Houston entrepreneur engineers support solutions for businesses

Claudio Gutierrez. Courtesy photo

In the Lone Star State, size is often seen as a badge of honor — after all, "everything's bigger in Texas." However, small and medium-sized businesses are the bread and butter of Claudio Gutierrez's engineering consulting business, Valens Project Consulting.

Throughout his years as an engineer and manager at a variety of companies, Gutierrez noticed a gap.

"I found that smaller companies that didn't have a need for dedicated engineering departments occasionally did need help with engineering, project management, process improvement, cost reduction, and things of that nature," he says.

In 2017, Gutierrez decided to do something about it and officially launched Valens Project Consulting. The company specializes in helping small and medium-sized businesses grow their revenue by focusing on business efficiencies and strengthening an existing customer base.

Valens is a Latin word that translates to "effective" or "strong," and those are Gutierrez's goals for the companies with which he works.

Based in Houston since 2007, the Nicaraguan-born Gutierrez has worked at a variety of companies, ranging from an armored vehicle manufacturer to several cable management companies. At each company, Gutierrez's hard work was consistently rewarded with promotions and projects all over the world.

Throughout his years in the engineering world, Gutierrez honed his skills as a project manager and was also known for his great people skills. So he decided to combine his knack for sales with his engineering acumen and fill a void he'd begun noticing in the industry: that of reliable engineering staffing for companies that don't necessarily need an entire department.

Gutierrez started out as the sole employee of Valens Project Consulting, but now manages a growing staff of engineering professionals. The company has expanded its services from simply project management to include business development, lean manufacturing implementation, and more. They're currently in the initial phases of adding a new business vertical — industrial distribution — through which Valens Project Consulting will sell heavy equipment.

One factor that sets Valens Project Consulting apart is how nimble it is. A smaller staff, Gutierrez explains, can be "extremely flexible and have extremely fast reaction times." Valens Project Consulting achieves this through a combination of remote work and collaboration with other small companies.

"We understand our customers' intents and needs, and we're mindful of limited budgets, so we believe in fulfilling the spirit of the project, rather than being beholden to the letter of the project," says Gutierrez. "We can do this because we fully embrace technology that allows for remote work as much as possible, and by not being captive to a single, central location."

In addition to his contributions to Houston's business economy, Gutierrez is a staunch participant in and supporter of the arts. He has played classical piano for nearly three decades and used to be in a heavy metal band. Gutierrez is a huge fan of the Houston Symphony and is on the Houston Grand Opera board of trustees.

Gutierrez is both creative and analytical, and combines these two mindsets to create holistic business solutions for his clients.

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This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Thomas Vassiliades of BiVACOR, Katie Mehnert of ALLY Energy, and Don Whaley of OhmConnect Texas. Courtesy photos

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know — the first of this new year — I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from health care innovation to energy — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.


Thomas Vassiliades, CEO of BiVACOR

BiVACOR named Thomas Vassiliades as CEO effective immediately. Photo courtesy of BiVACOR

Thomas Vassiliades has been named CEO of BiVACOR, and he replaces the company's founder, Daniel Timms, in the position. BiVACOR is on track to head toward human clinical trials and commercialization, and Vassiliades is tasked with leading the way.

Vassiliades has over 30 years of experience within the medical device industry as well as cardiothoracic surgery. He was most recently the general manager of the surgery and heart failure business at Abiomed and held several leadership roles at Medtronic. Dr. Vassiliades received his MD from the University of North Carolina, and his MBA was achieved with distinction at Emory University.

“I am excited and honored to join the BiVACOR team, working closely with Daniel and the entire team as we look forward to bringing this life-changing technology to the market,” says Dr. Vassiliades in the release. “Throughout my career, I’ve been guided by the goal of bringing innovative cardiovascular therapies to the market to improve patient care and outcomes – providing solutions for those that don’t have one. BiVACOR is uniquely well-positioned to provide long-term therapy for patients with severe biventricular heart failure.” Click here to read more.

Katie Mehnert, CEO and founder of ALLY Energy

Katie Mehnert joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the future of energy amid a pandemic, climate change, the Great Resignation, and more. Photo via Katie Mehnert

Katie Mehnert started ALLY Energy — originally founded as Pink Petro — to move forward DEI initiatives, and she says she started with building an audience first and foremost, but now the technology part of the platform has fallen into place too. Last summer, ALLY Energy acquired Clean Energy Social, which meant doubling its community while also onboarding new technology. On the episode, Mehnert reveals that this new website and platform is now up and running.

"We launched the integrated product a few weeks back," Mehnert says. "The whole goal was to move away from technology that wasn't serving us."

Now, moving into the new year, Mehnert is building the team the company needs. She says she hopes to grow ALLY from two employees to 10 by the end of the year and is looking for personnel within customer support, product developers, and sales and service. While ALLY is revenue generating, she also hopes to fundraise to further support scaling. Click here to read more.

Don Whaley, president at OhmConnect Texas

Texas is about a month away from the anniversary of Winter Storm Uri — would the state fair better if it saw a repeat in 2022? Photo courtesy

The state of Texas is about a month away from the one year anniversary of Winter Storm Uri — but is the state better prepared this winter season? Don Whaley, president at OhmConnect Texas, looked at where the state is now versus then in a guest column for InnovationMap.

"Governor Abbott has gone on record guaranteeing that the lights will stay on this winter, and I am inclined to agree. With the reinforcement of our fuel systems being mandated by the Railroad Commission, 2023 to 2025 should receive the same guarantee," he writes. "Beyond that, as the demand for electricity in Texas continues to grow, we will need to rely on the initiatives under consideration by the PUCT to attract investment and innovation in new, dispatchable generation and flexible demand solutions to ensure long-term stability in the ERCOT market.

Whaley has worked for over 40 years in the natural gas, electricity, and renewables industries, with specific experience in deregulated markets across the U.S. and Canada. He founded Direct Energy Texas and served as its president during the early years of deregulation. Click here to read more.

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