Featured Innovator

Meet the Houston entrepreneur behind the 'Uber of design'

Lisa Pope Westerman has created LUCID, a network of architects that's flipping the script on how architecture projects go. Courtesy of LUCID

What if retaining one architecture company gave you access to dozens more? That's the idea behind LUCID, an architecture and design collective that Lisa Pope Westerman, formerly of San Francisco-based Gensler and New York City-based rockwell group, launched in Houston this year.

LUCID is a collective of architects and boutique architecture firms that specialize in at least one of the following property types: hospitality, retail, mixed-use developments, high-rise residential, and wellness developments. When clients retain LUCID as their designer or architect, they're given access to the firms and individual architects who are best suited for the job. Currently, LUCID is composed of roughly 40 total architects coming from several architecture and design firms, including Chicago-based PinPoint Collective, Houston-based gin design group, and New York-based Glen & Co. architecture.

"People have referred to us as 'the WeWork of architecture,' or 'the Uber of design,'" Pope Westerman says. "We think that in 10 years, this is how the world will just be working."

Pope Westerman spoke with InnovationMap about launching LUCID, Houston's unique design community and how the architecture industry continues to innovate.

InnovationMap: When did you start planning LUCID?

Lisa Pope Westerman: I really started thinking about it in beginning of 2018, and working on it middle of 2018, and making sure the initial groups we started with are a good fit. It's been nothing but wonderful. Everyone's smarter than me, and brings such a unique perspective to the group for various reasons. Not everyone is an architect or an interior designer ­– the intent is to be really nimble and flexible. We're bringing a lot of unique specialists. We have branding, graphic design, and a strategy group that is just amazing.

We're looking to, as a group, not just be innovative, but have innovation in all the different types of things [we offer], including our process. We believe that the world of design is going to be much more than visual, and that we really need to be thinking about all the senses, like touch and smell and [hearing]. Just typically, everything's visual, and [the other senses] have been secondary.

IM: How did LUCID find the architects and architecture firms that compose the collective?

LPW: The original of roughly 40 people are people I've worked with over the past 20 years. That's how we got things started. I've basically been involved in every size company imaginable: from a one-man show, to the largest design firm in the world, Gensler. The intent of the model is to create something where there's a parent brand that feels like a very large company, and we're essentially an umbrella, and within us are all the other wonderful boutique specialty brands.

IM: What kinds of architecture firms does LUCID work with?

LPW: Most of the firms affiliated with us are around a dozen people. We find that's the right size of people that are highly specialized, super talented, and able to maintain the [high] quality level.

IM: Tell me a bit about LUCID's business model.

LPW: So, we facilitate everything, and that's how [LUCID] is compensated. So, we essentially facilitate in bringing the companies to the client, which is the business development aspect of things. We collaborate on the client management side, so we're still very involved with the clients and the projects. We carry everybody. We help manage all of it, and all of the companies' [projects]. It's a true collaboration.

People truly believe that by being associated with LUCID, they're going to be able to elevate what they've been doing even more. It's important that the companies that want to be affiliated with LUCID are really interested in that.

IM: Can the architecture firms that are a part of LUCID still do work outside of the LUCID collective?

LPW: All the firms connected to LUCID still do their own business. They haven't folded into LUCID and then given up their brand. The intent is that we're celebrating the brands. We like the diversity.

IM: LUCID is currently working on its first project. What information can you share?

LPW: It's in the hospitality industry, and it is a restaurant, bar, event space, and it's for a private club outside of Houston. We started at the beginning of [2019], and we'll be done at the end of the year.

IM: Did LUCID launch with a fund raise? Are you planning a fund raise?

LPW: The front end is really just a shared passion among the companies and individuals that are connected. Longer term, we are interested in even partnering with investors in creating new and different kinds of projects. There are some other firms out there, but not many, that are starting to do that sort of thing … where [the design firm] collaborates with investors and projects, rather than just being hired on as the designer for a project.

IM: How is the Houston design scene different from design scenes around the world?

LPW: Well, I think it's an exciting time for Houston. Especially in our world of lifestyle design, it's the overarching [theme]. We do everything for lifestyle. In Houston, we're really starting to be at the height of this renaissance of bringing just a higher level of appreciation for design. From a lifestyle standpoint, things have been percolating for a while now.

IM: What's a foundational project you've worked on that taught you an essential lesson about design?

LPW: In terms of my Houston project base, certainly the ExxonMobil project was really impactful, because of the scale of the project and all the different participants in it. We collaborated with several other design firms, both in Houston and out of Houston, and not only design firms, but also globally acclaimed artisans. Just at a worldwide level, the caliber of the clients was amazing. It was an incredible experience because of the scale and the success of it. … It was building a city.

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Portions of this interview have been edited.

Thomas Rubenak is senior principal of Accenture Ventures. Courtesy of Accenture

In most industries, there's a disconnect between startups and major corporations. The startups may have solutions for the big companies, but the two entities might not know how to connect with each other. That's something Accenture hopes to help with.

The company created Accenture Ventures to help connect the dots between emerging technology and big business. As the program has expanded, Thomas Rubenak was selected to serve the Southwest region as senior principal.

With a long career of working in tech, research and design, and startups, Rubenak hopes to use his experience to help grow Houston's blossoming innovation ecosystem.

"It takes a village. It's not just the amazing accelerators we have throughout the region," Rubenak says. "If you look at the Cannon, Houston Exponential, MassChallenge, and all of the ecosystem — it takes all of us together to prop up a thriving economy. That's what we're doing. We're changing not just the face of Houston but really impacting the startups as well as the clients we serve."

Rubenak spoke with InnovationMap to discuss the role Accenture Ventures plays in the ecosystem and how he sees innovation in Houston growing.

InnovationMap: You're new to your role, but you've worked with tech and startups for years. Tell me a little bit about your career to date. 

Thomas Rubenak: I come most recently from EY. I did a few assignments there, primarily working with the EY and Microsoft alliance. I was also a go-to-market lead for deep technical accounting for IPOs and other regulatory compliance issues. I worked a lot with the Entrepreneur of the Year program. Before that, I spent most of my career in tech research with Gartner and Forrester. This space is all about brilliant minds that really focus on helping the world understand what's next in emerging technology. I worked pretty extensively with venture capital, private equity and venture banks.

IM: While you’ve worked on projects across the country, you’ve been based in Houston, so you’ve been able to see the city transform, right?

TR: In my career, I've been really fortunate enough to align with amazing people in the market. Several years ago, we started a community just in Houston to bring entrepreneurs, angel investors, and some VC together. It was a nonprofit, grassroots effort called TeXchange; I just wanted to help entrepreneurs connect to sources of capital.

IM: How did Accenture Ventures get its start and what does it aim to do?

TR: Accenture realized four years ago that in order to stay competitive, it needed to tap the best of the best in the startup world. The only way to do that is to dedicate resources and people to that task, and that's how we started Ventures. As a recent joiner, my role is primarily the lead for the Southwest to bring the best of the startup ecosystem into our clients to help them solve their most pressing problems. And it's not just about problems, but also about opportunities.

It's a win-win-win. The client gets the benefit of having the best of the best and the startups get amazing exposure to companies they might not have been able to get in front of. And, Accenture is happy because it gets to serve the client.

Accenture works in multiple sectors, including resources (oil and gas), chemicals, mining — so for obvious reasons, the Southwest is a big sector for us — but, we also tap the health and public safety sectors.

As we look to design these arrangements with these startups and we find that there is a compelling need to invest in them, we'll become a minority investor. If that startup then has a M&A play that makes sense to everyone, we'll look into that as well.

IM: How do Accenture Ventures and the Innovation Hub work together?

TR: I am part of the hub, and I also serve the broader team.

What we bring to the table is amazing talent to data scientists to designers — many different resources — and we work with our clients to figure out what they want to solve or if there's a play in the market they are interested in. We can pull the best from Accenture and from the startup ecosystem to design solutions.

IM: What’s the most challenging thing about solving clients’ goals?

TR: It's not a challenge so to speak, but it's something I have to be mindful of, and that is always keeping the client's interest at hand, so recognizing and realizing that they have short- and long-term goals that they want to achieve.

IM: What's it like working with companies on the startup side?

TR: We seek specific types of startups. In order for us to be really effective, we keep a pulse on the market. Our focus is on companies that have gotten their source of funding, they've gone through their first round, companies that have great management who have been in industry or served big companies, and companies that are disruptors, innovators, or have something really compelling to bring to us. The challenge is that there are so many of them. There are so many great startup companies doing amazing things. But, as many startups as there are, there's just as many client issues.

IM: In your opinion, what challenges does the Houston innovation ecosystem still have to overcome?

TR: It's no secret that the economic engine of venture capital is in the east and west coasts. We have a lot of great VCs here, but it's about how do we keep our startups here. That's an issue that everyone talks about. But we also have seen a lot of startups move to Houston from other places. But, from the financial aspect of it, I think we could always use more of that. I personally don't think there will ever be another Silicon Valley, but we'll be something different. We'll be ourself. But, we do need those sources of capital in place. But something I want to mention is the diversity and the universities in Houston — we have a lot going for us.

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Portions of this interview have been edited.