Gina: Hi I’m Gina Luna and this is HXTV, the show that champions Houston’s innovators and entrepreneurs brought to you by PKF Texas, the CPAs and advisors serving Houston’s innovators for over 15 years. My guest today is Brian Richards, Managing Director of Accenture’s innovation hub. Welcome Brian, I’m so happy to have you.
Brian: Thanks for having me.
Gina: So it’s exciting to be able to talk to you on HXTV because you were the beginning of HX before it was even HX. So take us back to the conversations of mid 2016 and Accenture’s willingness to step up in such a big way to help move Houston’s innovation economy forward.
Brian: It’s a bit surreal to have HXTV and to be talking to you on this but yes, in 2016 the GHB had an innovation round table with different community leaders from around Houston all looking at this problem of innovation. And depending on how you talk to Houston is either the most innovative city in the world where you’re curing cancer or landing on the moon or drilling in deep water, or the least innovative city; we didn’t have Amazon or Google of venture capital or those kinds of things.
And so in talking with the round table, in talking with others, we decided that our way of helping would be to do a pro bono strategy on what Houston could do by looking at what other cities were doing and what was maybe best practice. It was released in May of 2017 and one of those recommendations was to create a strategy office similar to ChicagoNEXT. We ended up calling it Houston Exponential which was to represent the exponential growth we were expecting so to get to talk to you today on HXTV is just super exciting.
Gina: It is exciting. And so since that time the strategic recommendations that you put forward really led to the formation of HX, the committees and so much of the work that’s happened over the last year, but Accenture has contributed their leadership and their contribution in a very significant way. Talk about what Accenture has done since then and why Accenture continues to feel so committed and frankly so generous to continue to do this kind of work with us.
Brian: I think it’s multiple reasons. Accenture is a global consulting company, we have about 450,000 people, and we have seen our business transform with digital innovation technologies. Our business now represents about – 60% to 70% of our revenue is what we call in the new; these are analytics and mobility and cloud and things of that nature and innovation is at the heart of that. And so bringing innovation to our clients, how they bring these technologies to reimagine their businesses. In parallel we’re also very committed to the communities that we operate in. So we can actually move to a regional structure, we’re very focused on building deep and intimate relationships in the cities that we operate in.
And so you bring those two things together, innovation and a deep love of Houston, and that’s really where it comes from. And we got a commitment to our own business as well, right? I run, as you mentioned, our innovation hub and that has been great to see all of the commitment from our clients, their passion around innovation and working with us on innovation. And I couldn’t be more excited to watch it grow and watch our capabilities expand in that space.
Gina: We’re so grateful because your leadership has been invaluable to everything that we’ve done to date and so much of what I would call the tenants of our strategy moving forward, but also the rest of the team at Accenture and all they’ve done to help. Whether it be the ambassadors that have been supporting the committees or the further strategy work that you’ve done just continues to help propel this forward.
One of the key tenants, as you know, was this focus on thematic technology areas as we build our innovation ecosystem. That’s a piece that you’ve continued to drive very specifically and I think it’s sometimes misunderstood by people. So talk about why the thematic focus areas, why we believe that’s so important, what they are and how we’re moving that forward.
Brian: We probably should have given it another name, maybe thematic focus areas isn’t the most intuitive name right? But the basic recognition was that Houston is known for its industries; we are leaders in healthcare, we are leaders in energy, aerospace, transportation. But that’s not the way tech companies or innovative companies that are high growth or exponential companies typically start, they’re typically cutting across multiple industries. So if you think of something like a Google or an Amazon, they’re operating in many different industries or you take a technology like artificial intelligence, it hits many different industries.
And so the idea was basically what are the areas where we see lots of VC investment going into where it was sustainable, where it wasn’t just a fad. This was going to be a multiyear, maybe even decade long trend that we could catch that wave and where Houston had differentiating or unique capabilities where we would be a natural home for that. And there were four that were identified. The first was data science and that includes artificial intelligence, then we had robotics and autonomous systems, then we had cyber security and then we had the internet of things.
And the reason those are powerful is that they cut across those things. So if you take something like robotics – in the medical center they’re working on something like robotic surgery, but then in the oil and gas industry they’re using submersibles in the Gulf of Mexico which is just like robotic surgery for maintenance and repair. If you take data science, on the one hand our oil and gas companies are using AI for predictive maintenance or machine learning for completion optimization. And then for the healthcare industry they’re focused on how they’re going to use this to lower their cost to serve, to improve pharmaceuticals, those kinds of use cases.
So those four themes are themes we think we can own and if you look at some of the progress that’s been made – the announcement from the city about the partnership with Microsoft around the smart city, if you look at the stuff with the 5G with Verizon and other wireless carriers – all of that helps drive what we’re doing in these spaces. And as you well know with the Innovation District announcement from Rice and everything else that’s happening I only expect more out of those thematic areas.
Gina: And it’s helpful because it gives us focus and as we try to attract VC capital to the city for example we have something very specific to talk about on where we’re focused on building critical mass. And I think as we were developing the strategy and Houston Exponential we talked about we need to do this in a way that is uniquely Houston and I think this particular piece is one component that really does play off of the strengths that are uniquely Houston.
Brian: Correct and the question is always why these themes and why focus? Why not have twenty things? Why not get into sports betting or who knows what else. The key is this is not at the exclusion of anything else, we want all elements of the ecosystem to come up. These are just the things where the market is big enough, the VC interest is high enough, the amount of startups is concentrated and we think we can plant a flag and be really known in those spaces.
Gina: So it’s been a year since HX was officially formed and has been in operation if you will.
Brian: And what a year.
Gina: And what a year. You and I both have more gray hair now.
Brian: Yes, exactly.
Gina: Talk about if you step back and reflect on the year and what we’ve accomplished or not accomplished, what grade would you give us and what is your outlook on the next year?
Brian: It depends on the lens you look at. On the one hand the announcement of $100 million commitment for the Innovation District, the close of the fund to funds, the launching of InnovationMap; there’s so many different things you can point to that are happening in the ecosystem that you’d have to say it’s just unbelievably impressive. And whenever you create a strategy – strategies are just paper, right? No one has ever made money or changed the world with a strategy, right? It all comes down to the execution, so on that front I give us an A for sure. I could not have envisioned when we released the strategy that we’d make so much progress and make it in such a short period of time. Now, we’re coming from behind so we have to be getting an A every single year to close the gap and to make the progress we want to make.
Gina: We’re sprinting.
Brian: We’re sprinting; we’re sprinting full out. And so the opportunity for us to not be like okay, we’ve solved this, onto the next challenge. We have to continue that level of commitment and execution and improvement every single year to get where we want to be which is to be a top 10 ecosystem, to bring in the venture capital we want and to create the amount of jobs we want.
Gina: I always say we’ve created a ton of positive momentum.
Brian: A ton of positive momentum.
Gina: And a lot of work left to do.
Gina: Well I have one more question because we always conclude with the same question, but before we do that I just want to say thank you to you for all that you have personally done, you’ve been an amazing contributor to this effort, and to Accenture. The partnership is just unbelievable and it’s the gift that keeps on giving to HX and to Houston so we’re grateful for that. Now our last question is always – and it’s a great one for you because you’re not from Houston – but what is it about Houston that you think is the most valuable to you in your business, but also to entrepreneurs trying to build a high growth, high impact business here?
Brian: It’s interesting, so I moved to Houston in 2015. So if we go back to your very first question the fall of ’16, you’re talking about I had literally been in the city for 12 months and it was how about you come help us with our strategy for the entire city. And I think that that speaks about the openness of this city and the opportunities that are here. I can say with pretty high confidence that had I stayed in Chicago where I moved from that Rob Emmanuel would not have been calling me up saying hey, can you help up create our innovation strategy.
So for me that’s the opportunity, that’s what I love about the city and I see that every day with our people, with the clients we have come through our innovation hub with the business opportunity that we see. For and entrepreneur in an ecosystem you always have to decide do I want to go where everyone else is going in a red ocean type scenario? For me that would have been going to Silicon Valley and going to open up an office there for us. Or do I want to go against the grain and find unique and different shaded opportunities.
And they may not always be obvious, when I moved people said why would you move to Houston? You go to Austin, you go to Silicon Valley; that’s the path. But both for me, for Accenture and for my family that has been a great move. And so for any entrepreneur that’s looking at whether Houston is the right place for them I would say that going off the beaten path and once you seen the momentum that’s happening here you have the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of something really big. And that’s a lot different than being yet another person in the valley.
Gina: It’s so true. And you coming to Houston was fortuitous for you and for Houston.
Brian: Yes, it was great. It’s worked out great.
Gina: We’re happy to have you, lots of good luck to come.
Brian: Yes, absolutely.
Gina: Thank you for joining us today. I’m Gina Luna and this is HXTV.
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