Jen: This is the PKF Texas Entrepreneur’s Playbook. I’m Jen Lemanski, and I’m coming to you from the Gulf Coast Regional Family Forum. With me today is Russ Capper, Executive Director of Houston Exponential. Russ, welcome to the guest side of the Playbook.

Russ: Well, it’s great to be here.

Jen: For our viewers who aren’t quite familiar with Houston Exponential, can you share a little bit about what that is?

Russ: I’d love to. Houston Exponential is a non-profit initiative put together by the Greater Houston Partnership and, really, the Mayor and the City Council. They both seemed to come together simultaneously and felt like, “My goodness, we have to do something that really champions our innovators and accelerates the growth of our innovation ecosystem,” meaning, trying to make Houston more fertile for development of digital technology startups.

Jen: What kind of projects do you guys have to help drive that digital innovation?


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Russ: This is PKF Texas Entrepreneur’s Playbook. I’m Russ Capper, this week’s guest host, and I’m coming to you from the Gulf Coast Regional Family Forum. I’m very pleased to have as my guest now, Richard Gruber, Co-founder and Chief Commercial Officer of MERIT SI. Richard, welcome to the show.

Richard: Thank you, Russ.

Russ: You bet. Tell us about MERIT SI.

Richard: MERIT SI is a two-year-old firm headquartered in Houston. Our focus is developing renewable strategies and solutions for energy, water and chemical companies to help them drive lower costs, reduce their emissions and improve their overall stakeholder awareness.

Russ: Ok. So, renewables, are we talking about solar and wind?

Richard: Principally, solar and solar with battery storage, and typically with advanced controls. And located at their points of demand for these companies, so where they consume it is where we site it.


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Russ: This is PKF Texas – The Entrepreneur’s Playbook. I’m Russ Capper, this week’s guest host, and I’m coming to you from the Gulf Coast Regional Family Forum. I’m here with Scott Clemons, Partner and Chief Investment Strategist of Brown Brothers Harriman. Scott, welcome to The Playbook.

Scott: Good morning, Russ. Thank you for having me.

Russ: You bet. Tell us about your firm.

Scott: Brown Brothers Harriman & Company is a rather old firm. We were founded in 1818 as a private partnership, which, in 1818, every bank on Wall Street was a private partnership. What’s unique about us today is that we’ve never changed that ownership structure. Over the past 200 years, one by one, firms have gone public; they’ve limited their liability in some way. We’ve retained that unlimited liability structure. There are 31 people who own the firm outright – no outside capital, no debt on the balance sheet. And those 31 people, all of whom operate the business, carry joint and several unlimited liability for the activities of the business.

Russ: So, that includes you.

Scott: That includes me. It tends to focus the mind. It makes risk management a core competence. What we really like about it is it really does align the interests of the owner operators with those of our clients. Every firm has that alignment, but for us it’s embedded within the DNA of the ownership structure for the business itself. That’s rather special to us.

Russ: My goodness. So, 1818, so this is like a birthday year.

Scott: We had a big party—we had a series of big parties last year. We had big cakes and celebrated the history of the firm and also the future of the firm. One of our events in New York, we had a guest speaker, George W. Bush, former President Bush. We had him because his grandfather, Prescott Bush, H.W.’s father—Houston connection here, was a partner of the firm back in the 1930s and the early 1940s. So, we celebrate that history, and the challenge, of course, is to be informed and influenced by the history and the legacy without having that legacy dictate what you do. We have to weave into our business a certain amount of entrepreneurship for our third century, which we’ve embarked on in 2019.


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Russ: This is the PKF Texas Entrepreneur’s Playbook. I’m Russ Capper. This week’s guest host, and I’m coming to you from the Gulf Coast Regional Family Forum. I’m very pleased to have as my guest, Jason Ballard, co-founder and President of TreeHouse. Jason, welcome to the show.

Jason: Happy to be here.

Russ: Tell us about TreeHouse.

Jason: TreeHouse is a home upgrade company focused on helping homeowners make their homes better; whether it comes to design, the way the home looks and feels, or performance, the way it uses energy and creates comfort or the outdoor landscape. The real underlying mission of the company is around health and sustainability, both for people and the natural world.

Russ: How old is the company?

Jason: Seven years old.

Russ: So, if you look at that, you know, landscaping outside, or making the home sustainable, or energy, how would you divide those up as far as how much business you do in those categories?

Jason: It tends to be really evenly split across the company. We tend to do about half of our business around design. So, kitchen remodels, helping expecting parents repaint a nursery, these kinds of things. Then, about half of our business is performance related. So, whether it’s like, I’m a card carrying member of the Sierra Club and I want to put solar energy on my house, or my energy bills are killing me and I want to put solar energy on my house, or I just want to make and investment in my home and so I’m going to do some insulation and some smart home stuff. The business tends to be really diversified in that way, kind of half and half.


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Russ:  This is PKF Texas Entrepreneur’s Playbook, I’m Russ Capper, this week’s guest host, and I’m coming to you from the Gulf Coast Regional Family Forum.  And I’m with John Berger, Co-founder and CEO of Sunnova Energy Corporation; John welcome to the Playbook.

John:  Thank you Russ, nice to be here.

Russ:  You bet.  Tell us about Sunnova.

John:  Sunnova Energy is a residential solar and storage service company.  We operate from near Japan and Guam, Saipan all the way through California, Texas to Puerto Rico and all the way up far north as Massachusetts.  What we do through a network of locally owned businesses, dealers and contractors is they’ll go out and source customers on our behalf and sign them up to our service and then install our equipment per our specifications on the customers’ homes, and then we provide for those customers for 25+ years cheaper power, cleaner power obviously with solar onsite, and increasingly – and just recently – a better service with storage, with batteries.  Onsite they’re working with the solar system and then have more complex IT systems and such so in effect we’re creating wireless power.

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