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Greg Wright - HATCH Pitch

Greg Wright

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Houston has launched another resource for entrepreneurs. HATCH Pitch lets tech startups compete against one another with business plans and elevator pitches for coaching, mentoring and funding. The first competition was held at Austin’s SXSW in 2012. HATCH is now holding a competition in Houston as well. Russ visits with Greg Wright, founder of HATCH and a mentor at Surge Accelerator.

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Russ: This is the BusinessMakers Show, heard on the radio and seen online at thebusinessmakers.com. My guest now is Greg Wright, the founder of HATCH Pitch. Greg, welcome to the Businessmakers Show.

Greg: Thanks, Russ, it's great to be here.

Russ: You bet, tell us about Hatch Pitch.

Greg: HATCH is a startup pitch competition for tech startups that we like to think are making life better. We started out at South by Southwest. We are a pitch competition with 12 companies presenting in front of a panel of judges, and we range anywhere from 12 - I think we might have had 16 or so judges last year. And we try to connect the startups with good fits in terms of investors and/or potential customers or acquirers.

Russ: Okay, now I know and I've heard, and almost went to South by Southwest pitch contest last year, but didn't. But I also know you just recently had a HATCH pitch contest here in Houston. So do you do this multiple times per year in multiple venues?

Greg: It's getting there.

Russ: All right.

Greg: Ever since we started with HATCH pitch at South by Southwest in 2012, people in Houston have said, "Well, why are we not doing this in Houston?" Of course the venue at South by Southwest interactive is perfect for this kind of event, and it's been on our minds, and there's been a lot of impetus behind moving something like that into Houston. And we got that opportunity when Ed Gonzales, the mayor pro tem, and probably the most technical person on the mayor's team, got together with a couple of people and came up with the concept for TechStreet Houston. And this is potentially our fledgling South by Southwest of our own in Houston. It's looking at the entire innovation ecosystem and taking it from Steam, the education, science, technology, engineering arts and math, to kids, and then going through a hackathon, which is really a way for people young and old, people in corporations even to come out and just work on some particular problems that might be of interest to the city, might be of interest to the citizens. And then we have an entire education track for anybody to learn how to do various types of technology such as various different Microsoft development tools, Google, Android, various things like that. And then we have the commercialization arm, which is HATCH pitch, which is taking a number of companies that have really got some traction and have become actual entities now and are ready to either expose themselves to the world or investors, and we give them that platform.

Russ: Or throw in the towel, right? You might have allowed that -

Greg: Yeah.

Russ: But that's what happens along the way sometimes.

Greg: That's right.

Russ: But anyway, it's interesting. You're talking about IT, Information Technology, primarily. This city, Houston, Texas, is so entrepreneurial, yet it seems to always, or at least historically, has been lagging behind the other hot spots, be it Austin, Boston, Seattle, Silicon Valley. And yet there are many talented IT people here. So I applaud you for getting this going. Maybe this will turn around and prevent some of those people from feeling obligated to move to some of these real hot IT spots.

Greg: Absolutely, we really hope in that. And Russ, you know, it was actually a surprise that we were able to get 12 companies, most of them - in fact, all except two - were from Houston, for the Houston event. And the other two companies were from Austin. We work very closely with Austin, we find. The applications were open to a broader audience if they'd wanted to, but when we found that we had a really good number of Houston-based companies, we were able to take the event and make it pretty much a Houston or a Texas event, which was really gratifying.

Russ: Fantastic, congratulations. Now clearly this city is very entrepreneurial. It has very much a good technology, I mean right here today where you office at SURGE Accelerator, some of the most happening energy kind of technology that's happening in the space, but pure ones and zeros, software development, we need to start bringing them in. So I plan to have a few of the winners of the HATCH pitch recent contest on the show, but give us an overview of what sort of companies you chose to be the top 12 and how they did.

Greg: Well, we had a fairly wide variety of companies. We had a hardware company, which is a gaming platform. They were a hard one to turn down. So they're in. This company's called Virtuix. They had an incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign, raised I think it was $1.2 million.

Russ: On Kickstarter, eh?

Greg: On Kickstarter. They happen to be our winner as well. I think they've won just about everything they've pitched at. We had a company in the credit card sector really looking to really make a profound difference to the prevention of fraud in our credit card business.

Russ: Big opportunity there, for sure.

Greg: Huge opportunity. And I just want to say this company has been on my radar screen for awhile. They are doing not only what some of these companies like -

Russ: Coin?

Greg: Coin. Thank you.

Russ: You're welcome.

Greg: They not only do what Coin does, but they actually really go much, much deeper to address fraud, which Coin really doesn't. And there are a few others that are doing these sort of surface level, useful maybe, things, but not really getting down and grabbing a problem and saying, "We're going to really solve this." That is what Epic One does.

Russ: Cool.

Greg: And that's a Houston based company.

Russ: Epic One.

Greg: Epic One.

Russ: Cool.

Greg: So we'll definitely have to get them on the show.

Russ: All right, good deal.

Greg: We had a very early stage company called ClanOgraphy that started out life at a startup weekend. So this was a 52-hours where people get together, they form a team and come up with an idea, and this happened to be one of the three companies that run the startup weekend from about six months to a year ago, and it was really nice to be able to bring them on and have them presenting. And we were lucky to get a very interesting company that had just won the DEMO-God contest at DEMO, the very big thing out in California, and that company's called Pristine, and they're using Google Glass to help solve surgical communication issues.

Russ: Cool.

Greg: So that was very interesting as well.

Russ: I'm curious, do you attract perspective investors to view HATCH pitch?

Greg: We do. That's really where we draw our judges. So we specifically target judges that are investors that we have been able to observe giving very good feedback to companies because of course they're giving that feedback live, so we want them to be able to think on their feet and ask tough questions and so on. But yes, a lot of the people that we line up as the judges are investors or people involved in the startup ecosystem such as - one example is Carrie Rupp from Dream Adventures, which is an accelerator. Those are typically our -

Russ: Okay. I always think of, when I think of early stage, when I think of elevator pitches and stuff, I always totally equate that to fundraising, and fundraising is like sometimes climbing a mountain, and sometimes it's crumbling while you're climbing it. And so I always like to tune in to that part too. So I heard about HATCH pitch at South by Southwest - it sounded like it was a major success?

Greg: Yes, the first time around we were blown away that the room completely overflowed and I got called to the back, the South by Southwest organizer was saying, "You're overflowing, we've got to shut the doors now."

Russ: Or raise the prices.

Greg: But yeah, so we had to deal with how to make sure that the people who were meant to be in the room such as our presenters and our judges could get in, and that South by Southwest could let five people out before they let one person in. So I spent a fair amount of the first year standing watching this line that was forming. I've got a great photo for you of the second year whether we probably had - we should count them - maybe 100 people standing outside the event, and this was halfway through, standing in line waiting to get in, and they were letting in one at a time.

Russ: That's a nice problem to have.

Greg: It was, and South by Southwest knows that. They absolutely love the fact that we are able to overflow the room that we get on a fairly difficult-to-get-attention event. You've got 30,000 people -

Russ: So many things are going on at the same time.

Greg: Right, going on, and it's unbelievable.

Russ: Cool Congratulations on that.

Greg: Well thank you. Yeah, we don't know how we did it.

Russ: That's great. So what's around the corner? What's in the future for HATCH pitch?

Greg: First of all, our applications just opened a couple of days ago for South by Southwest 2014. We're going to be on March 10 in 2014, so companies are welcome to apply at our website to present there. We're toying with some ideas about getting corporations a little bit more active. Now this is something that I think is one of Houston's differentiators, where in Silicon Valley you might have - you know, you're tripping over VCs and capital. I think one of our strengths is the corporations that are based here that can use the technologies that these companies are inventing.

Russ: Absolutely.

Greg: And so we're looking at - I won't go into too much detail, because it's really early stage and I'm sure we'll pivot several times before we figure out how we're going to do this -

Russ: But you're going to bring them in to partner and play a role, right? Great idea.

Greg: Yeah, and I think that's going to be our - you know, our differentiator is finding a really meaningful way to bring not just the investor judges but these corporations. We actually want to make it a little bit exciting for the corporations as well. So it's not going to be that they come in and do stuff -

Russ: Just write a check.

Greg: No, we're going to make it so that they'll have to compete to get in as well.

Russ: Cool, really cool.

Greg: So we're looking forward to it.

Russ: Before I let you go, I'm just curious about your background. I mean, there's a lot of us that have played in the early stage space, sometimes you kind of get addicted to it, but I'm not sure if that's the case in your case. So what's Greg Wright's background?

Greg: My first real entrepreneurial thing that I did, which might have set the course for this, was in the South African army, believe it or not. I was in charge of a workshop that we fixed radio units, and I discovered that 90 percent of the problems that these radios would have was a very, very simple little issue that we could fix in five minutes, if we could detect that that was the problem on the radio. And I invented a little thing that we could plug into these headsets and these radios when they came in, and it would detect straightaway whether that particular problem was it.

Russ: Wow.

Greg: And so we used that to really pump up our production by 400 percent. They liked that, so I actually got an award.

Russ: Wow.

Greg: So figuring if you can do it in the army you can probably be innovative almost anywhere.

Russ: And it probably pays off a little bit better if you get out in the real world in a free enterprise system, you can do well.

Greg: Right. We got some days off.

Russ: Which are probably real valuable in the South African army.

Greg: It was valuable in those days, yeah. Then I really spent, you know, the majority of my career so far has really still been working for large consultancies. I was with Accenture and some consulting back then.

Russ: Okay.

Greg: CSE Consulting here in Houston, and Sapient. I think Sapient was the thing that really tipped me back into entrepreneurship, because after leaving Sapient I went and joined this early stage founder, I was the first employee basically. We did some incredible things. So all of the knowledge that I built up while a consultant, figuring out how to really build highly scalable systems really, really efficiently, I was able to play that out in the startup and it really worked fantastically well. And from then on I realized I really like working in a smaller space, being able to make more decisions, being able to see more results, even though it was on a smaller scale than let's say working for Dynegy or something like that.

Russ: Sure. Sure, I understand completely.

Greg: Since then I've really been involved in either consulting to small and medium businesses or involved in working with them. I spent three years at the Houston Technology Center as a director of the IT Acceleration portfolio, and that's the thing I think that really tipped me over to being completely enamored and dedicated to working in startups.

Russ: In the early stage, really cool. So I assume if somebody's interested in HATCH pitch they can go to hatchpitch.com?

Greg: They can.

Russ: Right, and sign up and probably get updates of new contests and events that you guys are putting on?

Greg: Yes.

Russ: Greg, I really appreciate you sharing your story with us.

Greg: Thank you very much, Russ.

Russ: You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with Greg Wright, founder of HATCH pitch. And this is the Businessmakers Show, heard on the radio and seen online at thebusinessmakers.com.

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