Innovation Hub mentor Steve High supports the entrepreneurial ecosystem by sharing his wide-ranging experiences
"Don't be afraid to be bold." That's what Texas Tech Innovation Hub mentor Steve High would tell his younger self. "I've had bold ideas, but I've also had fear," he says. These days, though, High is taking that advice. About a year ago he walked away from "the best high paying job I've ever had" and entered an online creative writing program at Stanford University. Now he's written a novel and is looking for a literary agent. That's just the beginning of the latest chapter in the widely varied career of this venture space veteran. He's also putting his insights and experience to work through the Innovation Hub by helping entrepreneurs take their startup to launch.
Innovating technology solutions from marching band to investments
High says everything he's done professionally has been about exploiting software and hardware to accomplish work as efficiently as possible. His first paid job in that field was writing software for his high school band director. It figured out the mathematics of where marching band students stood on the field and how to calculate their movements over time. High says, "I played trombone, but I just wasn't that good. My band director gave me the opportunity and encouragement to develop into whatever I was going to be. He's probably the reason I stayed in high school and got through it."
In 1990 High graduated from the University of Texas with a BBA degree in management information systems. He started working with chemical companies on the Texas coast. Next, he entered the investment world. "Working with mutual fund companies was the first time I felt I could accomplish more with a machine than individual humans could do by themselves," he says. "One of my bosses was a manager who let me do some crazy ludicrous programming projects I thought up. A couple of them really paid off. I'm not telling you about the 15 things that failed miserably, but he gave me space to do that, too." Executive positions in other industries soon followed for High. He also began consulting and became a serial entrepreneur/investor. He spent ten years with Gartner, Inc. in his most recent job.
Hustle, curiosity, and courage
Curiosity continues to drive High's hustle. "I love trying to figure out the model of how something works and how to exploit it for more. I want to know as much as I can about as many subjects as I can," he says. "A lot of people told me I was making a mistake by going into so many different areas. I've done everything from software to investments. It was software that brought me to investments. Another mentor, my grandmother, exemplified how you can be at the top of your game in multiple settings. I realized that was the path I was most drawn to." High adds, "I learned from her that takes courage."
Courage, confidence, and boldness are among the traits High fosters in the entrepreneurs he mentors at the Innovation Hub. He's currently helping TTU Accelerator teams Envirostatus and InOut Biome. "What I get out of it is the reward of them saying something like they've lost their fear, then seeing the speed at which they're making smart decisions," he says. High also works with Hub Camp participants. He says, "I feel like I have to give back. When you have privileges that other people don't, I think the obligation of mentoring is to try to spread knowledge and open doors for people. Try to equalize the playing field. Because of my own privilege, I have this time in my life where I can do that and at a much deeper level."
Startups on the rise
High doesn't need predictive modeling software to see that the rapid pace of technology advancements and innovation could spur a boom in entrepreneurship. He points to the growing entrepreneurial ecosystem and the Innovation Hub's programs for startups as economic advantages for West Texas. "A lot of career fields are at a tipping point. Our region doesn't have to be only on the receiving end of technology created elsewhere. We can create and support innovations here. The wealth and the job creation can start here and potentially stay here," High says.