The new head of one of Houston’s innovation ecosystem organizations said she will continue to expand tangible resources to invest in entrepreneurs.

Natara Branch was named CEO of Houston Exponential on Oct. 27, replacing Lawson Gow, who had temporarily held the role since Gow Cos. acquired the company and transitioned it from a nonprofit to a for-profit company in May 2022.

“The fundamental mission of protecting and resourcing the entrepreneur will not change,” Branch said.

Branch told the Houston Business Journal that she had been looking to return to Houston, where she had split time in her previous role as a vice president of the NFL, the first Black woman to hold the position.

“There’s opportunity to break barriers here in Houston,” Branch said. “What you get with diversity is you get a broader sense of business, you get a broad set of ideas, you get more ideas, and you get more collaboration when you have diversity.”

Branch described her role as using a greater platform to boost Houston’s business potential and highlighted the city’s potential to use “legacy industries” such as oil and gas and health care to springboard new concepts.

“All the phenomenal things we’ve seen from oil and gas and energy and health, those are our legacy spaces,” Branch said. “How do we apply those against emerging concepts in sports and climate and things of those nature? I don’t know that Houston has not gotten enough credit or been loud enough about the things going on here.”

Following HX’s acquisition, the company partnered with the Fort Bend Economic Development Council, the Houston startup hub The Cannon and startup development nonprofits Born Global Ventures and Code Launch to launch the Fort Bend Innovation Council Sept. 29 in Sugar Land.

Branch will be formally unveiled as CEO during Houston Exponential’s Nov. 9 Innovation Awards Gala, a rebrand of the organization’s Listies Awards, which Gow Cos. acquired in the May 2022 deal.

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