Meet the Launch Team: Carlos Sotelo

In continuation of the spotlights we promised in our campaign launch post, there are several passionate people behind Impact Hub Houston we want you to meet. Carlos Sotelo (https://www.linkedin.com/in/carlosotelo/) shares how his experiences growing up and helping students as a college counselor led him to join the Impact Hub Houston launch team:

Growing up in working-class Pasadena, I learned some of my greatest values from family and friends who called this hard-working, aspirational community home. Resilience. Echale ganas. Determination.

Still, I longed to expand my horizons beyond the endless refineries located just blocks down from our family’s apartment. I wanted to honor my parents’ sacrifices by taking advantage of every opportunity I could find. As an undocumented student, sometimes that meant creating a few along the way too.

Here, I also learned about what occurs when access to opportunity is limited for those that need it the most. Immigrant day laborers robbed of promised wages. Uninsured individuals unable to afford preventive health care. Financially-stressed parents with more options for predatory payday lenders than asset-building opportunities. Residents putting up with broken infrastructure and regulation-breaking industry. Students falling through the cracks at under-resourced schools.

I took these experiences with me to college. There, I studied public policy to learn how to find solutions to social problems. Thanks to those who helped me overcome the barriers of my educational journey, I believed in the power of education as a driver for positive social change.

The ladder of social mobility needs to be widened for the future of our country. As the one making the generational leap in my own family, I wanted to address the inequities in access to opportunity for all as I began my career.

So when I began serving as a college counselor, I connected with so many of my students who aspired to be the first in their families to go to and graduate from college.

Still, advising them on how to navigate the process of obtaining a postsecondary degree/certification of any kind was not enough. Too many of our students were failing to show up to their first day of college classes. Further, data shows that far too many students of a low-income or underrepresented minority background were not graduating.

With these problems in mind, I went to my first Impact Hub event last year: Open Project Night. I had hoped to just listen to what other people’s challenges or ventures were. Yet, something else happened. I got pushed to present about the problems I faced.

After jotting notes down on paper, I nervously spoke to the crowd about the experiences of my work and students. Soon, my two minutes were up and I started talking with people who came up to me. Just as quickly, my nerves went away. The free beer probably helped too, I may add.

The collaborative energy was infectious. Everyone was friendly and encouraging. People offered helpful advice and their contacts. Feeling uplifted, I returned the favor and visited the other presenters to offer my own support.

I joined Impact Hub Houston because I got pushed. I’m glad I got pushed.

Because that’s what Impact Hub Houston intends to do for the community of problem solvers. Push them forward towards enacting solutions. Push them to connect with one another to work smarter together than harder alone. Push resources and opportunities in our paths. Push the envelope for what sustainable impact looks like. Push social entrepreneurship as a viable option for addressing our most critical issues.

Being part of the Impact Hub Houston community is an opportunity to ensure a better future for a more equitable and prosperous Houston for future generations. Now, as we get ready to launch, expand our programming, and build our community, I push anyone who cares about making a difference to support and donate to Impact Hub Houston. You’ll be glad you did.

Meet the Launch Team: Jaison Oliver

As promised in our campaign launch post, we want you to meet all the passionate people behind Impact Hub Houston. Jaison Oliver (https://www.linkedin.com/in/jaisonoliver) shares how he first engaged with Impact Hub Houston and how YOU can help drive impact in our community too:

Activists and organizers are mobilizing to end discriminatory bail practices, small businesses are providing vital space and sustenance for neighbors, and we’re all checking on one another amidst the smoke and pollen swirling around.

I’m excited about our future! I attend dozens of events weekly where I’m constantly energized by seeing people work through methods both old and new to make Houston better. Solving problems is what we do, and Impact Hub is the embodiment of that collaborative spirit.

I met Grace Rodriguez and Shiroy Aspandiar at an Open Project Night years ago. Open Project Night is a space where people collaborate to drive ideas and projects forward to make Houston a better place./em>

Shiroy and I had a shared interest in education technology since I had just left an ed tech startup. Shiroy was developing One Jump, a platform that connects under-served students to enrichment opportunities to the shorten the opportunity gap.

Seeing Shiroy tackle a major problem for schools helped me realize just how little our education system has changed despite all the new innovations we have at our disposal. It also reminded me how much power we have to change it ourselves. I’m basically One Jump’s biggest fan and I tell every student I encounter about how invaluable it is for summer opportunities.

Meanwhile, Grace was supporting Writers in the Schools as a board member. Watching Grace wield her unique amalgam of experiences for good constantly pushes me to be more creative in my own work. I’ve been hacking for Houston alongside them ever since.

I love this city and I want to see us all thrive. In my experience, thriving begins with creating robust ways to invite people into our work. Here are a few ways I want to build community and solve problems with you:

I shared those examples because it’s important to consider the many ways that change making is already happening in our neighborhoods, especially in communities of color. I want to connect that innovative spirit to institutional resources and knowledge that can help advance Houston.

To that end, one major project I’ll be working on through Impact Hub is to map out support pathways for social entrepreneurs. How can we better define pathways to success for problem-solvers? If you want to share the story of how you navigated this process, please reach out to me!

Also, we’ve built up quite the community of change makers over the years but we can’t do this work without partners. If your organization is solving problems in Houston, I want to know about it. We want to amplify your voice, expand your impact, and look for ways to partner with you.

Houston feels different. America feels different. Everything is changing. Can you feel it? We invite you to subscribe, volunteer, mentor, and — if you’re feeling our mission — slide us some coins for our crowdfunding campaign to help us increase our capacity for programming! Let’s shape and embrace change together. I can’t wait!

Meet the Team: Michelle Avalos, Launch Team Member

As we shared in our campaign launch post, there are several passionate people behind Impact Hub Houston we want you to meet. Michelle Avalos (https://www.linkedin.com/in/michelle-%C3%A1valos-32300439/) shares how her journey of elevating the value of her community work as she advanced her college and professional career led her to join the Impact Hub Houston launch team:

When I was finishing my second year of college, I remember getting asked how much money I wanted to make after graduation. Easy question for a business student to answer, right?

The expectation was to respond with a dollar figure. Instead, I responded, “I want to work for a company who values me and my work.”

There is so much context packed into this one statement. One, I attended college because I knew education was the only way for me to help my family move forward. Yet, I did not want to be driven strictly by money. Two, I always wanted to work for a great company, but never imagined entrepreneurship would be in my future. Three, I wanted to be valued as a person and I wanted my work to be recognized.

In 2010, I transferred to the University of Houston and started volunteering with the Hispanic Business Student Association (HBSA). The notion of giving back began growing its roots in my heart. For the first time, I had the opportunity to connect with other Latinos of a similar background as me who were driven to accomplish something bigger for themselves, their families and their communities.

Through HBSA, I helped organize career development opportunities for nearly 2,000 middle- and high-school students from low-income communities in Houston and Pasadena. The more I stood in front of other youth to share my story, the more driven I was to give back.

Shortly after my college graduation, I started my career as a natural gas and LNG analyst. Continuing my community work from college, I served as a volunteer board member for the Bauer College Alumni Association (BCAA) and the Association of Latino Professionals for America (ALPFA). My role on these boards focused on student outreach, professional development, career advancement, and community engagement. As I advanced in my career, I spent countless hours mentoring students with efforts to close the gap between where they were and where they wanted to be.

In 2014, my husband and I decided to find a solution ourselves to barriers preventing students from accessing professional programming to advance their college careers. We pulled our resources together, formed a team, and developed a two-day professional boot camp and suit scholarship. In two years, the program impacted the lives of 50 deserving college students who did not own a suit. In 2017, building on the pillars of creativity, youth and education, we turned the suit scholarship into a non-profit organization called Creative Vida. Our mission is to educate and empower youth through creative experiences.

Over the last couple of years, I began thinking more critically about time and how little time we have on this Earth. I contemplated how I was going to write the next chapter of my life and career. On paper, I was in a prime position for my career. I worked for the first LNG exporter in the US. Still, I couldn’t stop thinking about how I was allocating my time to fully living out my values. Through prayer and mentorship, I realized the time I was putting into my volunteer efforts was insufficient to make the impactful change needed in our city. Thus, I made the decision to transition out of the LNG industry to focus full time on community work.

Now, I work to create a world where individuals who want to make an impactful change in their communities have access to the education and resources needed to best accomplish their efforts. This is why I joined the Impact Hub Houston launch team last year. I believe my unique combination of corporate and non-profit experience is a great asset to our city’s current and future social entrepreneurs. Before last year, I had never heard of the term social entrepreneur . Others words I had never heard of were social impact, social venture, impact investing, innovation ecosystem, b-corps. The lists go on and on.

How is it that someone like me, a business person who has been extremely involved in our community, did not get exposed to the “impact space” prior to 2018? When my husband and I registered Creative Vida as a 501(c)3, we did so because it was the only relevant business model we knew at the time. Participating in Impact Hub’s programming over the last few months is allowing the Creative Vida team to think more creatively about our revenue model to scale our impact in the coming years. Exposure and education definitely make a difference!

Houston needs Impact Hub Houston because we need a better support system for problem solvers trying to make a change.

In the short term, my goal through Impact Hub is to connect with individuals who have an idea to solve a local or global problem but are not connected to the community of people ready to help bring those ideas to life. I want to allow everyone an opportunity to find their place within this community of change makers, social entrepreneurs, and supporters. Will you join me? #CambiaElMundo

Meet the Team: Shiroy Aspandiar, Co-Founder & Board Chair

As we shared in our campaign launch post, we are excited to introduce you to the people behind Impact Hub Houston. First, meet Shiroy Aspandiar (https://www.linkedin.com/in/shiroy-aspandiar-b6a38443/), Co-Founder and Chair of our Board of Directors, as he shares how his entrepreneurial journey led him to play a key role in launching Impact Hub Houston:

I was one of the many people who bought into the myth of the unconquerable entrepreneur. The pioneer who was prolifically confident, obsessive, charismatic, and unyieldingly optimistic. For a time, I, too, felt unconquerable and rode a wave of euphoria for months as I plunged full-time into co-founding One Jump, an online platform that connects underserved students to enrichment opportunities with the goal of combatting the opportunity gap.

And then something changed. My savings were gone. Debt began to pile up. Traction slowed. Technical challenges increased in frequency. The rejections and defeats along the startup journey began to feel less like rain and more like hail. Seeking advice about what I was experiencing, I called a mentor and after a long pause he shared: “I think I know what you’re feeling. You’re in the pit.”

Almost all entrepreneurs tumble into the pit at some point. What can often make or break their venture is their ability to pull themselves out of it. But how do you do that? I wasn’t sure, so I looked for help. I sought out other founders and mentors. I looked for a community, but struggled to find one … especially as a social entrepreneur.

We’re different. While we’re mission-oriented, we are quickly labeled as “charities,” and that label is either limiting or incorrect. Traditional business models can also be at odds with our theory of impact. I found this to be true with One Jump as I communicated with our mentors, advisors, and prospective investors. Our team was often pushed to work with affluent schools more directly, but we believed this would only further extend the achievement gap. During launch, our team struggled to find examples of successful hybrids and benefit corporations and how to structure them. Structuring as a non-profit, for-profit, hybrid or a benefit corporation matters significantly, but there’s a lack of quality coaching on choosing which structure would work best for your startup. And lastly, there’s a growing need to educate up the ladder – to reach potential funders, investors, foundations, and family offices about the rise of for-profit social enterprises, their expected returns, company performance, unique tax code implications, and so much more.

Frustrated and seeking community support, I presented my startup at a Sketch City Hackathon. Through that experience, I met Natasha Azizi, who had worked for Unreasonable Institute, an organization that supported social entrepreneurs internationally. She shared that she was planning to bring an organization called Impact Hub to Houston. I learned that Impact Hub was a collection of locally rooted, globally connected “hubs” dedicated to supporting social impact and social entrepreneurship in cities around the world. Think the United Nations if it were made up of hubs that support changemakers and problem solvers. Hubs were the places you’d go to connect with movers and shakers working individually and collaboratively to make the city and the world a better place. I immediately wanted to be a part of that community. That’s what I was looking for.

Over time, my engagement with Impact Hub Houston increased and I became a co-founder. I found it empowering to be able to shape an organization that I and many of my peers urgently needed. With programs that included coffee colliders, community townhalls, founders workshops, meetups, Open Project Nights, Fuck Up Nights (Yes, it’s a thing! Look it up!), and so much more, we are working to build an inclusive entrepreneurship ecosystem.

We help make Houston more equitable by supporting changemakers and social entrepreneurs so that they feel less isolated and can focus on delivering greater impact through their work. We’ll help problem solvers stop falling into pits…but if they do fall, they’ll find a vibrant community of individuals, mentors, and other stakeholders helping them get back on their feet.

Guided by our refined vision and mission, and our amazing leader in Grace Rodriguez, we are excited to write the next chapter of Impact Hub Houston! Join us in building a movement, and engage in the rewarding-yet-challenging work of achieving our vision: To make Houston a role model for how the world solves its most pressing issues.