Put in the effort to create a strong people culture from the start — it can make all the difference for your company. Photo by Tom Werner/Getty Images

Entrepreneurs are driven and tenacious when building a business. However, the laser focus on making a business profitable, from logistics to taxes and everything in between, can sometimes cause one important element to be missed, the people.

The best business plans cannot work without people to implement the details. When a strong people culture is established from the very beginning, the employees who help build the company from the ground up, stay engaged and can become an integral part of the company’s success for years to come.

Below are a few items to help entrepreneurs concentrate on their most precious asset, their people, pinpoint their motivations and learn how employees can enjoy what they do every day, which can take any business to the next level.

Share values

The onus falls on the business leaders within a startup to create a work environment that encourages employees to succeed and enjoy their career. Nurturing a culture rooted in a shared mission and values allows the company to easily build a desirable workplace where employees are eager to return.

When communicating a company’s values, they are more influential when they are lived by leadership. For example, if curiosity is a key value, leadership should encourage teams to ask questions and not be afraid to try to speak up when there may be a more effective path for the business.

It is also important for business owners to look for candidates to fill roles in the growing business who embody their key values. This may mean looking beyond the job description for like-minded people who align with the values and who then bring a positive outlook to the position, are more apt to collaborate and are fully engaged.

Offer unique benefits

Small businesses have the upper hand when it comes to unique benefits because they are a much nimbler organization. When an organization intentionally creates a people-first environment, there is near immediate access to leadership, rapid advancement opportunities are more plentiful and the impact employees at every level can have on the organization is monumental. This is an exciting prospect for so many who share an entrepreneur’s vision.

There are also the traditional benefits that are essential to a strong people culture. This may seem like a daunting prospect, but it can be simple to provide employees, while also competing with large-company benefits, with the help of a professional employer organization. What will strengthen a people culture’s foundation is offering the traditional benefits along with the benefits many enjoyed during the pandemic, which may have been cut by other organizations, such as mental health programs, expanded sick-leave, financial wellness programs, care benefits and others.

When deciding what benefits to offer, it is important to ask employees what benefits mean the most to them. Every benefit may not be feasible, but employees having a say in their benefits further strengthens the people culture.

Communicate

It sounds simple but establishing a culture with transparent communication, within reason, is conducive to a strong people culture. However, for many entrepreneurs, communicating without a plan often leads to not communicating at all.

Set the stage for clear, consistent communication from the very beginning. For example, establishing a standing meeting, whether it is once per week or every morning, allows leadership to share updates, make announcements and point out team wins. For employees, it is an open forum to ask questions. Also setting the standard to talk to employees before making any major policy changes builds trust in the organization, even if the policy change may not be the most desirable for everyone. By surveying staff before a policy change, leadership can clearly communicate the reasoning and have a fully prepared team before implementation.

In a growing business, it is easy to put your head down and grind forward, but engaged employees are essential to making an entrepreneur’s dream come to fruition. Putting in the effort to create a strong people culture from the start will help ensure you have employees who want to be a part of the organization and contribute to its success.

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Jill Chapman is a director of early talent programs with Insperity, a leading provider of human resources and business performance solutions.
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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston biotech company expands leadership as it commercializes sustainable products

joining the team

Houston-based biotech company Cemvita recently tapped two executives to help commercialize its sustainable fuel made from carbon waste.

Nádia Skorupa Parachin came aboard as vice president of industrial biotechnology, and Phil Garcia was promoted to vice president of commercialization.

Parachin most recently oversaw several projects at Boston-based biotech company Ginkjo Bioworks. She previously co-founded Brazilian biotech startup Integra Bioprocessos.

Parachin will lead the Cemvita team that’s developing technology for production of bio-manufactured oil.

“It’s a fantastic moment, as we’re poised to take our prototyping to the next level, and all under the innovative direction of our co-founder Tara Karimi,” Parachin says in a news release. “We will be bringing something truly remarkable to market and ensuring it’s cost-effective.”

Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita, says the hiring of Parachin represents “the natural next step” toward commercializing the startup’s carbon-to-oil process.

“Her background prepared her to bring the best out of the scientists at the inflection point of commercialization — really bringing things to life,” says Moji Karimi, Tara’s brother.

Parachin joins Garcia on Cemvita’s executive team.

Before being promoted to vice president of commercialization, Garcia was the startup’s commercial director and business development manager. He has a background in engineering and business development.

Founded in 2017, Cemvita recently announced a breakthrough that enables production of large quantities of oil derived from carbon waste.

In 2023, United Airlines agreed to buy up to one billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel from Cemvita’s first full-scale plant over the course of 20 years.

Cemvita’s investors include the UAV Sustainable Flight Fund, an investment arm of Chicago-based United; Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based energy company Occidental Petroleum; and Japanese equipment and machinery manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a logistics startup founder, a marketing expert, and a solar energy innovator.

Matthew Costello, CEO and co-founder of Voyager Portal

Houston logistics SaaS innovator is making waves with its expanded maritime shipping platform. Photo courtesy of Voyager

For several years now, Matthew Costello has been navigating the maritime shipping industry looking for problems to solve for customers with his company, Voyager Portal.

Initially, that meant designing a software platform to enhance communications and organization of the many massive and intricate global shipments happening every day. Founded in 2018 by Costello and COO Bret Smart, Voyager Portal became a integral tool for the industry that helps users manage the full lifecycle of their voyages — from planning to delivery.

"The software landscape has changed tremendously in the maritime space. Back in 2018, we were one of a small handful of technology startups in this space," Costello, who serves as CEO of Voyager, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Now that's changed. ... There's really a huge wave of innovation happening in maritime right now." Read more.

Arielle Rogg, principal and founder of Rogg Enterprises

Arielle Rogg writes in a guest column for InnovationMap about AI in the workforce. Photo via LinkedIn

Arielle Rogg isn't worried about artificial intelligence coming for her job. In fact, she has three reasons why, and she outlines them in a guest column for InnovationMap.

"The advent of AI pushes us humans to acquire new skills and hone our existing abilities so we can work alongside these evolving technologies in a collaborative fashion. AI augments human capabilities rather than replacing us. I believe it will help our society embrace lifelong learning, creating new industries and jobs that have never existed before," she writes in the piece. Read more.

Nathan Childress, founder of Solar Slice

Solar Slice Founder Nathan Childress says his new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet. Photo via LinkedIn

Nuclear engineer and entrepreneur Nathan Childress wants consumers to capture their own ray of sunlight to brighten the prospect of making clean energy a bigger part of the power grid. That's why he founded Solar Slice. The new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet.

Although trained in nuclear power plant design, solar power drew his interest as a cheaper and more accessible alternative, and Childress tells InnovationMap that he thinks that the transition to cleaner energy, in Texas especially, needs to step up.

Recent studies show that 80 to 90 percent of the money invested into fighting climate change “aren’t going to things that people actually consider helpful,” Childress says, adding that “they’re more just projects that sound good, that are not actually taking any action." Read more.

Report: Amid difficult market, Houston sees uptick in VC funding

seeing green

Houston-area startups saw a healthy increase in venture capital funding during the first half of 2024 compared with the same period last year, new data shows.

In the first six months of this year, Houston-area startups attracted $760.55 million in VC funding, according to the latest PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor. That’s up 17.7 percent from the $645.99 million collected in the first six months of 2023.

Keep in mind that these figures might not match previously reported numbers. That’s because PitchBook regularly adjusts data as new information becomes available.

In light of various factors, such as the ongoing hype over artificial intelligence, fundraising will likely continue to be challenging for U.S. startups as a whole, according to Nizar Tarhuni, vice president of institutional research and editorial at PitchBook, a provider of VC data.

Nonetheless, Bobby Franklin, president and CEO of the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA), points out that American venture capital “is finding its footing in 2024.”

Across the country, VC funding for startups in the first half of 2024 totaled $93.4 billion, up 6.5 percent from the $87.7 billion raised during the same period last year, according to the PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor.

“With steadily increasing deal values, especially across early-stage investments, more first-time financings, and increased crossover investor participation, [the second quarter of 2024] was a good one for VC,” says Franklin. “Now it’s up to founders, investors, and regulators to support, rather than stifle, these green shoots as the market heads toward a recovery.”

In the second quarter alone, VC funding in the U.S. jumped from $35.4 billion in 2023 to $55.6 billion in 2024. That’s an increase of 57 percent.

By contrast, the Houston area’s VC funding went in the opposite direction. Startups in the region scored $231.79 million in VC during the second quarter of 2024 vs. $333.17 million during the same period a year earlier. That’s a drop of 30 percent.

So far in 2024, Houston-based Fervo Energy dominates VC hauls for startups in the metro area. In March, the provider of geothermal power announced it had secured $244 million in funding, with Oklahoma City-based oil and gas company Devon Energy leading the round.

Fervo’s latest pot of VC represents more than 30 percent of all Houston-area VC funding during the first six months of 2024.

Tim Latimer, co-founder and CEO of Fervo, says the $244 million investment enables his company “to continue to position geothermal at the heart of 24/7 carbon-free energy production.”

Fervo says the latest VC round will support development of its 400-megawatt geothermal project in Beaver County, Utah. The Cape Station facility is expected to start generating power for the grid in 2026.