Participating in Houston’s thriving startup scene

No doubt due to stories of both multi-billion dollar payouts and mass layoffs from big companies occurring seemingly constantly, an entrepreneurship movement has taken off.

It’s easy to see why:  entrepreneurs (the successful ones anyways…) get to chart their own course, do exactly what they want to do, and of course capture far, far more of the upside to a good idea than if they had developed it inside of some other company.

I’ll admit it:  happy as I am where I currently work, I’m always trying to push myself, and to me starting a successful business is the ultimate validation of my skills as a professional. To the extent that starting a business requires quite a bit of foresight and planning, I’m always reading related articles, going to networking events, and of course playing around with product ideas.

That brings me to last Thursday, when I attended the Oil & Gas Entrepreneurs MeetUp at the Houston Technology Center.  In a previous incarnation, that group was focused on people who wanted to start their own oil & gas operating companies, or at the very least invest indirectly in operating ventures.  I found the crowd to be rather homogeneous in their goals, and while I respected those goals, I just didn’t feel that it was the right group for me.

Fast forward nearly two years, and now the group’s mission has been shifted to include anyone with ANY idea related to oil & gas – with a heavy focus on technology solutions – and the richness and diversity of the group has benefited greatly as a result.

Unfortunately, I doubt Houston will be rivaling Silicon Valley any time soon in terms of reputation.


Admittedly, I’m an outsider to that community, so I may not be getting the whole picture of what products are coming out of there, but in my view the stuff coming out of Silicon Valley seems that it’s becoming more and more derivative and trivial (really, do we need yet another social network, or yet another way of putting more awful ads in front of people?).

In Silicon Valley, the tech industry is itself the dominant driver of the economy; as an outsider, I get the impression this creates an environment where entrepreneurs have apps that are “solutions” in search of problems to solve (sorry Uber, but I have the Yellow Cab app and it works fine).   While Houston may not have California’s rolling hills and mild climate, it IS the oil & gas and healthcare capital of the world, which means there is no shortage of demonstrated, actual, big problems to which one can apply technology-based solutions.

To me, that’s the selling point:  if you want to work on meaningful problems with very large impacts, Houston’s a great place to be, not only because the biggest potential customers are here, but also because you have ample resources at your disposal.

Indeed, if you’ve recently tried to find affordable housing in the city but ended up disappointed, you’re well aware that these two industries have pulled in thousands of people, many of them young and just as desiring as their counterparts in “the Valley” to get their ideas off the ground.

Furthermore, this city has SURGE, a well-known startup incubator for energy ventures, as well as several startup spaces that have sprung up around the city, in just those areas where ambitious, educated and capable newcomers to Houston are settling:  Platform Houston in the Rice Village, START Houston in the Downtown area, and the Houston Technology Center in Midtown (which is where the Oil & Gas Entrepreneurs MeetUp took place).  As a slight aside, it’s also worth noting that if in fact you’d rather partake in Silicon Valley’s version of the tech industry, you can travel 3 short hours Northwest to Austin, where the “Silicon Hills” continue to attract a mix of both new and established tech companies.

Earlier this year, I started the process of developing my own Android app for oil & gas (more on progress on that project soon…), and that process has involved not only coding but also gradually getting involved in Houston’s startup scene.  Meeting so many new people has actually been a really enjoyable part of the process, and last Thursday was the most enjoyable and productive meeting so far.

Beyond just the fun of meeting new people, doing so is absolutely crucial to getting a new venture off the ground.  Every time I meet someone who is starting their own business, or has already done so, I always ask the question:  “what would be the one piece of advice you would give to someone trying to do what you’re doing?”

Every time, the answer “find a partner” comes up, and in fact most of the people I speak with are not founders but CO-founders.  It’s a crucial difference:  in the first case, you’re left on your own to do everything, focusing your energy not on what you’re best at, but what needs doing at any given moment.  With a partner however, you can attack tasks based on ability, and when one’s motivation and energy flag, the other one is right there to give them a boost.

While I can’t say I met someone with whom I’m now launching a billion dollar venture, I can say that this was an excellent crowd to join.  As soon as I stepped into the room, I could really feel the energy (pardon the pun) and the crowd was extremely diverse:  some people just had ideas while others had already started their own ventures, some were more experienced than others, and while most people’s ideas had to do with energy, there wasn’t any overlap in the types of things people were proposing.

I came away with some new business contacts, sure, but even more importantly at this stage of my project was that I came out newly invigorated and motivated to keep at it.  Coding an app solo is a grind, and it’s really easy to be discouraged by the features that seem to pile up, as well as the inevitable bugs that can take days to fix.  Up until last week, I managed to keep pushing through by visualizing how great the end would feel, but my motivation was flagging.  Since then, I’ve found renewed interest in moving towards the finish line, and have made some really great progress.  I’m hoping to get the same boost from future meetings!

If you are at all interested in starting your own business, I highly recommend checking out this meeting or similar ones located at the various startup centers around Houston or wherever you happen to be.  The energy and enthusiasm is contagious, so who knows?  Maybe that will be just the boost you need to get yourself started.

Before I leave you for this week, if like me you are also interested in new ventures in the energy industry, you may want to check out this year’s first issue of “The Way Ahead” magazine, a publication I lead that is published by the Society of Petroleum Engineers, for Young Professionals.  In that magazine we cover very thoroughly the topic of entrepreneurship in oil & gas, and in fact the content is in my opinion so thorough that it’s a great read for someone looking to grow a business in ANY industry.

Happy reading!