The Equitable Access Fund is designed to meet demand for business credit among small businesses, especially those run by women, military veterans, people with disabilities, and members of the BIPOC, Latinx, and LGBTQ communities. Photo via HelloAlice.com

Houston-based fintech startup Hello Alice and the nonprofit Global Entrepreneurship Network have teamed up to create a $70 million fund that’ll help enable access to credit for small businesses.

Initial funding for the Equitable Access Fund, which debuted today, comes from Wells Fargo. GEN, which helps people start and build businesses, will manage the fund. Hello Alice’s fintech platform offers credit, loans, and grants to U.S. small business owners.

The new fund will provide credit enhancements — such as loan guarantees, loan-loss reserves and cash-collateral deposits — to ease risks for financing partners and free up money for underserved small business owners who face credit challenges.

The fund’s financing partners include First National Bank of Omaha, which issues Hello Alice’s small business credit card, and certain participants in Hello Alice’s financing marketplace. Other partners include the Mastercard payment network and the Kauffman Foundation, a nonprofit that fosters entrepreneurship.

The fund is designed to meet demand for business credit among small businesses, especially those run by women, military veterans, people with disabilities, and members of the BIPOC, Latinx, and LGBTQ communities. Hello Alice data shows that only one-fourth of small business owners have applied for a business credit card, and 85 percent of those applications were rejected due to poor credit or lack of credit.

Through the Equitable Access Fund, small business owners will be able to obtain a business credit card, build their credit profile, and eventually qualify for traditional credit and lending products. The $70 million fund seeks to unlock as much as $1 billion in credit for thousands of small business owners.

“We’re looking forward to creating more partnerships and bringing more institutions on board to the fund to achieve the goal of equitable access to credit,” Elizabeth Gore and Carolyn Rodz, co-founders of Hello Alice, say in a news release.

Wells Fargo Foundation is backing the Equitable Access Fund.

“Small businesses are a critical contributor to the economy and to building generational wealth,” says Otis Rolley, president of the foundation. “We need to create more pathways for historically marginalized small businesses to grow and prosper.”

In conjunction with GEN and Hello Alice’s Equitable Access Program, small business owners will receive credit-building education and technical assistance through a tool called the Business Health Score. The tool, which Hello Alice launched in April 2023, supplies an overview of a business’ financial condition.

Hello Alice Co-Founders Carolyn Rodz and Elizabeth Gore announced their latest opportunity for founders from marginalized communities to access funding. Photos via helloalice.com

Tammi Wallace of the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce is a panelist on The Ion's Pride in Tech event. Photo via LinkedIn

Q&A: How the Houston tech community can support LGBTQIA+ innovators

pride month

It's Pride Month, and the Houston tech community is celebrating its LGBTQIA+ community — as well as addressing some challenges faced within the business arena.

The Ion Houston, Austin-based Pride.VC, and Houston-based Sesh Coworking are collaborating on a Pride in Tech event, tomorrow, June 24, at noon at the Ion. It's free to attend and all is welcome. The Ion is also encouraging attendees to come early for a cup of coffee at Common Bond for the weekly Cup of Joey networking happy hour from 8:30 to 10:30 am.

The event will feature a panel moderated by Sesh's Maggie Segrich and Meredith Wheeler, and will tackle topics around how Houston can do more to build a truly inclusive business community. The panelists include

Wallace, who co-founded the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce in 2016, joined InnovationMap for a quick Q&A ahead of the event.

InnovationMap: What kind of challenges do LGBTQIA+ founders in Houston face these days?

Tammi Wallace: First, LGBTQIA+ founders need to be at the table and have a voice. When we launched the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce in 2016, our primary goal was to make sure we were seen, heard and engaged.

A seat and a voice at the table matters because LGBTQIA+ founders often lack visibility in the broader economic ecosystem and continue to experience discrimination. This means they cannot engage with their full and authentic selves as entrepreneurs and experience unique challenges. More specifically, they face challenges with access to venture capital and angel investment funds and these entrepreneurs lack strong LGBTQIA+ role models and mentors.

In fact, some LGBTQIA+ business owners never come out because they fear losing customers or clients. We hear stories all the time about LGBTQIA+ founders not seeking either traditional or non-traditional funding because they fear that they will have to out themselves in the process and fear discrimination and a lack of acceptance in the process. Disclosing personal information, such as financial information, in some cases, can effectively out them as an LGBTQIA+ person. Funding paths must be fully inclusive and ensure that the process is viewed from the lens of the LGBTQIA+ entrepreneur and how that can impact their access to capital.


    IM: How would you recommend these founders find the community and support they are looking for? 

    TW: Definitely get involved with the Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce. Since 2016, the chamber has been working to build a strong community to support LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs and get them access to resources to help their businesses grow and thrive.

    We create connections and give LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs a space and place to walk through the door as their full and authentic selves. Through the Chamber, LGBTQIA+ founders can find support, whether from other entrepreneurs, mentors and Corporate Partners. We collaborate with the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) as well as the other LGBTQIA+ chambers in Texas to drive connections and build a strong LGBTQIA+ business network across the country and the state.

    We encourage LGBTQIA+ businesses to get LGBTBE® Certified as well which offers even more connection with other certified businesses, major corporations and other key stakeholders and mentoring opportunities with major companies. We can help these founders get started with the LGBTBE® certification process and tap into national, regional and statewide resources.

    IM: How do you recommend startup development organizations, investors, and other businesses become better allies to the LGBTQIA+ startup community? 

    TW: Ensure that LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs and business and community leaders are engaged with your organization. Organizations like the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce and the Ion are working "boots on the ground" to support the LGBTQIA+ business community and can offer the opportunity for meaningful collaboration. We also recommend advocating for others -- when you are around a table, look around and if the LGBTQIA+ community is not being represented, ask why.

    If representation is around the table, be intentional to ensure that we have a voice. As organizations that are involved in Houston's economic ecosystem, be strong and visible advocates for the LGBTQIA+ business community through engagement of businesses and the Chamber throughout the year. Be engaged -- not just during Pride Month, but twelve months out of the year.

    Whether a startup, investor or a business, you can help raise the profile for LGBTQIA+ businesses and the LGBTQIA+ business movement.

    Supporting the LGBTQ+ community is crucial to Houston business success. Ylanite Koppens/Pexels

    Rice research on why fighting workplace discrimination of LGBTQ+ employees boosts business

    Houston voices

    Being gay, lesbian or bisexual in the workplace often means facing choices that are deeply unfair. Choose to come out and risk being stigmatized or hide your orientation and prepare for a career weighted with the immense stress of secrecy. Theoretically, there are good reasons for businesses to embrace a workforce with diverse sexual orientations.

    First, much workplace discrimination is illegal, and litigation is pricey. More importantly, disdaining 5 to 15 percent of your workforce (the estimated percentage of the workforce population who are gay, lesbian or bisexual) means lagging behind the competition in the ability to recruit and retain top talent. But in reality, the legal protections prohibiting discrimination against employee's sexual orientation is often limited and what should be the rational business choice isn't always made.

    In an article published in The Encyclopedia of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Rice Business professor Michelle "Mikki" Hebl explores the gamut of workplace challenges for gay, lesbian and bisexual workers. Misconceptions about these employees, she found, are still widespread. First of all, employers and coworkers who stigmatize homosexual or bisexual employees often misunderstand their orientation as a choice. The subsequent treatment based on this misinformation can be viciously destructive.

    A common misperception is that sexual orientation can be easily concealed. To the contrary, many gay, lesbian or bisexual workers are actually outed by coworkers, Hebl notes. Because of this possibility, gay, lesbian and bisexual employees often spend an inordinate amount of their work time and energy simply managing their coworkers' response to their sexual orientation.

    And while some people characterize sexual orientation as just a political issue, those who are gay, lesbian and bisexual employed in a toxic workplace are often not seen simply as undesirables. They can be considered actual threats, their sexual orientation capable of somehow altering the identities of fellow workers. In some cases, associations with HIV and AIDS can lead to gay, lesbian and bisexual workers being treated as physical risks.

    Because of these obstacles, many workers are forced into painful choices at work. Do I put my partner's photo on my desk? Do I mention my weekend plans?

    To reduce this burden on productive workers, Hebl writes, businesses should codify their formal rules about managing harassment. Informally, companies need to create a culture in which people of different sexual orientations are supported rather than punished for their sexual orientation.

    But companies should know this road won't always be easy. Some workers will balk at a more diverse environment. The existence of clear policies, moreover, doesn't guarantee that subtle forms of discrimination won't take place. But the consequences of not establishing policies are considerable, including litigation and high turnover rates.

    In the best of all worlds, the burden of change should not be on the gay, lesbian and bisexual workers themselves. But it's not a perfect world, so Hebl also proposes strategies to help employees maximize workplace acceptance.

    These days, evidence suggests that in some cases, disclosing one's sexual orientation has benefits. Especially in supportive organizations, it often makes sense for people to reveal their sexual orientation after a period of time and with the support of other employees.

    At the same time, Hebl notes, employees may be likely to bully gay, lesbian and bisexual employees whose orientation is the only thing that's is known about them. Thus, gay, lesbian and bisexual workers face a challenge well-known to other minority employees: delivering exceptional work and displaying exceptional character in order to attempt to allay discrimination.

    From an institutional perspective, employers can support their individual gay, lesbian and bisexual employees in myriad ways. Companies can create a welcoming culture by offering same-sex partner benefits. Anti-discrimination policies, frequently voiced, send a message of safety to gay, lesbian and bisexual employees. Such measures require both awareness and real commitment, but the extra efforts pay off well beyond the day-to-day business of hiring and retention. They also encourage open-mindedness, creativity and commitment — and in the end, a more competitive work product.

    ------

    This story originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom in 2018. It's based on research by Michelle "Mikki" Hebl, Eden B. King, and Charles L. Law. Hebl is the Martha and Henry Malcolm Lovett Chair of Psychology at Rice University and a professor of management at Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University.

    "We're hoping to foster deeper and more inclusive representations and ally-ship at the intersection of art and technology." VlatkoRadovic/Getty Images

    Nonprofit rises to create resources and networking for Houston's LGBTQ+ community

    pride month

    As Pride Month winds down, a new nonprofit is ramping up efforts to provide resources, training, financial aid, and networking opportunities for LGBTQ+ members of Houston's tech and creative communities.

    Co-founders Alan Lett, creative director at event management company Staging Solutions, and Anthony Ferrell, a Microsoft store manager, officially launched Luminiris on June 25. Luminiris states that it's "committed to illuminating a new generation of the creative class seeking to pursue careers in the creative or tech fields — and give back along the way."

    "Houston is a city overwhelmed with talent, both artistic and technical. We've also got a strong and diverse LGBTQ+ community," Lett says in a Luminiris video on YouTube.

    The name of the organization is a mashup of the Latin word "lumen," meaning light, and the Greek word "iris," meaning color.

    "We want Luminiris to be a resource for the community, connecting creative types with technical minds in a professional setting. We're hoping to foster deeper and more inclusive representations and ally-ship at the intersection of art and technology. Through Luminiris, we want to promote LGBTQ+ talent in these fields," Lett and Ferrell say in a June 24 release.

    Luminiris is assuming responsibility for the Microsoft Pride Mixer hosted by Staging Solutions. Lett and Farrell started the mixer five years ago. The Pride Mixer will be the organization's flagship event, held every year on the Friday night before the Houston Pride Festival at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

    Since the 2020 Pride festival and parade are postponed, the mixer isn't being held this year. But Luminiris plans to bring it back in 2021.

    Throughout the rest of this year, Luminiris will focus on monthly virtual social events and online workshops for tech and creative professionals. It also will be collaborating with local networks for tech and creative professionals to help LGBTQ+ nonprofits and causes with graphic design, visual media, software training, and tech know-how.

    "Too many times, smaller nonprofits are blocked by the shadows of larger, developed nonprofits. … I can't wait to see the impact Luminiris will have on those who were once in the shadows," Atlantis Narcisse, founder of Save Our Sisters United, says in the Luminiris release.

    Save Our Sisters is a Houston-based advocacy group that serves cisgender and transgender women of color. Narcisse was one of the honorary grand marshals of last year's Pride parade in Houston.

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    Houston college lands $5M NASA grant to launch new aerospace research center

    to infinity and beyond

    The University of Houston was one of seven minority-serving institutions to receive a nearly $5 million grant this month to support aerospace research focused on extending human presence on the moon and Mars.

    The $4,996,136 grant over five years is funded by the NASA Office of STEM Engagement Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP) Institutional Research Opportunity (MIRO) program. It will go toward creating the NASA MIRO Inflatable Deployable Environments and Adaptive Space Systems (IDEAS2) Center at UH, according to a statement from the university.

    “The vision of the IDEAS2 Center is to become a premier national innovation hub that propels NASA-centric, state-of-the-art research and promotes 21st-century aerospace education,” Karolos Grigoriadis, Moores Professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of aerospace engineering at UH, said in a statement.

    Another goal of the grant is to develop the next generation of aerospace professionals.

    Graduate, undergraduate and even middle and high school students will conduct research out of IDEAS2 and work closely with the Johnson Space Center, located in the Houston area.

    The center will collaborate with Texas A&M University, Houston Community College, San Jacinto College and Stanford University.

    Grigoriadis will lead the center. Dimitris Lagoudas, from Texas A&M University, and Olga Bannova, UH's research professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Space Architecture graduate program, will serve as associate directors.

    "Our mission is to establish a sustainable nexus of excellence in aerospace engineering research and education supported by targeted multi-institutional collaborations, strategic partnerships and diverse educational initiatives,” Grigoriadis said.

    Industrial partners include Boeing, Axiom Space, Bastion Technologies and Lockheed Martin, according to UH.

    UH is part of 21 higher-education institutions to receive about $45 million through NASA MUREP grants.

    According to NASA, the six other universities to received about $5 million MIRO grants over five years and their projects includes:

    • Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage: Alaska Pacific University Microplastics Research and Education Center
    • California State University in Fullerton: SpaceIgnite Center for Advanced Research-Education in Combustion
    • City University of New York, Hunter College in New York: NASA-Hunter College Center for Advanced Energy Storage for Space
    • Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee: Integrative Space Additive Manufacturing: Opportunities for Workforce-Development in NASA Related Materials Research and Education
    • New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark:AI Powered Solar Eruption Center of Excellence in Research and Education
    • University of Illinois in Chicago: Center for In-Space Manufacturing: Recycling and Regolith Processing

    Fourteen other institutions will receive up to $750,000 each over the course of a three-year period. Those include:

    • University of Mississippi
    • University of Alabama in Huntsville
    • Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge
    • West Virginia University in Morgantown
    • University of Puerto Rico in San Juan
    • Desert Research Institute, Reno, Nevada
    • Oklahoma State University in Stillwater
    • Iowa State University in Ames
    • University of Alaska Fairbanks in Fairbanks
    • University of the Virgin Islands in Charlotte Amalie
    • University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu
    • University of Idaho in Moscow
    • University of Arkansas in Little Rock
    • South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City
    • Satellite Datastreams

    NASA's MUREP hosted its annual "Space Tank" pitch event at Space Center Houston last month. Teams from across the country — including three Texas teams — pitched business plans based on NASA-originated technology. Click here to learn more about the seven finalists.

    Booming Houston suburb, other Texas towns among the fastest-growing U.S. cities in 2023

    by the numbers

    One Houston suburb experienced one of the most rapid growth spurts in the country last year: Fulshear, whose population grew by 25.6 percent, more than 51 times that of the nation’s growth rate of 0.5 percent. The city's population was 42,616 as of July 1, 2023.

    According to U.S. Census Bureau's Vintage 2023 Population Estimates, released Thursday, May 16, Fulshear — which lies west of Katy in northwest Fort Bend County - ranked No. 2 on the list of fastest-growing cities with a population of 20,000 or more. It's no wonder iconic Houston restaurants like Molina's Cantina see opportunities there.

    The South still dominates the nation's growth, even as America’s Northeast and Midwest cities are rebounding slightly from years of population drops. The census estimates showed 13 of the 15 fastest-growing cities in the U.S. were in the South — eight in Texas alone.

    The Texas cities joining Fulshear on the fastest-growing-cities list are:

    • Celina (No. 1) with 26.6 percent growth (42,616 total population)
    • Princeton (No. 3) with 22.3 percent growth (28,027 total population)
    • Anna (No. 4) with 16.9 percent growth (27,501 total population)
    • Georgetown (No. 8) with 10.6 percent growth (96,312 total population)
    • Prosper (No. 9) with 10.5 percent growth (41,660 total population)
    • Forney (No. 10) with 10.4 percent growth (35,470 total population)
    • Kyle (No. 11) with 9 percent growth (62,548 total population)

    Texas trends
    San Antonio saw the biggest growth spurt in the United States last year, numbers-wise. The Alamo City added about 22,000 residents. San Antonio now has nearly 1.5 million people, making it the the seventh largest city in the U.S. and second largest in Texas.

    Its population boom was followed by those of other Southern cities, including Fort Worth; Charlotte, North Carolina; Jacksonville, Florida; and Port St. Lucie, Florida.

    Fast-growing Fort Worth (978,000) surpassed San Jose, California (970,000) to become the 12th most populous city in the country.

    Meanwhile, population slowed in the Austin area. Jacksonville, Florida (986,000), outpaced Austin (980,000), pushing the Texas capital to 11th largest city in the U.S. (barely ahead of Fort Worth).

    Population growth in Georgetown, outside Austin, slowed by more than one-fourth its population growth in 2022, the report says, from 14.4 percent to 10.6 percent. It's the same story in the Central Texas city of Kyle, whose population growth decreased by nearly 2 percent to 9 percent in 2023.

    Most populated cities
    New York City with nearly 8.3 million people remained the nation's largest city in population as of July 1, 2023. Los Angeles was second at close to 4 million residents, while Chicago was third at 2.7 million and Houston was fourth at 2.3 million residents.

    The 15 populous U.S. cities in 2023 were:

    1. New York, New York (8.3 million)
    2. Los Angeles, California (4 million)
    3. Chicago, Illinois (2.7 million)
    4. Houston, Texas (2.3 million)
    5. Phoenix, Arizona (1.7 million)
    6. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1.6 million)
    7. San Antonio (1.5 million)
    8. San Diego, California (1.4 million)
    9. Dallas (1.3 million)
    10. Jacksonville, Florida (986,000)
    11. Austin (980,000)
    12. Fort Worth (978,000)
    13. San Jose (970,000)
    14. Columbus, Ohio (913,000)
    15. Charlotte, North Carolina (911,000)

    Modest reversals of population declines were seen last year in large cities in the nation's Northeast and Midwest. Detroit, for example, which grew for the first time in decades, had seen an exodus of people since the 1950s. Yet the estimates released Thursday show the population of Michigan’s largest city rose by just 1,852 people from 631,366 in 2022 to 633,218 last year.

    It's a milestone for Detroit, which had 1.8 million residents in the 1950s only to see its population dwindle and then plummet through suburban white flight, a 1967 race riot, the migration to the suburbs by many of the Black middle class and the national economic downturn that foreshadowed the city's 2013 bankruptcy filing.

    Three of the largest cities in the U.S. that had been bleeding residents this decade staunched those departures somewhat. New York City, which has lost almost 550,000 residents this decade so far, saw a drop of only 77,000 residents last year, about three-fifths the numbers from the previous year.

    Los Angeles lost only 1,800 people last year, following a decline in the 2020s of almost 78,000 residents. Chicago, which has lost almost 82,000 people this decade, only had a population drop of 8,200 residents last year.

    And San Francisco, which has lost a greater share of residents this decade than any other big city — almost 7.5 percent — actually grew by more than 1,200 residents last year.

    ------

    This article originally ran on CultureMap.

    How this Houston clean energy entrepreneur is navigating geothermal's hype to 100x business growth

    houston innovators podcast Episode 237

    Geothermal energy has been growing in recognition as a major player in the clean energy mix, and while many might think of it as a new climatetech solution, Tim Latimer, co-founder and CEO of Fervo Energy, knows better.

    "Every overnight success is a decade in the making, and I think Fervo, fortunately — and geothermal as a whole — has become much more high profile recently as people realize that it can be a tremendous solution to the challenges that our energy sector and climate are facing," he says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

    In fact, Latimer has been bullish on geothermal as a clean energy source since he quit his job as a drilling engineer in oil and gas to pursue a dual degree program — MBA and master's in earth sciences — at Stanford University. He had decided that, with the reluctance of incumbent energy companies to try new technologies, he was going to figure out how to start his own company. Through the Stanford program and Activate, a nonprofit hardtech program that funded two years of Fervo's research and development, Latimer did just that.

    And the bet has more than paid off. Since officially launching in 2017, Fervo Energy has raised over $430 million — most recently collecting a $244 million series D round. Even more impressive to Latimer — his idea for drilling horizontal wells works. The company celebrated a successful pilot program last summer by achieving continuous carbon-free geothermal energy production with Project Red, a northern Nevada site made possible through a 2021 partnership with Google.

    Next up for Fervo is growing and scaling at around a 100x pace. While Project Red included three wells, Project Cape, a Southwest Utah site, will include around 100 wells with significantly reduced drilling cost and an estimated 2026 delivery. Latimer says there are a dozen other projects like Project Cape that are in the works.

    "It's a huge ramp up in our drilling, construction, and powerplant programs from our pilot project, but we've already had tremendous success there," Latimer says of Project Cape. "We think our technology has a really bright future."

    While Latimer looks ahead to the rapid growth of Fervo Energy, he says it's all due to the foundation he put in place for the company, which has a culture built on the motto, "Build things that last."

    “You’re not going to get somewhere that really changes the world by cutting corners and taking short steps. And, if you want to move the needle on something as complicated as the global energy system that has been built up over hundreds of years with trillions of dollars of capital invested in it – you’re not going to do it overnight," he says on the show. "We’re all in this for the long haul together."