Comcast is looking out for the one-third of businesses in the Houston metro area that are minority-owned. Photo courtesy of comcast.

Tech company to grant funds to Houston-area BIPOC small business owners

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Comcast, the telecom, media, and entertainment conglomerate, is awarding $1 million in grants to small businesses in Houston owned by entrepreneurs who are Black, indigenous or people of color (BIPOC).

In all, 100 grants of $10,000 each will be given to BIPOC-owned small businesses in Houston. Local businesses can apply for the grants March 1-14. Grant recipients will be announced in April and awarded in May.

"Unfortunately, many small businesses in Houston were not able to withstand the many months of suppressed revenues [amid the pandemic]. While we remain optimistic about our economic recovery, public-private partnerships will play a vital role in minimizing the disruptions that so many small businesses, specifically minority-owned businesses, are facing," says Vice Mayor Pro Tem Martha Castex-Tatum, who chairs the Houston City Council's Economic Development Committee.

The Houston grants are part of a $5 million investment fund sponsored by Comcast RISE, which launched last year to provide resources to BIPOC-owned small businesses around the country. Under this initiative, grants also will be awarded in Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, and Philadelphia.

Studies show BIPOC-owned small businesses have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, and recent research by JPMorgan Chase Institute found that Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Houston and Philadelphia were among the top markets for sharp declines in local spending. Additionally, the majority of applications for the marketing and technology services component of Comcast RISE are from these five cities.

To qualify for a Comcast RISE grant in Houston, a BIPOC-owned small business:

  • Must be located in either Harris County or Fort Bend County.
  • Must have been in business for at least three years.
  • Must employ no more than 25 people.

To drive outreach about the program and provide support, training, and mentorship, Comcast also has awarded more than $2 million to six Houston business groups: Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Greater Houston Black Chamber, Asian Chamber of Commerce, Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce, Houston East End Chamber, and Cámara de Empresarios Latinos de Houston.

"Small businesses have always played an integral role in Houston's growth and future," Ralph Martinez, senior vice president for Comcast's Houston region, says in a February 9 release. "In the midst of the pandemic, these entrepreneurs provided many of the services and resources that have kept our communities up and running."

About one-third of businesses in the Houston metro area are minority-owned. Among largest metros in the U.S., Houston ranks fifth for the percentage of minority-owned startups (30.45 percent).

Comcast RISE is part of a broader $100 million diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative that launched last summer. In June, Comcast NBCUniversal announced a multiyear plan to allocate $75 million in cash and $25 million worth of media over the next three years to fight injustice and inequality against any race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, or ability.

Houston startup Grant Source, which helps its clients find the right grants to apply for, has seen a surge in business amid the coronavirus shutdown. Getty Images

This Houston tech startup is helping businesses find the funds during COVID-19 crisis and beyond

Taken for granted

Since 2015, Grant Source has perfected the art of helping businesses, foundations, and organizations find and secure grant funding — and now their expertise has become vital to COVID-19 response initiatives.

With the devastation caused by the novel coronavirus, America's medical organizations have been scrambling to obtain the funds required to purchase the testing kits, masks, PPE, and other life-saving products needed to help curb the effects of the global pandemic and now, thanks to the mobile and web platform, they're getting the assistance they need to accomplish that goal.

"COVID-19 response is actually our claim to fame right now," says Allen Thornton, founder and CEO of Grant Source. "We have probably done more business in the last few months than we have since we started. Simply because we are helping people find grants with the CARES Act. There's over $500 billion out there, which has created overnight a $40 billion market opportunity for us."

Grant Source has worked extensively with city, county, state, and government agencies to secure grant funding, which is why they have become a game changer for those that need emergency capital to combat COVID-19's challenges.

"Initially, it was scary because we lost some of our clients, but then a bunch of medical clients came to us and asked if we could help them find funding for COVID-19 outreach," Thornton says. "We've found that they have a higher probability of success right now because with COVID-19 outreach, the procurement cycle has gone from six to nine months down to 30 days, which is unheard of."

In addition to telemedicine companies, Grant Source has been helping write grants for clients that range from airports to technology companies in order to help provide them with a path forward in the fight against the novel coronavirus.

Grant Source has created a database and a suite of resources for companies looking for grants. Photo via grantsource.com


Preventing federal funding waste

Outside of the context of a pandemic, the government uses grants as a way to fund ideas and projects that provide public services and stimulate the economy.

Grants are also essential when it comes to supporting critical recovery initiatives and innovative research, but on a fundamental level, very few even know how or where to start when it comes to applying for one and it becomes even more esoteric when it comes to getting funded. That's why so much grant money goes unclaimed, with millions of nonprofits and businesses going underfunded and not maximizing their impact.

"Over $3.2 billion in grant money goes unclaimed every single year," says Thornton. "We have a broken system and we wondered what we could do to change it, so we started Grant Source, our revolutionary grant funding system, to help organizations find and secure money for their mission."

Client-focused services and support

In addition to helping clients find grants, Grant Source assists with the necessary pre-work to apply for a grant.

"We started out as just a database where you could find grants and grant writers," says Thornton. "But in listening to our customers, they wanted us to do everything full service, too. So, I flew all across the country from Minneapolis to Kansas to Los Angeles to Toronto and put all the top grant writing associations on retainer and created what is Grant Source today, which is pretty much mobile for grants."

Thornton says Grant Source has more than 1,500 consultants across the U.S. and Canada, and these professionals each have different specialties — much like a lawyer or a doctor — and relationships in different states.

For a flat fee that ranges from $500 to $5,000 per month, Grant Source will set out to procure its clients grants that range anywhere from $50,000 to $1 million based on their goals. To date, Grant Source has helped businesses and organizations find and secure over $6 million in grant funding.

New clients first sign up for an assessment with Grant Source that establishes what the client's goals are and how the company is set up. Once Grant Source has established a few options for the client, they get started on submitting to the grants. In order to protect its customers from the uncertainty of the process, Grant Source offers investment protection for 12 months.

"We have the investment protection so customers won't be left empty handed," says Thornton. "It's risk free, so if they don't at least get their investment back within the first 12 months, we'll either continue their grant at no cost or we'll give them a credit for the difference."

Founded from a personal need

Treating customers with fairness is important for Grant Source because they started out as a nonprofit seeking grant funding themselves and soon learned that there was a lot that they did not know about the process.

"When I was at UTSA in 2006, the African American graduation population was less than 6 percent, which was unacceptable, so we started a nonprofit," says Thornton. "We made a lot of impact in just a few years. We increased the graduation population from 6 percent to about 38 percent, And, for the 2008 election, we were able to register over 3,200 students."

After graduation, Thornton says he saw an opportunity to expand to other colleges, but lacked funding to do so.

"We saw grants as a huge opportunity and they are, but unfortunately, they're also a huge hassle and it takes a lot of time and energy and effort to even find one that you qualify for," he remembers. "And even when you do, if you don't know how to write the proposal, you're dead in the water."

After the grant process failed, Thornton's money was gone with no communication or valid reason as to why. That frustrated him to the point where he wanted to provide coherent solutions to the problem himself.

"I spent a ton of money on education and researching top grant writing associations," says Thornton. "Most people don't know where to find grants, and there are so many different types of grants and places you can find them. For instance, we're working on a federal proposal with the federal government, there's 26 different agencies that still don't even know how to talk to each other."

Creating a lasting impact

From the outset, Grant Source started creating corporate responsibility programs and impact within a cost center for organizations that were for profit companies. They seek to put them in ideal situations to create the kind of impact that warrants grant funding.

"What we teach our clients is that you can't approach the process with the idea that you will get the grant money and then go out and create come impact," says Thornton. "You have to focus on being able to showcase the impact that you're already creating and then we can go find money for that. If you can articulate the impact of whatever you're doing is creating, we can find the person that cares about that.

In addition providing the software and platform for grant seekers, Grant Source offers a book, courses, seminars, workshops, and conferences that offer the baseline information needed to secure grant funding.

"At the end of the day, Grant Source is a technology platform that helps organizations find money for their mission," says Thornton. "We've streamlined the grant writing process and the grant finding process. At Grant Source, we don't focus on the money, we focus on the impact and then we give people a clear path to make it happen."

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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.