This week, Chris welcomes Jon Nordby Head of Ecosystem and Community at MassChallenge.After working in a variety of positions in Houston, Jon saw the need for a thriving startup ecosystem in the city. He worked for Houston Exponential and Startup Genome before hitting the ground running with MassChallenge. Their team connects thousands of experts to mentor promising startups through a global network. Jon and Chris discuss Houston’s evolving startup landscape, MassChallenge’s business model, and what Houston needs in order to foster a great startup ecosystem.
[00:00] Start of episode
[06:17] Fostering Houston’s innovation ecosystem
[10:52] “The third wave” and problem-solving startups
[15:58] Texas/East Coast kinship
[18:07] MassChallenge’s business model
[30:59] MassChallenge’s startup selection process
[37:40] What’s still missing in Houston
Has Houston’s startup landscape changed?
While advancing through various roles in a variety of companies, Jon saw the gap for startups in Houston. Early on, he spoke with angel investors who said that they simply couldn’t find any resources for startups to utilize in Houston. But the investment landscape has changed, he said, with more community and desire to engage. There’s good, smart capital flowing in Houston but it does have ceiling, Jon says—though Houston is only getting started.
“For certain scales, it has those earlier stages of development. There's a lot more resources, now, there's a lot more community, there's a lot more desire to engage.”
Solving the big problems with Houston’s startups
Jon explains that Houston is at the center of what author Steve Case calls “the third wave.” While recent generations’ startups built the internet and then made our lives more convenient, Jon explains that the third wave of startups are closer to the big issues that matter and are impacting our lives through energy, healthcare, and sustainability. Jon says that Houston is positioned well in the Texas triangle amid plentiful resources and that hyper-growth innovation is bound to continue springing from the city.
“We, as humans, are far more interested in solving really hard problems that matter—not so much about the next Uber for my cat food . . . we really care about things like energy, healthcare, sustainability—things that are gonna solve massive problems. ”
How does MassChallenge work?
All around the world, MassChallenge has roughly four to five thousand experts who engage with the program as mentors. Jon says that most of them are subject matter experts out of industry and that a real value exchange happens between the mentor and mentee as each learn about one another’s respective fields. Through their mentor pool, people can build a network and tap into the well of knowledge that becomes available.
“The real attraction is being able to build the network through the mentor pool.”
What’s still missing in Houston?
While Jon thinks that there’s always something that can improve in the startup ecosystem, he keys in on one thing that Houston could use more of: culture. The access to venture capital is there along with more acceleration and capacity but the culture needs to shift, Jon says. He says that the startups need to be close to the big problem-holders and less risk-averse while launching into a scene of hypergrowth innovation in Houston.
“The types of startups are going to be hypergrowth are the ones are going to solve major problems.”