Houston powered by small businesses

While Houston is home to more Fortune 500 companies than anywhere other than New York City, in many ways the city and state are powered by small business.

Data from the Small Business Administration show that 98.6 percent of all businesses in Texas have fewer than 500 employees. Firms with fewer than 100 employees represent almost one-third of all workers in the Texas economy.

And the number is expected to grow. A $2.3 million continuation award from the SBA will allow the Small Business Development Center, part of the University of Houston C.T. Bauer College of Business, to help launch nearly 300 new small businesses over the next 12 months.

“We work with everything from taco shops to medical offices, printing shops to tech companies and cleaning firms to manufacturing companies,” said Steven Lawrence, executive director of the center and a research professor at Bauer. “A broad spectrum of people want to start their own businesses.”

The Small Business Development Center, or SBDC, serves 32 counties along the Gulf Coast, funded by the SBA and the state. It is one of four SBDC regional headquarters offices in Texas, which together manage over 50 field centers in urban and rural areas throughout the state.

Latha Ramchand, dean of Bauer College, said the SBDC’s work is part of the college’s commitment to boosting the economy of Houston and beyond.

“The mission of the UH SBDC is to help Houston do what Houston does best ― build something from nothing, pick ourselves up in the face of challenge and adversity to rebuild, and challenge the norm to innovate and create,” she said. “Small business is the lifeblood of the American economy, and in my mind, no other city but Houston demonstrates the impact that can be made with the determination, persistence and passion of small business owners.”

While there is no one type of business served by the SBDC, Lawrence said the would-be entrepreneurs all have some things in common. “They’re people who have a passion for their work and are determined to control their own destiny,” he said. “They don’t want somebody else telling them how to run their businesses or what services or products to offer and believe that what they do, they do the best.”

The center works with about 10,000 businesses a year, offering no-cost advising and help with business planning to start or grow a business and determine market needs. Low-cost classes on topics including taxes, marketing and cash flow analysis help entrepreneurs expand their businesses.

While the SBDC does not offer loans or other financing, its business advisors can help entrepreneurs and business owners prepare financing proposals and find sources of funding including bank loans and venture capital, Lawrence said.

Lawrence spent much of his career as a business executive working overseas for multinational corporations before moving to Austin to launch a wine import business. He has been at the SBDC since September.

“We’re truly one of America’s best kept secrets. I had no idea these great services existed when I started my own business,” he said. “I would have done things a lot differently. I want small businesses to know that we are here for them”