Sometimes, you just have to take things into your own hands.
So believes Simrit Parmar. Parmar is a stem cell transplant physician and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. She’s also jumping headlong into the business of turning Houston — whose investors and accelerators focus almost exclusively on energy and life sciences — into a far broader entrepreneurial hub.
How, exactly? Well, Parmar, with friend and colleague Emily Yau, has just leased a 10,000-square foot “community campus” building across from Rice University so that any founding team “with passion and a good idea” can set up shop until they need more space — or, if the case may be, until they realize their idea isn’t quite good enough.
Called Platform Houston, the theory behind the space is that by mixing, say, medical device makers, with Internet entrepreneurs, energy teams, and even designers, established ideas will get better, and new ideas will arise.
Parmar’s hope, too, is that by providing companies with conference rooms and meeting spaces and some outside mentorship, Platform Houston might acquaint itself with a hit company or two, and snag a stake for itself in the process.
Parmar says the kinks haven’t been worked out just yet, but the idea, loosely, is to vet applicants, who will pay a nominal “membership fee” to help Parmar and Yau cover the rent. If after six to eight weeks, a member company begins to show traction or growth, Platform Houston might offer the outfit up to $10,000 for a 6% stake in the company. (Parmar and Yau, who formerly worked in product development at Kaplan, have been traveling the country to raise a modest fund toward that end.)
If asking so much for so little sounds a little ambitious to you, you aren’t alone. Platform Houston, after all, is no Y Combinator, which takes a similar stake in its startups for what is typically $11,000 plus another $3,000 per founder – but in return introduces the companies to the best mentors and investors in the early-stage business.
Still, Parmar says nothing is written in stone and that in fact, Platform Houston already has a number of companies that it is happy to simply have as community members, including a biotech startup, a search engine startup, and an online headhunting service for churches. She also argues, convincingly, that her first priority is simply giving the city’s university graduates more reasons to stay, making Houston a stronger city in the process.
“Here,” she explains, “you have Baylor [University], Rice, NASA, the oil industry. But no one talks to each other, because a culture [of entrepreneurship] doesn’t exist here. We simply want to help create a melting pot of ideas and professionals, so that if a government official or a doctor maybe wants to have a Web app built, there’s an actual space where [they can turn to do it].”
In Houston, she continues, there is “plenty of attention paid to the medical and oil industries. But we highly undervalue technology and [other younger industries], and there’s no reason that should remain the case. There should be a place for young tech people, and brilliant international graduates, and people who are generally turned off by Houston’s highly corporate structure to go.”
If Parmar has to build it herself, apparently, she will.