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3 steps Houston entrepreneurs need to take to find opportunity during a crisis

Tomorrow, August 21, is World Entrepreneurs' Day, and it comes during a trying time for entrepreneurs everywhere. Here are three tips for business leaders operating during the pandemic. Photo via Getty Images

As company leaders approach the fourth quarter of 2020 and plan for 2021, many accept the fact that Houston's business landscape may look a bit different moving forward. Instead of the pandemic becoming a paralyzing force, new and eager business owners are committed to incorporating creative solutions.

These innovators have found ways to focus efforts to better serve customers in the transitioning economic landscape. The shift opens the door to new opportunity, and while the business outlook continues to evolve, some argue that times of crisis provide just as much, if not more, opportunity for entrepreneurs to find their footing. The past has shown that organizations can grow when faced with adversity and their resiliency in the earliest stages helps create a sturdy foundation.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, twenty percent of small businesses fail within the first year, and by the tenth year, only about a third of businesses have survived. While these numbers may be intimidating to a new business owner, the measurements have proven consistent over time. This means success rates are less dependent upon the state of the economy and more dependent upon the creativity and drive of the entrepreneur leading the efforts.

Times of uncertainty and economic change bring focus to new obstacles, expose weaknesses in business structure and highlight the need for innovation. Strategic entrepreneurs can capitalize on these opportunities by introducing solutions that respond to the current reality consumers face. In honor of World Entrepreneurs' Day on August 21, below are steps to consider when launching a business during a time of crisis.

Plan for current conditions

It is always important for new business owners to plan for the future and be flexible enough to adjust them to the current environment. If a five-year plan is based on the premise of business returning to its pre-COVID-19 scale, the entrepreneur will likely face substantial challenges in the future.

Business plans should incorporate solutions to areas of weakness that have been brought to light by recent events. It may also be helpful to seek customer feedback early in the company's lifecycle to ensure audience opinion serves as a cornerstone in ongoing strategic development. Understanding if the business's premise will drive value and benefit consumers, even in difficult times, can help the organization prepare for future crises.

Identify gaps

In many ways, the pandemic identified business strategies that may no longer be relevant and provided insight into the economy's future. New entrepreneurs hold the advantage of witnessing what worked, what did not and applying the new knowledge to their plan.

The importance of flexibility, adaptable services, a strong digital brand presence and solid SEO practices all proved critical to a business's ability to remain both relevant and successful this year. When starting a company in times of economic uncertainty, identifying ways to bridge gaps and capitalize on windows of opportunity can help establish a competitive edge early on.

Seek out support

It is no surprise that, especially in the early stages, running a startup may be overwhelming. It is key for small business owners to feel comfortable asking for help and to seek out support early on. Consider joining business networks and local industry alliances to learn from others. Particularly in times of crisis and uncertainty, it can be beneficial to learn from seasoned professionals, as well as peers, and to welcome support from others who have found success during trying times.

Business support can be advantageous as well. While outsourcing may appear costly, the value of industry experts to assist with marketing strategy development, human resources and benefits, or financial management can be highly beneficial, especially in the development phase.

The early stages of an organization can make or break the success of a company, and though many questions surround the state of business during times of uncertainty, the entrepreneurial opportunity is still available for small business growth and success.

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Jill Chapman is a senior performance consultant with Houston-based Insperity, a leading provider of human resources and business performance solutions.

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Building Houston

 
 

Common Desk, which has locations across Houston, has been acquired — and other innovation news. Rendering courtesy of Common Desk

Houston is starting 2022 strong in terms of innovation news, and there might be some headlines you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, the Bayou City is ranked based on its opportunities for STEM jobs, a Houston blockchain startup scores a major contract, Rice University opens applications for its veteran-owned busineess competition, and more.

Data Gumbo announces contract with Equinor

After a successful pilot, Equinor has signed off on a contract with Data Gumbo.. Courtesy of Data Gumbo

Houston-based Data Gumbo, an industrial blockchain-software-as-a-service company, announced that it has signed a contract with Equinor. The global energy company's venture arm, Equinor Ventures, supported the startup's $7.7 million series B round, which closed last year.

The company's technology features smart contract automation and execution, which reduces contract leakage, frees up working capital, enables real-time cash and financial management, and delivers provenance with unprecedented speed, accuracy, visibility and transparency, per the release.

“Equinor is an industry trailblazer, demonstrating the true value of our international smart contract network to improve and automate manual processes, and bring trust to all parties,” says Andrew Bruce, founder and CEO of Data Gumbo, in a news release. “Smart contracts are playing a critical role in driving the energy industry forward. Our work with Equinor clearly demonstrates the benefits that supermajors and their supply chain customers, partners and vendors experience by automating commercial transactions. We are proud to continue our work with Equinor to help them realize the savings, efficiencies and new levels of transparency available through our smart contract network.”

Equinor opted into a pilot with the company a few years ago.

“Since piloting Data Gumbo’s smart contracts for offshore drilling services in 2019, we have worked with the company to continually refine and improve use cases. We now have the potential to expand Data Gumbo’s smart contract network to enable transactional certainty across our portfolio from the Norwegian Continental Shelf to our Brazilian operated assets and beyond,” says Erik Kirkemo, senior vice president at Equinor. “GumboNet reduces inefficiencies and processing time around contract execution in complex supply chains, which is a problem in the broader industry, and we look forward to realizing the streamlined process and cost savings of its rapidly expanding smart contract network.”

WeWork acquires Dallas coworking brand with 6 Houston locations

Common Desk, which has six locations in Houston including in The Ion, has been acquired. Photo courtesy of Common Desk

Dallas-based Common Desk, which has six locations in Houston, announced its acquisition by WeWork. The company's office spaces will be branded as “Common Desk, a WeWork Company,” according to a news release.

“Similar to WeWork, Common Desk is a company built on the concept of bringing people together to have their best day at work," says Nick Clark, CEO at Common Desk, in the release. "With the added support from WeWork, Common Desk will be able to not only leverage WeWork’s decade of experience in member services to improve the experience of our own members but also leverage WeWork’s impressive client roster to further build out our member base.”

Here are the six Common Desk spaces in Houston:

Here's how Houston ranks as a metro for STEM jobs

Source: WalletHub

When it comes to the best cities for jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math, Houston ranks in the middle of the pack. The greater Houston area ranked at No. 37 among the 100 largest metros across 19 key metrics on the list compiled by personal finance website, WalletHub. Here's how Houston fared on the report's metrics:

  • No. 36 – percent of Workforce in STEM
  • No. 74 – STEM Employment Growth
  • No. 43 – Math Performance
  • No. 16 – Quality of Engineering Universities
  • No. 2 – Annual Median Wage for STEM Workers (Adjusted for Cost of Living)
  • No. 90 – Median Wage Growth for STEM Workers
  • No. 75 – Job Openings for STEM Graduates per Capita
  • No. 88 – Unemployment Rate for Adults with at Least a Bachelor’s Degree

Elsewhere in Texas, Austin ranked at No. 2 overall, and Dallas just outranked Houston coming in at No. 34. San Antonio, El Paso, and McAllen ranked No. 51, No. 65, and No. 88, respectively.

Rice University calls for contestants for its 8th annual startup pitch competition for veterans

Calling all veteran and active duty startup founders and business owners. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Rice University is now accepting applications from Houston veterans for its annual business competition. To apply for the 2022 Veterans Business Battle, honorably discharged veterans or active duty founders can head online to learn more and submit their business plan by Feb. 15.

“We’re looking forward to giving veterans the opportunity not just to share their ideas and get financing, but learn from other past winners the lessons about entrepreneurship they’ve lived through while growing their businesses,” event co-chair Reid Schrodel says in a news release.

Over the past few years, finalists have received more than $4 million of investments through the program. This year's monetary prizes add up to $30,000 — $15,000 prize for first place, $10,000 for second place, and $5,000 for third place.

Finalists will be invited to make their business pitch April 22 and 23 at Rice University. Click here to register for the event.

City of Houston receives grant to stimulate STEM opportunities

Houston's youth population is getting a leg up on STEM opportunities. Photo via Getty Images

Thanks to a $150,000 grant from the National League of Cities, the city of Houston has been awarded a chance to provide quality education and career opportunities to at-risk young adults and students. The city is one of five cities also selected to receive specialized assistance from NLC’s staff and other national experts.

“This award is a big win for young people. They will benefit from significant career development opportunities made possible by this grant,” says Mayor Sylvester Turner in a news release. “These are children who would otherwise go without, now having experiences and connections they never thought possible. I commend the National League of Cities for their continued commitment to the future leaders of this country.”

According to the release, the grant money will support the Hire Houston Youth program by connecting diverse opportunity youth to the unique STEM and technology-focused workforce development.

"Our youth deserve educational opportunities that connect them to the local workforce and career exploration, so they can make informed choices about their future career path in Houston’s dynamic economy. Houston youth will only further the amazing things they will accomplish, thanks to this grant," says Olivera Jankovska, director of the Mayor's Office of Education.

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