Grace Rodriguez and Impact Hub fight to be included in Houston's startup community (2023)

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Grace Rodriguez and Impact Hub fight to be included in Houston's startup community (11)
Grace Rodriguez and Impact Hub fight to be included in Houston's startup community (12)
Grace Rodriguez and Impact Hub fight to be included in Houston's startup community (13)

If you've been paying attention to the Houston tech community for a while, you probably know the name Grace Rodriguez. A self-proclaimed entrepreneur and social media presence, she has done business here since founding the DJ collective known as Kracker Nuttz in 1999.

At 46, he still does it. Most recently, Rodriguez is the co-founder and CEO of Impact Hub Houston, an international network of startup accelerators with offices in over 100 locations in 50 countries. Impact Hub is focused on helping founders from underrepresented communities, and each one works differently.

Prior to founding Impact Hub Houston, she co-founded Station Houston, one of the city's top tech startup accelerators, now owned by Austin-based Capital Factory, where she continues to mentor her startup cohorts. He is also an advisor at the TMC Institute of Innovation.

Oh, and she also co-owns Dean's Downtown Bar, which - unless closed by governor's order due to the pandemic - is Houston's tech community and social media hangout.

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The Chronicle spoke to Rodriguez about Houston's Impact Hub mission, inclusion and diversity in the city's burgeoning tech community, and the challenges it faces amidst the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Question: If you were to explain Impact Hub to someone who doesn't know anything about it, what would you say?

A:Impact Hub is a global network of individually managed hubs around the world that operates more or less like the United Nations as a federation of hubs. For example, Impact Hub Houston is a 501c3 non-profit while Impact Hub Madrid is a non-profit. Everyone chooses the network protocols and guidelines and pays a fee to join the network. Impact Hub, the company's headquarters is located in Vienna, Austria.

Q: What's the mission?

A:Impact Hub itself is committed to the mission of supporting entrepreneurial solutions for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Some call these types of ventures social enterprises, social enterprises, influencer entrepreneurship, or social entrepreneurship. (Company goals) range from no hunger, no poverty, gender equality to innovation and industrial infrastructure.

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We found that we needed to provide much more education on these topics. which means we are more program oriented than space oriented. Impact Hub's vision is a fair and sustainable world where business and profit serve people and the planet.

Q: Do you work like other accelerators where you work with specific entrepreneurs and group startups into cohorts?

A:Some Impact Hubs do.

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There are also Impact Hubs, which are mostly based on coworking. We are kind of a hybrid of this where we recently introduced Accelerate membership which is not based on cohorts. It's more of a continuous support but with an accelerator model. We are willing to go as far as partnerships, whether it is a diversity fund or a platform where people can raise money to also provide capital, as we understand that this is one of the biggest challenges for many entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs.

It's like a hyperlocal approach to global change.

Q: What is an example of Impact Hub success that you are proud of?

A:It's one thing to make sure there are more diverse people on the panels. And that our various organizations are integrated into the ecosystem.

If you want a specific example for a startup, there's Amazing Bond. Varina Rush is the co-founder of Amazing Bond and supports seniors in need of care. She came to Impact Hub at the beginning of her journey. They were not quite sure how to structure the organization, how to develop, what technological tools they needed.

And during their involvement with Impact Hub they were drawn toAcumen Academy Social Entrepreneurship Curriculum. We gave her a couple of coaching sessions and I would say we gave her confidence.

Q: Do you think Houston's tech and innovation community in general, like many others across the country, have a problem with diversity? Are startups whose founders come from underrepresented communities not getting funding?

A:Well, I don't think that was intended. I never thought it was.

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When we started The Station and I spoke to Bob Harvey of the Greater Houston Partnership, he made it clear that we want a diverse community, that we support different people, start-ups and organizations, but he didn't. know where they were.

It's hard to find as most are underground or very community oriented. It's for relationships. If you think of a lot of business leaders or leaders in this space and their networks, those networks probably don't look like Houston because that's how they grew up and it's not their fault.

I spoke at a panel in Austin for the Black Leadership Forum, and you had dozens of Black-centered and Black-led organizations on that forum.

I said I challenge any organization in Houston that wants to support entrepreneurs to specifically look for organizations with black leaders and black centers and then see how they can work together. So how can we work with the African American Bar Association to hack solutions for, you know, public safety?

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(Video) Impact Hub Houston Leaders and Launch Team: Why We Support Impact!

I think that's what I would challenge many organizations that exist in Houston, where there is a lack of diversity in their leadership.

Q: So what did you do to fix it?

A:It's not just ticking a box, it's really, "How about supporting people in this community?" Impact Hub Houston is actively partnering with Baker Ripley as they have great Latin entrepreneur programs.

We actively work with the City League as they have a special program for black entrepreneurs. We work with the East End because most of the businesses in this area are owned by Hispanics or Latinos.

If we can model and show other organizations how to do it, I find that other organizations will do it, but they just don't know where to start. And I think we're in a good place now where we're going to see a tsunami of support.

Q: How has the pandemic and all things virtual affected your efforts at Impact Hub, as well as the continued growth of Houston's tech community?

A:One of the things that guided how we decide what and how to sell our shows, how we organize events for Impact Hub Houston, was how do we find people where they are? And that's mental and physical.

This is one of the reasons why we have partnered with (coworking space) The Cannon to make sure we can run programs in locations around the city where there are candidate locations. That's why we've partnered with Baker Ripley so we can run programs at all of Baker Ripley's different community centers around the city.

Houston has always had this expansion problem. I think one of the opportunities the pandemic has created is that people now need to learn how to use online virtual programs so they can connect and collaborate, meet and learn.

There are many people who don't know how to use technological tools and now they have to. One of the benefits of the pandemic is that we don't have to focus so much on doing so many shows a week because now other Impact Hubs around the world are hosting shows that we can provide to our members.

Q: How does it work?

A:It definitely detracted from all the happy hours and social events that are a big part of Houston culture, you know? I own a bar and we do a lot of tech meetups in Houston and it's kind of sad we can't meet right now but we can have virtual happy hours.

We just need to rethink how we work in virtual spaces. How do we still feel connected? It sounds different, but until we can be together in spaces and ways that are safe for everyone, I don't want to have a super-spreading event, right?

So until it is safe to meet in physical space, let's improve virtual connections. And if Houston can take the lead, we'll help solve our expansion problem. And then we can also be an example of how other large cities, such as ours, or large regions, such as ours, deal with this problem.

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