Gina: Hi, I’m Gina Luna and this is HXTV, the show that champions Houston’s innovators and entrepreneurs. I’m excited today to welcome our special guest, Russ Capper. Russ, welcome.
Russ: Gina, it’s great to be here and it’s great to be heading the organization that you created, Houston Exponential.
Gina: We’re so happy to have you in your role, and I want to start today by having you share your perspective on innovation in Houston, after all that you’ve done and being in this role for, I guess, six or eight weeks now.
Russ: I love that question that Houston is so rich in innovation. I look way back, when I think about it, I think back, maybe it’s a hundred years now, when there were some Houston innovators that decided that, wait, if we were actually a port and had a ship channel coming in here it would really help our business. We are fifty miles away from the Gulf of Mexico, but they dug a ship channel the whole way, they widened it now and today Houston is a leading port. I just think that’s innovation extraordinaire. And then, we’re also home of the first domed stadium, the Astrodome, which is huge, and which is significant, very significant. When you think of technology, which is what we’re talking a lot about these days, Houston is home to the fastest technology startup in history.
Compaq computer did a hundred million dollars the first full year of operations. And I haven’t even touched on George Mitchell, who completely revolutionized the energy industry at a critical time that saved out economy. The Texas Medical Center, which is just unbelievable. We have MD Anderson out there. We have Dr. Jim Allison, the guy that’s really revolutionized cancer cure with immunotherapy. The cardiology history is huge with Dr. DeBakey, Dr. Cooley, now Dr. Billy Cohn and Dr. Bud Frazier. I could go on and on. But that’s not why we’re really here, to talk about the history, right?
Gina: Right, but it is relevant. Talk about what you see today and maybe that is a great way to lead into what is Houston Exponential and why do we need it?
Russ: We do have a gap in our innovation. It was really cool that the Greater Houston Partnership and the Mayor’s office seemed to recognize it simultaneously and form Houston Exponential to address that gap. That gap is mainly in digital innovation. The high growth, high impact companies and the ecosystem that helps them grow has really positively impacted lots of cities; Austin, TX, Palo Alto, Seattle, the Boston area, and we suddenly realized that’s a critical important part of our economy and our ecosystem for the future. You, along with many others, formed Houston Exponential, also known as HX, and did a fabulous job of setting it up before you got me to come in.
Gina: I want to come back to Houston Exponential in just a minute and talk more about what the organization is actually doing, but we did spend a good amount of time searching for the right Executive Director, and we’re so happy we found and convinced you to be in that role. Tell me why you think you’re uniquely positioned to do this.
Russ: I think, when you look at the qualification list on the search, I check off almost every box. I’ve been living the life for quite some time. I think there’s lots of entrepreneur’s in Houston that would probably also check all of those boxes off. I think where I was a little bit unique is that number one, I came to check out Houston in 1973 and I think I’m going to stay, after all. I think this place is unique, and I think I might be in first place of those that love Houston and love to champion the city.
Gina: Right behind me. But you do have an incredible resume of both entrepreneurships, raising capital, successful exits, and then what you’ve done in your recent past in terms of championing entrepreneurs just makes you so perfect for this role.
Russ: Well, thank you. I love doing that. For those that don’t know, I had this cause develop and I just became a champion of entrepreneurship by featuring entrepreneur interviews for thirteen years now. I’ve interviewed over a thousand myself. I believe they are critical to our economy, I love doing it, and I suspect that did play a role in choosing me but I’m glad to be here.
Gina: So, that’s a great segue into what is HXTV and why are we doing this interview today?
Russ: Well, HXTV is this, and we’re going to do it big time. We’re going to feature innovators, we’re going to feature entrepreneurs, we’re going to feature investors, we’re going to feature panel discussions and events. It kind of falls into this category that I still feel strongly, that the people that are contributing to the success of the ecosystem and the local economy don’t get their just do often enough in the media. I sort of learned that if you don’t think the media is giving you enough attention or treating you right, the best thing to do is create your own media company, and we’ve got one and it’s HXTV. We would encourage everybody watching that feels the same way that we do to help champion our cause and like these interviews when they’re likeable and pushing them around. We want the world to know about Houston innovators.
Gina: There’s a huge opportunity we’ve talked about a lot, just telling the story of all the exciting things around innovation that are happening in Houston, but there’s also some real work to do in terms of addressing the gaps in our innovation ecosystem. That’s being done through the committees within the HX structure. Talk about some of those to give our audience a sense for some of the work that’s being done.
Russ: There are thirteen Steering Committees today in various categories that we, Houston Exponential, along with Accenture decided these are areas of focus. They include everything from learning about entrepreneurship, to talent and recruiting it, to solving international visa problems, to integrating with the corporate world even more. When I go down that path I’ve got to tell you the corporate innovation here is over the top. I recently learned that there is an oil and gas company here in town that builds the robots that build Teslas. I don’t think much of the world knows that. The rest of the corporations here, I mean, this is an innovation make it happen city.
Gina: Absolutely. I think certainly worth mentioning, one of the gaps that we’re addressing is attracting more early stage capital to Houston companies, and we’re doing that both through education of Houstonians and building a culture of investing and startups, but also through the HX Venture Fund using the incredible strength of the corporate community here to attract VC capital from all over the country. In doing that, not only will we attract the capital, but invariable we’re going to attract incredible attention to let the rest of the world see what’s really happening in Houston in terms of innovation and the high growth, high impact companies that are here.
Russ: The fundraising initiative is hugely important and it’s real interesting because we know there’s investment money in our city just like we know there’s innovation in our city, but we need a specific kind of innovation now and it takes a little bit different kind of money. I applaud you and thank you for the role you and Guillermo Borda have played in putting that together.
Gina: Well, it’s been fun and I’m excited to see all of that come to fruition over the next several years. I want to wrap up our interview as we will all of our HXTV interviews by asking you, from your perspective, what is it about Houston that has been most meaningful to you as an entrepreneur?
Russ: I’ve already mentioned that I love the city. I think what’s so unique about it, in some regards, is what it’s not. It’s not a resort city, it’s not a retirement city, it’s a city based on commerce. The kind of people that attracts are really make it happen people that came here. People talk all the time about how cool our diversity is, and it is cool, and it works so well. If you’re in Houston, Texas, you’re here because you want to play in the business world. You might want to start a business, and there’s lots of customers here, or you might want to work with one of the innovation companies around, but it’s that that I think really separates Houston and has us teed up perfectly to go into this new category.
Gina: I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s great to have you, thank you for being my guest today.
Russ: Thank you.
Gina: I’m Gina Luna, and this is HXTV.
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