Houston small biz-supporting platform's founders face 'frivolous' discrimination lawsuit

Hello Alice Co-Founders Carolyn Rodz and Elizabeth Gore join the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the lawsuit they're facing. Photo courtesy Cayce Clifford/Hello Alice

For years, Hello Alice has been helping small businesses across the country get equitable access to funding and support. Now, the Houston tech company is facing its own obstacle: An affirmative action lawsuit.

"I don't think in a million years that we ever expected anything like this," Elizabeth Gore, co-founder and president of Hello Alice, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "There's surprise, then there's fear, and then there's anger. But now on the other side of it, we're emboldened, confident, and more passionate than ever."

America First Legal's lawsuit against Hello Alice and its partner, Progressive Insurance, alleges that their program to award10 $25,000 grants to Black-owned small businesses constitutes racial discrimination. AFL was founded by former Trump Administration adviser Stephen Miller and features a handful of other former White House officials on its board.

Hello Alice has worked to deploy around $40 million in grants to small business owners and boasts a membership network of 1.4 million small businesses across 50 states. While concerning, Gore describes the impact of the lawsuit as a threat to the economy as a whole, since small businesses are such an integral part of the country.

"It is 100 percent impacting everybody. We maintain that it's frivolous, and that everything we do is above board. These are awards, which the private sector has every right to do within the bounds of the law," Gore says on the show.

While the legal battle is ongoing, Gore and CEO Carolyn Rodz are working to make sure their membership continues to have equitable funding access. In fact, the duo has taken control of the narrative to highlight the impact of their work with a new initiative called Elevate the American Dream, a grant program that's highlighting small businesses living out their American dreams.

"We realized that we could come out with a really unified small business voice that is strong, pushing back, and speaking up for the things that are pushing business forward," Rodz says on the show. "At the end of the day we're going to continue fighting the fight that we've always been fighting, which is the fight for equitable access to resources for business owners."

The platform accepts nominations for small businesses in the country, and it's Hello Alice's goal to get 5 million companies on the platform, which is how many new businesses started last year in the United States, Rodz says.

"It's important that we show that it's a strong and bipartisan and unified voice," Rodz continues.

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