Houston Voices

5 investor red flags to look out for, according to this University of Houston expert

Keep an eye out for these warning signs when looking for funding. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

Venture capitalists give you plenty of reason to be on the look out for investor red flags.

In The Parable of the Scorpion and the Frog, the frog entrusts the scorpion not to sting it while it helps the scorpion cross a lake. The scorpion promises not to sting the frog, reasoning that both would drown. The scorpion stung the frog anyway. As a result, both drowned. The moral of the story is that a scorpion, like any animal, is true to its nature.

Think of venture capitalists as scorpions. They are constantly trying to undermine established terms in order to either avoid a financial downside, or collect on the financial upside, even at a startup's expense. As a result, they will not think twice about screwing you over.

Venture capitalists have a clear institutional objective: if your company is successful, they collect as much money as they can based on the agreed upon terms. On the other hand, if your company falls flat on its rear, venture capitalists will look to avoid losing money. At all costs. Even if it means bending the terms of your agreement and hurting your company further.

Here are the top five red flags to look out for from a venture capitalist.

Bad terms

Firstly, there are many times when a bad investor will strong-arm a company founder into a tough deal. If the investor even hints that there will be no room for negotiation, that's a definite red flag. You have a right to negotiate certain terms and request flexibility. The best investors will want to work with you because it's unlikely they'll want a sour relationship with their investment. If your investor seems to say "no" a lot to you, how much do they really care about your company's growth?

Unpredictable behavior

Any investor that exhibits unexpected behavior is sure to give you tons of headaches down the road. Imagine after agreeing to terms, your new investor decides he or she do not want to be on your company's board all of the sudden. Either because they don't have the time or just don't want the responsibility. Instead, they would hire an executive from another company to represent their interest on your company's board. Why didn't they tell you this beforehand? Now you'll have to adjust to this sudden change of heart. Consequently, your company will have to adjust, too.

Strict monogamy

Okay, so your relationship with your investor is not a romantic one. That's exactly why it should be okay to work with other investors. If your venture capitalist tries to discourage you from doing that, it shows a glaring insecurity. Multiple investors means more money for your company. Any investor that tries to keep you from working with other investors probably does not have your startup's best interest in mind.

Rotating door of CEOs

If an investor has a history of firing founders or CEOs too fast, it could show that they do not have the patience required to allow a startup to grow. Moreover, bad investors will overreact to a missed milestone (like under-performing for a quarter) and fire a CEO. So, seek an investor that has a reputation of working with founders, even through those bumps in the road.

Dominating discussions

Lastly, any potential investor that completely dominates a discussion does not leave room for other ideas and different perspectives to be brought to the table. Your company meetings should brainstorming sessions and strategic conversations where everyone has input.

Therefore, any one-sided discussion about company operations is sure to leave a bad taste in everyone else's mouths. In short, if your discussions with a potential investor are one-way streets where they are talking way more than they are listening, what do you think board meetings will be like with them at the helm?

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

Rene Cantu is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

Breakthrough research on metastatic breast cancer, a new way to turn toxic pollutants into valuable chemicals, and an evolved brain tumor chip are three cancer-fighting treatments coming out of Houston. Getty Inages

Cancer remains to be one of the medical research community's huge focuses and challenges, and scientists in Houston are continuing to innovate new treatments and technologies to make an impact on cancer and its ripple effect.

Three research projects coming out of Houston institutions are providing solutions in the fight against cancer — from ways to monitor treatment to eliminating cancer-causing chemicals in the first place.

Baylor College of Medicine's breakthrough in breast cancer

Photo via bcm.edu

Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Harvard Medical School have unveiled a mechanism explains how "endocrine-resistant breast cancer acquires metastatic behavior," according to a news release from BCM. This research can be game changing for introducing new therapeutic strategies.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and shows that hyperactive FOXA1 signaling — previously reported in endocrine-resistant metastatic breast cancer — can trigger genome-wide reprogramming that enhances resistance to treatment.

"Working with breast cancer cell lines in the laboratory, we discovered that FOXA1 reprograms endocrine therapy-resistant breast cancer cells by turning on certain genes that were turned off before and turning off other genes," says Dr. Xiaoyong Fu, assistant professor of molecular and cellular biology and part of the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center at Baylor, in the release.

"The new gene expression program mimics an early embryonic developmental program that endow cancer cells with new capabilities, such as being able to migrate to other tissues and invade them aggressively, hallmarks of metastatic behavior."

Patients whose cancer is considered metastatic — even ones that initially responded to treatment — tend to relapse and die due to the cancer's resistance to treatment. This research will allow for new conversations around therapeutic treatment that could work to eliminate metastatic cancer.

University of Houston's evolved brain cancer chip

Photo via uh.edu

A biomedical research team at the University of Houston has made improvements on its microfluidic brain cancer chip. The Akay Lab's new chip "allows multiple-simultaneous drug administration, and a massive parallel testing of drug response for patients with glioblastoma," according to a UH news release. GBM is the most common malignant brain tumor and makes up half of all cases. Patients with GBM have a five-year survival rate of only 5.6 percent.

"The new chip generates tumor spheroids, or clusters, and provides large-scale assessments on the response of these GBM tumor cells to various concentrations and combinations of drugs. This platform could optimize the use of rare tumor samples derived from GBM patients to provide valuable insight on the tumor growth and responses to drug therapies," says Metin Akay, John S. Dunn Endowed Chair Professor of Biomedical Engineering and department chair, in the release.

Akay's team published a paper in the inaugural issue of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine & Biology Society's Open Journal of Engineering in Medicine and Biology. The report explains how the technology is able to quickly assess how well a cancer drug is improving its patients' health.

"When we can tell the doctor that the patient needs a combination of drugs and the exact proportion of each, this is precision medicine," Akay explains in the release.

Rice University's pollution transformation technology

Photo via rice.edu

Rice University engineers have developed a way to get rid of cancer-causing pollutants in water and transform them into valuable chemicals. A team lead by Michael Wong and Thomas Senftle has created this new catalyst that turns nitrate into ammonia. The study was published in the journal ACS Catalysis.

"Agricultural fertilizer runoff is contaminating ground and surface water, which causes ecological effects such as algae blooms as well as significant adverse effects for humans, including cancer, hypertension and developmental issues in babies," says Wong, professor and chair of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in Rice's Brown School of Engineering, in a news release. "I've been very curious about nitrogen chemistry, especially if I can design materials that clean water of nitrogen compounds like nitrites and nitrates."

The ability to transform these chemicals into ammonia is crucial because ammonia-based fertilizers are used for global food supplies and the traditional method of creating ammonia is energy intensive. Not only does this process eliminate that energy usage, but it's ridding the contaminated water of toxic chemicals.

"I'm excited about removing nitrite, forming ammonia and hydrazine, as well as the chemistry that we figured out about how all this happens," Wong says in the release. "The most important takeaway is that we learned how to clean water in a simpler way and created chemicals that are more valuable than the waste stream."