How to Drive a More Innovative, Creative Business Class in Houston

Houston—A truly innovative city takes its gifts and constantly looks to reinvent itself, fighting against complacency that can take hold of a community.

That was the gist of a recent panel discussion that brought together an assortment of Houston innovators from technology to the culinary arts. “We have these opportunities and gifts,” said Kirk Coburn, founder of the now-shuttered Surge accelerator. “Why aren’t we taking the gifts and leading the future?”

Coburn has a particular personal stake in how innovative Houston will be. In April, he announced the closure of his energy-focused accelerator. It turned out that Houston’s energy dominance was also its weak spot, he said. “ ‘Drill, baby. Drill’ is our culture,” he told me in April. “Industries don’t like to disrupt themselves until they’re being disrupted.”

Kirk Coburn, founder and managing director of Surge AcceleratorCoburn (pictured) said he had hoped that Surge’s program could help bring a techie innovative mindset to traditional oil and gas companies. “That’s where Surge made the mistake,” Coburn said, adding that he, as Surge’s founder, also accepts blame. “We didn’t get to the point of threatening anyone.”

Coburn was one of a panel of speakers who convened to discuss how Houston—known for its humidity, sprawling development, and being the energy capital of the world—can also nurture the sort of creative class so sought after to build an economy that could help Houston continue to be an innovative economy.

Another panelist, Danielle Fanfair, founded the Eat Gallery in Houston, which came to nurture and spin out several successful culinary ventures. “This was a vocational incubator,” she said. “Take an idea and turn it into a purpose and then turn it into a business plan.”

Eat Gallery is the sort of effort people would expect to see in Los Angeles or Chicago—but not Houston, Fanfair said she has frequently heard. That attitude needs to change, she said.

“The biggest challenge that we have is connecting with more people (in Houston) who are not only excited about what we are doing but also want to put some skin in the game,” she said.

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