Houston startup nonprofit partners with local initiative to bolster Black entrepreneurs

A new initiative between two Houston organizations is dedicating resources to Black entrepreneurs. Photo via houston.impacthub.net

Impact Hub Houston has partnered with the Black Marketing Initiative to offer a new training, mentoring, and networking program for local black entrepreneurs in honor of Black History Month.

Dubbed MarketBlack, the program will provide participants with 7 weeks of workshops and interactive training modules designed to help them create successful business plans and foster growth through practical lessons from educators and fellow entrepreneurs, according to a statement from Innovation Hub Houston.

The idea was born in June of 2020 when BMI conducted its Community Checkup campaign to assess the vitality of minority-owned small businesses in Houston amid the pandemic. The campaign surveyed 226 mostly Black-owned businesses, according to Impact Hub Houston's website. Nearly half of those surveyed reported that they needed business and marketing support.

The program will aim to provide participating entrepreneurs with the skills to keep their businesses alive through the remainder of the pandemic and beyond.

"The Black Marketing Initiative is not just about being Black — it is also about the belief that community can positively impact us all," says Action Jackson, a leader and organizer of MarketBlack. "Successful Black entrepreneurs are good for business. Good for community. Good for everybody."

The program is open to Houston-based small businesses that make less than $50,000 a year, are less than 5 years old, and are majority Black-owned. The owner must be at least 18 years old. Interested business owners can apply here.

According to ImpactHub, the majority of businesses that have participated thus far have not had a business plan and make less than $25,000 in annual revenue. Participants have ranged in age from 20 to 47, are split about evenly between male and female, and have all been Black with one participant also claiming American Indian or Alaskan Native Heritage.

Impact Hub Houston is sponsoring and raising funds for the program, as well as opening its network and community to participants. According to the nonprofit's website, a donation of $100 can support one entrepreneur through the program.

Houston-based Sankofa Research Institute is providing BMI with progress and outcomes to give the organization a snapshot of Houston's Black business community and determine the efficacy of the program.

Other partners and participants in MarketBlack include Action One Media, Marcus Bowers of Marcus Bowers TV and She's Happy Hair, Choose to Do Inc, Emergent Business Solutions, and South Union CDC of the Sunnyside Energy Project. These organizations and other local business owners act as panelists, instructors, and even financial partners to the participants.

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Building Houston

 
 

Juliana Garaizar is now the chief development and investment officer at Greentown Labs, as well as continuing to be head of the Houston incubator. Image courtesy of Greentown

The new year has brought some big news from Greentown Labs.

The Somerville, Massachusetts-based climatetech incubator with its second location at Greentown Houston named a new member to its C-suite, is seeking new Houston team members, and has officially finished its transition into a nonprofit.

Juliana Garaizar, who originally joined Greentown as launch director ahead of the Houston opening in 2021, has been promoted from vice president of innovation to chief development and investment officer.

"I'm refocusing on the Greentown Labs level in a development role, which means fundraising for both locations and potentially new ones," Garaizar tells InnovationMap. "My role is not only development, but also investment. That's something I'm very glad to be pursuing with my investment hat. Access to capital is key for all our members, and I'm going to be in charge of refining and upgrading our investment program."

While she will also maintain her role as head of the Houston incubator, Greentown Houston is also hiring a general manager position to oversee day-to-day and internal operations of the hub. Garaizar says this role will take some of the internal-facing responsibilities off of her plate.

"Now that we are more than 80 members, we need more internal coordination," she explains. "Considering that the goal for Greentown is to grow to more locations, there's going to be more coordination and, I'd say, more autonomy for the Houston campus."

The promotion follows a recent announcement that Emily Reichert, who served as CEO for the company for a decade, has stepped back to become CEO emeritus. Greentown is searching for its next leader and CFO Kevin Taylor is currently serving as interim CEO. Garaizar says the transition is representative of Greentown's future as it grows to more locations and a larger organization.

"Emily's transition was planned — but, of course, in stealth mode," Garaizar says, adding that Reichert is on the committee that's finding the new CEO. "She thinks scaling is a different animal from putting (Greentown) together, which she did really beautifully."

Garaizar says her new role will include overseeing Greentown's new nonprofit status. She tells InnovationMap that the organization originally was founded as a nonprofit, but converted to a for-profit in order to receive a loan at its first location. Now, with the mission focus Greentown has and the opportunities for grants and funding, it was time to convert back to a nonprofit, Garaizar says.

"When we started fundraising for Houston, everyone was asking why we weren't a nonprofit. That opened the discussion again," she says. "The past year we have been going through that process and we can finally say it has been completed.

"I think it's going to open the door to a lot more collaboration and potential grants," she adds.

Greentown is continuing to grow its team ahead of planned expansion. The organization hasn't yet announced its next location — Garaizar says the primary focus is filling the CEO position first. In Houston, the hub is also looking for an events manager to ensure the incubator is providing key programming for its members, as well as the Houston innovation community as a whole.

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