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

 
 

This health tech company has made some significant changes in order to keep up with its growth. Photo via Getty Images

With a new CEO and chief operating officer aboard, Houston-based DataJoint is thinking small in order to go big.

Looking ahead to 2022, DataJoint aims to enable hundreds of smaller projects rather than a handful of mega-projects, CEO Dimitri Yatsenko says. DataJoint develops data management software that empowers collaboration in the neuroscience and artificial intelligence sectors.

"Our strategy is to take the lessons that we have learned over the past four years working with major projects with multi-institutional consortia," Yatsenko says, "and translate them into a platform that thousands of labs can use efficiently to accelerate their research and make it more open and rigorous."

Ahead of that shift, the startup has undergone some significant changes, including two moves in the C-suite.

Yatsenko became CEO in February after stints as vice president of R&D and as president. He co-founded the company as Vathes LLC in 2016. Yatsenko succeeded co-founder Edgar Walker, who had been CEO since May 2020 and was vice president of engineering before that.

In tandem with Yatsenko's ascent to CEO, the company brought aboard Jason Kirkpatrick as COO. Kirkpatrick previously was chief financial officer of Houston-based Darcy Partners, an energy industry advisory firm; chief operating officer and chief financial officer of Houston-based Solid Systems CAD Services (SSCS), an IT services company; and senior vice president of finance and general manager of operations at Houston-based SmartVault Corp., a cloud-based document management company.

"Most of our team are scientists and engineers. Recruiting an experienced business leader was a timely step for us, and Jason's vast leadership experience in the software industry and recurring revenue models added a new dimension to our team," Yatsenko says.

Other recent changes include:

  • Converting from an LLC structure to a C corporation structure to enable founders, employees, and future investors to be granted shares of the company's stock.
  • Shortening the business' name to DataJoint from DataJoint Neuro and recently launching its rebranded website.
  • Moving the company's office from the Texas Medical Center Innovation Institute (TMCx) to the Galleria area. The new space will make room for more employees. Yatsenko says the 12-employee startup plans to increase its headcount to 15 to 20 by the end of this year.

Over the past five years, the company's customer base has expanded to include neuroscience institutions such as Princeton University's Princeton Neuroscience Institute and Columbia University's Zuckerman Institute for Brain Science, as well as University College London and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. DataJoint's growth has been fueled in large part by grants from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

"The work we are tackling has our team truly excited about the future, particularly the capabilities being offered to the neuroscience community to understand how the brain forms perceptions and generates behavior," Yatsenko says.

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