In honor of National Entrepreneurship Month, let's look at the impact of small businesses and tips on recruiting. Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash

As November marks National Entrepreneurship Month and Small Business Saturday awaits Nov. 25, it is the perfect time to acknowledge and celebrate the contributions of small businesses to the U.S. economy.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, small businesses with 500 or fewer employees have accounted for two thirds of employment growth in the past quarter century. Further research from the Small Business Administration shows Texas alone is home to 3.1 million small businesses, making up 99.8 percent of Texas businesses overall and 44.5 percent of Texas employees.

The numbers are particularly impressive considering the unique business challenges entrepreneurs and small businesses have faced. In a tight labor market, competition for talent remains fierce, and small businesses and startups especially must rely on recruiting strong candidates to generate results. Yet entrepreneurs are often passionately focused on their product or service, which can obscure the finer details of their people management strategy.

Fortunately, there is a way for entrepreneurs to succeed both as business and people leaders. By providing learning and development opportunities, competitive compensation plans and an exceptional workplace culture, they can create an engaged workforce that shares their vision that can be competitive and even win the fight for top talent.

Learning and development opportunities

Especially for a small business, ongoing professional learning and development (L&D) is essential for teams to stay competitive. A robust L&D program also expands the talent pool by creating the possibility of hiring promising candidates who need to acquire additional skills for the role. L&D opportunities can also improve retention. According to 2022 research from McKinsey, lack of career development and advancement opportunities is one of the biggest factors driving employee attrition.

Leaders should assess the needs of their teams to determine the most important areas for L&D. These areas should help employees to develop core competencies necessary for business success, such as teamwork, problem solving and leadership. Offering a variety of options is best practice so employees can develop a wide range of skills, as is leveraging learning opportunities that exist through the normal course of work, like job shadowing and cross training. Tapping into existing experience and knowledge via in-house talent is another resource that can help promote learning and development through mentoring and collaboration.

Compensation and benefits

Working at a small business or startup offers many benefits to professionals in search of a fast-paced environment. However, compensation remains a critical piece of the puzzle for entrepreneurs who want to recruit and retain top talent. A 2022 survey from LinkedIn revealed 89 percent of employees said salary range was the most helpful element in a job description when deciding whether to apply.

While businesses need not disclose their salary bands in a job application, except as required by law, competitive compensation is an important factor for successful recruitment. Small businesses should research the market rate for each position in their organization and conduct a pay audit to understand whether current employees are being compensated fairly. Organizations with positive results should consider mentioning “competitive compensation and benefits package” in job ads or on their website.

For leaders who discover their pay is noncompetitive in their industry, it may be time to reevaluate budgets and create a plan to align salaries with the market averages. Salary growth does not need to happen overnight but can be a part of the bigger picture of recruiting and retaining talent. Leaders can also communicate the total compensation when factoring in the overall value of employer contributions provided in addition to salary, including things like bonuses, paid benefits and 401k contributions, wellness perks, etc.

Organizational culture

Company culture is a foundational element to recruiting and retaining top-tier talent. Research from Gallup found employees who feel connected to their organization's culture are 55 percent less likely to watch for job openings or actively seek out a new role.

As many founders know well, tight-knit teams can work with greater agility than larger organizations. However, on a cultural level, small business and startups face unique culture challenges due to their size. Small organizations’ culture is heavily influenced by the behaviors of leaders, who are highly visible to their employees. When conflicts arise between two employees, the entire team may be drawn in. Employees can also feel under scrutiny if micromanagement is experienced in their workplace.

To build a strong culture, leaders need to have open conversations and gather feedback, including through anonymous survey data. On a small team, the anonymity of company culture surveys becomes even more critical. Employees may feel concerned that management will easily recognize their voice, so survey results should be handled with the utmost discretion and accessible only to essential personnel. When sharing results publicly, leaders should withhold any specific comments or responses in favor of broader statistics about the entire group or identified patterns in the feedback. It is important for leaders to focus on the learnings and awareness the feedback can offer, as opposed to spending time wondering or trying to identify who said what. Even well intended interest around the source of feedback can lead to feelings of breached trust or, in extreme cases, instances of retaliation.

Trust is an essential component, and these steps will help employees in a small business feel comfortable sharing their honest thoughts. Provided management provides open communication and acts on employee survey feedback, employees will also feel heard and that their employer truly cares for their wellbeing.

This month, entrepreneurs across the country should take a moment from their busy schedules to celebrate their successes. National Entrepreneurship Month is an opportunity to recognize the importance of small businesses to the economy. It is also a chance to strengthen small businesses and bolster their ability to compete for talent through building a robust culture and supporting employees.

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Karen Leal is performance specialist with Houston-based Insperity, a provider of human resources offering a suite of scalable HR solutions available in the marketplace.

A new program launched by two UH-based organizations will help early-stage startups commercialize, apply for grants, and more. Photo via UH.edu

University of Houston launches new collaborative program for startups in Houston, Gulf Coast Region

ready to grow

Two University of Houston organizations have partnered up to further support early-stage startups in the Gulf Coast Region.

The university announced this month that its UH Technology Bridge and the UH Texas Gulf Coast Small Business Development Center are now accepting applications for a new, collaborative program that will help innovators and entrepreneurs develop a pitch or commercialization plan. The program will also guide participants in applying for Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants and other investments.

Applications are open to those with the university and across the region.

"We are excited to partner with the University of Houston Technology Bridge to provide this valuable support to early-tech startups in the Texas Gulf Coast region," Steven Lawrence, director of the UH Texas Gulf Coast SBDC Network, says in a statement. "Our program is designed to help innovators take their ideas to the next level and prepare for success in the marketplace."

"Our goal is to help innovators turn their ideas into successful businesses, and this partnership will help us achieve that goal," Tanu Chatterji, Associate Director of Startup Development at UH, echoes in the news release.

The UH Texas Gulf Coast SBDC Network is one of 14 SBDCs in the Texas Gulf Coast Region that's part of UH's C.T. Bauer College of Business and funded in part by the U.S. Small Business Administration. The centers provide no-cost and affordable business training and advising.

The UH Tech Bridge focuses on providing research and development space to UH-affiliated startups and entrepreneurs. The 15-building complex and its 31,000 square feet of incubator space houses more than 20 small companies and startups that provide internship and learning opportunities for UH students, along with several federally funded research centers and institutes.

Earlier this year, the Tech Bridge received a $2.875 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The grant is slated to benefit the UH Industry & International Innovation Hub and will establish The Deck Innovation & Coworking Center.

Ramanan Krishnamoorti, the vice president of energy and innovation at the University of Houston who oversees the UH Technology Bridge, spoke with the Houston Innovators Podcast earlier this summer about UH's plans to build a central campus hub for innovation and the need to encourage more innovation and entrepreneurship.
Check out these conferences, pitch competitions, networking, and more in the month of September. Photo via Getty Images

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

Where to be

As temperatures begin to cool — hopefully, the city's business community is heating up with another month of networking and conference events. Here's a rundown of what all to throw on your calendar for September when it comes to innovation-related events.

This article will be updated as more business and tech events are announced.

September 10 — Enventure BaseCamp - Special Edition Life Science Innovation Bootcamp

We invite all those interested in life science innovation to our monthly BaseCamp! Our community-driven series returns for a special edition Bootcamp! We are breaking down key concepts, start-up case studies, and more! Join us for a morning of learning, networking, and all things science and business.

The event is Saturday, Sept. 10, 10 am to 1 pm, online. Click here to register.

September 12 — Venture Houston

Venture Houston is illuminating the power of venture capital by bringing together venture capitalists across the nation along with Houston’s most innovative corporates and high-growth startups.

The event is Monday, Sept. 12, 7:30 am to 6:30 pm, at the Ion. Click here to register.

September 14 — Access to Success Pitch Event

Underrepresented founders in climatetech face unique and growing challenges to accessing investors and fundraising in order to scale their companies and push forward the energy transition. How can startups bridge this gap, and where can investors who want to begin diversifying their portfolios find guidance?

The event is Wednesday, Sept. 14, 10 am to 2 pm, at Greentown Houston. Click here to register.

September 15 —19th annual Energy Tech Venture Forum

In its 19th year, the Energy Tech Venture Forum, hosted by The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, is the premier energy tech venture capital conference to connect energy innovators, investors, corporates, and the energy ecosystem. This year’s in-person forum will showcase promising energy tech companies that are boldly creating the future of energy, as well as a keynote and panel from industry leaders. You can also expect to see pitches from the inaugural class of the Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator.

The event is Thursday, Sept. 15, 8 am to 5 pm, at Rice University, McNair Hall. Click here to register.

September 15 — Hispanic Business Summit

Join the U.S. Small Business Administration, Houston Baptist University, Baker Ripley, and Impact Hub for the annual Hispanic Business Summit. The event will include networking, information about the impact of Latino entrepreneurship in Houston, small business success stories, and a panel of lenders for tips on accessing business capital. Attendees will also have an opportunity to network with other business owners and local business resources.

The event is Thursday, Sept. 15, 9 am to noon, at the Ion. Click here to register.

September 15 — Meet Knightsgate Ventures

UH Technology bridge will be virtually hosting Durg Kumar, co-founder and partner at Knightsgate Ventures investment fund.

The event is Thursday, Sept. 15, noon to 1 pm, online. Click here to register.

September 16-18 — Houston Hackathon 2022

To celebrate the National Civic Day of Hacking, we invite all people who want to make a difference in our region to join us at the annual Houston Hackathon! This is a “civic” hackathon, focused on ideating, designing, and developing both policy-based and tech solutions to some of Houston’s greatest challenges. Project stakeholders will be there from the city, local organizations, and Houston's impact community.

The event is Friday, Sept. 16, to Sunday, Sept. 18, at Impact Hub Houston. Click here to register.

September 20 — State of the Texas Medical Center

Home to the largest medical complex in the world and the brightest minds in medicine, the Texas Medical Center is a leading life sciences destination taking on the greatest medical challenges of our generation. Learn more about the exciting developments planned for the TMC campus and discover how innovation and industry partnerships are helping us accelerate the pace of discovery, ensuring we will continue to be the global leader in patient care.

The event is Tuesday, Sept. 20, 10:30 am to 1:30 pm, at the Hilton Americas. Click here to register.

September 20 — LatinTech Pitch 2022

LatinTech Pitch 2022 is presented in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month by the Consulate General of Israel to the Southwest along with the Ion, Latinx Startup Alliance, and Texas Business Association.

The event is Tuesday, Sept. 20, 6 to 8 pm, at the Ion. Click here to register.

September 21 — Here For It Live in Houston

Palette, a female-focused coworking space and community created to support women in careers and life, will host its popular video series live on the road at partner spaces from coast to coast. Palette founder and Here for It LIVE host, Catherine Hover, will interview the founding partner of Curate Capital, Carrie Colbert, at Sesh Coworking.

The event is Wednesday, Sept. 21, 6 to 8 pm, at Sesh Coworking. Click here to register.

September 28 — Halliburton Labs Finalists Pitch Day

This hybrid event allows for attendees to attend in person at The Ion Houston or virtually online for a full program of innovative ideas, discussion, and inspiration — all centered on the startup finalists who are advancing the future of clean energy. The event will include a lively keynote discussion with Jack Brouwer, director of the National Fuel Cell Research Center, University of California, Irvine, hosted by Walter Isaacson, Halliburton Labs Advisory Board Member and Leonard Lauder Professor of American History and Values at Tulane.

The event is Wednesday, Sept. 28, 9 am to 12:30 pm, at the Ion or online. Click here to register.

September 29 — The Inaugural State of Infrastructure

Join the Greater Houston Partnership for the inaugural State of Infrastructure where a panel of experts from varying industries will discuss the investments needed to build equitable, resilient communities.

The event is Thursday, Sept. 29, 10:30 am to 1:30 pm, at the Omni Houston. Click here to register.

September 29 — Fort Bend County Innovation Council Launch

Houston Exponential is excited to be expanding into Greater Houston innovator communities and invite you to join us for the official launch of the Fort Bend Innovation Council. In partnership with the Fort Bend EDC, The Cannon, Born Global, and Code Launch, we'd love to invite all ingenious innovators, enterprising educators, collaborative corporates, inquisitive investors, exhausted entrepreneurs, and all friends and family to help kick things off.

The event is Thursday, Sept. 29, 5 to 7 pm, at the HCSS Development Building. Click here to register.

September 29 — Low-Carbon Hydrogen Accelerator Final Showcase

Join Greentown Labs Houston to celebrate the culmination of the Low-Carbon Hydrogen Accelerator—the 2022 program in the Greentown Go Energize track—a-first-of-its-kind startup-corporate partnerships accelerator focused on advancing innovations that are key to enabling a low-carbon hydrogen economy in partnership with EPRI, Shell, the City of Houston, and the Urban Future Lab at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering.

The event is Thursday, Sept. 29, 5 to 8 pm, online. Click here to register.

September 29 — Sesh Coworking Ribbon Cutting

Sesh Coworking began as an organization in 2017 and introduced a brick and mortar space in 2019. In 2022, the organization expanded and moved to its new location!. Join the event to check out the space and celebrate Sesh Coworking.

The event is Thursday, Sept. 29, 6 to 8 pm, at Sesh Coworking. Click here to register.

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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.