Featured innovator

Tenavox leader on expanding in Texas and LGBTQ representation within innovation

This month, InnovationMap is profiling the faces of Pride within innovation. Marissa Limsiaco, CEO of Tenavox, discusses her career and the company's expansion plans. Courtesy of Tenavox

After founding her second startup, Marissa Limsiaco thought that would be her last.

But years later, Limsiaco, a U.S. Army veteran with three degrees under her belt, was pulled back into the entrepreneurship world by Tenavox, a commercial real estate leasing company that gives tenants negotiating power through an online platform that shares space requirements, location and an expected price for the unit.

This month, InnovationMap is profiling the faces of Pride within Houston innovation. Limsiaco spoke with InnovationMap about her career, Tenavox, and the importance of the LGBTQ community in entrepreneurship.

InnovationMap: What has happened with Tenavox in the last eight months since InnovationMap has spoken with you?

Marissa Limsiaco: Oh gosh, it has felt like years. In the startup world, eight months is like two years and three months is like a year it feels. (Back in November), we were just launching our sales efforts.

Since last year going into this year, our (monthly recurring revenue) has grown over 100 percent. We've now connected tenants to agents and generated over $3.5 million in deals. So that's been really exciting that we're making those connections. And now most recently, we've closed a round this month. We are kind of focusing on a new offering called Tour Ready that we're selling to customers are on the project leasing side. Ultimately, it allows people who are looking for space to see and book a tour in a matter of minutes if it feeds their needs.

IM: I know that you took your service in the military and used that experience with leadership and management to become a successful entrepreneur. You have been a part of different startups in addition to Tenavox. Could you have imagined yourself at this point in your career 5 to 10 years ago?

ML: Absolutely not. I would not have even thought this was an option 5 or 6 years ago. Even though I was out of the Army, I was still learning business and going through that transition. After that second business that I started I told myself "I'm never going to do this again," and now I'm on my fourth.

IM: What compelled you to keep going in the startup world?

ML: It was this opportunity and the impact that we can have on everybody that we're helping on this platform, from business owners all the way to commercial agents and ownership groups. As a business owner myself, I experience the struggle firsthand of finding space and how frustrating that was. And it's sad that in 2019, one of the most effective ways to find spaces is driving around, calling signs with little to no information. When I saw how big the problem was and how antiquated the industry is where nothing has changed as far as making it any better for people to search for space to lease, I was just super determined to solve this problem.

IM: The last time InnovationMap spoke to you, Tenavox had just received funding from RealCo, an accelerator program funded by Geekdom fund. What has that funding been used for?

ML: Oh, yeah, we've raised more funding since then. And we have enough money now to go to the rest of Texas, which is exciting.

IM: When are the expansions?

ML: Well right now, we're in Houston and Austin and then we're going to go to Dallas towards the end of this year. We are also going to raise a round to go out of Texas. Josh [Feinberg, my co-founder,] and I have a larger vision vision for Tenavox and we really want to take it national. So we're going to prepare toward the end of this year, and next year we're going to open up on a bigger round of fundraising to be able to go to other states.

IM: What are some of the ways the tech and innovation community support their LGBTQ colleagues throughout the month of June?

ML: Expanding to other industries and awareness of minorities in other industries, whether it be LGBTQ or women, I think highlighting folks that are in those groups that are in the industry helps a lot. Two years ago when I became CEO and we started this company, it was daunting and scary. There's not a lot of women doing what I do, right? Something that keeps me going is that I have to show another girl or whoever that it's possible to be in my position.

IM: What advice would you have for a young gay or lesbian entrepreneur heading into the military or tech and real estate industries?

ML: Don't be scared to do things that you're scared of. I know everybody's different but the times I found myself in positions like I am today was because I was scared of it. I was scared of what happened, but I knew that I had to do it to overcome it or to see what would happen. The last industry in this whole entire world ever that I would have thought about five years ago would be commercial real estate. And yet when the opportunity presented itself, I just went for it. I just knew that I was going to grow and because I challenged myself and whenever I've faced that, I've come out totally another person, especially just me personally in this role. I tell a lot of the young people that I mentor that if an opportunity presents itself and it may not interest you, you should still look into because you just never know.

IM: What does Pride Month mean to you?

ML: It means empowering the LGBTQ community. The importance of having a whole month in this year that is dedicated to reminding everybody — and it even extends beyond LGBTQ — that you should just be who you are. Be proud of who you are. And I think that means a lot.

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Portions of this interview have been edited.

Corey Allen had entrepreneurialism in his blood — but it wasn't until he got involved with the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber that he got the courage to break out on his own. Courtesy of Corey Allen

Corey Allen grew up surrounded by entrepreneurship. His family owned several small businesses when he was growing up. But it took the support of his community to push him toward leadership.

From working in an accounting firm to dabbling in a few oil and gas companies, Allen's career trajectory changed when he joined the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce. Within the organization, for which he serves as treasurer, he met other motivated entrepreneurs and was given the support needed to open his own business, Ecotone.

Allen spoke with InnovationMap about his career and the importance of the LGBTQ community in entrepreneurship.

InnovationMap: How does Houston differ from other cities in the U.S. in terms of technology and entrepreneurship? What makes Houston different?

Corey Allen: I think everybody does default to Austin, right? People believe that that's the only technology hub in Texas. Houston is new and different from other cities in terms of tech and entrepreneurship, right now especially. In creating three local startups, we experienced tremendous support from well-established groups like the Greater Houston Partnership, the city of Houston with the Mayor's entrepreneurship program, the Greater Houston Chamber of Commerce. But, you know, what I think what is really new especially for Texas, within in Houston, is the local coworking spaces that are globally recognized brands and the coding camps. I think that is what is creating the infrastructure and ecosystem that we've been talking about for the last five years at least. I think that compared to other cities in the U.S., I don't see that type of energy and that type of investment being created in Houston right now.

IM: You mentioned a little bit about being involved in the process of creating three local startups. What makes Houston the right place to be involved in the startup culture that’s cultivating right now?

CA: I think there's two things that come to mind. Houston really is home, and it's always been home for me. And it really is a big, small town. I came from a small town in Texas, about halfway between Houston and Dallas, and our family always navigated to Houston for fun, but also for business. It was really the foundation for my own family, and I think what we get out of Houston is that southern hospitality is a real thing. So, that's certainly the first thing. And the second is that Houston has the foundation for a prosperous ecosystem. Obviously, there's a lot of oil and gas and the Texas Medical Center is already globally recognized. The more that we continue to focus on venture capital and innovation, which is what is wanted and needed right now, Houston is creating our own new technology and entrepreneurship to capture everybody's attention.

IM: What are some of the ways the tech and innovation community support their LGBTQ colleagues throughout the month of June?

Yeah, I love this question. I think it goes without saying for the community to come out and support the LGBTQ community by joining the chamber of commerce. Also, attending our second annual Pride in Business, which is June 28. That's been an outstanding event for all of the businesses in the community to be involved in the LGBT community. In three years time, (the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber) has been growing exponentially to over 125 visible members. And we have corporate partnerships that really speak to the impact that is being made in the community and in Houston. We have corporate partners like Shell and United. And also celebrate and attend the Houston Pride Parade, which is on June 22.

IM: What advice do you have for up-and-coming lgbtq entrepreneurs?

CA: The learning is the action. I used to really be annoyed by the phrase "sell faster." I actually live that now. You can't fail until you act, and now I know that you can't compete until you fail.

IM: That's great advice right there. What does pride month mean to you?

CA: It's very personal, and it hits home. My partner and I are going to be celebrating 19 years together in September, and I think that pride means celebrating a history that we don't stop to think about everyday. We were at a chamber meeting recently, and a member was sharing her experience of walking in the second pride parade. And she said that it wasn't the same. Even the police at the time did not protect the community. And that's a big difference from today. And I think anybody that goes out to the pride parade this year, I want them to know they're safe. And you know, I think that that's what we have to be thankful for today is to know that we can love without constant fear. It really just reminds us that we're not going to let anyone take that away again.

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Portions of this interview have been edited.