Russ: Hi, I’m Russ Capper and this is The BusinessMakers Show, coming to you today from Station Houston, where my guest is the Co-founder and CEO of Station Houston, JR Reale. JR, welcome to The BusinessMakers.
JR: Russ, it’s great to have you back. Good to see you.
Russ: This is like one year ago from when we were here before.
JR: I mean, it’s almost to the day.
Russ: Yeah, and this place is humming.
JR: It’s awesome, yeah. We’ve been in this place now downtown at 1301 Fannin for, I think, four months, and it’s been awesome.
Russ: For those of you who don’t know what Station Houston is, give them an overview.
JR: So, we started Station with this vision of building this startup community here in town, so we’re serving as the hub for the technology and entrepreneurship community here in town. So, we have member companies who are working on software and digital technology startups that we help by providing them access to programs, mentors, investors to each other, other experts to help them grow and launch their business.
Russ: Ok, well I remember in our last interview, there was a lot of focus on the fact that Houston is such a make it happen city, but it just felt like, well a lot of people felt like we’re just not doing something right to get out there on the leading edge of the digital transition.
JR: Yeah, you know Russ, we looked around the country and saw from 2008-2012, the advent of all these regional hubs to focus on building density around software and digital technologies, ranging from Chicago, and St. Louis, and Nashville, and Dallas, and San Antonio to Cincinnati, and more and more cities around the country. So, we looked at those models and said, what are they doing? One of my co-founders spends all their time running all around the middle of the country, and that was a lot of the genesis of why we started Station. So it was really to solve this problem of, where does everybody go, where does everything convene, and how do we start having different conversations in one central point?
Russ: Well I love the initiative and the story back a year ago and I was pulling for you and cheering for you (JR: And I love you for it.), but man, when you look out at the floor down here, there’s a lot of activity. It really has sort of a make it happen spirit to it, sort of, top to bottom.
JR: It’s fun, yes. So, for your viewers, you know we’re at 1301 Fannin. We moved into this 25,000-square foot facility, which is awesome. It’s a former trading floor, so the layout is just perfect for us to move right in. And a year later, so let’s see, we started last year, we’re at zero. We’ve got, we’re nearing 200 members. We have 196 members, we have 114 active mentors. Over the last year, we did over 2,200 mentoring sessions. Our companies have raised over 20 million dollars in capital from other VCs or from angel investors over that time, and I think we’ve had over 250 events. Our team is now 9 people. We’ve raised the seed round, and I think that we’re home to about 15 different meetup groups who use our space and activate whether they’re into data visualization, or in marketing, or in data science. So, the community is active, and there’s always something going on at Station.
Russ: Now how did this happen?
JR: We haven’t slept in a year. We also calculated that we’ve gone through about 20,000 cups of coffee, Russ, so I think our team, I think we might have drank them all.
Russ: Ok, well it is impressive
JR: You know, the community reaction has been awesome. You know, you and I spoke about some of the other things we’re involved with and I think it’s just a testament to all the tailwinds and the view, and support of the community from the Greater Houston Partnership, and what they’re doing with their innovation roundtable, and that initiative which, Accenture has also graciously gotten involved with, to support, you know, how do we provide a plan to activate Houston from the corporations, to the universities, to the government, to investors instead of startup organizations, to the mayor’s taskforce, which I’m really excited and grateful to be chairing to drive our innovation initiative. And really, how do we make recommendations for policy and initiatives for the city to really foster this startup community and take these best practices from the places like Chicago and Cincinnati, which the taskforce will be visiting later this week to learn from that, implement our plan, and drive our economy, which is so exciting.
Russ: I think it is cool that the mayor has an initiative, that the partnership does, that Accenture’s driven, joined the whole initiative in pushing forward.
JR: So, we have a team of 9 today. We have not only an awesome board of Doug Erwin, and Emily Keeton, and Blair Garrou, but we also have these mentors in the community who’ve served in these advisor roles. Whether we’re talking about Rakesh Agrawal, Keith Kreuer, or Michael Raspino or Andrew Clark, and just so many people from the community, you know realizing that this is a community movement in doing so. But even more importantly, the 9 people on our team, you know, we’ve got a young, dynamic, hungry, energetic team.
Russ: Ok, say we’ve got somebody watching right now that is a startup person and is listening to everything that you say and says, I want to be part of that. How do you become a member of Station Houston?
JR: Yeah, first come on down. Learn about what we’re doing and figure out where you fit in as far as, are you somebody who needs mentorship, are actively looking for mentorship or someone who is looking to, hey I just graduated from a coding academy; I’m looking to figure out what’s that next thing, right? So, there’s really something for everyone in the community. We don’t ask people to sign a long-term contract. It’s month to month, so just give us 30 days to let us know if you’re going to be moving or if something’s changed. It’s a great way to get involved, be part of the community, and we’ve taken away a lot of friction by negotiating parking rates around the downtown area and being accessible to the light rail. So, it’s really an easy platform.
Russ: So, as I’ve said many times, it’s really impressive here, what’s it going to be like if I come back next year, and the year after that?
JR: So, you know, our vision is still about building this district. So, as we look out, our plan is still to drive density. Activate more of the community, get more mentors involved, continue to drive programming in areas that really drive innovation and help our startups. And one of the needs is also that you hear about in Houston, we’ve talked about this for years, Russ, is funding (Russ: And the lack thereof.) and the lack thereof. So, this is exciting to share with you. We’re launching Station Ventures, we’re making our first two investments; one in a Station member company, one in a Station mentor led company, and what we’re doing over this first year is really activating our investors, activating our community, and educating them in the process about how do I invest in technology deals? How do I learn more about open source software, or working in cybersecurity, and really creating a pathway to then launching a fund, which will be on the backend of this year or 2018, so we could sustainably be a capital provider to really fit this gap. And that will hopefully stir others. Next year when we’re having this conversation, Russ, we should be taking about Station Ventures, the fund that we’re managing, and how we’re starting to source more and more investments in Houston based startups.
Russ: Impressive. It sounds like you’re hitting all the bullets on the action plan.
JR: There is a lot in the milestone plan we’ve got to address, but it’s really awesome.
Russ: Ok, and the web address is..?
Russ: And the street address is 1301 Fannin, Suite,
JR: 1301 Fannin, Suite 2440. We’re on the top floor, and we’re on the 24th and 23rd floors, which is also exciting because our new neighbors is the Accenture innovation lab and Liquid Studio, which is on the 18th floor, which we were together at last week, and another great asset for our overall innovation community.
Russ: Ok, well I really appreciate you sharing this story, and I’m going to encourage you to keep doing what you’re doing.
JR: You keep doing what you’re doing, Russ. Come back and visit us anytime.
Russ: You bet. Absolutely. And that wraps up my discussion with John Reale, the Co-founder and CEO of Station Houston. And this is The BusinessMakers Show.
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