houston voices

Did the pandemic slowdown innovation in Houston? Maybe not as much as you'd expect

Let's look at the pace of innovation in Houston over the past couple of years. Graphic byMiguel Tovar/University of Houston

When the world came to a halt in 2020 due to COVID-19, innovation moved forward as normal day to day operations went virtual. Small business incubators like the University of Houston Technology Bridge, The Cannon and The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, have found that, even during a lockdown, new innovations and leading-edge technologies have become easier to create.

“Hardship always leads to innovation. People have to get scrappy and creative. There’s always a lot of good that comes from the bad, ” founder and president of The Cannon, Lawson Gow, said.

Incubators coping with lockdown

Small business incubators provide a wide variety of crucial resources that startups, entrepreneurs, investors and corporate innovators need to succeed.

What did these incubators do to continue to help push their communities toward success when the lockdown went into effect?

The very first thing The Cannon did was set up a 24-hour hotline that businesses could call if they needed help with anything.

“The Cannon Emergency Response Team emerged from these efforts and was on the front lines of doing whatever we could to help people survive and get back on track,” Gow said.

He also said that it was hard to see hundreds of businesses struggling at the beginning of the pandemic. Kerri Smith, the associate managing director of The Rice Alliance said, as an organization built on forging connections that accelerate startup success, The Rice Alliance knew that staying afloat and continuing to offer their programs were crucial aspects of their important work.

“Within a matter of weeks, we organized and hosted our first virtual pitch event for startups innovating in the energy sector. Originally slated to be held at the Offshore Technology Conference but then cancelled, The Rice Alliance Energy Tech Venture Day portion of the OTC event provided a great platform for our startups to get exposure,” Smith said.

The University of Houston Technology Bridge began to connect businesses to the Small Business Development Center, where they could get help with all their preliminary operational tasks. Also, the SBDC helped businesses access the COVID-related funding that the government was offering.

“That seemed to help some of them get through some of the challenging times early on in the pandemic, ” said Chris Taylor, executive director of the UH Office of Technology Transfer and Innovation.

Growing digitally

After the lockdown went into effect, just about everything went virtual. At this point social distancing wasn’t even an option unless you were going to the doctor’s office or the grocery store.

As organizations that were made to help and support small businesses, it was important that incubators remained connected to their communities and communicate with them even in a virtual world.

“We provided intentional and comprehensive updates on resources, events and community opportunities through email outreach and social media, and featured success stories of entrepreneurs who participated in our programs,” Smith said.

Through The Cannon’s CERT program, they stayed extremely connected to their community and even built an entire digital platform called Cannon Connect that served and continues to serve their virtual community.

“It’s our own internal LinkedIn for Cannon members inside and outside Cannon spaces. It has educational curriculum, a job board, an equity crowdfunding site, and much more,” Gow said.

Gow said Cannon Connect will be the “lasting legacy of the COVID era.”

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Cory Thaxton, the author of this piece, is the communications coordinator for The Division of Research.

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Building Houston

 
 

Asif and Julie Lynn Dakri, Khaleda and Musa Dakri, and Faizel Dakri have gifted $4M to UH. Photo courtesy of the Dakri family/University of Houston

A prominent Houston family has just made a sizable investment in the University of Houston’s in the C. T. Bauer College of Business. The Dakri family has pledged $4 million in support of the Bauer College’s new Center for Economic Inclusion, which which aims to develop minority entrepreneurship and business development.

With the donation, the CEI will now be known as the Musa and Khaleda Dakri Center for Economic Inclusion, according to a press release.

Specifically, this $4 million gift will establish an endowed chair to support the center’s chair/director position and an endowed professorship to expand the institute’s research priorities, which includes research on small business entrepreneurship. Monies also will also support research costs and graduate research fellowships for students, per UH.

“The Dakri family is passionate about the betterment of Houston, generously offering their time and resources to truly make an impact in the community,” said Renu Khator, University of Houston president, in a statement. “With this support for our new Center for Economic Inclusion, entrepreneurs from all communities, including those in most need of investment, will get access to education, expertise and training needed to build businesses and transform lives.”

Musa and Khaleda Dakri, who hail from India, are longtime Houston residents and have been married for 54 years. Musa has been the chairman of Wallis Bank for more than 30 years. His sons Asif and Faizel serve as Wallis Bank’s chief executive officer and chief information officer, respectively.

Besides being longtime UH supporters, the Dakri family has long worked for the betterment of the African American, Mexican American, and South Asian communities. Of note, an endowment in UH’s Center for Mexican American, and Latino/a Studies named for Musa and Khaleda provides support for student scholarships, research, and more.

As the only higher education center of its kind in the US, the Center for Economic Inclusion aims to combine experiential education, academic research, and real-world expertise to train students in human-centered skills, while economically empowering under-resourced entrepreneurs.

At the center’s launch, keynote speaker Henry Cisneros, former secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), called UH’s model for training entrepr“eneurs and upskilling students the best he has ever seen.

Our newly established Center for Economic Inclusion will empower aspiring entrepreneurs, who are mostly women and people of color, to chase their dreams of founding a successful new business, just as the Dakri family has done successfully for decades,” said Paul A. Pavlou, dean of the C. T. Bauer College of Business, in a statement. “Our gratitude to the Dakri family is only matched by our eagerness to get to work and train the next generation of diverse entrepreneurs.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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