From advice to observations, these five quotes overheard at SXSW proves Houston had some great spokespeople at the 2019 SXSW Interactive festival. Photos courtesy

Houston had no shortage of representatives at the 2019 SXSW Interactive festival, which took place March 8 to 12 in Austin. Several sat on panels, lead mixers, or even starred in a movie for the film track of the conference.

I had the pleasure of sitting in on a great deal of these events featuring the best and the brightest of Houston's innovation stars, but I realize most did not. To catch you up and rid you of your fear of missing out, check out these five overheard quotes from the fest.

"I think it's so important to find your focus and know what to say no to, because you can't do it all. Elizabeth [Gore] and I have a monthly 'meeting of no' where we literally check off things off our plate that we need to stop doing because we just don't have enough time. It's probably one of our most valuable hours."

Carolyn Rodz, co-founded Alice with Elizabeth Gore. Alice co-hosted a series of panels at the Bumble Hive. She was asked, during the investment-focused panel, about focusing on B-to-B vs. B-to-C as a startup. Alice and Bumble just recently announced a partnership.

"We're trying to awaken the sleeping giant — a really huge city with lots of money, trying to infiltrate and activate huge family offices and rally people behind the goal of building a vibrant startup community. We've got a long way to go in terms of attracting VC talent — we're still behind Austin and Dallas."

Lawson Gow, founder and CEO of The Cannon, at the Austinpreneur podcast recording of "The Texas Startup Manifesto" episode. He was asked about what he's been trying to accomplish at The Cannon. Gow is the son of InnovationMap's parent company's CEO.

"We've got all the basic tools, and we know what the main issues are. There's still a lot to do, but we need to be smart and do fact-based and mechanism-based combinations."

James Allison, chair of Immunology and executive director of the Immunotherapy Platform at MD Anderson Cancer Center. At his panel, "Making the Fight Against Cancer Even More Personal," he was asked about the current status of immunotherapy research.

“Have very specific questions. I hate the ‘can I pick your brain’ request. If you want advice on something, ask me that specifically. And, show up at everything. … It’s not about what network you have, but how many networks you can get into.”

Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston. On the "Equitable Growth Ecosystems for Entrepreneurs" panel, she was asked about how an entrepreneur might try to grow their network and mentorship.

"Houston is an incredibly industrial town. We have more Fortune 500 companies here than anywhere other than New York — most of them in the world of the dirty and dangerous. We don't have a lot of scooter companies."

Gabriella Rowe, CEO of Station Houston. She was asked while on her panel, "Startup Funding: From Apprenticeships to Professions," about bootstrapping as a startup. Read more about this discussion here.

Houston, we have a problem — and it's helping local startups have access to funding. Photo by Zview/Getty Images

SXSW panelists: Improving access to funding is key for Houston's continued ecosystem growth

Show me the money

A few weeks ago, Mayor of Houston Sylvester Turner and Station Houston CEO Gabriella Rowe proclaimed that Houston's up-and-coming innovation ecosystem was no longer up and coming: It had arrived. But what preceded that proclamation was years of figuring out what it was Houston could do to get to this point.

"We're the fourth largest city in the United States, and in 2015 were ranked 20th out of 25 ecosystems," Rowe says at a panel at the 2019 SXSW Interactive festival.

Following that shocking news, Rowe says the city's focus was on building tools — accelerators, incubators, education — but nowhere did anyone talk about funding. Now, years later, with plenty of accelerators, workspaces, and educational programs, Rowe says Houston now has a great pipeline of companies, but the problem is finding funding for them to tap into.

Entrepreneurs are looking for three things when it comes to finding ways to fund their companies, according to Rowe. They want it to be accessible capital — not something they have to take a class on to figure out how to get to it. They also want it to be impactful and local to where their headquarters is.

"When I think about accessible, impactful, and local, I think, well, not a lot falls into that category [in Houston]," Rowe says. "We're not doing it particularly well right now."

It's a structural problem, according to Rowe. While the city has built up its entrepreneurial climate, it hasn't yet made the same effort with investors.

"Even if we have one or two funds, we need an ecosystem that supports funding in the same way we have an ecosystem that supports entrepreneurs," she says.

Joe Milam, founder of Austin-based AngelSpan, an early stage investor relations platform, says the issue in Houston — and Austin — is that industries can be siloed. There's a huge need for an honest broker to connect the dots across the city, and that person needs to be impartial.

"You gotta care about your community first, before you care about your own agenda," Milam says. "Otherwise, you're going to flounder like Houston has, and how Austin still does."

One thing everyone agreed on during the Saturday, March 9, panel was that Houston has a lot of money, but it's been sitting on the sidelines. The mission is, in addition to bringing in venture capital firms, finding ways to engage money that's already in town.

"We have to produce tools to enable that capital that's hiding," Rowe says.

Houston-based PolyVascular earned recognition in two categories, as well as nabbing up to $25,000. Courtesy of TMC Innovation

2 TMCx companies leave SXSW with awards and grant money

Med tech

Two Houston companies are walking away from SXSW with awards and grant funds.

PolyVascular, a member of TMCx's 2017 medical device cohort, won the fifth annual Impact Pediatric Health pitch competition's medical device and health disparities and equity categories. Additionally, the Southwest National Pediatric Device Consortium granted the company up to $25,000.

PolyVascular co-founder Henri Justino represented his company in three-minute pitch, and team members Dan Harrington and Kwon Soo Chun were also in attendance.

The company was one of 12 finalists in the competition, which took place on March 8 at SXSW in Austin. Among the judges was Houston doctor, Chester Koh, professor of urology, pediatrics, and OB/GYN at Baylor College of Medicine and Pediatric Urologist at Texas Children's Hospital.

"At the Southwest National Pediatric Device Consortium, we are always looking for the next cutting-edge breakthrough in the world of medical devices," says Koh in a release. "Impact Pediatric Health's reputation for bringing together the leaders in pediatric medical technology innovations makes it the perfect venue to help identify and accelerate the next generation of medical device companies impacting our youngest of patients."

Founded in 2014, PolyVascular produces polymeric transcatheter valves for children with congenital heart disease — the most common birth defect and number one cause of infant mortality in the developed world. The company's goal is to reduce that number of infant deaths by introducing a higher quality of valves.

Meanwhile, VastBiome, a 2018 biodesign TMCx company, received a $1,000 grant and is now one of two finalists for the San Francisco-based Illumina Accelerator program. The company works with scientists with ongoing clinical trials focusing on the microbiome as it pertains to therapy.

Another TMCx company, Zibrio, was up for an award in the 2019 SXSW Pitch event, but left the contest empty handed.

TMCx has multiple representatives at the festival, and the organization partnered with Energizing Health to host events throughout the first weekend of the conference.

Jim Allison, immunotherapy researcher at MD Anderson and Nobel Prize recipient, is the subject of a new film that premiered at SXSW. Photo courtesy of MD Anderson Cancer Center

Film about Nobel Prize-winning Houston scientist premieres at SXSW

Now showing

For most of his career, James Allison has been a cancer research wildcatter fighting an oftentimes lonely battle for the advancement of immunotherapy. The medical community has historically been skeptical of the science, but nonetheless Allison dedicated his life to developing a better treatment to the disease that has claimed so many lives — including his mother's.

Last year, Allison, the chair of Immunology and executive director of the Immunotherapy Platform at MD Anderson, won the 2018 Nobel Prize in medicine, and Breakthrough, a film about Allison's progression from early researcher to Nobel Prize recipient, premiered on March 9 at the 2019 SXSW Interactive festival.

But despite the Nobel Prize and the new film both validating the science to the public, Allison says there's a lot more work to be done in immunotherapy. Allison, his colleague, Padmanee Sharma, and the filmmaker for Breakthrough, Bill Haney, hosted a discussion at SXSW about the future of immunotherapy.

"It's a time of considerable optimism — and we're just at the beginning," says Allison.

The film focuses on the man behind the science — a 70-year-old, harmonica-playing researcher from small-town Alice, Texas. It's both an ode to Allison's career and a thought-provoking take on all the work left to be done in the industry.

Immunotherapy is the process of targeting one's immune system's T-cells, infection-fighting white blood cells, to attack cancer cells. Sharma, a fellow MD Anderson oncology expert and clinician, says their work has received clinical approvals for treating Melanoma, kidney cancer, lung cancer, and bladder cancer. The scientists are now focused on expanding that treatment to other cancer types and building upon the established platform they've created, while also making sure nothing comes in the way of the facts of the science.

"It really requires that we dedicate ourselves to the basic science, understanding it and educating people about it, so we don't allow the facts and science get muddied by things that are political or nonfactual," Sharma says.

In a lot of ways, this is what Breakthrough has been able to do — communicate the facts on a platform where anyone can understand the science.

"We have a revolution on our hands, and thankfully we have people like Bill who can really tell the story well, because maybe as a scientist and a clinician, we're not always equally talented on telling the story to laypeople," Sharma says.

Moving forward, Allison says he's focused on finding out why the treatment fails in some instances, and he's determined to progress immunotherapy's success rate from the 20 to 40 percent rate he says he sees it at now to 100 percent.

"We've got all the basic tools, and we know what the main issues are," Allison says. "There's still a lot to do, but we need to be smart and do fact-based and mechanism-based combinations."

From pitch competitions to panels, here's how Houstonians will be representing at SXSW. Marie Ketring/via sxsw.org

10 can't-miss events at SXSW featuring Houston speakers

South by the Bayou

Plenty of Houstonians, SXSW badge in hand, will be headed to Austin to network, learn, and share the stage with the rest of the festivals attendees. While InnovationMap has highlighted a few of the faces to be on the lookout for this weekend, here's a roundup of 10 events that have a Houston speaker or participant.

3/8 — Featured Session: Opening Speaker, Brené Brown

SXSW is starting right out of the gate with a Houstonian. Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, will be the keynote address. Her thoughtful talk will focus on community and one's sense of belonging.

The SXSW keynote address will be at 11 am on Friday, March 8, at the Austin Convention Center. Learn more.

3/8 — Hysteria No More: Data, Doctors and Women’s Health

Gone are the days that medical professionals dismiss women's health concerns as "hysteria," but there's still room for improvement on the matter. Three ob/gyns will talk about new ways women are finding health care solutions outside the doctor's office.

Rashmi Kudesia, physician at CCRM Fertility Houston, is one of the panelists, which occurs on Friday, March 8, at the JW Marriott. Learn more.

3/8 — Equitable Growth Ecosystems for Entrepreneurs panel

The country has an equity problem — especially when it comes to startups and funding. Nationally, venture capital funds are not distributed in a way that represents the populations diversity, so how does the industry right the course?

Grace Rodriguez of Impact Hub Houston is among the panel that will discuss this at 3:30 pm on Friday, March 8, at the Hilton Austin Downtown. Learn more.

3/9 — Austinpreneur: The Texas Startup Manifesto

Texas is among the growing innovation ecosystems in the world, but there's plenty of untapped potential. This Capital Factory panel will focus on taking Texas to the next level.

Lawson Gow, founder and CEO of The Cannon, will be a panelist at the event, which begins at 11 am on Saturday, March 9, at the Hilton Austin Downtown. Learn more.

3/9 — Startup Funding: From Apprenticeships to Professions

Venture capitalism has changed tenfold since its start. Looking back on the history of early stage funding can help predict where it's going — from Silicon Valley to every corner of the world.

Station Houston CEO Gabriella Rowe is on the panel, which will take place at 12:30 pm on Saturday, March 9, at the Hilton Austin Downtown. Learn more.

3/9 — Making the Fight Against Cancer Even More Personal

No one loves discussing cancer, but there's a large group of scientists who have to daily and they develop new technologies and innovations to help discover a cure for the deadly affliction.

James Allison, researcher at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and 2018 Nobel Prize recipient, will be on the panel discussing ways to innovate within cancer research. The program starts at 5 pm on Saturday, March 9, at the JW Marriott. Learn more.

3/10 — SXSW Pitch Presented by Cyndx Awards Ceremony

Two Houston startups are competing for an award in the 11th annual SXSW Pitch Event. Fluidity Technologies will be presenting as its drone controller, FT Aviator, in the Hyper-Connected Communities category on Saturday, March 9, at 5 pm, and Zibrio SmartScale, which is in the Health and Wearable category, will present on Sunday, March 10, at 5 pm.

The pitch awards will take place at 6:30 pm on Sunday, March 10, at the Hilton Austin Downtown. Learn more.

3/11 — Tech Diversity Report Card 2019

Is diversity and inclusion basically just a myth in technology? Is it something that's attainable at this point, and what can the industry do to make that happen? A group of panelists discuss based on their experience and observations.

Heidi Hoover, head of office at Houston-based Flanders Investment & Trade, will be a member of the panel, which occurs on Monday, March 11, at 5 pm, at Capital Factory. Learn more.

3/11 — Angel Investor Meetup

Calling all acting and aspiring investors — it's time to rally. Two Texas investors are gathering the troops to discuss trends and opportunities in the state's — and the world's — investment sector.

Samantha Lewis of Houston-based GOOSE Society of Texas will be one of the hosts of the meetup, which takes place on Monday, March 11, at 5 p.m, at the Fairmont Hotel. Learn more.

3/12 — AI & IoT Panel and Emerging Company Showcase

Houston-based Baker Botts and Global Corporate Venturing are setting the stage for emerging tech companies to shine. The event includes a panel, a showcase, and an evening of networking.

James McKell, of Chevron Technology Ventures, is representing Houston on the panel, which begins at 2 pm on Tuesday, March 12, at Hotel Van Zandt. Learn more.

Honorable mentions


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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.

Innovative Texas-based ride-share rolls into Houston with new cars and delivery service

Alto is a go

Houstonians who are interested in an alternative to Uber — and don't mind giving a Dallas-based company a shot — can now look for a new ride. Alto, the ride-share and delivery company based in Big D, has announced its expansion plans to Houston. The company is now offering pre-scheduled rides; Houston residents will be able to book on-demand rides starting October 1, according to a press release.

As CultureMap previously reported, Alto touts itself as a safer, more consistent approach to hailing a ride. Founded in 2018, Alto brands itself as "the first employee-based, on-demand ride-share company." Employees receive salaries and benefits, each company-owned car is branded with the Alto logo (so riders can be sure they're stepping into the right vehicle), and cloud-based cameras capture both interior and exterior videos of the ride.

The company offers ride memberships and also shops, purchases, and delivers from local brands directly to consumers with same-day delivery available.

For safety during the pandemic, all Alto drivers wear masks and gloves during every trip and each Alto vehicle is fitted with a HEPA cabin air filter which removes 99.9 percent of airborne particles, the company claims. Car interiors are also treated with PermaSafe, an EPA-registered hospital-grade sanitizing mist that is said to kill pathogens like COVID-19.

"Alto is thrilled to announce our expansion plans to Houston and offer the same clean, safe ride-share experience that's revolutionizing the industry to this new market," said Will Coleman, founder and CEO of Alto. "We're confident Houston residents will find Alto to be unlike any other ride-share experiences they've had to date, and find comfort in Alto's leading safety and health precautions, as well as elevated rider experience."

Locals who are interested in more information and getting on the Houston launch waitlist can the official site. The Alto app is available for download on the App Store and Google Play.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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.