Houston still needs capital, talent, and success stories to grow its innovation ecosystem, according to a panel of experts
Show me the money
While Houston has increased its number of capital investments in startups over the recent years, there's more work to be done.
A panel of experts at Capital Factory and J.P. Morgan's Texas Startups Roadshow discussed what the city still needs if it is going to accomplish its mission of being a vibrant, successful place for innovation.
For Blair Garrou, managing director of Mercury Fund, Houston has experienced a growth in the number of opportunities for deals, but his firm can only do so much.
"There's more activity going on right now than my 20 years here — it's coming," Garrou says. "And we don't have enough capital to support it."
Garrou says out-of-Houston firms want to invest in deals here, but they don't want to lead a round — they want Mercury Fund to, and they'll follow. For Garrou, that indicates a credibility problem that needs to be addressed.
Houston Exponential is attempting to right the course on this issue with its HX Venture Fund, says Sandy Wallis, managing director. The fund of funds puts money into non-Houston VCs in hopes that those VCs turn around and invest back into Houston.
"The number one problem I'm trying to help with, which I hear a lot from entrepreneurs, is getting more venture here, Wallis, who co-founded Weathergage Capital, says. "What we're trying to do is make sure that our entrepreneurs are meeting with VCs — not just the ones HX invests in, but all the ones that get into town."
She wants to connect the dots for startups — both to visiting VCs and local corporations, which, she says, are already engaged and interested.
"You can see the fluid activation of our corporates here," Wallis says. "Those corporates are engaging directly with the innovation going on in Houston, and we have our headliner tech companies in place."
One of the things that would spir interest and investment into Houston companies is more success stories coming out of Houston, says Paul Hobby, founding partner at Genesis Park. Focusing on talent — developing leadership, recruitment, and retention — is what the city needs to get there. It has all the other ingredients, he says.
"In Houston, we have the means, the opportunity, the will, the capital, and the risk tolerance to solve our own problems," Hobby says to the crowd.
Houston has been working on developing talent and providing resources for entrepreneurs for the past couple years, and many of those accelerator and incubator programs — like Station Houston, The Cannon, Impact Hub Houston, MassChallenge Texas, etc. — have launched to serve startups.
"We probably have 12 to 15 startup development organizations all with different flavors," Garrou says. "And in doing that, we're still looking to the outside for best practices, like Capital Factory, to ask how we could do this better."
The focus on improving resources for startups will continue, he says, and even more will deliver. However, not every single effort will see success, but that's OK, Garrou says.
"All of these are grand visions that Houston has to keep building," Garrou says. "Some of that won't pan out, but the fact that it's all happening and if 50 percent is successful, then I think we've done our jobs to meet entrepreneurs where they are."
Wallis agrees — in capitalism, you can't win it all.
"Developing Houston is going to have failures and successes, and it's about failing successfully," she says.