Pride Month

Houston business leader on the importance of engaging the LGBTQ community

Supporting LGBT-founded startups is crucial to Houston business success. Ylanite Koppens/Pexels

When we think about different groups within the business ecosystem in our region, the LGBTQ business community historically has not been at the table. As we close this year's Pride Month, it's time to reflect on the the importance the LGBTQ population has within Houston and local businesses.

While the LGBTQ community has realized historic gains, such as marriage equality, serious gaps in legal protections remain, resulting in discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. In fact, there are twenty-nine states where a person can be fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity. That kind of job insecurity coupled with an entrepreneurial spirit has driven many in the LGBTQ community to start their own businesses.

Many LGBTQ-owned businesses in the region are obtaining the LGBTBE® certification, opening the door for these business owners to participate in corporate supplier diversity programs such as those offered by Fortune 500 corporations like Bank of America, Chevron, Shell. and United. These and many other companies greatly value diverse suppliers as part of their supply chain inclusivity goals and they embrace the diversity that LGBTQ businesses bring as part of that inclusion equation. The LGBTBE® certification is part of supplier diversity and inclusion programs that typically include participation of businesses owned by minorities, veterans, and women as examples.

The Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce is hosting its annual Pride in Business Celebration on Friday, June 28, at 5:30 pm at the Hyatt Regency Houston. Click here for more information.

Why get certified?

Traditionally, LGBTQ business owners have been excluded from these opportunities within the broader business community and many have stayed in the closet because of the fear of losing clients, employees, and revenue. In fact, many LGBTQ business owners can experience a coming out process in their professional life that is entirely different from the one they have experienced in their personal life. The LGBTBE® certification gives LGBTQ owned businesses an opportunity to participate in contracting opportunities and to be valued for the service or product they provide, as well as because of who they are as LGBTQ suppliers and as part of an ecosystem of diverse entrepreneurs.

How does a business qualify for the certification?

A company must be at least 51 percent LGBTQ-owned, operated, managed, and controlled along with other criteria comparable to similar certification programs. The certifying body for the LGBTBE® certification is the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC). In order to get certified, a business owner should complete the application through the NGLCC.

Greater Houston LGBT Chamber members are eligible for a fee waiver, as part of the Houston chamber's affiliate relationship with the NGLCC. This is a "win-win" for businesses with the waiver of the fee and the opportunity to take advantage of the many benefits and support offered to LGBTQ entrepreneurs through the Chamber.

What's the impact?

Making sure that the LGBTQ business community has access to economic opportunity is good for business and good our region. Looking forward to the goal of full and equal rights for the LGBTQ community, economic opportunity is a key milestone for LGBTQ entrepreneurs and the community as a whole. The LGBTQ business community is part of the economic fabric in our region and key to Houston's economic success.

While the LGBTQ business community is poised for tremendous growth in the region as corporations and consumers seek out LGBTQ-supportive businesses, the traditional barriers for LGBTQ-owned businesses must be removed and economic opportunity a priority whether through the LGBTBE® certification or actively engaging LGBTQ entrepreneurs with the broader business community.


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Tammi Wallace is the co-founder and board chair of the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce. She is also the founder and principal consultant of EnFocus Group, which connects organizations to the power of LGBTQ diversity and inclusion through training and consulting.

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Building Houston

 
 

Cheers Health has expanded its product line as it evolves as a wellness-focused brand. Photo courtesy of Cheers

Houston-based startup Cheers first got a wave of brand devotees after it was passed over by investors on Shark Tank in 2018. In the years since, Cheers secured an impressive investment, launched new products, and became a staple hangover cure for customers. When the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted businesses, the company rose to the occasion and experienced its first profitable year as drinking and wellness habits changed across America.

Cheers initially started its company under the name Thrive+ with a hangover-friendly pill that promised to minimize the not-so-fun side effects that come after a night out. The capsules support the liver by replacing lost vitamins, reduce GABAa rebound and lower the alcohol-induced acetaldehyde toxicity levels in the body. The company's legacy product complemented social calendars and nights on the town, providing next day relief.

With COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing measures, the days of pub crawls and social events were numbered. Cheers founder Brooks Powell saw the massive behavior change in people consuming alcohol, and leaned into his vision of becoming more than just a hangover cure but an "alcohol-related health company," he says.

When the pandemic first hit, Powell and his team noticed an immediate dip in sales — a relatable story for businesses in the grips of COVID-19.

"There is a three day period where we went from having the best month in company history to the worst month in company history, over a 72 hour stretch," he remarks.

He soon called an emergency board meeting and rattled off worst-case "doomsday" scenarios, he says.

"Thankfully, we never had to do any of these strategies because, ultimately, the team was able to rally around the new positioning for the brand which was far more focused on alcohol-related health," he says.

"We found that a lot less people were getting hangovers during 2020, because generally when you binge drink, you tend to binge drink with other people," he explains.

He noticed that health became an important focus for people, some who began to drink less due to the lack of social gatherings. On the contrary, some consumers began to drink more to fill the idle time.

According to a JAMA Network report, there was a 54 percent increase in national sales of alcohol for the week stay-at-home orders began last March, as compared to the year prior.

"All of a sudden, you have all of these people who probably aren't binge drinking but they're just frequently consuming alcohol. Their drinks per week are shooting up, and they're worried about liver health," explains Powell.

Outside of day-after support, Cheers leaned into its long-term health products to help drinkers consume alcohol in a healthier way. Cheers Restore, a dissolvable powder consumers can mix into their water, rehydrates the body by optimizing sodium and glucose molecules.

For continued support, Cheers Protect is a daily supplement designed to increase glutathione — an antioxidant that plays a key role in liver detoxification — and support overall liver health. Cheers Protect, which was launched in 2019, became a focus for the company as they pivoted its brand strategy and marketing to accommodate consumer behavior.

"The Cheers brand is just trying to reflect the mission statement, which is bringing people together through promoting fun, responsible and health-conscious alcohol consumption," says Powell. "It fits with our vision statement, which is a world where everyone can enjoy alcohol throughout a long, healthy and happy lifetime,."

At the close of 2020, Cheers had generated $10.4 million in revenue and over $1.7m in profit — its first profitable year since launch.

During the brand's mission to stay afloat during the pandemic, the Cheers team was also laying the groundwork for its entry into the retail space. When Powell launched the company during his junior year at Princeton University, bringing Cheers to brick-and-mortar stores had always been a goal. He envisioned liquor and grocery stores where Cheers was sold next to alcohol as a complementary item. "It's like getting sunscreen before going to the beach, they kind of go hand in hand," he says.

"When we spoke with retailers, specifically bars and liquor stores, what we learned is that a lot of these places were hesitant to put pills near alcohol," he says. Wanting an attractive and accessible mode of alcohol-support, the Cheers team created the Cheers Restore beverage.

Utilizing the technology Cheers developed with Princeton University researchers, the Cheers Restore beverage incorporates the benefits of the pill in a liquid, sugar-free form. The company states that its in-vivo study found that the drink is up to 19 times more bioavailable than pure dihydromyricetin (DHM), a Japanese raisin tree extract found in Cheers products and other hangover-related cures.

"What we figured out is that if you combine DHM — our main ingredient — with something called capric acid, which is an extract from coconut oil, the bioavailability shoots way up," says Powell. He notes the unique taste profile and the "creaminess" capric acid provides. "Now you have this lightly carbonated, zero-sugar, lemon sherbert, essentially liver support, hangover beverage that tastes great in 12 ounces and can mix with alcohol," he explains.

The Cheers Restore beverage is already hitting the Houston-area, where its found a home on menus at Present Company. The company has also run promotions with Houston hangouts like Memorial Trail Ice House, Drift, and The Powder Keg.

Currently, the beverage is only available in retail capacity and cannot be ordered on the Cheers website. As Powell focuses on expanding Cheers Restore beverage presence in the region, he welcomes the idea of expanding nationally in the future to come. While eager customers await the drink's national availability, they can actively invest in Cheers through the company's recently-launched online public offering.

Though repivoting a company and launching a new product is exciting, the process did not come without its caveats and stressors. While Cheers profited as a business in 2020, the staff and its founder weren't immune to the struggles of COVID-19.

"I think 2020 was the first year that it really became real for me that Cheers is far more than just some sort of alcohol-related health brand and its products," says Powell. "Cheers is really its employees and everything that goes into being a successful, durable company that people essentially bet their careers on and their family's well-being on and so forth," he continues.

"It really does weigh on you in a different way that it's never weighed on you before," says Powell, describing the stress of the pandemic. The experience was "enlightening," he says, and he wants others to know it's not embarrassing to need help.

"There is no lack of great leaders out there that at long periods of their life they needed help in some way," he says. "For me that was 2020 and being in the grinder and feeling the stress of the unknown and all of that, but it could happen to anyone," he continues.

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