Over the years, John “JR” Reale may have evolved into various roles within Houston’s innovation ecosystem, but the people he worked with remained the same.
“I’m always focused on partnering with the founders — I can just do it with two amazing hats,” Reale said on this week’s episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.
Those two hats are as Executive-in-Residence at Texas Medical Center Innovation and as Managing Director of Integr8d Capital, a seedless venture capital firm that invests with intention. Reale joined the podcast for a special two-part series. The first episode is out now and focuses on his career in innovation and investing. Part two, out next week, covers health technology innovation and its work with the Texas Medical Center.
Most people might know Reale as one of the co-founders of Station Houston, a tech innovation and entrepreneurship hub launched in 2015 and dissolved into a few entities like The Ion and Capital Factory in 2018. Reale states on the show that Station’s success came at a crucial time for Houston.
“Our big idea was ultimately about two things. One, we had a great empathy about the loneliness and the challenge of being a founder. It was about building an authentic community where people wanted to be,” Reale said in the broadcast. “Later in 2016 and 2017, we had this idea of separating space for services and things that founders need, especially in a big city like Houston.”
Reale says Station focused on founders and provided a centralized location for support — something the sprawling city of Houston didn’t have before.
“Our mission was very simple,” he says, “it was to serve entrepreneurs. We knew who we wanted to serve, and we knew that meant a lot of different things.”
During the Station days, Mayor Sylvester Turner’s office asked Reale to join a task force with Amanda Edwards and several other influential parties. The mission was to get everyone on the same page and not just see the city’s potential for innovation, but work to develop it.
“We went through a journey as a working group,” says Reale. “A lot of it was about learning together. One of the big ideas was meeting people where they were. You bring all the different pockets of the community together, and it’s not about dictating what people have to do.”
When it comes to signaling a turning point in Houston, Reale doesn’t mince words.
“One of the biggest moments for Houston was when we got kicked in the teeth with Amazon HQ2’s offer,” he says. “Amazon came back with the shortlist of 20 cities in North America – and Houston isn’t on it. I remember getting excited. It was arguably the most innovative company in the world saying ‘no thank you “.”
Rather than feeling defeated or disappointed, Reale says he was excited about the rejection. This was an opportunity to stimulate more work that needed to be done.
“It was the punch that people needed to achieve,” he says. “Moments like this provoke real reflection. A failure like this forces you to ask a different set of questions.”
The pandemic has meant another turning point and an opportunity, although very different, especially with regard to investments.
“Over the past few years, we’ve seen a positive impact of the pandemic – it’s changed barriers to capital inflow in different geographies, and I think that’s lasting. We’ve created new norms and behaviors on the destination of capital,” he said. said.
There’s still room to grow and opportunities are materializing, especially within the early-stage investor community, Reale says.
“I’d like to see more funds launched here with very intentional strategies — especially seed and start-up work. You usually find those are closer geographically,” he says. “It’s an opportunity. And I’d like to see more great operators become investors.”
Reale talks more about Integr8d Capital and what it’s currently working on in the podcast episode, as well as next week’s episode. Listen to the first interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe to weekly episodes.