eavesdropping in Houston

Overheard: 4 Houston BIPOC startup founders share their advice ahead of InnovationMap Awards

The four finalists in the BIPOC-Founded Business category for the inaugural InnovationMap Awards share their best advice for their fellow founders. Photos courtesy

Houston is often lauded as one of the most diverse cities in America, and that diversity is seen across its business communities as well, which includes its innovation ecosystem.

The InnovationMap Awards presented by Techwave announced its finalists across eight categories last week, and the winners will be celebrated at a hybrid event on September 8. Click here to register for the livestream.

The four finalists in the BIPOC-Founded Business category were asked to share their best advice to their fellow Black, Indigenous, and People of Color entrepreneurs. Here's what they had to say.

"Don't be afraid to network!"

Photo courtesy of LAMIK Beauty

— Kim Roxie, founder and CEO of LAMIK Beauty.

"Search for support within your community," Roxie continues. "There's always someone that knows someone who can introduce you to a potential buyer/investor/business opportunity."

Be "a sponge that soaks up all the knowledge as one moved forward in being a startup founder regardless of race."

Photo courtesy of Allotrope Medical

— Albert Huang, founder and CEO of Allotrope Medical.

Huang continues, saying: "This is the same mentorship that I've passed on to other BIPOC innovators and entrepreneurs that I've had the pleasure of working with."

"The road is long, and the wins are fewer than the losses at first. Celebrate each win, as much as you can."

Houston software startup to use fresh funds to become 'unquestionably the best' for the electricity industry

Photo courtesy of Molecule Software

— Sameer Soleja, founder and CEO of Molecule Software.

"Find your advocate. It is sometimes harder to prove yourself as a woman or minority, but a trusted advocate can build so much credibility for you."

Carolyn Rodz, CEO of Hello Alice

Photo via helloalice.com

— Carolyn Rodz, founder of Hello Alice.


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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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