Earn Your Freedom ignites financial literacy education by leveraging gamification through its innovative video game Money Quest.

Earn Your Freedom (EYF) is excited to announce the launch of its first crowdfunding campaign in collaboration with Impact Hub Houston, to make learning about personal finance and economics fun and accessible!

Aimed at raising funds and awareness for financial literacy education, the campaign highlights the founders’ mission to create the financial education program they wish they’d had, to help the next generation avoid the financial pitfalls they encountered.

EYF is more than a company, it’s a personal mission born out of our passion for promoting financial freedom and security. It all began with our founder, Grant, looking to solve his own financial struggles. Buried in student loans, drowning in credit card debt, and living paycheck to paycheck, just like 70% of Americans, he understood the urgent need for change.

Co-founder Keely’s journey towards financial literacy was sparked by a tragedy, followed by costly errors. After the sudden loss of her mother and stepfather, she received a life insurance payout. However, being just 17 and unaware of the true value of money or where to best allocate it, she made ill-advised investment decisions that wiped out any financial cushion she might have had.

Grant’s and Keely’s personal experiences have inspired them to make a real difference by creating an engaging and accessible financial learning platform through Money Quest, which immerses players in real-life financial scenarios, teaching critical skills and knowledge necessary for financial empowerment. It’s built on three pillars:

  • Financial literacy education through gaming.
  • Empowering individuals through knowledge and creativity.
  • Building partnerships for a lasting community impact.

EYF believes everyone should have the right to gain the knowledge and skills for sound financial decision-making. That’s why we’re inviting everyone to support their campaign to bring Money Quest to more youth, especially those facing challenging educational and financial circumstances in historically disadvantaged communities. EYF’s ultimate goal: To help people break out of the cycle of financial struggle, and forge a brighter future for themselves and their communities.

“I was once told that if you want to make a million dollars, then you need to help a million people. As I continued to think about this I tried solving the problem of my own lack of financial education. The deeper I got into solving this problem the more I realized all of my friends and family were financially illiterate as well as most of our country. The new question of “What would a financially literate society look like?” came up. I don’t know the answer, but I would like to find it and help solve this problem for all 331.9 million Americans.”
-Grant Watkins Co-Founder & CEO

“We envision a society where financial literacy is accessible to all, and where individuals are enabled with the tools to take control of their financial futures. Growing up, I never received a financial education, and have first-hand made costly mistakes that, if different, could have changed the trajectory of my life. I want to be sure no one has to suffer the same mistakes I did, and through gamification, we can make learning engaging and effective. We are bridging the gap between education and application, stepping in before the real-world consequences take place.”
-Keely McEnery Earn Your Freedom Co-Founder and COO

The Greater Houston region is home to one of the nation’s most entrepreneurial and diverse communities. This campaign seeks to reach individuals from all walks of life, equipping them with the tools necessary for financial success and stability. For more information on the campaign, and to partner on better outcomes for our region’s young people, please reach out to Grant Watkins at [email protected].

About Earn Your Freedom (EYF): EYF is a startup that combines gaming with financial education. Its mission is to enable individuals with the knowledge and skills needed for financial independence. Through its engaging and innovative game Money Quest, EYF is breaking the mold and setting a new standard for financial education.

Happy PRIDE! We Stand By the LGBTQ+ Community

Happy PRIDE! We Stand By the LGBTQ+ Community

Dear Impact Hub Houston Community,

As we kick off the vibrant month of Pride, I want to take a moment to express our unwavering support for the LGBTQ+ community. At Impact Hub Houston, we firmly believe in justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion as fundamental values that shape our work. We are committed to fostering an environment where all individuals can thrive, inclusive of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression.

Pride Month is an opportunity for us to celebrate the rich diversity within our community, to honor the struggles and triumphs of the LGBTQ+ movement, and to reflect upon the ongoing work that still needs to be done to achieve full equality and acceptance for all. While the Public Religion Research Institute reports that nearly eight in ten Americans favor laws to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, a record number of anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced this year. The ACLU is currently tracking 491 in the U.S. — 53 in Texas — alone. Sadly, a small minority of extremist groups continue to fight against the inclusion and well-being of LGBTQ+ people.

We understand that the fight for LGBTQ+ rights is ongoing, and that discrimination, hate crimes, and systemic barriers persist. We must do more, and do better. As an organization dedicated to supporting solutions and startups for positive social and environmental impact, we recognize the profound importance of being an ally to people from marginalized communities. Their diverse perspectives and experiences are essential for sparking creativity, driving innovation, and developing sustainable solutions to the complex challenges we all face. By embracing the LGBTQ+ community, we not only honor their tremendous contributions and talents, but we also enrich our Greater Houston community by fostering a culture of acceptance, respect, and empathy for all.

As the Human Rights Campaign says: Every person has their own journey in understanding what it means to support LGBTQ+ people, whether you’re LGBTQ+ or not. We encourage you to visit their “Being an LGBTQ+ Ally” guide to help you begin that journey: https://reports.hrc.org/being-an-lgbtq-ally

Being an ally means actively listening, learning, and advocating for the rights and well-being of others. It means creating safe spaces where individuals can bring their whole selves to the table, free from discrimination, fear, or prejudice. We are committed to using our platform to raise awareness, challenge bias, and advocate for policies and practices that promote equality and inclusion. We will work non-stop to inspire, connect, and empower all individuals, inclusive of their ethnicity, culture, age, ability, whom they love, and how they express themselves.

This Pride Month, let us come together as a community, united in our dedication to justice and equality. Let us celebrate the victories achieved, amplify the voices that have been silenced or suppressed, and recommit ourselves to the work ahead. Together, we can create a future where everyone is seen, heard, valued, and welcomed for who they are.

Happy Pride Month!

Grace Rodriguez
Executive Director
Impact Hub Houston




United4Change unlocks the potential of Spanish-speaking women entrepreneurs through its micro-entrepreneurship empowerment program

Houston, TX 05/16/2023: United4Change Center (U4C) is pleased to announce that the first 4-month Women Empowerment and Entrepreneurship Program in Houston: “Programa de Empoderamiento y Micro-Emprendimiento para Mujeres Emprendedoras de Houston”, which has been sponsored by JPMorgan Chase & Co, has successfully started on Tuesday, May 16, 2023. The initial group of participants started their 4-month empowerment and entrepreneurship journey at Impact Hub Houston.

The U4C Program is delivered by professionals and experts with more than 30 years of experience combined in women empowerment, economic development, entrepreneurship, business and management. It is based on five fundamental pillars:

  1. Micro-entrepreneurship education
  2. Practical implementation
  3. Creativity & innovation
  4. Mentorship by experts
  5. Network and support groups.

U4C has also partnered with UNIKEMIA, an educational institution created by academics with experience in world-class business schools, to provide Spanish-speaking women in Houston with high-quality hybrid business education.

“We believe everyone deserves the dignity of being able to provide economically for themselves and their families.  As an organization committed to the cause of social justice, we believe economic empowerment is among the most sustainable way to bring people too often left out of meaningful opportunity to the American Dream.”

– Ximena Murillo, United4Change Founder/CEO

“We believe entrepreneurship is key to realizing social justice and U4C is committed to helping Houstonians in realizing the full potential this community offers..”

– Raul Vasquez, United4Change Board Director/Treasurer.

The U4C Program is based on a holistic approach and focused on women from underserved and at-risk communities (migrants/immigrants, refugees, low socioeconomic status and/or domestic violence survivors). Houston is one of the nation’s most entrepreneurial, business-friendly, and diverse communities.

“When you speak to me in English, you speak to my brain, but when you speak to me in Spanish, you speak to my heart. – An adaptation from Nelson Mandela’s famous quote which I heard a prominent Latino leader say during the 2022 Hispanic Leadership Summit. I saw this quote manifest in real life at the Mujeres Emprendedoras de Houston Kickoff event. We are extremely grateful to have United4Change Center as an Ecosystem Member of Impact Hub Houston. 35% of Harris County’s population speaks Spanish as their first language. By bringing this in-language and culturally relevant program to life, U4C is meeting a crucial need for the Hispanic micro-business community in our city. The intentionality from their team is impeccable and we’re honored to be hosting this impactful program and powerful group of female micro-entrepreneurs.”

– Michelle Avalos, Impact Hub Houston Co-Founder/Deputy Director

About United4Change Center (U4C): U4C is a non-profit organization based in Houston that promotes social justice and peace globally through collaborative partnerships that empower marginalized groups, creating conditions for self-directed, dignified, and sustainable existence. In genuine partnership with community leaders and the beneficiaries of our initiatives, we seek to create conditions that build and strengthen the resilience of marginalized groups in fragile communities. U4C has designed and implemented several Social, Economic, and Humanitarian Impact Projects. U4C has been recognized in the United States and internationally for its work and dedication to promoting social justice and sustainable peace.

For more information about this exciting Program, please reach out to Ximena Murillo at [email protected].



      • In Spring 2022, adidas announced its partnership with Impact Hub and Blavity.org to launch a new program called Cultivate & B.L.O.O.M. (Building Legacies Out of Movements), an accelerator program for social entrepreneurs of color.
      • Through knowledge sharing and funding, the program cultivates a thriving ecosystem for changemakers to accelerate impact and deliver initiatives at the intersection of sport, equity and creativity for Black and Latinx communities. 

Earlier this year, adidas announced its newest program, Cultivate & B.L.O.O.M., designed to equip entrepreneurs of color with tools and resources to enable them to accelerate growth and maximize impact. As part of adidas’ United Against Racism commitments and celebration of boundary-breaking Black women, Cultivate & B.L.O.O.M. is further closing the opportunity gap that exists for Black and Latinx social entrepreneurs by elevating, co-creating with and funding entrepreneurs creating change in their communities.


Through an intentional selection process, eight Black women social entrepreneurs were identified to participate in the first-ever Cultivate & B.L.O.O.M. cohort. The first cohort kicked off in July 2022 and will graduate in March 2023. 

Throughout their nine months in the program, entrepreneurs have access to a tailored portfolio of resources and opportunities from within and outside of the adidas ecosystems that will serve to accelerate their impact. These resources include funding, access to industry experts, mentorship, workshops, fireside chats and visibility into adidas’ networks.

  • Funding: adidas awards each entrepreneur $100,000 to apply to the growth and development of their organization. 
  • Mentorship: Entrepreneurs are assigned mentors from a talented pool of women of color across adidas who hold positions on its product, retail, marketing, creative and digital teams, and meet with them once a month. 
  • ‘Office Hours’ Workshops: Each month, entrepreneurs attend workshops led by experts from adidas’ internal and external networks. The workshops cover key topics meant to aid in business development.
  • Fireside Chats: Cultivate & B.L.O.O.M. welcomes powerful women of color to hold monthly conversations on topics like innovation, networking and self-care. Speakers have included Black Ambition CEO and author Felecia Hatcher, Parkwoods Philanthropy Director Ivy McGregor, actress, producer, screenwriter Lena Waithe and yoga and healing justice facilitator Alli Simon.
  • Tools: Participants are given a one-year subscription to Ureeka, a small business growth engine, and are plugged into the adidas Community platform where they learn from and interact with leaders in business, sport and creative industries. They are also connected to the many resources Impact Hub offer.

After graduating from the program, participants become a partner in the “Innovation Network”, a network of social impact partners that seek to drive forward change within their communities and organizations. This portfolio of partners will enable adidas to continue strengthening the diversity of our partnership network, increase our reach within key markets and deepen our relationships over time.

Ayesha Martin, Director of Global Purpose at adidas said: “At adidas, we are committed to changing lives through sport, and are excited about the opportunity to– through Cultivate & B.L.O.O.M.– start to address and remove systemic barriers Black & Latinx community change-makers on the rise face. This is just the beginning, with so much more to do.”

Join us in celebrating our first Cultivate & B.L.O.O.M. cohort of powerful women entrepreneurs who are having far-reaching impact on their communities.

  • Annya Santana, Hood Health: Hood Health’s the first media platform and lifestyle brand at the intersection of health, wellness and culture. A rare space that focuses on inclusive, practical, functional wellness of people of color through thoughtful, educational, entertaining content where nutritional, physical, mindful wellbeing and culture collide. IG: @hood_health
  • Briana Thompson, Spiked Spin & Wellness Co: Briana launched Spiked Spin & Wellness Co in 2016 to diversify the state of health and wellness by creating classes and resources for Black women and allies to feel seen and supported. Spiked Spin has since grown its ridership to over 4,000 people in NYC and offers indoor cycling, Pilates, yoga, nutrition guides and monthly group mental check-in sessions with licensed therapists and psychologists. IG: @spikedwellness
  • Corinne Milien, WRK: Corinne founded WRK, a talent sourcing firm specializing in connecting sports, media and entertainment companies with a community of qualified talent, to eliminate bias and barriers for those historically excluded from traditional hiring practices. Her infectious energy towards “doing good” for others and ultimately paying it forward is helping to level the playing field for all. IG: @lets.do.wrk
  • Elisa Shankle, HealHaus: Elisa merged her passion for integrated mindful and holistic approaches to wellness with her passion for design to create HealHaus, a one stop shop for diverse healing services, available at its Brooklyn flagship location or through an online subscription-based membership or workplace program. IG: @healhaus
  • Jasmyne Spencer, The Black Women’s Players Collective: Serving on the executive board of BWPC, a nonprofit created by the Black players in the National Women’s Soccer League to advance opportunities for Black girls in sport and beyond, Jasmyne helps elevate the image, value and representation of Black women as athletes and leaders across industries. IG: @blackwplayercollective
  • Lauren Spearman, R&B Yoga: Noticing a lack of diversity in the yoga community she was so passionate about, Lauren created R&B Yoga to break down barriers to yoga for those who’ve previously not felt included in the community. By blending upbeat, modern music with beginner-friendly techniques, the classes encourage body positivity and make fitness accessible to all in a welcoming, lighthearted and fun environment. IG: @rnbyoga
  • Sinikiwe Dhliwayo, Naaya: Sinikiwe is committed to using wellness as a means to make society more equitable and just, which led her to found Naaya. By highlighting practitioners and instructors of diverse backgrounds and bodies, Naaya is disrupting the status quo of the wellness industry, helping change the wellness narrative from exclusive to inclusive and creating safe spaces for BIPOC folks to exist as the fullest expression of their humanity. IG: @naaya.wellness
  • Wanda Jones, The Ahmaud Arbery Foundation: Committed to honoring her son, Ahmaud Arbery, she created the Ahmaud Arbery Foundation to empower, serve and affirm Black boys on their journeys towards mental wellness. IG: @ahmaudarberyfoundation

The next cohort, which will focus on equipping and empowering Latinx social entrepreneurs, will kick off in 2023, with the cohort application opening in June. To participate, entrepreneurs must be at a company or organization:

  • Based in Portland, Oregon – home to adidas’ North America head office
  • Within early-stage development (first 1-3 years) 
  • With at least one Black and/or Latinx founder
  • Whose purpose is aligned to removing barriers of access to and safety in sport at the intersection of community, equity and creativity.


About adidas

adidas is a global leader in the sporting goods industry. Headquartered in Herzogenaurach/Germany, the company employs more than 61,000 people across the globe and generated sales of € 21.2 billion in 2021.

About Impact Hub

Impact Hub is a global network catalyzing entrepreneurial action and business for good. With 108+ locations across 60+ countries and 25,000+ people driving change, they connect entrepreneurs and innovators to large organizations, investors, and the public sector. Why? To enable inclusive and sustainable innovation – at scale. 

About Blavity.org

Blavity.org is a new racial equity and social impact organization created by the founders of Blavity Inc. Blavity.org Foundation is not-for-profit group to drive Black economic advancement forward through entrepreneurial fellowship programs featuring grants, education, and sponsorship. A groundbreaking social-cause organization, Blavity.org’s Foundation has been created by Blavity Inc., the leading media company for Black culture and millennials. Blavity.org was built to further Blavity Inc.’s social impact through the development of digital programs designed to advance economic progress and racial equity for Black entrepreneurs. Blavity.org understands the need of a foundation to drive, support, and amplify Black economic achievement and mobility.

Environmental Action: What is Impact Hub Doing to Address Key Environmental Issues?

Environmental Action: What is Impact Hub Doing to Address Key Environmental Issues?

For the launch of our global Environmental Strategy, we spoke to Anne Merkle, Environmental Lead at Impact Hub Network.

Q: First things first, tell us, why do you do what you do?

A: Simply put, because I carry a deep love for our planet in me and want to know that I did everything possible for future generations to have the chance for a vibrant, peaceful and content life.


When I grew up on a small island in the Baltic Sea in Germany I had no idea about what harm was already taking place. The Club of Rome already pointed to the threat in 1972 but growth was more important and too little did people know and understand.

Now most of us do understand that there is a crisis – one that impacts us all. I just could not pretend and simply continue with the “good life” I envisioned for myself when I was building my sandcastles on the beach.

Environmental Action at Impact Hub - Anne Merkle, Environmental Lead at Impact Hub Network
Anne Merkle, Environmental Lead at Impact Hub Network

I decided to listen to science, educate myself, change what I can in my own life and dedicate my work to tackling climate change and biodiversity loss in my unique way. The environmental emergency we all face can seem far away but just let this sink in: half of the island I grew up on will disappear with sea levels rising and this is just 80 years away. My home town will be almost completely gone. It might not happen in my lifetime but that doesn’t make it matter any less. I had two options: get paralysed or do what I could. You can guess what I chose – using my area of influence, my skills and taking it one step at a time.

Even if it is small steps – moving is what matters. If we all – governments and non-greenwashing corporates, but also start-ups and us as humans – do the same, let’s see what might be possible. I want to be a climate optimist!

Q: Incredible story, Anne. Thanks for sharing. You’re leading the launch of the Environmental Strategy of the Impact Hub Network. What is this all about? Who’s involved?

A: When the Impact Hub Network decided last year that environmental action as well as diversity, equity and inclusion will be our two key focus areas in our 2030 strategy, my heart jumped! The potential for all 100+ Impact Hubs to stand behind and put their energy on these two crucial and very interconnected topics… WOW. Don’t get me wrong, Impact Hub has already had so many great successes in social innovation and many environmental programs. Still, this strategy can take us to a whole new level – so much is possible.

The Impact Hub Network stands side by side with the local, regional and global communities that are aiming to tackle our climate emergency. As a network, we aim to contribute to building a regenerative economy while focusing specifically on actions in the areas of Net Zero (energy, mobility and construction), Food & Agriculture and Circularity.


Of course, we acknowledge our limited climate expertise – but we want to use our unique innovation and start-up support knowledge, our influence and our locally rooted globally yet connected networks, to co-create with key partners. We can’t – and won’t – do this alone but we are ready for serious and large scale action. Doing this with three core values in mind: being grounded in science, daring and positive.

The strategy was co-created with Impact Hubs across the globe and we are now moving into implementation. I hope in a year from now we can say: everyone – every Impact Hub employee, every member, every partner – thinks about and acts on our environmental action strategy and it is fully integrated within our work. Making it a priority will offer all our members a great chance to grow in this area and receive targeted support while opening the doors for many new strategic partnerships.

Q: Sounds ambitious! Can you elaborate on some concrete actions we’re taking as a network?

A: We have three key areas of action for now. And being honest, we will learn (a lot!) together as a network and with our partners and adapt as we go. Nevertheless, this is our starting point:

  • First, to empower our members to have either neutral or positive environmental impact. It doesn’t matter what SDG they work on. We want to support all our members to consider their environmental impact and act on it. Let’s not forget we are talking about 24.000 people and counting!
  • Second, to support green ventures to scale their impact faster, especially in our focus areas (net zero, Food & Agriculture and Circularity). We want to run more thematic local, regional and global programs; convene key stakeholders to co-create actions; and create more visibility for the existing solutions of our members.
  • Lastly, to role model through our spaces. For us, looks both at becoming a CO2 Neutral Coworking community by 2025 (and eventually net zero) but goes further by looking at all our operations and aims to fully integrate the topic in a locally fitting manner.
Environmental Action at Impact Hub - Anne Merkle, Environmental Lead at Impact Hub Network
Anne Merkle at Col des Évettes / Glacier du Grand Méan, France

Q: Which two actions are you personally most excited about?

A: I would first choose our recent Circularity Program. In 2021, we started a prototype exploring how to integrate circular design principles into all our programs across 12 Impact Hubs in Africa and Europe. The idea is simple: equipping start-up founders with this knowledge early on to anticipate the environmental impact of their ventures and make different choices when it is still easy to make changes.


After this pilot, the intention is to have all 100+ Impact Hubs incorporate this knowledge in all their programs. This is already pretty exciting as we run 240+ start-up support programs a year across the network.

We also want to make this knowledge and approach accessible to other social enterprise support organisations – so can you imagine everyone supporting start-ups includes education on circularity as a standard for their programs across the globe? Nice, right?!

The second? I will keep it brief. We already have a lot of excellent programs globally and within local Impact Hubs, such as the Ikea Supply Chain Innovation on food and packaging or the 35ish programs we run with WWF – one of our global strategic partners for almost 10 years tackling topics from deforestation in the Amazon, to innovative solutions to protect biodiversity in Austria, to sustainable energy in Rwanda to a recent program on plastics in China. I am super excited to identify the programs that work best, bring the concepts to more Impact Hubs and get back to the drawing board to come up with some completely new program ideas with partners.

And of course, there are many internal pieces we will need to figure out. One example is how do we measure, compensate and reduce our CO2 as a community operating in 60 countries, each facing different realities. We are excited to get started!

Q: Love the excitement! Now, let’s dream a little. What’s the potential impact we aim to make through these actions?

A: Today’s start-ups are tomorrow’s multinationals. When talking about environmental action it takes a lot of effort from governments (big time!) and of course, companies and citizens are just as important. Yet, start-ups and their contribution is often overlooked. That is the unique role that Impact Hub can play: getting the start-up world (starting with our network… but you asked me to dream!) to come to play and not on the side stage but joining the others on the main stage. It is not just the start-up solutions but also the entrepreneurial spirit and the innovative energy that we need so badly to tackle the climate and biodiversity crisis we face.

When we reach 2030, I hope we will look back and be proud of the change we co-created with our members and partners. We are ready – it won’t be perfect but we are hungry for change and want to contribute in our unique way as a network.

Q: Thank you, Anne, for this inspiring, action-filled, story.

Learn more about our Environmental Strategy on our dedicated page and contact our colleague Meet Muchhala –  – to discuss the strategy in more depth.

Be the Change for Climate Change: Get Ready for Climathon Houston 2021!

Be the Change for Climate Change: Get Ready for Climathon Houston 2021!

Getting Ready for Climathon Houston 2021: A Look at Climathon 2020 Winner InnoGrid

In 2020, 11 teams gathered at Climathon Houston to develop solutions to the challenges presented in the City of Houston’s Climate Action Plan (CAP). Three teams’ ideas rose to the top; and InnoGrid’s approach to addressing the lack of energy resiliency in our city was particularly relevant in the wake of Winter Storm Uri. 

As we prepare for Climathon Houston 2021, we caught up with InnoGrid to learn about their progress since being selected as one of 2020’s winners. Team members Bryan Gottfried, Paresh Patel, and Edward “Ed” D. Pettitt, II, gave us an update:

Q: How has your role evolved since Climathon Houston 2020? 

Ed Pettitt: During the Climathon, I contributed relative to my roles as a Third Ward resident and community organizer, as well as a public health practitioner, business owner, and urban planning student. I provided input as a member of the Houston Coalition for Equitable Development without Displacement (HCEDD), which engages in advocacy for the development rights of working class African-American residents in and around the Innovation Corridor, which we selected as the proposed site for InnoGrid. Since the Climathon, I have further delved into energy justice issues and am now an active member of the Equity in the Clean Energy Economy (ECEE) Collaborative and a Graduate Research Assistant with the Bullard Center for Environmental and Climate Justice (CECJ).

Bryan Gottfried: My background as a geoscientist has led me to advocate for the expanded use of geothermal energy resources. I am also interested in promoting the modernization of our electric grid and improving resiliency. During the Climathon, I originally suggested the development of a microgrid, although I had something like Austin’s Whisper Valley development in mind — a master-planned mixed-use residential-commercial community that uses geothermal heat pumps for heating and cooling. We shifted the focus on the Innovation District to take advantage of the redevelopment and the clean-tech advancements occurring there. Since then, I’ve hosted our regular team meetings and reached out to others who could help the project. I’m looking forward to pushing things along now that we’ve gained support from crucial partners.

Paresh Patel: As a start-up founder focusing on energy poverty and a champion of sustainable energy for all (UN SDG7), I have been advancing deployment of solar microgrids and minigrids in off-grid frontier markets. In Asia and Africa, distributed renewable energy models (DREs) were enabling millions to essentially leapfrog centralized, legacy energy infrastructure. I was looking for a way to develop a microgrid closer to home. As an inaugural member of Greentown Labs Houston, I had been conceptualizing something similar, stemming from my recommendation for them to install rooftop solar panels. While it wasn’t financially practical there, I presented the idea of a microgrid for the wider Innovation District to its developer, Rice Management Company (RMC). It made sense to join up and work with the InnoGrid team. Since then, I’ve driven our partnerships with Baker Botts and Schneider Electric, and discussions with stakeholders like CenterPoint.

Q: What do you think of your impact innovation journey and progress since Climathon Houston 2020? Have you discovered anything new and/or surprising?

Ed Pettitt: Since the Climathon, we have learned a lot about the process of seeking funding and technical support for a microgrid startup. From submitting a Connected Communities grant application to the U.S. Department of Energy to partnering with Baker Botts for pro bono representation, I am very pleased with the progress we have made.

Bryan Gottfried: I echo Ed’s comments. This is an entirely new realm for me — from learning about various sources of funding to the numerous regulatory and technical challenges. I’m pleased with the progress we’ve made considering we’ve been dealing with COVID throughout the life of the project, as well as the transition between federal administrations which has had a significant impact on policies and sources of funding.

Paresh Patel: It has been a discovery process on several levels. We’ve had to gather learnings and lessons on all aspects of building out a microgrid from the ground up. Our mission-driven model has resonated. There’s consensus that we should have a microgrid in the heart of Midtown as a source of resilient, sustainable energy — it’s become even more imperative in the wake of polar vortex Uri. We’ve been able to access industry leaders and stakeholders, forge partnerships, and consult a wide range of experts. Baker Botts and Schneider have helped us complete a project qualification study scoping the potential for a microgrid in the Innovation District. That’ll give us a clearer understanding of the technical and financial dimensions of the project, and will put us in a position to seek federal funding, grants, and other capital.

Q:  How has your outreach to other organizations helped InnoGrid’s progress? Are there partnerships with similar organizations that you’d like to seek? Why?

Ed Pettitt: Our outreach to the Equity in a Clean Energy Economy (ECEE) Collaborative has opened up a number of opportunities to learn from and engage in best practices related to utility program design, customer research, public participation, and regulation and policy.

Bryan Gottfried: There are numerous individuals and organizations that have encouraged us and given us ideas on ways to push the project forward. I believe FEMA’s BRIC program (Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities) fits nicely with the goals of our project and I’m looking forward to exploring that avenue further as we move along in the process.

Paresh Patel: I too joined the ECEE with Ed. I’ve also had discussions on forming an alliance with Climable, which has developed community microgrids in the Boston area. We’re mission-aligned and their proven business model can be adapted for the Houston context. RMC is a key stakeholder, and we’d like to find a way to enlist them as a partner, with the potential to add The Ion and adjacent commercial buildings as a co-anchor site. 

Q:  Stakeholders such as the City of Houston and CenterPoint Energy are excited about InnoGrid’s plan. What do you think the next steps should be? How do you help stakeholders like these move forward?

Ed Pettitt: One of the next steps should involve the City of Houston facilitating a signed Community Benefits Agreement between Rice Management Company (RMC) and the Houston Coalition for Equitable Development without Displacement (HCEDD) that includes a provision for affordable housing and equitable access to affordable energy (like that proposed by InnoGrid) in and around the Innovation Corridor.

Bryan Gottfried: One of our most significant hurdles is the Chicken-and-Egg situation: It’s hard to get property owners to participate in InnoGrid unless they receive incentives from the City, but it’s difficult for the City to offer those incentives without a better understanding of the scope and level of interest they’d see through property owners’ participation. Similarly, without knowing the interest from property owners and the scope and level of support from the City, it’s hard to have substantive conversations with CenterPoint about Innogrid. I believe we need to get both CenterPoint and the City to agree that InnoGrid is something they want to see happen and will incentivize property owners to participate in.

Paresh Patel: CenterPoint has been supportive, providing helpful guidance on technical aspects of interfacing InnoGrid with their infrastructure. To Bryan’s point, we want to explore specific ways to partner with CenterPoint once we have the project qualification study completed by Schneider Electric. The InnoGrid aligns with the goals of the City’s Climate Action Plan and the Resilient Houston plan. Naturally, the City’s ongoing support would be indispensable.

Q:  What kinds of financing opportunities are you exploring or would help develop the InnoGrid? 

Bryan Gottfried: I mentioned FEMA’s BRIC program above, and I think the Texas PACE program (Property Assessed Clean Energy) will be a resource that we can guide property owners to so they can install generation capability that can then be tied into the InnoGrid.

Paresh Patel: The Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes new funding streams for grid infrastructure, much of which could directly or indirectly boost microgrid demonstration and resiliency projects that we are tracking. We might also consider a crowdfunding campaign as a way to invite community buy-in and raise public awareness of the project.

Q:  In your wildest dreams, what would InnoGrid’s future look like and how would it impact the Houston area?

Ed Pettitt: I envision an Innovation Corridor that supports entrepreneurism and small business development while providing stable, decentralized, and affordable energy through an innovative microgrid that contributes to job creation and equitable access to clean energy that prevents the displacement of long-term and working class residents. 

Bryan Gottfried: I can’t say it any better than Ed did! I would also like the InnoGrid to become something that Houston is known for within the world of clean-tech, and have it cited as a model for other urban microgrids.

Paresh Patel: Ed captured it quite nicely. Once the initial InnoGrid site is proven, the value will become obvious to others. I’d like to see the InnoGrid evolve into a microgrid model that can be deployed to serve LMI households across Houston and beyond that are most vulnerable to energy poverty and insecurity as extreme weather events become more frequent. In sum, Equity through Resiliency.

Q:  Any additional thoughts or information you’d like to share?

Bryan Gottfried: I could have never imagined that signing up for the Climathon last year would have led to this amazing experience. I’ve learned so much and met so many great people. I encourage anyone who is considering participating in it this year to do so–you never know where it may lead!

Paresh Patel: I second Bryan’s invitation. The Climathon catalyzed the random collisions and connections of ideas and innovators leading to this collaborative—and potentially transformative—project. A huge thanks to Impact Hub Houston and partners for hosting the Climathon!

The InnoGrid team has had quite a year and we’re excited to see their continued progress. We hope that their journey is an inspiration to others who want to catalyze action and make an impact. We invite everyone to join us for the Climathon 2021 Kick-off on October 25th. As Bryan Gottfried said: I encourage anyone who is considering participating in it this year to do so–you never know where it may lead! 

The impacts of climate change are all around us, hitting our region more seriously and rapidly than models have predicted. We invite you to leverage Climathon Houston as a way to start ideating and innovating solutions or to continue working on and engaging people in solutions you may already be developing.

Come learn about this year’s challenges, connect with the teams, and get ready for the week! We’ll see you at Climathon!

New Partnership with LiftFund: Harris County Small Business Relief Fund Outreach!

New Partnership with LiftFund: Harris County Small Business Relief Fund Outreach!

Harris County has created a new $30 Million Small Business Relief Fund to support micro and small businesses recovering from the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Created with funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the Small Business Relief Fund is being administered by LiftFund, a nonprofit community development financial institution (CDFI); and we are proud to announce that Impact Hub Houston is partnering with LiftFund to help more entrepreneurs, founders, and micro and small businesses learn about and get access to this critical funding so they can survive and thrive in these incredibly trying times.

Eligible small business owners may apply for financial support in the form of grants ranging from $5,000 to $25,000 to advance their recovery from the economic setbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The application window will open Monday, September 20 at 9:30AM and close Monday, October 4 at 5:30PM Central Standard Time. The application process is not first-come, first-served; all completed applications will be reviewed for eligibility and prioritized based on small business impact parameters. Below you will find more details about this program, including eligibility, funding methodology and timeframe.

To learn more, scroll down and/or attend one of LiftFund’s upcoming Virtual Info Sessions:

Eligibility Criteria

  • Located within Harris County
  • Registered business operating in Harris County. Check this map see if your business address is located in the county
  • Must have 30 or fewer employees (including part time, contractors and full-time employees and owners)
  • In operation before April 2020
  • Experienced negative impact on operations due to the pandemic
  • Annual revenue of less than $500,000 dollars in 2019 and 2020
  • Be in good standing Texas Comptroller’s office with no outstanding tax obligations or liabilities

Tax-exempt businesses, gambling businesses, residential builders, speculative real estate investors, government entities and sexually-oriented businesses are not eligible. You can view the list of prohibited NAICS codes here. 


Grant Awards & Limitations

The Harris County Small Business Relief Fund will provide grants ranging from $5,000 to $25,000 to eligible micro and small businesses. Funds must be used for business-related expenses, including payroll, working capital, business rent, inventory, supplies, equipment, and other operating costs.

  • Grant applicants are only eligible to receive one grant award
  • Only one grant may be awarded per business with more than one location
  • Limited to one grant per physical address within Harris County

Documentation Required

The grant application will require verification of pertinent documentation.

  • Personal Identification
    • Driver’s license or government-issued photo ID
  • Business Information
    • Proof of business registration with Harris County or TX Secretary of State
    • Q1 2021 941, payroll report or 1099 to verify number of employees
    • Business utility bill (water, gas, electric) Home based businesses may provide a home utility bill.
    • Business Financials: 2019 and 2020 business tax return (additional financial documents, such as bank statements or P&L may be requested if losses cannot be verified by the tax returns)
  • Other
    • DD 214 proof of military discharge (veterans only)

Scoring Methodology

The Harris Small Business Relief Fund awards will not be made on a first-come, first-served basis.  Applications will be assessed and scored using the following methodology. Applications with the highest scores will be reviewed and approved first. Applications will have up to 150 points based on the following five elements, each with a maximum of 30 points.

  • Ownership
    • The program has a priority for woman, minority and veteran-owned businesses
  • Previous access to financial support
    • Receipt of previous federal COVID-19 funding through PPP loan, EIDL or Harris County grants
  • Social Vulnerability Index of business location
  • Employee count
    • The program has a priority for businesses with fewer than 10 employees
  • Industry

Timeline & Award Schedule

  • Applications will be accepted from Monday, September 20 at 9:30AM to Monday, October 4 at 5:30PM.
  • The application review period will start on October 5, 2021 and continue through January 9, 2022.
  • The grant funds will be awarded monthly beginning in November 2021 and through January 2022. Eligible applications with the highest scores will be reviewed and awarded first, followed by applications with lower scores.
  • All grants will be awarded by January 2022.

For more information, or to get information for the Harris County Business Relief program in Spanish or Vietnamese, please visit https://www.harriscountybusinessrelief.org/

Female Founder Puts Her Mission into Action

Female Founder Puts Her Mission into Action

How female founder Action Jackson impacts the face of business in Houston 

Written by Impact Hub Houston Team member Camila Aguiar

She was born Joy, but chose Action as her moniker. “After all, an idea without action is worth nothing,” she says.  This intense need to turn ideas into action pushed her to open a media production company for small businesses back in 2018. It was also what brought her to Impact Hub Houston, where she found support to build a business model for her most audacious project: The Black Business LabAction was one of the 8 founders to participate in the Female Founders Program,  an initiative of Impact Hub sponsored by Frost Bank. From May to July 2021, Action worked closely with Impact Hub’s CEO, Grace Rodriguez, and received support from additional experts to build the Black Business Lab Project business model. “The Lab” is a spinoff of the Black Marketing Initiative, which she created to help black owners thrive in business. 

To understand how she got here, we must look back to 2020, when COVID hit and caught her by surprise. At that time, Action was celebrating one-and-a-half years as head of Action One Media. She wanted to change the narrative about Black business owners and started by helping small businesses communicate with clients and the community through media content, especially in video format. The company was online but got its client base from having 20-100 people come to their small studio every week and doing events outside. Action decided to close the company as soon as COVID hit. The following three months were hard. She had no clients, no revenue, and no clue where to go next. But she knew she had to do something, and she decided to start by listening.

In June 2020, Action and her team–the Action Squad–led a survey with 226 small business owners. Over a hundred of them answered they were about to close if they didn’t get online.  Action soon realized the need and the urgency to do something about it. She used the data from the survey to pivot her business and offer a well-rounded marketing strategy for clients.

“In a nutshell, you can get video to show your face. You get the consulting to know where to put your video and help yourself get the clients you want. And we can also save you time by automating the process for you.”

She implemented an entirely new system to meet the unique needs of small businesses. Finally, things started getting better, but Action was still not happy. She knew from the surveys that most owners couldn’t afford the service. Action was struggling herself to put her company back in business after months without revenue. 

“We realized we didn’t need just to sell the services. We could create a program and offer the services to the business through the program funded by grants, crowdfunding or anything we could pull together to help Black owners.”

Impact Hub was crucial in implementing the first pilot she did with 16 Black owners. Grace Rodriguez even participated in some of the sessions and helped shape the business training. But Action wants to go further. Her next goal is to build a Black innovation corridor in South Houston. She compares it to other Houston initiatives, such as the Energy Corridor and The Museum District. She already gathered more than 20 businesses, and they are working together to create a safe space to help Black owners get the support, the funds and the collaboration they need to thrive. 

Action’s pitch sounds firm and convincing. She says this was one of the best aspects of the Female Founders Program. The constant practice and interaction helped her strengthen her case for support. Frost Bank’s advisors also helped her build some new financing strategies, especially regarding balancing her statements.

“They gave their hearts to make sure we learned. These are things sometimes we ignore as founders. I got some strategies behind changing our financial year.” 

The three intense months of coaching sessions and hard work also helped her build new perspectives on her business. “We got counsel from them to build up the part we were missing. If you are a service business like us, you think you don’t need a supply chain, for example. Until you answer those questions in the assessment that they gave us. That in itself opened my eyes the most. It gave me a different perspective. And you need all the perspective you can get.”

Since we are talking about Action, we shouldn’t be surprised by how fast she is putting everything she learned in the service of her community! She is working with partners to expand the Black Marketing Initiative into the Black Business Lab. They applied for grants and are developing an asset map for the Black Innovation Corridor. The project has the support of some of her largest clients, including NANCo Aero–an aerospace company creating a “flying car”; South Union CDC–a STEM Foundation for youth and seniors with a solar co-op; and The Fish Bowl Experience–a  pitch competition that gives away up to $50,000 in funding to small businesses owned by college students, veterans, and entrepreneurs with serious hustle. 

“The ability to be who we are, take action on the things that matter, and impact is a blessing. We can build business models that can be used by the world to improve the world while making money. The sky is no longer the limit.”

Stay up to date with Action and her initiatives! Follow Action One Media on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube

Our team at Impact Hub Houston is here to help you take your venture to the next level. Learn how with an Accelerate Membership.

Houston Founder Makes Impact for Safer, Healthier Environments

Houston Founder Makes Impact for Safer, Healthier Environments

McMac Cx creating safe and healthy environments, one building at a time 

Written by Impact Hub Houston Team member Nabiha Khetani.

Founder and President of McMac Cx, a company devoted to safer and healthier buildings and environments, David MacLean shares his story behind the meaning of his mission and how Impact Hub Houston is helping to achieve his goals. McMac Cx aims to achieve SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. While SDG 11 is their primary goal, the company addresses needs that also target SDG 4: Quality Education and SDG 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure.

David joined the Accelerate Membership Program to increase his knowledge on branding and marketing to further advance his goals for his company. His biggest challenge, he shares, is getting people to understand why they should care. Why is it important to create buildings which are above minimum code requirements? 

It begins with addressing the unrealistic expectations of inhabitants and what creators can deliver with the institutional barriers getting in the way. That is where McMac Cx comes in. To minimize the sacrifices on the health and safety of citizens and maximize on impact, MacLean and his company look at first, costs of buildings while also evaluating what the social and environmental impact would be. They work with partners around the globe and use advanced social tech to have immediate implementation of sustainable improvements for a safer environment. David works diligently to change the reality of the current operation of buildings and create a standard that is above minimum code. 

“The pivoting and changing conversation is all about education, and people understanding the order of magnitude of the problem.” David says.

As one of his current initiatives, David created the USGBC Texas Best Practices App as an educational tool and a way for members to connect with nonprofits and other organizations achieving similar altruistic passions. He is also the founding Board Member of the Texas Chapter of the US Green Building Council (USGBC) and created the Best Practices Committee as a platform of connection between the creators and inhabitants to work together.

“At the end of the day, it’s not about me doing something that anybody else can do” David says “it’s actually me helping somebody else over that lift so they can be more successful, because it’s about impact that we want to make, right.”

Part of the reason David was drawn to Impact Hub was because of the global Sustainable Development Goals they use as a guide and a lens for their work. Out of the 17 SDGs passed by the United Nations in 2015, IHH primarily focuses on six. David says the SDGs create a global language to articulate what is important and what more can be done. Although he strongly resonates with three or so of the goals, the Accelerate Program keeps him engaged in how the rest of the world is acting across the 14 other SDGs. 

Looking ahead, David wants to keep growing his company nationally and globally. His current services are largely focused locally in Texas, but are all transferable to any other place in the world. He recently launched a global video competition to reach advocates across the world to become ‘Air Champions’ in their neighborhood. The video content focuses on why they think air quality is important. Although having McMac Cx recognized is a priority since it is a for-profit company, David prioritizes sending a certain message to his community which he is eagerly passionate about. 

McMac Cx works with partners from around the globe to aggregate advanced Social Tech, allowing the immediate implementation of sustainable improvements that create positive social and environmental change. Its goal is to economically enable everyone to live, learn, work, and play in places that are safe, healthy, efficient, and prosperous. Learn more about McMac Cx and connect with David.

Our team at Impact Hub Houston is here to help you take your venture to the next level. Learn how with an Accelerate Membership.

Female Founder Impacts Education Quality through Technology

Female Founder Impacts Education Quality through Technology

How a female founder is impacting education quality by targeting self-esteem through technology

Written by Impact Hub Houston Team member Camila Aguiar

When you talk to Margo Jordan it is hard to imagine that she once suffered from low self-esteem. Yet, this confident and persuasive entrepreneur says she struggled when she was a little girl back in Milwaukee, WI, where she grew up. Today, she is a successful and passionate founder who turned her own struggle into an educational company that helps students overcome low self-esteem and depression.  Her entrepreneurship journey started in 2013, after 10 years in the Army and a brief experience in the finance sector.  She was only 26 years old when she opened her first company, a facility in Northeast Houston to offer enrichment programs for children, including day camps and workshops.  

Thanks to a combination of creativity and strong knowledge in finance, Margo was able to develop her leadership skills and grow her business. But like many founders, she had to deal with unpredictable events that tested her resiliency and leadership skills. The first big challenge came in 2017 when Hurricane Harvey destroyed her facility in Northeast Houston. Nevertheless, Margo didn’t give up and was able to raise funds to continue serving families in Houston.

Two years later, another major disruption menaced her business. COVID forced her to stop the in-person programs, but also offered an opportunity to make a greater impact and help students cope with a new reality marked by isolation and uncertainty. She pivoted and focused all her efforts on her e-learning platform, Enrichly

Currently, Enrichly has 500 subscribers and impacts more than 10,000 students from different grade levels and backgrounds. The platform offers self-esteem-based learning workshops and curriculum, live content with teens and influencers, and mental health resources. The goal is to help members build their confidence, recognize their capabilities, and put limitations in perspective. According to Margo, having high self-esteem helps prevent depression, anxiety disorders, and even suicide. It affects all aspects of life including academic performance.

When parents and schools from countries worldwide started coming back to her for help, she realized she was dealing with a global issue and started expanding her business outside the US. Her platform currently reaches members from 12 countries, mainly parents and educators trying to help students overcome depression and low self-esteem. Margo is also negotiating with corporations and schools in countries such as Brazil and the United Arab Emirates. Her most recent contract was with the Arabian American School, which will bring a self-esteem learning program to their campus middle school students in Dubai.

The power of connections

As a visionary entrepreneur, Margo thinks it is important to take risks and learn from mistakes. She recognizes the value of connections and resources for her business. In 2021, Margo was selected to participate in a three-month support program offered by Impact HUB Houston in partnership with Frost Bank. Since May, she and seven additional Founder women had weekly meetings with advisors and mentors to refine their business model. The program has also helped them gain a deeper understanding of business and financial management, while working on their pitching and funding model.

“The amount of resources we received are invaluable. Being able to connect with Grace and Michelle has allowed me to put some of the pieces I’ve been missing together. Grace and I worked on my diagnostic and defined a lot of what my company does and gave me a more concrete plan moving forward. This was very instrumental in making sure I’m capturing my impact more efficiently,” says Margo. 

Margo’s next steps include launching the Enrichly app and growing her membership program. She is also working on a side project to help students develop leadership skills and an entrepreneurial mindset. She admits it was particularly difficult to build her reputation and raise money being a Black woman, and she wants to inspire others to believe in themselves and fight for their dreams. Considering her personal story, and the passionate way she talks about her mission,  Margo is certainly a great inspiration. 

Visit Youth Enrichments to learn more about Margo’s mission! Connect with them on social media and stay up-to-date with their journey: Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter

Impact Hub Houston is here to help you take your venture to the next level. Learn how with an Accelerate Membership.