Oil and gas, make room for startups and small businesses—Houston’s entrepreneurial spirit is making a mark in the Lone Star state. While the traditional energy industry was once deemed King in Houston, recent events and economic shifts have helped push startups and entrepreneurs onto the forefront of the city’s business scene. In fact, the Kauffman Index for Entrepreneurial Activity ranked Houston a top city for entrepreneurial activity in 2012.
In a recent study commissioned by American Express Open, approximately 38% of the country’s businesses are now owned by women. So, how does Houston stack up? To gauge the city’s investment in women entrepreneurs, we put together a comprehensive list of resources for women in the area to leverage.
City Government & Nonprofit Resources
- The Women’s Resource of Greater Houston
Did you know that in 1990 less than five percent of philanthropic dollars were dedicated to women’s causes? Neither did we. With this knowledge, a group of professional women founded the Greater Houston Women’s Foundation in 1990, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization to help shift the dial in the right direction. The foundation was created around three pillars: to help women become economically self sufficient; encourage prevention and early intervention of problems affecting women and girls; and support programs that develop and improve life skills. In its early years, the foundation focused on issuing grants and commissioning research on topics of importance to women. However, in the early-2000s stakeholders decided to shift resources towards education courses and sponsoring research. With the change came the renaming of the foundation to the The Women’s Resource of Greater Houston. Today, it is a one-stop-shop for women entrepreneurs to gather information on finances, business, and more.
- Greater Houston Women’s Chamber of Commerce (GHWCC)
The GHWCC brings together leading women and men to help elevate women entrepreneurs in the Houston area. Chamber members are not only involved in the local business community, but are also encouraged to give back through volunteer programming. Membership levels and contribution levels vary, so be sure to contact the chamber at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about how your business can benefit and get involved.
- Women’s Business Enterprise Alliance (WBEA)
The WBEA serves as a third-party certifying organization for women-owned businesses in Houston. Founded in 1997 as an affiliate of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), the WBEA is the “largest third-party certifier of businesses owned, controlled, and operated by women in the United States.” Today, the alliance provides over 94 counties in South Texas with scholarships, mentorship, and networking opportunities to spark growth for women-led enterprises. To be eligible, businesses must be at least 51% owned by a woman. WBEA stands out due to its robust network of corporate sponsors, diverse programming, and dedicated mentors. With the mission “to be the leader in women’s business development,” we’re optimistic they are on the right track.
- The Women’s Institute of Houston
The Women’s Institute of Houston is a one-stop-shop for continuing education for women entrepreneurs. With a diverse roster of seminars, lectures, and hands-on classes, women can select from wide-ranging subjects like politics and current events, art history, literature, psychology, and computer education. The institute brings some of the best minds across industries together to speak at events such as their Cultural Studies, Sunday Lectures, and Lecture Luncheons series. Check out some upcoming lectures, or sign up for their upcoming talk, “Shattering the Glass Ceiling for Optimal Health & Well-being,” for $35.00. If continuing education is part of your business plan, the Women’s Institute of Houston is a great place to jumpstart your journey.
- Greater Houston Partnership Programs
The Greater Houston Partnership Programs boasts two programs specifically geared towards women: The Executive Women’s Partnership, a networking groups for senior executive women, and The Women’s Business Alliance, which offers professional development programs for women to leverage career advancement opportunities and build their peer network.
Network & Membership Organizations
- American Business Women’s Association (ABWA) – Houston Chapter
In the words of Dr. Melanie Brown, a member of ABWA, “leadership is not about personal gain and speeches, it is about vision and purpose empowering individuals to excel and achieve their aspirations.” With this in mind, the Houston Chapter of the ABWA brings women together across diverse occupations in order to elevate their personal and professional growth. The ABWA focuses on promoting participation among chapters and offering unique activities to members throughout the year. As a member, you will enjoy discounts to quarterly meetings and social events such as the annual Woman of the Year/ Top Ten Recognition Luncheon. Upcoming luncheons are slated for Friday June 23 and Saturday June 24. To reserve your spot (or to learn more) shoot an email over to email@example.com.
- Houston Area Professional Express Network (HAPEN)
HAPEN provides business training and educational resources for women, whether you’re starting your career or planning to launch your own business. As part of the ABWA umbrella (outlined above), leadership lies at the center of the association’s mission. In particular, what stands out about HAPEN is its Community Connections platform—an online community that brings women entrepreneurs together virtually. Aside from its increase networking potential, the online portal grants you access to curated professional development and continuing education resources. As a HAPEN member, you are also invited to monthly meetings (no fundraising or donation obligations involved) on the fourth Tuesday of each month at Hotel Indigo (5160 Hidalgo). Meetings cost $28 and include dinner with fellow women entrepreneurs. Don’t forget to reserve a spot beforehand!
- Women in Technology – Houston
Women In Technology is an online networking organization for women professionals in business and technology. With over sixty chapters, membership includes a variety of professionals, from freelance consultants to tech firm CEOs. WIT strikes a balance between offering local networking sessions and “global connectivity” through its online platform where women can network and learn from one another.
- Hispanic Women in Leadership
Hispanic Women in Leadership encourages and promotes the development and advancement of Hispanic women in the workplace. What started in 1988 as the first-ever Hispanic Women’s Conference has since grown into a robust network of over four-hundred professional women dedicated to “advocating [for] Hispanic women’s issues.” The group not only aims to develop leadership skills for members, but also promotes education and support for career advancement among Hispanic women.
- National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) — Houston
National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) was founded in 1975 and is a dues-based organization “representing the interests of all women entrepreneurs across all industries.” Despite their broad scope, their mission is pointed: to increase wealth creating capacity of members, drive effective change in working culture, build strategic relationships, and influence public policy in the professional space. In addition, under the NAWBO umbrella lies an educational arm, the NAWBO Institute for Entrepreneurial Development, a nonprofit that provides emerging and established women entrepreneurs opportunities for organizational consultation and development.
- Pink Petro
Based out of Houston, Pink Petro is a global business community created for women in energy. In addition to a robust career center and the annual HERWorld Energy Forum, members have exclusive access to learning and development offerings including live and on demand streaming sessions and various community events.
Accelerators and Incubators
- The Circular Board
The Circular Board is an accelerator program that aims to transform business aspirations into reality for women entrepreneurs. In a Houston Chronicle article, founders Carolyn Rodz and Elizabeth Gore explained that they were motivated to create a program to “help women avoid many trial-and-error mistakes and beat the odds that, by many measures, are stacked against them.” The accelerator helps prepare women for fundraising, pitching, and networking challenges. The Circular Board highlights “creating clarity of purpose, establishing strategic partnerships, and providing access to capital,” since these three areas are often challenging for women in the male-dominated startup space. The three-month virtual accelerator program culminates in Virtual Demo Day and women have continued support through world-class Alumni Circles and rotating peer advisory groups. If The Circular Board sounds like the right fit for your business you can apply here (or nominate a friend!).
- The University of Houston, RED Labs
RED Labs is The University of Houston’s startup accelerator, co-working space, and technology entrepreneurship program. The accelerator is supported by the Wolff Center of Entrepreneurship and works across University of Houston faculty, alumni, and students to turn tech aspirations into high growth ventures. Over the summer months, RED Labs accepts up to ten companies for a three-month program that provides access to free co-working space, some of the best minds in tech, and a personalized curriculum for their business. Over the past four years, RED Labs has helped launch over twenty companies.
- Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship
Founded in 2000, Rice Alliance has assisted more than one thousand tech start-ups. The alliance hosts an annual Business Plan Competition in which contestants compete for over $1 million in funding. Among former competitors, over one-hundred are still in business today—a huge testament to Rice Alliance’s ability to jump-start high growth businesses.
- Launch Effect
“When we work alone in the city, the odds are stacked against us. But when we pool our resources and work together, we can turn the tables,” is a mantra from one of Houston’s first live-in incubators, Launch Effect. Based in uptown Houston, members have access to workshops, classes, and hackathons at their fingertips. The idea is to free you of distractions and provide convenient home meals, cleaning services, and accommodation so that you can focus on getting your business off of the ground. Aside from the attractive (and tempting) perks, members have the opportunity to meet a roster of impressive entrepreneurs in the space.
- Station Houston
According to Founder & CEO of Station Houston, Rakesh Agrawal, “one of Houston’s greatest challenges is that people are spread out and don’t know one another. I see Station helping to solve this at scale.” With a mission of connecting entrepreneurs, Station Houston is an accelerator designed to empower startups through peer-to-peer sharing and collaboration. For early-stage ventures, having a strong support system and network can be critical to business success.
- Fruition Tech Labs
With a niche focus in “Life Impact Startups,” Fruition Tech Labs is an incubator that helps turn high-level visions into concrete businesses that will impact lives. Fruition Tech Labs has developed a “5 Steps to Fruition” process (Unlock, Explore, Plan, Build, Launch) to help entrepreneurs focus on their marketing strategy, internal operations, and launch plan.
Meetups, Events & Conferences
- City of Houston Hackathon
Houston’s annual civic hackathon tackles real problems that real people face in the community. Examples of previous challenges include traffic information, voter registration, or recycling programs. Participants have the opportunity to tinker with the latest technology, solve real problems, and take home a wide-range of prizes. RSVP soon for the 2017 Houston Hackathon taking place on Saturday May 20 and Sunday May 21.
- The Circular Summit
Hosted by The Circular Board (outlined earlier), The Circular Summit is an invitation-only event for women entrepreneurs with scalable and high-growth business ventures. In this two-day event, group members are joined by investors and experts to discuss how to take their businesses to the next level. Some of last year’s sessions included topics such as “Get Fearless: take your goals, tear them up and think bigger,” and “Get Funded: learn what it really takes to raise capital, and the effects on your personal finances.” Or, our personal favorite, “Get Strong: give ‘em hell.” The Summit has an impressive list of speakers each year from companies such as Dell, Johnson & Johnson, Bossygrl, The Pink Ceiling, and more.
- Startup Weekend
Over the course of three-days, Houston entrepreneurs come together for Startup Weekend as teams to tackle problems surrounding various themes (i.e. energy, ed-tech, healthcare). The event is a volunteer-run weekend that is committed to bringing entrepreneurship to everyone, regardless of background.
- Startup Grind
Startup Grind hosts industry-specific discussions and dinners with local startup CEOs on a monthly basis. If you’re nervous about getting pigeon-holed into talks about energy or tech, don’t worry. Startup Grind claims to be “industry-agnostic” and open to all. The upcoming May fireside chat could not be more fitting: “Women who Educate, Inspire, and Connect.” Learn more here.
A quick search on Meetup.com will reveal countless (and potentially overwhelming) options for women entrepreneurs to connect with others. We’d recommend checking out Houston’s Startup Demo Day, which brings local startups together to pitch their business ideas and share where they’re headed next. Feedback from other Meetup.com participants make it a fun and collaborative experience. For other listings specific to women entrepreneurs, click here.
- National Women’s Leadership Conference
Sponsored by the American Business Women’s Association, the National Women’s Leadership Conference is a four-day event that provides opportunities for women to network and learn from leading women in the working world. World-renowned authors, businesswomen, and speakers share insights and inspiration to help attendees achieve their personal and professional goals. This year’s conference is slated for October 11-14 in Lancaster, PA. Interested in attending? Register here.
- Houston Focus on Concerns for Women
HFCW organizes small gatherings of women across backgrounds to exchange “information and solutions” surrounding professional and business challenges. Founded over thirty years ago, HFCW monthly meetings are still going strong and provide a safe space for women to support one another.
Financing & Legal
- Bond Street
Small business loans for women can be tough to find. If you’re looking to open a new location, hire additional employees, refinance debt, cover operational costs, purchase equipment, or stock up on inventory, a term loan may be the answer. Bond Street offers term loans ranging from $10K–$1MM, with interest starting at 6% and terms from 1 to 3 years.
- Hands on Banking
Hands on Banking is an online learning center focused on educating anyone who wants to learn about managing finances. From tips on how to save up for your first home, to self-directed courses on improving your credit score, you can find articles under buckets such as: “Banking basics,” “Personal finance,” “Life events,” “Credit,” or “Your business.” For aspiring small business owners and entrepreneurs, we suggest “Your business” for tips on maximizing cash flow, following zoning rules, and more.
- Smart Start for Women Entrepreneurs
The GHWCC (outlined earlier) created the Smart Start Program which partners with financial institutions and investors to “provide opportunities to women entrepreneurs for business when conventional financing is not available for them.” Through the Chamber, women can obtain microloans and receive training to elevate their business visibility and gain access to capital.
- Mercury Fund
As an early-stage venture capital firm, Mercury Fund is very active in the Houston community. The fund focuses on entrepreneurs in the tech space, particularly SaaS, Cloud, Data Science, and AI platforms that make “industrial ecosystems” in Middle America more competitive.
- Houston Angel Network (HAN)
Ranked the #1 Most Active Angel Network in the country, HAN is also one of the oldest networks in the Houston area. Since its inception in the early 2000s, HAN has invested over $73M in more than two hundred deals. Members are paired with an investor committed to providing capital and early-stage coaching. Noteworthy: HAN is a non-profit that doesn’t charge fees to entrepreneurs. Instead, its revenue comes from membership fees and sponsorships.
Publications & Media
- Houston Woman Magazine
“Informing, inspiring, and connecting” are Houston Woman Magazine’s core tenets. The magazine provides resources for women entrepreneurs and highlights notable female leaders in the Houston area. Their directory is a valuable asset for women looking for industry-specific groups and organizations to get involved in.
- Houston Business Journal – Technology section
While the Houston Business Journal is not women entrepreneur-specific, it provides a good overview of up-and-coming business trends. Be sure to peruse their Technology section.
- That Video Mag Houston (TVM)
Similarly to the Houston Business Journal, TVM has a good pulse on business, tech, and startup trends in the Houston area.
- The Houston Chronicle
The Houston Chronicle is the main newspaper in Houston, covering sports, news, business, culture, and more. For those interested specifically in entrepreneurship and business, head to the business—don’t miss the small business section!—or technology section to read stories on local startups and more.