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 Lab. Action 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.”
Varina Rush has always carved her own path and believed in herself as a social entrepreneur leading her to where she is today as CEO and co-founder of AmazingBond, a for-profit company revolutionizing senior citizen care by creating a space for them to be seen, heard, and experience vitality. She joined Impact Hub Houston two years ago and shares her story focusing on SDG 3: Health and Well-Being. Varina developed a variety of small businesses starting with selling candy in high school to selling her art and jewelry about twenty years ago. Fast forward ten years, she started practicing yoga to help ease anxiety and used art as a way to create peace in her own life and others. She then worked with veterans struggling with PTSD, recovering addicts, and was an avid volunteer for seniors and caregivers.
“I had volunteered every year with Alzheimer’s Foundation and the caregiver foundation and would donate my time,” Varina said, “and this was really sort of in honor of my grandparents, my grandparents are very important to me. And my grandfather had Alzheimer’s, and my grandmother was his caretaker. And so a lot of times when I volunteered, it was giving back to them, sort of feeding my lineage.”
One day, three years ago, Varina reflected on the work she was doing. She was creating art, she was promoting healthy practices, and she was working with elderly people in her community, so why not create a business out of it? Looking back at her life, Varina says all the things she did unknowingly created this path for her business. When Varina heard about Impact Hub Houston, she was really into the concept of social entrepreneurship and says she joined at the right time. The pandemic drastically changed the plans of AmazingBond, forcing them to pivot and adapt to a virtual world.
“I remember talking to Michelle. We had a call and it was like I was just trying to hold it all together,” Varina says, “and I didn’t even know it but I just needed someone to listen and I had been strong for everyone. And I got on the call with her and I just started crying like…I don’t know what to do. And she gave some ideas, and it just was, you know, she just pumped some extra energy into me. And they’ve been really good at that. So I honestly don’t know, without the support, even if it was just listening, how we, you know, we would have survived the pandemic at certain moments.”
One remarkable moment for Varina was a workshop conducted by Grace Rodriguez on Lean Startup principles. The pandemic completely uprooted the practices of AmazingBond. They were unable to see their seniors, they were all isolated in their homes, and there was no way to help. The workshop taught her to get creative, to think outside the box, and how to work with practically nothing. Varina thought many seniors don’t have access to technology or they simply were never taught how to use it. However, what most of them do have is a phone. From this lesson, SeniorConnect was created.
This program pairs over 100 college and high school students in the Houston area with isolated seniors to have weekly 30-minute meaningful conversations to provide a connection. The program started as a way for students to get volunteer hours, but became something more. With time, students began to have real, meaningful conversations. They started learning things and unexpectedly relating to their seniors. This intergenerational program has connected a group of kids invested in their phones and social media to listen and develop a unique bond with a group of seniors who now feel empowered with something to offer.
“Most people don’t know that the people 85 and older have the second highest suicide rate,” Varina says, “you know, once you get a certain age, sometimes you’re invisible. And, and so they don’t feel like they have a reason to live. And that’s one of the reasons why we created SeniorConnect is…for them to experience that connection and experience the youth, right?”
Help us also celebrate Varina’s recent marriage to Allison Bond, who is both her life and business partner, in the midst of a pandemic. Varina came out to her parents when she was just 13 years old and never thought same-sex marriage would be possible in her adult life. She says the LGBTQ+ community has come a long way and how the world has changed in the last decade is significant. Varina and Allison got married in April 2021 at a place that holds special meaning to the couple: the Houston Arboretum. Every day during quarantine, they would have a 3-mile walk to the Arboretum and give it all to nature. It became a safe and sacred space for them and they knew that was the place they wanted to get married.
“I’m really happy for the young LGBTQ+, I know we still have a lot to go, but just how much more accepting it is in the world today than what I’ve seen. And then I’m also just really grateful that my family has gone through the process. And they were so welcoming to Allison and our relationship. And they actually said, you know, ‘it’s about time.’”
AmazingBond is changing the world for seniors and caregivers by improving their quality of life with therapeutic art, chair yoga, and tai chi. They believe at any age their tactics can be used to have good health and a positive mindset. Learn more about AmazingBond and connect with Varina. Connect with them on Instagram to stay updated on their journey!
Impact Hub Houston is here to help you take your venture to the next level. Learn how with an Accelerate Membership.
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.
Workforce Solutions selects MassChallenge and Impact Hub Houston to operate a startup bootcamp designed for female founders.
(Houston, TX) April 1, 2021 – MassChallenge, the global network for innovators, Workforce Solutions, the public workforce system for Houston and the surrounding 13 counties in Southeast Texas, and Impact Hub Houston, a locally rooted and globally connected impact innovation incubator, today announced a new partnership to launch a bootcamp to support female founders in the greater Houston region.
Together, Workforce Solutions, MassChallenge, and Impact Hub Houston will identify and support female founders looking to start a new high-growth or high-impact startup and support them through the earliest stages of building a business.
“There is unprecedented growth in startup creation as a result of the pandemic and founders from all corners of the world are connecting in this virtual environment to build and scale amazing ideas,” said Jon Nordby, Managing Director of MassChallenge Texas. “With these new collaborations, we are also witnessing a massive gap in access to startup development resources. Our partnership with Workforce Solutions and Impact Hub Houston will help female founders build on their existing knowledge to become life-long innovators. MassChallenge is thrilled to partner with Workforce Solutions to equip bold entrepreneurs, disrupt the status quo, and create meaningful change.”
Grace Rodriguez, CEO/Executive Director of Impact Hub Houston, adds: “As a female founder myself, I’m incredibly excited about this opportunity to support and uplift more women entrepreneurs and women-led businesses in our region. By now, it’s no secret that women, and especially women of color, are under-invested in; and this is our chance to change that by helping more women strengthen their businesses and prepare to seek funding. It makes perfect sense that we’re starting in Houston — one of the most diverse cities in the country and consistently ranked one of the Top Ten cities for women entrepreneurs — and that we’re launching this with our partners at MassChallenge Texas and Workforce Solutions, both of whom have been strong allies in our collaborative mission to empower diverse entrepreneurs and talent.”
“Workforce Solutions is excited to partner with MassChallenge and Impact Hub Houston to bring to life a new bootcamp designed for mission-driven women focused on creating, sustaining, or expanding a business,” said Mike Temple, executive director of Workforce Solutions. “We recognize that small businesses and startups are vital to the continued growth of the local economy. Our goal is to drive a community that will support female leaders in support of entrepreneurial activities that create income and new job opportunities across the greater Houston area.”
The female founder bootcamp leverages MassChallenge’s proven acceleration model and Impact Hub Houston’s inclusive incubation expertise to identify, accelerate, and connect female founders with the resources they need to launch and scale high-impact businesses. The bootcamp is industry agnostic and applications are open to all female founders in the Houston-Galveston region, offering them access to the global MassChallenge and Impact Hub curriculum, workshops, and networks of expert mentors and resources.
Applications to the bootcamp are live April 1 – April 7 and applicants will need to meet the Workforce Solutions eligibility criteria in order to participate.
Applicants can apply by:
Submitting the pre-screening application by the deadline of 5PM CT on April 7 2021.
If a pre-screening application is approved, a Workforce Solutions staff person will reach out to the applicant to schedule a meeting; a response is needed within 2 business days.
At the conclusion of the assessment the applicant will be asked to complete the Workforce Solutions Financial Aid Application and upload supporting documents; this process must be completed by April 19, 2021.
Twenty-five applicants will be selected to participate in the Women’s Entrepreneur Bootcamp on April 29th and 30th. Content will be available in both English and Spanish.
Workforce Solutions is dedicated to keeping the Gulf Coast region a great place to do business, work, and live. Our employer-driven, people-focused approach elevates the economic and human potential of the region to attract and retain the best employers, afford everyone the dignity of a job, and remain indispensable to the global economy. As the public workforce system for Houston and the surrounding 13 counties in Southeast Texas, we work in tandem with the Texas Workforce Commission and the statewide Workforce Solutions network.
MassChallenge is the global network for innovators. Headquartered in the United States with seven locations worldwide, MassChallenge equips bold entrepreneurs to disrupt the status quo and to create meaningful change. Since launching in 2009, more than 2,900 MassChallenge alumni have raised $8.6B in funding, generated $3.6B in revenue, and created more than 186,000 total jobs. Learn more about MassChallenge at masschallenge.org.
About Impact Hub Houston
About Impact Hub Houston (houston.impacthub.net): Impact Hub Houston is a locally rooted, globally connected, 501c3 nonprofit impact innovation incubator that empowers diverse changemakers to solve some of society’s most pressing issues. A member of the Impact Hub global network — the world’s largest community recognized by the United Nations for accelerating entrepreneurial solutions towards measurable and scalable impact for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — Impact Hub Houston intentionally designs places, platforms, and programs to build an inclusive innovation ecosystem that looks like Houston and works for all.
About Impact Hub
About Impact Hub (https://impacthub.net): Impact Hub is a global network focused on building entrepreneurial communities for impact at scale. With 100+ communities of 16,500 social entrepreneurs & innovators in more than 55 countries across five continents, Impact Hub is one of the world’s largest communities and accelerators for positive change. It contributes to the development of social enterprise ecosystems to drive collaboration and innovation around the Sustainable Development Goals through locally rooted Impact Hubs, as well as with partners and allied networks.