2 Houston universities partner with first small business accelerators

Houston has always been recognized as one of the most diverse cities in the country – but does that translate into fair funding opportunities for diverse founders? A panel at SXSW this year discussed whether or not Houston’s playing field is equal for people of color within the innovation ecosystem.

“People do business with who they know — and who they love,” said Felix Chevalier, co-founder of Urban Capital Network, when the panel was asked where the disconnect with funding from various founders lies. . “I think it comes down to a lack of exposure and a lack of connections.”

Chevalier was joined by Jesse Martinez of Resolved Ventures and VamosVentures and Denise Hamilton of WatchHerWork, who moderated the discussion, which was hosted at the Greater Houston Partnership’s Houston House on Sunday, March 13 at SXSW in Austin.

“We need to look at the pipeline — what the existing ecosystem looks like,” says Martinez, who leads the LatinX Alliance, an organization that is relocating its operations to Houston. “We have new funds, new diversified GPs and we have more investors – and we are developing talent. … We are making great progress, but we still need more of us to fund our various founders. “

Key to the equation, panelists agreed, is education and programming – both for potential investors, as UCN does with its hands-on support for its diverse investor base, and for founders of color. who might be more hesitant to dive in when starting a business.

“The way you start to dissolve that fear for people, for example, who may be in an entrepreneurial space but who may want to expand their entrepreneurial wings, is to just get involved in the ecosystem,” says Knight. “What ends up happening is you come across someone you know or someone who has the same talent as you originally did – all you have to do is immerse yourself in the environment.”

“The opportunities are there, but the onus is on those who are willing to put themselves in a position to meet people who are in the environments that are going to help facilitate whatever your goals are,” he continues.

Hamilton explained her fundraising experience as a black woman – investors didn’t want to bet on her. It’s a chicken-and-egg situation, she says, and the support of various founders in terms of programming and investors focused specifically on underserved communities will help break the cycle. It’s not about charity, it’s about fair opportunities.

“I don’t want charity — I don’t want an overabundance of kindness. Scaffold me like you scaffolded Mark Zuckerberg,” Hamilton says, citing Facebook as an example of a company that was supported in a way that it never had. “If you’re going to be in a nascent ecosystem, you need to have structures that explain why your pitch deck needs to be effective, why you need a team. the psychosocial aspect.

With Hamilton’s call for Houston’s development as an equitable tech ecosystem, the conversation has turned to whether or not Houston is ready to provide this support for startups and become the center of innovation. global that the city wants to be.

“We have to find our tribe. We have all the pieces,” says Martinez. “It’s going to take time, and we have to be very intentional. … It’s really about looking at Houston as a startup itself. How do we act as a team and bring in partners and investors to make it a thriving ecosystem on time.”

It takes commitment, Hamilton says, and it’s happening in the town of Bayou.

“It’s not all figured out right now – but there’s a commitment to figure it out,” she says. “It won’t be Silicon Valley overnight – it will never be Silicon Valley. Because it’s Houston.”

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