An expert from the U.S. Small Business Administration shares in an op-ed how critical women-owned businesses are to small business exports in Texas. Photo via Getty Images

Everything is bigger in Texas, including its small business ecosystem. There are over three million small businesses in the state, which represent 99.8 percent of all Texas businesses. However, according to the latest official U.S. Census Bureau data on small business exporters (2020), only 35,124 Texas-based companies exported goods abroad.

During my time in the Administration, I have had the opportunity to visit Texas on several occasions, including trips to Houston, San Antonio, and El Paso. Like most everything in Texas, the entrepreneurial ecosystem is sizable and a rich source of opportunity and ideas. But with over a thousand miles of shared border with Mexico, and considerable trade infrastructure like the Port of Houston, you can’t tell me that just 1 percent of Texas small businesses are exporting their products or services. This data, which mirrors the published trend for small business exporters nationwide, seemed severely undercounted. So, we endeavored to dig into what was going on.

As a result, the Office of International Trade (OIT) commissioned a study to determine the total addressable market (TAM) of small business exporters. The research dug deep into available public data and private surveys, which better accounted for smaller shipment values and growth in service exports. Among the key findings from the study is new data that places the actual number of exporting small businesses at 1.3 million – an almost fivefold increase over the estimates previously published by the Federal Government. Interestingly, minority, women-owned firms were found to over-index in selling abroad. The research also revealed a high concentration of certain tradeable sectors ranging from consumer, industrial, and other manufactured goods to services businesses in software, architectural, and engineering sectors. Ultimately, the study estimated the potential market size, or total addressable market, at over 2.6 million small businesses.

With the proliferation of digital commerce tools and with over 95 percent of the world’s consumers living outside the United States, international sales represent a rich growth opportunity for small businesses. Indeed, businesses that export are more resilient, expand faster, and create higher paying jobs for Americans.

My colleague, District Director Tim Jeffcoat agrees. With his finger on the local pulse of the Houston-area economic market, he knows that exporting can be both an enormous growth opportunity, but at the same time filled with a daunting set of challenges to navigate. In his

Houston area network alone, they have over 200 advisors, mentors, and counselors that can guide you to develop a robust exporting plan, connect you with capital to fund your overseas expansion, and can even help you pursue a competitive grant to kick-start international sales.

This is exactly the case for Pat Hartmann, founder of Hartmann’s Inc., an Abilene, TX-based woman-owned small business. As a manufacturer of high-quality parts from state-of-the-art metal fabrication and welding departments, Hartmann has leveraged international sales to grow her company over three generations. In her words: “exporting has allowed us to become competitive in multiple markets throughout the entire world. It has diversified our knowledge base allowing us to work in manufacturing situations that span multiple types of standards including European and Japanese. Exporting now makes up 20 percent of our sales.”

As a result, Regional Administrator Ted James and I are among the many Administration officials who are pleased to recognize Pat Hartmann of Hartmann’s Inc. as the 2023 South Central Regional Exporter of the Year. She has established herself as a personal and professional role model due to their expansion and contributions to the community. We are confident that small businesses like these, as well as those identified in our Total Addressable Market study, can start and continue to leverage SBA resources to scale their business and access international opportunities, just as Hartmann did.

Pat Hartmann is one of the more than 11 million female founders the SBA is recognizing during Women’s History Month this March. While the post-pandemic recovery has complicated the economic landscape, we continue to better understand the important role women-owned small businesses play in our entrepreneurial ecosystem. They continue to contribute substantially to the national economy, showcasing innovative solutions and trailblazing techniques to lead the way forward.

If you are a current or future entrepreneur looking for assistance in how to get started or grow internationally, contact the SBA’s Office of International Trade or our network of 68 district offices which offer access to counseling, access to contracts, and access to capital.

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Gabriel Esparza is the associate administrator for the Office of International Trade at the U.S. Small Business Administration.

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

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Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

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 podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.