Houston—One of the challenges in creating a robust tech hub in Houston is the perceived lack of talent available to join startups.
“People say they don’t know where to start when it comes to seeing jobs in Houston, and businesses say, ‘I don’t know where to find talent,’” says Erik Ibarra, founder and CEO of Ordrs, a health IT startup in Houston. “There is an overlap there.”
Ibarra says he, too, has felt frustrated when looking for engineers, programmers, and other employees since launching Ordrs last year. That has led him to dive more deeply into efforts to build up Houston’s startup scene through talent attraction and funding. Notably, he’s part of the talent committee for Houston Exponential, an organization started in October 2017 that seeks to boost the city’s innovation ecosystem.
One result of that work is the launch Monday of HTX Talent, a website that’s supported in part by Houston Exponential and is aimed at connecting employers in the city with the tech talent they seek. “It’s clear from the discussions on the committee that we have talent here in Houston but that it’s not very visible,” Ibarra says. “This highlights that talent and [how] we do have a lot of companies hiring for those roles.”
Ibarra says he looked to Steve Case’s “Rise of the Rest” effort for inspiration, which launched a job board highlighting positions in its “rest” markets earlier this year. Rise of the Rest focuses on boosting startup communities outside of the coasts, and part of that mission is to make it easier for those in Silicon Valley, Boston, or New York who want to perhaps return to their hometowns or states to find tech jobs there.
One of the challenges entrepreneurs face when looking for employees is that, in Houston, many of those potential recruits work in stable, high-paying jobs at large enterprises in energy, healthcare, or other fields. “There weren’t enough people with those skill sets interested in startups,” says Shion Deysarkar, founder and CEO of Datafiniti.
Given that difficulty, Deyarkar says he decided to move the company away from Houston, where he founded the startup, to Austin six years ago. “At the time, we were employing a small product team in Austin and I thought, well, I need to hire more data people in Austin,” he says. “So I decided we should just move the company.”
Luring talent away from larger, more established companies is part of the mission of the new Houston branch of the Founder Institute, says James Phelan, one of its co-founders.
“We want to capture the entrepreneurs or those employees who are considering making the leap from employee to entrepreneur,” he says.
Founder Institute, which has branches in more than 200 cities across the globe, relaunched in Houston earlier this month (an effort to host a virtual accelerator nine years ago fizzled out). The local branch is led by Phelan, Houston investor Neal Murthy, and Tabbie Saenz, who helps lead the entrepreneur connection program at BakerRipley.
The program, which costs between $800 and $1,000 for a 14-week set of classes, focuses on educating “pre-seed” entrepreneurs, ones who might have an idea but haven’t done anything to pursue building a business around it.
Going through Founder Institute’s bootcamp can help potential entrepreneurs assess whether the startup life is for them, Phelan says. “It’s intense and hard,” he says. “If you can’t take 14 weeks and cut it, how on earth can you succeed in a yearslong business?”