The state’s largest technology business incubator and accelerator are right here in Houston. The Houston Technology Center, whose seeds were first planted in 1997, works closely with entrepreneurs and startup companies, giving them in-depth strategic and tactical business guidance, fundraising advice, and connecting them to opportunities, allies, and capital. Startup Houston recently sat down with Deborah Mansfield, HTC’s Director of Life Sciences Acceleration, to learn more about HTC and its mission.
Startup Houston: How do you see HTC fitting into Houston’s startup world?
Deborah Mansfield: Since 1999, we’ve been about technology startups in 5 different areas – energy, IT, life sciences, nanotechnology, and aerospace. We were, I believe, maybe the founding organization for supporting innovators, entrepreneurs, and spinouts from universities. I would say we’ve continued on that mission, and we’re into our second ten years and are continuing to support that community.
SH: Describe your journey towards being on HTC’s leadership. How did you end up here?
DM: I’m an enabler; I enjoy immensely getting people to their goals, resources, connections. My Twitter handle is dotconnecter, which probably says a lot. I’m an individual that’s had the pathway of beginning at the innovative stage in life sciences. I moved through to better understand business with an MBA. I then committed myself to the mission of working with companies moving from the bench to the bedside. I’ve come full circle from being a scientist, an MBA graduate, and a consultant to now working with a great accelerator like the Houston Technology Center.
SH: Do you think it’s a good idea for startups to have their CEOs or other people involved directly in the leadership to get MBAs? If you think they should at all, at what point do you think its best?
DM: My take on the MBA was that it was like going back to kindergarten, and finding out how to manage everything – resources, funding, and people – these are translatable examples that can go into any aspect of life. My management MBA did not teach me anything about starting a small business. It did not teach me about being an entrepreneur. However, it taught me about what are the pieces that a business is made up of – revenue, cash flow, strategy, business development, partner, customers, etc. But it did not teach me how to form a business. Now there are some specific programs, where that’s the track that you take – but a traditional MBA is about managing resources.
SH: What are some specific actions HTC has taken to foster a startup community in Houston, especially in recent years?
DM: Besides supporting our own acceleration program, we’ve also moved into the incubation area working with the ideators, the engineers, the professors, the MBAs, the doctors, the scientists that think they have something that they think may be a solution in the market. We’re working with them and asking, do you have what it takes to form a business? Do you have an idea, product, or a service that could be a business with a market? Would an investor be interested in it?
We’ve supported not just company acceleration, but company formation. The Houston Technology Center has become more involved with the entrepreneurial community by Co-Founding and engaging in the CTEO organization – Community of Technology Entrepreneur Organizations. We’re availing our building and our facilities at no cost to these organizations for events they may want to host here, such as Startup Weekend, the city of Houston Hackathon program or coding classes.
SH: How do you think Houston’s sprawl plays into this, versus the Bay Area which has done a better job of public transportation and zoning?
If you think of the Gulf Coast region, not just Houston, we can go 45 minutes to Galveston, or we can go 45 minutes to Katy. Or we can go 45 minutes up to the Woodlands. They’re all sort of close to Houston. So, we’re made up of communities, and each one of these communities has chambers of commerce, and economic development organizations; and they want people to settle there, so they can get jobs and taxes. I think there’s competition going on between the different neighborhoods, and I think it’s good, because it’s going to address the needs of those neighborhoods. The Katy area is dealing with the energy community, Galveston is dealing with infectious diseases. There are specialties in different areas, and I think people gravitate to who and where they want to engage. But for general, entrepreneurial resources, it may make it hard for individuals; it may make it hard for students who don’t have transportation, to get to opportunities. So I think the city improving the rail system is going to be very helpful, and other opportunities like that.
SH: Where do you see Houston’s startup community in the next 5, 10, 15 years?
DM: I think the startup community is still going to be based on the strong clusters that our community has. We are strong in the 5 areas that formed the Houston Technology Center – energy, IT, life science, nanotechnology, and aerospace. I feel that these areas will continue to grow, but feel that it depends on how the community deals with the diversity of our current population, and the diversity that will continue to grow here. Much depends on how colleges will educate individuals to be innovative, as well as to be creative.
SH: Is there anything you’d like to add?
DM: It’s really important to network in this community. It’s not a community that’s well documented for one location for everything about innovation, about entrepreneurship, or about startups. We have a bunch of people working in different levels in these areas. Networking is key to getting to the resources that you need. Maybe at some point in the future, we may have some kind of a funded organization that will collect everything and coordinate everything. Frankly I think diversity and competition is good, so that we don’t get stale and we’re always going to be on the edge. So, plus and minus.