Project by Project

Houston entrepreneur explains how aiming small generates big growth even in trying times

When time is money, speed is everything. Photo by chain45154/Getty Images

Since founding Valens Project Consulting in 2017, Claudio Gutierrez has seen his business continue a steady climb upwards as smaller companies discover the benefit of having engineering assistance on retainer.

While large firms might have an entire department dedicated to engineering, project management, process improvement, and cost reduction, it is the medium-to-small companies looking to fill that gap on a case-by-case basis that are Gutierrez's bread and butter.

"I attribute our success to our business model," he says. "The companies we work with may not always need our services, but when they do, they need them yesterday."

A low-cost retainer-like structure means that — even better — those services have already been paid for. Larger companies can blow through their budgets quickly, but Valens' small, consistent price tag means they are always available and ready to begin the next project.

"It sounds counterintuitive to seek out smaller companies, but it works for us," he says.

The Valens Project Consulting team can also leap into action immediately with an incredibly quick response time.

"Being so flexible has been very valuable to us," Gutierrez says. "Some large oil and gas companies tend to move slowly, but when time is money, small businesses need that speed."

Valens is ensuring even quicker response times during this current uncertain environment caused by COVID-19, with constant communication and greater flexibility with payments. And now, in the midst of the worst oil crash in history, he understands how important it is to be able to support his company's customers with flexible payment terms and going above and beyond what's expected of engineering support.

"We're all wearing different hats at various times these days — it's a policy that our current customers appreciate," says Gutierrez.

It's understanding what these companies need, and when they need it, that is Gutierrez's special skill, in addition to something unique for his industry.

"For an engineer, I've been told I have people skills," he says. In fact, his warm demeanor and amiable personality work in tandem with other "soft skills" such as being trilingual and growing up global (he's originally from Nicaragua), having experienced different cultures all over the world.

Claudio Gutierrez Claudio Gutierrez. Courtesy photo

Though Valens Project Consulting specializes mainly in the oil and gas industry, it has made inroads into food distribution and the medical field.

It's also expanding into a different vertical: the distribution of heavy industrial equipment. Potens Energy ("potens" means "power" in Latin, just as "valens" means "effective" or "strong") was recently formalized as a new company with Gutierrez's business partner, Danny Salinas, PhD.

"Diversification is key," says Gutierrez. "While the bulk of our business will always be energy and power generation, it doesn't hurt to explore necessary elements that all people need."

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Building Houston

 
 

New study shows Houston has minority-owned startups than any other Texas city. Photo by Tim Leviston/Getty Images

Both Houston and the state of Texas earned high rankings on a recent study by Self Financial that looked at the percentage of minority-owned startups in regions across the U.S.

"Today there are nearly 170 thousand minority-owned startups in the U.S., employing over 700 thousand people and generating close to $100 billion in annual revenue," the report said. "Based on demographic trends, these numbers are likely to grow as the population continues to diversify on racial and ethnic lines."

According to the report, about 30 percent of startups in Greater Houston are minority-owned. This is the fifth highest percentage in the country. There are nearly 5,600 minority-owned startups in the MSA, employing more than 22,700 people and bringing in more than $3.1 billion annually, the report found.

The Bayou City outranked New York but just a tenth of a percentage. But neighboring San Antonio edged out the Bayou City for the No. 4 spot, with roughly 31 percent of startups being minority-owned.

The top three cities on the list were all in California. The San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara metro had the highest percentage of minority-owned start ups. Roughly 46 percentage of startups there are minority-owned. The Los Angeles area and San Bernardino area followed in the second and third spots, respectively.

Dallas was the only other Texas metro to make the cut. According to the study, roughly 24 percent of startups there are minority-owned, earning it a No. 9 spot on the list.

The state earned a No. 4 spot on a similar ranking. According to that report, nearly 27 percent of startups in Texas are minority-owned and are responsible for employing more than 87,000 individuals and turn out roughly $11.5 billion in sales annually.

Still, Self Financial argues that minorities are underrepresented in the startup economy in cities, states, and throughout the U.S.

"Non-Hispanic whites, who represent around 60 percent of the U.S. population, own nearly 80 percent of the nation's startup businesses," the report says.

In Houston, nearly 64 percent of the population is considered a minority. And yet, those individuals only represent about 30 percent of startup ownership. Even in top-ranked San Jose the gap is wide. The population in the metro has a 68 percent minority share, and only 46 percent of startups are minority-owned.

St. Louis had the narrowest margin among large, high-rated metros. Minorities represent about 26 percent of the population there, and 25 percent go startups in the city are minority-owned.

In Texas minorities represent about 59 percent of the population, but only 27 percent of startup ownership. Nationwide minorities represent about 40 percent of the population but own about 20 percent of startups, according to the study..

Nationally minorities are most represented in the start-up economy in the accommodation, food services, and retail sectors. And the report adds that the demographic has faced exceptional challenges in 2020—from a business perspective, the largest roadblock was (and is often) access to capital.

"Minority households have lower pre-existing levels of wealth and savings to put towards a new business, while banks and other creditors are less likely to approve loans for Black or Hispanic small-business owners than they are for white business owners," the report says. "Without upfront capital to invest in a growing business, minority entrepreneurs struggle to run and scale their operations.

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