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Updated: April 1st, 2020
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. The Kauffman Index for Entrepreneurial Activity ranked Houston as 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 woman-owned and operated. 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.
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 stands on 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 first 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 to sponsor research. With the change came the renaming of the foundation to 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.
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 email@example.com to learn more about how your business can benefit and get involved.
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. 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 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 next talk. If continuing education is part of your business plan, the Women’s Institute of Houston is a great place to jumpstart your journey.
The Greater Houston Partnership Programs boasts two programs specifically geared towards women: The Executive Women’s Partnership, a networking group 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.
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 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 for quarterly meetings and social events such as the annual Woman of the Year/ Top Ten Recognition Luncheon. For more information please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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). Sessions cost $28 and include dinner with fellow women entrepreneurs. Don’t forget to reserve a spot beforehand!
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 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) 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 to increase the wealth-creating capacity of members, drive effective change in working culture, build strategic relationships, and influence public policy in the professional space. Also, 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.
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.
RED Labs is The University of Houston’s startup accelerator, co-working space, and technology entrepreneurship program. The accelerator, supported by the Wolff Center of Entrepreneurship and works across the 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.
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 massive testament to Rice Alliance’s ability to jump-start high growth businesses.
“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.
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 reliable support system and network can be critical to business success.
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.
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.
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 hosts industry-specific discussions and dinners with local startup CEOs every month. 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.
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 their next steps. Feedback from other Meetup.com participants make it a fun and collaborative experience. For additional listings specific to women entrepreneurs, click here.
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. Interested in attending? Register here.
HFCW organizes small gatherings of women across backgrounds to exchange “information and solutions” surrounding professional and business challenges. The HFCW, founded over thirty years ago, conducts monthly meetings and is still going strong to provide a safe space for women to support one another.
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. Funding Circle offers term loans with competitive interest rates and terms from 6 mo. to 5 years.
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.
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.
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.
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 get 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.
“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 join.
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.
Similarly to the Houston Business Journal, TVM has a good pulse on business, tech, and startup trends in the Houston area.
The Houston Chronicle is the leading newspaper in Houston, covering sports, news, business, culture, and more. For those interested specifically in entrepreneurship and business, head to the business section—don’t miss the small business section!—or technology section to read stories on local startups and more.
Samantha Novick is a senior editor at Funding Circle, specializing in small business financing. She has a bachelor's degree from the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University. Prior to Funding Circle, Samantha was a community manager at Marcus by Goldman Sachs. Her work has been featured in a number of top small business resource sites and publications.