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5 Takeaways from Houston House at 2021 SXSW

Published Mar 22, 2021 by Maggie Martin

2021 SXSW

The Greater Houston Partnership was a Featured Partner of this year’s South by Southwest Online Conference. The annual event, traditionally held in Austin, TX, took place virtually because of the ongoing pandemic. The Partnership’s Houston House featured innovative leaders who shared how they’re solving the problems that matter, all while fostering a culture of inclusive innovation. 

Here are the top 5 takeaways from Houston House at the 2021 SXSW Online Conference.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion a Major Focus

Panelists said while Houston is well-positioned to lead diversity and inclusion efforts, there's still work to be done. 

“The success of DEI work often hinges on the way we can disrupt our frequent, common and known behaviors," said LaTanya Flix, senior vice president of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) at the Partnership.

Leaders in Houston's innovation ecosystem also recognized the need to advocate for DEI within the community.

"We have to be true to ourselves in what works for Houston," said Ashley DeWalt, managing director of DivInc Houston. "Making sure that DEI is interwoven in our DNA and ecosystem and making sure we do not repeat mistakes of other cities.” 

“If we can’t succeed here and build an inclusive ecosystem where there is talent development, entrepreneurship, founders and startups, where else will we succeed?” asked Jan Odegard, interim executive director of The Ion.

Watch these conversations with InnovationMap's Natalie Harms here.

Jan Odegard with The Ion (left) and Ashley DeWalt of DivInc Houston (center) talked with InnovationMap's Natalie Harms.

Lessons Learned from February's Storm and Power Outages

With February's winter storm fresh on Texans' minds, energy leaders said the power outages reinforced the need for reliable and affordable energy. 

“The future of energy [will reflect that] people want affordable energy, they want reliable energy, they want abundant energy," said Kirk Coburn, Investment Director of Shell Ventures. "But now, they also want clean energy...and they want local energy. Because energy produced locally is the most efficient, cheapest, and the most sustainable.”

Coburn joined Bill Collins, Founder and CEO, LO3 Energy, for a conversation with InnovationMap Editor Natalie Harms about how corporate partnerships driving digitization in energy. Watch here.

Radical Candor" a Valuable Tool in the VC Landscape

Some of the leading female venture capitalists in Houston talked about the value of honesty in the VC community. 

“The amount of friendliness with radical candor and honesty is so refreshing both in our network of women in venture capital and the city at large,” said Paige Pitcher, director of Innovation at Hines. 

Samantha Lewis, principal at Mercury Fund, said honesty is something she practices in her day-to-day work. 

"What I have tried to do is get to a 'no' as quickly as I can," said Lewis. "If I know it’s going to be a ‘no’ after the first 30 minutes, I say ‘I think this is a no and here’s why I think it, but I am going to help you in whatever way I can.' And now I have a really good relationship with all these people that we had to say 'no' to investing in because I practiced this radical candor right away with them."

Lewis, Pitcher and Sandy Guitar, managing director of HX Venture Fund, also talked about how the community is making meaningful progress to address barriers facing women in this space. Watch here.

Samantha Lewis with Mercury Fund (left), Paige Pitcher with Hines (center) and Sandy Guitar with HX Venture Fund spoke at Houston House at 2021 SXSW Online Conference.

Houston’s Life Sciences Sector at Heart of Global Solutions

Panelists talked about the region's strengths in the life sciences space, noting innovation and COVID-19 response as just two ways Houston is among the leading emerging life sciences clusters in the U.S.

“Over the last several years we have built critical mass. Houston is a place where great things are, not just where they come from,” said David Schubert, president of Magnolia Tejas Corporation.

"The number of (COVID-19) clinical trials and high concentration of health care and educational institutions puts Houston in a unique position to address health care disparities," said Fiona Mack, head of JLABS @TMC.

Watch the Houston House conversation featuring Mack and InnovationMap's Natalie Harms here, and the conversation with Schubert here.

Material Science: The Next Big Tech Boom? 

That’s what Mike Francis predicts. He’s the co-founder and CEO of Nanotech, a materials science innovator that looks to transform the fireproofing and insulation markets.

"Material science is going to be the next big tech boom, and Houston is the place to be for it," said Francis.

Nanotech is the inaugural member of Halliburton Labs, a dedicated cleantech incubator fostering early-stage cleantech startups.

“It’s an exciting time for Houston to claim and drive the leadership position in a lot of the key developments that are going to happen in the energy transition, " said Dale Winger, Managing Director of Halliburton Labs. 

The entire Houston House at South by Southwest program is now available on demand

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