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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.

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Building Houston

 
 

Fertitta and his family have gifted $50 million to UH's medical school. Photo courtesy

As Houston’s most high-profile billionaire and owner of the posh 5-star Post Oak Hotel and Houston Rockets, Tilman J. Fertitta has become synonymous with over-the-top opulence and big-time entertainment.

But the CEO of the massive Feritta Entertainment empire’s latest move has nothing to do with penthouses or point guards, but rather a legacy, game-changing appropriation meant to aid his home state’s health.

The longtime UH board member and former chairman and his family have just pledged $50 million to the University of Houston College of Medicine. In turn, the new medical school has been christened the Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine.

The projected school, upon completion. Rendering courtesy of University of Houston

This landmark gift aims to address the state’s critical primary care physician shortage, (especially in low-income and underserved communities), as well as attract innovation-focused scholars, UH notes.

Additionally, the grant is meant to further clinical and translational research, with an emphasis on population health, behavioral health, community engagement, and the social determinants of health, according to a press release.

Here is how the Fertitta family gift will be distributed:

  • $10 million funds five endowed chairs for faculty hires who are considered national stars in their fields with a focus on health care innovation. This portion of the gift will be matched one-to-one as part of the University’s “$100 Million Challenge” for chairs and professorships, doubling the endowed principal to $20 million.
  • $10 million establishes an endowed scholarship fund to support endowed graduate research stipends/fellowships for medical students.
  • $10 million will cover start-up costs for the Fertitta Family College of Medicine to enhance research activities including facilities, equipment, program costs and graduate research stipends/fellowships.
  • $20 million will create the Fertitta Dean’s Endowed Fund to support research-enhancing activities.

No stranger to writing big checks, Fertitta donated $20 million to UH Athletics — the largest individual donation ever — in 2016 to transform UH’s basketball arena into the now high-tech Fertitta Center.

CultureMap caught up with the CEO (who just sold his Golden Nugget gaming for $1.6 billion), best-selling author, and Billion Dollar Buyer to discuss his landmark gift.

CultureMap: Congratulations on this legacy grant, which has been a long time coming. What does this gift mean to you, now that it’s finally official?

Tilman Fertitta: This was a vision of our chancellors and, you know, I’m on my third, six-year term and not been the chairman for eight years — and we started working on this, seven, eight years ago.

To be able to be in the beginning and the nucleus, and the idea, and what we wanted, and to get the approval from Austin—to watch it come to fruition, how often does somebody get to do a naming gift at the same time they had a lot to do with the creation of the school? So, it was very special in my heart.

CM: Many know you as the CEO of a hospitality empire, author, and even TV personality. But not many know of your commitment to healthcare.


TF: I think there’s one thing in this world that we definitely should always be treated equally on, and that's that’s equal health care for all. This medical school will serve the whole community.

We’re trying to recruit students who want to be primary physicians who will take care of the community that we live in. It’s just something that was very important to me in my whole family.

CM: Academia, scholarship, and research aside, this could essentially be looked at as seed capital for a fledgling operation. Is that a fair assessment?

TF: I know where you’re going with this and yes, it’s no different than business.

I have the vision to know that being in nearly the third largest city in America and a top 100 university in the United States — as University of Houston is according to U.S. News & World Report — that I know what this is going to be in 50 years. It’s no different than looking at another business that you start and you can have the vision to see how successful it'll be in the years to come.

Being on the ground floor of the University of Houston Medical School and being a part of it from its inception, and to help the seed money that will attract other money, I know that in the years to come what a special nationwide medical school this is going to be — because it’s in one of the great cities of America.

So, to be a part of it today and still be a part of it when I’m not here 50 years from now, maybe even sooner than that [laughs], you know, it’s going to be something very special to always be attached to.

CM: Other Houston medical schools here have distinctions in pivotal research or groundbreaking procedures. Is there a specific direction you’d like UH Med to take, going forward?

TF: Honestly, you know, what I’ve been saying? There’s a significant shortage of primary care physicians, not only in the country, but in the state of Texas. We ranked number 47th in the nation.

What we need in the state of Texas, as well in Houston and everywhere, is primary care physicians to take care of your everyday people—and to see them to know if you need a specialist.

I hope that this medical school looks back and we see that they’re graduating more primary care physicians than any other university in the United States and that's our goal. We’re going to be a med school of the community.

CM: You have zero problem with issuing directives, Tilman. What’s your message to the first graduating class, the one that will initially benefit from this $50 million gold mine?

TF: Go out and take care of the people.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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