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

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.

    For Cody Gremminger, this month is about remembrance. Courtesy of Cyber One Solutions

    Houston software entrepreneur discusses company growth and the importance of remembrance during Pride Month

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    One day, Cody Gremminger sat down with his fiance, Brian Carrico, and decided going into business together was something they wanted to explore. They put their heads together, thought of a name — Cyber One Solutions — and created a management, service and IT support company that serves the greater Houston area with satellite offices in Austin, Dallas, Lufkin, Brenham, and Beaumont.

    Cyber One Solutions has experienced massive growth in less than two years of being in business, and InnovationMap sat down to talk with Gremminger about Cyber One's next steps, what it's like working with your partner, and the importance of the support gained by the LGBTQ community.

    InnovationMap: Your company is less than two years old, but you’ve had massive growth and success. What are some lessons that you’ve learned throughout that time?

    Cody Gremminger: We're an IT company, so definitely making sure that we have a huge book of processes and everything like that. Organization is one of the most important things. Finding good people that treat your clients that way that you treat them. Whenever you start off with a company and it's just the two founders, you know how you want to treat all of your clients. But it is hard to find people to treat the clients the same way you want to treat them.

    IM: What do the next steps of Cyber One Solutions look like?

    CG: The next steps of the company at this point are to keep growing and keep taking care of our current clients, just like every company in their infancy age.

    IM: Are you planning on growing your team or slate of services anytime soon?

    CG: We are looking into both. We have a couple of our team members working on getting further certifications and further training into new aspects of IT. We're also working on growing our current client base past what we already have.

    We have some clients that we work with every month because we have a contract with them, and we have some clients that kind of come and go. On a monthly basis, we probably work with about 25 to 30 clients and then as far as people who need a hard drive replaced or something like that, it adds about 10 to 15 extra clients a month.

    IM: You and Brian own the business together. What are some of the pros and cons of being a couple and working together?

    CG: There's a lot of pros. It's really good because you are both fully committed. We're normally on the same page; we're always on the same team. We're both here for Cyber One Solutions. It kind of helps that this is how we pay our bills too.

    We're very actively involved and dedicated to it. Some of the cons could be that work never quits. Once you get home, what are you going to talk about? Well, we've been working together all day so we're going to talk about work.

    I suspect that other couples talk about their different jobs, while we talk about things we worked on at the same company. It is a different dynamic. My parents actually own a company together and work together too, so it's not abnormal for me, I guess.

    IM: As members of the Greater Houston LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce, you’re connected with a wide variety of entrepreneurs in the LGBTQ community. Why is having that support system so important?

    CG: We're members of the LGBT Houston chamber, and we're also recently, as of March or April, we got our National LGBT Chamber certification. The Houston LGBT Chamber is one of our favorites. It's just a place where we feel like everybody is actually there for each other. They are there to meet new businesses and talk to everybody. It's super friendly, and it's a place where you can just be yourself. It's awesome. I love going to all of their events.

    IM: What does pride month mean to you?

    CG: Pride month to me is all about celebration, awareness, and remembrance. At Pride, everybody is there and we are all celebrating the fact that we are who we are, and we're all celebrating each other. Awareness kind of goes with celebration.

    We start to see corporate logos change color. For example, I took a photo of the HP float at Pride because we are HP partners here at Cyber One, and I do a lot with HP computers. It was cool to see them have a float in the parade. A couple of our vendors that we use, their logos turned rainbow. It's just been really cool.

    I would say that remembrance because at pride, they give you a second to stop and look back and see how far this community has come. We've had the Pulse nightclub shooting…we've had Stonewall, which was a theme of the Pride parade this year. It's just all of that wrapped together.

    ------

    Portions of this interview have been edited.

    Supporting LGBT-founded startups is crucial to Houston business success. Ylanite Koppens/Pexels

    Houston business leader on the importance of engaging the LGBTQ community

    Pride Month

    When we think about different groups within the business ecosystem in our region, the LGBTQ business community historically has not been at the table. As we close this year's Pride Month, it's time to reflect on the the importance the LGBTQ population has within Houston and local businesses.

    While the LGBTQ community has realized historic gains, such as marriage equality, serious gaps in legal protections remain, resulting in discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. In fact, there are twenty-nine states where a person can be fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity. That kind of job insecurity coupled with an entrepreneurial spirit has driven many in the LGBTQ community to start their own businesses.

    Many LGBTQ-owned businesses in the region are obtaining the LGBTBE® certification, opening the door for these business owners to participate in corporate supplier diversity programs such as those offered by Fortune 500 corporations like Bank of America, Chevron, Shell. and United. These and many other companies greatly value diverse suppliers as part of their supply chain inclusivity goals and they embrace the diversity that LGBTQ businesses bring as part of that inclusion equation. The LGBTBE® certification is part of supplier diversity and inclusion programs that typically include participation of businesses owned by minorities, veterans, and women as examples.

    The Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce is hosting its annual Pride in Business Celebration on Friday, June 28, at 5:30 pm at the Hyatt Regency Houston. Click here for more information.

    Why get certified?

    Traditionally, LGBTQ business owners have been excluded from these opportunities within the broader business community and many have stayed in the closet because of the fear of losing clients, employees, and revenue. In fact, many LGBTQ business owners can experience a coming out process in their professional life that is entirely different from the one they have experienced in their personal life. The LGBTBE® certification gives LGBTQ owned businesses an opportunity to participate in contracting opportunities and to be valued for the service or product they provide, as well as because of who they are as LGBTQ suppliers and as part of an ecosystem of diverse entrepreneurs.

    How does a business qualify for the certification?

    A company must be at least 51 percent LGBTQ-owned, operated, managed, and controlled along with other criteria comparable to similar certification programs. The certifying body for the LGBTBE® certification is the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC). In order to get certified, a business owner should complete the application through the NGLCC.

    Greater Houston LGBT Chamber members are eligible for a fee waiver, as part of the Houston chamber's affiliate relationship with the NGLCC. This is a "win-win" for businesses with the waiver of the fee and the opportunity to take advantage of the many benefits and support offered to LGBTQ entrepreneurs through the Chamber.

    What's the impact?

    Making sure that the LGBTQ business community has access to economic opportunity is good for business and good our region. Looking forward to the goal of full and equal rights for the LGBTQ community, economic opportunity is a key milestone for LGBTQ entrepreneurs and the community as a whole. The LGBTQ business community is part of the economic fabric in our region and key to Houston's economic success.

    While the LGBTQ business community is poised for tremendous growth in the region as corporations and consumers seek out LGBTQ-supportive businesses, the traditional barriers for LGBTQ-owned businesses must be removed and economic opportunity a priority whether through the LGBTBE® certification or actively engaging LGBTQ entrepreneurs with the broader business community.


    ------

    Tammi Wallace is the co-founder and board chair of the Greater Houston LGBT Chamber of Commerce. She is also the founder and principal consultant of EnFocus Group, which connects organizations to the power of LGBTQ diversity and inclusion through training and consulting.

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    Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

    big impact

    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.