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

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.

Houston is hosting a bit of a tech takeover week during the first week of March. Photo by Zview/Getty Images

These are the events to attend each day during the Houston Tech Rodeo

Where to be

Houston Exponential has tapped into the Houston innovation ecosystem to coordinate a week of events to speak to the city's startups, investors, and startup development organizations.

The week, called the Houston Tech Rodeo, will take place March 2 to 6 — in coordination with the start of the Houston Livestock Show And Rodeo — all across town. From panels and meetups to office hours and pitch events, there's a lot to navigate in the inaugural week. For a complete list of Tech Rodeo events (most of which are free and all over town), head to the website.

Here are the events you should make sure not to miss. Each featured event is free and open to the public.

Monday: Houston Tech Rodeo Kickoff Event

Launching the week is a happy hour event with a networking opportunity and a panel brought to you by InnovationMap, KPMG, and Houston Exponential. The event is on Monday, March 2, from 4 to 6:30 pm at Karbach Brewing Co. (2032 Karbach St.). After a short introduction from KPMG and HX, Blair Garrou, managing director at Mercury Fund; Leslie Goldman, general partner at The Artemis Fund; and Samantha Lewis, director of GOOSE, will discuss the VC culture in Houston vs. the world. Click here to register.

Tuesday: The Founders Round Up at The Cannon

Why attend one event when you can attend a day full of constructive events geared at entrepreneurs? From 9 am to 5 pm on Tuesday, March 3, at The Cannon, catch workshops and panels ranging from startup failure reasons to revenue tips. From 3 to 5 pm, there's a lean startup meet-up workshop to attend. Click here to register.

Additional events:

  • HX will also be hosting its "Conventional Financing for your Tech Business" workshop at 9 am at their office (410 Pierce St.) to help startups navigate their financial options. Click here to register.
  • DivInc. will be hosting an evening event to address "Diversity's Impact on Innovation" at The Ion (1301 Fannin St. Suite 2100). This event runs from 5:30 to 9 pm. Click here to register.

Wednesday: Jason Calacanis Founder Office Hours

Seven Houston entrepreneurs will join investor Jason Calacanis onstage for office hours — but with an audience. The event, which is on Wednesday, March 4, from 9:30 to 11 am with networking to follow, is at Rice University - McNair Hall McNair Hall, Loop Road Shell Auditorium. Click here to register.

Additional event: The University of Houston's Office of Research is hosting a "Women in Science and Beyond" panel of successful female scientists. The event will take place at 5 pm at UH Technology Bridge Innovation Center, Building 4 (5000 Gulf Freeway). Click here to register.

Thursday: Reverse Pitch, Accelerators and Funds with the Ask

The tables have turned. Rather than Houston entrepreneurs pitching, accelerators and startup development organizations are taking the stage to pitch their programs to potential startup members. The event, which is at 9 am at Sesh Coworking (1210 West Clay St. #Suite 18) on Thursday, March 5, will be hosted by Brittany Barreto of Capital Factory. Click here to register.

Additional events:

  • Learn from the leading ladies of Houston innovation in The Ion's EmpowerHER event at 11 am at 1301 Fannin St. Suite 2100. Click here to register.
  • Wrap up your day with a networking opportunity from MassChallenge Texas at the C. Baldwin, Curio Collection by Hilton (400 Dallas Street). Click here to register.

Friday: BAMA Houston Launch Event

Celebrate the launch of the Business Angel Minority Association — a new organization looking to increase investments for minority-run startups. The networking and pitch event is on Friday, March 6, from 8 to 10 am at The Cannon Tower - Amegy Conference Center (1810 Main St, Suite 1300). Click here to register.

Additional event: Wrap up your week with networking hosted by HX. The event is from 5 to 7 pm at Saint Arnold Brewing Company (2000 Lyons Ave.) Click here to register.

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.

Check out these conferences, pitch competitions, networking, and more. Getty Images

10+ can't-miss Houston business and innovation events for October

Where to be

October is another busy one for Houston innovation. Data-focused conferences, a rescheduled grand opening for The Cannon, and so much more.

If you know of innovation-focused events for this month or next, email me at natalie@innovationmap.com with the details and subscribe to our daily newsletter that sends fresh stories straight to your inboxes every morning.

October 2 — Startup Communication: Post Funding Investor Relations with Eric Danziger

Join Eric Danziger, chief revenue officer at Innowatts, on discussing post-funding investor relations. Danziger has been in the cleantech and smart grid industry for the past 10 years, and Innowatts closed its $18.2 million round earlier this year.

Details: The event is from 5:30 to 7 pm on Wednesday, October 2, at Station Houston (1301 Fannin Street, #2440). Learn more.

October 3 — Raising That First Round with Steve Gray, ATX Venture Partners

Where do you start? This workshop will cover the basics of preparation for that first round of capital raising. There is a rhythm to fundraising, but more importantly, the preparation is vital. Every goal to which you aspire must have a plan and fundraising is no different. At this workshop, Steve Gray of ATX Venture Partners will discuss some lessons learned over the years as well as share ideas on what works and what doesn't.

Details: The event is from 5:30 to 7 pm on Thursday, October 3, at Station Houston (1301 Fannin Street, #2440). Learn more.

October 3 — Growth Tour: Houston

Join Alice, Salesforce Essentials, and the Houston small business community for an unforgettable morning of workshops, networking, and real takeaways to help you reach your goals and strengthen your business.

Details: The event is from 8:30 am to 1 pm on Thursday, October 3, at The Space HTX (2005 Commerce St). Learn more.

October 4 — Houston Next: ERG Summit 2019

To reflect Houston's unique position as the most diverse city in the nation, the Greater Houston Partnership is hosting the Houston NEXT: An ERG Summit with a focus on corporate culture and talent. Join business leaders, HR executives, diversity and inclusion officers and ERG leaders for thoughtful conversations on building diverse and inclusive workplaces.

Details: The event is from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm on Friday, October 4, at Marriott Marquis (1777 Walker Street). Learn more.

October 8 — The Dolphin Tank: Houston

The Dolphin Tank is a "friendly-feedback" pitch session for women entrepreneurs. Springboard Enterprises Dolphin Tank® programs are "helpful feedback-driven" pitch sessions for entrepreneurs to receive constructive insights from knowledgeable professionals. Dolphin Tanks aren't about sharks, piranhas, dragons, or competing for the best idea – they're about channeling the expertise of the people in the room.

Details: The event is from 6 to 8 pm on Tuesday, October 8, at Lilie Lab (Rice University).Learn more.

October 9 — Founders Bootcamp: A Roadmap For Your Startup

JLabs is sitting down with local seasoned investors and entrepreneurs to take a deep dive into key topics designed to equip you with a roadmap for elevating your startup, no matter what stage, into a great company and we'll be swapping war stories along the way.

Details: The event is from 11:30 am to 1 pm on Wednesday, October 9, at JLabs @ TMC (2450 Holcombe Blvd.). Learn more.

October 8-16 — Sesh Coworking

Houston's first female-focused coworking popup event is taking over the town with networking, growth opportunities, and more. Day passes start at $25.

Details: The event is from Tuesday, October 8, to Wednesday, October 16, at Sharespace (1120 Naylor St). Learn more.

October 10 — DataCon Houston

This annual data-focused event is a social and networking opportunity combined with educational programming for business technology.

Details: The event is from 8 am to 8 pm on Thursday, October 10, at TopGolf (1030 Memorial Brook Boulevard). Learn more.

October 17 — Lunch & Learn: CPRIT Information Session


Join the CPRIT team at JLABS to learn about CPRIT's grant funding opportunities available to companies that are developing cancer-focused therapeutics, diagnostics/devices, tools and other non-traditional oncology products.

Details: The event is from 11:30 am to 1 pm on Thursday, October 17, at JLabs @ TMC (2450 Holcombe Blvd.). Learn more.

October 17 — Ignite Healthcare's Annual Fire Pitch Event

The Ignite Healthcare Network Fire Pitch Competition is held each year to encourage innovation in emerging women-led healthcare companies. The program provides an opportunity for women entrepreneurs to engage with advisors, potential customers, and investors to accelerate and refine the growth of their companies.

Details: The event is from 5 to 8:30 pm on Thursday, October 17, at JLabs @ TMC (2450 Holcombe Blvd.) Learn more.

October 17 — JLABS x UH: Startup Pains: From Academia to Startup (Med Device)

JLABS and the University of Houston Technology Bridge present a special installment of Startup Pains, a monthly talk given by entrepreneurs who share their journey of launching a company and overcoming unanticipated obstacles in order to find success in their industry.

Details: The event is from 5 to 7 pm on Thursday, October 17, at UH Technology Bridge, Building 4, Floor 2 (5000 Gulf Freewa7).

October 24 — Central Houston's Annual Innovatech Meeting

This year's program advances the conversation on how not only build, but sustain and support successful and robust innovation ecosystems. Attending the event will be a group of nationally known experts in the fields of placemaking, startup incubators, venture capital and entrepreneurship, and guest speakers will include Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Harris Country Judge Lina Hidalgo, Central Houston's President Bob Eury, and Central Houston's Board Chair, Scott Prochazaka, who is the president and CEO of CenterPoint Energy, will inaugurate the meeting.

Details: The event is from 11:30 am to 1 pm on Thursday, October 24, at Lanier Grand Ballroom at the Hilton Americas (1600 Lamar St.). Learn more.

October 24 — The Cannon Grand Opening

The Cannon, an entrepreneurial hub in West Houston, is celebrating its new digs. Join the party to learn about coworking at The Cannon, to network with Houston's innovation ecosystem, and more. Note: This event was pushed back due to Tropical Storm Imelda's flooding across Houston.

Details: The event is from 4 to 9 pm on Thursday, October 24, at The Cannon (1336 Brittmoore Road). Invite only.

October 27 — Implicit Bias Workshop

Impact Hub Houston and The Cannon believe that equitable organizations and equitable opportunities stem from a community of equity-focused leaders, but that is a mindset that must be developed. Through this workshop, participants will develop a shared language around diversity, equity, and inclusion, and understand the importance of these concepts when creating changing and lasting impact.

Details: The event is from 1 to 5 pm on Sunday, October 27, at The Cannon (1336 Brittmoore Road). Learn more.

October 29 — Houston Startup Happy Hour

Mix and mingle with the city's local entrepreneurs, investors, and more. The event is free to attend, but space is limited. Happy hour specials are available all night for attendees.

Details: The event is from 6 to 9 pm on Tuesday, October 29, at Poitin Bar and Kitchen (2313 Edwards Street). Learn more.

October 31 — State of Texas Medical Center

This luncheon focuses on TMC's role in advancing life sciences. Home to the brightest minds in medicine, TMC nurtures cross-institutional collaboration, creativity and innovation. Houston is not only recognized as a global leader in health care delivery and research, but also as an emerging center for biotech commercialization.

Details: The event is from 10:30 am to 1:30 pm on Thursday, October 31, at Marriott Marquis (1777 Walker Street). Learn more.

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Houston bakery startup dishes out healthy, low-calorie treats

SWEET ON THESE SWEETS

A Houston bakery is helping Houstonians satisfy their sweet tooth and while also counting their calories. ChipMonk Baking, a local, mail-order bakery, has seen significant growth since the start of the coronavirus pandemic as people look for healthier snacks than what they might find in a typical grocery store.

Founded by David Downing and Jose Hernandez, ChipMonk makes cookies, brownie bites, and other snacks using monk fruit and allulose, a low-calorie (0.4 calories per gram) rare sugar that's found naturally in foods such as raisins, dried figs, and kiwi. Hernandez began developing ChipMonk's recipes to satisfy his taste for cookies after being diagnosed with type-2 diabetes.

"We've refined these recipes and now offer numerous different cookies, dry mixes, and brownie bites which all taste delicious and won't spike your blood sugar," Hernandez says in a statement. "While they're great for people with diabetes, Celiac disease, or those who follow a keto diet, anyone who tries them will enjoy the taste and texture."

Jose Hernandez and David Downing founded ChipMonk Bakery. Photo courtesy of ChipMonk Baking

ChipMonk offers all the usual flavors — white chocolate-macadamia, chocolate chip, lemon, snickerdoodle, etc. — as well as dry mixes for those who want to bake at home. Recently, the company introduced red velvet brownie bites that use gluten-free sunflower seed flower. All of these products, as well as sample boxes, are available via ChipMonk's website; the company does not have a brick-and-mortar storefront.

Based on samples sent to CultureMap, the cookies have a chewy, slightly under-baked texture and a mild sweetness that's similar in flavor and appearance to cookies without their low-carb credentials.

Business has grown steadily over the its first year, according to the company, which has it looking to move from a shared commercial kitchen into its own space. Slated to open this summer, the dedicated bakery would allow Downing and Hernandez to expand both their offerings and the number of people they employ.

"We've received extremely positive feedback from our customers who appreciate having delicious, low-carb treats to enjoy while at home during this difficult time," Downing says. "We're seeing more and more people order for themselves as well as sending our products to friends, relatives, and co-workers."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston experts give advice for startups seeking financial aid from the CARES Act

from the profesisonals

The United States Congress recently passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or the CARES Act, and it includes several initiatives that provide financial relief for startups and small businesses — but there are a few things these companies should know about the programs.

Houston Exponential hosted a virtual panel with Carolyn Rodz, CEO of Alice, and Aziz Gilani, managing director of Mercury Fund. They broke down some of the concerns with some of the most popular programs.

The Payroll Tax Deferral stipulation allows you to push back paying your payroll tax, which is 6.2 percent of payroll, Gilani says in the livestream. Companies will be required to pay back half that tax in a year's time and the other half in two year's time.

Small businesses can also apply for emergency Economic Injury Disaster Loans, or EIDL loans, that won't require the first payment for a full year. The interest rate is 3.75 percent for for-profit businesses and 2.75 percent for nonprofits with up to a 30-year term. Businesses could even submit to receive a $10,000 grant on their application.

Then, there's the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP.

"The PPP program is probably the most lucrative of the three programs for startups," says Gilani, "It's the one that has the largest financial impact."

To submit for PPP, business owners look at their last year's worth of payroll and utility expenses, then average out their monthly expenses, and multiply that by 2.5. Small businesses can submit for that amount or up to $10 million. If the loan is spent on their employees and utilities, it's turned into a grant and not required to be paid back. Gilani recommends checking with the SBA for the specific details, but notes that contract workers can't benefit from PPP and must submit individually for aid.

Regarding these programs, Rodz and Gilani shared some other advice as it pertains to Houston's small businesses and tech startups.

Apply ASAP

Banks are already overwhelmed with applications, and some have paused accepting new applications from some entities. Plus, you have no excuse, Rodz says, since the application is simple and can be completed in one sitting.

"Compared to what a normal government loan application looks like, it is light years better in terms of simplicity," says Rodz.

Go to your own bank

Banks are giving priority to existing customers, Rodz explains.

"Go talk to your banker, and really take the time," Rodz says. "They are prioritizing the clients they have relationships with."

There's a technical reason too, Gilani adds. It's easier for banks to submit for a pre-existing customer, and new customers require more paperwork.

Document everything

Currently, Gilani says, the way the program is working right now is it relies on good-faith self-certification of the business owner. The banks, based on approval, will just put the federal money into your bank account. However, there are people put in roles for this act that will come back to verify that everything was honest.

"Lying to the federal government about money they grant you is a felony that comes with jail time," Gilani says. "It's very important that — after all this craziness passes by and the government comes back to audit what happened — you have a lot of documentation in place in order to show that you were fulfilling your good-faith requirement of answering these questions honestly."

Gilani recommends keeping track of how you calculated your payroll, as well as being able to show the effect of the crisis is key. Then, after you receive the funds, you need to be able to show that you used the funds on your employees.

Consult a lawyer if you have questions on eligibility

There's been a lot of discussion on whether or not venture-backed startups qualify for PPP.

"One of the challenges of the program is that it is being administered by the Small Business Administration, which traditionally hasn't worked with venture-backed and angel-backed companies," Gilani says.

Usually, the SBA requires startups to indicate their employee count, which is not to exceed 500. However, if the company is venture-backed, the SBA requires the inclusion of all the employees of all the portfolio companies. Certain legislators have expressed that this wasn't the intention of the program and are working to provide solutions, Gilani explains, and he and Mercury Fund have been working with a legal team to find immediate work arounds.

There have been lots of lawyers who have been working really hard on trying to solve this problem," Aziz "If anything, we've now created the lawyer stimulus act in the amount of billable hours we've had trying to figure out this problem."

Gilani also recommends getting your lawyer to sign a document confirming that, especially if you are a venture-backed company, that you intended to adhere to the rules of the program.

Houston-founded startup launches new COVID-19-focused sanitizing services

keeping clean

A startup that provides concierge services — like cleaning and dog walking — to apartment renters has expanded its services to outside the apartment units to help multifamily properties with sanitization and disinfection services to protect their communities from COVID-19.

Austin-based Spruce, which was founded in Houston in 2016 and still has an office locally, has a new suite of services for disinfecting common areas — like leasing offices, hallways, mail rooms, etc. — using EPA-compliant chemicals.

"Now, more than ever, it is critical for apartment communities to make sure their common areas are regularly decontaminated and disinfected to help slow the spread of the coronavirus and to prevent as many infections as possible," says Ben Johnson, founder and CEO of Spruce, in a statement.

The services include a weekly disinfectant of high-touch spots — like door handles and elevator buttons — as well as a weekly comprehensive cleaning that involves mopping, surface cleaning, and vacuuming. The startup also offers a bimonthly fogging service that can completely cover both indoor and outdoor areas with disinfectant. This solution can protect surfaces for months, according to the news release.

"This is an unprecedented public health crisis, and we worked closely with our clients to determine the biggest need and hope these services will give apartment communities one more weapon to use in the fight against COVID-19 and will help give both operators and their residents peace of mind," Johnson continues in the release.

Spruce still offers its usual suite of services for individual apartment units such as daily chores and housekeeping and pet care, but extra precautions have been added since the coronavirus outbreak. The service providers are required to go through temperature checks before entering the properties. They also wear gloves, changing them out between units, and are incorporating paper products when able.

Since its founding, Spruce, which used to be called Apartment Butler, has expanded throughout the state and into South Florida, Denver, and Salt Lake City. Spruce has raised over $6 million in venture capital, per Crunchbase data, and that includes funds from Houston institutions like Mercury Fund, the Houston Angel Network, and Fitz Gate Ventures, as well as Austin-based Capital Factory.