Tomorrow, August 21, is World Entrepreneurs' Day, and it comes during a trying time for entrepreneurs everywhere. Here are three tips for business leaders operating during the pandemic. Photo via Getty Images

As company leaders approach the fourth quarter of 2020 and plan for 2021, many accept the fact that Houston's business landscape may look a bit different moving forward. Instead of the pandemic becoming a paralyzing force, new and eager business owners are committed to incorporating creative solutions.

These innovators have found ways to focus efforts to better serve customers in the transitioning economic landscape. The shift opens the door to new opportunity, and while the business outlook continues to evolve, some argue that times of crisis provide just as much, if not more, opportunity for entrepreneurs to find their footing. The past has shown that organizations can grow when faced with adversity and their resiliency in the earliest stages helps create a sturdy foundation.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, twenty percent of small businesses fail within the first year, and by the tenth year, only about a third of businesses have survived. While these numbers may be intimidating to a new business owner, the measurements have proven consistent over time. This means success rates are less dependent upon the state of the economy and more dependent upon the creativity and drive of the entrepreneur leading the efforts.

Times of uncertainty and economic change bring focus to new obstacles, expose weaknesses in business structure and highlight the need for innovation. Strategic entrepreneurs can capitalize on these opportunities by introducing solutions that respond to the current reality consumers face. In honor of World Entrepreneurs' Day on August 21, below are steps to consider when launching a business during a time of crisis.

Plan for current conditions

It is always important for new business owners to plan for the future and be flexible enough to adjust them to the current environment. If a five-year plan is based on the premise of business returning to its pre-COVID-19 scale, the entrepreneur will likely face substantial challenges in the future.

Business plans should incorporate solutions to areas of weakness that have been brought to light by recent events. It may also be helpful to seek customer feedback early in the company's lifecycle to ensure audience opinion serves as a cornerstone in ongoing strategic development. Understanding if the business's premise will drive value and benefit consumers, even in difficult times, can help the organization prepare for future crises.

Identify gaps

In many ways, the pandemic identified business strategies that may no longer be relevant and provided insight into the economy's future. New entrepreneurs hold the advantage of witnessing what worked, what did not and applying the new knowledge to their plan.

The importance of flexibility, adaptable services, a strong digital brand presence and solid SEO practices all proved critical to a business's ability to remain both relevant and successful this year. When starting a company in times of economic uncertainty, identifying ways to bridge gaps and capitalize on windows of opportunity can help establish a competitive edge early on.

Seek out support

It is no surprise that, especially in the early stages, running a startup may be overwhelming. It is key for small business owners to feel comfortable asking for help and to seek out support early on. Consider joining business networks and local industry alliances to learn from others. Particularly in times of crisis and uncertainty, it can be beneficial to learn from seasoned professionals, as well as peers, and to welcome support from others who have found success during trying times.

Business support can be advantageous as well. While outsourcing may appear costly, the value of industry experts to assist with marketing strategy development, human resources and benefits, or financial management can be highly beneficial, especially in the development phase.

The early stages of an organization can make or break the success of a company, and though many questions surround the state of business during times of uncertainty, the entrepreneurial opportunity is still available for small business growth and success.

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Jill Chapman is a senior performance consultant with Houston-based Insperity, a leading provider of human resources and business performance solutions.

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Health tech startup launches Houston study improve stroke patients recovery

now enrolling

A Houston-born company is enrolling patients in a study to test the efficacy of nerve stimulation to improve outcomes for stroke survivors.

Dr. Kirt Gill and Joe Upchurch founded NeuraStasis in 2021 as part of the TMC Biodesign fellowship program.

“The idea for the company manifested during that year because both Joe and I had experiences with stroke survivors in our own lives,” Gill tells InnovationMap. It began for Gill when his former college roommate had a stroke in his twenties.

“It’s a very unpredictable, sudden disease with ramifications not just for my best friend but for everyone in his life. I saw what it did to his family and caregivers and it's one of those things that doesn't have as many solutions for people to continue recovery and to prevent damage and that's an area that I wanted to focus myself on in my career,” Gill explains.

Gill and Upchurch arrived at the trigeminal and vagus nerves as a potential key to helping stroke patients. Gill says that there is a growing amount of academic literature that talks about the efficacy of stimulating those nerves. The co-founders met Dr. Sean Savitz, the director of the UTHealth Institute for Stroke and Cerebrovascular Diseases, during their fellowship. He is now their principal investigator for their clinical feasibility study, located at his facility.

The treatment is targeted for patients who have suffered an ischemic stroke, meaning that it’s caused by a blockage of blood flow to the brain.

“Rehabilitation after a stroke is intended to help the brain develop new networks to compensate for permanently damaged areas,” Gill says. “But the recovery process typically slows to essentially a standstill or plateau by three to six months after that stroke. The result is that the majority of stroke survivors, around 7.6 million in the US alone, live with a form of disability that prevents complete independence afterwards.”

NeuraStasis’ technology is intended to help patients who are past that window. They accomplish that with a non-invasive brain-stimulation device that targets the trigeminal and vagus nerves.

“Think of it kind of like a wearable headset that enables stimulation to be delivered, paired to survivors going through rehabilitation action. So the goal here is to help reinforce and rewire networks as they're performing specific tasks that they're looking to improve upon,” Gill explains.

The study, which hopes to enroll around 25 subjects, is intended to help people with residual arm and hand deficits six months or more after their ischemic stroke. The patients enrolled will receive nerve stimulation three times a week for six weeks. It’s in this window that Gill says he hopes to see meaningful improvement in patients’ upper extremity deficits.

Though NeuraStasis currently boasts just its two co-founders as full-time employees, the company is seeing healthy growth. It was selected for a $1.1 million award from the National Institutes of Health through its Blueprint MedTech program. The award was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The funding furthers NeuraStasis’ work for two years, and supports product development for work on acute stroke and for another product that will aid in emergency situations.

Gill says that he believes “Houston has been tailor-made for medical healthcare-focused innovation.”

NeuraStasis, he continues, has benefited greatly from its advisors and mentors from throughout the TMC, as well as the engineering talent from Rice, University of Houston and Texas A&M. And the entrepreneur says that he hopes that Houston will benefit as much from NeuraStasis’ technology as the company has from its hometown.

“I know that there are people within the community that could benefit from our device,” he says.

Texas Space Commission launches, Houston execs named to leadership

future of space

Governor Greg Abbott announced the Texas Space Commission, naming its inaugural board of directors and Texas Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium Executive Committee.

The announcement came at NASA's Johnson Space Center, and the governor was joined by Speaker Dade Phelan, Representative Greg Bonnen, Representative Dennis Paul, NASA's Johnson Space Center Director Vanessa Wyche, and various aerospace industry leaders.

According to a news release, the Texas Space Commission will aim to strengthen commercial, civil, and military aerospace activity by promoting innovation in space exploration and commercial aerospace opportunities, which will include the integration of space, aeronautics, and aviation industries as part of the Texas economy.

The Commission will be governed by a nine-member board of directors. The board will also administer the legislatively created Space Exploration and Aeronautics Research Fund to provide grants to eligible entities.

“Texas is home to trailblazers and innovators, and we have a rich history of traversing the final frontier: space,” Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick says in a news release. “Texas is and will continue to be the epicenter for the space industry across the globe, and I have total confidence that my appointees to the Texas Space Commission Board of Directors and the Texas Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium Executive Committee will ensure the Texas space industry remains an international powerhouse for cutting-edge space innovation.”

TARSEC will independently identify research opportunities that will assist the state’s position in aeronautics research and development, astronautics, space commercialization, and space flight infrastructure. It also plans to fuel the integration of space, aeronautics, astronautics, and aviation industries into the Texas economy. TARSEC will be governed by an executive committee and will be composed of representatives of each higher education institution in the state.

“Since its very inception, NASA’s Johnson Space Center has been home to manned spaceflight, propelling Texas as the national leader in the U.S. space program,” Abbott says during the announcement. “It was at Rice University where President John F. Kennedy announced that the U.S. would put a man on the moon—not because it was easy, but because it was hard.

"Now, with the Texas Space Commission, our great state will have a group that is responsible for dreaming and achieving the next generation of human exploration in space," he continues. "Texas is the launchpad for Mars, innovating the technology that will colonize humanity’s first new planet. As we look into the future of space, one thing is clear: those who reach for the stars do so from the great state of Texas. I look forward to working with the Texas Space Commission, and I thank the Texas Legislature for partnering with industry and higher education institutions to secure the future of Texas' robust space industry."

The Houston-area board of directors appointees included:

  • Gwen Griffin, chief executive officer of the Griffin Communications Group
  • John Shannon, vice president of Exploration Systems at the Boeing Company
  • Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby, co-founder and CEO of Venus Aerospace
  • Kirk Shireman, vice president of Lunar Exploration Campaigns at Lockheed Martin
  • Dr. Nancy Currie-Gregg, director of the Texas A&M Space Institute

Additionally, a few Houstonians were named to the TARSEC committee, including:

  • Stephanie Murphy, CEO and executive chairman of Aegis Aerospace
  • Matt Ondler, president and former chief technology officer at Axiom Space
  • Jack “2fish” Fischer, vice president of production and operations at Intuitive Machines
  • Brian Freedman, president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership and vice chairman of Wellby Financial
  • David Alexander, professor of physics and astronomy and director of the Rice Space Institute at Rice University

To see the full list of appointed board and committee members, along with their extended bios, click here.