Black business ownership is growing at the fastest pace in 30 years. Photo via Getty Images

In recent years, our small business community has weathered a global pandemic, persistent supply chain issues, sometimes volatile prices, and a tight labor market—and Black-owned businesses in our state have faced disproportionate impacts from these pandemic challenges.

Despite those headwinds, Black-owned businesses across Texas are fueling one of the largest and most diverse waves of new business creation America has ever seen—what President Biden calls America’s Small Business Boom.

As we mark America’s 48th national celebration of Black History Month, the SBA is highlighting Black-owned businesses’ achievements here in Texas and throughout the nation. The past three years have been the three strongest years of new business formation in American history.

The 16 million new business applications filed during this period show Americans starting businesses at nearly twice the rate—86 percent faster—compared to the pre-2021 average. During that time, U.S. small businesses have created more than 7.2 million net new jobs. And Black-owned businesses are responsible for some of the most significant gains.

The Invest in America agenda is powering the Biden Small Business Boom, and unlike many economic recoveries of the past, this one includes entrepreneurs of color. One of the reasons for that is the SBA’s Community Navigator Pilot Program (CNPP). This innovative hub-and-spoke partnership connected hundreds of community organizations around the country - like the U.S. Black Chambers of Commerce and the National Urban League - with entrepreneurs, helping them make the most of SBA resources. “The SBA CNPP allowed the

Houston Area Urban League Entrepreneurship Center to leverage existing partnerships with organizations that offered services to socially and economically disadvantaged business owners and women-owned businesses,” states Eric Goodie, Executive Vice President of the Houston Area Urban League. “Through the CNPP we provided comprehensive business planning and support, e-commerce technical assistance, financial and credit education, opportunities for business networking, access to capital and procurement opportunities,while providing assistance with obtaining various business certifications. We also found theSBA Lender match portal to be a critical resource in the capital acquisition process."

Under Administrator Isabel Guzman, the SBA has also delivered record-breaking government contracting for small businesses—including the most federal contracting dollars going to Black-owned businesses in history. And we’re addressing longstanding gaps in access to capital for Black entrepreneurs, more than doubling our small business loans toBlack-owned businesses since 2020.

These investments are making a big impact. Black business ownership is growing at the fastest pace in 30 years. The share of Black households owning a business doubled between 2019 and 2022. In 2023 alone, Census data showed Americans filed 5.5 million new business applications across the country, including over 500,000 here in Texas. That success is creating a rising tide. Black wealth is up a record 60 percent from before the pandemic, and Black unemployment has reached historic lows since 2021.

The SBA also understands that the work must continue. Black entrepreneurs and other historically underserved communities still face obstacles accessing capital. That's why President Biden and the SBA are committed to ensuring that anyone with a good idea can pursue that opportunity, and the Small Business Boom speaks to that success. We're helping more Americans than ever access the funds they need to realize their dreams of small business ownership – and that means more jobs, more goods and services, and more resilient communities, no matter the zip code.

To learn more about SBA resources, entrepreneurs are invited to join the SBA Houston District Office as it teams up with the Emancipation Economic Development Council and dynamic community organizations to celebrate Black History Month. The organizations will host the Resources to Empower Entrepreneurs event at the Emancipation Cultural Center on Wednesday, February 28, and will feature discussions surrounding resources, funding, and training available for small business owners.

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Mark Winchester is the SBA Houston District Office's acting district director.

The Houston SBA has joined forces with various organizations across a 32-county footprint to align with SBA’s goal of supporting small businesses. Photo via Unsplash

Houston small biz organization expands strategic partnerships

more support

In alliance with their mission of supporting Houston small businesses the Small Business Administration Houston District Office has expanded its partnerships.

The Houston SBA has joined forces with various organizations across a 32-county footprint.

“Small businesses represent an important and valuable resource in our community and our robust SBE program shows just how much small businesses can contribute when given the chance, and what it can mean in terms of overall economic benefits to the economy," Sabeeta Bidasie-Singh, director of business equity for Port Houston, says in a news release. “Collaborating with partners like the SBA is a key part of our success in supporting the small business ecosystem.”

Organizations signed a Strategic Alliance Memoranda to collaborate to further the interests of small businesses. In 2023, strategic partnerships included Greater Houston Partnership, Indo-American Chamber of Commerce, Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Fort Bend County Economic Opportunity & Development, Port Houston, Harris County Department of Economic Equity and Opportunity, Harris County Department of Education, Ion, Impact HUB, and Vision Galveston.

“Every small business deserves the chance to prosper,” Tim Jeffcoat, district director for Houston SBA, says in a news release. “SBA Houston strategically chose to partner with these important organizations so that small businesses of all kinds, everywhere in the 32-county Houston district, will benefit.”

SBA works with small business owners to assist with resources and support business growth and development. SBA also assists with businesses that need recovery from a declared disaster. SBA field offices and partnerships with public and private organizations like Ion help the city’s entrepreneurs.

“As a premiere destination for entrepreneurs to make their ideas a reality, we’re delighted to collaborate with the Small Business Administration to help Houstonians start, maintain and grow businesses,” Deanea LeFlore, senior director of Strategic Alliances at Ion, says in a news release. “We're excited to expand our relationships with the SBA to empower Houston’s small business community to scale their businesses, contributing to greater economic growth in the city.”

This innovative Houston company has the national spotlight this week. Courtesy of re:3D

Houston 3D printing company selected inaugural competition

winner, winner

A Houston company has been announced among the winners of an inaugural seed fund expo competition.

Twelve startups were announced across four categories in the U.S. Small Business Administration's inaugural America’s Seed Fund Startup Expo 2022, which is taking place virtually Wednesday, May 25, from 11:30 am to 3:30 pm. Each of the 12 companies have developed innovative technologies with the help of SBIR grants.

“Every day, in communities across America, entrepreneurs are solving our nation’s most pressing challenges from climate change to feeding and healing the world. The SBA is committed to helping ensure that those ideas receive the necessary support from federal programs and innovation ecosystems so that they can commercialize and grow into resilient businesses,” says Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman in a news release.

“With the launch of America's Seed Fund Expo, we will showcase exceptional entrepreneurs who have leveraged federal research and development funding through the SBIR Program in key industries and connect them to resources to advance their game-changing innovations right here in America,” she continues.

Houston-based Re:3D is among the companies selected to present at the expo. The complete list of participating companies is as follows:

  • AgTech and Food Security
    • General Probiotics (Saint Paul, MN)
    • Nucleic Sensing Systems (Saint Paul, MN)
    • Shellfish Solutions d/b/a Blue Trace (Castine, ME)
  • Climate and Energy
    • Amorphic Tech (Allentown, PA)
    • FGC Plasma Solutions (Middleton, MA)
    • Hydroplane (Lancaster, CA)
  • National Security and Defense
    • BadVR (Pacoima, CA)
    • Enduralock (Lenexa, KS)
    • PSYONIC (Champaign, IL)
  • Supply Chain Resiliency
    • Chromatic 3D Materials (Golden Valley, MN)
    • Delta Development Team (Tucson, AZ)
    • Re:3D (Houston, TX)

“The giants of future industries so often start as small business startups with big ideas," says Bailey DeVries, associate administrator of the office of investment and innovation, in the news release. "We know the public and private sectors must work together to nurture these small businesses with big ideas over many years so they may sustain and grow. America’s Seed Fund Startup Expo will lift up big ideas and provide a platform for our national innovation community to support the businesses of tomorrow."

The event is free to attend virtually, and anyone can register online at https://bit.ly/SeedFundExpoRSVP. The America’s Seed Fund is among the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs and is collaborates with 11 federal agencies, that collectively support more than $4 billion a year in federal research and development funding.

The U.S. Small Business Administration has been facilitating more loans than ever before. Image via Getty Images

By the numbers: Houston sees rise in small business loans received

annual report

The U.S. Small Business Administration’s Houston district saw a nearly 25 percent increase this year in the dollar amount of the most popular type of SBA loan compared with the pre-pandemic year of 2019.

A new report from the SBA shows small businesses in the 32-county district received $1.3 billion in 7(a) loans in fiscal 2021 compared with almost $1.05 billion in pre-pandemic 2019. Borrowers in the SBA-backed 7(a) program can obtain loans of up to $2 million. The length of each loan is 25 years for real estate deals and seven years for working capital.

“The SBA continues to make headway in helping small businesses access much-needed capital, but much more work remains to be done,” Patrick Kelley, associate administrator for the SBA’s Office of Capital Access, says in a news release.

In terms of the number of 7(a) loans extended in the Houston district, the top lenders for fiscal 2021 were:

  • Wallis-based Wallis Bank
  • San Francisco-based Wells Fargo
  • Columbus, Ohio-based United Midwest Savings Bank
  • Birmingham, Alabama-based BBVA USA (now part of Pittsburgh-based PNC Bank)
  • Wilmington, North Carolina-based Live Oak Bank, the country’s most active 7(a) lender.

The top 7(a) lenders by total dollar amount of loans were:

  • Wallis Bank
  • Live Oak Bank
  • Humble-based Plains State Bank
  • San Antonio-based Frost Bank
  • Kingswood-based The Mint National Bank

The SBA’s Houston district is home to more than 600,000 small businesses in a 32-county region that includes the nine counties in the Houston metro area: Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Liberty, Montgomery, and Waller.

Nationwide, the SBA backed $36.5 billion in 7(a) loans in fiscal 2021. Nearly $11 billion went to minority-owned businesses, $5 billion to woman-owned businesses, and $1.2 billion to veteran-owned businesses.

SBA lending could experience an uptick in fiscal 2021 due to inflation. An October 2021 survey conducted for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and MetLife found 45 percent of small businesses had taken out loans to cope with rising inflation; among retailers, that figure was 58 percent. In the survey, 74 percent of small business owners expressed concern about inflation.

“Small business owners’ optimism is plowing through economic uncertainty, but they now face new obstacles with rising inflation, labor shortages, and supply chain challenges,” Tom Sullivan, vice president for small business policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, says in a news release.

Following Winter Storm Uri, the United States Small Business Association has launched recovery resources for Texas small businesses. Photo via Getty Images

SBA launches Virtual Business Recovery Center to assist Texas loan applicants after winter storm

funds for small biz

Texas small businesses impacted by Winter Storm Uri are now eligible for up to $2 million in low-interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration as a result of President Joe Biden's major disaster declaration last week.

"Getting our businesses and communities up and running after a disaster is our highest priority at SBA," says SBA's acting Administrator Tami Perriello.

According to a release from the SBA, businesses in 77 counties are covered under the declaration for damages incurred during the storm, starting February 11. Loans can be used to repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate, machinery and equipment, inventory and other business assets. The funds can also be used to make improvements that will protect, prevent, or minimize damage from any future freezes.

Interest rates for businesses start at 3 percent. Loans to private nonprofit organizations will start at 2 percent and homeowners and renters will incur interest at 1.25. All loans are set with 30 years terms.

Loan amounts and terms are determined by the SBA based on each applicant's financial condition.

The SBA will also launch a Virtual Business Recovery Center on February 23 — similar to the Women Business Centers it launched across the country in 2020, but all virtual due to COVID-related health concerns.

Applicants can call or email the virtual center to receive personalized assistance in their online loan applications at 800-659-2955 or FOCWAssistance@sba.gov, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Assistance will also be provided to help homeowners and renters through a similar Virtual Disaster Loan Outreach Center, which applicants can reach through the same number and email address.

Homeowners are eligible for up to $200,000 to repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate.Renters and homeowners are also eligible for up to $40,000 for destroyed personal property.

To get started, applicants must contact FEMA at disasterassistance.gov. To download an application visit disasterloanassistance.sba.gov. Individuals who are deaf or hard‑of‑hearing can call 800-877-8339.

Re:3D is one of two Houston companies to be recognized by the SBA's technology awards. Photo courtesy of re:3D

2 Houston startups win national technology award from SBA

winner, winner

A couple of Houston startups have something to celebrate. The United States Small Business Administration announced the winners of its Tibbetts Award, which honors small businesses that are at the forefront of technology, and two Houston startups have made the list.

Re:3D, a sustainable 3D printer company, and Raptamer Discovery Group, a biotech company that's focused on therapeutic solutions, were Houston's two representatives in the Tibbetts Award, named after Roland Tibbetts, the founder of the SBIR Program.

"I am incredibly proud that Houston's technology ecosystem cultivates innovative businesses such as re:3D and Raptamer. It is with great honor and privilege that we recognize their accomplishments, and continue to support their efforts," says Tim Jeffcoat, district director of the SBA Houston District Office, in a press release.

Re:3D, which was founded in 2013 by NASA contractors Samantha Snabes and Matthew Fiedler to tackle to challenge of larger scale 3D printing, is no stranger to awards. The company's printer, the GigaBot 3D, recently was recognized as the Company of the Year for 2020 by the Consumer Technology Association. Re:3D also recently completed The Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator this year, which has really set the 20-person team with offices in Clear Lake and Puerto Rico up for new opportunities in sustainability.

"We're keen to start to explore strategic pilots and partnerships with groups thinking about close-loop economies and sustainable manufacturing," Snabes recently told InnovationMap on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Raptamer's unique technology is making moves in the biotech industry. The company has created a process that makes high-quality DNA Molecules, called Raptamers™, that can target small molecules, proteins, and whole cells to be used as therapeutic, diagnostic, or research agents. Raptamer is in the portfolio of Houston-based Fannin Innovation Studio, which also won a Tibbetts Award that Fannin Innovation Studio in 2016.

"We are excited by the research and clinical utility of the Raptamer technology, and its broad application across therapeutics and diagnostics including biomarker discovery in several diseases, for which we currently have an SBIR grant," says Dr. Atul Varadhachary, managing partner at Fannin Innovation Studio.

This year, 38 companies were honored online with Tibbetts Awards. Since its inception in 1982, the awards have recognized over 170,000 honorees, according to the release, with over $50 billion in funding to small businesses through the 11 participating federal agencies.

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Houston researchers create AI model to tap into how brain activity relates to illness

brainiac

Houston researchers are part of a team that has created an AI model intended to understand how brain activity relates to behavior and illness.

Scientists from Baylor College of Medicine worked with peers from Yale University, University of Southern California and Idaho State University to make Brain Language Model, or BrainLM. Their research was published as a conference paper at ICLR 2024, a meeting of some of deep learning’s greatest minds.

“For a long time we’ve known that brain activity is related to a person’s behavior and to a lot of illnesses like seizures or Parkinson’s,” Dr. Chadi Abdallah, associate professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor and co-corresponding author of the paper, says in a press release. “Functional brain imaging or functional MRIs allow us to look at brain activity throughout the brain, but we previously couldn’t fully capture the dynamic of these activities in time and space using traditional data analytical tools.

"More recently, people started using machine learning to capture the brain complexity and how it relates it to specific illnesses, but that turned out to require enrolling and fully examining thousands of patients with a particular behavior or illness, a very expensive process,” Abdallah continues.

Using 80,000 brain scans, the team was able to train their model to figure out how brain activities related to one another. Over time, this created the BrainLM brain activity foundational model. BrainLM is now well-trained enough to use to fine-tune a specific task and to ask questions in other studies.

Abdallah said that using BrainLM will cut costs significantly for scientists developing treatments for brain disorders. In clinical trials, it can cost “hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said, to enroll numerous patients and treat them over a significant time period. By using BrainLM, researchers can enroll half the subjects because the AI can select the individuals most likely to benefit.

The team found that BrainLM performed successfully in many different samples. That included predicting depression, anxiety and PTSD severity better than other machine learning tools that do not use generative AI.

“We found that BrainLM is performing very well. It is predicting brain activity in a new sample that was hidden from it during the training as well as doing well with data from new scanners and new population,” Abdallah says. “These impressive results were achieved with scans from 40,000 subjects. We are now working on considerably increasing the training dataset. The stronger the model we can build, the more we can do to assist with patient care, such as developing new treatment for mental illnesses or guiding neurosurgery for seizures or DBS.”

For those suffering from neurological and mental health disorders, BrainLM could be a key to unlocking treatments that will make a life-changing difference.

Houston-based cleantech unicorn named among annual top disruptors

on the rise

Houston-based biotech startup Solugen is making waves among innovative companies.

Solugen appears at No. 36 on CNBC’s annual Disruptor 50 list, which highlights private companies that are “upending the classic definition of disruption.” Privately owned startups founded after January 1, 2009, were eligible for the Disruptor 50 list.

Founded in 2016, Solugen replaces petroleum-based products with plant-derived substitutes through its Bioforge manufacturing platform. For example, it uses engineered enzymes and metal catalysts to convert feedstocks like sugar into chemicals that have traditionally been made from fossil fuels, such as petroleum and natural gas.

Solugen has raised $643 million in funding and now boasts a valuation of $2.2 billion.

“Sparked by a chance medical school poker game conversation in 2016, Solugen evolved from prototype to physical asset in five years, and production hit commercial scale shortly thereafter,” says CNBC.

Solugen co-founders Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt received the Entrepreneur of The Year 2023 National Award, presented by professional services giant EY.

“Solugen is a textbook startup launched by two partners with $10,000 in seed money that is revolutionizing the chemical refining industry. The innovation-driven company is tackling impactful, life-changing issues important to the planet,” Entrepreneur of The Year judges wrote.

In April 2024, Solugen broke ground on a Bioforge biomanufacturing plant in Marshall, Minnesota. The 500,000-square-foot, 34-acre facility arose through a Solugen partnership with ADM. Chicago-based ADM produces agricultural products, commodities, and ingredients. The plant is expected to open in the fall of 2025.

“Solugen’s … technology is a transformative force in sustainable chemical manufacturing,” says Hunt. “The new facility will significantly increase our existing capabilities, enabling us to expand the market share of low-carbon chemistries.”

Houston cleantech company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

RESULTS ARE IN

Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

“This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

“At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

“The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.