Houston founders recognized as influential women

who runs the world?

These are the Houston women named to this year's Women of Influence list by Entrepreneur Magazine. Photo via Getty Images

A handful of Houston women have been named to Entrepreneur Magazine's 2022 Women of Influence list, which recognizes women making an impact in their respective industries.

Ghazal Qureshi and Vernee Hines, co-founders of The Woodlands-based UpBrainery Technologies, and Houston-based Carolyn Rodz, along with her California-based co-founder, Elizabeth Gore, of Hello Alice, made the 2022 list. Additionally, representing the bar and restaurant world, Alba Huerta, founder of Julep, joins her fellow Houstonians for the honor.

UpBrainery is an AI-driven technology platform that helps middle and high school students align their interests with career development. The company has worked with Whataburger, Girl Scouts, The Houston Rockets, NASDAQ and others. It was also named by the Department of Defense Education Activity as the premiere provider of Career Technology Education for 52 military middle schools across the world this summer. The app uses its proprietary BrainLab platform that presents TikTok-style videos, gamified learning and augmented reality to relate to its young users.

"Our careful plan to launch a disruptive education technology in 2020, just as schools shut down, did not go well!," the duo told Entrepreneur. "But today we're engaging students through gamified content and immersive experiences. We've been hyperfocused on career development in middle and high school with new tools that allow students to better understand their interests and aptitudes. Technology is the only way to scale change. And although changing the status quo in education is daunting, it's doable."

Qureshi, Qureshi serves as the CEO of Upbrainery, and Hines were also named to Forbes' Next 1000 list in 2021, which featured inspiring entrepreneurs and small-business leaders “who are redefining what it means to build and run a business amid the new normal.” The company recently participated in the gBETA Houston accelerator in 2021.

Hello Alice is a data-driven platform that provides over 1 million small business owners with free advice, resources, and access to funding. Most recently, the Houston-based tech company announced a new founder-focused credit card.

"As a Latina- and women-founded company, we focus on New Majority small business owners facing persistent and glaring disparities in access to capital," the two founders told the magazine. "We have raised and distributed over $37 million in grants — mostly to women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, those with a military connection, and entrepreneurs with disabilities. And we've brought on partners like Mastercard and NAACP to help."

Rice University and the University of Houston's entrepreneurship programs continue to lead the nation. Photo via Rice.edu

Houston schools continue their reigns as top entrepreneurship programs in the country

top of the class

Houston remains the home of the best business and entrepreneurship programs in the country, according to an annual report.

Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine ranked Rice University as the No. 1 graduate entrepreneurship program in the United States for 2022, and just as in years prior, the University of Houston claimed the top spot on the undergraduate ranking. Both lists ranked the top 50 programs.

It's the third No. 1 ranking for Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University — and the sixth year in the top three and the 13th year in which it has ranked in the top 10 on this prestigious list. The program's graduates have raised more than $693 million in funding for their companies over the past five years, per the report.

"Our No. 1 ranking is a reflection of the work and effort of our entrepreneurship faculty and staff to continually expand our programs and impact on behalf of our student and faculty founders," says Peter Rodriguez, dean of the Jones Graduate School of Business, in a news release. "Our three-years-running spot at the top is a testament to the Rice faculty, the depth and breadth of resources that are available to entrepreneurs and innovators during their time at Rice and beyond, and the students who have capitalized on their time at Rice to learn and launch their ventures from campus to the community."

Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship in the C. T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston — with its alumni reportedly launching 698 startups over the past five years — is similarly familiar with this ranking. Also repeating its No. 1 spot this year, UH has ranked in the top 10 since 2007 — usually claiming the No. 1 or No. 2 spots. However, this is the first time the program is ranked No. 1 three years in a row.

"As a forward-looking business school with 'The Future is Our Business' as a mandate, entrepreneurship is one of the disciplines that can really carry us forward," Dean and Cullen Distinguished Chair Professor Paul A. Pavlou says in a news release. "This consecutive Number 1 national ranking is a recognition that the Bauer College is the predominant force in entrepreneurship education. We need more entrepreneurial spirit in all of our students, and the Wolff Center is critical for instilling in them the ability to be innovative and creative as they enter a business world in transition and facing an unprecedented future."

While UH and Rice held onto their spots, several other Texas schools saw some movement on the lists. Other than UH, these Texas schools appeared on the list of the top 50 undergraduate entrepreneurship programs:

  • The University of Texas at Austin, No. 4 (up from No. 24 last year)
  • Baylor University, No. 9 (down from No. 7 last year)
  • Texas Tech University, No. 12
  • University of Texas at Dallas, No. 24 (down from No. 18 last year)
  • Texas Christian University, No. 37 (down from No. 27 last year)
  • Texas A&M University-College Station, No. 41 (down from No. 35 last year)

Aside from Rice, these Texas schools made the list of the top 50 graduate entrepreneurship programs:

  • University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business, No. 5 (up from No. 6 last year)
  • University of Texas at Dallas, Naveen Jindal School of Management, No. 11 (down from No. 10 last year)
  • Texas A&M University-College Station, Mays School of Business, No. 26 (same as last year)

The Princeton Review based its 2022 rankings on a survey of leaders at over 300 schools with entrepreneurship studies. More than 40 data points were factored in to develop the rankings, which released online on November 16 and will be published in the December issue of Entrepreneur magazine.

"The value of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial thinking continues to grow in our daily lives," says Jason Feifer, editor in chief of Entrepreneur magazine, in the press release. "We're now seeing Americans start businesses at the fastest rate in a decade. By sharing this list, we want to continue to provide the much-needed information that people are looking for to forge their path to entrepreneurship. This list is a valuable reference tool for where future leaders can attain the knowledge, community and training grounds to succeed on that path."

Rice University and the University of Houston each ranked No. 1 on lists on entrepreneurship programs. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Houston schools reign supreme on lists of best universities for entrepreneurship

we're No. 1

Perhaps Houston warrants a new nickname in addition to Space City and Bayou City. How about Entrepreneurship City?

Rice University tops a new list of the top 25 graduate entrepreneurship programs in the U.S., and the University of Houston lands atop a new list of the top 50 undergraduate entrepreneurship programs. Rice and UH repeated their No. 1 rankings from last year. The Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine published both lists November 17.

The Princeton Review ranked graduate and undergraduate entrepreneurship programs based on a survey of administrators at more than 300 graduate and undergraduate schools that offer entrepreneurship programs. Schools were rated according to more than 40 metrics, including the percentage of students taking entrepreneurship courses, the number of startups founded by recent alumni, and the cash prizes offered at school-sponsored business plan competitions.

The Princeton Review, a provider of tutoring, test prep, and college admission services, noted that businesses launched by graduates of Rice's program have launched have raised more than $5.5 billion in capital over the past 10 years. Meanwhile, graduates of UH's program have started over 1,300 businesses in the past 10 years.

Entrepreneurship initiatives at Rice's Jones Graduate School of Business include the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, which launched in 2000, and its annual Rice Business Plan Competition; the OwlSpark Accelerator, which began in 2012; and the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Lilie), which started in 2015. In addition, Rice is developing the Midtown innovation district anchored by The Ion, set to open next spring.

"Entrepreneurship and the creation of new businesses and industries are critical to Houston and Texas' future prosperity and quality of life," Rice Business Dean Peter Rodriguez says in a release.

Here are two highlights of Rice's offerings:

  • Lilie equips students, faculty and alumni with entrepreneurial prowess through courses, co-curricular opportunities, and resources for founders such as coworking space, mentorship, and equity-free funding. Lilie hosts the university's new venture competition, the H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge, in which Rice-founded teams compete for $65,000 in equity-free prizes.
  • The Rice Alliance's flagship event is the Rice Business Plan Competition, billed as world's richest and largest student startup competition. Startups from across the globe — including one team from Rice — compete in front of over 300 investor and industry judges. The competition awarded more than $1.3 million in prizes in 2020.

At UH, Paul Pavlou, dean of the C.T. Bauer College of Business, says the spirit of entrepreneurship is woven into the DNA of the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship and the Bauer College.

"Entrepreneurship is at the heart of American business life," Pavlou says in a release. "The culture and values of the Wolff Center allow our students to found successful new companies and bring new and innovative ideas to established organizations. We believe these skills will be even more crucial in the coming years as we seek to rebuild our economy post-COVID-19."

Between 35 and 40 students are accepted each year into the Wolff Center's entrepreneurship program. However, more than 3,000 UH students from 85 different majors took at least one entrepreneurship course last year.

"The students at the Wolff Center are not just passionate about entrepreneurship. They are eager to take the lessons learned in the classroom and enhance their lives," Dave Cook, executive director of the Wolff Center, says in a release. "Purpose isn't just a class in [the center]. It is a challenge to create the best life possible, with a focus on the student's values and on doing good in the world."

Other than UH, these Texas schools appeared on the list of the top 50 undergraduate entrepreneurship programs:

  • Baylor University, No. 7
  • University of Texas at Dallas, No. 18
  • University of Texas at Austin, No. 24
  • Texas Christian University, No. 27
  • Texas A&M University-College Station, No. 35

Aside from Rice, these Texas schools made the list of the top 25 graduate entrepreneurship programs:

  • University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business, No. 6
  • University of Texas at Dallas, Naveen Jindal School of Management, No. 10
  • Texas A&M University-College Station, Mays School of Business, No. 26

"The schools that made our ranking lists for 2021 all offer exceptional entrepreneurship programs," Rob Franek, The Princeton Review's editor in chief, says in a release. "Their faculties are outstanding. Their courses have robust experiential components, and their students receive outstanding mentoring and networking support."

Rice University and the University of Houston top lists for best graduate and undergraduate entrepreneurship programs. Photo by skynesher/Getty Images

2 Houston universities top list for best graduate, undergraduate entrepreneurship programs

Best of the rest

In Houston, a little bit of friendly competition between two universities goes a long way, but each gets a win according to a recent ranking.

The University of Houston's Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship within the C. T. Bauer College of Business claimed the top spot on the 2020 Princeton Review's top 15 programs for undergraduate entrepreneurship studies. Meanwhile, Rice University's Jones Graduate School of Business claimed the top spot on the graduate schools list.

Both schools have appeared on the list before, but it's the first time either has topped their categories.

"Entrepreneurship and the creation of new businesses and industries are critical to Houston and Texas' future prosperity and quality of life," says Rice Business Dean Peter Rodriguez, in a news release. "Today's ranking and our decades-long leadership in entrepreneurship education and outreach is a testament to our visionary and world-class faculty, the enormous success of the Rice Business Plan Competition and of our commitment to our students and the community we serve."

The Rice program, which in 1978, has appeared on the top-10 list for 11 years in a row, and it's the fourth time for the program to make it into the top three. According to the Princeton Review release, Rice grads have started 537 companies that went on to raise over $7 billion in funding.

A UH news release also calls out the fact that UH has seen more than 1,200 alumni-founded businesses, which have amassed over $268 million in funding over the past decade. UH's program, which began in 1991, has appeared in the top 10 list since 2007, and rose from the No. 2 position last year.

"The Wolff Center is the catalyst, but entrepreneurship goes beyond that to the entire Bauer College, including RED Labs, social entrepreneurship, energy, health care, arts and sports entrepreneurship, among many other programs," says Bauer Dean Paul Pavlou. "We're an entrepreneurial university, and innovation and the startup ecosystem we want to promote for the city of Houston starts with the Wolff Center and Bauer."

The ranking considered more than 300 schools with entrepreneurship studies programs and factored in over 40 data points. Some of the factors considered include: the percentage of students enrolled in entrepreneurship courses, mentorship programs, the number of startups founded and investments received by alumni, and the cash prizes at university-backed business plan competitions. The rankings will be published in the December issue of Entrepreneur magazine.

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Houston biopharma company launches equity crowdfunding campaign

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A clinical-stage company headquartered in Houston has opened an online funding campaign.

FibroBiologics, which is developing fibroblast cell-based therapeutics for chronic diseases, launched a campaign with equity crowdfunding platform StartEngine. The platform lets anyone — regardless of their net worth or income level — to invest in securities issued by startups.

The funding, according to a press release, will be used to support ongoing operations of Fibrobiologics and advance its clinical programs in multiple sclerosis, degenerative disc disease, wound care, extension of life, and cancer.

"We're excited to partner with StartEngine on this campaign. StartEngine has over 600,000 investors as part of their community and has raised over half a billion dollars for its clients," says FibroBiologics' Founder and CEO Pete O'Heeron, in the release.

"This is an exciting time at FibroBiologics as we continue progressing our clinical pipeline and developing innovative therapies to treat chronic diseases," he continues. "This new funding will fuel our growth in the lab and bring us one step closer to commercialization."

The campaign, launched this week, already has over 100 investors, at the time of publication, and has raised nearly $2 million, according to the page. The minimum investment is set at around $500, and the company's indicated valuation is $252.57 million.

In 2021, FibroBiologics announced its intention of going public. Last year, O'Heeron told InnovationMap on the Houston Innovators Podcast of the company's growth plans as well as the specifics of the technology.

Only two types of cells — stem cells and fibroblasts — can be used in cell therapy for a regenerative treatment, which is when specialists take healthy cells from a patient and inject them into a part of the body that needs it the most. As O'Heeron explains in the podcast, fibroblasts can do it more effectively and cheaper than stem cells.

"(Fibroblasts) can essentially do everything a stem cell can do, only they can do it better," says O'Heeron. "We've done tests in the lab and we've seen them outperform stem cells by a low of 50 percent to a high of about 220 percent on different disease paths."


Texas ranks as a top state for female entrepreneurs

women in business

Texas dropped three spots in Merchant Maverick’s annual ranking of the top 10 states for women-led startups.

The Lone Star State landed at No. 5 thanks in part to its robust venture capital environment for women entrepreneurs. Last year, Texas ranked second, up from its No. 6 showing in 2021.

Merchant Maverick, a product comparison site for small businesses, says Texas “boasts the strongest venture capital scene” for women entrepreneurs outside California and the Northeast. The state ranked fourth in that category, with $6.5 billion invested in the past five years.

Other factors favoring Texas include:

  • Women solely lead 22 percent of all employees working for a business in Texas (No. 4).
  • Texas lacks a state income tax (tied for No. 1).

However, Texas didn’t fare well in terms of the unemployment rate (No. 36) and the rate of business ownership by women (No. 29). Other Texas data includes:

  • Average income for women business owners, $52,059 (No. 19).
  • Early startup survival rate, 81.9 percent (No. 18).

Appearing ahead of Texas in the 2023 ranking are No. 1 Colorado, No. 2 Washington, No. 3 California, and No. 4 Arizona.

Another recent ranking, this one from NorthOne, an online bank catering to small businesses, puts Texas at No. 7 among the 10 best states for women entrepreneurs.

NorthOne says Texas provides “a ton of opportunities” for woman entrepreneurs. For instance, it notches one of the highest numbers of women-owned businesses in the country at 1.4 million, 2.1 percent of which have at least 500 employees.

In this study, Texas is preceded by Colorado at No. 1, Nevada at No. 2, Virginia at No. 3, Maryland at No. 4, Florida at No. 5, and New Mexico at No. 6. The rankings are based on eight metrics, including the percentage of woman-owned businesses and the percentage of women-owned businesses with at least 500 employees.