Station Houston Names Longtime Education Executive Rowe as New CEO
Houston—Sometimes, when a startup has matured to a certain point, a founder is not considered to be the best person to lead it during the next stage of growth. At Station Houston, a startup-focused organization founded in 2016, new leadership is in place.
Gabriella Rowe, a longtime education executive and former investment banker, has replaced John “JR” Reale as Station Houston’s new CEO. Reale co-founded the organization in 2016, and has served as its chief executive in the years since.
“Two years ago there was not even a concept of something like this,” Rowe says. She describes Station Houston as an organization that can “provide startups care and feeding, and connect them with the investor world to increase their chances of success.”
“We now have the opportunity to scale that, [so it’s] not only something we do for startup entrepreneurs here in Houston, but we do it so well that we attract talent to Houston because they know this is a place that will enable them to be successful,” she says.
Rowe, who has been a Station board member, has been a startup mentor for 18 months. “JR brought me onto the board of Station; it’s the evolution of a relationship,” she says.
Reale remains a director at Station and will run Station Houston Ventures, which has so far invested $1.6 million in five early stage startups. “Gaby has led larger organizations; she brings a different touch and feel with the rest of the community,” Reale says. “I think we’ve built something that’s important for someone like Gaby to come in and take that position.”
Prior to taking the top job at Station, Rowe was head of school at The Village School in Houston, which went through a major expansion as she oversaw curriculum changes such as requiring coding classes for middle-school students. Before that, she was an investment banker and management consultant in New York.
Station Houston was launched two years ago by a team of four co-founders: Reale; Blair Garrou, managing partner at Houston venture firm Mercury Fund; Emily Keeton, head of M&A at WeWork in New York, and Grace Rodriguez, who is Station’s second-in-command.
Since Station’s founding, the organization has emerged as a leader in the city’s startup ecosystem, hosting events and becoming a hub where startup leaders can convene. During Hurricane Harvey last August, Station hosted an ad-hoc group of developers and others who volunteered their time constructing apps to rescue storm victims and distribute aid to them.
Rowe will now be in charge of one of the Station’s biggest projects: being an anchor in a proposed new innovation district in Houston. The $100 million project, is being managed by Rice Management Company, which oversees the Rice University endowment. It involves renovating a shuttered Sears store and surrounding parcels of land into a hub with coworking spaces, classrooms, and offices for corporate venture arms.
Another player in the city’s startup community is Houston Exponential, a civic organization that arose from the efforts of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Innovation and Technology Task Force, the Greater Houston Partnership, and others. HX, as it is called, started the HX Venture Fund, a $40 million to $50 million fund of funds last October.
For Reale, who served on the Houston mayor’s task force, leaving Station’s day-to-day operations behind is “bittersweet.” He says he doesn’t know what’s next for him, except that he plans to support Rowe, Station, and the Houston startup scene.
“I’m kind of looking forward to being able to see the community through a different lens,” he adds.