Russ: Hi, I’m Russ Capper and this is The BusinessMakers Show coming to you today from Station Houston where Station is celebrating their second anniversary. I’m here with their Co-founder and CEO, John Reale. JR, welcome to the show.
JR: Russ, welcome back.
Russ: You bet. So, second anniversary.
JR: A few weeks ago, it was awesome. March 1st, 2016 was when we shouted from the mountain tops, i.e. we were on the desk over at Surge in midtown.
Russ: That’s right.
JR: And got everything started. Fast forward two years and it’s been a busy two years, but it’s awesome.
Russ: And a lot’s happening, right?
JR: A lot is happening all over the city, including you, congratulations.
Russ: Thank you.
JR: I’m so excited about you being the Executive Director of HX. I can’t wait to serve you, Russ.
Russ: Well, I was going to say I’ll be working for you then, right?
JR: One way or the other.
Russ: It’ll go both ways.
JR: It depends on the day, right?
Russ: Well, I’m excited. You’ve been playing a big role in everything that’s been rolling out. Let’s start with the Innovation District.
JR: So, that was obviously big news last Thursday, we’re so excited. We signed a deal with Rice University and the Rice Management Company, and in two years, at a date we’ll find out soon enough once a lot of the plans are put in place, we will be moving over to the Sears building in Midtown. What the means is that will be the Innovation District. Something the Mayor laid out, a lot of work we did with the Mayor’s task force a few years ago, but really having a hub and a home, particularly for our digital community and digital entrepreneurship here in Houston. So, that’s a big crux of what’s happening.
Russ: Ok, and you are going to be here until then or maybe somewhere else, too, in between?
JR: We extended our lease here and most likely we may have an interim move before we make the final landing into Midtown.
Russ: Let’s say somebody is watching, I can’t imagine this, but doesn’t know what Station Houston does.
JR: Station Houston is the hub for tech innovation and entrepreneurship in Houston. Our mission starts with the entrepreneur. So, we serve entrepreneurs, and the way we do that is we connect them. We connect them to mentors, connect them to talent, people that they could hire, people who could do gigs for them, we connect them to investors, capital, and all the other resources that they need, ultimately, to build high growth, high impact tech startups.
Russ: Say we have an early startup person watching right now.
JR: Come on to Station.
Russ: Just show up?
JR: Come on down. Yeah, so we have an application process. We just, we’ll talk a little bit about this, we just rolled out, part of our second anniversary and the big event we did a few weeks ago, was rolling out Membership 2.0. What Membership 2.0 really means to entrepreneurs is we’ve added resources, we’ve invested in our team, and what we did was separate the value proposition of space vs. the services that we provide. Now, one of the core parts of our membership is having access to a startup partner. What a startup partner really is is a dedicated account manager to work back with our member companies, to help them connect. What we’ve been doing as a team, and just kind of scattered and sent mail, and visit versus slack and makes calls and texts, but have someone where our members can meet with regularly who is looking out for them, who is helping them connect with the right mentors, connect with other people in the ecosystem and do so. So, that way, whether you work at Station or not you could still connect and have somebody there to champion how you build your company.
Russ: Really cool. I remember the last time I was here which was one year ago, you guys were talking then about launching your own investment fund. That’s still in business?
JR: Yes, Station Houston Ventures just recently closed on its third investment, Lionguard, which is one of our member companies.
Russ: They’ve been on our show.
JR: Yeah, Joe, and Vince and the rest of their team doing awesome things. Closed their first deal, oversubscribing their rounds, so we participated in the deal. We have another deal that’s coming up, so one of the first deals that we invested in, just signed a term sheet, they’ll be closing on a Series B, so we’ll be participating, it’ll be our fourth deal. What we’re seeing is our mentors want to be activated, we have some great companies here and people are looking to find great opportunities to invest in. Station Houston Ventures has been a good platform to do so.
Russ: There’s a lot of work involved in this place, so what is your position? You’ve always shown lots of passion for the place, are you still alive and well?
JR: Still kicking, Russ, still going. It’s been a great year, I had a daughter just almost a year ago.
Russ: Yeah, I saw that on Facebook.
JR: It’s been super exciting for our family, but probably the thing I’m most excited about with all of these things—super excited about Rice, super excited about some other stuff we talked about, our Membership 2.0, investing in companies like Lionguard, but also really excited that we’ve been adding to our team. Our team has now grown to thirteen people. We’re continuing to add. We’ve added five people just in the last few months alone, including our first startup partner. We brought on Roberto Moctezuma, I’m sure you know him through the community and ecosystem, but he’s been a big driver in helping us launch Membership 2.0, and working with the team, which has been awesome. Recently, the night before we had the announcement and the press conference with the Mayor, and President Leebron, and Bill McKeon from the TMC, we did an event with Hypergiant, which as you know they are like the Texas startup story. Will is from Houston, Ben is in Dallas, John is in Austin, and really building a really interesting team working with a lot of Fortune 500 companies in town.
Russ: With the main focus now on AI, right?
JR: The main focus on AI. So, one of the cool things and a new addition to our team will be the Hypergiant AI Fellow at Station Houston. What that means is we’ll hire someone to come on in a two-year role and they will serve as the super connector around all things AI. So, working back with startups about what are best practices, who is doing what, where can I get connected; working with our universities here and developing programs to develop talent to feed into those startups or other companies; working with VCs around the country; we’ve met with here, just alone in the last few weeks, a group out of Chicago who started an AI focused fund, a group out of Silicon Valley; work back with those groups, their portfolio companies, help them get connected here; and then finally with our corporations, work as a subject matter expert, let them know what’s happening, how is AI intersecting with industry, and help them navigate so they can ultimately work better with entrepreneurs through Station Houston.
Russ: I have an idea, let me come back sooner than your next anniversary. There’s so much going on I want to stay up to date on Station Houston.
JR: Listen, let’s come back and let’s interview you as the Executive Director of HX and all the awesome things you’re going to do to help grow the ecosystem.
Russ: I’m going to take you up on that.
JR: Let’s do it.
Russ: Thanks a lot, JR.
JR: It’s great to see you, thank you.
Russ: You bet. 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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