BEAMW me up

Collaborative organization launches to support minority and female founders

A group of entrepreneurs, small business support groups, and more teamed up to create the Business Ecosystem Alliance for Minorities and Women, or BEAMW. Photo via beamw.org

A group of organizations — consisting of entrepreneurs, investors, chambers of commerce, business support organizations, and small business advocates — have teamed up to bridge the gap in resources for women- and minority-owned businesses.

The Business Ecosystem Alliance for Minorities and Women, or BEAMW, celebrated its launch on August 26 at a virtual event, and announced its anchor partner, Texas Capital Bank.

"At Texas Capital Bank, we truly believe small businesses are the heartbeat of the economy and we are thrilled BEAMW has formed to serve as a collaborative network, committed to serving entrepreneurs across our region today and inspiring those of tomorrow," says Jenny Guzman of Texas Capital Bank, in the news release. "Small business owners are the lifeblood of every community and we're proud to serve alongside BEAMW as partners in providing technical assistance, mentors and support as this collaborative grows and positively impacts the fabric of economy and business ecosystem."

The mission of BEAMW is to address the disparities these businesses face when seeking capital and attempting to scale their businesses. BEAMW was first ideated by the group being the Houston Small Business Community Report, which was created by the City of Houston's Women and Minority-Owned Business Task Force. Led by former Houston City Council Member, Amanda K. Edwards, and co-chaired by entrepreneurs Carolyn Rodz and Courtney Johnson Rose, the task force provided Mayor Sylvester Turner with recommendations about increasing increase access to capital for minority- and women-owned business enterprises and assisting these business owners in scaling up their businesses.

Minority-owned businesses have been denied loans at three times the rate of non-minority-owned firms, according to the report, and only 24 percent of small businesses are owned by Houston women.

"It is not enough to state that Houston is the most diverse city in the country; we must be the city where the challenges that diverse communities face are solved," Former City Council Member Amanda Edwards says in the release.

BEAMW and Texas Capital Bank's Community Impact together will create programming for the rest of the year, specifically focused on:

  • One on One Financial Preparedness Small Business Counseling
  • Business Networking Forums
  • Texas Capital Bank Bankers' Roundtables

More information about BEAMW — including how to get involved — may be found at beamw.org.

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Building Houston

 
 

Kelly Avant, investment associate at Houston-based Mercury Fund, shares how and why she made her way into the venture capital arena. Photo courtesy of Mercury

Kelly Avant didn't exactly pave a linear career path for herself. After majoring in gender studies, volunteering in the Peace Corps, and even attending law school — she identified a way to make a bigger impact: venture capital.

"VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems," Avant tells InnovationMap.

Avant joined the Mercury Fund team last year as an MBA associate before joining full time as investment associate. Now, after completing her MBA from Rice University this month, Avant tells InnovationMap why she's excited about this new career in investment in a Q&A.

InnovationMap: From law school and the peace corps, what drew you to start a career in the VC world?

Kelly Avant: I graduated from Rice University with an MBA, starting scouting for an investment firm in my first year, and by the summer after my first year I was essentially working full-time interning with Mercury. But, I like to tell people about my undergraduate degree in gender studies and rhetoric from a little ski college in Colorado. If you meet someone else in venture capital with a degree in gender studies, please connect us, but I think I might be the only one. I’ll spare you what I used to think — and say — about business students, but I have really come full circle.

I always thought I would work in a nonprofit space, but after serving in Cambodia with the Peace Corps, working for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and briefly attending Emory Law School with the intention of becoming a civil rights lawyer.I found that time and time again the root of the problem was a lack of resources. The world’s problems were not going to be solved with my idealism alone.

The problem with operating as a nonprofit in a capitalism is you basically always pandering to the interests of the donors. The NFL was a key sponsor of The National Domestic Violence Hotline. The United States has a complicated, to put it lightly, relationship with Cambodia and Vietnam. It became pretty clear that the donor/nonprofit relationship was oftentimes putting the wrong party in the driver’s seat. I was, and still am, very interested in alternative financing for nonprofits. I became convinced that the most exciting businesses were building solutions to the world’s problems while also turning a profit, which allows them to survive to have a sustainable positive impact.

VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems.

IM: What are some companies you’re excited about?

KA: There are a couple super interesting founders I’ve met directly engaging with . To name a few: CiviTech, DonateStock, and Polco.

I’m very proud to work on mercury investments like Houston’s own, Topl, which has built an extremely lightweight and energy efficient Blockchain that enables tracking of ethical supply chains from the initial interaction.
I’m also excited about mercury’s investment in Zirtue, which enables relationship based peer to peer lending to solve the massive problem of predatory payday loans.

We have so many awesome founders in our portfolio. The best part about working in VC is meeting passionate innovators every day. I get excited to go to work everyday and help them to build better solutions.

IM: Why are you so passionate about bringing diversity and inclusion into Mercury?

KA: I love working with exciting, highly capable, super smart people. That category includes so many people who have been historically excluded. As an investment team member at Mercury, I do have a voice, and I have an obligation to use that voice to speak highly of the best people in rooms of influence.

IM: With your new role, what are you most focused on?

KA: In my new role, I am identifying and researching high potential investments. We’re building out a Mercury educational series to lift the veil of VC. We want to facilitate a series that gives all founders the basic skills to pass VC due diligence and have the opportunity to build the next innovative companies. My goal is ultimately to produce the best returns possible for our investors, and we can’t accomplish that goal unless we’re building out resources to meet the best founders and help them grow.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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