Houston ranked among best metros for Black professionals

inclusive ecosystem

A new report finds that Houston is a top city for Black professionals. Photo via Getty Images

A WalletHub study released in 2021 crowned Houston the most diverse city in the U.S. So it shouldn't really come as a surprise that Bayou City ranks among the country’s best cities for Black professionals.

A new ranking compiled by Black employees at Apartment List puts Houston at No. 4 among the best cities for Black professionals. The Apartment List employees judged 82 cities in four categories:

  • Business environment for Black professionals. Houston ranks third.
  • Black community and representation. Houston ranks fourth.
  • Economic opportunities for Black professionals. Houston ranks seventh.
  • Housing opportunities for Black professionals. Houston ranks 20th.

Apartment List combined the scores in each of those categories to come up with an overall score for each city. Houston’s final score was 63.8, with 100 being the highest possible score. The company released the ranking in conjunction with Black History Month.

Apartment List lauds Houston’s showing in three of the four categories, but dings the city for its relatively low score for housing opportunities. The website points out that 42 percent of black households in Houston spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

In praising Houston’s environment for Black professionals, Apartment List cites the city’s large Black population (22.6 percent), its representation in critical occupations (about one-fifth of teachers and doctors are black), and the presence of Texas Southern University, an HBCU. Furthermore, Apartment list notes that a big share of Houston businesses are black-owned.

In 2016, Black Enterprise magazine dubbed Houston the country’s “Next Great Black Business Mecca.”

In a 2019 post on Medium, digital marketer and Los Angeles native Shameen Yakubu placed Houston at No. 2 on his list of the six cities he’d considered moving to as a Black professional. (San Antonio topped his list, and his LinkedIn profile indicates he now lives there.) Yakubu cited Houston’s large Black population, diversity, and affordability as some of the factors in the city’s favor.

“One of the things that [attracts] me to Houston is the number of [Black] professionals and entrepreneurs. Texas, in general, is a very pro-business state,” Yakubu wrote.

Three other Texas cities join Houston in Apartment List’s top 10:

  • San Antonio, No. 3, final score of 66.08.
  • Dallas, No. 5, final score of 60.6.
  • Austin, No. 9 (tie), final score of 57.1.

In descending order, here are the top 10 cities for Black professionals, according to Apartment List:

  • Washington, D.C.
  • Atlanta
  • San Antonio
  • Houston
  • Dallas
  • Raleigh, North Carolina
  • Lakeland, Florida
  • Orlando, Florida
  • Austin (tie)
  • Baltimore (tie)
Denise Hamilton, founder and CEO of WatchHerWork, is publishing a book that helps guide Black Lives Matter allies to make changes that will help them change the world. Photo courtesy of WatchHerWork

Houston entrepreneur tackles diversity and inclusion challenges through new book

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 39

If you went to school in America, you might have been taught that George Washington's teeth were made out of wood. While this information might have been effective in promoting oral health as a kid, it's important for you to know that George Washington's dentures were not made of wood. They were made of ivory, metal alloys, and other human teeth — usually pulled from slaves.

History seems to have been rewritten in this case, and it's not the first — nor the last — time that's happened. Denise Hamilton wants individuals to recognize moments, acknowledge them, and move forward toward the truth. That's why she's publishing a thoughtful journal entitled "Do Something: An Ally's Guide to Changing Yourself So You Can Change Your World."

"I feel really strongly that we all have these challenging stories in our minds that we have to identify and release," Hamilton shares on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "I give that example so that we all are clear that we don't have the full story for a lot of these topics. To me, if you allow yourself to be humble and be open to the fact that you really cannot believe everything you think, we can make so much progress in this space."

Hamilton founded her company, WatchHerWork, five years ago to act as a platform for women seeking career advice and mentorship.

"I had been an executive for many years — around 25 years at this point — and I had been the only woman or the only African American in so many situations that people wanted to pick my brain or take me to lunch," she says. "Frankly, there weren't enough hours in the day."

The company evolved to more, and now she's focused on diversity and inclusion consulting and leadership.

In the months following the death of George Floyd, Hamilton has seen companies react in various ways to the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement with marketing campaigns and initiatives for improving workplace conditions.

"The biggest challenge is the same thing that's the biggest opportunity," she says. "Every company has the opportunity to reinvent their approach to how they handle systemic racism in their organizations, and they are terrified by it."

As Hamilton has seen first hand, companies are navigating a minefield of how to react. In her consulting with companies, Hamilton has advised business leaders to be transparent and recognize if they haven't been an ally in this space — and to not act like it. Disclose the things that are being improved and amplify the work that's already been done — don't reinvent the wheel, she says.

"And if you turn this moment into a marketing event instead of a true seed change, we can spot that a mile away. Lead with authenticity, be sincere, and be honest," she says.

The other ongoing challenge Hamilton is navigating with her work is the effect COVID-19 has had on women in the workplace. The pandemic has amplified existing gender issues in the workplace and created new challenges as well. In the past, female executives have been able to climb the corporate ladder while hiring services to help on the home front, but COVID-19 pulled the rug out from under these women's feet.

"Women are starting to opt out because they are overwhelmed," Hamilton says, adding that this thought terrifies her. "We shouldn't live in a society that penalizes you for having children — that's just the bottom line."

What employers have to realize — and this is a cornerstone of Hamilton's work — is that inclusion in the workplace isn't treating everyone the same. It's factoring everyone's differences.

"I don't want you to treat me the same. I want you to look at my situation and treat me the way I need to be treated based on my situation," she says. "And that can be difficult to navigate, but that's what we help our clients do."

As challenging both the social unrest and pandemic has been, it's an opportunity to move forward and make a difference.

"It's a bittersweet experience when there's lots of change — there's always a lot of opportunity as well," Hamilton says. "Never waste a good crisis."

On the episode, Hamilton shares more details about her forthcoming book, advice for female founders, and more. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you get your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Black Girl Ventures has launched in Houston. Photo courtesy of Black Girl Ventures

Organization launches Houston chapter to drive investment and social capital for women of color

a seat at the table

Everyone knows the statistics. Female-founded startups receive around 2 percent of the venture capital funding, according to some reports, and when you break that down into women of color receiving funding, it's even less.

A Washington D.C.-based organization is looking to give these women seats at the table with the launch of Black Girl Ventures in Houston. BGV is based in The Cannon locally, and is looking to partner with other Houston organizations to grow its presence.

"Black Girl Ventures is here — not just in Houston but across the country and the globe — to be able to help create social and financial capital for black and brown women," says Sharita M. Humphrey, a Houston financial adviser and team lead for BGV in town.

The organization launched its local chapters — including Houston, Miami, Durham, Philadelphia, and Birmingham —right around the same time this spring to create a huge splash across the country. The organization, which is made up of 31 employees and leaders across the country, focuses on events and programing for female founders of color to prepare them for financial growth — including the networks and know how needed for that process.

"Being an African-American women founder I did see that there was a need for more social and financial capital," Humphrey says. "We have access — especially living here in Texas — to financial capital, but we don't understand how important that social capital is to be able to obtain that financial capital."

The cornerstone event for Houston's BGV is set to be in August. It's a pitch event with a live crowdfunding campaign. The event, which uses SheRaise online to fundraise, has been done for a few years coinciding with SXSW — this year's was done digitally. Now, with the launch of the five markets, each of the new chapters will get to fo their on versions locally.

The event requires the eight companies that will pitch to: be revenue earning, have a black or brown female founder, and be based in the Houston area. The first, second, and third place startups will win prizes, and each of the startups will be able to raise money online through SheRaise. Companies can apply online for the event.

Humphrey says she has big plans for her BGV chapter, including raising $1 million for her Houston members — something she is determined to make happen with the right amount of social capital help and financial coaching.

"When they get to the table with venture capitalists, they'll be ready," she says.

Texas was ranked among the top states for black entrepreneurs. Getty Images

Texas named second-best state for black entrepreneurs

Black history month

In honor of Black History Month, a study was conducted to see which states have the best environment for black entrepreneurs — and Texas rose to the top.

The Lone Star State was ranked No. 2 in the inaugural FitSmallBusiness study, only behind Georgia. Florida, California, and North Carolina rounded out the top five, in that order. The ranking factored in metrics such as start-up growth, cost-of-living, black business success, and social equality.

"Entrepreneurship is the backbone of the American economy and minority-owned businesses are no exception to that fact," says FitSmallBusiness's special projects editor, Michael De Medeiros, in the news release. "With this being the inaugural study, our goal was to focus on the data that paints an overall picture of what the African American entrepreneur faces in the business world."

Breaking down the metrics for the state, Texas ranked No. 4 for three metrics —black business success, startup climate and financial health. However, when it came to social and financial equality — which factored in education, health, mortality rate, etc. — the state ranked No. 17.

The study used reputable reports from the United States Census Bureau, WalletHub, U.S. News & World Report, and more. From these reports, the study found that black-owned firms have grown 34 percent from 2007 to 2012, to now over 2.6 million companies. The top 100 black-owned companies generated $30 billion in 2018, but only 1 percent of venture-backed startup founders were black.

In addition to these metrics, the study also polled over 1,300 U.S. citizens regarding their own experience with black entrepreneurship. When asked about opportunities for black entrepreneurs compared to recent history, over 21 percent of respondents said it was about the same; however, more than half responded that there were somewhat or much more opportunities than before.

"While we weren't surprised by certain findings, some of the state rankings told an interesting story of the unique journeys that African American entrepreneurs have to traverse," De Medeiros continues in the release. "Ultimately, we hope that our continuing work to identify the best states for minority entrepreneurship will lead to new businesses outside of just the most prosperous areas of the U.S."

Austin-based Capital Factory — a startup development and investment organization — in partnership with DivInc, has launched its second annual startup pitch competition for black founders. The application is live now, and the deadline is March 20. Five startups will be invited to pitch on April 14th at Capital Factory's Black in Tech Summit, and one will walk away with a $100,000 investment.

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Looking back: Top 5 most-read Houston research-focused stories of 2021

2022 in review

Editor's note: As 2022 comes to a close, InnovationMap is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston innovation. In many cases, innovative startups originate from meticulous research deep within institutions. This past year, InnovationMap featured stories on these research institutions — from their breakthrough innovations to funding fueling it all. Here are five Houston research-focused articles that stood out to readers this year — be sure to click through to read the full story.


Texas nonprofit cancer research funder doles out millions to health professionals moving to Houston

These cancer research professionals just got fresh funding from a statewide organization. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Thanks in part to multimillion-dollar grants from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, two top-flight cancer researchers are taking key positions at Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine.

Dr. Pavan Reddy and Dr. Michael Taylor each recently received a grant of $6 million from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

Reddy is leaving his position as chief of hematology-oncology and deputy director at the University of Michigan’s Rogel Cancer Center to become director of the Baylor College of Medicine’s Dan L. Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. C. Kent Osborne stepped down as the center’s director in 2020; Dr. Helen Heslop has been the interim director. Continue reading.

Rice University deploys grant funding to 9 innovative Houston research projects

Nine research projects at Rice University have been granted $25,000 to advance their innovative solutions. Photo courtesy of Rice

Over a dozen Houston researchers wrapped up 2021 with the news of fresh funding thanks to an initiative and investment fund from Rice University.

The Technology Development Fund is a part of the university’s Creative Ventures initiative, which has awarded more than $4 million in grants since its inception in 2016. Rice's Office of Technology Transfer orchestrated the $25,000 grants across nine projects. Submissions were accepted through October and the winners were announced a few weeks ago. Continue reading.

Houston researchers create unprecedented solar energy technology that improves on efficiency

Two researchers out of the University of Houston have ideated a way to efficiently harvest carbon-free energy 24 hours a day. Photo via Getty Images

Two Houstonians have developed a new system of harvesting solar energy more efficiently.

Bo Zhao, the Kalsi Assistant Professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Houston, along with his doctoral student Sina Jafari Ghalekohneh, have created a technology that theoretically allows solar energy to be harvested to the thermodynamic limit, which is the absolute maximum rate sunlight can be converted into electricity, as reported in a September article for Physical Review Applied.

Traditional solar thermophotovoltaics (STPVs), or the engines used to extract electrical power from thermal radiation, run at an efficiency limit of 85.4 percent, according to a statement from UH. Zhao and Ghalekohneh's system was able to reach a rate of 93.3 percent, also known as the Landsberg Limit. Continue reading.

Texas A&M receives $10M to create cybersecurity research program

Texas A&M University has announced a new cybersecurity-focused initiative. Photo via tamu.edu

Texas A&M University has launched an institute for research and education regarding cybersecurity.

The Texas A&M Global Cyber Research Institute is a collaboration between the university and a Texas A&M University System engineering research agency, the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station. The research agency and Texas A&M are also home to the Texas A&M Cybersecurity Center.

The institute is funded by $10 million in gifts from former Texas A&M student Ray Rothrock, a venture capitalist and cybersecurity expert, and other donors. Continue reading.

Houston research organization doles out $28M in grants to innovators across Texas

Houston-based Welch Foundation has awarded almost $28 million in chemical research grants throughout Texas this year. Photo via Getty Images

Chemical researchers at seven institutions in the Houston area are receiving nearly $12.9 million grants from the Houston-based Welch Foundation.

In the Houston area, 43 grants are going to seven institutions:

  • Baylor College of Medicine
  • Rice University
  • Texas A&M University
  • Texas A&M University Health Science Center
  • University of Houston
  • University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
  • University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston

The Welch Foundation is awarding almost $28 million in chemical research grants throughout Texas this year. The money will be allocated over a three-year period. Continue reading.

University of Houston powers up first robot food server in a U.S. restaurant

order up

The University of Houston is taking a bold step — or, in this case, roll — in foodservice delivery. UH's Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership is now deploying a robot server in Eric’s Restaurant at its Hilton College.

Booting up this new service is major bragging rights for the Coogs, as UH is now the only college in the country — and the only restaurant facility in Houston — to utilize a robotic food delivery.

These rolling delivery bots come from the state-of-the-art food service robot called Servi. The bots, created by Bear Robotics, are armed with LiDar sensors, cameras, and trays, and automatically return to their posts when internal weight sensors detect a delivery has been completed.

Not surprisingly, these futuristic food staffers are booting up plenty of buzz at UH.

“People are excited about it,” says Dennis Reynolds, who is dean of the Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership and oversees the only hospitality program in the world where students work and take classes in an internationally branded, full-service hotel. Launching robot waitstaff at UH as a test market makes sense, he notes, for practical use and larger implications.

The Servi robots deliver food from the kitchen to the table. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

“Robotics and the general fear of technology we see today are really untested in the restaurant industry,” he says in an announcement. “At Hilton College, it’s not just about using tomorrow’s technology today. We always want to be the leader in learning how that technology impacts the industry.”

Bear Robotics, a tech company founded by restaurant experts and tech entrepreneurs, hosted a Servi showcase at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago earlier this year. After seeing the demo, Reynolds was hooked. UH's Servi robot arrived at Eric’s Restaurant in October.

Before sending the bot to diners' tables, the bot was prepped by Tanner Lucas, the executive chef and foodservice director at Eric’s. That meant weeks of mapping, programming, and — not surprisingly — “test driving” around the restaurant.

Tanner even created a digital map of the restaurant to teach the Servi its pathways and designated service points, such as table numbers. “Then, we sent it back and forth to all of those points from the kitchen with food to make sure it wouldn’t run into anything," he adds.

But does having a robot deliver food create friction between human and automated staff? Not at Eric's. “The robot helps my workflow,” Joel Tatum, a server at Eric’s says. “It lets me spend more time with my customers instead of just chasing and running food.”

Once loaded, the kitchen staff can tell the Servi robots where to take the dishes. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

Reynolds believes robots will complement their human counterparts and actually enhance the customer experience, even in unlikely settings.

“Studies have been conducted in senior living facilities where you might think a robot wouldn’t be well received, but it’s been just the opposite,” Reynolds says. “Those residents saw the change in their lives and loved it.”

To that end, he plans to use Servi bots in other UH venues. “The ballroom would be a fantastic place to showcase Servi – not as a labor-saving device, but as an excitement generator,” Reynolds notes. “To have it rotating through a big event delivering appetizers would be really fun.”

Critics who denounce robot servers and suggest they will soon displace humans are missing the point, Reynolds adds. “This isn’t about cutting our labor costs. It’s about building our top-line revenues and expanding our brand as a global hospitality innovator,” Reynolds says. “People will come to expect more robotics, more artificial intelligence in all segments of hospitality, and our students will be right there at the forefront.”

Servi bots come at a time of dynamic growth for Hilton College. A recent rebrand to “Global Hospitality Leadership” comes as the college hotel is undergoing a $30 million expansion and renovation, which includes a new five-story, 70-room guest tower. The student-run Cougar Grounds coffeehouse reopened this semester in a larger space with plenty of updates. The neighboring Eric’s Club Center for Student Success helps with recruitment and enrollment, undergraduate academic services, and career development.

“To be the first university in the country to introduce robotics in the dining room is remarkable,” Reynolds adds. “There are a lot of unique things we’re doing at Hilton College.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston innovator on seeing a greener future on built environment

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 162

An architect by trade, Anas Al Kassas says he was used to solving problems in his line of work. Each project architects take on requires building designers to be innovative and creative. A few years ago, Kassas took his problem-solving background into the entrepreneurship world to scale a process that allows for retrofitting window facades for energy efficiency.

“If you look at buildings today, they are the largest energy-consuming sector — more than industrial and more than transportation,” Kassas, founder and CEO of INOVUES, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. “They account for up to 40 percent of energy consumption and carbon emissions.”

To meet their climate goals, companies within the built environment are making moves to transition to electric systems. This has to be done with energy efficiency in mind, otherwise it will result in grid instability.

"Energy efficiency goes hand in hand with energy transition," he explains.

Kassas says that he first had the idea for his company when he was living in Boston. He chose to start the business in Houston, attracted to the city by its central location, affordable labor market, and manufacturing opportunities here.

Last year, INOVUES raised its first round of funding — a $2.75 million seed round — to scale up the team and identify the best markets to target customers. Kassas says he was looking for regions with rising energy rates and sizable incentives for companies making energy efficient changes.

"We were able to now implement our technology in over 4 million square feet of building space — from Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York City, Portland, and very soon in Canada," he says.

Notably missing from that list is any Texas cities. Kassas says that he believes Houston is a great city for startups and he has his operations and manufacturing is based here, but he's not yet seen the right opportunity and adaption

"Unfortunately most of our customers are not in Texas," "A lot of work can be done here to incentivize building owners. There are a lot of existing buildings and construction happening here, but there has to be more incentives."

Kassas shares more about his growth over the past year, as well as what he has planned for 2023 on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.