Women in the work place have been hit the hardest by the pandemic. Houston experts discuss the effect in a guest column and a panel hosted by Sesh Coworking on Oct. 14. Photo via Pexels

The shutdown of our economy, schools and childcare systems has created a wildfire that is raging across our nation, disproportionately impacting women, radically shifting social values, and compromising our nation's post-pandemic recovery.

While women have made great gains in the last few decades towards gender equality, the pandemic has exacerbated some of the larger remaining issues — time spent in unpaid work or "invisible labor," political under-representation, violence against women, limited access to capital and the gender pay gap) — and, according to a recent analysis by McKinsey, without serious intervention, is at risk of wiping $1 trillion off global GDP by 2030.

While everyone has suffered during the pandemic, women have found themselves under disproportionate pressure — women's jobs have become more vulnerable (women are 1.8 times more likely to lose their jobs than men), female dominated industries (restaurants, child-care, leisure and hospitality, health care, and education) have been hardest hit, and women of color in particular are more likely to be laid off or furloughed (leanin.org - women in workplace study).

These inequities, coupled with the increased stress and labor of child-care while "working from home" have placed an overwhelming strain on the working parents, and in particular mothers, of America. The mental and emotional health loads of working parents have been pushed to their limits and with that working families are re-prioritizing their values and spending habits faster than ever before.

Is it any surprise that during the pandemic the need for families to quickly adapt to the new economy plus the inequity of women's wages versus men is driving more and more women to sacrifice their careers and dreams to ease the increased burdens the pandemic has inflamed?

Leanin.org and McKinsey's Women in the Workplace study polled over 40,000 employees across 317 companies between May and Aug 2020, and found that more than 1 in 4 women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce entirely, according Leanin.org and McKinsey.

Labor Department statistics show that this inclination is already in action: In August and September 1.1 million people left the workforce, and of that 800,000 were women. According to a recent analysis by the National Women's Law Center of those 800,000 women — 324,000 were Latinas and 58,000 were Black women. Now compare that to the 216,000 men who left the job market during August and September.

This exodus of women leaving the workforce has broad reaching and long-lasting effects on not just female-owned businesses and women in the workplace – it is an issue that impacts every person at every level of business. Women's rise in participation in the labor force is not just good for women, it is good for business: directly impacting our GDP and a rise in wages for everyone, not just women.

A decline of women in the labor force, on teams, in leadership positions and in decision-making roles compromises not just our economy's recovery and productivity, but also the innovation and effectiveness in industry, competitiveness on a global scale, aspirations of future generations of women, and society as a whole.

If "women hold up half the sky" you could certainly argue that the sky is now falling. So, the question is – what can we do about it? And that is a question we intend to tackle in depth on Wednesday, October 14, at 1 pm in a virtual town hall with inspiring women who are already paving the road to our recovery: Elizabeth Gore of Hello Alice, Cate Luzio of Luminary; Cathy Mchorse of United Way of Greater Austin; Lucie Green of Light Years. Click here to register.

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Maggie Segrich is co-founder and CFO of Sesh Coworking and Courtney Sikes Longmore is the founder at Pure Palate. The two female innovators will be on the panel of the online event.

Houston-based Sesh Coworking has launched an online platform so that members can work alongside each other. Photo via seshcoworking.com

Houston coworking company launches online portal to connect members working from home

coworking from home

As the COVID-19 pandemic continued to enforce working from home and social distancing earlier this summer, a Houston coworking company knew they needed to find a way to reach professionals and entrepreneurs digitally.

Sesh Coworking launched its Inner Circle membership this week to be a one-stop shop for business, connection, support, and more for members. Last month, Meredith Wheeler and Maggie Segrich began working on the virtual space after discovering the need for this virtual space from their network.

"We talked to a lot of people," Wheeler tells InnovationMap. "We were constantly asking people, 'what do you need right now?' And the resounding answer was for community and connection."

While Sesh reopened its physical space in Montrose on June 1, not all members were comfortable — or even able — to return to Sesh in person. So, the idea was to bring Sesh's culture and mission to them by taking the company's existing member portal and upgrading it with features like video conferencing, chatrooms, and more.

"It's almost kind of like a new age version of AIM chat. You could see who's online and you can chat with them," Segrich says. "You can work alongside with people."

With these new tech capabilities, Sesh can continue some of its events — like coffee and coworking and other networking and social events — virtually. Segrich and Wheeler also say they will be able to create accountability groups since some members have said that this new way of working makes it hard to focus and get stuff done.

The platform will also enable educational and training-based events, and Sesh has already created a kind of catalogue for resources and materials that come out of these events so that all members can have access to that information, not just the ones that were able to log on for the event.

"With business right now, and Maggie and I are feeling this constantly, it's like everyday is a new pivot — a new turn, twist, or adaptation that we're having to create," Wheeler says. "Sometimes, you know what you need to do and you don't know how to do it, but you need to figure it out fast. So, hopefully by having these resources at the tips of their fingers, our members can make those turns quicker."

A major perk for Sesh and its founders is that, now that they have everything set up and launched, their reach expands much further than their Sesh Loft in Montrose.

"This is not just limited to Houston. This can go, and we hope it goes, nationwide. We've had folks from all over the country on our digital events," Wheeler says. "This could be the silver lining from everything that's happening in 2020 — that our authentic digital connection has a much farther way to travel."

The first 30 members of Sesh Inner Circle can get a monthly membership rate of just $5.99. After that, it's $14.99 a month to sign up. Existing members to the physical space have access to the virtual platform, and virtual members can access special rates on booking space in the Sesh Loft. The launch of Inner Circle has also corresponded with the expansion of Sesh's store of locally sourced products. The store is available at the Sesh Loft or online.

Connect online

Photo via seshcoworking.com

The member portal lets Sesh coworkers have a one-stop shop for virtual and in-person engagement.

Houston small businesses are struggling to pay their rent with doors closed and operations ceased — but where should the relief come from? Getty Images

Houston small businesses and landlords grapple with rent relief options during COVID-19 crisis

late fee

It's not too huge of an assumption to make that many Houston startups and small businesses failed to pay their rents in full yesterday. Since the city's stay-at-home mandate on March 24 — and even preceding that — most businesses have seen a slowdown of revenue as a result of COVID-19-caused business disruptions.

Business owners are frantically looking in their leases and searching online to see what rights they have and what sort of protection they have in such an unprecedented time.

"People are confused. They don't know what to do, and finding information is hard," says Meredith Wheeler, co-founder and chief creative officer of Sesh Coworking, which opened earlier this year.

Wheeler and Sesh's co-founder, Maggie Segrich, have created a petition to get on the radar of local elected officials to challenge them to pass legislation to protect small businesses in this time.

"At the end of the day, it would be so wonderful and idealistic to say that we could rely on the niceties and the moral compasses of our landlords, but it's probably not true for everyone and so that's why we need legislation to dictate what is right," Wheeler says.

But landlords are also in unchartered territory, says Josh Feinberg, who has worked in Houston as a commercial real estate broker and co-founded CRE tech platform, Tenavox.

"There's this idea that there's this acrimony between tenant and landlord, and I think, as a former broker, we're set up that way to get our side the best deal. But in reality, that's just not true," Feinberg says. "The majority of commercial real estate is owned by regular people — not usually some faceless, gigantic corporation."

And they have a piper to pay too, Feinberg adds. Ninety percent of CRE is owned by debt, he says. If the government steps in anywhere, it should be on the lender level, as well as creating some sort of tax relief.

"If there's any relief here, it's going to have to come from lenders, and I think you'd hear that from owners and brokers," Feinberg says.

In somewhat convenient timing, Tenavox has recently co-founded a new company that provides a bit of a solution for small businesses. Otso provides landlords with an alternative to cash security deposits. Traditionally, deposits are held onto by landlords — they aren't legally allowed to spend it unless the tenant defaults.

"In general, I think cash deposits are wasteful," Feinberg says. "It's critical capital that the business can hire with, invest, and use."

Tenavox teamed up with Euler Hermes, a 135-year-old credit insurance company, to create Otso, and the credit company backs the lease performance of each tenant that is approved by Otso. The transaction calls for a fee added to the rent, but no large cash deposit would be required.

The tool can be used on new leases, and, in light of the current situation, Otso can also be used to create an addendum in existing leases so that the tenant can get back their deposit and use it in this time of crisis. Either landlord or tenant can apply online and hear back that same day — Feinberg says he's focused on a speedy response to help get this deposit money back to the tenant.

"If we can get some liquidity back into the hands of the business, they have some a better chance of survival," Feinberg says.

Other than looking into Otso, Feinberg has some other recommendations for small business owners. He says they should be applying for relief from the Small Business Administration, which has more money to dole out than they have ever had. And, as it pertains to working with their landlords, communication is key. Show financials and specific information — like what March 2019 looks like compared to 2020 — so that landlords can take that to their lenders.

"An unprecedented crisis is going to require unprecedented solutions," Feinberg says.

Marc Nathan, Meredith Wheeler, and Maggie Segrich are this week's Houston innovators to know. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Passion is usually the motivator for starting a business, and this week's innovators to know have an undeniable passion for what they are doing.

Marc Nathan is passionate about Texas startups — it's why he started and still maintains a comprehensive newsletter of Texas innovation news. Meanwhile, Maggie Segrich and Meredith Wheeler are passionate about bringing together a community of women with Sesh Coworking.

Here's more of what you need to learn about this week's innovators to know.

Marc Nathan, vice president of client strategy at Egan Nelson and publisher of Texas Squared

Marc Nathan shares how he's seen the city of Houston's innovation world change dramatically over the past few decades. Photo courtesy of Marc Nathan

While he technically lives in Austin now, Marc Nathan is extremely proud of his Houston heritage. A third generation Houstonian, Nathan worked as an entrepreneur before getting involved with the Houston Technology Center. The University of Texas alum's current role at Egan Nelson — an Austin-based, startup-focused law firm, that brought him back to Austin a few years ago.

As much of a Houstonian at heart he is, Nathan is a major player in the entire Lone Star State's innovation world. He publishes a weekly newsletter, called Texas Squared, that he hopes can connect the dots between Texas's four innovation ecosystems — Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and Houston, or DASH, as he likes to call them.

"I can tell you 10 years ago being an innovation person in Houston, I couldn't have told you anything about what was going on in Dallas or Austin," Nathan says on the most recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Now, we're seeing a lot more collaboration among cities, and I think it's very important and useful."

Read more and stream the episode here.

Meredith Wheeler and Maggie Segrich, co-founders of Sesh Coworking

sesh coworking

Meredith Wheeler and Maggie Segrich founded Sesh Coworking after years of working from home and feeling the need for a community. Photo courtesy of Sesh

Working from home can be extremely isolating, but Meredith Wheeler found the "bro culture" of coworking off putting. For years she craved a female-focused community, and now with her business partner, Maggie Segrich, she's created exactly that with Sesh Coworking.

"We come at the creation of this space and the running of this community from the female experience," Wheeler tells InnovationMap. "Most coworking spaces, when they are run only by men, it's natural that they are coming from their perspective and experience."

The coworking space in Montrose officially opened for business on Feb. 3. Sesh has memberships and day passes available for anyone who wants to cowork, but the space is designed from the female perspective.

"For me, starting Sesh is kind of like giving women that space and opportunity to let their guard down, and feel like they can be their actual selves," Segrich says.

Read more and check out photos of the Sesh space here.

Sesh Coworking is committed to providing quality coworking space for women and by women. Photo courtesy of Sesh

First female-focused coworking space opens in Houston

Calling all women

For so long, women have been influenced on how to behave professionally at work and expected to leave home life at home. But two female entrepreneurs are flipping the switch on that way of thinking with their new coworking space.

"We as women show up in our work lives as a whole person. We don't compartmentalize and forget about all the other things happening in our lives," says Meredith Wheeler, co-founder and chief creative officer of Sesh Coworking. "We wanted a space that reflected that and embraced it."

Sesh officially opened its doors this week at its new 2,000-square-foot space in Montrose (1210 W Clay St #18). Wheeler co-founded the company with Maggie Segrich after hosting coffee and coworking meetups for women around Houston for over two years.

sesh Meredith Wheeler and Maggie Segrich founded Sesh Coworking after years of working from home and feeling the need for a community. Photo courtesy of Sesh

Segrich, who has been a jewelry designer based in New York then Houston, and Wheeler each have a story of working from home and feeling a lack of community. Through the coffee and coworking sessions, the duo realized they weren't alone.

"There has been, in the last four to five years, this rally cry for women to come together and to feel that sense of community, whether that's as mothers, runners, in a gym, entrepreneurs, artists, and makers," says Segrich. "So, for me, starting Sesh is kind of like giving women that space and opportunity to let their guard down, and feel like they can be their actual selves."

While Sesh is open to all, the structure and style of the space is different from other coworking offices. For Wheeler, that's by design. She remembers living in California and checking out a coworking space that had a "bro culture," and while she loved the idea of coworking, she didn't join that space. However, it planted a seed in her, she says.

"We come at the creation of this space and the running of this community from the female experience," Wheeler tells InnovationMap. "Most coworking spaces, when they are run only by men, it's natural that they are coming from their perspective and experience."

Last fall, Sesh hosted a pop-up coworking space in Downtown for nine days. They put on multiple events a day — from career focused to wellness — as a bit of a sample of what they planned for their permanent space. It was stressful and fast moving, but it showed the women what their potential membership wanted.

"Flexibility is kind of the name of the game right now," Wheeler says.

In their permanent space, Sesh plans to offer programming around business career and fitness and wellness, including daily kid-friendly hours.

The office space itself, which was designed by Blue Water Studio's Kimberly Phipps-Nichol, is rentable for events, and members can join and pay monthly or buy packs of day passes. The space features desks and couches, plus a full bathroom with a shower and lockers that are rentable. There is also a meeting room and wellness space that are able to be rented by members.

"We're re-writing the playbook on what your work experience should be," Wheeler says.

Setting up shop

Photo courtesy of Sesh

Coworkers can check in upon arrival and even purchase select items at the front desk.

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Rice Alliance event identifies 4 most-promising energy tech companies at CERAWeek

startups to watch

Wondering what energy tech companies you should keep an eye on? Wonder no more.

As a part of 2021 CERAWeek by IHS Markit, the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship hosted a virtual pitch competition today featuring 20 companies in four sessions. Each entrepreneur had four minutes to pitch, and then a few more to take questions from industry experts.

"Of the companies here today, we've intentionally selected a diverse group," says Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance at the start of the event. "They range from companies looking for their seed funding to companies that have raised $20 million or more."

The following companies pitched at the event: Acoustic Wells, ALLY ENERGY, Bluefield Technologies, Cemvita Factory, Connectus Global, Damorphe, Ovopod Ltd., DrillDocs, GreenFire Energy, inerG, Locus Bio-Energy Solutions, Nesh, Pythias Analytics, REVOLUTION Turbine Technologies, Revterra, ROCSOLE, Senslytics, Subsea Micropiles, Syzygy Plasmonics, Transitional Energy, and Universal Subsea.

At the end of each session, attendees voted via Zoom poll on which startup had the most potential. According to the event attendees, the most promising energy tech companies are:

REVOLUTION Turbine Technologies

Asheville, North Carolina-based REVOLUTION Turbine Technologies is working to "put a green spin on power." The company's micro-Expansion Turbine System produces green power for digital oilfield and pipeline initiatives through the recovery of excess natural gas pressure.

"RTT's technology provides a scalable, clean energy source to reliably power digital oilfield and pipeline initiatives at a significantly low operating cost," says Christopher Bean, founder and CEO, in his presentation. "Never has it been more important to make production and pipeline operations greener, safer, and efficient."

Connectus Global

Connectus Global, based in Calgary, provides custom technology solutions that can increase productivity, profits, and competitiveness. Connectus' Real-Time Location System, or RTLS, uses Ultra-Wide Band for communication and triangulation while hosting a Radio Frequency Identification Device, which come in the form of badges, tags, and receivers.

"In our first year, we received $800,000 in revenue and are on track to hit our numbers — $3.6 million — at the end of this fiscal year," says Mike Anderson, CEO of the company, in his presentation." We have a global white labeling agreement with Honeywell and we make up about 75 percent of their digitized workforce management portfolio."

The company's U.S. office is located in Houston.

DrillDocs

Houston-based DrillDocs has created an automated drilling cuttings characterization service, called CleanSight, that supports an operator's understanding of their wellbore's state of stability and cleanness in real time.

"We're taking computer vision to the drilling rig," says Calvin Holt, CEO and co-founder at DrillDocs, in his presentation. "Now for the first time, drilling and geomechanics teams will have unique, real-time data to ascertain the well's condition."

Revterra

Revterra, a Houston-based company and inaugural Greentown Houston member company, is creating a flywheel energy storage system for long-duration grid-scale applications.

"For those of us in Texas, the power outages we experienced a couple weeks ago are a stark reminder that the stability and the resiliency of our electric grid should be a top priority as we transition to low-emission power sources," says Ben Jawdat, founder and CEO at Revterra, in his presentation. "Energy storage is a critical element in both grid stability and enabling our transition to sustainable energy."

Houston makes top 10 list for major metros based on startup growth

by the numbers

Houston is a bustling hub for startup activity — and the numbers don't lie.

A new ranking from real estate investment marketplace Roofstock places Houston at No. 10 among the major U.S. metro areas with the highest rates of startup formation. Roofstock's ranking, based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, puts the Houston area's startup formation rate at 9.48 percent. The startup formation rate refers to the number of new businesses in a given year divided by the total number of businesses.

Here's the other Houston startup data cited by Roofstock:

  • Annual number of startup formations: 9,214
  • Annual number of jobs created by startups: 55,475
  • Number of jobs created by startups as a share of all new jobs: 14.44 percent

"In the past years, Houston has seen a massive burst in its startup ecosystem. … Houston is one of the best places in the United States for entrepreneurs to launch and grow a business," Houston-based app developer Bixlabs says.

As a matter of fact, the Houston area's ratio of new business founders to total business founders stood at a healthy 21 percent as of December 2020, according to career website LinkedIn. Houston was sandwiched between Salt Lake City (26 percent) and Dallas-Fort Worth (20 percent). Also in 2020 and 2019, Houston ranked sixth on a list published by residential real estate platform Clever of the most affordable U.S. metros for startups.

"Considering Houston's metro is tied with San Antonio's for the highest average investment in small business, and the proximity to great food, the Gulf of Mexico coast, and attractions like Minute Maid Park and the NASA Space Center, we would definitely suggest considering starting a business here," Clever says.

Two other Texas metros appear on Roofstock's list — Austin at No. 3 (startup formation rate of 10.61 percent) and Dallas-Fort Worth at No. 5 (startup formation rate of 9.82 percent).

Here's the additional data for the Austin metro area:

  • Number of annual startup formations: 3,858
  • Number of annual new jobs created by startups: 21,357
  • Number of jobs created by startups as a share of all new jobs: 16.49 percent

Here's the additional data for the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area:

  • Number of annual startup formations: 10,731
  • Number of annual new jobs created by startups: 69,696
  • Number of jobs created by startups as a share of all new jobs: 15.11 percent

The Las Vegas metro area holds the No. 1 spot on the Roofstock list, with a startup formation rate of 11.44 percent.

Houston venture capitalist says it's time for more women in VC

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 73

In all the turmoil of 2020, Samantha Lewis had at least one silver lining. The former director of Goose Capital transitioned into her new position as principal at Mercury Fund.

However fortunate she feels to have her new position, she shares on the Houston Innovators Podcast this week that there's not nearly enough of women like her in venture capital.

"The bottom line is there has to be more women with check-writing abilities," Lewis says on the show. "And when there is more women with check-writing abilities, more women will get funded."

Joining the podcast at the start of Women's History Month, Lewis says that the pandemic disproportionately affected women's careers across the board — but when it comes to VC, the solution is growing the female representation at firms.

"It is up to the people in VC hiring or the institutional investors who are giving money to funds to make sure there's a woman on the investment team," she says — adding that just one isn't enough.

In her role at Mercury, Lewis is helping build up the fund's processes — something she specialized in at Goose. She's also focused on building up the portfolio around a specific theme.

"One of the things specifically that Mercury brought me over to focus on from an investment perspective is something we're calling our 'power theme,'" Lewis says. "Think about it as giving people the power to make decisions that are authentic to their values around sustainability and impact."

There have been significant changes in consumer values driven by millennials, and businesses are prioritizing sustainability and transparency in order to keep up. Lewis discusses how Houston-based Topl, which is one of Mercury's portfolio companies, has a major role to play in this space.

Another key area of interest for Lewis is fintech.

"The other piece of the theme is thinking about the democratization of financial services," Lewis says. "Legacy financial institutions have ignored large groups of our population here in America and broader for a very long time. Technology is actually breaking down a lot of those barriers, so there are all these groups that have traditionally been ignored that now technology can reach to help them build wealth."

Lewis discusses more about how Mercury Fund is at an inflection point and how the Houston innovation ecosystem is developing with intention on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.