Houston Technology Center Chooses Banker, Civic Leader as New CEO

Houston—Lori Vetters, a longtime Houston commercial banker, has been selected as the next CEO of the Houston Technology Center.

Vetters, most recently the head of HSBC’s regional bank based in Houston, becomes the first woman to lead HTC, which serves as an incubator for young tech companies. “I spent 30 years in the business community helping companies grow and build their businesses, and raise capital,” she says. “This is really where my heart resides; I enjoy working with entrepreneurs and businesspeople.”

Vetters (pictured, left) assumes the position at a time when the Houston innovation ecosystem has gotten a growth spurt. Among the additions to Houston’s tech scene include efforts focused on healthcare (TMCx accelerator, JLabs, and the AT&T Foundry for Connected Health), general technology (Station Houston), and university accelerators (RedLabs and Owlspark.)

Though Vetters has not had direct experience working with tech startups, she says her financial and banking experience—namely, know-how in connecting entrepreneurs to capital—will be key in boosting the city’s innovation ecosystem. “I’m really looking at financing resources for entrepreneurs,” she says. “There is a shortage of venture capital in our market. That’s something that the Houston market’s been trying to solve for a number of years.”

She also points out her experience building Wachovia Bank’s business here “from scratch to 1,500 employees and 100 locations” with giving her the knowledge of building a business.

Prior to joining HSBC, Vetters was Houston regional president at Wachovia and a Texas-based managing director at J.P. Morgan Chase. She has an MBA from Southern Methodist University in Dallas and a bachelor’s degree in geology from New Orleans-based Tulane University.

Vetters has been active in Houston civic affairs as well, including board positions with the Greater Houston Partnership, Teach for America, and the Houston Zoo. Vetters says she plans to spend her first 30 days in “heavy listening mode” meeting with and getting feedback from HTC staff, entrepreneurs, and board members. Then, she says, she will reach out to others in the city’s innovation ecosystem.

For now, Vetters says, she doesn’t foresee any major changes in HTC’s operation. “As this is my [fifth] day, it’s too soon for me to say we’re going in a different direction,” she says. “We are very busy and receiving company applications. There is plenty for all of us to do at this point.”

The HTC leadership said in a press release that its board reviewed about 100 candidates in a nearly yearlong search to replace current CEO Walter Ulrich before unanimously deciding on Vetters. Ulrich, a former business consultant, announced his retirement last year.

He spent a decade presiding over the HTC as the organization grew to open branches at NASA’s Johnson Space Center; The Woodlands, a suburb north of Houston that is home to a massive ExxonMobil campus; and most recently, an energy-focused hub in west Houston. In 2014, Houston Texans football team owner Bob McNair created a program with HTC that would give as many as 30 Houston startups $25,000 each.

Founded in 1999, the HTC is of one of the city’s first organizations dedicated to supporting young technologies as they grow into companies. The center’s successes include iDev, a Houston medical device company bought by Abbott Laboratories (NYSE: ABT) in 2013; Bellicum Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: BLCM), a Houston cancer immunotherapy biotech that went public in late 2014; and Merrick Systems, an energy software company that was also purchased in 2014 by Denver-based P2 Energy Solutions.

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