecurity program should drive confidence to your team to expand your tooling, processes, or delivery mechanisms with confidence. The alternate reality is you shift a working process to incorporate new technology, and something fails or breaks, causing frustration of your team and fewer dollars in the door. Here are a few tips that will help you make sound business investments in technology:

  1. New technology or system can introduce new cyber risks to your company. As a result, it is good practice to balance the value gained with the risks absorbed. Establishing a “new product” risk vs reward process will reduce ad hoc purchases and introduce more sound thinking to your team’s decisions.
  2. New technology purchases will come with vendor onboarding but beware of the challenges you face when those implementation or training hours run out. Ask for additional support hours as part of your purchase so that you’re always able to call a help desk for real support.

Secure design reduces long-term costs. Regardless of your business type, if some type of cyber-attack could affect your business outcome(s) — be it your product, the loss of sensitive customer data, theft of intellectual property, or disruption to service delivery — consider investments in your cyber program an investment towards the cost of future business operations.

For instance, manufacturers across virtually every sector continually balance “secure design” with efficiency/cost as they compete in the market. Their challenge: estimating future recalls and product “updates” to be paid for by future operational expenditure. The same can be applied to unforeseen downtime of a critical inventory, payment capture, or website system. In both cases, here are two tips to shift cyber from a “security cost” to a “business” mindset:

  1. Work with your security vendors to develop a long-term strategy rather than quoting an “install and leave” project. Security vendors are businesses too. They will respond positively if you tell them you will offer longevity in return for payment over time. 
  2. Amortize your costs this year into next year's costs of goods. If you can negotiate monthly or quarterly payments with your security vendors, adding 30-60 days of net pay dates, you’re already starting to shift security improvements realized tomorrow to costs you pay next quarter.

Your customers want you to have a great cyber program. Especially in regulated spaces like healthcare, defense, and other critical infrastructure sectors, there is a high chance your company’s cyber program must meet minimal cyber guidelines. Investing in the training, processes, and technology required to achieve some element of “compliance” is a must-have investment for doing business with big companies.

A mistake small companies make is allocating the minimal resources “reach the bar” without thinking about the risks. Employee turnover, scaling your business in new regions, and increasing purchase order sizes all carry a potential “new bar” you must reach on your cyber maturity. Building a cyber program initiative may help you increase sales. Imagine you say this in your next prospect meeting as you aim to win that big contract, “Additionally, we reviewed your cybersecurity supplier requirements online and are pleased to say we have certified documentation showcasing an evolving, continually improving cyber program that exceeds your requirements. We feel that adds to our differentiation.”

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Ted Gutierrez is the CEO and co-founder of SecurityGate, a SaaS platform for OT cyber improvement.

Three Houston startup founders took the stage to talk product/market fit, customer acquisition, funding, and the rest of the startup journey at a panel at SXSW. Photo courtesy of the GHP

Houston founders demystify startup journey on SXSW panel

Houston innovators podcast episode 177

Editor's note: On Monday at Houston House, a SXSW activation put on by the Greater Houston Partnership, I moderated a panel called “Demystifying the Startup Journey.” Panelists included three Houston founders: Ted Gutierrez, co-founder and CEO of SecurityGate.io, Simone May, co-founder and CTO of Clutch, and Gaurav Khandelwal, founder and CEO of Velostics. The three entrepreneurs discussed their journeys and the challenges they face — from product/market fit and hiring to fundraising and customer acquisition. Listen to the full conversation on this week’s episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast below. Thank you to SXSW and GHP for the recording.


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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

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Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.