Amber: Hi I’m Amber Ambrose and this is HXTV and by the way HXTV is a champion for Houston innovators and entrepreneurs and it’s brought to you by PKF Texas, the CPAs and advisors to Houston innovators for over 15 years; that’s a long time y’all. And also by the way we’re at The Cannon in front of a live audience as you may have heard before of entrepreneurs and innovators, welcome, that are all very excited to be part of this Houston ecosystem here. My guest is Lawson Gow, the CEO and Founder of The Cannon, where we are right now.
Lawson: Thanks for having me.
Amber: So tell us about The Cannon.
Lawson: We’re a workspace for entrepreneurs; a startup hub and we’re trying to surround them with all the support they need to succeed. And then we have Cannon Ventures which is an investor network and incubator for early stage companies in Houston.
Amber: So Lawson, what triggered the idea for The Cannon?
Lawson: Well frankly it’s not an original idea. There are cities that don’t have any particular advantage over Houston in terms of money or access to great universities or great people and it’s really not re-inventing the wheel, it’s placing the wheel in Houston. And we desperately need it and we can tease out key determinates of success that we’ve seen in these cities and apply it here.
Amber: So why you?
Lawson: If I have one super power it’s sort of a blinding optimism that it’s all going to work out and that’s an essential ingredient to entrepreneurs. If the entrepreneur knew how hard it was going to be they might never start the company in the first place.
Amber: They’d never do it.
Lawson: Yeah, that’s right.
Amber: I’m also an entrepreneur so I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights.
Lawson: well then you know that startups are driven on hope and sort of boundless optimism that for you it’s going to work out and that this can be a great thing.
Amber: I want to know how did you come up with the name The Cannon?
Lawson: We launch companies and we do it with our own sort of Texan flavor. There’s an inherent Texan feel to The Cannon and to me if you say Hulu, that doesn’t sound like a location but The Cannon, that has some gravitas to it and it’s a destination and a landmark.
Amber: Good job on the name.
Lawson: Thank you.
Amber: Tell me more about the support part.
Lawson: Well we have a deep focus on startups and we’re increasingly trying to bring in mentors, investors and hold classes and speakers and events like this to expose them and foster collaboration and equip them with all the materials that they need to grow.
Amber: So you’re not just a place where you come and lease an office and you’re on your own, you have all kinds of people that you can access and resources to grow your business beyond just the space? Okay, and so tell us now about Cannon Ventures.
Lawson: Cannon Ventures we launches about 6 months in – all startups need money – and it’s an angel investor network coupled with an incubator or accelerator program, whatever you want to call it. And we help startups that we feel are some of the most promising in the city of Houston, raise the early stage funding that they need and then we house them in The Cannon and then we work really intimately with them to help them launch.
Amber: What’s the process like of vetting for those companies?
Lawson: It’s extensive. We’ve got a great investment analyst Kristen Phillips and she is sort of the first filter. There’s sort of two questions to answer, is this a good idea and are we uniquely positioned to actually help you? Then she’ll pass on the ones that she feels are really exciting to a selection committee and we’ll make a final pick from them.
Amber: So I’m curious, is there certain industries that you have found that work better with where you are situated in the city of Houston?
Lawson: Yeah, well it doesn’t make sense if yo8’re a medical startup probably to be here because we’ve got an amazing medical center and medical accelerator in our city and so we don’t have a lot of those. We’re right by the energy capital of the world and so that’s been a good fit and resources have naturally gravitated to our spot. And then a less predictable one has been sports tech and eSports, which has been educational for me. Both of those have been – The Cannon has been heavily populated with those industries and so we’ve been able to establish really great relationships with customers and partners for that space.
Amber: Sure, that makes sense. So do you remember your first tenant?
Lawson: Of course.
Amber: First tenants? Maybe there were multiple.
Lawson: Well when I started this there’s always that thought in the back of mind that no one is going to move in and you’re going to have to flee town and change your name. So when the first company moved in it was a big deal and we are brothers till death. They’re in my will and actually they’re still here and they are one of the most exciting in my opinion, although I don’t pick favorites. They’re Data Gumbo and they are blockchain as a service for oil and gas and logistics industries. When we moved into this space there were dead animals in the ceiling and dirt concrete floors, it was a disaster. So I’m forever grateful that they could see past that and into the vision and were a part of our community early on.
Amber: Speaking of dead animals in the ceiling, where there are not any because you can see up through the ceiling is next door where you have a big, giant project happening.
Lawson: Interesting segue.
Amber: Yes. Tell us about the space next door.
Lawson: The space next door is big and it does not have a roof. It’s a 120,000 square foot warehouse that we’re building out to be the ultimate destination. We’re actually in the waiting room right now – that’s what we call it – it’s 20,000 square feet. We’re encouraging those startups throughout Houston just move in, we’re a startup too, let’s grow together and then graduate into the big space when it’s done. It’s about 25 yards from here and a March 1st completion date fingers crossed.
Amber: So if you had to pitch to a company, say a software company in Austin that was doing a lot of work with oil and gas, and you had an audience with them – maybe they’re watching right now, hello Austin – and they just got sick of food trucks and they’re like we don’t know where to go. What would be your pitch to bring them to The Cannon?
Lawson: Well Austin, it’s a scientific fact that Houston is the best city in the world, so that’s one. Yeah, it’s just science. What I would say is right now in Houston it’s a really exciting moment for like twelve reasons, but Houston is poised to really explode in terms of developing its own innovation economy. Austin is far ahead but we’re really a sleeping giant for this. We’ve got all the raw materials and just in this moment there’s a frustration of our lack of resources. And forever entrepreneurs have left to go to Austin and beyond and we’re slowing that process down because we’re building up a density of infrastructure that they need to succeed here and we’re poised to really get it right and it’s an exciting moment.
Amber: Entrepreneurship runs in your family. Your dad is David Gow of Gow Media, which coincidentally just launched a major thing.
Lawson: Not a coincidence.
Amber: Not a coincidence, but there was something major that happened today, I would love for you to fill us in on that.
Lawson: Yes, I’ll do the plug, it’s InnovationMap. So if you’re familiar with CultureMap, the online destination for lifestyle content, this is InnovationMap. It’s a digital magazine to tell the stories of innovation and startups in the city of Houston. It’s only in the city of Houston, it’s live as of today and it’s something that our city really, really needs to celebrate the wins and to be a cheerleader for all of the valiant efforts of creating companies, which is a really, really hard thing to do in our city.
Amber: So what’s on the horizon? You have a new building, you have tenants still coming into this space right here, where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Lawson: Well we want to be the best resource we can for our entrepreneurs in the city of Houston and so one logical next step for us has been – we’re building out a 32 acre entrepreneurial campus here. It’ll be the biggest startup campus in the world and on it the biggest co-working space in the world to be the home – a Houston-sized home – for our startups and entrepreneurs. But a logical next step then was Houston is incredibly sprawling and so for us to solve the sprawl we have created The Cannon Off Campus – satellite locations throughout the city of Houston that for those whom the campus is inconvenient you can tap into our community. And so we have one opening up in early January in sort of the Galleria area, another one in the Rice Village area that’s open currently and a secret – not anymore.
Amber: Not anymore.
Lawson: Yeah – and then we’re working on a couple of other sites because that’s what our entrepreneurs need. And I’m excited about the vision of sort of a Houston pass, no matter where you are there’s a Cannon close by.
Amber: Thank you so much for joining us today Lawson, we really appreciate it and for hosting us here in this wonderful space.
Lawson: Thank you.
Amber: And this is HXTV, thanks for joining us y’all.
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