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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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from smart city tech to startup marketing — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Stephanie Tsuru, founder of SheSpace

Stephanie Tsuru joins this week's Houston Innovators Podcast to share her growth plans for 2023. Photo via LinkedIn

SheSpace opened with a splash, Founder Stephanie Tsure tells InnovationMap on last week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. After surviving through the pandemic, the female-focused coworking hub expanded — with a new type of membership as well as physically.

"We had so many people who wanted to be a part of the community — so we started a social networking group," she says.

Now, the entrepreneur is looking to expand this year to open satellite locations. She shares more on the show. Read more.

Fareed Zein, founder of Unytag

Unytag celebrated a big win at the Ion recently — and has taking its prizes into the new year. Photo via LinkedIn

As the father of four competitive-tennis-playing daughters, Fareed Zein spent years driving “from California to Florida,” he says. Throughout those years, he and his wife racked up toll violation after toll violation. “I thought, there’s got to be an easier way,” he recalls.

Fortunately, Zein wasn’t just any sports dad with thousands of miles on his car. The University of Texas grad put in 26 years developing IT systems at Shell. He retired from that role in 2015, which allowed him to spend more time on the road with his youngest daughter, now playing for UT Austin. In 2019, he used his technology expertise to start Unytag, a company focused on making it easier to drive around the country as the Zein family had so many times.

Unytag is a system that allows users to trash their multiple toll tags in favor of just one RFID (radio-frequency identification) sticker and an app. The app, which Zein says is currently in its testing phase, will be available on both IOS and Android phones in the second half of the year.

“A phone is a device everyone has nowadays, right?” says Zein. “Just like you use your phone to pay for a latte at Starbucks, we are going to simplify how you pay tolls.” Read more.

Libby Covington, partner at The Craig Group

It's undeniable that businesses are facing economic uncertainty in 2023. Here's what marketing tools to tap into to navigate the challenges ahead. Photo via LinkedIn

Make 2023 the year of optimized marketing for your startup — that's Libby Covington's advice. Partner at The Craig Group, she outlined her tips in a guest column for InnovationMap.

"Continued growth starts with goal setting and coming up with a marketing and business development strategy that fits the unique needs of a business," she writes. "This works most effectively when a company’s management team ensures that marketing and sales are working in lockstep. They are two sides of the same coin and need to see themselves that way to maximize results and therefore profit." Read more.

Houston area robotics tech company announces European expansion

growing strong

A Webster-based tech company has officially launched operations in two European countries — and it's only the beginning.

Nauticus Robotics Inc. (NASDAQ: KITT), which went public a few months ago, opened operations in Norway and the United Kingdom, "beginning the company’s international expansion strategy for 2023 and beyond," according to a release from Nauticus. The company develops underwater robots, software, and services to the marine industries.

“The ocean touches nearly every aspect of our lives, yet paradoxically seems to receive less attention and innovation when compared to other sectors,” says Nicolaus Radford, founder and CEO of Nauticus, in the release. “As we expand our operations to these strategic locales and beyond, our core mission remains the same: to become the most impactful ocean robotics company and realize a future where autonomous robotic technologies are commonplace and enable the blue economy for the better."

The two new operating bases are in Stavanger, Norway, and Aberdeen, Scotland. The two outposts will serve the North Sea offshore market. According to the release, Nauticus will work with local partners to service the region’s offshore wind and oil and gas markets. The company will also expand Nauticus Fleet, a "robotic navy of surface and subsea robots," which was established in April of 2022.

These two new regional offices are just the first examples of international growth Nauticus has planned, according to the release. Established to serve as logistics operation centers, the company's expansion plan includes new remote operation centers and service teams around the world in growth markets. The company did not announce any specific expansion plans.

"We are eager to ramp up activities in these international markets as our growing team contributes to our mission," Radford adds.

In October, shortly after its IPO, Nauticus announced that it has been awarded a second multimillion-dollar contract from the U.S. Defense Innovation Unit, part of the U.S. Defense Department, for development of a self-piloted amphibious robot system powered by the company’s ToolKITT command-and-control software.

The company was originally founded in 2014 as Houston Mechatronics Inc. before rebranding in 2021.

UH launches hydrogen economy program for energy professionals, students

say hi to hydrogen

The University of Houston will launch a new micro-credential program titled “The Hydrogen Economy” starting Feb. 20 and running through May 8.

The program is designed for industry professionals, rising seniors, and graduate students. It aims to present the "opportunities and challenges offered by the growing hydrogen sector," according to a statement from UH.

“The energy field is evolving rapidly, and energy professionals need to do the same," Ramanan Krishnamoorti, vice president of energy and innovation at UH, said in a statement. "What we’re seeing is that the people the companies are going to value are those who can contribute to this transformation.”

The program consists of three badges that are earned via 15-hour modules held over three-week periods. Courses and lectures are held via Zoom weekly with recorded sessions to be viewed independently twice a week.

Participants can complete the entire program (earning all three badges) for $2,000, or earn individual badges for $750 each.

According to UH, the program aims to give participants a solid understanding of:

  • Key characteristics and drivers for hydrogen as the decarbonization fuel of choice
  • Fundamentals for the existing hydrogen market, and how it is poised to change
  • Policy and strategy: Critical factors in building The Hydrogen Economy
  • Hydrogen as a means for transporting and storing renewable energy
  • Current and emerging options for producing hydrogen, including offshore options
  • Basics of hydrogen safety
  • Technical options for storing and transporting hydrogen, including decision factors
  • Fuel cells and their roles in transportation, in the electric grid, and in domestic and commercial power supply
  • Hydrogen fueled vehicles – from forklifts, trains and ships to aircraft
  • Hydrogen as a fuel to decarbonize industry
  • Trade-offs for use of hydrogen vs. electrification vs. advanced renewable hydrocarbon fuels as vectors for decarbonization

The new offering from UH is one of several micro-credential programs UH Energy has launched since 2020. Other programs include:

  • Upstream Energy Data Analytics Program
  • CCUS Executive Education Program
  • Data Analytics for the Process Industries Program
  • Sustainable Energy Development Program
  • Environmental, Social and Governance in Energy
  • Rubbers in Extreme Environments

For more specifics about the Hydrogen Economy Program, click here

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