Houston Voices

Tap into the local ecosystem with Alice’s guide for Houston business owners

A one-stop shop for startup owners is now at your fingertips. Getty Images

Small business ownership is on the rise, particularly among diverse founders: women, people of color, immigrants, the differently-abled, people identifying as LGBTQ+ and veterans. These groups are starting businesses at historically high rates, and, in fact, women of color are entering entrepreneurship at higher rates than any other demographic. In the near future, entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds will represent the "new majority" of business owners.

While the reason for new business creation varies - be it out of necessity, ingenuity or opportunity - the reality for some small business owners is that their ideas never fully make it off the ground, or their businesses stall in scale due to inequitable access to resources, opportunities and networks required for growth.

Alice is working to change that.

Through thousands of hours of research, underrepresented and underestimated founders told Carolyn Rodz and her team that access to resources and opportunities was their number one barrier to success. It was then that Rodz realized technology could help solve this problem with machine learning that can help entrepreneurs from all backgrounds find the right path and connect to the right resources to start and grow their businesses. In May 2017, Alice became the first AI platform in the world dedicated to helping business owners achieve their goals through personalized and free matchmaking, based on their unique profile, interests and objectives.

"At Alice, we want to make sure every business owner has what they need, and it shouldn't matter where they come from or who they know. It's not enough to even the playing field – we want to create a whole new one," said Rodz, a Latina and three-time entrepreneur. "One of the ways we are doing that is by creating a digital hub of local resources and events, so that all business owners have access to support in their communities, from the startup world to nonprofits, like Baker Ripley and Lift Fund, to investors and lenders."

Alice's Houston Guide for Business Owners is a virtual ecosystem of real-time, real-life connections to local resources, opportunities, organizations, networks, education programs and events designed to support business development and entrepreneurial talent. The guide is kept up-to-date with machine learning algorithms, an in-house curation team and crowdsourced recommendations from the community.

Are you new to the area and looking for a work home? Alice can direct you to over 25 coworking spaces in Space City. Wondering where you can learn to code (or connect with a coder to build that app you've been dreaming about)? Alice can point you to programs like DigitalCrafts Coding Bootcamp and the Flatiron School. Not sure what business license to apply for or how to capitalize on a new sales funnel? The Houston Office of Business Opportunity, Houston SCORE, or the Women's Business Enterprise Alliance may be just what you need.

But just how does Alice do it? Alice's intelligence becomes predictive overtime in order to reduce small business fail rates. By utilizing algorithms that drive founders to relevant resources based on unique personal and company profiles (versus a curated search function), Alice becomes more personalized (and "intelligent") the more the user engages with her.

"We like to think of Alice as the business owner's sidekick. She's there night and day to help entrepreneurs build their companies, solve problems and connect with people, places and knowledge across the digital and real-life ecosystem," added Rodz.

You can access the Guide for Houston Business Owners (and 15 other city guides) on Alice at https://helloalice.com/cities/houston. And if you have a local resource, opportunity or event to recommend, you can submit your suggestion here.

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This is content from our partner, Alice.

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Building Houston

 
 

After working with thousands of interns, Allie Danziger of Ampersand Professionals says she's now got a product to upskill and train new hires for employers. Photo courtesy of Ampersand

After seeing success with her internship training and matchmaking platform, Allie Danziger, founder and CEO of Ampersand Professionals, has expanded the concept to include a new hire training service that allows employers to better optimize the onboarding process and have a well-trained new staff member from day one.

In just over a year, Ampersand has worked with over 7,000 professionals through its original concept of upskilling and matching young professionals to internship programs. A few months ago, Danziger and her team expanded to include career development training for students first entering the workforce with the City of Houston's Hire Houston Youth program. Danziger says it was developing out the platform for this program that proved there was a need for this type of training.

"While we have focused on matching professionals with businesses for paid internships, we recognized a further gap with employers that have their own recruiting/talent acquisition teams, or just their own preferred way of bringing on entry-level talent, and didn’t have a need for our matching platform," Danziger tells InnovationMap. "But, they recognized the benefit of our proven training platform that pre-vets and de-risks their hires, and still wanted access to the training for their own hires."

The new program has evolved from training interns to new hires, so parts of the program that focuses on interviewing or applying for a job have been removed. Instead, the 8.5 hours of training focuses on networking, best practices for working with a manager and team, performance reviews, common software training, and more.

Danziger says usually new hires need the most experienced mentor or manager, but they don't usually get that support — especially when it comes to businesses that don't have their own built-out mentorship or training program.

"Ampersand’s new training product fills that gap — it gives employers of any size any easy solution to provide basic job readiness training to employees, access to our team of dedicated coaches, and a detailed report at the end of their training summarizing how their new hire did in the training and any trends recognized and tips for managing this employee based on what the platform uncovered," she says. "Businesses can also sign up for additional coaching sessions and customize training materials, as an add-on if interested."

The program costs the employer $100 per new employee, and checkout online takes less than a minute. Through both this program and the original internship program, Ampersand is constantly evolving its training content.

"These professionals are going through the same training experience that we have proven out over the last year, and we are constantly adding to based on data we see in the user experience," Danziger says.

Danziger recently joined the Houston Innovators Podcast discuss some of the benchmarks she's met with Ampersand, as well as the importance of investing in Gen Z hires. Listen to that episode below.


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